The Leica M9 changed the way I work after a few months. I realized I could do erverything with this small camera that I used to have a trolley of Leica dSLR camreas for. It changed the way I work, from a trolley of 48 pounds of gear to a 4 pounds camera over the shoulder.
This article series started on November 5, 2009 and developed into a 18+ page long ongoing journal as camera review and user report, written over more than three years of continious use of my two Leica M9's as my main cameras.
By the time I upgraded to the next Leica M model, the Leica M 240 in March 2013, my main Leica M9 had shot more than 150,000 frames (or an average of 119 photos a day).
This article series stands un-edited as it was written, for you to follow if you just found a Leica M9 second-hand. You may take a sneak-peak to page 12 as it contains my recommended settings based on 60,000+ photos taken witht he Leica M9.
I also took my Leica M9 back in action for almost two months in 2016, because I missed it, and that is the page 19 of this article series (which also contains a video review I did the same year). Since January 2017 I have been using two Leica M10's which in many ways is a return to the feeling of the Leica M9.
Enjoy this series of articles on the Leica M digital rangefinders. Maybe we'll meet one day in one of my workshops.
Leica M Reloaded
If you think this is yet another digital camera, think again! It's the Leica Reloaded in the sense that Leica was the grandfather of 35mm cameras with their invention of the first Leica camera back in 1908.
If you look around in history books and photographic museums, you'll notice that the 35mm format has been - and is - the most successful format ever. There's been APS-cameras, Polaroid, photo discs and many other formats invented for the sake of usability and compactness, but they're all dead or abondoned (some both).
The "one more thing" of Leica Camera AG anno 1908. A complete game-changer in photography, the first portable, silent, invisible camera. This one is the factory's copy of one of two existing prototypes..
You can read more about the historic part of this on my Leica History page but the fact remains that Leica invented the 35mm format to test film stock and movie primes for filmmaking and found that they had at the same time developed an extremely compact still camera that was portable, silent and invisible. It's been a jump in technology at that time as from the suitcase-like Motorola mobile phones of 1980ies to the iPhones.
Because all other cameras at that time were big boxes that required film plates (one at a time), tripods and tender care. The Leica camera just opened up a different league where you could shoot rolls of film with a pocket camera, why Leica really deserved all the success they had till the camera producers in Japan made inexpensive, automatic 35mm SLR-cameras that took over the market in a matter of few years in the 1970ies. (SLR=Single Lens Reflex, cameras where you see through the lens via a mirror, whereas Leica is rangefinder cameras where you see through a separate and very advanced viewfinder for framing and focusing).
Having fun with the Leica M9 and my daughter. 35mm Summicron-M f/2.0, 200 ISO, "aged photo" in Lightroom.
It's undisputed that Leica continued to make the best photographic instruments and lenses. It's just that they didn't fit the market and Leica Camera in Germany just didn't wanted to realize it. They was so soaked in their previous success and superiority that they just continued making the same great camera again and again: M6, M6 TTL, M7 and MP. It was like they were daft and blind to a market that seemed to want SLR and automatic focus, automatic metering, automatic rewinding ... well, automatic pictures.
In a way, Thank god! they didn't see it. Because if Leica hadn't made the same camera again and again under different model numbers with slightly incorporated improvements, they might have been dead or might have looked like Microsoft Vista or something worse (if such a thing exists).
Instead their stubbornness resulted in the "Leica Reloaded", the return to the beginning 100 years ago, but in a digital version. And with all the virtues of the original idea intact: The Leica M9. It has the feel of a full-metal, logic and simple Leica M4 as of 1970ies. Yet it is digital!
"Inadequate make you innovative" - Sunit Parekh-Gaihede (the animator responsible for the hair of the twins in Matrix Reloaded)
Let's start with the conclusion: It's simply the right feeling and the right camera. And for me that is all that counts. All the technical stuff will get aligned as you go if you feel it's the right camera. We've seen that with the Leica Digilux 2 as well. It's not the perfect camera (the Digilux 2) but it has some technical qualities that make the picture files sing - but mainly it has that "love factor" which has made it a true Leica classic and make you want to use it.
And in pointing out the Digilux 2, let me in the same sentence direct those who feel that the 7,000$ price tag on the Leica M9 is beyond their reach; go to the Leica Digilux 2 page: It is almost as good, and it's only 300-800$ (but let me at the same time warn you that the Leica Digilux 2 will lead you directly into temptation and lust for the Leica M9).
Now, for me the challenge is to get the picture files of the Leica M9 to sing like the ones from the Leica R9/DMR dSLR: It took me some tough weeks back then where I was very disappointed with the results I was getting from the DMR, till I got the hang of the new editing workflow in digital versus slide film. Even today the Leica DMR files are clearly superior to all other dSLR cameras on the market.
The ISO goes from (80/) 160 to 2500 ISO why the base ISO could be said to be the 160 ISO (whereas the 80 ISO is an artificial lowered ISO). The ISO performance of the Leica M9 compared to the Leica M8 and M8.2. has definitely been improved. The general agreement seemed to be that M8 was safe up to 640 ISO. The Leica M9 has improved 1.5 - 2.0 f-stops above that. Here is some examples of 1250 ISO performance.
What is ISO? - The term "ISO" is the name of "International Organization for Standardization" (www.iso.org) and derives from Greek isos, meaning "equal." In photography it is simply a number describing the light sensitivity of the sensor (or film). It came from when we used film and the light sensitivity was a matter of chemicals (a film is a piece of plastic with light-sensitive chemicals; in the early beginning a glass plate with light-sensitive chemicals). ISO goes in steps of doubling or halving the light (sensitivity). So 200 ISO is twice as sensitive as 100 ISO - requires only half the amount of light to create the same picture. 400 ISO is twice as sensitive as 200 ISO and four times as sensitive as 100 ISO. And so it goes.
