Camera Comparison – Leica M9-P vs. Nikon D3s

Nikon D3s versions.Leica M9-P versions.

Nikon D3s versions.Leica M9-P versions.

For a very long time now I was looking for another camera than my D3 and later the D3s. I love my D3s, it just works in every situation that I can think of, I love the photos it puts out, the way it feels in my hands. The Pro Nikkor glass is so amazing and sharp that if I don’t blow it, the outcome is just stunning. Obviously there is a but… The D3s is a huge, heavy beast and it can look intimidating to others. This combined with my appearance can make it quite difficult to be the fly on the wall. Especially for street photography it can be somewhat disturbing.

So as I said before, for a long time I was looking for a camera that could help me out with this problem, also for times when you can’t or just don’t want to carry around a few kilograms of camera. A while back I bought a Panasonic GF1 mainly for shooting video, and I had gotten myself a lens-adapter by Novoflex to use my Nikkor lenses with it. For shooting video this was amazing, so was it for photography, but I somehow always missed something when shooting photos with the GF1. Besides the missing optical viewfinder I sometimes realized my biggest problem was the small sensor. I know the micro four-thirds sensors are great for their size, but having the D3s with its full-frame sensor got me really spoiled. Not even the high ISO was what I missed from my D3s, though it really is something amazing to have. so it took me some time to realize that the big sensor was what I was looking for.

What choices do I have… not too many to be honest. There would be the line of new Sony NEX models. Where some models have an APC sensors. The Ricoh GXR, the „freaky“ cam with interchangeable lens/sensor combinations has two lenses that come with APC sized sensors. I even went towards the better Point and shoots but somehow just couldn’t get myself to do it. At some point I got my hands on the new Nikon D7000 and thought „hey, this might be what I was looking for“. It has a nice small body (please remember, always in comparison to my D3s), its light and pops out great photos and wonderful video, but… in the end it still was a DSLR though.
I know what you are thinking… why am I not mentioning the Leica M9 yet, well… more than one reason. For one its crazy crazy price tag, which I can understand to a certain degree, but still always kept me from even thinking about it. Secondly the majority of the Leica community always seemed very… well how to say this politely… snobbish?! Please don’t get me wrong, I don’t want to generalize, but my experience with Leica staff in the most different situations and Leica owners were mostly very strange and rather disturbing. So the entry into the Leica world was never something I was thinking about.

Then… Leica just introduced the M9-P, which basically just took away the red Leica dot and name tag on the front side of the camera. I somehow got hooked. I visited Steve Huffs page, which was introduced to me by my buddy iFranz, checked out the Leica Forums and Thorsten Overgaards page to read up on the camera as much as I could, just to realize that most of the M9s shortcomings were exactly what I was looking for. Especially with the low profile M9-P which with some added gaff-tape could look like a nice old Holga. (yip, I just mentioned gaff-tape).

Out of the blue my girlfried, which is the best girlfriend in the world by the way, decided to give me a huge push into the M9-P direction. you probably can imagine my „shock“. So the hunt began… which is another thing I didn’t know about Leica M Series products… they are quite hard to get. The M9-P we found quite quickly though as luck was on our side. The really complicated part was the lens I was looking for. the 50mm 1.4 ASPH Summilux. Six to 12 month delivery time across all european dealers I called. This is something I kinda understand, but still think is odd. 6-12 month?! Really?! We are talking about a Lens, not a car here. I understand Leica is kind of a small company and with a very new Product they might have a huge problem, but the 50mm 1.4 ASPH Summilux is out for some time now. And if you want to play with the big guys, you might need to step up your game a little. I wouldn’t have a huge problem with this, if we were talking about a Panasonic GF-something, but the M9 tries to cater quite a bit to the pro photographer. By that I would expect a good availability for their products, as if anything went wrong with my equipment or it was stolen before an important shoot, I could for sure get a replacement from somewhere close by in a proper timeframe. Sure, this is an extreme scenario, but very well possible and not a really nice outlook. But maybe Leica will start working on that at some point.

My luck was that I called Leica HQ in Solms and bothered their Shopmanager their for a few days until he „organized“ me the Lens I wanted. To my surprise, when I picking it up a week later, the people at Leica HQ still had the same attitude problem as all the other Leica people I had to deal with until then. Right next to me was a Dad and his son which were very warmly greeted, coffee was offered. I just got a cold rude look and a short question what I want… a real shame somehow. And this has been my experience with Leica Personnel all the time. At Photokina or where-ever. Nonetheless… after clearing up why I was there, the shop manager got very friendly and nice.
So lets get to the more important part here… my photo comparison, basically taking the same photos with the D3s and Nikkor 50mm 1.4 versus the M9-P and the 50mm 1.4 Summilux. Indoor, Outdoor, Studiolighting and Streetphotography. I also added some shots taken with my D3s and the 85mm 1.4 lens as it is much closer quality wise to the Summilux. As I said before, this is not scientific at all, just my subjective feeling and perception of the results, plus the handling in the different situations. Let’s see how it goes.

