Home Cameras/Lenses Leica Now we are ten: Happy birthday, Leica M9 and X1

Now we are ten: Happy birthday, Leica M9 and X1

The Ice Chapel, Germany (Paul Glendell, M9 and 21mm f/2.8 Elmarit-M)

Yesterday was the tenth anniversary of the New York launch of the M9, Leica’s first full-frame digital camera. Some said it couldn’t be done without ending up with blurred edges, but the APS-H M8 had whetted the appetite and fullframe was demanded.

Leica aficionados were both surprised and delighted when the M9 arrived and they took to it immediately. It cost $5,500 at launch and it is a testament to the quality of this camera’s output that you will now pay half as much for a used model even after all these years. Indeed, some fans of the CCD sensor say that the M9 is the best Leica digital ever made, preferring it to the later models with their CMOS sensors.

The Ice Chapel, Germany (Paul Glendell, M9 and 21mm f/2.8 Elmarit-M)
The Ice Chapel, Germany (Paul Glendell, M9 and 21mm f/2.8 Elmarit-M)

Not to forget the little X1

In celebrating the M9 we shouldn’t forget that there was another camera launched at the same time, a camera that is very close to the hearts of many Macfilos readers. The little X1 with its 12MP crop sensor is one of the purest designs we’ve seen from Leica. It perfectly encapsulates the essence of the Barnack Leica and, like the M9, is still around and still has avid fans. In its way, the X1 (and the subsequent X2) are classics in the same mould as the M9.

The world-famous Hamburg model railway, September 2012, M9 and 35mm Summicron (Mike Evans)
At the world-famous Hamburg model railway, September 2012, M9 and 35mm Summicron (Mike Evans)
M9 and 35mm Summicron at Innotrans, Berlins, September 2012 (Mike Evans)
Reportage, covering Innotrans, Berlin, in September 2012: The next train to Aschaffenburg. Leica M9 and 35mm Summicron, Mike Evans

One of the reasons Leica cameras tend to hold their value more than others is the responsible product cycle established by Wetzlar. We are now on only the third iteration of the full-frame digital, the M10 family which was launched in January 2017.

The M9 lasted three years (longer in the case of the M-E and Monochrom) before the M240 was launch in September 2012. Assuming the M10 continues to 2021 or 2022 we have an average product replacement cycle of four years.

This is an arrangement that helps the consumer by underpinning used values. It’s in direct contrast to much of the rest of the industry where product cycles last barely half as long. Sony, in particular, is an annual upgrader — something which does nothing for residuals.

So, let’s raise our glasses to the Leica M9 and spare a drop for the X1. Happy birthday, guys.

See more of Paul Glendell’s ice chapel photographs here


  1. Grrrr ..my Beloved bought me an M8.2 for my birthday ..just a month before the M9 launched (as I’d had so much fun with my M3).

    What a disappointment: a less-than-full-frame sensor (..so a 50mm lens became a 66mm lens, etc..) and it couldn’t take pictures indoors (by artificial light) at formal events without the little black dresses and gents’ dinner jackets turning all shades of purple or magenta! ..From the “most respected” name in handheld cameras? ..and that noisy shutter!

    So I swapped it for an M9 ..a full-frame sensor, but still a noisy shutter! The M9 was, really, a film camera (..only went up to 2500 ISO..) without the restriction of 36 shots before winding back and loading again.

    It – the M9 – took great photos ..but was so limited, and took forever to display what you’d just shot, or to zoom in on an image. Underpowered, heavy, noisy, and not for low-light.

    Finally, with the M10-P, Leica at last produced a digital M worth having.

    (..Did I mention the “sensor rot” of the M9? Mine lasted for four years until it needed its sensor replaced..)

    The M9 was an achievement of sorts for Leica – taming those peripheral rays from non-retro-focus wide-angle lenses, so that corners and edges weren’t hopelessly smeared or false-coloured – but its performance, when compared with Nikon, Canon, Sony, Casio and co., was pitifully slow.

    One may look back on it (..the M9..) through rosy spectacles, but – despite all of Leica’s hype – it was a seriously underwhelming camera. Heavy ..so as to give the impression of ‘quality’, ‘value’ or ‘seriousness’.. but just a stepping-stone to the current M10-P ..now there’s a worthwhile camera (if you have a stack of M lenses) ..But still way too heavy. And still not as simple to focus as a 1954 M3.

  2. Well, my M9 may be 10 years old and still taking perfectly good pictures that get used in the BBC news web site, and many other places, but it still has a way to go to beat the length of time I kept using my Nikon FM2. I buy cameras to keep and keep using, that way I don’t have to think about how to use the camera just how I want the picture to look! It has been a great camera, but the sensor does concern me.

    • Not set in stone, I’m afraid, John. I shall be writing about this. But the camera on a phone is the very last reason to buy. I am far more interested in general improvements and I don’t think there are enough to force an upgrade at this stage. Paradoxically, it is people who don’t down a camera who will be most attracted by superior phone cameras. Of course, the new Pro camera is impressive but….

  3. I don’t mind that many dont agree, but i still firmly believe that the Kodak CCD sensors in the M8 and M9 produce beautiful photo’s that have their own – and often superior in the the right circumstances – look to them.

    If they weren’t still relatively expensive, I’d own an M9 without hesitation. They still draw up around $4000 Australian, which is not exactly cheap for a 10 year old manual focus camera! Probably add the Voigtlander 35/2 Ultron Vintage-line lens or the 35 Zeiss Biogon and be happy.

    But i did come across an X1 recently. oh dear. “just walk away, jason, just walk away. It doesnt have a viewfinder, there’s your out”. I’m locking my wallet in a bank vault.

    • Hi Jason. Just slide an OVF into the hot shoe, you’ll have wonderful neu retro style.
      If it’s a good X1 then just go for it…….you know you want to…..you know you want to…..you know you need to…..you know you need to…..you know you must…..you know you must…..

  4. In reply to “Really? No soul?”..

    No, I just don’t go along with that. Some things may be nice to handle, like, say, an M3, because you – or I – like the engineering that’s gone into it, or you like the lines of a E-type, or you like the puffing and steaming of a railway loco, or you admire the lines of a Riva launch ..but what you’re looking at, or fondling, is the brains of the designer, and maybe the workpeople who built the thing.

    I’ve just driven to some place in the hills in Italy in what I would call a hideous pointy-all-over Citroën SUV: a massive looking thing, with seats for four, but luggage space for about two-and-a-half; a hideous monstrosity outside and in ..although the engine and gearbox are very good.

    But “soul” or “soul-lessness” is not a quality of a camera, or car, or coffee machine, or a piece of furniture, or a building. What you may respond to is the thoughts and creativity – or not – of the designer, or architect, or builder, or cabinet-maker; their choice of materials, how they’ve shaped it, how efficient they’ve made it in its use, how easy it is to hold, etc.

    You may produce pictures with it which please you, and so you may feel an affinity with it ..oh, and whatever investment you’ve made in it. But it’s just a metal box with some electronics inside and some glass outside.

    My Sony A7S is a magnificent camera – like an SL but smaller. But it’s just a metal box: it can’t take pictures on its own; it doesn’t know what it’s pointing at (..even if there are stored photos put into it at the factory so that it recognises “sky”, “grass”, “face”, “snow”, “dog”). It doesn’t understand anything, and it doesn’t have “soul” ..although photos I take with it may be described by some people as having “soul” ..but that’s just a lazy way of their not really analysing for themselves what they’re responding to ..light and shade? ..human activity? ..a poignant moment? ..well-matched colours?

    So, no: cameras don’t have soul. But a photographer may.


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