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Leica M9 review: Leica M9

Focusing the camera is then a matter of rotating the focal length ring on the attached lens until the two images perfectly align. It's easiest to do this when you're looking directly at a vertical line as it provides a sharp contrast against which to judge the alignment. It's a bit of a mindbender if you've spent your life working with a regular manual focus, turning the barrel of a zoom lens to find the sweet spot, but it's well worth the effort, as the results more than repay the time spent getting it right.

The control is extremely fine, with tiny adjustments making dramatic changes to the specific part of the image that remains in focus. This gives you far greater control than you'd have with any regular camera which, when combined with the widest aperture of f/1.4 on our test lens, made it extremely easy to produce some impressively sharp, shallow-focus images.

The rear LCD is used for tweaking the menus and reviewing your shots, as with any other camera. What it's not used for, though, is any form of live view: you'd not be able to focus this way as you couldn't overlay and manually align the view seen through the two framing windows.

 

Detail test

You won't see it through the viewfinder, but the versatile 35mm lens makes it easy to achieve a beautiful 'bokeh' effect when shooting with an aperture of f/1.4, or a sharp background when shooting at f/16 (click image to enlarge).

Results

Everything about the Leica M9 and M9-P screams quality, from the camera build to the leather cases for the lenses and, most importantly, the images they produce.

The native file format is Adobe DMG, which come out at a whopping 18MB, full of stunning detail. Colours are consistently brighter and more vivid than just about any camera we have used -- ever. Skies look like they've been boosted through liberal use of a polarising filter, while reds and browns are rich and satisfying.

Detail test

Apart from resizing to make them more friendly to download, we haven't edited any of these images. These colours come straight out of the camera (click image to enlarge).
Detail test

Again, there's been no editing here. This rich, vivid blue was created in camera without any filters (click image to enlarge).
Detail test

Even with muted colours, such as this wall cast in shadow, the M9 captures plenty of detail (click image to enlarge).

Our test lens was sharp at all aperture settings, produring crisp edges to our focused subjects and a beautiful velvet blur on those parts that were thrown out of focus at particularly wide aperture settings.

Relying on a physical aperture ring for adjustments rather than a software-driven setting through the camera menus gives you a more responsive shooting environment overall, with the obvious caveat that as you're not looking directly down the lens barrel, you can't see what the result will look like until it appears on the review screen.

Is it for you?

If you can afford it, and you're prepared to spend time getting to know the M9 or M9-P, then you'll be rewarded by some of the best pictures you've ever taken. It's very easy to grab some technically excellent results after just a couple of days' play. Whether they have artistic merit, of course, relies on your own judgement rather than the physical and optical attributes of the camera itself.

There's no getting away from the fact that this is a very expensive set-up, though. The camera and lens combo we tested, which represent a pretty regular pairing, cost £8,500. You could buy 20 iPads or a Ford Fiesta for that and still get change, and that's before you invest in building up a decent stock of lenses with varying focal lengths.

The M9 and M9-P are cameras for none but the uber-wealthy, which is a shame, as we've found ourselves more impressed with the results in these tests than from any other camera, period.

Our review unit is on its way back to Leica; we wish it wasn't.

Detail test

With a slightly wider aperture we have kept more of this image in focus as the subject recedes from the lens (click image to enlarge).

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