Tuesday, February 23, 2021

WHY I BYPASSED THE LEICA M9 WHEN UPGRADING FROM AN M8





By Heinz Richter

Should I upgrade from an M8 to an M9? I see this question asked quite frequently.  The M9, as the follow up model of the M8, certainly must be considered an improvement with its full frame sensor and 18 megapixels, compared to the APS sized, 10 megapixel sensor of the M8.

This switch is quite often recommended and in many cases it appears to be also based on the still prevailing idea that CCD sensors are superior to the now common CMOS sensors. That issue was thoroughly debunked with a comparison test by David Farkas of Leica Store Miami. (see "THE GREAT DEBATE: CCD VS. CMOS")

Leica M8 with 35mm f/1.4 Summilux ASPH

Leica M9 with 50mm f/1.4 Summilux ASPH

My first digital M Leica was a Leica M8 and it worked better than expected.  The smaller sensor and the relatively low resolution of 10 megapixels had much less of an affect than expected.

What bothered me the most is the crop factor of the smaller sensor.  I grew up with 35mm cameras and have gotten used to the effects of certain focal length in relation to the image.  With the smaller sensor this no longer applied and I found myself forever calculating what any focal length on the M8 would translate to on a full frame camera. Of course this is something one can get used to, but 40+ years of experience with film didn’t make that any easier.

But there was more.  When using my film Leicas, I often used lenses beyond the standard, rangefinder coupled lenses.  I did close-up work as well as using lenses longer than 135mm.  This made the Visoflex an important part of my camera outfit.

Leica M5, Visoflex III, Leica Bellows II, 560mm f/6.8 Telyt

Photograph taken with the above combination

Of course the Visoflex can be used on the Leica M8 and M9, but I had always hoped for a more elegant solution.  The Visoflex definitely adds a considerable amount of bulk and it takes up a fair amount of space during transport.  Subsequently I was hesitant to go with the M9 and I am glad I waited.

Leica M240 with 50mm f/1.4 Summilux ASPH

The introduction of the Leica M240 was the answer for me.  Full frame, an even higher resolution of 24 megapixels and a CMOS sensor, offering live view.  This allowed me to do close ups and the use of long lenses without any additional accessories, using the screen in back of the camera.  Of course that soon proved to be less than ideal.  But the solution of that problem lay in the electronic Visoflex.  Added to the accessory shoe, I now had a well working viewfinder that easily allowed focusing for close up work as well as long lenses.

Leica M240 with attached electronic Visoflex

Granted, using the electronic Visoflex is not as nice as an optical viewfinder, but I don’t let that bother me.  Focusing is quite accurate, especially with focus peaking, and the slight delay in the image refresh when moving the camera is negligible to me.  My first digital Leica was a Digilux 2 and its electronic finder is light years behind in comparison.  I got used to it and subsequently had no problem at all with the electronic Visoflex.

The M 240 also has the advantage of electronically illuminated viewfinder frames. This makes it independent of the relative ambient brightness which illuminated all previous Leica M models.  Under adverse lighting conditions this sometimes made it difficult to see the viewfinder frames. 

But I discovered another advantage of the M240 over the M9 and especially the M8.  Since no zoom lenses are available for Leica M cameras, we are forced to change lenses quite often out of necessity.  With the higher resolution of the M240 I found that I have been able to curtail that need to quite an extend.  For most of the work I do, 24 megapixels is more than enough.  I rarely make very big enlargements and therefore was actually quite happy with the M8.  However, with virtually all of the Leica lenses we have a performance potential that is often not being taken advantage of.

I am talking about cropping.  I found that using a shorter lens, in my case often a 28mm f/2.8 Elmarit or a 50mm f/2 Summicron, I can shoot and crop to the field of view of a longer lens to quite an extend without sacrificing overall quality of the image.  In many cases this has allowed me to get a shot that I otherwise might have missed while changing lenses.

