Thursday, 10 September 2009

The Leica M9 and X1


DO NOT READ THIS IF CAMERAS BORE YOU.

But if you DO like discussing the equipment, then pray continue, Dear Reader.

Yesterday Leica annouced the M9 (their latest M-series digital rangfinder) and the X1 (a fixed-lens digital compact built to M-series standards). There's a short wait for the X1. The first reaction is to drool, slap the Nikon D700 on eBay, and place an order. The second is to shake the head, and resist all temptation. And keep on doing so.

Why, you ask: cost has not prevented you doing anything so far, and you ARE an impulsive creature, are you not? I don't deny it. But I can recognise when something just won't be right for me.

M9 PROS
# Full-frame sensor. But my Nikon D700 has one too.
# Lighter and less bulky than the D700. Same for the lenses. Yes, but still a pain to carry around all day. Too big for the handbag.

M9 CONS
# VERY expensive. And the lenses would be a very costly extra on top of that. There are other things I want to buy (or pay for) with that sort of money. And I've already spent a fortune on the D700 and the f/2.8 24-70mm zoom lens it's married to.
# It's a rangefinder. So you MUST use the viewfinder. And although the view may be bright and clear in all conditions, you HAVE to work with manual focus, turning a focussing ring on the lens; you HAVE to get your subject within frame lines; and you HAVE to determine when the overlapping images in the centre of the frame have merged into one, signalling the point of perfect focus. What a palaver! And what a pain if you wear glasses. Time was (in the 1980s) when I could hoick the glasses up and get the eyeball close to the viewfinder window. Nowadays I am by necessity a fan of screens to compose with, and my unaided eyesight is so poor that I need autofocus to be quite certain of getting the subject in focus. Using a screen doesn't mean adopting the naff arms-outstretched 'praying to the sun' position, unless aiming for a stealth shot and trying to fool people that you're a mere girly tourist. (It's a good technique for taking 'casual' shots under the noses of security staff at clubs and events: they don't mind, because you don't look serious, especially if you giggle and mess around) Hold the camera closer to the face, with elbows braced against the ribcage. I think that's as rock steady for longish exposures as ramming the camera up against your nose, plus you don't get a ton of face grease (or makeup) on the back of the camera.

X1 PROS
# Much larger sensor than the D-Lux 4 has - better resolution and tonal range. But not actually full-frame.
# Small enough to carry in the handbag, but still larger than the D-Lux 4, and so it would nudge out something important that I can presently fit in, such as the PDA.

X1 CONS
# Bound to be very expensive.
# Only an f/2.8 lens. Half the light-gathering power of an f/2 lens. That means night shots at a 1/8 second exposure (my personal limit with elbows braced) would require jacking up the ISO from 400 to 800. Maybe the large sensor means no extra noise from amplifying the light. Maybe. (I'm a fundamental and unapologetic believer in fast glass to sidestep all this. The D-Lux 4 HAS fast glass)
# The lens is fixed at 36mm - no zooming! What if you CAN'T walk forwards or backwards? And although something like 35mm is a nice focal length, I really do prefer proper wideangles to give landscapes and interiors a chance.
# No 16:9 frame format option. That means no widescreen, semi-panoramic shots. Oh no! That's a killer point in favour of using the D-Lux 4 all the time.
# Unimpressive macro - you can't get in really close. So not much use for flower and food shots.

Sorry, Leica. Both cameras DO look fantastic. Either would bestow INCREDIBLE street cred. But as photographic tools they are unsuitable for my personal needs and preferences.

Why, instead of an M9 I could buy a dozen designer dresses for the same cash.

Or triple my art collection.

Or help someone get an essential operation they can't afford.

Or provide sanitation and fresh water for an entire African village.

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