Leica M9 … a landscape camera?

I’ve always struggled with a backup system.  I have three primary systems,  the Alpa (medium format technical camera), the PhaseOne DF (medium format SLR), and the Canon (dSLR).  Each of those systems, complete with an acceptable set of lens to cover necessary focal lengths is quite a bit of gear to haul.  To haul both a medium format setup and the Canon setup as a backup just doesn’t work unless you’re traveling by car.  I tried the Lumix GF1 and while the quality for the size is really nice, I just didn’t think it was quite good enough.  After all, if one is spending thousands of dollars for a week long photo shoot (especially a workshop) you have to have some type of decent backup plan.

The Leica has always intrigued me, because it has an 18mp sensor without an anti-aliasing filter over it.  Despite less pixels than a top end Canon or Nikon, without that filter it should be close in image quality.  Since it is a rangefinder, theoretically the optic design can be purer, and of course Leica glass is one of those mythical legends that has been around for decades.  As a rangefinder the body is smaller than a Canon or Nikon, and the lenses are significantly smaller. Because my store is a Leica dealer I was able to pick up a refurbished one which had been used as a sales sample for a discount off the dealer net price, and even though that’s still a little pricey, I think I can sell the camera pretty easily for that if I decide not to keep it.  Used Leica lenses aren’t too difficult to sell either, since the demand is high and Leica’s production levels are not very robust, meaning there is a shortage of new lenses most of the time.  Since the M9 will use pretty much any lens Leica has made for the last 50 years or more there is a pretty good market for used Leica glass.

The first thing I learned was Leica has several levels of lens, and most every focal length has a lens in that level.  The levels are primarily based on the speed of the lens.  You can get really fast lenses – f 0.95, or the slower lenses which are usually f 4.0.  The faster the lens the more it costs.  Since you don’t view the image through the lens a faster lens does not affect viewfinder brightness, so the only purpose of fast glass is if you actually need the extreme shallow depth of field or shoot in a lot of low light situations.  For landscape work I just don’t think I’ll ever need anything other than the f/4.0 lens, since I can’t remember the last time I took a landscape picture at anything less than f/8.

The camera is a little heavier than it looks, but despite that, the camera and my initial 4 lens setup fits in a very small bag (about the size I need for just my PhaseOne DF with 75-150).  I managed to buy a used tri-elmar which is a 28-35-50 focal length lens … as close to a zoom as you can get for the Leica, but it’s as sharp as the prime lenses in those focal lengths, so 3 lens in the space of 1 in my camera bag.  I purchased a 24mm new from Leica, and then purchased a used Konica 90mm lens which is much cheaper than any Leica lens but far less expensive and after testing it seemed sharp and decent.  I don’t think it will be used very much, but if I’m wrong I may upgrade to a Leica lens.

Focusing the camera is challenging especially for someone who has never used a rangefinder.  I find myself struggling to find the matching areas of the image if the subject matter is busy.  The camera works much better if you use your right eye, but I’m left eye dominant and with my right eye I can’t see all the way to the 28mm cropping guide.  This won’t be too much trouble, for landscape work most of the time I’m not in a real hurry so I’ll just fire off a test shot to confirm composition, delete it and readjust.

The first test of this comes next week, as I’m headed to Arizona for workshop with Jack Flesher and Guy Mancusco.  The Leica will be tagging along as a backup, but I plan on shooting some with it just to get the hang of it.  I’ll post some images next week.

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