Tuesday, 4 November 2014

POV: Leica M9 Monochromes "Outta De Box"

Photo © Tewfic El-Sawy/Leica M9+Voigtlander 40mm
Let me say it up front so there's no misunderstanding: I'm not a "fanboy" of any camera beyond considering them as utilitarian tools I use to make photographs. Some are better suited for particular photographic work, others are better ergonomically suited to my hands and way of thinking, etc. I have the exact same attitude to cameras as carpenters have to their hammers or pliers.

That out of the way, I have an admiration for the Leica M9's monochrome image quality. I frequently use a setting that allows it to shoot a monochrome jpg and a color DNG at the same time, and I am quite amazed at the quality of the monochrome jpgs right 'out of the box'. The  above photograph is an example...nothing but in-camera conversion.

Yes, the majority of the monochromatic jpgs out of the Leica M9 are -at least to my eyes- just right. Unless I specifically want to enhance these jpgs by adding some vignetting or burnt edges, there's no need for spending any time on Silver Efex, Photoshop, Lightroom presets...nothing. Boom!

Does it mean that the Leica M9 (and a quality prime lens) is my primary camera? No, it isn't, but when I need (and feel like it) to shoot monochromes, I choose it over my other cameras. When I was in Sa Pa a few weeks ago, I deliberately chose it with a Voigtlander 40mm for a bout of monochrome photography in its streets and market. I did the same in Ha Noi.

There are many aspects of the M9 that are, in comparison to the X-T1 and the X-Pro, outdated...even primitive. It's widely recognized that its ISO is almost unusable above 800, that its LCD sucks and its battery life is a little better than abysmal. However, its CCD sensor (when coupled with quality glass) churns out admirable jpg monochromes.

I gripe about the M9...but despite its annoying limitations, it has become analogous to the well-balanced well-worn hammer that fits in the hand of the carpenter as if it always belonged there.

Ah! If only it had auto-focus! But using -when possible- the zone focus system resolves this to a certain extent, provided the ambient light allows the use of f8 or f16.

I'm not as sanguine about the M9's color images though. I realize I'm amongst a tiny minority perhaps, but I'm not as enamored with the color images I've seen out of the Leica M9. The images produced by the Fujifilm X-T1 are -to my taste- superior in color rendition than what I'm able to get with my M9.

Seeing where I am photographically at this time, I would buy the Leica M Monochrom if I could, and use it whenever I needed to produce monochrome images, and then rely on the Fuji X-Pro1, and X-T1 for color...or on the Canon system that's been gathering some dust in my closet.