I was working at home in early June when the phone rang - it was from Germany, and I was expecting a support call. When I realised it was Stefan Daniel on the other end, and that he was offering me the chance to test the P-864 I could hardly contain my excitement. I had previously tested firmware updates for the M8, and had worked quite a lot with Jesko von Oeynhausen, especially with respect to Auto White Balance, and jpg quality.

Three weeks later Leica rushed me a test camera just before I was due to fly to Azerbaijan for a short trip - the timing was so tight I had to stop at the UPS depot in Bodmin on my way from Cornwall to Heathrow. Cornelia Bassing from Leica pulled out all the stops to allow me to pick it up en route.

This isn’t a review . . . You might think of it as a eulogy, but I hope that It’s an objective view of a very exciting new camera from Leica. Perhaps it will answer some questions you may have, and hopefully you’ll enjoy the pictures. Together with other photographers around the world I have been testing the camera since the 23rd of June, but for the last few weeks I have simply been enjoying it.

High ISO

Well, just like the M8 it only goes up to 2500 ISO . . . .but there the comparison ends, the M9 at 2500 certainly seems better than the M8 at 1250, and there really doesn’t seem to be much of a penalty in shooting up to 1000 ISO. My feeling is that at 2500 the files are totally useable with nice film like grain. I haven’t done enough comparison to be able to say that there is a 2 stop advantage, but that’s certainly what it feels like.


If you’re familiar with the M8, there is no culture shock, it’s simply a relief to find that what few gotchas that were left after the M8 firmware upgrades seem to be gone. The dedicated ISO button is great - with 1/3 stop increments. Unfortunately the ISO values on the set button have been replaced with a ‘resolution’ line - I’m hoping that this will be changed back to ISO with later firmware updates.

There is a new option within the Advanced menu together with the Discreet mode introduced with the M8.2 called Soft mode - with this selected, the shutter will trip on the second of the three pressure points on the shutter release.

The lack of the top plate LCD is mixed - together with the ‘notch’ it makes the camera seem somehow more complete, of course, it would have been nice to have an LCD with detailed information like that on the S2, but the M9 is less than 1/3  of the price of the S2, and keeping it as small as possible was obviously a real priority. The info button on the back plate (which previously only worked in ‘play’ mode), now shows detailed information of Card usage (even for large cards with more than 1000 available shots), battery remaining, shutter speed and the lens attached.

Lens detection options are:


Auto - for use with 6 bit coded lenses. Despite the new stronger IR filter which removes the need for IR cut filters, the camera firmware does a lot of work with respect to vignetting, especially with wide angle lenses.

Manual - So many people have asked for this - it means that you can get proper vignetting control for non 6-bit coded lenses, even for non-leica lenses (although you will have to remember to change the menu after using such a lens). There is a very large list of leica lenses to choose from.

Image Quality

I think almost everyone would agree that the file quality from the M8 was excellent (as long as you used IR filters). I did a number of comparisons using the Leica 75 ‘cron on the M9 and the 50 ‘lux on the M8 to get the same field of view (both the latest asph versions). Viewing the files at 100%, the M9 files showed an extra vigour and presence over those from the M8 (excellent though they are). Of course, when it comes to printing there is a lot more of the M9 files. I don’t really think anything else needs saying!

As far as RAW processing is concerned, the M9 ships with Adobe Lightroom ( as does the S2 ). It does a great job with the Leica DNG files - as does Photoshop (using ACR) and Apple Aperture (my personal favorite). Now, after all the internet chatter about an M9 profile found in Capture One 4.8.2, it actually doesn't open the files!  Version 4.8.1 however does, and can be downloaded from the Archive area in Phase One’s website. There should be full support in the next version.


There has been much discussion on internet forums about electronic framelines, focus confirmation, and even live view. But a Leica M is a Leica M, and the M9 is no exception. It is just the same size as the M8, the controls are all in the same place, you still need to remove the base plate to replace the battery, the shutter is the quiet 1/4000 shutter from the M8.2 (but now there is an 80 ISO ‘pull’ mode to make up for the loss of 1/8000 in low light). Snapshot mode is retained, (but it has been moved from the shutter speed dial to the menus where it belongs).

From the outside there are only four things to distinguish it from the M8:

  1. 1)the M9 logo (not on my test camera however!)

  2. 2)the lack of top plate LCD

  3. 3)a notch on the left hand top plate - a nod to the film winder of old days perhaps?

  4. 4)the protect button on the backplate has been replaced with an ISO button (hold and turn the dial)

The sensor is not, as anticipated by many, a cut down version of the S2 sensor, but an improved Full Frame version of the M8 sensor, with hardware and firmware also being an upgraded version of that from the M8, a faster processor allowing for all the extra work required to deal with the problems of an angled light path and a full frame sensor. However, a new colour filtration regime has been developed in conjunction with the S2, making for a more sensitive sensor and a much improved signal to noise ratio.

