It’s almost a certainty that Leica will announce the M9 on Sept 09, 2009 (09/09/09), and shipping some times later. At a rumored $7999.99 street price tag, for most photographers, it will be a non-event.
For others, it is a watershed event. For that to make sense, one has to appreciate the Leica DNA, which is as relevant today on the M8/M8.2 as it was fifty years ago, when the M3 was introduced: small compact cameras with all the necessary controls, manual focus with the world’s greatest rangefinder and the lens systems, that can produce the highest quality or the most appealing images at the right hands.
The last part needs some explanation: highest quality is because the lens are without peers. Most of them are sharp even at wide open, and wide open means F2 for the pedestrian Summicron, F1.4 for the Summilux, and the light fantastic F0.95/F1 of the Noctilux. Sure the Canon 85/1.2 is just as good, but we are talking the whole Leica lens range – not a lemon to be found.
And the most appealing does not equate highest technical quality. A favorite pastime would be to look at Henri Cartier-Bresson photos that people occasionally upload to the Flickr and other sites, and see the Internet photography “experts,” complaining the lack of sharp focus or other technical qualities. With a Leica, you can have both or either.
So who won’t benefit from a Leica? People that don’t like rangefinder or manual focusing, people that want the flexibility of zoom lens, people that like to shoot sports, telephone, macros, and people that don’t want to spend the price of a good car just to get a camera body and two lens. With the M8, you need to also add the expense and hassle of mounting IR blocking filters, and the 1.3X crop factor.
But what glorious pictures it takes. Any Leica, any medium – be it a digital sensor in the M8, or a roll of Tri-X, or gasp, even color film (I shot boatload of Provia slide film on my M7) – gives you no excuses to say, “my equipment is not up to my standard” (minus the limitation of shooting action, tele, macro etc. etc.). If the image is not so good, the flaws most likely lie with the person pushing that shutter button. Clear and simple. Yes, the M8 had issues, but the current generation of firmware and supporting software by and the large make them irrelevant. You will see what a 35mm frame looks like, you will anticipate actions. You will know the depth of field of an aperture and distance to subject. You will KNOW your camera.
So what will the M9 do that is so important? If the rumors are true, no more crop factor, and no more IR filters, and higher ISO performance. There will be more megapixels too, but for most people, it’s an non-issue. Cynics would say, that just means that Leica has finally caught up with Canon, Nikon, and Sony with the full frame sensors, but that just means that they do not understand the Leica DNA.
More importantly, the M9 will significantly drive down the cost of a used M8, and even M7. For anyone interested in honing their craft, get a used M6 or M7, and a used lens, for $1500-$2500, shoot with it for a year, and then sell it for a few hundred dollars “loss.” The lessons one will learn is well worth it. For those who want the convenience of digital and don’t mind losing more, then a used M8 can be have for as little as $2300. Yes, it’s the price of a new D700, but read above again for the Leica DNA.
No, a Leica is not for everyone, but if you like its DNA, that’s nothing else like it.