Wednesday, July 06, 2011

Goin' Leica

Leica M9, 50 Summicron, f/2, 1/60s, ISO 320
In a post last year I went over my thoughts on the Leica M9. I'd had the chance to work with one for a couple of weeks and felt I knew what the strengths and weaknesses were and at the time it didn't make sense to add the M9 to my shooting kit. Last week I picked up an M9 kit and am now on a few lists to get some hard to find Leica lenses. What's changed?

The biggest change is that my need for a compact, high quality system has gone up. Last year the prospect of adding an M9 along with the appropriate complement of Leica lenses was financially impossible. Now, having sold a significant chunk of my dedicated bird photography gear, it becomes possible.

The second is a rather obvious realization. The reason I added an M9 is the same reason I disqualified getting a Pentax 645D and is the biggest complaint I have with the Sony NEX. The overall system. In both the Pentax and Sony case, the lenses available for each body is woefully inadequate. In the case of the 645D, its modern high quality lenses that can do the sensor justice. In the case of the Sony, its really any high quality lenses for the system. In the case of Leica, there exists a whole slew of high quality lenses that are not only great but in many cases are the best lenses for the 35mm format ever made.

So the M9 still has some of the short comings I mentioned in my post, but I see those short comings as the price to pay to get to work with Leica's superb optics. In short, I have confidence that Leica will address these shortcomings in an M10.

These last 4 days, I went on a family trip to the Eastern Sierras. I did some shooting but it was mostly a scouting trip for future trips, including a short 3 day trip to Bishop on which I'm leaving tomorrow.

I had the chance to use both the 5D2 and the M9 quite a bit. I had forgotten just how much I liked the Leica ergonomics, everything was in exactly the right place. I'll post several images in the coming days to show the image quality of the M9, but in general I was very impressed. I'm confident that if Leica adds LiveView to the M10 (so that very precise focusing at intended depth of field is possible), I will probably use it for the majority of my landscape work.

Leica M9, 28 Elmarit ASPH, ~f/11, 1.5s, ISO 160

One difference that is striking is colors, especially the greens. The above image was pretty much exactly what my eyes saw at capture time. I didn't fiddle around with the colors, pretty much straight out of Lightroom, Adobe Standard color profile and 'Shade' as the white balance setting. Below is the 5D2.

Canon 5D2, 24 TS-E II, f/8, 1s, ISO 100
The difference may not be huge, but thats because I had to fiddle around with the file in Lightroom a LOT to get it here and it still doesn't feel right to me in terms what I saw.  This was with a custom color profile I created for my 5D2 using a ColorChecker Passport chart and I played with the white balance and also the hues of the branches.  Still, I think the water has a green cast to it (which I would fix for a final image).

Thats one of the things I noticed right away in the hundreds of images I took, the M9 images required very little fiddling to get colors right while post processing.  This also has a direct consequence when converting to black & white as I find it easier to get the tones exactly where I want them when there is a good color separation in the original file.

Still, the image quality differences between the cameras themselves (especially after careful post processing) are IMO minor enough that they alone might not be enough to go down the Leica route.  But its the size and weight thats the icing on the cake. 
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