Contestant number one, the Nikon D3S!

– 12 Megapixels.

– 35mm equivalent Fullframe (FX) Sensor.

– Saves files in Nikon proprietary NEF RAW format.

– Shoots 9 Frames a second in Fullframe mode.

– ISO range from 100 (LO1) to 102400 (HI3). Lowest standart ISO is 200 and highest standart ISO is 12800.

– 920.000 Pixels Display.

Contestant number two, the Leica M9-P!

– 18 Megapixels.

– 35mm equivalent Fullframe Sensor.

– Saves files in Adobes DNG RAW format.

– Shoots 2 Frames a second.

– ISO range from 160 (or 80 pulled) to 2500.

– 230.000 Pixel Display.

I know there are much more facts, but these seem to be the most important to me for now.

3, 2, 1 … FIGHT!

Nikon shots are on the left, Leica shots on the right:

Nikon D3s versions. Leica M9-P versions.

Nikon D3s versions. Leica M9-P versions.

Nikon D3s versions. Leica M9-P versions.

Nikon D3s versions. Leica M9-P versions.

Nikon D3s versions. Leica M9-P versions.

Nikon D3s versions. Leica M9-P versions.

Nikon D3s versions. Leica M9-P versions.

Nikon D3s versions. Leica M9-P versions.

Nikon D3s versions. Leica M9-P versions.

Nikon D3s versions. Leica M9-P versions.

Nikon D3s versions. Leica M9-P versions.

Nikon D3s versions. Leica M9-P versions.

Nikon D3s versions. Leica M9-P versions.

Nikon D3s versions. Leica M9-P versions.

Nikon D3s versions. Leica M9-P versions.

Nikon D3s versions. Leica M9-P versions.

Nikon D3s versions. Leica M9-P versions.

Nikon D3s versions. Leica M9-P versions.

Nikon D3s versions. Leica M9-P versions.

Nikon D3s versions. Leica M9-P versions.

Nikon D3s versions. Leica M9-P versions.

Nikon D3s versions. Leica M9-P versions.

Nikon D3s versions. Leica M9-P versions.

Nikon D3s versions. Leica M9-P versions.

Nikon D3s versions. Leica M9-P versions.

Take your own conclusion out of this… but let me say a few things as I feel quite strongly about all this. A camera in this price range should not have a display as bad as this like the Leica does. I really don’t understand it. A Nikon D90 Display is much better you get that for much less with a kit lens. Its basically as crappy as my 8 year old Casio Exilims display…  and please please please have a look at the presentation of the x100 special edition, a WOODEN box, what do you get with the M9-P? a regular stupid carton box.

Nikon D3s versions. Nikon D3s versions.

I also would trade Megapixels for better high ISO performance. 18 Megapixels is nice, but not necessary in a camera like this. Bring it down to 12 Megapixel and get a better ISO out of the Sensor. This would catapult the M9P quite a bit forward.And one thing I am still not good at as it is a bit complicated is focussing in very dark situations where you don’t have anything bright to focus at… I would be very thankful for any tips on that side.

But so far I even shot fast moving cars at a race with the M9-P without any problems really.

2011 AvD Oldtimer Grand Prix 2011 AvD Oldtimer Grand Prix

2011 AvD Oldtimer Grand Prix

Well I hope this was helpful, informative and maybe fun for you too. I will keep posting photos and experiences with the M9P as for example all my photos from the Scott Kelby Worldwide Photowalk were shot with the M9P.

And for the Finale I have a Video for you that Luca Sartoni and I shot last weekend here in Cologne after Luca bought his X100 which is a very cool and fantastic camera. He also has some thoughts and shots he wants to share.

Take care and don’t spend too much money on camera gear,

Teymur.

For a very long time now I was looking for another camera than my D3 and later the D3s. I love my D3s, it just works in every situation that I can think of, I love the photos it puts out, the way it feels in my hands. The Pro Nikkor glass is so amazing and sharp that if I don’t blow it, the outcome is just stunning. Obviously there is a but… The D3s is a huge, heavy beast and it can look intimidating to others. This combined with my appearance can make it quite difficult to be the fly on the wall. Especially for street photography it can be somewhat disturbing.