However, Leica really have listened to customer requests, and have addressed all the main criticisms of the M8:

  1. 1)There is a full frame sensor

  2. 2)there is no need for IR cut filters

  3. 3)there is a firmware based lens selection table for use with non 6 bit lenses

  4. 4)there is a greatly improved jpg engine

  5. 5)much improved high ISO performance in low light

  6. 6)you can change the exposure compensation by turning the dial

  7. 7)the info button now works to show accurate battery information, shots remaining, and lens selected.

  8. 8)Exposure bracketing

  9. 9)Uncompressed RAW files (with an option of compressed RAW)

Infra Red

Well, you don’t need filters anymore . . . HOORAY! I have spent hours and hours fiddling about with this, together with the M8 and other cameras, and some particularly nasty IR emitting material. It would appear that this is always something of a compromise and Leica have tried to make a balance between maintaining maximum detail whilst removing almost all IR. My wife has a particularly nasty plastic riding jacket which is blue in some lights and slightly purple in others - I also have a Lowpro camera strap which was bright purple with the M8, and even looks very slightly purple to the naked eye. With the M9 the jacket also varies colour in different lighting conditions - with some other cameras it always looks blue, and with an unfiltered M8 it always looks bright purple!

In over 4000 shots I’ve seen one black t-shirt with a very slight magenta tinge (at 2500 ISO in fading evening light). A tweak of the white balance and a very slight drop in magenta saturation restored it to it’s original colour.

I’m sure that someone will be able to produce a ‘purple’ shot (just as you can for many cameras from other manufacturers), but in my opinion this is an issue which has been put to bed. Leica say that the camera is in the top 1/3 of digital cameras with respect to IR filtration.


Lots of us have been working with two (or more) M8 bodies. The price of the M9 (at €5500 as opposed to the €5000 of the M8.2) is quite a triumph, but it still represents a lot of expenditure, especially if you are from the UK or US, where exchange rate differences have made the change seem rather large.

Changing one body now, and another later on will seem like an attractive proposition to many, but the prospect of fiddling about changing IR filters when moving lenses from one camera to another is not enticing. It would perhaps have been good if Leica had included an IR filter option with the M9, and that might happen later, but it would probably not be possible for anything wider than 28mm.

I have decided that the easiest way around this issue is to use specific lenses for each body during this transition period. Most of the time I keep an IR filtered 75 ‘cron on the M8 for close up and portrait pictures in good light (where it has an effective focal length of 100mm) , and then change lenses on the M9 body for everything else. This works pretty well; it’s a decent compromise until I can save up enough pennies for two M9 bodies!

Full Frame Sensor

For many traditional Leica users the cropped sensor of the M8 was a real show-stopper. Personally I’ve never felt very strongly about it on principle, and moving to a full frame dSLR was a mixed blessing, with lens sizes increasing exponentially (if you wanted good enough quality).

With the M9 it’s different - suddenly my little used 28 summicron has changed from a ‘blah’ 37mm to a splendid wide angle, and the Wide Angle Tri Elmar has changed from a fiddly 21-24-28 to a wonderful 16-18-21. With respect to the M8 you don’t even lose out at the long end, simply crop and you have the same field of view.

The viewfinder is the same 0.68 magnification as the M8, but it has the framelines of the M7 - the 28mm frameline is a little close to the edges, and a little tight (you get a bit more than you may have bargained for), focusing with the 75 and 90 is much simpler than it was with the M8. Generally speaking the framelines seem to me to be more accurate than those on the M8 (even the upgraded M8.2).

Last Word

I was in a shopping centre in Norwich, and a small but elegant elderly man came up to me and said “I’ve never even held an M8, please could I?” - of course, I had to say yes, at which point he thrust out his wallet . . . “just in case I run off with it “ he said!. It had a 35mm lens on. He held it to his eye, and immediately said “but this seems to be full frame”, I had to tell him that it wasn’t, and he looked confused and a bit miffed. It turns out that he worked for many years taking measurably accurate large format shots of cathedrals and other public buildings marked up for stone masons to work from, so it was hardly surprising that he could recognise full frame when he saw it! At any rate, he fell in love with the camera, and said that he planned to buy one later in the year.  If he ever reads this I’d like to send him my best wishes, and apologise for not telling him what he was holding on to!

Everyone has their pet wishes, and to fulfil all these wishes companies like Canon and Nikon have made increasingly complex cameras with more and more features, many of which are used rarely and by only a few people. With the M9 it seems to me that Leica have added the features that people really need, but resisted the temptation towards over-complexity. Of course it isn’t perfect (otherwise how could they sell us an M10!). For me it’s a wonderful camera which builds on the tradition started over 50 years ago to make a camera which has more to offer than all its predecessors.