A while back I was curios about how it’s like to operate a true rangefinder camera. I am shooting a lot with my Fujifilm X100T and I love this camera. It has the ideal form factor and focal length for me. But there’s a lot on this camera which don’t care about and I always liked the minimalist approach of the Leica M system. So I bought a Leica M6 and a Summilux 35mm lens.
First I had doubts about manual focusing. But focusing with a Leica M cameras is pretty straightforward. You just have to align the two rangefinder patches and your subject is in focus. It doesn’t take long to learn, but it takes some time to master it. This manual approach in combination with just the necessary dials and buttons makes up for a very unique shooting experience. But I realized that film photography isn’t my strength.
Upgrading to the M9
After finding out that I suck at developing film, I thought switching to a digital M would be the next logical step. I read about the earliest digital M cameras and their pros and cons. The M8 and M8.2 have crop sensors and I didn’t want to shoot with an 47mm focal length (because I already had the 35mm Summilux) so I bought an M9. This though has a thicker body than the M6 I was using at that time, and it is heavier, too.
Downsides of the Leica M system
Particularly the M9 has still a huge price tag on it, given its age. Even heavy used ones sell for up to 1800 Euros. And in terms of technology you can get a lot more bang for your buck with newer models. But that’s not what a Leica user is looking for.
Manual focusing can be very precise with a rangefinder; if you have vertical lines. If you are trying to photograph a more complex subject or repeating patterns, e. g. a field of flowers, nailing focus is almost impossible – not to mention moving subjects. What’s the solution to that, you might ask. For me it’s zone focusing. But this isn’t a panacea. For large apertures you really don’t know your focus and have to guess.
Compared to my X100T the Leica M9 is really heavy, even with this tiny 35mm Summilux lens. Sure it’s lighter than some DSLR, but these you won’t carry all day long. The X100T you don’t even notice in terms of weight.
In addition to the above mentioned downsides my M9 suffered from sensor corrosion. It almost lost a thousand Euros in value because of this problem. The corrosion spots look similar to little dust spots on the sensor. Unfortunately my camera was a little older than the five years Leica gave to replace the sensor with their goodwill plan and a sensor replacement would have cost me 982 Euros. Furthermore nowhere is stated that the new sensor won’t suffer from corrosion again someday. So I thought this is enough and I sold it.
I had the M9 for about a year now. And it is fun camera to use, but it has its drawbacks to. So my conclusion of this whole story is that Leica is not just a brand, it is a life philosophy and it is no cheap philosophy. If their cameras work, what is probably most of the time, they are really great cameras with an excellent build quality, nice handling and superb image quality. But if they break, your affordable 2nd hand Leica could get easily a total loss.
Either way, I think there is this saying…
A Leica owner takes more photos of his Leica than with it.
So I’m trying to make a point here. Just look at this beauty!
If you want to learn more about the M9 and get an in depth review of this camera then visit Thorsten von Overgaard long term review.
PS: At the time of writing this blog post I watched a video from Eduardo Pavez Goye where he is re-evaluating his Leica M8 because of a sensor failure. So he was in a very similar situation than me.