So as I said before, for a long time I was looking for a camera that could help me out with this problem, also for times when you can’t or just don’t want to carry around a few kilograms of camera. A while back I bought a Panasonic GF1 mainly for shooting video, and I had gotten myself a lens-adapter by Novoflex to use my Nikkor lenses with it. For shooting video this was amazing, so was it for photography, but I somehow always missed something when shooting photos with the GF1. Besides the missing optical viewfinder I sometimes realized my biggest problem was the small sensor. I know the micro four-thirds sensors are great for their size, but having the D3s with its full-frame sensor got me really spoiled. Not even the high ISO was what I missed from my D3s, though it really is something amazing to have. so it took me some time to realize that the big sensor was what I was looking for.

What choices do I have… not too many to be honest. There would be the line of new Sony NEX models. Where some models have an APC sensors. The Ricoh GXR, the „freaky“ cam with interchangeable lens/sensor combinations has two lenses that come with APC sized sensors. I even went towards the better Point and shoots but somehow just couldn’t get myself to do it. At some point I got my hands on the new Nikon D7000 and thought „hey, this might be what I was looking for“. It has a nice small body (please remember, always in comparison to my D3s), its light and pops out great photos and wonderful video, but… in the end it still was a DSLR though.
I know what you are thinking… why am I not mentioning the Leica M9 yet, well… more than one reason. For one its crazy crazy price tag, which I can understand to a certain degree, but still always kept me from even thinking about it. Secondly the majority of the Leica community always seemed very… well how to say this politely… snobbish?! Please don’t get me wrong, I don’t want to generalize, but my experience with Leica staff in the most different situations and Leica owners were mostly very strange and rather disturbing. So the entry into the Leica world was never something I was thinking about.

Then… Leica just introduced the M9-P, which basically just took away the red Leica dot and name tag on the front side of the camera. I somehow got hooked. I visited Steve Huffs page, which was introduced to me by my buddy iFranz, checked out the Leica Forums and Thorsten Overgaards page to read up on the camera as much as I could, just to realize that most of the M9s shortcomings were exactly what I was looking for. Especially with the low profile M9-P which with some added gaff-tape could look like a nice old Holga. (yip, I just mentioned gaff-tape).

Out of the blue my girlfried, which is the best girlfriend in the world by the way, decided to give me a huge push into the M9-P direction. you probably can imagine my „shock“. So the hunt began… which is another thing I didn’t know about Leica M Series products… they are quite hard to get. The M9-P we found quite quickly though as luck was on our side. The really complicated part was the lens I was looking for. the 50mm 1.4 ASPH Summilux. Six to 12 month delivery time across all european dealers I called. This is something I kinda understand, but still think is odd. 6-12 month?! Really?! We are talking about a Lens, not a car here. I understand Leica is kind of a small company and with a very new Product they might have a huge problem, but the 50mm 1.4 ASPH Summilux is out for some time now. And if you want to play with the big guys, you might need to step up your game a little. I wouldn’t have a huge problem with this, if we were talking about a Panasonic GF-something, but the M9 tries to cater quite a bit to the pro photographer. By that I would expect a good availability for their products, as if anything went wrong with my equipment or it was stolen before an important shoot, I could for sure get a replacement from somewhere close by in a proper timeframe. Sure, this is an extreme scenario, but very well possible and not a really nice outlook. But maybe Leica will start working on that at some point.

My luck was that I called Leica HQ in Solms and bothered their Shopmanager their for a few days until he „organized“ me the Lens I wanted. To my surprise, when I picking it up a week later, the people at Leica HQ still had the same attitude problem as all the other Leica people I had to deal with until then. Right next to me was a Dad and his son which were very warmly greeted, coffee was offered. I just got a cold rude look and a short question what I want… a real shame somehow. And this has been my experience with Leica Personnel all the time. At Photokina or where-ever. Nonetheless… after clearing up why I was there, the shop manager got very friendly and nice.
So lets get to the more important part here… my photo comparison, basically taking the same photos with the D3s and Nikkor 50mm 1.4 versus the M9-P and the 50mm 1.4 Summilux. Indoor, Outdoor, Studiolighting and Streetphotography. I also added some shots taken with my D3s and the 85mm 1.4 lens as it is much closer quality wise to the Summilux. As I said before, this is not scientific at all, just my subjective feeling and perception of the results, plus the handling in the different situations. Let’s see how it goes.

Contestant number one, the Nikon D3S!

– 12 Megapixels.

– 35mm equivalent Fullframe (FX) Sensor.

