. photographing weddings with the Leica M9 .
All shot with M9 and 35mm.
The Leica M9 has been around for some time now. This user report was initially written a few years ago. Still, many aspects are still valid. Even if I write here about the M9, many things are also valid for rangefinders in general (like the Leica M240, 262). So, here the updated: Leica M wedding photography.
The question was, and is, if the Leica M9 is suitable for serious, fast pacing, professional work like wedding photography. There are some photogs who use a rangefinder, like the M9, primarily for weddings, though most use the Leica M240 nowadays. Some use it complementary to a DSLR.
In this post I would like to share some personal experience of how the M9 has worked for me.
I used to shoot my weddings with two Nikon about 3-4 primes. I started to implement my M9 in my wedding work, which was until then reserved for my more personal projects.
Is there anything I can tell you that has not been written in any Leica forum or review before? You will not hear any groundbreaking news, the M9 has been around for some time. Personally, for my decision to use the M9 professionally, stories of other serious users have been of great help, so here you get another one.
Minor issues with the Leica M9:
- The batteries hold not that long, I need 3-4 for one wedding. But they are small and fit easily in my pants pockets so I can live with that. Other then with modern mirrorless cameras, the Leica does not drain much energy when you do not shoot actually, as it does not have an EVF (electrionic viewfinder).
- Manual focus is, as long as the subject is not moving too fast, and you are not too close also quite OK, even at 1.4, at least with lenses 35mm and wider.
- Manual exposure is my preferred setting anyway, even with the Nikons. For me it is much more reliable as I often shoot under challenging lightning conditions.
- The LCD display. Yes, it´s bad, but as I mostly check only for the exposure it is bearable.
What I love about the M9:
- The feel and overall haptic of the M9 is just great. If you rate the site of any camera you must take the lenses with into account. I also like my Sony A7s a lot, but wait until you put a Zeiss 35mm/1.4 on. The camera/lens combo gets huge. With the Leica the lenses are tiny. So what you hold in your hands is still very compact, even with lenses at 1.4.
- Of course, the lenses are good, exceptional actually. But some lenses from Nikon (like the 58/1.4) or Sony/Zeiss (55/1.8) are also great. What I like the most about the Leica lenses, especially the 35mm Summilux FLE is how it renders in extreme light. The flare is just gorgeous. Nothing like that you see with other lenses.
- It´s unobtrusive, and yes, I have made the experience that this matters even in a controlled environment like a wedding. There are other small mirrorless cameras around, so the size and shutter-sound is not the only thing that matters. When people see you shooting with a Leica they often think that you shoot with something ancient, or something special. A Leica looks different and that is something even non-photographers recognize. I have made the experience that people feel they are part of an artistic process and therefor are more open and willing to participate.
- The optical viewfinder in a rangefinder. I love seeing the picture at the time of exposure. This is not a big advantage at, let´s say, 1/500 of a second, but if you use long exposures with flash for dance shots (like 1-2 seconds) or you try to pan the subject with longish shutter-speeds, this becomes a very valuable feature.
- Cult factor: There is a saying that I love: Amateurs worry about gear, pros about money and artists worry about light – anyway, I have to admit that I am not free of the cult around Leica. It is just cool to shoot a Leica. Now I have said it, go and throw stones.
What I do not like about the Leica M9:
- No weather sealing. For a camera of this value that claims to be a reportage camera unacceptable. Leica saw this also and made the M240 weather resistant. Wise move.
- The easily misaligned rangefinder. This is a big issue for me, as mine was misaligned twice within a year of use. I quite often test my combo by taking a photo of something like a wall-calendar at an angle of 45 degree and check the result magnified at the LCD-screen – a quick way to check the rangefinder calibration. The rangefinder of the m240 is said to be more robust. I never had a misalignment with my M240 so far.
- The parallax effect. Because you see the subject through the viewfinder and not through the lens itself you have a parallax error in what you see. The M cameras compensate for the parallax mistake by shifting the frame-lines in the viewfinder, but that is only true for objects in focus. When composing an image I quite often put something very close to the lens, leaves of a tree. Composition in such a case with a non through-the-lens view is plain guesswork. The Leica M240 has also found a solution here, as you can use the livefiew in these situations.
- ISO. Initially I thought up to ISO 800 is OK, 1600 not so much and only for black and white. Here things have changed. When I got my M9 Iused Aperture as my editing program but have finally switched to Lightroom. In LR I can push Leica M9 files at ISO 1600 up to two full stops and get results I am happy with. That equals ISO 6400! Not bad for a CCD sensor, right?
Pimping the M9:
In my opinion the body ergonomics of the Leica M series are second to none. But with a few modifications:
- Because I work in manual mode exclusively and the shutter speed is not displayed in the viewfinder I filed a nick into the shutter dial, so I can feel at which position the wheel stands. Of course you can also look at the numbers, but I like to work by feel.
- The M9 is quite clumsy to hold if you are not using a third party „thumbs up“. So I had one in the beginning. The problem is when you use the „thumbs up“, you can´t use flash because it sits in the hot shoe. I taped two carefully shaped pieces of wood to my M9 which function as additional grips. When using TESA power-strips the grips stay in place but are easily remove without leaving any traces on the body. With these two grips the Leica handles absolutely perfect.
Leica M9 as a wedding camera? The conclusion:
Do I miss sometimes shots that I would have got with my Nikon? Yes, I am afraid. Are the negative points deal-brakers for me? No
I firmly believe that when taking pictures, it is more than just the outcome that matters, it is as much the process in itself. It is often stated the camera is JUST a tool. Right – it is a TOOL.
Can you imagine Van Gogh working with a paintbrush-gun?
I think working with the Leica involves me more emotionally – and this is a good thing when trying to create something artistic.
So, what now? Will I use my M9 at weddings? As I wrote this little article here a few years ago I answered YES. I now shoot my weddings on Leica M exclusively.
So, what about you? Do you think the Leica rangefinders are fast and good enough to shoot fast reportage, like weddings?