It was previously known as ASA (ANSI/American National Standards Institute), DIN (Deutsches Institut für Normun) or
GOST (state standard for Soviet Union) till 1987 when ISO became the overall standard.
Another Leica M9 evening shot through a shop window. 1250 ISO, 1/125, 35mm Summicron-M f/2.0. (-0.3 EV in Lightroom)
A view into a restaurant. Leica M9 at 1250 ISO, 1/30 second, 35mm Summicron-M f/2.0. (- 0.07 EV adjustment in Lightroom). And here is a 100% crop of the 18 MP file:
A final one with skin tones, but in a very mixed light (yellow street light from above, halogen light from a store window behind the photographer , tube street lamps to both sides). Leica M9 at 1250 ISO, 1/30 second, 35mm Summicron-M f/2.0. And here is a 100% crop:
What I've learned so faris that underlit DNG-files present more noise when adjusted up in light, whereas DNG-files adjusted down in exposure (in Lightroom) tend to become less noisy than the original. The shop window is an example of noise becoming nicer and less present (-0.2 EV adjustment in Lightroom), whereas the above with the young couple was shot too dark and with the white balance totally off (+1 EV adjustment in Lightroom). If we can talk about a noise pattern, look at those two for a guideline.
It's common knowledge (I think) that if there is no light, no film or sensor can see. But somehow we've grown accustomed to thinking that digital cameras can "see in the dark." But if you take a sensors base ISO (the Leica M8, M8.2 and M9 has a base ISO at 160 ISO), that is how well the camera sees. Canon has a base ISO at 100 and Nikon at 200. So there is no magic sensors that can see in the dark, it's all a matter of long enough exposure and lightstrong lenses. The rest is manipulation and only a matter of how well the computer algorithms does it; and that is a field being developed - just as the film chemicals was being developed from the first color films till today's (which, by the way, is still being developed further by Fuji and a few others to present more accurate colors and with smaller grains).
In any case, my take on low light photography is faster lenses. Get Leica Summilux lenses or Leica Noctilux if you want to take pictures in the dark. In well lit places where you just want to add shutter speed to freeze the action you can very well use ISO (because the sensor "can see" in well-lit places and thus add more light with greater color accuracy and less noise than in really dark places where only a great lens will help it see).
So far Sean Reid as the first reported that the M9 can freeze (as the M8 and M8.2 could) when shooting series. The problem could be slightly different than the one in the M8.2 and M8, but it seems that when the buffer is stressed by either taking pictures or by other processes inside the camera, the camera freeze. Till foxed by Leica Camera AG with a firmware update, the handling is simply taking out the battery and insert it again. Picutres that might have been in the buffer will sometimes (but not always) be lost. Sean used firmware 1.002 for his test.
Another freese can happen when the camera is set in "sensor cleaning mode."
In this case the remedy is the same if the camera freezes. Take the battery out and insert it again.
Some users have had experiences that if you keep using well-loaded batteries, the problem will not arise that often or not at all (fully loaded battery is by the way mandatory to enter sensor-cleaning mode per the Leica M9 user manual). They have recommended changing battery when it is down to 1-2 bars, as well as maintaining "battery memory" by draining batteries every six months (done by inserting into the camera and set the camera to no autosave).
As some may have noted , the skin colors are a tad reddish/orange. Leica M9 users who use Capture One get cleaner results (Capture One was out with a M9 profile in their software even before the M9 was released), wheras users of Lightroom have to wait and see what and when Lightroom comes up with. Though a third part profile exists (see under downloads) which will correct the colors generally into matching a MacBeth color chart. One can also create one's own look with a profile in Lightroom. If Leica will address the colors in future firmware updates is not known.
My take on it so far is (in general) to adjust red, yellow and mostly orange saturation down, increasing contrast (and sometimes black) and lighten the picture (some times decreasing exposure) and increase contrast. To avoid the picture to "close" I often add fill light ( actually use fill light first and then add contrast and blacks to get contrast back - but the DNG files need more contrast than they come out with default).
It should be noted that doing Manual White Balancing using a grey card as WhiBal will give rather natural skin tones (see examples later). I have a suspicion that the preset white balances in the Leica M9 needs adjustment. (Leica Camera AG actually test and adjust White Balance on the factory using a black box with a white and slightly yellow surface inside. Now, my guess is they should change that setup - either the light inside the box, the paper or the screen they adjust by).
One reason for color casts can happen because of the non-supported lenses. Not all Leica lenses are supported by the Leica M9 and the 6-bit code system; though all can be mounted on the camera. As an example, the 21mm/3.4 lens that I use throughout this page, is not supported. It simply can't be 6-bit coded why one can only use the closest matching code (which for the 21 SA f/3.4 is either the 15-18-21mm WATE or the 21/2.8). So odd colors in that and other lenses - well, love it or leave it. It's not an error. Personally I have grown to like the look of the 21/3.4.
Some users (and even some non-users!) have reported that the Leica M9 arrived with dust on the sensor and/or that the Leica M9 sensor collects dust very easily. I took note that Steve Huff in his 13-page review said that his sample Leica M9 arrived with dust on the sensor and he is quite credible. He's no drama queen either, so he just cleaned it and went out shooting. My Leica M9 (and few others I know) arrived clean as a baby.
