Leica M9

I’ve been using the digital Leica M9 rangefinder camera for about 2 years now, and have generally been very pleased with it.

The full-frame camera, which looks and handles like its traditional film predecessors, has been quiet and reliable.  I like fact that it does not draw much attention to itself, being small and unobtrusive, and people don’t seem as intimidated as they might be if I were using a bulky Nikon slr with a lens the size of a loaf of bread.

The ISO range is a bit limited for this day and age, claiming only to get up to 2500.  Even that modest speed is all but unusable, however, and I find 1600 to be just about the top of its range.

I’m also a bit puzzled that a professional camera lacks a pc outlet, relying only on a hot shoe for flash work.

Still, aside from the film speed issue, I couldn’t figure just what direction Leica would take when it brought out its next model.

So I was very surprised by the two new models they announced last year; one that shoots only black-and-white, no color, and a second model that not only ups the ISO range, offers live view on the camera’s LCD screen, but brings video shooting to Leica’s flagship model.

The black-and-white camera, called the M Monochrome, or just MM, offers the same number of pixels as the M9, 18MP.    But since all the sensor information is poured into black and white, with nothing diverted to color, the images have a richer, deeper tone range than conventional cameras.  An internal filter has also been removed, allowing for increased sharpness.

Additionally, the ISO upper limit has rocketed to 10,000.

The camera is presented as a return, of sorts, to the halcyon days of classic 35mm reportage in black and white.  Those photographers fortunate enough to get their hands on one report outstanding image quality.

It sounds very intriguing, and I would love to get one myself, but for the price tag.

Leica has never been known as an economy camera, but $8 grand for a body alone is tough to swallow.

The second new model, known as simply the Leica M, is priced at the same level as the “old” M9, at $7k.

The ISO range has been bumped to 6400 with a 24MP sensor, which is pretty respectable.

More importantly, to me, is the fact that the live view option allows a photographer to use a full range of lenses, from fisheye to extreme telephoto to macro, and, for the first time, actually see what the lens is shooting.  Just like an slr.

Traditionally, the Leica’s optical viewfinder allowed for only a limited range of focal lengths, from 28mm to 135mm, and down to 15mm with an external viewfinder mounted on the hot shoe.

With the exception of sports photography, most of my newspaper work has always been shot within this range of lenses, so that was fine for me.  Whenever I needed the extra range, I just reached for my company-supplied Nikon.

While I can’t say that either of these new Leicas are in my future, I think  they just might assure the future of the company itself for a new generation of photographers.