The Adolescence of Leica Digital – Leica M9

The last Kodak train quietly took away the CCD of the M9. It couldn’t be kept, nor could it be saved. Leica has entered the mature CMOS era. Youth must eventually bid farewell. Farewell, youth, that pure happiness gradually stings memories.

Remembering the Leica M9

In 2009, Leica released the M9. How many people dream of having one? The world’s first full-frame rangefinder digital camera. Holding such a camera, like Henri Cartier Bresson, wandering the streets, how many fantasies could it evoke?
How many people only knew about this brand because of the Leica M9? At that time, it was the most expensive 135 full-frame digital camera. Hanging it around your neck, you would become the center of attention wherever you went.

How many people have tried various settings in Photoshop, trying to force their Canon or Sony colors onto Leica? In the end, they failed, not because of Photoshop, but because of impatience.
Time flies…
Enjoying it on one hand, shedding tears on the other, ten years ago, I didn’t know you, and you didn’t belong to me. Walking through the familiar streets, ten years later…
Looking back, I found classics all over the ground.
Leica’s old users have always blamed Leica for its shrinking history.
From M3 to M6, until M7 used an electronic shutter. Looking back, M6 is still quite classic! When Leica released the digital M8, users said Leica had fallen, making digital cameras. At this time, looking back, the M7 was still a film camera, still quite classic! When Leica released the M10 without a framing window, users said the bald front face was ugly. At this time, looking back, the M9 is still quite classic!

Looking back, there are always classic things to pick up.

Classic Elements of the Leica M9

The viewfinder frame of the M9 is physically lit, just like the film M cameras. Film users will feel comfortable looking at the front face of the M9, while the bald front face of the M240 and M10 may feel a bit awkward. In addition, the M-E and M240, which were introduced after the Leica M9, lack the preview lever, making them look less classic in appearance. Therefore, when looking back at the M9, its classic elements appear more dazzling. Nowadays, the M10 also lacks the light window, and Leica designers realized this. If we continue to simplify it like this, can we still call it a Leica? Therefore, Leica M10 quickly introduced the most classic rewind knob of the M3, making it into an ISO dial. In order to maintain its classic elements, it can be said that they put in a lot of effort.

Leica users are interesting. On one hand, they say that Leica is becoming less and less classic, but on the other hand, they look forward to seeing what new products Leica will release slowly. This shows that Leica M has always had some kind of tacit understanding with its users, which can only be explained by mysticism. But in any case, it is now a consensus that there is no light window after the M9. From today on, the Leica M9 is officially classified as a classic camera!

M8 and M9

APS-H and full-frame are the differences in film size, but in terms of operation, the M8 and M9 belong to the same type. Once you get used to the operation of the M8 and M9, it will feel a bit awkward to switch to the M240 and M10 in terms of settings menu. The menu contents of the M8 and M9 are few, which makes them seem simpler.

M8: black and white negative film, M9: color reversal film

The colors of the M8 are light, and it can take infrared photos through filters. It can also take rich black and white grayscale photos with the texture of black and white film. The M9, on the other hand, has increased color contrast and color correction that leans towards the Kodak legendary Kodachrome.

The Color of the M9

Film is good, digital lacks character. No matter what data you use to prove the high pixels and accurate colors of digital, it can never replace the premium texture of film. To say that the color of the Leica M9 is close to film is actually the biggest compliment to the M9.

Thanks to the power-hungry CCD from Kodak, the Leica M9 produces photos with a special texture, of course, when paired with Leica lenses. Many people switched from CCD to CMOS, but still missed the color and texture of the M9. The solid and slightly overexposed blue, the pure and glossy red, and occasionally the greenish tone throughout the entire photo…they always give you some unexpected surprises, isn’t that the characteristic of film?

Of course, don’t mythologize the CCD of the M9. Some people can even process a CMOS photo to have a CCD-like texture, it just takes some time. And the color of Leica’s CMOS is also not to be underestimated, it is not something other brands can easily catch up with.

CCD vs. CMOS

You can list a lot of parameters and say how advanced CMOS is these days, but when it comes to adapting to the Sony A7, it lacks the Leica flavor. Even compared to the M10, the images lack a certain something compared to the M9. Why is the CCD in the M9 so special? Is CCD more advanced than CMOS in terms of technology? I cannot find a convincing explanation. Whether it’s scientific principles or sample images, nothing can objectively prove anything. I can only find answers by looking at the problem itself: Why is everyone discussing “CCD is better than CMOS” instead of “CMOS is better than CCD”? The problem itself seems to provide the answer.

The general public never pays for image quality. They prefer simplicity and convenience, just as digital cameras with only a few million pixels ended the era of better film quality. In fact, the aesthetics of most users tend to be self-healing, where a beautified phone is better than anything else.

So even though CCD has better low-sensitivity image quality, the general public won’t pay for it. CCD has advanced low-sensitivity image quality, poor high-sensitivity image quality, and limited video capability. CMOS has average low-sensitivity image quality, normal high-sensitivity image quality, and strong video capabilities. This is not an inference, it is a fact.