It could indicate an occasional flaw at Leica Camera AG as they clean the sensors before the camera leaves the factory (as can be seen in the video "Assembling the Leica M9"). Other reasons such as dealers opening the factory sealed box to sign the warranty papers has been suggested.
In any case dust can be removed cleaning the sensor, and from what I can tell, dust problems has more to do with where you live than the camera. I've never had problems with dust on my sensors as they seem not to collect much here around. It could be the weather, the way I bag them in my Pelican case (I use with dividers and not foam) or simply because I'm a nice guy. I have no idea, and I don't spare my cameras for anything. They get beaten up, lie in the bottom of the car, on the kitchen table, and the Leica M9 even went inside a big dusty owen on its 5th day working for me (you'll get the horror-video later!). I never had any problems with dust on the Leica M9. As said, mine (and others I know) got a clean Leica M9 and mine stayed that way for the first 5,000+ shots (and counting).
Shooting without memory card
When you turn on the Leica M9
without a memory card inserted, the screen will say "Attention - No SD card" but as soon as the message has disappeared, you can actually shoot 7 frames which stays in the buffer where you can preview them. If you turn off the camera, the buffer empties, but if you keep the camera on and simply remove the bottom plate and insert and SD-card, it will write the buffered images onto the SD card.
Extra long "B" mode for very long exposure using self timer
The Leica M9 has an extra long Bulb function. Set the self timer (to 2 or 12 seconds in the Menu, then turn the dial by the shutter far left to the self timer symbol). Set exposure dial to "B", then activate the self timer by pressing the shutter. The shutter will open and stay open until the release button is tapped again. This function works on the M8 and M8.2 as well.
Color and black & white at the same time
The camera can be set to (uncompressed or compressed) DNG + JPG Fine, and then in Menu > Color saturation set to Black & White. This will produce a DNG file in color and a final JPG in black and white. The preview on the screen will be the black and white JPG. One can then either use the JG as is, or alter the colored DNG into black and white in Lightroom, for example using the Nik Software plug in (see link in the end of the page).
Locking metering and shutter time
When you press the shutter release half down, you lock the exposure metering (except in "soft mode" where the shutter is released when you press the shutter release slightly). A neat little feature is that in the viewfinder you see the suggested shutter time, say 1/1.000 second. When you lock the exposure time, the 1.000 in the viewfinder becomes 1:000 - the top dot in the 1.000 will go as 1:000 to show you that the shutter time is now locked and you can recompose and shoot with the shutter time.
Shooting without the bottom cover
Should you leave the bottom cover behind in a cafe, or simply choose that it's better for you to shoot without for easier access to the battery and SD-card, you simply need to activate the small button placed 5 mm from the white battery button release next to the battery. It will require some tape or chewing gum together with a pin of some sort.
Please note! in reading the following that Sean Reid in his test of the M9 got buffer/writing times of 2-4 seconds per DNG file to the Sandisk Ultra II card (and Leica Camera AG even thought that was slower than their own tests). I've discussed this with Leica and they'll get my M9 in for a check as my writing/buffer times seem way too high. Also, Steve Huff has buffer/writing times similar to those reported in the Sean Reid M9 review (updated October 9, 2009. Further update will follow. Till then the times below will remain the same. Check the Sean Reid review for his tests at different modes and ISO settings).
In the official Leica Camera FAQ Leica Camera AG states that Sandisk Ultra (15MB/s) cards works faster than Sandisk Extreme III (30MB/s). It's expected that the next firmware will fix this so that the fastest card on the market is also the fastest in the M9.
Now, in actual numbers, here is what my test of Sandisk Ultra and Extreme III comes out with (all cards formatted in the camera):
As can be seen, there's not much of a difference between the two newest cards - which leaves hope that the firmware update 1.003 for Leica M9 will be able to utilize the higher speed of the Sandisk Extreme III. It also shows that the older 20MB/s "Extreme III" card is not the one to use. And make sure to check the card speed when buying new ones, because Sandisk uses the Ultra and Exreme names on different speeds.
In practical terms this means that one can shoot a series of 7 pictures in 3.5 seconds, just as the manual says, an no matter what type of files. And as can be read on this page, this can even be performed without a memory card.
So when you have shot the 7 shots, you have to wait for the buffer to have written the first file to the card before you can shoot again: So if you need speed, the way to go is perhaps JPG whihc will allow you to shoot the 8th frame already after 3-4 seconds. Shooting JPG would allow you to shoot somewhat like 23 frames a minute (or 40 in two minutes; for comparison you could shoot 11-12 DNG files in two minutes).
The above test was done with 1 second previews which didn't seem to affect the speed, and at 400 ISO.
All Sandisk "Ultra" series is by the way same speed, no matter what is added after the Ultra. Technically they're the same architecture and speed, according to Sandisk.
Wonder what the buffer is capable of
Now, this was meant as a SD-card test and not a buffer-test. The buffer may be capable of spitting them through to a card faster, and we might very likely experience this with new firmware updates in the future. Till then this gives a good indication of the rhythm of which you can shoot: One shot every 12 second when the barrel is hot!
Who's inside the Leica M9 and who's doing what?
I would die to get a description of how the buffer and the "computer" in the Leica M9 works. It seems that the traffic follow their own roads. the buffer and writing seem unaffected by preview and creating JPGs. But the "noise optimization" that the Leica M9 sometimes indicate (on the screen) that it is performing for low-light images, delays the buffer and writing. So what is doing what - I would like to see a drawing of that little highway system to understand it better.
A la carte speed?
Why not think this idea into the concept: What if one could order the Leica M9 with faster buffer speeds and/or preview processing speeds? Like when you buy a MacBook Pro, you can choose how many Ghz, RAM and video RAM you want it equipped with. I would like ultra-fast buffer (RAM?) whereas I would never use the zoom function on the preview (video-RAM?).
