The Leica Diary, Part 1: Introduction

The Leica Diary, Part 1: Introduction

These days, it looks like every major camera manufacturer is coming out with a new addition to the MILC (Mirrorless Interchangeable Lens Camera) class of bodies and lenses. The latest, of course, is Canon, with its EOS-M camera. These units, typically smaller than your average DSLRs, have been getting better and better, packing some serious punch into a very small form factor.

Thing is, in all the hype behind cameras like the EOS-M and Fuji’s X100 and X-Pro1 bodies, people forget that MILCs have been around before companies like Sony, Fuji, and Olympus made them popular. Way back in 2006, a good three years before Olympus came out with its retro-styled Micro-Four-Thirds-based camera, Leica introduced its first digital rangefinder, the M8.

The Leica 90mm f/2.5

The Leica 90mm f/2.5

Powered by a 10.3MP crop sensor, the body retained almost all of the classic Leica styling that’s been aped so much now, and kept the lens mount the same, so that almost all M-series lenses could fit onto this new digital body.

The M9, which carries, kept the same general body shape of the M8, but upped the sensor to an 18.3MP full-frame sensor. It also added some very nice features, including better high ISO performance, a better EV compensation system, and exposure bracketing (though it feels kinda weird to try and shoot HDR with a Leica).

Leica users also happen to be some of the biggest zealots most passionate folks out there. I’m not talking about the rich guys who like to hang an M9 from their neck for the cache that the little red dot on the camera’s body provides. I’m talking about the guys who, day in and day out, use (and abuse) their Leicas to produce great imagery.

The Leica 50mm f/2.5

The Leica 50mm f/2.5

The drop-dead simplicity and reliability of the original Leica film cameras made them a favorite from the streets of Paris to the war zones of Vietnam. Even today, there are some fantastic shooters using Leica film cameras to create some astonishing images. Last month, we featured photographer Daniel Milnor’s work, for example. Daniel’s favorite camera and lens combo is a Leica M4 film camera and a 50mm lens.

Assuming for a moment that where’s there’s hype, there’s sometimes a modicum of substance, I decided to shoot with the Leica M9 for an extended period of time. The idea wasn’t to do a full-on review, but rather, to talk about the experience of shooting with the digital successor to a legendary system.

This, folks, is the Leica Diary.

So – what does my kit look like? Well, I started with the M9 body, then added three lenses to it. The classic Leica 50mm f/2.5 Summarit-M, the 35mm f/2.0 Summicron, and the 90mm f/2.5 Summarit-M.

The Leica 35mm f/2.5

The Leica 35mm f/2.5

I chose these lenses after reading a bit about one of the most famous Leica users in history, Henri Cartier-Bresson. Bresson is said to have shoot the majority of his images with a 50mm, occasionally branching out to the 35mm and the 90mm lenses. I would be, I thought, in good company with this kit, and I didn’t want to overload myself with an abundance of choices.

The Leica, to my delight, uses the DNG format for its RAW files, which is absolutely fantastic for me, as my workflow involves converting everything to DNG. I used Lightroom 4.1 to process my images, and will refrain from doing much more than the occasional B&W conversion using Nik’s Silver Efex Pro 2.

After the first week alone, I’ve got a plethora of thoughts and experiences to share, and plan on doing so in bite-size, manageable chunks. Look for Part II of my Leica Diary next week, as I go over my initial shooting experiences.

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Sohail Mamdani is a writer, filmmaker, and photographer based in the San Francisco Bay Area. Follow him on Twitter or find him at


  1. I have been shooting rangefinders for years and have wanted to switch to Leica for many years, since first setting eyes on the M8!

    Great article!

  2. Bought my M8 about 18 months ago and love it. I do most of my work in BW so the IR issue actually works to my advantage. The images straight out of the camera work beautifully in BW. As for the whole “Leica experience”, well, frankly it is amazing. It is the simplest camera I’ve shot with since my old Konica Auto S2 rangefinder. I love it and use it all the time, even if it is dated. Blogged about it a bit, too

  3. The M4 (in olive drab finish) was the standard issue to me as an Army photographer back in 1966. Along with the 50mm, the kit included a 135mm and a 28mm. I sure hated turning that in when I left the service. I still think about that camera yet today with its simplicity and ruggedness and often wondered if could ever find another like it … Or if I could even afford it. I did purchased an old model “f” with a very nice Canon 28mm which I still use to this day. Owning a M9 would be nirvana but I’m not sure I’m worthy.

    • I’m certainly having a blast with the M9. Though I’m not sure it would replace my 5D Mark III, since I work a lot with studio and small flash, as well as the occasional long lenses (400mm +), I can absolutely see myself carrying the M9 with me for travel and documentary work. I can’t get over how discreet it is, either; the big DSLR always gets me a look or two, but that Leica barely seems to draw any attention.



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