Leica M9-P: My Initial Thoughts

I have been shooting with this camera more and more recently. The first few shots with the camera were really horrible. There’s such a steep learning curve to overcome in terms of the handling of the whole rangefinder system. It may sound easy that all you need to do is just to align the focus patch together and you are in focus. But it is certainly much more than that. The focus patch is located on the centre of the viewfinder, which means when u want to frame a subject off centre, you need to focus and recompose. When you recompose, you need to be aware of the variation in terms of change in depth of field plane. This is not a technique I commonly use as when I first started off with photography, my camera already has a lot of AF points for me to choose with.
Another technique that rangefinder user often uses is the distance “guesstimation” method, whereby the prefocus the lens to let’s say 2m, and then they just frame and shoot whenever the subject is within their “range”. I still can’t get a good grasp on this technique, need to practice more in terms of estimating the distance. Due to the design of the camera body, you need to be aware and train your muscle memory to avoid blocking the frame line window and the rangefinder focusing window. They are actually quite close to where you will normally place your left and right hand, but one will get used to it quickly.
Next, metering. There’s only centre weighted metering on the M9. This is not much of an issue to me as I have shot with the Nikon FM3A before, which is a film camera that shares similar metering characteristic. I just need to constantly remind myself about it and look into my scene harder to decide where should I meter the scene in order to get a proper exposure. Finally, the estimated frame line within the viewfinder. Coming from DSLR and Mirrorless camera system, using such big and bright viewfinder is a total different kind of experience. You will only be getting an estimated frame line on the frame you are about to take, and you can still see things going on at the surrounding of the frame. This is something… Different. When shooting DSLR or mirrorless, there were times when I tend to shoot with two eyes open to see what’s going on out there. With this viewfinder, I can get away with it as everything is within my finder.
That pretty much sums up the things that I need to overcome and learn in order to use this camera effectively. I’m still trying hard to improve on it, but the experience was certainly positive as of now. There are a few quirks on the M9 that I wish to complain though. The shutter sound is pretty loud. Though Leica tried to make it sounds like a film camera shutter & rewind sound, but it is too loud to my liking. The low resolution rear LCD is something I can live with. The slow writing speed to SD card is something I can bear with. The shutter button is a bit hard to get a precise half press at times. Other than that… Seriously I can hardly find other fault on this camera. Of course you need to take into account that this is a very old camera that certain features like wifi and etc will not be available. When you look past the additional and get back to the roots of photography, it’s not hard to realize why there are “purist” who swear by a Leica M rangefinder. I’ll share more when I gained more mileage on my M9-P. Till then.

Leica – The end or the new beginning?

When I first started photography, I have already came to know about the existence of Leica. During that time, I got no idea what the hell rangefinder was. Well, to be exact, I got no idea what Leica was in general. All that I knew was that they are very expensive cameras, and being expensive, they must be very good, premium and top of the line… Like Ferrari or Lamborghini in the context of cars. And I have never thought that I will own a Leica one day, very much like I’ll never own a Ferrari anyway.

As I progress with my photography, I get to know a little more about what Leica and rangefinder are all about. For people like me who started with compact camera to DSLR, rangefinder is something… unique and alien. After all, I’m so used to seeing the actual framing via the DSLR viewfinder/rear LCD that having an OVF that frames more than what my lens can capture is simply… weird and interesting at the same time.

“But people are making great pictures with the Leica cameras”, that’s what made me curious and started to read more about how to use a rangefinder, the advantages and disadvantages and so on. Once I get a better understanding about it, I started to feel like trying on it. Yes, the whole rangefinder concept has grown its interest within me. Is it really that good? Well, I believe at the end of the day it is still very much depending on the skills and vision of the photographer, getting a Leica will not make you take better pictures instantly.

Perhaps there’s people who feel at home with the rangefinder control and focusing, hence allowing them to create something better than what they can managed on SLR. My first taste of “rangefinder” is with Fujifilm’s X100S, follow by the X-Pro1. Well, they are kinda like rangefinder, offering OVF for you to view through the scene. However, they are not really a rangefinder as focusing and framing is still very different from what Leica is offering. X100T gets a step closer with the additional focusing screen on the lower right corner, but still… There’s a difference.

Recently, my friend is selling his used M9-P at a very attractive price. Therefore, I have decided to bite the bullet and got it for myself. There’s no guarantee that I’ll be able to enjoy using manual focusing all the time, and also the whole rangefinder experience, is it really my cup of tea? These are the questions that I need to answer. Whatever it is, I believe this will be a very good experience to me and hopefully it can spark some new views and thoughts in me. Till then.