Leica Leica M9P in the eyes of a M240P shooter

mike3996

Hall of Famer
Location
Finland
So I went ahead and got myself a neat Leica M9-P.

This move was totally bonkersville for me because I've been shooting my M240-P happily for 2.5 years and what shortcomings this camera has, it is the M10 lineup that fixes them for me, not M9...
  • Better-behaving high ISO. Banding-free 6400 would be nice, banding-free 12500 is even better.
  • Quiet shutter is nice.* M10P would be a dream.
  • While I don't use live view regularly, M10 models have some improvements there that I could enjoy. Also they have help for tripod work.
While those benefits and niceties exist, it's a lot of money to upgrade from M240 to M10, and there are even some mild downsides as well. Battery life being the foremost thing.

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Colors "kept" but lifted shadows from the background and leaves.

Yet I have gone for M9-P. I will be shooting the two M cameras side-by-side for a while and evaluate things.

There's no denying that M9-P (in silver) must be one of the prettiest digital cameras of all time. Frameline illuminator window, the works. I hope I can find reasons for my purchase other than the looks... Much like some cameras before M9P I bought them for a price that I thought made them safe bets for good reselling later on. If I don't like the M9 experience, I'll sell it for little loss and gain the experience from it.

The first impressions after 24 hours of ownership

I visited a nearby town 90 minutes away where I picked up the camera and a new lens (CV 35/1.4 Classic) and I made it a minivacation by booking a room overnight. It's been a heat wave around here and it wasn't all that easy to spend much time on one's feet but I got my touristy shots and some nice lakescapes. I approximate about 12 hours "shooting time" outside.

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Colors "kept intact", applied contrast.

Here's the immediate first impressions about M9 for someone who'd been shooting the 3-years-newer model MP240.

  • M9P is slimmer and lighter in hand. But without the thumb grip that I have attached on my MP240 the ergonomics aren't comparable as is.
  • The shutter sound is not as loud as people make it to be. It's a very sharp click followed by the whirr. The whirring noise after shot is a nice feedback indicating when the camera will be able to take another exposure. Nice!
  • I immediately enabled the soft shutter advance and while it's nice, it could be softer still. I realize there still has to be a two-step shutter because the camera has to wake up before anything can happen. The camera goes to sleep pretty quickly and I have to be constantly wake it up to be ready for action. I didn't miss anything critical but when the camera is asleep the shutter doesn't do anything.
  • Despite using the soft shutter feature, my shots using 50mm at 1/60 sec came out mostly blurry from camera shake. M240 is way more dampened and usable. Is it the lighter weight of the camera, is it the shutter mechanism, is it the shutter trigger?
  • I tend to shoot a bit more frantically than the usual M shooter but I never encountered the limits of the tiny buffer or the 2 FPS shutter. M240 has a rating for 3 frames per second but in my practical shooting they're very similar.
  • The buttons on the back are super nice. The back wheel skips occasionally but is better than what MP240 has.
    • But the controls on top: shutter release, shutter speed and drive mode switch are all cheaper-feeling than what M240 has.
  • The ISO selector is much nicer than what's on MP240. I can make quick changes in full stops if I want to (and I want to).
  • The screen... all the reviews warned me about it but no review could prepare me enough for the reality. The pictures simply cannot be judged from the screen. It's like staring at a bowl of oatmeal, resolution wise.
    • ...can't judge color or white balance, can't judge focus, super tough to judge composition, you can just barely judge exposure...
    • ...but the highlight clip blinkies are somewhat overly conservative (or/and the sensor is just more clippy) so that even the blinkies shout "false alarm" quite a bit. If I enable the histogram it blocks the view from judging the composition and edges.
    • Overall I think I get why Leica didn't make an M9-D: because M9's screen is already so useless that seasoned shooters regard it as good as nonexistent?
  • Judging from the screen the DR is abysmal. Much more difficult to make a neat exposure. (Luckily the raws have pretty much recoverability so this is only a problem out in the field when trying to make the optimum compromise.)
  • Likewise the sensitivities seem pretty hot for the ISO. (Or the screen is just too limited, rendering tones in a harsh way.)
  • The optics in the viewfinder seem a bit unclear to me. M240 has a different coating and probably fares better in the sun. I had marginally more trouble focusing the M9P -- observing the rangefinder patch.
  • The framelines of M9P are "much more way off" than what I'm accustomed to with M240.
Some early notes from the processing/pixel peeping
  • I shot almost everything with CV 50 Heliar because it's a known lens and I wanted to evaluate the new lens separately. CV 50 behaves a bit differently on M9 than on M240. It's probably the pixel density that does it. The files are smoother on the M240.
  • I don't get many files that have the extremely sharp/crisp pixels that M9 is famously capable of. Then again, I shot my CV50 wide open, no exceptions (maybe one shot is closed down to f/4, out of 500+).
  • M9 doesn't record the aperture approximation even to EXIF data? Not a big loss but anyway.
  • Red and blue channels tend to clip first and green comes much later.
  • More moiré. Explained by the lesser pixel density!
  • The files may have that Kodachrome look, I don't know. People love to bash the M240 colors but that's what I have grown to. If in 2012 M240 files had that magenta cast all over, well to my eyes the M9 files have a cyan cast instead.
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Maybe the very cold-running auto white balance of M9P in part contributes to the Kodachrome look? "SOOC" out of camera.
 
