M9, 50 mm Summilux, ISO 320, f/1@1/4000
For full gallery, click here: M9 Images
M9, 50 mm Summilux, ISO 320, f/1@1/4000
For full gallery, click here: M9 Images
NOTE: Since posting this initially on the 22nd of September, this has gotten a lot of traffic. If you’d like to see a gallery of images taken since then with the M9 go here: A Gallery of M9 Images And I have now UPDATED THIS POST with a more recent review: Eight Weeks With The M9
When I was a teenager, I had a Pentax 35mm camera, and it was simple and indestructible. After college, I bought an Olympus OM1, and it was a great camera. It metered simply, you chose the aperture and speed, and bang, either got the picture or you didn’t.
A few years ago, frustrated with the way cameras had become computers with lenses attached, I yearned for the simplicity of great optics, a light meter, and the variables: aperture, shutter speed, film speed. I yearned for something closer to those old 35mm cameras, not the incredibly complicated and distracting Nikons, etc. with their menus and too many options. So of course I bought a Leica M7. It was the most glorious contraption I’d ever put my hands on, a tool for use. But of course, by now the digital era was in full swing, so like many others in the Leica community, I really couldn’t wait for a Digital M.
Sure, the Panaleica — optics by the Germans, electronics by the Japanese — known as the Digilux 2 was a nice approximation of a digital rangefinder, and when it came out in 2004, I was really glad. It was a good companion to the M7.
But we had to wait until November 2006 for the M8 to come out — a glorious, but compromised Digital M. Compromised? Well, it wasn’t full-frame — the sensor was cropped, smaller than the 35 mm film that all of Leica’s incredible lenses were made for. Your 28mm lens became a 35mm lens, etc. (Actually, to compensate, it was nice that my 90mm lens became a 135…) But still…
It was a Digital M — a rangefinder that, to my eye, had the special Leica elasticity and pop to the images it produced, while still being small enough to carry anywhere. I hiked in the mountains with it, across deserts and and down canyons, took it to Bhutan and Italy and school pageants, up rivers and down streams. It wasn’t perfect. But it was great. And the Leica M9 I put my hands on yesterday? The perfect camera, the culmination of dreams.
The M9 has 80% more pixels and a 33% larger sensor than the M9. It is a simple, powerful tool, and for the first time delivers what I wanted eight years ago when I bought an M7: it is a Digital M, in every way worthy of the Leica tradition.
Here’s an initial shot walking in the streets of DC:
See how the Leica Summilux 50mm draws light to the full-frame sensor, rendering detail and allowing for that bokeh (selective focus) for which Leica lenses have no peer?
I do wish that Lightroom had a color profile for the M9 that nailed it the way the M8 profiles did. (One is coming, and until then I’ll fiddle around in Lightroom to get something that works.) Still, here’s a broader view, with the same lens:
Look at the punch and level of detail (even though it will be obscured in this compressed jpeg) in this shot:
Okay, that was yesterday in bright sunshine. Today, I took a break and walked in a nearby park with it. Again, the Summilux 50, this time on a cloudy day with lots of greens and greys to sort through:
For fun, I brought along Leica’s Summilux 21mm wide angle lens, which on the M9 really is a 21, not a 28 (remember the M8 cropped lenses by 1/3rd.) This was a tennis court in the park near Washington’s Dumbarton Oaks. Here’s hoping the detail on the metal post in the foreground renders via the web; it sure does on the computer:
There are a number of terrific photographers who have done serious testing of the M9, some having worked with them for several weeks. (Find Jono Slack’s images of the English countryside: breathtakingly great.) These are four shots from the roughly 20 I’ve taken since yesterday.
What I’ve noticed so far: The M9 is far less forgiving than the M8, in some ways. With ISO sensitivity considerably improved, one really has to decide on an additional variable — “film” speed — to an extent you didn’t have to with the M8. By this I mean that the new variables in ISO — not just 160, 320, 640, 1250, but 1/3rd stops along the way — demand that you have the right ISO, not just the right aperture and shutter speed. It adds a dimension, yes a little more complicated, but welcome to me. I suspect I’ll spend more time looking at histograms in the field than I have with the M8. That’s fine, no problem. The ergonomic and design changes Leica made for the M9 all work for me, especially having the ISO button on the exterior. Oh, and the uncompressed files are so gynormous, if you actually shoot uncompressed all the time, whatever computer you have will seize and groan after a long day’s shoot. (So I’m shooting the compressed DNG format — still bigger files than the M8 had.)
What I really know is that after 24 hours with the M9, I have found the camera that delivers what I’ve been looking for ever since digital was invented: a camera as fun to use as that old Pentax I snuck into the Fillmore East to take pictures of Duane Allman with; a camera as rugged and ready to go as the Olympus camera I trekked with in Nepal in 1979; a camera as great, in every way, as the M7 that made me rediscover, and once again fall in love with photography. The M9 is a delight.
