Upload & Sell: Off
I've been on the fence for several months thinking about the purchase of a used Leica M9. The primary reason for purchase would be the portability, full frame sensor, and the ability to shoot limited depth of field images using high quality lenses. For those that have Leica experience I have a few questions.
1) Is Leica worth it? I know that Leica is the only full frame option in a small body but is the "Leica experience" worth the extra money over other options with crop sensors in terms of image quality, equipment build, and handling?
Worth it? It's a very individual determination. From a purely logical 'on-paper' perspective you get a much broader range of performance and 'value' from a DSLR kit with quality primes. Some of the mirrorless systems will have better sensor performance, such as the NEX-5N and 7, in terms of high ISO and dynamic range. Speaking for myself only, the primary reason I adopted an M9 system in my work was for the quality wide angle lenses and the ability to focus them accurately and quickly. Being a Canon user, I was becoming increasingly frustrated with AF picking background detail rather than the subject, the difficulty of focusing wide lenses by eye, the so-so wide angle performance, and just the sheer size of the kit if I was to go out with a bag of primes (well, the zooms are even larger). This was based on experience with the 1D series through to the IV. Though I have yet to try them, apparently AF precision with the 5DIII and 1DX is better. Had those cameras been available three years ago, and the AF worked perfectly with wide lenses, I perhaps wouldn't have partially moved to an M9 system. I was thinking about investing in a set of Zeiss ZE glass and using live view, but the thought of the size and weight completely discouraged me.
Size was definitely a consideration. My current daily M9 kit is the body with 21/28/50/90 lenses, which all fits in a small bag that otherwise would only fit a 70-200L zoom. Compare the size of a rangefinder 35 f/1.4, especially those from Leica, with SLR lenses. Lens build quality seems very solid. I have a mix of Voigtlander, Zeiss and Leica and they're all very nice, though the price of the Leica lenses does not ensure they don't make questionable build decisions. For example, the 50 Lux ASPH lens hood assembly (which includes the filter ring and lens name ring) is fastened to the lens body with one tiny screw and what appears to be a few dabs of glue. And while the M9 is a very solid camera, I'm not entirely sure its components are the best possible. From a UI experience, it feels like using a digital camera from 2002, rather than 2012.
It will require a considerably different shooting approach than with a DSLR, otherwise it could become very frustrating in use.
An aspect of the Leica experience is achieving a well calibrated system. This becomes much more critical the faster the lenses are. At f/2, a slight mismatch can still be tolerated with wider lenses, but at f/1.4 calibration really needs to be spot on. It could mean one or two trips for the entire kit to Leica to achieve this, which is frustrating and often a point of criticism of the system, but once everything is in tune, it works amazingly well.
2) Watching the buy/sell forum here on Fred Miranda it appears that in the last month or so a lot of the used Leica gear is not moving any thought on why?
I suspect it's a variety of factors. People are waiting for Photokina, both to see what Leica announces and whether anyone else will offer a compact FF camera (which seems to be increasingly unlikely). Leica seems to have somewhat caught up with lens production (perhaps demand has also decreased) and there is better in-store inventory now than at the beginning of the year, meaning lens flippers are no longer able to resell at or above retail, especially certain lenses like the 35 Lux ASPH.
There are theories floating around about what this all means. The M9 is now almost 3 years old, so most of those who wanted to and could buy one, have already, and have finally built their lens systems. Some think the M10 will be announced and priced at or below the M9 price, and depending on its feature set, could spark a whole new round of Leica adopters to buy-in and cause another period of lens shortages. For example, if it includes live view, it would become the only FF 'mirrorless' platform capable of working with rangefinder lenses as well as a huge range of SLR and other lenses. Others think the M10 will be much more expensive and as a result many won't sell their M9s, which in turn will create a fairly strong market for used M9s, possibly keeping resale value higher than it should be, but also not really increasing demand for lenses.
I think a lot of alt shooters have realized that many of the mirrorless cameras are not ideally suited for use with many M series lenses. Some cameras have edge color shift and smearing problems while the smaller sensor systems such as m43 seem to get the best image quality from relatively inexpensive native glass designed specifically for those sensors and very fine pixel pitch. As those systems fill out their lens lines, alt lenses for everyday use makes less sense, especially very expensive Leica glass. I mean, people are complaining the new Olympus 75 f/1.8 is too expensive, and it's under $1000. If that's the case, there's no chance anyone would buy a slower 75 or 90 Summarit for $1800. While the 28 Cron supposedly is very nice on the NEX-7, how many are going to spend $4000 for a 40mm equivalent? Even 'cheap' Voigtlander lenses are relatively expensive compared to native lens options, and often compromised by slower maximum aperture and poor minimum focusing distance.
3). If I were to purchase a used M9 and one lens what is the one Leica lens ( not the 50 noct) that you would suggest? Use of the camera would be general photography, portrait, and some street. I like to shoot from f2 to f4 and if I have f 1.4 then that's a plus
If it's only one lens, then I think 35mm makes sense. The 35 Cron is quite small and appears to be a very nice performer. It would keep the M9 very compact. The Voigtlander 35 f/1.2 v.2 is an extremely impressive lens optically. Its only fault is its large size compared to the 3x more expensive Leica. Otherwise 50mm might be an option if you prefer that focal length, and it would be a better for portraits. For f/2 options I'd go with the Zeiss 50mm f/2 simply for the price vs. the 50 Cron. Both seem to be quite similar optically. The 50 Lux ASPH is a really nice lens, but you'll need a perfectly calibrated rangefinder with it.
If there is a remote chance you are traveling to Europe this summer, see about buying a lens there and getting a VAT refund (though the VAT refund at the airport will never be for the full VAT amount). Current pre-VAT Leica pricing in Germany is about 15-20% less than in the USA thanks in part to the weak Euro.
Edited on Jul 28, 2012 at 05:17 PM · View previous versions