8.09.2010

An irreverent, emotional and nostalgic review of the Leica M9 and the latest 35mm Summilux.

Leica M9 with latest version 35mm f1.4 Summilux M lens.  The current flagship of the Leica M Series digital cameras.

It's very important for you, dear reader, to understand that I don't review lenses and cameras in the analytical way that scientists do.  I'm interested in how sharp an optic is but I'm also interested in how it handles.  What the ancient greeks called "haptics".  What modern culture refers to as ergonomics.  On another level I'm constantly trying to figure out where an lens fits into the way I see the world and how I would use it.  I put the lens on an appropriate (and sometimes also inappropriate) camera and go out and shoot and shoot.  I make a mental notes of the things I like and the things I don't.  I look at the final photographs.  I even pixel peep.  But here's the deal in 2010:  We have to look at the whole system, we can't really assess the lens on it's own.

If every lens could be fitted to a very high resolution camera such as a Nikon D3x we could designate that camera as our test camera and make some sort of objective appraisals.  But there's no way Leica M lens or Olympus SHG lens would work on the majority of cameras that have deeper distance between lens flange and sensor.  In the days of film testing was easier because the tester could choose one kind of film and use it in every camera.  It afforded a good objective measure.  Now we have to evaluate a given lens in the context of its intended "system".  That would include the body and sensor as well as the firmware and, finally, the RAW conversion software.

Finally, FTC housekeeping:  1.  I am not an employee or subcontractor of Leica.  2.  I have not been given or promised any product of consideration in exchange for writing this review.  3.  I have been loaned the lens being reviewed directly from Leica and they expect me to return it promptly.  4.  They are not holding my family hostage in order to leverage positive comments.  5.  I borrowed the M9 body from Precision Camera in Austin, Texas in order to test the system.  Points 1, 2, and 4.  pertain to Precision Camera, as well.  In the spirit of total honesty I have, over the years, walked out with at least a dozen of their promotional, ball point pens.  I asked the staff if I could take the pens.  I think they were just being polite when they told me it was okay.......

What I am  ostensibly reviewing is the brand new, best in the universe, 35mm Summilux f1.4 lens that was just released by Leica in July of 2010.  What I am in reality reviewing is my long term, on and off again, affair with Leica M series rangefinders, and the confusing and perhaps ultimately useless pursuit of perfection.  The question at the heart of every recent Leica discussion, if distilled down to its core, is:  "Does it make sense to spend a small fortune in order to get the last 5% difference in ultimate performance?"  It's not a logical exercise.  I will presume I just lost all the people with accounting and business degrees.  And yet, there are people in the world who are sensitive to the last 5% of anything.  You see it in quarter million dollar Bentley cars,  half million dollar home sound systems and in any number of pursuits where craftsmanship, art and technology become intertwined.  We could just as easily be talking about shotguns or yachts.  But, as the world expands the opportunity to have brushes with perfection seem to be shrinking.  And where does the Leica M system fit into the whole mix?

I am not new to Leica M cameras and lenses by any stretch of the imagination.  I wrote an article for Photo.net back in 2001 that sparked nearly a decade of comments and, for me, hundreds of e-mails from Leica lovers and haters around the world.  You can read it here:  http://photo.net/equipment/leica/m6

I was asked to review the M8 and three Summarit lenses back in 2008 and you can read that here:  http://photo.net/equipment/leica/summarit-m-lenses/review  In the 1990's and the early  years of this century I shot many of my corporate event photographs with a system that consisted of several variants of the Leica M6 ttl and a bag of M lenses that included:  21 Elmarit, 28 Elmarit, 35mm Summilux 1.4 (two versions ago) 50 Summicron, 50 Summilux,  75mm Summilux and a 90 Summicron.  Over the years I probably shot somewhere near 100,000 frames through various Leicas.  I started out with an M3 and a dual range Summicron and have owned most of the models between that and the M7.  Once I started shooting digital for clients it became harder and harder to justify shooting and developing film.  But handling the Leica M's is like riding a bicycle.....

Belinda at TacoDeli on Barton Skyway, Austin, Texas.

