One day, during a typically hectic workday, I received a new text message from an unfamiliar number:
“Hi Edward, how are things? I sold you some photo gear a while back.”
Upon closer inspection, it turned out to be from somebody who I purchased a few items from through Craigslist. “I’m doing well! How are you?” I answered, curious as to where this was going.
“I’m doing good, I just got so caught up with the Leica Q2 lately. I haven’t bought it yet, just really want to get it for some reason”, he said.
During both chance encounters I had with this seller (let’s call him Andreas), our simple transactions turned into hour-long chats about photography, cameras, and inevitably, our mutual adoration of all things Leica. Despite the fact that Andreas had a modern and capable kit I was heavily envious of (an a7iii, Tamron 28-75 f/2.8, and a Zeiss 40mm f/2), his interest was being waned towards a camera which was technically and functionally inferior to his existing setup.
I didn’t realize that I had become an unofficial sales rep of Leica (PS - open for sponsorships), but the way I extolled my experiences with their cameras earlier clearly struck a cord with Andreas. This conversation also brought me back to my mad chase for a reasonably priced Leica M9 in 2017, having spent too many years without holding a digital rangefinder in my hands.
During this time, similar to Andreas, I had a mighty kit at the peak of the prior year’s technology with literal night vision - the Sony A7s. From an objective standpoint, I was looking to purchase a 7-year old camera with an LCD only a mother could love, a sensor that could barely make ISO 1250 appeasing, and a bad tendency of developing sensor corrosion for the price of a Sony A7RII.
Actually scratch that, this was definitely more unreasonable than Andreas’ situation.
After finally finding one in iffy condition through Facebook Marketplace, I tore the camera from the reluctant seller’s hands and patiently waited while my precious camera was stuck in customs for a literal month.
Upon first receiving it, the pangs of buyer’s remorse hit hard. Was the well-aged camera really worth the same amount as a modern one? Would I even be able to tell the difference between the photos from this camera and my existing one?
From my very first shoot with the Leica (also the first time I met Misha, an altogether fantastic friend and model), I was totally hooked again. Upon seeing the files, I was even more impressed. Despite loving the M8.2’s sharpness and mechanics, the colours of that camera ultimately disappointed due to the strange way it rendered infrared light without a filter. The M9 wasn’t just true to life, it was better than life.
The sharpness on the M9 (despite my insistence on using non-Leica lenses mostly) was still cutting-edge like on the M8.2, but with significant boost in resolution from 10mp to 18mp. The ability to use lenses at their natural focal length was also a godsend.
A few months later, I shot the M9 side by side with my A7S during a few shoots. Despite using the same lenses between both, I spent substantially longer editing the Sony’s files to get a similar look as the M9’s. Specifically, skin tones looked much more natural, and greens/reds were rendered in a naturally vibrant way which I tried to recreate in from other sensors for hours.
I hadn’t meant to compare the two cameras that day however, as I definitely would have preferred to only take one. The M9’s aging batteries were quite unpredictable, and the aforementioned low light capabilities were a source of anxiety for me any time the sun started setting and I hadn’t packed anything but the M9.
While shadows are generally quite flexible at the lower ISOs, highlights get blown quite easily, so extra care must be taken when exposing high contrast scenes.
Having tried several different lenses, my ideal kit became the Zeiss 28mm f/2.8 (beautiful microcontrast, wonderful mechanics, and beautiful bokeh despite the wideness), the Voigtlander 35mm f/2.5 (absolutely tiny with a contrasty signature), and the Voigtlander 50mm f/1.5 (the smoothest bokeh I’ve ever seen, despite being tack-sharp even wide open).
After waxing poetic about the camera, I’d feel guilty if I weren’t to reiterate the fact that purchasing a Leica M9 in 2019 is certainly NOT a logically sound idea. Other than the issues I’ve already mentioned, the camera still struggles to write the files to even a fast memory card in a timely manner.
You’ll be waiting a while if you take more than 2 consecutive shots and you hope to view the photos on the pixelated mess of an excuse they call a screen. Let’s just say it’s a good thing they kept the features to a minimum on the M9, as any processor-based task it handles will make you shed a tear.
Using the M9 as an everyday camera is a tough sell, but when the conditions are right, I haven’t ever seen another camera that can render colours, sharpness, and smoothness like it.
In spite of it all, having the M9 in my hands was just plain fun. Shooting with it made shooting with a Sony camera feel like trying to take photos with a calculator, and I can say without a doubt that it got me to find excuses to take more photos and to try new things.
I’ll end my thoughts about the M9 with the same thing I told Andreas at the end of our conversation, and the same thing I ended my post about the Leica M8.2 with: “You buy a Leica with your heart, not your brain”.
“You’re absolutely right, my heart is drawn to the Leica. Let me know if you’re interested in buying my gear” Andreas replied.
Thankfully, Andreas had a wife who loved him enough to keep him from spending stupid amounts of money on an impractical, technically inferior, beautiful, special camera.
I eventually sold my M9 to the very same person I purchased it from. The second I posted it for sale, he messaged me casually asking if I still had it. A few weeks later, it was back in his capable hands, and while I was thankful to have another contribution towards a hopefully more practical future purchase, my heart was 585 grams lighter.
Of course, I managed to fit in one final photo shoot with the M9 before it left my hands with a newly acquired Voigtlander 40mm Nokton f/1.2. This was also the first item I purchased from Andreas, neatly bringing the story full circle.