The Leica brand has an incredibly attractive photography pedigree; historically some of the greatest have wielded it and shown us glimpses of its power, including the likes of Henri Cartier-Bresson. Sporting a traditional range finder, the Leica camera system has evolved very little, with almost no aesthetic alterations since it was first introduced. Sadly though, the prestigious price tag keeps it at large for most. To date we have only been allowed to admire the famous 'M' camera range through the bullet proof glass at specialised stores, which treasure their limited stock.
Until meeting a lovely couple at the Auckland festival of photography this year, my dream of nutting out the M series camera range had slowly been withering into the abyss. Words cannot express my appreciation for the opportunity to try one from their collection. It took a couple of weeks to pencil in a date, but last weekend we made it happen and another item on my bucket list got crossed off.
The range-finder bonanza kicked off over breakfast with a shot of our waitress (she is a friend). The minimalistic design of both the camera body and the menu system made it a breeze to navigate, however, on the flip side, fiddly focus and predicting exposure was a force to be reckoned with. As expected, with time it gets easier, but in the first hour of using the camera there were a few nail bitting struggles while furiously working it out.
The lenses are of course marvelous, with butter smooth focus and the aperture rings having a reassuring click. While we are on the topic of the lenses, the 35mm F2 Summicron has probably got the best bokeh of any lens I have had the pleasure of trying. Even in bright sun situations the bokeh is incredibly well controlled, super smooth with no obvious highlight rings.
Even though the M9 is getting on, the low light situation is not as detrimental as you might think. Auto ISO worked a charm and there was little to worry about unless you insist on pixel peeping. Grain and sensor noise does creep from the shadows, but if that's all you are looking for in an image, then you are missing the point of photography in the first place.
The best images we created are definitely of Woody the traveling gypsy. He just moved into a new truck and was keen to get in front of the camera while setting up his stall at the Matariki festival. His bubbly character put a intriguing spin on the images.
Even though this was our first attempt at holding the reigns of a fully manual range finder camera, the focus was spot on most of the time. It was tough, do not misunderstand. We insisted on using all of the lenses wide open, which makes focusing comparable to a complex surgical procedure when faced with even toned subjects.
The Leica 'M' cameras are a unique breed for sure, they're synonymous with purists and capable of incredible results when speed is not of the essence. Give them a chance and they will drop a bokeh bomb without breaking a sweat. A camera which every photographer should experience, if only they did not set you back the value of a new car......