The only other elements on the top plate are the shutter release, incorporating a single, continuous or self-timer switch selector, and the speed dial. The latter offers speeds ranging from 8seconds to 1/4000 of a second and includes Bulb and Aperture Priority options. The rear of the camera presents a 2.5in LCD monitor with five dedicated buttons on the left – Play, Delete, ISO, Info and Set – and a Menu button on the top right corner. Also on the right of the monitor there is a navpad and dial that is used to delve into menus, select options, browse or zoom in and out of images.
The low-res LCD panel is the only major disappointment
The full-frame, 18Mp sensor is what mostly sets the M9 apart from its digital predecessors but there are at least three important improvements on the M8 that are worth mentioning. The M8 had an abnormal sensitivity to infrared that translated into a magenta cast on certain black surfaces. To resolve the issue, owners of the M8 are obliged to mount IR filters on the lens. The M9 has found a better solution by adding an IR filter on the sensor itself.
Also the M9 supports uncompressed (14-bit) DNG image files in a 16-bit workflow, against the 8-bit DNG files of the M8. Finally, while the M9 can still recognise a lens from the 6-bit coding engraved on it, it now allows you to manually select the lens type. This means that the M9 can now utilise lenses from Leica’s impressive and vast array of optics.
The LCD screen was one of the few disappointments of this camera. Although quite bright, at 230,000 pixels this is an inexplicably low resolution for a camera at this level. While no doubt a consequence of image size, it is also painfully slow when zooming in during playback. This results in a pixellated image lingering on for several seconds before getting to full resolution.
The layout and contents of the menu instead are among the most intelligent and user-friendly I have encountered. The available options are stripped down to photographically relevant and useful features only, so the camera is incredibly easy and swift to set up. The limited range of the features stands out against the unique flexibility of some of the settings. For example, it’s the only camera I’m aware of with an Auto ISO that can be configured according to the lens in use. So simple, but a pure stroke of genius and something the likes of Canon and Nikon should swiftly copy.
Simplicity can work wonders for creativity
The M9 is uncompromising. There is no mumbo jumbo about this camera. No funk, no superfluous marketing ingredients. Yet what is offered is all functionally essential. This return to the basics is a breath of fresh air. Deprived of all ‘intelligent’ modes, never-used effects and long, complicated menus you can concentrate on the art of taking pictures with renewed freedom.