After the M9, Leica finally realized how rash it was to use CCD to pursue low-sensitivity image quality, like the acne of adolescence. Finally, by using CMOS sensors, the problem of acne was solved. Although CMOS sacrifices a bit of low-sensitivity image quality, it gets good high-sensitivity image quality in return, and what’s even more valuable is its better compatibility with old lenses, where many film lenses don’t have as much red shift. Most importantly, how many of those who say CCD is better have actually paid for it?

It’s difficult to say whether choosing an M9 in 2023 is a wise decision or not, as it depends on individual preferences and priorities. The M9’s CCD issue is a known problem, but as you mentioned, it can be resolved with a CCD replacement. It’s also worth noting that the M9 is a classic camera with a loyal following, and it’s still capable of producing great images. Additionally, its price has dropped significantly over the years, making it a more accessible option for those who want to own a Leica.

However, there are also newer models available, such as the M10 and M11, which use CMOS sensors that are less prone to the CCD problem. These cameras also offer newer features and technology that may be more appealing to some users. Ultimately, the decision to choose an M9 or another Leica model depends on individual needs, preferences, and budget.

It’s also important to consider the source of the camera and whether it’s been properly maintained. As with any used camera, it’s possible that the M9 may have other issues or wear and tear that need to be addressed. It’s best to purchase from a reputable dealer or individual seller who can provide information about the camera’s history and condition.

Overall, the M9 is still a capable and desirable camera for many photographers, and with proper care and maintenance, it can continue to provide great results for years to come.

About the parameters of the Leica M9:

  1. The screen has 230,000 pixels, is it low? First of all, I think it’s a bit lame to take a photo and immediately look down at the screen, it shows lack of confidence, people from the film era were more confident than you. Besides, what can you see with high pixels on a small camera screen? If you have time, why not upgrade to a retina display Mac computer from Apple?
  2. Slow continuous shooting. If you need to take a series of shots quickly, it’s better to switch to Canon or Nikon, it’s not very elegant with the Leica.
  3. Slow storage speed. Why do you need it to be so fast? If you were using film, would you take ten continuous shots for a newspaper article? Don’t forget, although SD cards are free, every extra photo you take is a burden for post-processing. At the same time, if you use a low-speed card, are you not doing a disservice to Leica? Please switch to the SanDisk 95-speed extrame pro professional card, don’t just look at the parameters like class 10, the pro version of SD is professional, it’s expensive for a reason.
  4. The maximum supported card size is only 32GB. I would rather have several small cards than one big one, it’s safer to spread your eggs across multiple baskets.
  5. CCD is power-hungry. The M9 does consume more power than a CMOS camera, but Leica is also expensive, is being power-hungry a reason not to buy it?
  6. The top LCD screen of the M8 has been removed. Leica is still quite traditional, thinking that people are still in the film era, isn’t 999 shots enough for a while? A roll of film has 36 shots, 27 rolls are enough for a themed shoot, right? No, modern people use very large SD cards, taking thousands of photos on every trip. The M8’s shoulder screen always showed 999 because it can only display three digits at most. This design is not very modern, so the M9 removed it altogether. However, removing the card and battery level display is a bit of a pity, you have to go into the menu to check the status, it’s a shame if the camera suddenly dies while you’re shooting. However, the M10 also doesn’t have this LCD screen.

Raw Dynamic Range

Underexposure of up to 4 stops can be salvaged, while overexposure can be recovered up to 3 stops. This is quite impressive, especially for retaining highlights, which has made many people obsessed and claiming that highlights cannot be recovered well in CMOS cameras.

Conclusion

I don’t want to judge other people’s opinions about the Leica M9. For me, it will always be a camera that inspires admiration. It was in the past, it is now, and it will be in the future. Because I have never denied those whimsical thoughts from my youth.

For the previous generation, owning an M3 was a happy thing. For those who were interested in Leica ten years ago, owning an M9 was a beautiful thing. Don’t say that I’m trying to persuade you to buy a Leica M9. Maybe the M11 and M10 are the ones you are thinking about, and my song won’t be in your dreams.

The Leica M9 is a full-frame digital rangefinder camera from Leica Camera AG. It was introduced in September 2009.

Model Name: Leica M9
Brand: Leica
Form Factor: Mirrorless
Skill Level Amateur: Professional
Color: Black, Chrome
Compatible Mountings: Leica M

Newly developed cover glass to elimate infrared light contamination , no IR filters needed.
18 megapixels which allow the full 35mm format.
First Rangefinder camera with a 24 x 36 mm Format Sensor.
Custom designed CCD sensor for optimal performance.
First Rangefinder camera with a 24 x 36 mm Format Sensor.
18 megapixels which allow the full 35mm format.

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leica m9 + summicron 50 f/2
leica m9 + summicron 50 f/2
leica m9 + summicron 50 f/2
leica m9 + summicron 50 f/2
leica m9 + summicron 50 f/2
leica m9 + summicron 50 f/2
leica m9 + summicron 50 f/2
leica m9 + summicron 50 f/2
leica m9 + summicron 50 f/2
leica m9 + summicron 50 f/2
leica m9 + summicron 50 f/2
leica m9 + summicron 50 f/2
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Leica M9 Review