LEICA M9 - Digital photography enters a whole new dimension
Leica Camera AG, Solms, presents the LEICA M9, the world’s first digital rangefinder camera with a full-format 24 × 36 mm sensor. As the world’s most compact full-format system camera, the M9 continues the legendary heritage of the Leica rangefinder system and unites over 50 years of continuous technical improvements to the M System with the best in cutting-edge digital technology.
The successful combination of an extremely high-resolution image sensor, the superior performance of M lenses and sophisticated processing of the captured digital information ensures the best imaging results in all photographic situations. Thanks to its technical specifications, the camera adjusts to all fields of photography from reportage and ‘available light’ to the capture of discreet, aesthetic, fine-art images. This makes the M9 the ideal tool for all photographers who demand the highest standards in image quality and appreciate a freedom of composition that enables the discreet capture of fleeting moments.
The 18-megapixel CCD image sensor, specifically designed and developed for the M9, enables the capture of the full 35-mm film format without any compromises. All M lenses mounted on the LEICA M9 therefore offer the same angle of view as with film camera models. This means that the enormous potential performance of the current M lens portfolio with focal lengths from 16 to 135 mm is now fully exploited in a digital camera for the very first time. In addition, almost all lenses of the Leica M range built since 1954 can still be used on the new M9. Once again, Leica Camera AG proves their commitment to full system compatibility and the enduring value of the M series.
The sensor of the M9 features a newly developed glass sensor cover that is designed to guarantee the suppression of the infrared portion of the light spectrum in practical photography. This avoids the necessity of mounting special UV/IR filters.
Its simple handling, with the typical Leica concentration on essentials, is a significant feature of the Leica M System. In the case of the LEICA M9, the handling has been further improved by simplification of the menu navigation: setting the sensitivity only requires holding down the ISO button while simultaneously turning the dial to select the required setting. All other functions important for everyday situations are quickly and easily accessible by pressing the set button. Furthermore, the menu also offers a snapshot profile option. In this mode, the M9 automatically sets as many settings as possible and provides a valuable aid to spontaneous and discreet photography. The camera also features automatic lens recognition via 6-bit coding. On the basis of the coded information, the M9 can compensate for any system-inherent lens vignetting effects (darkening in the image corners).
Despite the considerably larger sensor, it has been possible to construct the body of the LEICA M9 with the compact size typical of M cameras. With its compact dimensions of only 139 × 37 × 80 mm, the LEICA M9 maintains the ideal size of the M series and is now the world’s smallest full-format digital system camera.
As a working tool for professionals and ambitious amateur photographers, all features and functions of the LEICA M9 are designed for absolute dependability and endurance. Its one-piece, full-metal housing, made from a high-strength magnesium alloy, and its top deck and bottom plate machined from solid brass blanks, provide perfect protection for its precious inner mechanisms. The digital components and shutter assembly of the M9 are similarly constructed with extreme endurance in mind. For photographers, this all adds up to absolute reliability over decades of use.
The LEICA M9 is now available in two different finishes: a standard version in black and, for the first time, a version finished in steel-grey. The two models also have different leathering. The leather chosen for the particularly elegant steel-grey version is extremely finely structured.
The CCD sensor specially developed by Kodak for the LEICA M9 has been optimised to fully exploit the particular qualities of the Leica M lens system. As a result, the LEICA M9 achieves highest resolution values that in turn guarantee outstanding image quality.
The image sensor of the M9 employs further advanced and meticulously designed micro lenses with a low refractive index. The micro lenses at the sensor edges are laterally displaced towards the image centre to precisely match the characteristics of M lenses. This optimized micro lens design, based on many years of precision optical engineering experience, captures and concentrates even the most oblique rays on the sensor and reliably prevents image brightness fall-off at the edges and corners of the image. As a result, all existing Leica M lenses also maintain their full performance when used for digital photography.