Leica M240 with 28mm f/2.8 Elmarit, full frame

Same frame cropped

Extreme crop of the same frame

Leica M240 with Novoflex 200mm f/3.8, full frame

Same frame cropped

Same frame cropped for small detail

Same frame cropped for small detail

Since I bought the M240, Leica has presented us with the M10.  Is it worth to change to it?  Not for me.  Of course the M10 has several advantages.  For one thing it is smaller, having gone back to the dimensions of the Leica M film cameras and there are several operational improvements.  But to me that is not enough to justify the expense.  The larger size of the M240 has never bothered me.  I was even happy using the huge Zeiss Contarex years ago.

One other advantage of the M10 lies in its better high ISO capabilities.  It definitely display less noise in such situations.  However, since I rarely use images straight out of the camera, this is less of a problem for me.  I always optimize my images in post production, including noise reduction with the help of Photoshop when necessary.

Does that mean the M 240 is the end of the road for me? Not at all.  We now have the Leica M10-R with its 40 MP sensor.  That is a considerable increase in resolution offering a greatly increased image quality with big enlargements and even greater cropping ability than the M240.  For me that is of considerable interest, as is the greater dynamic range and better high ISO capabilities.  For the time I will keep my M240, but a future switch to the M10-R is definitely a possibility.



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5 comments:

  1. Heinz, I more or less agree with your article. I had 3 M10 camera bodies, and although the IQ at high ISO is outstanding, the camera body is very sexy slim, I have no further interest anymore in this version.
    Why?
    Well, ......
    Out of the 3 M10's I owned, all 3 failed and had to go back to the Wetzlar factory for repair. This all happened during the first few weeks.
    So the M10 book is closed for me.
    I bought a new M-E 240 this week, and it arrived yesterday.
    It is the best looking M I ever had I must say.
    The grey paint is very good looking, in reality much better then on the internet pics.
    So with the nearly unexhaustive battery, this M240 is allI want.
    Concerning the colors, I must say that I like them a lot.
    IMO the best of all M's, even better then the M8 and M9!
    I am not a CCD fanboy, and I must say that I do not see the differences between CCD and CMOS.
    Many others confirm this to me, even very well photographers have the same opinion, e.g. Rui Palha.......
    A few friends of me skipped the M240 because they did not like it. So it is a also a matter of personal taste.
    Great article!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I am sorry to hear about your bad experience with the M10. Fortunately, any such experience has so far eluded me with any Leica I have ever owned. As I mentioned in the article, the CMOS sensors are definitely not inferior to any CCD and the advantages like life view, higher ISO capability etc. ultimately make them the better choice. Camera choices as well as the choice of which Leica to own ultimately depends on the individual, and with Leica we have the additional advantage of a camera system that offers lenses, unsurpassed by anyone else. Those lenses, coupled with cameras designed to optimize their performance potential still makes Leica the best choice - for me.

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  2. I own the M9 based first generation M Monochrom and the M240 based M-D 262. I see no reason for a newer replacement for either of these except possibly moving from the old Monochrom to the not-quite-as old M246, and that only for the bigger battery and illuminated frames as I shoot a lot in low light.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. You can ulluminate your viewfinder frames with the DAG Frame lighter:
      https://gmpphoto.blogspot.com/2020/08/frame-lighter-for-leica-film-and.html

      Delete
  3. Exactly me feelings. I skipped the M8 and M9 and jumped on the M240 when it came out. I have gotten wonderful images from it. My main gripes? Weight and size. In that order. When I played with an M10, I enjoyed the M7 size of it, but the thing was still heavy! So, definitely not worth it for the upgrade. Now, we have the M10-R: The dynamic range and resolution boost are very intriguing. I don't necessarily need the increased dynamic range, but I'd love to see the highlights roll off a bit more smoothly. That's digital's Achilles heel, especially the Monocroms. I've demoed the MM and M246 multiple times, and I just hate how harshly the highlights clip. I actually prefer B/W conversions from my M240 because the highlights clip one color channel at a time, which buys a touch of dynamic range in that transition.

    ReplyDelete