Speaking of improvements, some sign from the camera that it's turned on and everything is great would be nice. Currently it will tell if the bottom plate if off, if the SD-card is missing. But when the Leica M9 is turned on and everything is just dandy and ready to shoot, the screen is black (as if it was off). A small dot, a "Hello!" or some sign of life - would make things faster.
The most common comment on my black Leica M9 is "wow, that's an old camera." I think it's the leather that make it look like a very old camera.
Grey Leica M is the new black
The Leica M9 in metal-grey paint (with a black lens) prominently displayed in the New York Times' fashion section on September 10, 2009, "Dress Codes Accessories for Men"
Leica M cameras have been made in Black and Silver for as long as anyone can remember. At some stage the black became the preferred color, perhaps because all cameras became black and the chrome cameras was the old look. Nikon, Canon, Pentax and all made chrome cameras back when, but around 1970-1908 they all became fashionable black.
With the introduction of the Leica M9 the Silver (chrome) version of the Leica M stopped and was replaced by a metal-grey painted version.
As soon as it became known, the Leica fans was in disbelief. There had to be a silver version coming as well - there's always been a chrome version. But there wasn't.
According to Leica, they don't plan to produce a silver version. "The control buttons on the Leica M9 is silver and match the silver lenses," they say.
I was supposed to get a grey one, but much to my surprise, the one I got was a black one. I probably will never understand why SH PHOTO/Arsenal in Nurnberg pulled this trick, because they stated they had grey in stock, confirmed my order for a grey and even invoiced me a grey with the actual serial number of the one I got. Except it was black.
B&H have just anounced that they now take pre-orders for the Leica M9 which whould mean that they expect to deliver soon - though nobody has said loud and clear that it wil actually happen. But those who usually shop with B&H (which is the worlds no. 1 Leica seller) say that when they take orders, that's when they know they will soon be delivering. So have a look, and if you're order a Black Leica M9 or a Metal-Grey Leica M9 with B&H,
I'm actually an affiliate and will get kickback "to support my growing family", as we say in that business (note that if you are located outside USA, when buying from B&H you can select > View Card > select the country you live in > select shipping method > then click See Duties & VAT > and select "I don't want B&H to collect any additional money for tax and VAT" - and then you get it shipped at net cost without VAT).
Apart from the worlds largest Leica outlet, B&H I recommend my usual friends Red Dot Camera in London and Meister Camera in Germany, as well as Dale in Florida. But with the current delivery situation, if you really want one today, it's either B&H who just opened up for orders few days ago, or finding some small camera store that is so small they haven't gotten a waiting list.
The stories we hear abut these days when someone got a Leica M9 are people who either is first in line in one of the big stores, or who walked into a small store in a corner of the the world and found one on the shelf.
As for my black M9, I started using it immediately as I had plenty of work to shoot with it. In the first week I shot more than 4,000 frames with it! (I might send it to Leica for new grey top and bottom one day - or I may not. It still irritates me that all the promotional Leica M9 cameras are grey, and even Stefan Daniel seem to have chosen a grey for himself!).
Wear it like Seal
Speaking of style: Note how Seal wear his Leica MP titanium limited edition across the chest (at the release of the Leica M9). It secures the camera well against theft and is a pleasant and discrete way to wear the camera - you can actually wear it like that in the car with seatbelt on. But it's also a fashion statement, as can be seen on the photo right of the spring and summer fashion collection 2010 where leather straps from Lund Frydendahl are for decoration. The leather strap on the MP of Seals is from Artisan & Artist who make half-cases and straps for cameras. A good place to get Artisan & Artist products is from Monochrom in Berlin or Münich (they sell online as well). An alternative to the Artisan & Artist is Luigi Leicatime in Italy who make straps, half-cases, etc. for Leica cameras.
A less stylish - and very un-sexy - but very effective camera strap is the UPstrap known for its super grip. A blogger recently wrote about how well a Leica M hangs over the shoulder while biking through the city, using the UPstrap.
All sorts of ideas as to how many Leica M9 cameras has been deliverede in the first weeks and months has come about. From what I can tell, mine is the 172th Leica M9 made and my guess is that 1,400 was delivered in the first two weeks. But then production was delayed because a sub-supplier couldn't deliver an important part. In any case, thousands are waiting for their Leica M9, so what do you do in the waiting time? Well, Rick Dykstra started registrering who got which cameras and placed them on a Google Map. It's not a complete registry but a registry of thise who supplied information to Rick. It does give a hint as to colors choosen (20% is grey Leica M9) and where the Leica M9 goes.
Leica M9 and lenses with student discount
Leica Camera US have introduced a Student Program for the period November 1 - December 31, 2009 where photography students may buy Leica M9 and Leica M lenses (and Leica X1 and Leica D-Lux 4) with a good discount. For example the list price of the Leica M9 is reduced from 6,995 $ to 5,246.25 $. In short, one simply buys the equipment at an Leica Authorized dealer and then get the discount refunded by Leica Camera US. See further prices and rules in this link:
Eligibility for Leica Student Discount
• Full or part-time students in an accredited photography program in an accredited institution (higher than high school level).
• Educators teaching photographic courses in an accredited photography program in a college or university setting.
Lens Coding for Leica M9 (and Leica M8 and Leica M8.2)
Almost all the Leica M lenses with the M bayonet can be used on the Leica M9. Or perhaps we should sat that actually all can be used. But some can not be coded with he 6-bit code for the camera to recognize the lens and make proper corrections. So Leica Camera AG them self say "almost all" though nothing prevents you from mounting them on your Leica M9.