The intentional decision not to include a moiré filter, which optically filters out the finest image details, was made to permit full exploitation of the superb resolution of Leica M lenses. Any moiré patterns occurring are instead eliminated in the camera’s digital signal-processing software. The optimised signal–noise ratio of the CCD image sensor reduces the need for digital post-processing and ensures that images possess an unrivalled, natural visual impact. This results in high-contrast, particularly high-resolution exposures with natural colour rendition from corner to corner.
All Leica M lenses mounted on the LEICA M9 offer the same angle of view as with film camera models. Therefore, for the first time, the immense performance potential of the lenses is now fully maintained and can be fully exploited for digital photography, too. In line with Leica’s renowned commitment to extreme system compatibility, almost all lenses of the Leica M range built since 1954 can still be used on the new M9. As a result of the high mechanical and optical precision and extraordinarily good imaging performance, and particularly that of the current range, Leica M lenses are now ideal for use in digital photography. Performance criteria, such as the individual coating of each element, have long been a Leica standard, and there was no need to develop and implement any special measures for ‘digital lenses’.
The efficient image sensor on the M9 demands a particularly high spatial resolution that is, above all, offered by the latest M lenses. The excellent correction of optical aberrations and high resolution make them all the more suitable for digital use. The current M lenses are supplied with a 6-bit code on the bayonet mount that is scanned optically by the M9. On the basis of the coded information, the M9 can compensate for any (almost negligible) system-inherent vignetting effects if required. In addition, the lens type is recorded in the EXIF data of the image files and, when using the latest flash units like the LEICA SF 58, automatically adjusts the reflector to match the focal length of the lens attached.
The Viewfinder / Rangefinder
The Leica viewfinder / rangefinder system sets the LEICA M9 apart from the market-dominating SLR and compact digital cameras and makes it particularly suitable for vibrant reportage photography, ‘available light’ exposures and discreet portraiture. Photographers become part of the action and frame whatever they wish to capture in the viewfinder – a scene, a mood, a moment. Simultaneously, the photographer still perceives what is going on outside the viewfinder frame. The decisive moment can be anticipated, and can therefore be captured at precisely the right instant. This results in particularly authentic images that are in no way impaired by the presence of the photographer.
The clear view of the subject remains even during exposure and, even in the most adverse lighting conditions, the bright, high-contrast viewfinder guarantees extremely fast and precise focusing. In combination with the minimal delay between releasing the shutter and capturing the shot – in digital photography too – the combined viewfinder / rangefinder system positions Leica M cameras amongst the fastest cameras in the world.
In contrast to SLR photography, where focusing must take place through the lens and focal length and aperture determine focusing accuracy, the rangefinder base of the Leica M remains precisely the same, independent of the actual lens being used. This is the reason why its focusing precision is immensely superior for shorter focal lengths. The high-contrast, rectangular RF spot in the centre of the viewfinder guarantees fast, precise, and pin-sharp focusing, even under adverse lighting conditions.
The frame selector lever allows photographers to simulate different compositions with alternative focal lengths and assess the most appropriate lens for the shot without changing lenses. Because their position is automatically adjusted by automatic parallax compensation depending on the focusing distance, the six different bright-line frames always show the precise image framing. The bright-line viewfinder shows all other information relevant to the capture of a perfect image and the peripheral area around the envisaged subject, thus providing ideal conditions for spontaneous and unobtrusive photography.
The LEICA M9 features a new, microprocessor-controlled, particularly silent, metal-leaf, focal-plane shutter that enables shutter speeds of up to 1/4000 seconds. This means that the photographer still has complete creative freedom by using selective focus at maximum apertures, even in bright situations. The short flash synchronisation speed of 1/180 seconds enables daylight flash exposures with selective focus.
Together with its compact form, the camera’s almost silent shutter is another enormous advantage for discreet and unobtrusive photography. Photographers can also select the appropriate moment for re-cocking the shutter. When longer exposure times requiring an extremely steady camera stance are essential, a slight pressure on the shutter release button in ‘soft release’ mode is sufficient.
The LEICA M9 concentrates the photographer’s attention on photographic essentials, not on setting the camera. Particular diligence, many years of experience and vast knowledge of how professional photographers work have all influenced the handling concept for the digital functions of the LEICA M9. The result is a simple, clearly laid-out and intuitive user guidance system that concentrates purely on essentials. Multifunction buttons and complex menu hierarchies have been consistently avoided.