Let's cut right to the chase.  I'm not a big fan of 35mm focal length lenses on full frame cameras.  I don't currently own a prime 35m lens for any of my cameras.  They're there on the zoom lenses but so are a lot of other focal lengths that I seem to like better.  Give me a 50mm any day.  But......the above photo is what 35mm 1.4 lenses do very well and why they are so important to photojournalists.   They show unfiltered context.  A 50 mm lens would exclude so much more of the frame.  A 24 or 28 would include so much that the lack of filtering would,  I think, reduce the impact of a single subject within a frame.  What the Leica lens adds to this is twofold.  It adds a fast aperture, 1.4, which yields a very narrow depth of field for this focal length.  In some ways it tricks the viewer.  Most of us are used to shots taken with lenses of this angle of view having much deeper focus.  The quick fall off of focus incorrectly cues one part of our brains to regard this as a telephoto shot.   The second thing the Leica M lens adds is sharpness at this wide open aperture.  That reinforces the power of the illusion created by the limited depth of field.

I don't usually do this but I included a 100% crop of Belinda's right eye so I could show you the sharpness from this shot, which was handheld at a 1/125th of a second.

I don't put much credence in 100% crops like this on the web because I think they are pretty meaningless.  If I were being rigorous I'd find a file shot at ISO 100 instead of ISO 400 and one that was made on a tripod instead of handheld after a cup or two of TacoDeli's strong and delicious coffee  (also not holding my family ransom....).  But I do see impressive performance for a wide open aperture.Here's another example,  it's an image of my friend, Will van Overbeek, being a bit silly at Trianon Coffee House.  If you blow it up a bit you'll see how detailed his face is and how quickly and elegantly the background goes out of focus.  
Internationally famous advertising and editorial photographer, Will van Overbeek, playing to the camera at Trianon Coffee House in Westlake Hills.


This is a jpeg that right out of the camera.  We're sitting in a coffee house with windows on two sides and mixed lighting coming from florescents and MR 39's in the ceiling.  While the M9 is sometimes critiqued for color balance issues I sure didn't see that in my tests.  The colors were very accurate.

So, the reason to own this lens is to do sharp images with defocused backgrounds.  The selling and value proposition is that it is sharper, constrastier and has other, less tangible but no less valuable, optical characteristics that other optics can't match.  Can I prove it?  Nope.  I can compare it with shots I've taken on the copy I had from two generations back (the first aspherical)  and from images I've taken with a 35mm Summicron but most of my images from those optics are on film and, after scanning and film quality constraints I think we'd be comparing apples and oranges.  I think it's an impressive lens.

I shot several hundred test shots with the lens and I did dumb stuff with it too.  Like shooting at meaningless apertures like f8 and f5.6.  Most lenses do well there.  Here is another image.  This is a shot of me taken by fellow professional photographer and part time psychiatrist, Keith Kesler.  It's his first time shooting a digital Leica M.  He usually shoots with Nikon D3x's.  But he nailed focus like he'd been using it for a while.......
Your somber author, sitting patiently while another photographer plays with the "Leica on Loan."

And to prove it,  I've also included a 100% crop of my left eye in the image directly below......

I focus with the other eye.  I use this one to look seriously at people.....

Uh-Oh,  need to do something about those bushy eyebrows.......  But you can see that the lens is very sharp and well behaved wide open.  By the time you get to my ears they are going out of focus and the background is wonderfully unsharp.

Sure it was 102 degrees today but who could resist tooling around town with a black M9 and a 35mm Summilux.  I shot the image below at the Texas capitol.  The young woman was there to have photos taken for her quinceanera (sweet sixteen celebration).  I used an aperture of around f3 at 1/1500th of a second in the open shade of the building.
An innocent bystander at the state capitol building gets included in the Leica mania.


It's got the two attributes that will make this lens one that journalist will be able to rationalize:  High subject sharpness with lots of context and it falls out of focus quickly and elegantly.....

