This is not your father’s Leica. But many things about the Leica M9 feel familiar. The process of taking pictures is distinctly different. The mechanics are elegant. The controls are intuitive. Turn it on. Set your aperture. Compose. Focus. Shoot. You think more about composition. You wait for the perfect moment.
My father had a drawer full of M2 and M3 Leicas. He was a Mad Man. He ran an ad agency in New York. It became a division of Ogilvy. But what he really loved to do was shoot with his Leicas. His shooting style was slow and thoughtful. So slow, in fact, that one day on Martha’s Vineyard, a distinguished gentleman offered him some helpful advice. My dad politely neglected the man, who turned out to be the legendary Ernst Haas.
I have spent the past two weeks using a Leica M9 with Leica Noctilux-M 50 mm f/0.95 lens. A prince of darkness, this is the world’s fastest aspherical lens. It sees more than your eye does in low light. Photographs taken wide open have a painterly, impressionist quality. The sharp objects of our attention, wonderfully radiant bokehs and glorious backgrounds are breathtaking.
Why do M series cameras appeal to cinematographers? The process is very familiar. The technology is brilliantly reduced to essentials. Aperture is set on the lens, shutter speed is set with a mechanical dial, not a menu. The main control has only four settings: OFF, Single Shot, Continuous, and Self Timer. The shutter dial is very reassuring: Auto, B and speeds from 8 seconds to 1/4000th. Unobtrusive, beautiful, simple. No wonder this is a constant companion for many cinematographers. It is also a camera of choice for many unit photographers who cover film productions.
The Leica M9 is a full frame 24 x 36 mm camera. After all, for years, this was called the “Leica format.” Depth of field at f/0.95 seems about the thickness of a grain of pollen.
How does this all compare to the new Leica Summilux-C Cine lenses? Wait and see.