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Thursday, 10 September 2009


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I would love to have enough resources available to lay my hands on a Leica M9. But, not being Scrooge McDuck, a wealthy retired doctor, or a professional photographer, I will have to settle for the more spartan "drool all over keyboard" approach; at least until the next great camera comes along and my eyes get diverted once again.

Also add this:


Oh, but the Leica has such lovely noise.

(I'm serious, I'm a noise fetishist, and Kodak noise, which I remember well from my E-1, is just so yummy and soft and organic. I want one. Not likely to happen, of course.)

All this M9 talk has me lusting for a Cosina/Voigtlander R4A with 25mm f/4 Color Skopar (because the M9 is way out of my reach). Is this silly for someone who has never used a rangefinder camera before? Sure, the E-P1 and 17mm lens could quench this desire for less money, but somehow I don`t think it is quite the same thing.

There's also a nice review by David Farkas. He was in Wetzlar with the other fellas.

Mike, your use of Scrooge McDuck shows you to be a person of refined taste. As a kid I sometimes dreamed I was in a Scrooge McDuck epic. Wonderful! As a result, though -- and I don't know if it's the McDuck or the Leica publicity -- I actually find myself rethinking the family finances to see if I can pull it off. If I do, TOP is where I'll do it.

Mike, I'm not sure what you mean by Jono's photos being "uneven"?
Can you explain?

Would love an M9 - the only RF camera I have ever shot was a Ricoh 500G way back.

Presently I have the wonderful Sony A900 and assorted Sony Zeiss and Minolta lenses, but of course this is a large and obtrusive bundle to carry around and I would like a smaller camera at times, provided it has good IQ and is responsive.

Perhaps foolish, but I may try the Panasonic GF1 when it is available. I say foolish because if it turns out I don't like the GF1, then that is just more money wasted that could have been put towards an M9 further down the line. Kind of like buying all the small tripods until you eventually buy the proper one that you should have got in the first place and saved a lot of money in the process.

Your recent article on "What Does 'Expensive' Mean?" really hit the nail on the head. Unfortunately, though I could afford to buy an M9, I cannot justify it when I have a wife who kindly goes out to work everyday and brings in more income than I make in my self employment. I just could not handle the guilt.

This is a worthwhile read on M9.


"...is with a Leica--which, as of today, effectively means the M9." (Tod Papageorge)

Well, all due respect to Mr. Papageorge, for me and many others, shooting with a Leica, as of today, means the M4. There are thousands of affordable Leicas out there that won't cost you a thing (as Mike pointed out, emphasizing resale value). You can buy a lot of film, processing and neg holders for that extra $6000.

And the image quality is actually better, in black and white anyway.

Several high ISO choices available too!

What must said about this early group of "reviews" is that the writers were all most assuredly very carefully selected by Leica, presumably on the assumption that they would write "friendly" dispatches about the new camera. Leica will not have been disappointed by all of the present gushing, either.
I do not say this out of churlishness. For better and worse, I am an M8 owner. I want very much for the M9 to be a success. I also, however, keenly remember how this murky business of what I'll call "in-group" reviewers steered a lot of people badly wrong about the not inexpensive M8.
There were few if any adequate warnings and in most cases no warnings at all from this crowd about the very substantial shortcomings of the M8.
When some of these very same reviewers were subsequently forced to acknowledge major issues, such as the handicapped IR design, requiring outboard filters for lenses, software issues, shutter noise, battery issues, frameline woes -- and I could go on and on, they expended a great deal of energy on their sites and on other forums essentially making allowances for Leica and for the M8, judging that these problems were a small price to pay for this great new camera, with its great "files quality."
Would that their readers have been placed in a position to make such judgments for themselves, fully armed with thorough and objective reviews prior to purchase.
This should not be construed as an attack on Leica, on the M8 (or M9) or even on the reviewers, who one deliberately leaves unnamed.
It is, however, an attack on the troubling coziness that exists in this business that often passes off self-interested boosterism for journalism.
As a start, one would like to see much greater disclosure about the relationships between these reviewers and their subjects, in this case, Leica.
Howard French

Hate to be a pixel peeper, but this has bothered me with the M8, and I'm curious whether it is still present with the M9's sensor:

The lines visible in dark areas at high ISOs, like the ones in Sean Reid's shot above. Look at the top-left of the picture. There is a line leading to the head of the woman in the frame on the wall.

I know what Howard French is saying (in the Featured Comment) and he's right: it would be naive to assume that the reviews linked above are completely impartial, seeing that all of these reviewers got to party in Germany with Leica officials three weeks ago.

On the other hand... Thanks to the Internet, most of the problems that Howard mentions were public knowledge within a few days of when the M8 started landing in customers' hands. Only those who bought one of the very first batches to ship -- always a gamble, but one that first adopters knowingly and willingly take -- can blame the reviewers for anything, and even then one has to think the buyer of any breakthrough product should know enough to be initially cautious.