Just for grins I thought I'd snap a few interior shots at the capitol.  I didn't know what to expect.  You assume that great depth of field is generally required for architectural shots but I just went ahead and shot it wide open so I could handhold at a reasonable shutter speed.  I was fairly amazed when I went for the 100% crop to show detail.  See below:
I'd focused on the second level of the rotunda so I grabbed the 100% er from there......

But then I decided to shoot some stuff outside and to see what a lens like this might look like at it's middle apertures.  I was thinking that you'd be a little nuts to buy a lens that's this expensive if you weren't going to use the speed but I figured if I bought one it would end up being my only 35mm so I'd hope that it was at least as good as my older Summicron when stopped down to f6.7......

Here's our magnificent state capitol from just across the street.....

And here's the 100% crop of the Lady of Liberty on the top of the building.....

The one thing I can see in the englarged portion of the image is some aliasing.  This is happens because Leica has used a compromise that I endorse.  They are using an 18 megapixel, full frame, sensor from Kodak that DOES NOT have an anti-aliasing filter on the front.  We've seen this in previous Kodak professional cameras like the DCS 760 and the SLR/n and it's brethren.  Here's the compromise:  You get incredibly sharp files.  Much sharper than my Canon 5Dmk2.  Maybe as sharp as the Nikon D3x.  Incredible amount of detail.  But, with some scenes you might get some aliasing artifacts.  These can be removed via software.  It's a design feature that allows you to squeeze out the full optical potential of the Leica lenses.

Then I decided to do something decidedly naughty.  I took the Leica 35mm Aspherical Summilux off the M9 body.  I walked across the hallowed halls of the Kirk Tuck Studio and, using an adapter, I put the Leica lens on the front of another manufacturer's body.......The Olympus Pen EPL.  $500 body,  meet $5,000 lens.  A perfect fit.


With the crop factor the 35mm makes a snazzy 70mm portrait lens equivalent for my Pen EPL.  It works perfectly!!!!  With live view magnification I can zoom in to check critical focus and then go back to reckless shooting.  I walked into Medici Coffee shop later today with the LeicOly around my neck.  I ran smack dab into a committed and serious Leica aficionado and watch his eyes bug out.  He stammered, glared at me and then walked away.  It was priceless.   But it's fun.  Mating one of the world's finest lenses with a camera body that's one step up from a point and shoot.  But such a nice step up.  I didn't spend a lot of time doing comparison photos because, again, it's apple and oranges.  The focal length changes so the lens philosophy changes.  The sensor on the EPL is the ultimate limiter in the equation.  It's good but it sure doesn't challenge the Leica optic.  You can see than when you look at the relentless detail in the M9 files....All you see in the EPL files is relentlessly beautiful files....
Belinda.  In the garden.  Camera:  Olympus EPL.  Lens:  Leica  35mm 1.4 Summilux      Aspherical with adapter.  Wide open.  ISO 200.

I've been giving you 100 % crops all along.  Why stop now?
100 % crop.  Belinda's Eye.  Olympus EPL.  Leica 35mm Summilux.

Long and rambling wrap up.  These reviews never seem to end well, do they?  You wind up thinking, "What the hell is he trying to say?"  "Should I buy the lens or not?"  "Will this purchase launch my career as an artist?"  "Is there a god?"  "What's on the other side of infinity?"

Well,  I'll wrap it up for you as neatly as I can.  This lens is probably the finest high speed 35mm focal length in the entire world at this point in time.  Nikon has a 35mm 1.4 and I used to own it.  It was designed in the 1970's and it was well thought of in its day.  Now,  ho hum.  It's still reasonably good and you'll need good technique to make images that better it but if you do use good technique it shows its age.  Canon introduced a 35mm 1.4 in 2002 but it doesn't get a lot of attention.  It's huge and I'm sure it's pretty good.  The two friends who own them tell me they vignette like crazy and that the corners are less than great at wide open.  I'm betting I'd be pretty happy with it.

Everyone makes a 35mm f2 and all of them are pretty good but you don't get the same look at 2 that you do at 1.4.   That sharp subject, soft background, ample context look is so different.  Especially to a generation of zoom lens users.