A 6-bit code on a Leica M lens
6-Bit coding or manual lens selection
Even with the revisions to the sensor and cover glass, cyan drift is still an issue in the corners due to the steep angle of incidence. The light rays striking the corner of the sensor travel a greater distance through the IR filter than the light rays striking the center. As such, the M9 uses the 6-bit coding data on the lens to correct for both vignetting and cyan drift.
The great thing with the Leica M9 is that you don't have to have your lenses coded at Leica but can manually set the lens on the cameras display. There is 36 lens choices sorted in focal length and aperture to chose from. So even without 6-bit coded lenses, you have the advantage of the 6-bit code.
What I experienced was that I could go out and use all my lenses at once - but also that in my eager to try them all at once, I forgot to change the manual setting. So I did quite a few with the 21mm Super-Angulion f/3.4 where the setting was for the 35mm Summicron-M f/2.0. Not that the difference was that great to the naked eye, but we're talking perfection here, and there's a reason that Leica made those codes. And a reason we chosed to get Leica lenses in the first place!
Thus there is a great advantage in getting the lenses coded with the 6-bit code, so that the camera automatically detect which lens you use, correct cyan drift and all - and you can see in the EXIF file which lens you used. Always nice to be able to see which lens it was, because you can't always remember.
I had gotten a do-it-yourself lens coder kit from Match Technical Services which I used after a couple of days, and that worked well. Though some of the codes disappeared again after some use, and then I had to repaint them. I don't know what to do about this, except sending in the lenses to Leica and get them proper coded. Thing is that you don't discover that the lens code has been wiped off till later when you look for it in the file. So proper lens coding at Leica is - as far as I'm concerned - the only route to go. But for initial use, and to see which lenses hold up to digital use on a 18 MP camera, wither manual setting or do-it-yourself lens coding is the answer.
The 2.5" on the back of the Leica M9 hasn't changed in size and quality from the one on the Leica M8 and Leica M8.2. But it has become brighter which is a plus when shooting outside in strong light. The screen's brightness can be adjusted in the menus though there's no special reason not to have it on the factory default which is full power.
It's a good idea to get familiar with how the screen previews of photos look compared to the actual picture files as seen on a good calibrated computer screen. In dark places a picture may look over-exposed, but on the computer it's perfect. Also, the contrast is quite high on the LCD screen why black shadows is far from black on the final picture. I'm just mentioning this as I did the error of changing exposure to a brighter one based on the preview on the screen. And I shouldn't have done that!
The 2.5" LCD-screen on the back of the Leica M9.
LCD-screen protectors for the Leica M9
The Leica M9 LCD-screen is not
scratch-resistant sapphire glass. Leica spared that to keep the price of the camera to go sky-high. It may become available as an extra later, but till then, if you're worried about the screen, you might add a screen protector. Here are some:
Giottos Aegis 8250 - real glass, not plastic. In short, it's thin optical glass and anti-reflective. 25$.
I mounted an optical glass protection myself on my Leica M9 in February 2010 but then took it off again after a week.
There were three reasons why I didn't like it:
1) The elevated edge of the glass took hair and other things from my knitwear (and probably also ruin the knitwear when hanging over the shoulder for a longer period),
2) the glass collected fingerprints in an annoying way and was harder to keep clean and to make clean than the original screen glass, and
3) Condense between the screen protector and the actual screen (due to temperature shifts both indoor and outdoor) created moist which made images look unsharp.
So all in all I decided to go back to my original philosophy: I prefer original design and simplicity, and if something happens Leica can replace it. I will though try a iPhone-like protection foil from 3M or something similar as soon as I find one. But it's really not a big concern. My glass already has micro-scratches, but you don't see them when an image is on the display. For comparison and comfort; I don't protect my iPhone either (but change glass and screen whenever somethign bad happens. But I do really prefer the original and simple design of things.
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Cleaning the camera, lenses and LCD-screen
I usually carry a micro fibre cloth of the kind you use for glasses and can be bought for a very reasonable amount at opticians. Many of them can also be washed in machine wash.
I use the micro fibre cloth to lenses, viewfinders, LCD-screen and - hold on - general cleaning of the camera body. It's great for taking fingerprints, oil and other marks a camera may obtain as an reward for heavy use.
I should note that I never use micro fiber cloths for my computer screens (but for iPhone) as the cloth is too small to clean an entire screen. Apple does in fact provide a louse quality and tiny (often black colored) micro fibre cloth with some if their computers, but it's not working (use water with a bit of soap: a wet cloth first, then a dry soft cloth to dry it off).
A good micro fibre cloth feels soft and silky. I used one brand once that was called "diamond cloth" and somehow that describes the feeling you should have touching a good quality micro fibre cloth. It's silky, not rough.
Cotton shirts and other may work well also. Fabric of flax is not a good idea in general (ruined my viewfinder on the Digilux 2). Silk lingerie might be great, though I've never had the time to clean lenses when I was around it.
Prepping a shoot in The Old Town in Denmark. Leica M9 with 50mm Summicron-M f/2.0 (II), 200 ISO, 1/60 second. Color temperature set manually using a WhiBal card, metering using external Seikonic lightemeter.
The Leica M9 is equipped with an Auto White Balance feature under the Set menu. The way a camera determines the proper white balance automatically is by seeking white, grey or black (neutral) areas in a photo, and adjust those towards clean white, grey or black. If there aren't any such colors in the scene, it's going to be a problem, and that is one possible error in color adjustment.
