Bob Callway: A Year With the Leica M9

Last June I was fortunate enough to purchase Leica’s flagship digital camera . . . the M9. Ever since its release back in 2009 I prayed that one day I might be able to make use of my M lenses on a full-frame rangefinder.  Don’t get me wrong, I love my film M6 and still do, but the M9 has helped open up a whole new world of possibilities to my photography.

I have to admit, even though I saw what was achievable with the M9 coming from the various photography forums/websites, I still had the jitters about making the leap of faith to digital. Hell, I hadn’t even held an M8.

So the day came and “the package” arrived with the M9 in it’s steel grey coolness . . . and out I go shooting for a year.

The combination of the new Leica M9, my M-mount lenses and the bundled Lightroom is really a powerful combination. Add to that third-party filters and the output from the Leica M9 is jaw-dropping. But, is it perfect? Well if it was, there would be nowhere for Leica to go. Yes, there could be a slightly bigger MP sensor. Yes, there could be a faster processor. Yes, there should be higher usable ISO’s, but treat it with respect and all is forgiven once you open up the images on the computer.

If you ever get the chance to switch from film M to digital M don’t expect “exacting” matching results. Digital will never truly replicate film. Digital works in binary 1’s and 0’s, and film will capture everything in between. Film has a smoother look but the digital M comes close and future M’s will come even closer.

I now think that the argument between digital vs. film is a side issue. It’s the story that matters whether it’s a still photograph or a moving image.

There is no doubt that the Leica M9 has made me more experimental and shown me what is achievable with digital. For instance, the amount of detail you can manipulate or zoom in on is incredible. Even with wide lenses, you can zoom in to a tiny proportion of the image in post production without any visible loss of detail or sharpness. Some wildlife and sports photography, areas where even Leica admits that the M range is unsuitable, become achievable. I have also been able to capture star clusters in the night-sky. It is even possible, with a 50mm Summicron, to see their colours and, therefore, primary gases. I would never have thought that possible with the film M’s.

In the M9, Leica has a camera that is much more flexible than any of the other rangefinders they have produced.

But, the biggest test for the M9 is the final quality of the prints produced, and they have been outstanding. They may lack a little bit of that warmth of film prints, but everyone who has seen the results has been delighted.

- Bob Callway

This is a guest post by Robert Callway, a TV Director /Cameraman and Photographer. His Photographs have appeared in magazine titles including Billboard Magazine, Cafe Nero poster campaign, CD artwork and exhibited in stadia. Most recently, Robert was invited to be a regular contributor to one of the UK’s most prolific photographic agencies www.stemagency.com.