Okay, so the lens rocks.  It's three times the price of a Canon or Nikon 35mm 1.4 but so what?  There are ten dollar steaks and sixty dollar steaks and there are people who can tell the difference.  And who are willing to pay for the difference.  Why should it be any different with lenses?

The magical thing is the interplay between the rangefinder concept and optical supremacy.  Neither is obviously superior on their own.  Today I remembered why I liked the M's so much.  When you focus with a well calibrated rangefinder and a moderately wide angle lens you are getting an acuity of focus that is largely unbeatable.  You can nail the exact spot you want sharp with no second guessing of the little computer.  Once you set an exposure in a wide scene with a medium f-stop you can shoot and shoot without touching the focusing ring and you'll come away with sharp images.  I instantly abandoned the need to check AF.  I hit the rangefinder once for a medium distance and I could concentrate on framing and know that I'd always be in sharp focus.

And when I focused right up to the close focus limit of the lens I knew that I could shoot wide open and not be concerned that the lens might be soft, or that it might be front or back focusing.  I could count on a zone of sharpness that I don't encounter with lesser lenses in the same way.

But it's all part of a system.  The lens is great, yes.  But it would be meaningless if left to the untender mercies of the typical anti-aliasing filter.  You win some you loose some.  Especially with optical systems.  Nikons and Canons rarely show any sort of aliasing.  But when you compare their files to a camera that doesn't include that one step of unsharpening (later fixed in software, kinda) you can see just how sharp a lens can really be.  And that may be the unfair measure in all of this.  It is possible that the Canon 35mm 1.4 is remarkably sharp.  But with the influence of the AA filter we'll never know in the same way we know that the Leica lens is bringing the A+ game to the table.

So, would I buy it? Would I invest in the system?  I'll admit.  I can't justify the $9000 for the camera and the $4900 for the lens at this point.  I would also need the 90 aspheric and the 50mm Summilix and a back up body and.........just figure on around $30,000 for a system for me.  I know the lenses outperform my Canon zoom lenses.  They do.  You can see it.  But the argument becomes, "Is it enough of a difference to make a difference?"  And there, you have me.  It depends on what you do.

If money were no object I'd own everything in the Leica catalog in a heartbeat.  I'd sign a contract not to touch another brand as long as they kept producing.  But nothing in this world is so cut and dry.  I'm not another David LaChapelle, and, at 54 years old I finally have to admit that I'm not the next Richard Avedon.  I'm pretty much a regional photographer with a mortgage, a bunch of really nice regional and local clients, a kid to put through college and feeling the impact of the 2009 recession.  I forgot to get a trust fund.  Haven't won the lottery.  Didn't take that "self-actualization" class that would have helped me charge a million dollars a picture.  So when I look at my budget and then I look at the gear I want there is always a disconnect.  Let's call it a chasm.  I want the best stuff in the world but I'm only going to see the difference when I shoot in a way that I don't usually shoot.  I love the look of the 35mm Summilux wide open but I rarely shoot that way.  I love the way the Leica lens and a camera blow up.  But my clients are looking for work that fills magazine pages and websites.

Here's my final distillation:  If you are just getting started as a commercial photographer and you don't have rich parents to support you,  cover your eyes and run away before the siren song of the world's best lenses snares you and drag you in.  You can't rationalize this in any commercial way.... But... if this is your passion and you were lucky enough, through advantageous birth or clever choices or hard won professional acclaim so that this kind of expenditure won't cause you lost sleep, panic or indecision; jump in with both feet.  This stuff is wonderful.  Having the best lens in a focal length in the world puts the onus on you though.  You have no more technical  excuses not to come back with spectacular stuff.

But you'd better like working with rangefinder cameras because that's the only way you'll squeeze that last 2 to 5% of perfection out of these lenses.  And it takes practice.  In many ways all the DSLR's we normally use are just variations of a Toyota Camry or a Lexus.  They are nice and well behaved and easy to drive.  But driving a six speed Ferrari well actually takes skill, practice and talent.  More people wreck high performance cars in the first month of ownership than any other type of car!!!!  You won't wreck your Leica but it will demand a level of skill you haven't had to deal with yet if you've always worked with DLSR's and AF and AE.  The rewards?  The Leica system may just be in the midst of recapturing the high end of the 35mm format world and the medium format camera world at the same time.  Amazing.  These aren't your father's Leicas.  And yet, in every sense, they are.

