Leica M9 / X1

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I'm still taking these cameras out together for stock shooting trips. Ever since I had the Leica M9 sensor cleaned I still haven't changed the lens! It has the Zeiss 50mm f2 Planar fitted to it as it did when it came back from Calumet. I'm still reluctant to remove it because of all the problems with dust spots. Its been so easy and quick to edit files from the camera that the thought of going through all that cloning and cleaning up again means that I'm using the M9 as a one lens camera currently. 

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It may sound restrictive using just one lens and there is certainly a feeling that I may be missing shots because of it. But in reality this doesn't happen. Firstly the quality of the lens / camera combination is such that I'm perfectly able to crop images while still retaining good enough quality. There is also the fact that a Leica rangefinder is not a camera you use for long lenses. 135mm is the limit. There are longer lenses but these are very rare. Its difficult to focus using 135mm anyway and I use mine very rarely. The longest other lens I normally would take out would be a 90mm. 

Here's a 50mm shot with the 90mm frame lines superimposed.

 











Its not a huge difference and because of the quality of both the sensor and the lens it is perfectly possible to crop an M9 image in this way and then interpolate it back to full size. No its not as sharp as a full-size M9 file, but its certainly on a par with files shot on many other cameras. I tried a comparison with m4/3 doing this, and discovered that a cropped (to 90mm lens equivalent) Leica M9 file interpolated to 48MB (minimum size for certain stock libraries) looked about the same as a m4/3 file (90mm lens equivalent) also interpolated to 48MB.

No its not ideal. It would obviously be much better if changing lenses on a Leica didn't produce these large amount of dust spots. But it does, so I have to decide between having it cleaned regularly - which means that the spots will build up again, cleaning it myself - which is something I'm really not comfortable with, or using this method - which negates some of the advantage of using the camera in the first place. Since I use lenses longer than 50mm very rarely, the last option is what I've decided to go with at the moment. In terms of wide angle, there really isn't much of a problem, since for some time I've preferred to shoot multi-images and combine them in software rather than use a wide-angle lens. 

 














This gives me the advantages of better perspective, larger file size and very high resolution and removes the problems of wide-angle distortion and vignetting and colour casts which can be a problem for wide-angles on the M9. As I've said before you have to be very sure that you want to use a Leica. Its far from a DSLR replacement. It would be great if this sensor was available in a camera that didn't require so many "adjustments" in the way I'm used to working. But its not so I either have to put up with it or use something else. I've chosen the former, as the quality from the files still astounds me. A 10 x 8 view camera isn't the easiest piece of equipment to operate either, and medium-format digital is slow, bulky and complicated. Unfortunately this kind of quality comes with a price tag, both financially and operationally.

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I carry the X1 with me, primarily as a backup camera, but I'm finding that I'm using it in its own right more and more. It really does take superb pictures. Very sharp and with beautiful colours. I'm currently using it in its basic form, no viewfinder, grip or case and I'm focusing and composing using the screen. It really is the ultimate compact camera. This too has its price. The cost is well-known as is its somewhat slow operation. Again you have to be sure that you can cope with its "laid-back" performance before thinking about using one. If you can, you'll probably be as amazed as I am by what a 12MP sensor is capable of. 

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Words - D
Images - D & A