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albertk

Regular
  • Despite using the soft shutter feature, my shots using 50mm at 1/60 sec came out mostly blurry from camera shake. M240 is way more dampened and usable. Is it the lighter weight of the camera, is it the shutter mechanism, is it the shutter trigger?
Congrats.
Yes, that has been my observation too, that is, with the M8. Very often I had camera movement from engaging the release, wobbles that showed up in the picture from light points in the picture.
It almost never happens in the M240.
So soft-release is really super in the 240 family.
 

rayvonn

Hall of Famer
If it turns out you can’t see “the look” of the files compared to your M240 (and there’s nothing wrong with that, this thing of ours is subjective) then you might want to sell it and remain with your M240 or maybe sell it and the M240 for an M10?
 

mike3996

Hall of Famer
Location
Finland
If it turns out you can’t see “the look” of the files compared to your M240 (and there’s nothing wrong with that, this thing of ours is subjective) then you might want to sell it and remain with your M240 or maybe sell it and the M240 for an M10?
This is precisely what I intend to find out. This purchase was never meant to be a final decision for me. I have every intention of selling whichever M I decide to sell. :)

The shutter "shock" right now bums me out, that's a huge plus towards M240 in my book. I will try soft trigger on the M9 and just shoot more, see if the problem eases with practice.

I think I should give M9 a prolonged period, maybe 3-6 months with a month of exclusive M9 shooting time, before making a decision.

The fact is after all that I "grew up" with the M240 and as such I like the color and everything it has to offer. Hell, I even like the thickness and weight!

And yes, after a decision has been made I have to consider whether I sell both of them to get an M10 for little extra cash spendage, or do I get an M10P for a bit more or a M10R or M11 for a way lot more. But my immediate reaction towards this idea is this: I am not currently lusting after M10 because MP240 is pretty good as is.
 

mike3996

Hall of Famer
Location
Finland
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The Leica M9 unique color must be in part a sort of a placebo effect because I took two shots one night of the same subject with M9 and M240 and color graded them separately... but then viewed them side by side and found them practically identical.

(Of course it's the raw developer's job also to equalize all raw files to a constant starting point. Pros don't need the hassle of managing different camera output looks when delivering unified content to the clients. That said, by default darktable applies the same tone curve for M9 and M240 files upon import so there's not special equalizing happening here...)

But what color there is when I import the files to darktable is not bad. Just different from M240.

The biggest thing must be the difference in the AWB processing between the two cameras.


But something is there that makes M9 files react to my presets and processing a bit differently than M240. Poorer dynamic range flattens shadows a tad more, perhaps a bit more filmlike? The noise floor of the CCD?

I fear that soon selling M9 will be out of the question. But that's what we're here to find out.
 
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I am very connected to the M9 and M Monochrom. Just fits me.

If you have the M9P with the new sensor: keep it, will be hard to find another one. It is the last of the breed, the best CCD camera made.

For anyone with the original sensor: The M9P and M Monochrom mount the cover glass differently than the M9, it is much more difficult to remove. I have seen two cameras that came back with the left/right side calibration out. I ended up writing software to fix the issue, basically do a calibration then apply it to all files. I got fancy and found where the ISO and camera SN were stored in the DNG file, so was "automated".
 

mike3996

Hall of Famer
Location
Finland
I realize that M9 is a special camera to many.

It has a 2016 sensor with paperwork so it should be set for a long time.

But I have my reservations still. A tad cheap feeling in hand compared to M240 and the ISO performance at 2500 is worse than I hoped. These are still my early impressions but it's very uncertain for M9P at this moment.

Today: I am feeling cheap about getting a ~60 EUR thumbie. What if I sell the camera as my early urge might be. At the same time, if I don't get a thumbie for the camera, I will never maximize the ergonomical potential of the camera, thus advancing towards the "predetermined outcome". It's a vicious cycle. :)

Since getting the Thumbie for my M240 I have one unused hot shoe mounted thumb grip lying around. But the hot shoe profile is different between the cameras -- M240 has a half a millimeter taller profile and the grip fits it nicely but won't fit M9. Shame...
 

mike3996

Hall of Famer
Location
Finland
I feel so terrible about thinking about making hasty decisions...

But maybe I'll put the camera back for sale. Might be a while before someone comes and buys it.

There is no honey moon period for M9 simply because the experience is all familiar to me already. It's a good experience to be sure.

I partly considered if I made it my mission to shoot M9 solely for some months, learn to work around the shortcomings and becoming a better photographer that way. Character-building exercises. But I don't know.

M9 color is indeed quite something. Between the Ms it's perhaps the mature one, color-wise. Some people say M9 has punchy, saturated colors to its fault but M240 definitely has even more saturation, at least on my setup. Yet despite the differences in a direct A/B shootout I manage to even out the results almost automatically. For those who prefer to work with less color grading and more with camera's natural style I definitely see how M9 works best, subject to taste of course.

These cameras don't lose value, rather quite the opposite. But there's liability to every asset also.
 

mike3996

Hall of Famer
Location
Finland
So far it's been quiet on the markets. No worries.

Today on a stroll I started to suspect that the vertical alignment on the rangefinder patch might be a smidgen off. That would explain how the viewfinder seems so hard to read sometimes, compared to M240. Something to do the next week...
 
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