For me?  I'm pretty amazed by one thing this week.  In years past I would have been filled with adrenalin to be handed the current top Leica and their ultimate 35mm lens to test.  Excited and filled with inspiration.  But I think I'm over an important hurdle.  I find that I just don't care about sharpest and best any more.  I'm not rushing after the best technical gear.  I'm pretty happy just looking for the images.  For the emotion of the image.  For the power of a connection.  And I'm finding that, while it's nice to have the very best......it's in no way "mission critical" for my work.  YMMV.

Go out and have a great week.  Shoot some stuff, just for fun.

   Red cup at Taco Deli.  Austin, Texas.


44 comments:

kirk tuck said...

I totally re-did the post and lost all seven comments. If you posted a comment to the first rev of the article and you want it to show up here could you send it to me again? Thanks, Kirk

Who knew birthing blogs could be so painful?

John Krumm said...

Thanks for letting us know it's nice, but we can live without it. The images really do look great. If we sold both our new Prius and our old Accord we could buy into this system...

If I were a young, traveling "people" photographer with ambition, I might consider blowing a pile of college loan money on the M9 and the 35mm 1.4. But I'm not...

Now where is that S2 review?

Damen Stephens said...

Herr Kirk,

YoUr FamIlY iS SaFe and UnHarMed - as SoOn as i ReCeive ThIs cAmEra anD lEnS fRom U, ThEy wIll B rEtuRNed ...

Wolfgang Lonien said...

Wow Kirk. I just love that first shot of Belinda, and the one your friend took of you is also really nice. But of that red cup I would make a 24x36 inch print, and hang it to my wall.

If you'd sign it, I'd buy one (if I could afford it).

Otherwise, for me as a 53-year-old amateur, I'm very much enjoying my E-520, tho I'm really missing that focal length for it.

cheers,
Wolfgang

Damen Stephens said...

PS - For your financial sanity I would suggest never borrowing the new f0.95 50mm Noctilux (not that I have it or ANY Leica for that matter ... it's nice to dream though) !

PS. I like the new look of your Blog.

Bengt said...

I don't have any perfect lens..but i sure have fun with my Olympus E-PL1. I am actually shooting more often with it than my E-3. Its weight is so much more fun.

Ed Buziak said...

Here goes again... There is one sentence (in your excellent appraisal) which is very telling, "I want the best stuff in the world but I'm only going to see the difference when I shoot in a way that I don't usually shoot." Gear-heads take note... lust (apart from being a sin) usually wastes one's time, energy and can leave a large hole in the wallet region.

I appreciated your article - as always because of the anecdotal evidence provided - and whilst I've also used various Leica M cameras and lenses in the past, I'm not lusting after this latest Summi because I don't do what it asks to be used for.

In fact I'm more than happy and surprised by what a lot of hard use, visual searching through the viewfinder and more hard use is getting from a recently purchased, scratched 24mm AF Nikkor (equivalent of an oh-so ordinary 35mm on my D300) for landscape photography, and the excellent images produced when the right light/contrast, focus points and shutter speed for my frequently breathless fixie/cycle-hammered body are found.

Using well what you've already got always produces that extra 5% (or more) in quality and at no extra monetary cost... wasn't it Arnold Palmer who responded to the, "What a lucky shot," cry from the gallery with a pithy, "Yes, and the more I practice, the luckier I get."

Poagao said...

Very, very good review. Balanced and thoughtful, leaving nothing out.

Daniel Fealko said...

I wholeheartedly agree with your statements: "For the emotion of the image. For the power of a connection."

Not only do you write great photography posts, but where else can one see the inside of every coffee shop in Austin.

Danny Chatham said...

Kirk,
Thanks for your excellent review of the LEICA 35 1.4,accompanied by some beautiful images.
If possible would you please obtain a LEICA X1
compact camera for a test? I am sure many of us
would like your honest opinion.Thank You as always.

