Photographer at a Camera Crossroad: My Week with the M9

Posted in Equipment, Photography by Michael Rubenstein on January 12, 2011

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Full disclosure. I love my M6. I always have. While I actually started shooting on a Kodak Disc my favorite 35mm camera has always and probably will always be a Leica M6 (my GR1 is a close second). With that out of the way I should tell you that some asshole stole my cameras. I think. Or I lost them. Which really would make me the asshole, eh?  Honestly I have no idea what happened. I was running around with a few bags shooting and meeting and shooting and meeting and after dinner I was a bag lite. What was in the bag you ask? 2 Canon 1dsMkIII’s and a few Canon L lenses. You ask, “WERE THEY INSURED”? Of course they were, and that leads us to now. Me renting an M9.

Full disclosure again. I hated the 1Ds. I hated it hard. It had major focus issues and Canon’s customer service, with the exception of Mike Gurley, Canon’s West Coast rep, was awful. They kept telling me the 1Ds worked to factory specifications and I told them there was an inherent flaw in their auto focus system. I’m sure I know a few photographers that would agree with me. I have a lot of Canon gear and I’m not ready to just up and switch to Nikon and as we’ve previously established I adore my M6 so I figured, the insurance company is going to pay for a rental, well…

Leica M9I’m renting an M9 for a week.

So I did. And it’s pretty amazing. I’ll get back to the amazing part in a minute. First, lets talk about the things that are less than amazing.

The Batteries. Really Leica? You can make a full frame rangefinder but you can’t make a battery that can last for more than an hour-and-a-half? Give me a break. Granted, I was using batteries from the M8 that were included with my rental but these were awful. I checked around and most people have the same issue I was having. I get 200 shots and that’s it. Burned. They cost about 120 bucks each, so as much as I’d like to buy 8 and have them take up every outlet in my apartment, that’s not happening.

Noise. On the plus side, the M9 works just like my M6. On the minus side, the M9 works just like my M6. I can only shoot color up to 400 ISO, on both cameras. I didn’t shoot anything over that after a few test shots because they looked like noisy, blocky, ass.

The Screen. Its awful. That’s it.

Now back to the amazing. I love street photography. I generally have a camera with me and its usually a GR1 film point and shoot. I never brought my 1Ds with me because it was huge and heavy and I rarely bring my 5DmkII with me because, well, its equally huge, but not heavy. The Leica is small, its pretty, its compact and it takes a mean picture. Its quiet, almost as quiet as a Leica should be and its discreet. I dig it. I didn’t get a chance to use it with a flash because I couldn’t get my generic flash to fit on the hot shoe… again…. REALLY LEICA?????  Maybe it was dented from another user. I don’t know but if Leica really made a proprietary hot shoe I’m going to puke.

Back to the amazing… again.  The camera lets me shoot like my M6 does, cause essentially it’s the same camera. A little bigger but the idea is right. Its like freedom in a little metal case. It was fantastic. I loved the pictures too. Lots of fun. I actually shot a Wall Street Journal assignment with it and a 5DmkII as backup in a dark room. 400 iso on the Leica and hand holding it at 1/4 of a second and I still liked the final images better than the Canon at 1.2 and 2500 ISO.

I’ll say it again. Very fun to use. Very nice files. (As long as you shoot under 400 ISO).

The insurance check came a week ago. Did I buy a Leica to replace the Canons? No. I bought a Phase One P45+ to put on my RZ ProIID and my Mamiya AFD. I shoot mostly portrait work. I still have a 5DmkII and I got a 7D as a back up body for my run and gun photojournalism work.

Why didn’t I buy the Leica? Well, I will. I will buy the M10. The M9 is close, but its just not there for me. I want a camera that can completely replace my Canons and when the M10 comes out, whenever that will be, I’m going to get one or two. Until then, I’m going to keep using my Canons that can’t focus to save their lives and shoot my critical work with the RZ/645 and the P45+ Phase One digital back. What do I use for my personal work, you ask? I shoot medium format film on a fifty year old Rolleiflex. What can I say, I just like it.


Michael Rubenstein is an editorial and commercial photographer based in Brooklyn, New York. More of his work can be seen here and at here. Please contact Jesi Bevis or Maria Avitable at Redux Pictures for assignments on 212- 253-0399.


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4 Responses

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  1. Jerry K. said, on January 13, 2011 at 8:10 pm

    Wait – your Canon had focus issue, and the solution is to use a manual focus rangefinder? That’s Leica-bias talking…

  2. […] highlighting the best kept secrets of ARC gear, with the Flex DSLR remote; Michael Rubenstein plays with the Leica M9 for a week, to see if it can satisfy his wandering eye as he looks to adopt a new system; I […]

  3. […] Michael Rubenstein’s photographs featured on the Adorama blog. […]

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