But Auto White Balance is also a piece of "intelligent software" why it can be improved and given to the camera through firmware updates. So it is an area that has been under constant improvement over the last years, and will be in the future. The good thing is that the Leica M9 you already got will also benefit from those improvements via the occasional free firmware-updates from Leica Camera AG. It's a software thing, not a hardware thing.
There is also the choice of manual setting using a white piece of paper or a neutral grey in front of the lens
(chose Manual in the Set > White Balance > Manual and then the camera ask you to point the camera towards a white or grey area). That is the proper way to do it.
But the Leica M9 also offers presets choices in the menu: Tungsten (3200K), Fluorescent 1, Fluorescent 2, Daylight (5600K), Flash, Cloudy, Shade and finally there is also Kelvin setting where you can set the kelvin to what you believe is right, or what you have measured with a Color Meter.
The good thing about leaving Auto White Balancing and choosing any setting is that the series of shot you take throughout a shooting under the same conditions, will be similar - why any changes you make may apply to all of them (and you can apply one adjustment to a whole series in Lightroom), whereas if you choose auto, you may get very different lighting results, requiring you to adjust each individually which is not satisfying.
Leica stick to the universal DNG files (an Adobe format) for their cameras - the Leica M9 as well. And good for that. And the Leica M9 also ships with a free serial number for Adobe Lightroom which is the workflow tool for importing DNG (RAW-) files and converting them to viewable pictures. The great thing about DNG (RAW) format is that it is a picture file that holds all information "as the image hit the lens" instead of just "as the camera saw it." It's not a totally right description, but the fact is that the DNG file contains all information about the scene, which enables the photographer to adjust exposure, white balance, colors, etc. to a very large degree. Only exception is if the data isn't there (like if highlights are blown out or shadows are underlit with no details).
This can develop into a bad habit of not caring if the picture is right. And quite many photographers have translated this possibility into "fixing it in the computer" and not giving a damn about shutter times, exposure, white balance and all.
Comparison of DNG and "JPG straight out of the camera" files (above). The JPG is actually very usable with good contrast (to the dark side) and vivid colors. Thought the DNG holds more shadow details and a general better dynamic range (the picture holds a broad range of tones from dark to bright in details). Where working in JPG format offers a lot of speed for the photographer who need to send photos from an event in a hurry, the DNG format holds almost unlimited possibilities for adjusting the picture that is too dark or where the color temperature is wrong.
The solution might be to shoot in both DNG and JPG so that one has both files: Quick selection and delivery of the files requested by an editor or somebody else right away. And all the pictures in DNG as well for later surgery - or for the possibility of fixing a great (but technically wrong) photo. As far as I can tell, there's no notable difference in buffer speed for the Leica M9 to produce only DNG or JPG, or both. Only downside (if you really don't need the JPG's) is that when imported into Lightroom, you will have two of each picture (one DNG and one JPG) and it just means more files to scroll through (if as said you really don't need the JPG). Though setting the Lightroom to "convert to DNG" when importing, you will only see the DNG files, the JPG will get imported only to the folder on your hard drive; not into the preview area).
The right way to do it though, is "getting it right in camera" meaning having set everything right so what you get is a final picture. No technical errors to correct for. In "the old days" when shooting slide, there was no other way as a slide film is final, so if you underexposed a little bit, it was too dark, and if overexposed, it was too bright. And nothing you could do about it. So that would teach you to capture light properly!
It's a real bad habit depending on equipment to do it for you, as in autofocus, auto exposure, auto white balance. And then fix it in Lightroom. It takes a lot of time to adjust photos, and there's also the question "what color temperature should I choose?" or "do I like this darker or brighter - or as it is?" so it is really a stupid route to go. And apart from the time spent by the computer instead than behind the camera, there's also the fact that adjusting DNG files depends on how well the computer software does it. And though the software gets better day by day, it's not the same as a picture that is just right. So if you want your pictures to really sing, get them right in the camera. And that also gives you an actual possibility for shooting "JPG straight out of camera" because the technical part will be ok.
So use adjustment in Lightroom as a lifesaver, not a way of living.
This is up for discussion. But so far it seems that the JPG's out of camera are considerable better (which depends both on how the sensor records the picture in the first place, but mainly on how the camera software decides to finalize the JPG).
The DNG files are better alone by the fact that files can be chosen to be "DNG uncompressed" and in 14 bit. On the M8 the DNG files were compressed to 8 bit, which mean they contained less information. You can't tell the difference on the picture (or maybe some eagle eyed persons can), it's more a matter of how much information is in the actual DNG file to be worked with in Lightroom and (mainly) Photoshop.
Those who have worked with the files from Leica DMR know how these high-bit Kodak sensor files (as the M9 also is) feels more like medium format files than files out of a 35mm camera (without mentioning Nikon or Canon by name).
Apart from the increased bits, the infrared filter has also changed on the sensor, and so has a few other details. But in general the changes are very slight why the difference between M8 and M9 pictures shouldn't be groundbreaking. But so far users report that the red is better, and si is the skin tones (which is two very important colors).
Lightroom RAW-conversion and digital workflow
Notice that as of November 23, 2009 Adobe Lightroom supports Leica M9 files - se below
A great deal of working with digital photography is workflow. There is always a learning curve in new equipment, and in digital there's handling the DNG files to get the look you want, archiving and backing uo, adding keywords and in general keep things in a way so you can find and use them. Photography (on any level) becomes a real pain if you have all your files in one big mess because you clearly remembered taking them. Now, how to find them again. I tell you, there is always wife's, family members, friends, coworkers and (for some of us) clients and potential clients asking for a certain photo or a series of some person or event.