Considered against the pre-Internet days when true "consumer reports" were almost impossible to find, being able to read dozens or even hundreds of user reviews for free, online, within a month after a product ships pretty much places most of the blame for product disillusionment on the buyer.

(I also feel that antagonists of one popular web reviewer circulated unsubstantiated conspiracy theories about his agenda that only fed the flames of discontent.)

For those who want the straightest dope on the M9 at this point in the game, I think Sean Reid's review uniquely and thoroughly addresses head-on the issues that surfaced with the M9.

Anyone who plans to spend several thousand dollars on any Leica product is being penny-wise and pound-foolish if they are unwilling to shell out 33 bucks for a year of reading Sean's extremely detailed reviews of cameras and lenses.

For example, Sean makes very clear in his M9 report that the IR problem is not fully cured in every lighting situation -- thanks to a deliberate design decision by Leica -- but those who don't subscribe are unlikely to learn for weeks yet the nuances of how significant that is and whether it will affect them in their style of shooting.

Otherwise, caveat emptor.

Has David Farkas done a review on this camera yet? ;)

@ Howard French

I think what you have pointed is one of the problems with the brave new world of the citizen journalist.

Michael Reichmann's initial write-up of the S2 is now up. Am I wrongly impressed by the amount of detail that camera is capable of capturing. I refer to the picture of the model taken with the 180/3.5 lens and the 100% crop of one of themmodel's eyes. The sharpness and clarity of every hair and the reflection of the photographer in the model's eye.

Self-interested boosterism parading as journalism? Howard French has hit the nail on the head right there -- and not only in regards to equipment reviews...

If reviewers who get to play with free cameras aren't going to be candid, and reviewers who are candid don't get to play with free cameras, seems to me there's a simple solution:

When one of us TOP readers gets a new camera early in its product cycle, we can email Mike to see if he's interested in it and if so we can ship it to him with an appropriate lens or two. (He's always free to say "No, but thanks!")

Mike would then use it to photograph dogs and trees (but not dogs with trees) and whatever else he wants for a week or 10 days before sending it back to us.

That's long enough for Mike to generate some informal "user impressions" (with no pretense of it being a comprehensive "review"). And it's short enough that even with shipping we won't have to do without our new toy for more than a couple of weeks, a personal short-term sacrifice that's well worth it for the long-term good of the common.

Hordes of new TOP readers and donors will soon follow as word spreads of this new resource of informal-but-informed impressions, a resource that is not beholden to any manufacturer.

This "Send it to Mike" program would be fine with you, right Mike? Or am I missing something?

Dear Charlie H,

We both agree with Howard's comment, but you're wrong about it being something new.

Professional reviewers and critics have (collectively) always had a cozy relationship with manufacturers. Look at the history of luminaries like Norm Rothschild, Herb Keppler and Arthur Kramer. Or lowly me, when I put in the effort to maintain such relationships (I don't much, any more).

Indeed, this gets us lots of perks and early (or even exclusive) access to information and equipment outsiders couldn't.

Almost every time you read a magazine product test or review that appears within two months of the product's official announcement, it's because the magazine/reviewer got special and cozy treatment from the manufacturer. (I've written only two 'scoops' in my entire career that didn't depend on such largesse, one was a source within a company who leaked product to me and the other was very, very lucky timing.)

There's indeed a psychological risk involved-- humans are inclined to view efforts of friends more favorably than those of strangers. It's a known source of bias.

Buying products off the shelf, sans manufacturer involvement doesn't solve the problem. First, as I mentioned, it creates what many readers consider unacceptable time delays. (You think dpreview or DxO waits in line at B&H to get review cameras?) Second, it's also well-established that people who've spent serious money on a product are disinclined to want to believe that they've truly wasted their money (although they will nitpick like mad). Not an issue if it's a corporate purchase, but when an individual reviewer buys a product to review, they risk falling into 'consumer bias.' Being wealthy, by the way, doesn't reduce that bias.

The solution, in both situations is well-known. It's called professional discipline. You disclose the factors that you think could lead to bias, and you train yourself to be influenced by those as little as possible.

How well you do this determines how good a reviewer you'll be. Doesn't matter if you're 'corporate' or 'citizen,' 'cozy' or 'hands-off.' If you get good at this discipline, you can write trustworthy reviews. If you don't, you can't.

pax / Ctein
-- Ctein's Online Gallery http://ctein.com
-- Digital Restorations http://photo-repair.com

Simon mentions a line on the wall in the Sean Reid image of a woman.

If you examine the frame you can see that this same line extends from the wall surface directly into the adjoining empty space where there is no wall. This suggests that it is not some attribute of the wall surface but is more likely an artifact introduced by the image capture system.

I noticed three or four mentions of David Farkas' "review." David Farkas sells Leicas. Calling his reporting a review is like calling Leica's sales video journalism.

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