Alan X said...

I took a look at the M6 review and what caught my eyes were the pictures. There were some that you used for previous blog postings here and a few of you and your family from that time. Your vision and imagery has remained consistent regardless of the hardware and it's what keeps me coming back here (along with the writing).

kirk tuck said...

A few quick thoughts about the Leica M9. Let's to the to tip of the "inverted pyramid" and talk about the most important thing first: The image quality is amazingly, brutally good. Remarkably good. At ISO 160 I think it goes toe to toe with anything out there. D3x, 1DSmk3, 5dmk2. Amazing sharpness and detail.

Now for the whiny second guessing: It doesn't feel as nice as a film M because it's bigger. I think I would get used to it over time.

Surprise happy feature: A "soft" and a "discrete" setting. Soft forgoes the second detent on the shutter release button so you can get a smooth, continuous push. It's pretty cool. Discrete means that the shutter doesn't re-cock until you release pressure on the shutter button. Pretty critical for times when you want to be silent. You just wait for a cough or some other covering noise and then release the button and let the camera do its thing. It's much quieter in any regard than the original M8.

Look for M8's to drop in price as Leica starts to catch up on backorders. I predict that people unaffected by the economy will be snapping them up and trickling down their 8's to appreciative shooters....

Anonymous said...

Amazingly good review. Especially so on the heels of a great Canon review. I'm curious where you find the time and energy to write so much? And still have time to shoot?

Dave Elfering Photography said...

Love this review on all fronts. I can only imagine the email carnage from putting a Leica lens on the E-PL1! :)

I'd consider selling a kidney to try that combo out as much as I loved my meager $200 Nikon 35mm f/1.8 on my E-P1. If you really want hate mail do a comparison of the E-Pl1 with both lenses!

Next, I too find rangefinder fascinating though mine was a Yashica. The M9's being unavailable to me is a foregone conclusion (three kids to put through college). But I love reading about them and some times waste an hour considering a used M8. But with three kids and a mortgage it looks like mac-n-cheese, Nikon and a pet Olympus for now :)

I have to applaud Leica for what they do though. In the world of cookie cutter DSLR's and cell phone cameras they make gear that resonates with feeling and quality. Both elements in photography that are becoming anachronisms.

kirk tuck said...

David, I'm right there with you. The kid goes to college in four short years.... If I were single or childless I'd have so many toys. But that very small, responsible part of my brain kicked in today and I sent the body and lens back. I learned what I wanted to learn and shared what I thought was important. Now I need to re-acquaint myself with the cameras that remain behind.

Dave Elfering Photography said...

If I were really hard nosed about getting the highest possible quality photographs with gear I could afford it would be with 4x5 film via a field camera. But every exposure cost me like $15. Even stacking composites with my digital for a "high res" panorama is just wishful thinking next to one of my 4x5 slides shot at F32.

Anonymous said...

"...cover your eyes and run away before the siren song of the world's best lenses snares you and drag you in.."

To late... and I'm using the E3 and know the SHG glas quite well.

But damn that M9 with a Summilux.. in 2011 I will have one!

B

kirk tuck said...

Someone on forum mentioned that he didn't like the bokeh he was seeing on the lens and it struck me that all this nonsense about judging bokeh (or out of focus background areas) on the web is nonsense and here's why: The file started out at 18 megapixels and is processed down to half a meg. All the information gets crushed, compressed and fractured. It's like banding when you shift tones. You don't see the background go the same way in a large print from the full file. A lot of what people "dislike" about this or that lens's bokeh might really be compression artifacts and tonal re-mapping. Just something to think about......

Hugh Alison said...

Very nice review. Articulates why I have always loved the 35mm lens (and my current 35/1.4L Canon).

I could happily shoot with just the 35/1.4 and 135/2.0 lenses - and have done so for quite a few years in the past.

Dr.Nick said...

I played with an M9 and 35mm f2.5, on loan, in New York. Very nice. Worth 500% of a Panasonic GF-1 and 20mm 1.7? I'm not sure.