So get your files put into order in folders, with keywords, "job numbers" or "event numbers" and all. The best description of workflow and what it is about, and how to get it sorted out so you can concentrate on shooting, is John Thawley's blog. Read it (though it is on Aperture, it's the same workflow for any software and any level of full-time professional or occasional fumbling amateur). Read it and work towards that standard.
Organizing equals freedom; not many have realized this (they think creativity requires everything being in a mess), but the more you put all the dull things into organized parts, the more time and energy you free up to what it is really about, creativity. John Thawley is a good example, a family father, blogger and professional photographer with a decent income, He shoots race cars in the weekend, finish all the computer work on site and when he enters the plane home Sunday evening, he's done with work.
I'm quite happy with Lightroom being shipped with Leica M9 because that's the software I've been using with the Leica DMR. So at least I don't have to learn one more software, and I don't have to use two different ones for two different cameras (M9 and DMR).
There is basically only two choices in my opinion. Apple's Aperture or Adobe's Lightroom, and Leica Camera AG seem to have been thinking along the same lines. Thing is that it's not just about which software have the best red color on the t-shirt of that kid in the photo. It is not unimportant (which is why I use Lightroom instead of Aperture for the DMR), but more importantly RAW-conversion software has become DAM (Digital Asset Management) where you import photos from camera, selects them, make keywords, captions and selections of the best ones for different purposes (by star-rating, colors, keywords and folders), crop and rotate, adjust exposure, colors, etc. and finally export the versions you need in the sizes you need, and/or FTP them to where they need to end up on a web site, online photo site or picture agency, and/or create a web gallery in an instant for your own and family's pleasure, or for clients to look at. All this is in one software for all existing cameras on the market - which is why there's no room for small players who can't keep up with all the new features and computer standards.
So that is why your main workflow will be one of these two major software players - Aperture or Lightroom. That said, you can also use other tools occasionally. For example I also use Imacon/Hasselblad's FlexColor which supported the DMR in the beginning (and still does). It has great skin tones and many great aesthetic qualities. But it is not a workflow tool, it can only convert files one at a time. It's a pain to work with, but when I have a shot that requires that special attention, I use that software for the conversion - and then I put that file back in the Lightroom workflow.
Lightroom and M9 in practical use
Adobe just updated Lightroom 2.4 to Lightroom 2.5 on September 16, 2009. However, these versions doesn't include a Leica M9 camera profile. And even worse, the Lightroom 2.5 show some pixelation errors around sharpened edges/highlights in version 2.5 (so skip that one, doesn't matter anyways).
On November 23, 2009 Adobe released the Lightroom 2.6rc ("rc" stands for "release candidate" as the real 2.6 update will firs be available on December 19, 2009) which has better support of the Leica M9 RAW/DNG files. As British photogrpaher Christopher Tribble said, that is "bye bye to red faces" which has been the major problem with the Lightroom 2.4 and 2.5 which didn't support Leica M9 files.
But the Lighroom 2.6rc version is out and working with release includes an improved camera profile for the Leica M9. You can get that one here: Adobe Labs. The Lightroom 2.6rc can be installed alongside Lightroom 2.5 on Mac, but on Windows it will by default overwrite the Lightroom 2.5 installation (which you can reinstall after installing the Lightroom 2.6 beta - or buy a Mac).
How to use it
When you open Lightroom 2.6rc you simply select Default Settings in the Develop menu:
Select Default Settings in the Develop menu for the Lighroom 2.6rcso as to make sure all future imports are with this new Adobe Standard profile. For previous imported images the default Embedded profile in the DNG file will be the one you had then; so if you used Leica M9 Generic Profile, that's the one and then you have to change older imported pictures Profile in Camera Calibration (which is in the bottom of the right hand menu):
Here's a test with the Leica M9 Camera Generic Profile left and the new Adobe
Standard right, as it is in the Lightroom 2.6rc. Now, I've adjusted white balance in them manually which makes the left 7000 Kelvin and the right one 7300 kelvin (by measureing on the grey Gu∂run & Gu∂run sweather with the WB picker in Lightroom).
What about the old files?
As British photogrpaher Christopher Tribble said, there's no reason to change profile on older images that has already been adjusted to the look one wanted, using that profile of that time (which is still embedded in the DNG file and is the one the image is adjusted by) - unless there's a single picture or two one want to see if one can get right. In that case, revisit it and change the profile - and then fix it again from top.
Lightroom is free with the Leica M9 and Leica ME
The good thing is that when you register your Leica M9 with Leica Camera AG and get your serial number to your free Adobe Lightroom. You will see when you get the Leica M9 that in the package there is a code that you use on the Customer Service Center at Leica Camera AGs website. In return you get an e-mail with the serial number, as well as a link for downloading Adobe Lightroom from Leica Camera AG.
What the use of this is after Adobe released Adobe Lighthroom 2.6 on November 23, 2009 I don't know yet, but if you use Lightroom 2.4 or 2.5 you definitely should check it out. On September 19, 2009, Sandy of ChromaSoft was so kind to provide Leica M9 users with M9 DNG camera profile generated from a real image of a real GM24 chart using Adobe's Profile Editor. Below you can get an idea of what the profile does:
The adjustments made from the center photo to the one to the right was the following (all made in Lightroom):
Red saturation -16
Orange saturation -16
Yellow saturation -26
Yellow luminance +43
The big final picture above them was finished in Photoshop with dodge and burn (see article on this), cropping and then run through a little action I ise that sharpens the lightest layer in the photo.