Everything you’ve read about the remastered Beatles CDs is true, based on my limited sample set. I bought, and have played, The Beatles and Abbey Road, and then Rubber Soul and Revolver.
In the case of The White Album (The Beatles), everything sounds warmer, brighter. If you play the 1987 pressing and the new one sequentially, the former seems brittle and dull. It is actually very noticeable.
The White Album and Abbey Road were meant to be listened to on a stereo. But when you play Rubber Soul and Revolver, you realize just how crude the stereo mix is. Bright and warm, yes, but the mix is decidedly 1965/66, whereas The White Album sounds like it could have been recorded last week.
So I broke down and bought the Mono Box. Because all those great albums pre-’67 are meant to be listened to in mono. Tulip Frenzy will conduct strenuous tests in the weeks ahead and report in.
If someone told you that there was an excellent band from Chinatown that sounded like a cross between Sonic Youth, the Cure, and Galaxy 500, you’d probably think it was a cool anomaly. That The Car-Sick Cars sound exactly as described above, but hail from Beijing is somewhere between an exciting revelation and a threat. Oh, so now they make good rock bands too?
I assure you, the threat is greater to the creeps in China’s authoritarian government than it is to Western alternarock bands. Once the kids start rocking, good things happen to societies yearning for freedom.
How good are the Car-Sick Cars? They’re a seriously fun band, with a big backbeat and loud and raunchy guitars. On “Zhong Man Hai,” they even have this Eno/Roxy guitar freakout that shows no pussyfooting.
This is one $9.99 contribution to China’s trade surplus you can be happy to make this Labor Day.
BTW – where did Tulip Frenzy learn about Car-Sick Cars? From a very cool new travel magazine called Afar. The magazine’s so new they don’t really even have their website set up. But if they can turn up bands this good from around the globe, we’ll subscribe for a long time to come. See here: Afar Magazine
The greatest rock’n’roll band in America today is First Communion After Party. They’re too young to have drivers licenses — or maybe it’s that they need some gig money to afford a van — so they don’t travel from Minneapolis very much, but man, when they do, can’t wait to see ’em. We anxiously await the follow up to Sorry For All The Mondays And To Those Who Can’t Sing, and on their MySpace page, there’s a tantalizing reference to an album launch party in November. Aside from FCAP, where’s all the energy in music during these econolyptic days? Way over there on the furry side o’ the dial.
Uncut Magazine just put out a new CD with the October issue entitled Seeing For Miles, and it’s the best compilation they’ve done in years. It turned me on to three bands in particular that have brought plenty of joy to this Labor Day weekend. Let’s go through ’em.
Assemble Head In Sunburst Sound has First Communion After Party’s reverence for Summer o’ Love era Airplane, including that boy/girl choir in between crunchy guitars, but they also work their way back to bluesy power riffs probably in the same manner that Black Mountain get there. When Sweet Sleep Returned is an astonishment: great songwriting, the ability to rock hard or soft, John Cippolina guitar cantering down through the desert sage, with Radio Birdman piano twinkling every once in the while. The only complaint I have is with the album’s production, which is muddy in the middle. These guys are the real deal, and they come by their San Fran roots naturally, as they, um, come from there. Recently the WashPost had a funny piece on the problems Ang Lee had finding genuinely skinny, non-buff, hair folk to cast as extras in Taking Woodstock. Assemble Head in Sunburst Sound play with muscle, but here’s betting they don’t actually have any.
Abouretum hail from Baltimore, and immediately join Greg Kihn and David Byrne in that town’s Rock Hall of Fame. The singer sounds like Richard Thompson, and come to think of it, some of the songs on Song of The Pearl sound like they could have been performed by Fairport Convention. But then they’ll turn a corner and the guitars going spiraling off into shafts of light, and dust motes tickle our brains. A little more of Rock band than others on the neo-psychedelic left bank. Way listenable and cool nonetheless.
Okay, we’ve been hearing about Wooden Shjips for years without actually hearing them, but their highly caffeinated trance music on Dos is so good for listening to while exercising in the gym, I think I’m going to forever ruin my chances to be cast in an An Wang movie. Uncut refers to Spaceman 3 when doing their liner notes on the cut WS add to the sampler, and I can see that. It’s just there’s no way these guys are ever going to evolve into Spiritualized. Too much propulsion, too much beat.
Ok, haven’t yet listened to Six Organs of Admittance, and the new White Denim isn’t out yet (though seems to be preceded by thunderous acclaim). But these three bands are a start. If you think about where the fun has been these last few years, The Warlocks, Black Mountain, Black Angels come to mind. And then First Communion After Party vaulted way up their on the Coolo’Meter. Add at least Assemble Head in Sunburst Sound to your play list, and let your freak flag fly.