Leica M film camera fanatics around the world have long been waiting for a true digital version of their much valued 35mm film interchangeable lens rangefinder cameras which were the mainstay of well-heeled street photographers of the 20th century.
The Leica M8 digital had to utilise a 1.3x crop sensor and inadequate IR filtration in order to deal with the optical problems posed by the very short lens mount to sensor distance of the Leica M lenses.
Now with the new Leica M9, it seems that Kodak have been able to overcome the issues and even do so with a full frame 35mm sensor which finally realises the potential of the much coveted Leica M lenses.
Although I am not a Leica camera user (I can only afford the Panasonic GH-1 and Leica-D 25mm f/1.4 lens), I come from a background of Olympus OM use and can appreciate the benefits of the Leica design when used as a candid camera.
I use my GH-1 in a similar way by combining it with an Olympus OM 21mm lens so I can set a focus and aperture without lifting the camera to my eye, and in shutter priority mode with auto-ISO know that I should be able to get the shot I need.
If all one wished to do is this, then Leica have their fixed lens option – the Leica X1 but at $US2000 – most people would get far more bang for their buck with the Micro Four Thirds system – see this blog.
Back to the Leica M9.
At 18mp, full frame, with no anti-alias filter to degrade the sharpness of the Leica M lenses, it becomes the smallest, lightest, full frame digital camera with interchangeable lenses and promises to be able to deliver high quality images – perhaps even better than current 20+ mp full frame dSLRs.
BUT, there is a BIG problem – the body will set you back $US6000, then you need to look at about $US3000 for a lens. Only a fanatic will pay that much for such a specialised camera – although it is a very nice camera system.
In addition, the lack of live view means there is no alternative to the rangefinder view, so you cannot get a through-the-lens view and this means that even if you could use other non-Leica-M mount lenses, you would not be able to focus with them. This of course will not be an issue with those who buy the M9 as they will already have their set of Leica M lenses and would not use anything else anyway.
This all brings us back to why so many people are excited by the Micro Four Thirds system – it brings for the first time, most of the benefits of the the Leica M world (no rangefinder version yet though) and combines them with features of the dSLR world as well as the digital video world, and all in a relatively affordable, compact and light package.
A GH-1 with 14-140mm HD lens sounded expensive at $US1599, but when you consider that the lens itself is worth more than half of this price, and the versatility this camera offers, it is really not a bad option.
More information on the Leica M9 at:
Oh, and it seems demand for the Leica M9 is high, even at that price with photographers trading in their big, heavy Canon 1DsMIII and Nikon D3’s – see here.