The key control element is an intuitive four-way switch and dial combination that enables fast menu navigation. Pressing the set button calls up the capture parameter menu on the 2.5" monitor screen. The most important image-capture parameters are quickly and easily set in this menu: sensor sensitivity, exposure correction, white balance, image-data compression, resolution. Free profile storage spaces are also available for fast access to frequently used or application-specific combinations.
The menu button is also used for changing more permanent basic values in the clearly laid out system menu. The photographer can also choose whether the captured image is displayed immediately for assessment on the large monitor, how long it should be displayed and whether an additional tonal value histogram is shown.
The LEICA M9 has a delayed shutter release function with a choice of two countdown times of 2 and 12 seconds.
The technical features of the LEICA M9 allow it to adapt flexibly to its intended use. Its sensitivity ranges from ISO 80 (PULL 80) for wide-open apertures on bright days to ISO 2500. At the same time, very low-noise and finely detailed images are achieved throughout the sensitivity range, even at the highest settings. The very low noise characteristics, a bright viewfinder / rangefinder, low-vibration shutter and fast lenses make the M9 the perfect camera for ‘available light’ photography.
Innovative Flash Technology
The M-TTL flash technology installed in the LEICA M9 enables both precise and creative control over flash and mixed lighting effects. Prior to the actual exposure, a measuring flash is emitted that is metered through the lens. The flash power is then precisely determined under consideration of the natural lighting situation. Thanks to the precise and delicate dosage of flash illumination, the natural lighting mood is maintained in the best possible way. In combination with the aperture priority exposure mode, the auto-slow sync function ensures a particularly subtle lighting of the subject, whereby the longest shutter speed may be set manually or, when using 6-bit coded lenses, automatically, according to the 1/focal length rule of thumb.
Image Assessment With The Tonal Value Histogram
As a professional digital camera, the LEICA M9 naturally offers an RGB tonal value histogram. The histogram can be displayed at any time for the assessment of stored images. This feature is also available in conjunction with the automatic image review function. A useful additional aid is the indication of overexposed image areas by means of a so-called clipping warning. These two quality control tools are updated for enlarged views and thus allow the quality of even the finest image details to be assessed. Pressing the info function button displays all photographically relevant settings as well as additional metadata stored in the image files. These functions enable full control over captured results at the shooting location of the digital images.
The M9 is supplied complete with Adobe Photoshop Lightroom, a professional digital workflow solution for Apple Mac OS X and Microsoft Windows. The software is available as an online download for all LEICA M9 customers. This also ensures that the latest release is always readily available. Adobe Photoshop Lightroom offers a vast range of functions for the management, processing and presentation of digital images, quite independent of whether the images are in space-saving and fast jpeg format or in DNG format to preserve all image information. If the images from the M9 are saved as raw data in the standardized and future-proof Adobe Digital Negative Format (DNG), Adobe Photoshop Lightroom, with its sophisticated and precise processing options, guarantees direct and extremely high-quality image processing with maximised image quality. The 16-bit-per-channel colour information captured by the image sensor is maintained throughout the processing workflow right up until the final presentation, and ensures that the most delicate tonal differentiations are preserved in maximum quality after completion of the post-processing sequence.
Materials, Finish And Dimensions
The tough and resilient top deck and base plate of the M9 are machined from solid brass blanks using the latest tools. The full-metal body is manufactured from a high-strength magnesium alloy that ensures a long and reliable professional working life. The rechargeable battery and the SD card slot are protected from dust and moisture under the base plate. The locking mechanism of the base plate effectively prevents unintentional opening and the subsequent loss of the battery and SD card even under the hardest reportage conditions. In addition, this long-established construction concept, already employed for decades in the Leica M System, significantly increases the structural stability of the camera body.