The M9 camera profile for Lightroom can be downloaded from ChromaSoft and then you place the .dcp file in the Camera Profiles folder:
On Mac OS X:
On Windows 2000 / XP:
C:\Documents and Settings\All Users\Application Data\Adobe\CameraRaw\CameraProfiles
On Windows Vista:
One important advice on
Adobe Lightroom and other workflow software
I say this every time I get the chance: Never ever trust a software. Don't let Lightroom (or any other software) "keep your files and system for you." Make sure you organize your workflow around and through Lightroom, but make sure the files are kept in your archive, both the raw ones, as well as the files exported with keywords, stars, color codes, captions and all. All this information is in the files (or make sure it is exported to the actual picture file) so if Adobe one day decide to stop supporting Lightroom, or they change the software to something you won't continue with, it is important that all your picture files are organized outside Lightroom in a way so you can manage it yourself by the help of another software. And all software can manage files with keywords, stars, etc.
In short; use software to hep you manage your files, don't let the software keep the files for you. One scary example is the Apple iPhoto, which is a great software for smaller libraries, but which create its own folder system in the "Photographies" section of the OSX System. Many users have any idea where the program stores their photographs, which is why several I know of have omitted to back them up or/and lsot them when cleaning. It's important: It's your files, you got to take ownership and responsibility for them.
RAW Software downloads:
Adobe Lightroom - Workflow and archive with RAW conversion - offers a 30 days free full working trial. Apple Aperture - Workflow and archive with RAW conversion - offers a 30 days free full working trial. The Aperture 3.1 supports Leica M9 - but make sure to update to version 3.1 or higher (when available) to ensure the best results. Version 3.0 is said to cause some Leica M9 trouble. Capture One 4 (also known as "C1") - RAW conversion - offers a 30 days free full working trial. SilkyPix Developer Studio - a RAW converter that does what it says; create silky files. 30 days free trial.
Black and white software: Silver Efex Pro from Nik Software - stand-alone software or as plugin for Lightroom and Aperture. The de facto standard for converting color pictures into black and white. Offers a 15 days free trial.
The M9 is now the fourth Leica camera to utilize KODAK CCDs, building on Kodak’s earlier support of the Leica Digital Module-R (DMR), the Leica M8 (Leica’s first digital rangefinder camera), and the new Leica S2. The M9 is packing the Kodak KAF-18500 CCD, which is an 18.5 MP full frame (24x36mm) sensor exclusively developed for the M9. It features a new offset microlens structure, revised 0.8mm IR cover glass, and new red filter in the Bayer color filter array. The sensor is capturing 14-bits per pixel, and supports an ISO range of 80-2500 (base of 160), with the promise of 1-1.5 stops of improved high ISO performance. In order to accommodate 80% more data throughput, Leica is now sporting twin DSPs and upped the RAM to accommodate nine shots with almost double the pixels in the buffer. The main PCB board and image processing algorithms are still developed by Jenoptik, the same partner as the original M8.
Many had thought that the M9 would feature the Maestro ASIC chip from the Leica S2, but Leica felt that in order to expedite development, staying with the same partner and building on the existing framework of the M8 would be a better approach. Some things were taken from the S2 project, like the algorithms for high-ISO optimization, which were shared with Jenoptik. Leica has branched out to the academic community as well, working closely with some talented image processing experts from the University of Cologne for noise reduction algorithms. With the amount of talk on high-ISO, you can see that Leica has placed a large emphasis in this area.
In the Kodak KAF-18500 CCD, the pixel spacing is increased towards the corners to accommodate even greater offsets. The second step was to increase the thickness of the IR cover glass from 0.5mm to 0.8mm, which, combined with a new type of IR-absorbing glass, eliminates IR bleed and still preserves red channel information into the corners. With a new red color filter in the Bayer matrix, the red channel performance is improved further, increasing accuracy and tonal range.
I'm Getting there
Here's first a picture from the first day of the Leica M9 in my hands, then the same phtoo edited again two weeks later when I started to get the hang of the workflow with the M9 files. And we're not done yet.
It will be refined further, especially when Lightroom comes with a dedicated Leica M9 profile (which they haven't yet). First step postprocessing-wise has been to get the skin colors right, I guess next will be to really get the files parkling and singing.
Leica M9 with 50mm Summicron-M f/2.0 - file from day 1. Below how it looks when edited two weeks later:
Thorsten von Overgaard is a Danish writer and photographer, specializing in portrait photography and documentary photography, known for writings about photography and as an educator.
Some photos are available as signed editions via galleries or online. For specific photography needs, contact Thorsten Overgaard via e-mail.
Participate in the I SHOT IT photo competition with Thorsten Overgaard as judge.
Page 1: "Leica M Reloaded"
"The Leica M9 in short"
"Possible M9 errors"
"Memory card test"
Video: "Assembling the Leica M9"
"Grey Leica is the new black"
"Wear it like Seal"
Leica with student discounts
"Leica Delivery Register"
"The LCD screen"
"Cleraning he camera"
"Light metering and exposure"
"DNG & JPG files"
"Better files on the Leica M9"
Leica M9 now supported in Adobe Ligthroom 2.6
Lightroom RAW-conversion and digital workflow"
"Leica M9 profile for Lightroom"
"The Leica M9 sensor"
One of the first Leica M9 shots to surface, a Cuban boxer shot in August 2009 for the Leica M catalog that accompanied the September 9, 2009 release of the Leica M9.
- Metering with the Leica M9.
- Aperture as an artistic tool.
- Kodachrome is the ideal look.
- The lack of AA filter on the Leica M9.
- The secret behind Leica (revealed)
- Low shutter speeds.
and more ...