Despite the scourge of digital rot, Leica cameras seem to sail on almost regardless. Yes, there is heavy depreciation initially, as with any digital camera. But I am constantly reminded of the relative resilience of the CCD-sensored M9 which was introduced all of seven years ago. The M8, with its APS-H cropped sensor, is still around in large numbers and used daily by rangefinder enthusiasts. That camera is now ten years old.
Recently, I’ve had anecdotal evidence (and some direct input from friends) that the M9 is attracting many converts after last year’s sensor corrosion débâcle. For a time, the thought of corroding sensors sent second-hand values plummeting. But Leica did the right thing and offered to replace the sensors without charge. This was undoubtedly an expensive hit to the balance sheet but, as most will agree, a necessary action that brought a great deal of public relations kudos to Wetzlar. It also revived the fortunes of the M9 overnight.
Despite its relatively poor screen and lack of live view, the M9 still performs as well as it always did. Some believe that the CCD sensor produces more natural results than the modern CMOS components in the Leica M. M9 fans treat the screen as a place to adjust the menus and, in any event, many don’t bother chimping. Think of the M9 (and the M8 for that matter) as an M-D with a large menu panel.
Whatever attracts users back to the earlier cameras, the interesting aspect is that seven- or ten-year-old bodies are still selling for upwards of £3,000 on the used market. The last M9-P is undoubtedly the choice buy, while the M8 can be had for well under a grand.
The M8 should be approached with some caution, particularly since stocks of rear screens are almost non-existent. The screen can suffer from staining but, if you think of it as purely a place for menu adjustment, this isn’t a deal breaker. Also, with the M8, you have to consider the 1.33 crop factor which turns a 35mm Summicron into a 47mm and a nifty fifty into a slightly less nifty (but, on the other hand, portrait-friendly) 66mm. The introduction of the M8 revived the fortunes of the popular 28mm f/2.8 Elmarit which turned into a useful 37mm for street photography.
Proof in the M-D
The M-D has proved that the simplicity of a rangefinder camera without live-view or video can attract buyers. For them, the idea of a nice M9-P or Monochrom Mk.I is also an attractive proposition. Even I have considered one or other of these cameras as a long-term addition to my sole M-mount digital, the M-D. In many respects I do prefer the slightly smaller M9 body; it feels just a tad better in the hands.
My friend Hamish Gill of the well-known 35mmc blog has recently been experimenting more with digital—he is primarily a film man—and has been sampling both the M8 and the M9. He recently sold his M8 and bought an M9 and has been using it mainly with his beloved f/1.5 Zeiss Sonnar (see our review here). You can read his experiences with the new “classic” here.
I have no doubt that if you want a relatively inexpensive entry into the digital M world you should consider an M9 or M9-P. They are plentiful on the used market, even from reputable dealers such as Red Dot Cameras, and represent good value for money. Values are not going to drop off a cliff and the M9 still has a lot of life left in it. The rules of digital rot certainly apply to Leicas as to any other modern camera. But, because of the desirability of the simple rangefinder approach to photography, a seven-year-old Leica can still hold its own and provide oodles of fun and satisfaction.