The experienced hands of Leica technicians at the factory in Solms are responsible for the assembly and calibration of M9 bodies and the precise testing of all mechanical and electrical components. The experience gathered over decades of maintenance and repairs by Leica Customer Service creates a solid foundation for long life and enduring value. Even today, the service department maintains and repairs all M cameras built since 1954.
The LEICA M9 offers a special function for manual sensor cleaning: selecting the appropriate item from the menu and pressing the shutter release locks the shutter open to allow access to the sensor for cleaning purposes. Thanks to the short register of Leica M cameras, the sensor is easier to access than is the case with DSLR cameras in which the sensors are located behind the mirror box and shutter assembly.
Technical Data LEICA M9
10705 (steel-grey paint finish)
10704 (black paint finish)
Compact digital rangefinder system camera.
Leica M bayonet with additional sensor for 6-bit coding.
Leica M lenses from 16 to135 mm.
Image format / image sensor
5270 × 3516 pixels (18.5 megapixels) CCD chip, active area approx. 23.9 × 35.8 mm / 5212 x 3472 pixels (18 megapixels) (corresponds to the effective image format of Leica M film cameras).
Optional resolution, DNG™: 5212 × 3472 (18 MP),
JPEG: 5212 × 3472 (18 MP), 3840 × 2592 (10 MP), 2592 ×1728 (4.5 MP), 1728 ×1152 (2 MP), 1280 x 846 pixels (1 MP).
Image file formats:
DNG™ (RAW data),optionally uncompressed or slightly compressed (by non-linear reduction of colour depth), 2 JPEG compression levels.
DNG™: 18 MB (compressed) 36 MB (uncompressed) JPEG approx. 2 to10 MB, (depending on image content)
Adobe® RGB, sRGB.
Automatic, manual, 7 presets, direct colour temperature selection.
SD cards up to 2 GB / SDHC cards up to 32 GB.
German, English, French, Spanish, Italian, Japanese, traditional Chinese, simplified Chinese, Russian.
Windows® XP/Vista®; Mac® OS X (10.5)
Through-the-lens (TTL) metering, centre-weighted at working aperture.
Centre-weighted TTL metering for flash exposure with dedicated SCA-3000/2 standard flash units.
The light reflected from the bright leaves of the first shutter curtain is metered.
Metering range (at ISO 160/23°)
At room temperature and normal humidity, equivalent to EV 0 to 20 or f 1.0 and 1.2s to f 32 and 1/1000 s. Flashing left triangular LED in the viewfinder indicates light levels below metering capability.
Metering cell for available light
(ambient light metering)
Silicon photodiode with condenser lens, bottom centre of camera base.
ISO 80/19° to ISO 2500/35°, selectable in 1/3 ISO increments, in aperture priority automatic mode A and manual exposure setting, optional automatic control or manual selection, automatic control in snapshot mode.
Optional automatic determination of shutter speeds with preselected apertures – aperture priority automatic mode A – with corresponding digital display, or manual selection of shutter speed and aperture and balance by means of an LED light balance with correct exposure display, or over exposure / camera shake trend prevention (snapshot mode only).
Hot shoe with centre and control contacts.
Optional, on first or second curtain.
Flash synchronisation speed
1/180 s; longer shutter speeds may be used.
(With SCA-3501/3502 adapter or SCA-3000-standard flash unit, e.g. LEICA SF 24D / LEICA SF 58) Flash exposure control with centre-weighted TTL pre-flash metering.
Flash metering cell
2 silicon photodiodes with condenser lens in camera base.
Flash exposure correction
±3 1/3 EV in 1/3 EV increments, adjustable on SCA-3501/3502 adapter.
Settings in computer mode for LEICA SF 24D, ±3 EV in 1/3 EV increments, or from 0 to –3 EV in 1 EV increments / adjustable in all modes for LEICA SF 58, ±3 EV in 1/3 EV increments.
Displays in flash mode:
Flash ready: constant illumination of flash symbol LED in the viewfinder, flash confirmation: Constant illumination or rapid flashing of the LED after exposure, underexposure indicated by temporarily extinguished LED.
Large size, bright, combined bright-line viewfinder / rangefinder with automatic parallax compensation.
