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Leica Introduces M9: Full-Frame Digital Rangefinder
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posted on Sep 9, 2009 at 8:48PM

Leica Introduces M9: Full-Frame Digital Rangefinder

By Emily Raymond
  • Full Frame digital rangefinder
  • 24 x 36mm Kodak 18500 KAF CCD sensor
  • 5.5 x 3.1 x 1.5-inch magnesium alloy and brass frame
  • Shipping immediately
  • $6,995 (body alone)
(Credit: Leica)

Leica Camera AG introduced the world’s first full-frame rangefinder today in the much-anticipated Leica M9. The new digital rangefinder has the same compact form and retro look as its M8 predecessor, but the image sensor has been renovated to promise clearer and truer images from edge to edge. The Leica M9 is available immediately for $6,995 for the body only.


The Leica M9 includes a 24 x 36mm Kodak 18500 KAF CCD that offers the same measurements as a standard 35mm film negative and is stacked with 18 megapixels. The image sensor was developed by Kodak, as was the sensor on the older M8. Kodak has also supplied Leica with image sensors for the Digital Module-R and S2 models.


“In developing the M9 camera, we knew that Leica could not compromise on the quality we would offer to our customers,” said Rudi Spiller, CEO of Leica Camera AG, in a Sept. 9 press release issued by Kodak. “By working once again with Kodak to supply the image sensor for this new camera, we helped to ensure that images from the M9 would meet the high expectations our customers have for this exciting new product.”


To compare with the M9, the Leica M8 has a much smaller 27 x 18mm CCD with 10 megapixels. Some customers complained that the sensor produced images that were significantly darker in the edges of the frame because of the 1.33x field of view crop, but the M9’s full-frame sensor solves this problem.


“All M lenses mounted on the Leica M9…offer the same focal length as originally intended, and the enormous potential performance of the current M lens portfolio, with focal lengths from 16 to 135mm, is now fully exploited in an M digital camera for the very first time,” states the Sept. 9 Leica press release. The M9 is compatible with almost every Leica M-mount lens built since 1954.


Besides fixing the cropping and edge brightness issue, the new image sensor eliminates the need for UV/IR filters with a built-in glass sensor cover. The M9’s sensor is easier to manually clean than a DSLR’s because it isn’t as difficult to get to; there is no mirror box to work around in a rangefinder.


The Leica M9 differs from its M8 sibling mainly in the image sensor, but there are other subtle differences. The M9’s fastest shutter speed is 1/4000th of a second, while the older M8 is much quicker at 1/8000th of a second. The flash sync speed varies too: the new M9 clicks at 1/180th of a second while the M8 has 1/250th of a second sync speed. The two Leicas have ISO ranges that extend to 2500, although the new M9 offers a lower ISO 80 setting, more options, a dedicated ISO adjustment button, and supposedly improved performance. Both digital rangefinders have a 2 fps burst mode, but the M9 fills its buffer with eight shots while the M8 extends to 10.


“The world’s smallest full-frame system camera,” as Leica called it in today’s release, keeps the retro look of the M8 and other Leica rangefinders along with the M8’s 139 x 37 x 80mm (5.5 x 3.1 x 1.5-inch) compact size. The body is built from magnesium alloy and brass, which Leica states to have “absolute reliability over decades of use.” The camera body comes in steel gray and standard black colors, and has a 2.5-inch, 230,000-pixel LCD on its back.


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