David Ingram said...

Fun post. Good perspective on life and what is and isn't a necessity. Sometimes I read car and driver or automobile mag for Ferrari reviews. Can't afford one of those either but fun to read about.

jhall said...

Interesting post. I really enjoyed the style of the last couple of reviews. I recently purchased a 7d and you nailed the feeling with the sound of the shutter. As soon as I snapped my first photo I knew I made the right decision. The camera hasn’t let me down since.

Also, great to see Taco Deli in this post. That place is amazing and sadly the only thing in the post I can afford!

kirk tuck said...

jhall......ditto.

Anonymous said...

To paraphrase Robert Browning,"a woman's reach should exceed her grasp or what's a camera for?"

Thanks for reviewing the Leica. Even if we can't afford it, we can love it.
M.

John Taylor said...

oh dear… i was fine, resolute and strong, well prepared to read & enjoy another of your posts knowing i would be able to move on. But damn you if you didn't have to post samples. All resolve gone, lost in Belinda's eyes, fading away softly just like the exquisite background…

kirk tuck said...

I'm sorry, John. I'll work on worsening my technique in order to save my friends more money. :-)

Anonymous said...

Nice review of an apparently great new lens from Leica that is completely unavailable, in the U.S. at least. Correct me if I'm wrong—where can one buy this lens?

kirk tuck said...

Wherever fine Leica lenses are sold? I'd try Precision Camera here in Austin. 512-467-7676. Try Robert Jagitsch. He's their esoteric expert.

Anonymous said...

Aren't you the same guy who reviewed three different Medium Format digital camera systems back in 2008 for a couple magazines?

kirk tuck said...

Yep. Did the Leaf AFi-7, A Phase One 45+ and the Mamiya DL 28. All good cameras. All totally different than the Leica......

Does that make me a camera reviewer?

Anonymous said...

A very interesting review and in addition to your thoughts on the camera itself, I really appreciate your thoughts regarding camera gear. Recently my house was broken into and in addition to a few other things, the camera gear I used primarily for portraits and events was stolen (a D2h, sb 800, two older lenses and an older flash and an old N2020 that I also used still.) Besides my disappointment, I've been obsessing about how to replace it with questions such as how much I should spend and what camera to buy or not to. Recognizing that I've been reaching unhealthy levels of obsession, I have been trying to let go of it all just spend some time with the one camera and lens that didn't get stolen because it was actually with me at the time of the break in. Plus, I now have an old Mamiya M645 with 80mm on loan from someone. Your comments helped me let go a little more of the obsession of what's to do next and be happy with what I have (although, I'll still have to work on it a bit.) I got some prints back the other day that were taken with the Mamiya and was a bit stunned with how good they looked. It's been a while since I had print film developed and it seems that the additional quality was quite noticeable. So, that should be enough to keep me busy; although, I may hold off on any more event photography for a while (I mostly do it for friends and people I know.) But thanks for your insights on both the camera and life.

Cris Mitchell said...

I recently sold my entire canon dslr kit and bought an M9 and absolutely love it.
Bottom line for me, it boils down to what camera works best for YOU and the M9 fits my shooting style.

Great review Kirk

Cris....

James Frederick Bland photography said...

I just bought a Zeiss Ikon and ƒ2/35mm Zeiss ZM lens for all the reasons you listed above at a fraction of the cost with seductively similar results. You may wish to consider the Zeiss glass on your Oly. Perhaps a cost effective option.

Curt Schimmels said...

Very nice review, and I agree with your perspective on the last 5%.

Also, thanks for putting it on the Olympus, it was fun to see!

Zlatko said...

Kirk, thank you for a very insightful review. About the Canon 35mm f/1.4 — it is one of Canon's best lenses. I believe it was introduced in 1998. Photodo.com rated it a little higher than even the Leica 35mm Summilux-M Asph. of the the same era. It draws very beautifully.

Archiver said...

Thank you for the review of the new 35 'lux, Kirk. I regularly read your M6 review on photo.net, and always enjoyed your comments on flickr about using compact digital cameras for professional work.