Adjusted to -0.5 dioptres Correction lenses for –3 to +3 dptr. available.
Image field framing:
By projection of two bright-line frame with each lens attached: for 35 and 135 mm, or for 28 and 90 mm, or 50 and 75 mm. Automatically displayed when lens mount locks. Any of the pairs of bright-line frames can be displayed by moving the frame selection lever.
The horizontal and vertical differences between the viewfinder and the lens are automatically compensated in accordance with the focusing distance set, i.e. the bright-line frame of the viewfinder automatically moves to cover the image field covered by the respective lens.
Correspondence between the viewfinder and the actual image
At a focusing distance of 1 metre, the bright-line frame size corresponds precisely to that of a sensor of 23.9 × 35.8 mm. Focused at infinity, and depending on the focal length, approx. 7.3% (28 mm) to 18 % (135 mm) more of the sensor is covered than the bright-line frame actually shows, the opposite is the case for focusing distances less than 1 metre, i.e. somewhat less.
Viewfinder magnification(for all lenses)
Bright rectangular spot (RF spot) with coincident and superimposed rangefinder in the centre of the viewfinder.
Effective rangefinder base
47.1 mm (actual base length 69.25 mm × viewfinder magnification 0.68×).
(Lower edge) LED symbol for flash status.
Four-digit, seven-segment digital LED display with dots above and below, display brightness adjusted for ambient light, for exposure correction warnings, display of automatically determined shutter speed in aperture priority automatic mode, exposure value lock indicator, out of metering range warning in aperture priority automatic mode and countdown display for shutter speeds longer than 2 s.
LED light balance with two triangular and one round, central LED in manual exposure mode. The triangular LEDs show the required directions for turning the aperture ring or the shutter speed dial to correct the exposure setting. They also warn of light levels that are above or below the metering range.
Displays on the back
2.5" monitor (colour TFT-LCD) with 230,000 pixels
Microprocessor-controlled, particularly low-noise, metal-leaf, vertical focal-plane shutter.
In aperture priority automatic mode (A) continuous from 32 s to 1/4000 s. in manual mode, 8 s to 1/4000 s in half increments, B for arbitrary long exposure times (in conjunction with delayed release T function, i.e. 1st release = shutter opens, 2nd release = shutter closes, (1/180 s) fastest shutter speed for flash synchronisation.
With integrated motor, with low-noise footprint, optionally only after release of shutter release button.
Approx. 2 frames/s, ≥ 8 frames in sequence.
Three steps: activation of metering – store metering values (in aperture priority automatic mode) – shutter release. Standard internal threading for remote release.
Countdown 2 s (in aperture priority automatic mode and manual exposure mode) or 12 s, menu setting option, countdown is indicated by a flashing LED on the front of the camera and a corresponding display on the monitor screen.
Camera power on / power off
Main switch located on the top deck, optional sleep mode for camera electronics after 2 / 5 / 10 minutes, reactivation by slight pressure to shutter release button.
1 rechargeable lithium-ion battery, nominal voltage 3.7 V, capacity 1900 mAh. Charge level displayed on monitor screen, when shutter locked in open position (for sensor cleaning), additional acoustic warning signal for insufficient charge.
Inputs: 100–240 V AC , 50/60 Hz, automatic adaptation, or 12/24 V DC
Output: 4.2 V DC, 800 mA.
Full-metal body in diecast magnesium alloy with cataphoretic paint finish and artificial leather trim. Brass top deck and base plate, black or steel-grey finish.
Frame selection lever
Enables the manual display of different bright-line frame pairs at any time (e.g. for framing comparisons).
A 1/4 (1/4 “) DIN, stainless steel, integrated in base plate.
0 to +40°C
5-pin Mini-USB 2.0 high-speed socket for fast data transfer.
Dimensions (length × depth × height):
Approx. 139 × 37 × 80 mm
585 g (including battery)
Battery charger 100–240 V with two power cords (Euro, USA, may differ for other export markets) and one car charging cable, lithium-ion battery, USB cable, carrying strap.