[Review] Leica M9

Stephane Tougard

Well-Known Member
50 years ago, half of the watches sold in the world were coming from Switzerland. For some historical reason, Switzerland was the country to build watches. Unfortunately for them, in the 80's the quartz and the watches built in Japan were about to revolutionize this market. More recently the rise of the smartphones, which are able to give the time more accurately than an atomic watch, came to end this market.

But Switzerland industry did not give up, they adopted a change of strategy to face the disparition of their market: they increased the price of their watches. And it worked. Less people buy watches from Switzerland, but they buy them very expensive.

So why do they buy those watches, since the cheapest mobile is better at giving time. They claim that they buy the Switzerland know how, the very high quality of hand made watches.

That's BS.

They buy a social marker. They buy an expensive item to show to the face of the world that they have money.

Leica has a very similar history, they were the most important brand of camera for professional until Nikon released the F in the 70's. The Digital cameras put an end on this market and Leica has become a very minor player now in professional photography.

They followed exactly the same strategy than the Switzerland watch factories: sell obsolete and very expensive cameras, and all the same, it worked!

Leica buyers claim that they buy a know how and a hand made high quality camera. That's a crappy lie, any Leica camera is obsolete with a very average quality standard, a low reliability and a very unprofessional lack of serious support from the brand.

It does not stand one second the comparaison with a Nikon or a Canon in any aspect.

Let me give you an overview on my Leica M9:

- the rangefinder is correctly calibrated for the infinite, but the camera is not. It means that the sensor is not exactly where it should be, I have to manually correct each shot to be in focus (how is that even possible?)
- changing the lens is a nightmare, the locking mechanism does not work half the time.
- Leica does not offer anymore the firmware updates for download. I'm not saying that they don't make any update anymore, but even the old firmwares are not available for download. Whatever firmware version I have, I stay with it.
- The sensor is a time bomb, it suffers some corrosion and Leica does not have any solution anymore to repair it. If the sensor dies, they just give me a discount on the latest M11.
- A spare battery cost 150 Euro.
- The LCD is the worst I've ever seen (even at the time the camera was released, such LCD was an outrage for a 6k camera)
- It happens that the camera take some black photographs. I trigger the shutter, but the photograph is just black.

There is nothing perfect in the M9. There is no high quality whatsoever. If I were a professional, that's the last brand I would use to make money and I would not trust it one minute to cover a mariage or an event.

So why did I buy a M9 in the first place?

That's very simple : it's a rangefinder and there is no competition on this market. I sincerely regret that Voigtlander did not follow up on digital rangefinder after their test (and commercial failure) with Epson on the RD1. The Bessa were very good cameras and I would have a RD4 or RD5 if it existed today instead of a Leica M9.

I can use M lenses, it's all manual and I love that.

The color jpg of the M9 (thanks to Kodak) are piece of art, some say that they can get all the same with post-processing, I'm still to see the proof of that, fact is I could not reproduce the jpeg of the M9 starting from a DNG file from the same camera.

The B&W are average, I can not get out of it what I expect from such a camera. I regret that Kodak did not think of adding a TRI-X mode on their sensor. I did not test, but I'm quite sure that Fuji camera (especially GFX) are pretty good as well on this aspect.

Do I use my Leica as a social marker ? Let's be clear, when you have a watch from Switzerland, nobody cares. The only person you convince is yourself. A Leica camera is exactly the same thing, nobody cares. People are much more impressed by a Nikon Z8 or Z9 than by a Leica. For common people, a Leica just looks like a cheap camera, if you tell them that's not the case because a Leica is manual focus and has only a very crude light meter, then they don't even see the point in using such a camera. Definitely, for the common people, Leica does not even have the aura of a Rolex or a Mercedes.
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Gosh Stephane. I am surprised I am the first to comment. I would have thought you would have had a veritable avalanche.

I am not a Leica owner nor have I ever had the pleasure or privilege of using one. All I know of the brand is what I have read and it seems you have been blessed with an example of this model that is heir to just about everything that could have gone wrong with it. A recent article I read about its predecessor, the M8, on 35mmc mentioned some of them. With cameras as with anything else there must be the equivalent of what used to be called "Friday afternoon cars" I think I recall. It is a shame you can no longer have a replacement sensor fitted any more, that must have been a life saver.

I use several rather less than perfect bits of equipment, the challenge of overcoming the limitations being the attraction for me. It sounds as though you can get some good results from that much praised Kodak sensor so revel in an old camera's ability to still function quite well if it does and enjoy the good results.