I shoot a 5D Mark II for work, and a M9 for all my personal photography. When I really need 'the goods' I go with something easier and more flexible, but when I can trade off speed for glorious image quality, I use the M9.

fingerprinz said...

Wonderful read. Love your style. Keep up the good work

Andy said...

Indeed, there is a certain different quality to the images. Thank you for the great review. Always enjoy reading your point of view.

Peter Klein said...

Kirk: If you want most of the M9 experience without much of the financial pain, try picking up, used, an M8, an IR cut filter and the older version of the 35mm Summilux Asph. On the M8, the 35mm becomes a 47mm-equivalent, which is basically a 50mm that's a smidge looser. I love mine. Or, if the focus shift of the older 'Lux bothers you, consider a Voigtlander 35/1.2 (big, gentler than the Lux but plenty sharp). Or a classic 35 Summicron or a Zeiss 35/2.

I long ago realized that I took my best pictures with Leicas, so I stuck with them. I simply buy used.

kirk tuck said...

Thanks Peter, I assume you read the review I wrote about the M8 from two or three years ago. It's a great camera and I've very much enjoyed using it. I agree with you about Leicas. Sad that the film cameras are now discontinued....

Jeff Hughes said...

Just saw your review, Kirk. Thanks. A terrific bit of illumination into the wonderful world of Leica; and their latest magic lens.

I do wish - for quite selfish reasons - that you'd get a Leica again. You see, it was that M6 review of yours, the one that spawned a decade of commentary, that prompted me to buy my own. It was late 2001 and I had just been laid off in the dot-com implosion. I didn't worry. I knew I'd find something in a few weeks.

And so it was that few days after reading your review - which I couldn't get out of my head - I walked out of my local camera store with a brand new M6 and Summicron 50.

As I sat in my old pickup truck and with trembling hands opened those two boxes, I had no way of knowing that I'd be unemployed for fifteen long months. Or that that Leica would be my saving grace across the desolation of that dark time.

Everything's cool now. The M9 goes to work with me everyday. Even as I still pull out that old M6 every now and again and spool up a roll of Tri-X.

Ultimately, it's about magic. Something you clued me to in that first review, what seems now a long time ago.

Thanks. More than you know...

Simon, UK said...

Dear Kirk,
I recently read your review about the M6 and was amazed with the decade long comments! You really know how to stir people...!
Since then I've read several of your reviews and really appreciate your outlook on gear and photography. As for your opinions, I have to agree with all of them. {Ducks to avoid the flying objects from previous commenters}
I look forward to your future reviews and am glad there are people like you out there who actually use cameras as a means of taking pictures and not obsessing over graphs and bokeh!

Regards,
Simon, UK

kirk tuck said...

If you don't own an M series Leica at least once in your life you may be a wuss.

lecycliste said...

Kirk, don't know if you'll ever read this so many years down the road.

Something you said to me once via the Leica Enthusiasts Group I still quote today - "Don't be an equipment junky. You can make salable stuff with a $99 Yashica MAT124."

This usually happens when I read an online debate on the merits of, say, a 35mm f/1.4 Summilux-M ASPH FLE and 35mm f/2 Summicron-M ASPH, both at f/2. There are usually multiple pages of arguments back and forth.

Then I post and suggest that instead of debating how many angels dance on the head of a lens element, they just go out and photograph something. That results in me being told they have 2 MFAs, years of university teaching experience in photography, commercial shooting experience, and "I just enjoy taking a break from photographing and talk about the equipment."

But I see you being true to your original thinking here.

I also remember your posts of Ben as a kid. Doing the math, he's entering college now. Of course, I look and feel a bit different too at 58.

I've begun using my M8 and a Fuji X-E2 with M-lenses again, since they're a much lighter load than 5D mk II and 24-70mm f/2.8L plus 70-200mm f/2.8L IS. I'm still shooting real estate interiors and food products with the EOS stuff, but travel most often with the M-gear. It also lets me publish stuff for old friend Bill Rosauer in LHSA Viewfinder.

Hope you're still doing well, Kirk.