– Saves files in Nikon proprietary NEF RAW format.

– Shoots 9 Frames a second in Fullframe mode.

– ISO range from 100 (LO1) to 102400 (HI3). Lowest standart ISO is 200 and highest standart ISO is 12800.

– 920.000 Pixels Display. 

Contestant number two, the Leica M9-P!

– 18 Megapixels.

– 35mm equivalent Fullframe Sensor.

– Saves files in Adobes DNG RAW format.

– Shoots 2 Frames a second.

– ISO range from 160 (or 80 pulled) to 2500.

– 230.000 Pixel Display.

 

I know there are much more facts, but these seem to be the most important to me for now.

3, 2, 1 … FIGHT!

Nikon shots are on the left, Leica shots on the right:

Nikon D3s versions. Leica M9-P versions.

Nikon D3s versions. Leica M9-P versions.

Nikon D3s versions. Leica M9-P versions.

Nikon D3s versions. Leica M9-P versions.

Nikon D3s versions. Leica M9-P versions.

Nikon D3s versions. Leica M9-P versions.

Nikon D3s versions. Leica M9-P versions.

Nikon D3s versions. Leica M9-P versions.

Nikon D3s versions. Leica M9-P versions.

Nikon D3s versions. Leica M9-P versions.

Nikon D3s versions. Leica M9-P versions.

Nikon D3s versions. Leica M9-P versions.

Nikon D3s versions. Leica M9-P versions.

Nikon D3s versions. Leica M9-P versions.

Nikon D3s versions. Leica M9-P versions.

Nikon D3s versions. Leica M9-P versions.

Nikon D3s versions. Leica M9-P versions.

Nikon D3s versions. Leica M9-P versions.

Nikon D3s versions. Leica M9-P versions.

Nikon D3s versions. Leica M9-P versions.

Nikon D3s versions. Leica M9-P versions.

Nikon D3s versions. Leica M9-P versions.

Nikon D3s versions. Leica M9-P versions.

Nikon D3s versions. Leica M9-P versions.

Nikon D3s versions. Leica M9-P versions.

 

Take your own conclusion out of this… but let me say a few things as I feel quite strongly about all this. A camera in this price range should not have a display as bad as this like the Leica does. I really don’t understand it. A Nikon D90 Display is much better you get that for much less with a kit lens. Its basically as crappy as my 8 year old Casio Exilims display…  and please please please have a look at the presentation of the x100 special edition, a WOODEN box, what do you get with the M9-P? a regular stupid carton box.

Nikon D3s versions. Nikon D3s versions.

I also would trade Megapixels for better high ISO performance. 18 Megapixels is nice, but not necessary in a camera like this. Bring it down to 12 Megapixel and get a better ISO out of the Sensor. This would catapult the M9P quite a bit forward.And one thing I am still not good at as it is a bit complicated is focussing in very dark situations where you don’t have anything bright to focus at… I would be very thankful for any tips on that side.

But so far I even shot fast moving cars at a race with the M9-P without any problems really.

 

2011 AvD Oldtimer Grand Prix 2011 AvD Oldtimer Grand Prix

2011 AvD Oldtimer Grand Prix

 

Well I hope this was helpful, informative and maybe fun for you too. I will keep posting photos and experiences with the M9P as for example all my photos from the Scott Kelby Worldwide Photowalk were shot with the M9P.

And for the Finale I have a Video for you that Luca Sartoni and I shot last weekend here in Cologne after Luca bought his X100 which is a very cool and fantastic camera. He also has some thoughts and shots he wants to share.

 

 

Take care and don’t spend too much money on camera gear,

Teymur.

21 Comments

  1. Perhaps you are frustrated with the M9 screen because you are used to the DSLR culture of shooting. Most Leica users who have migrated from a film M don’t really use the screen for browsing pics. Checking pics means you don’t trust your skills!

  2. Thanks Mikael for your comment.

    Well I would agree with you that it can be a frustrating, but I clearly say that its not an essential feature, but in this pricepoint the display should be much better. I trust my skills enough not to rely on the display, but when I go for a walk and shoot I often like to sit in a cafe for example and look through what I shot and I don’t understand why a 6000.- Euro body can’t have a better quality display. especially as the rest of the camera is so well built.

  3. Sehr cooler vergleich! 🙂
    Und schön eure ehrlichen Meinungen zu hören…!
    Ich glaub ne Leica juckt einen so lange, bis man eine hat, dann, wenn man es kritisch betrachtet, ist es wieder nur eine Cam mit sehr vielen Kompromissen.
    Exklusiv ist sie vor allem durch ihren Preis. Ich bin gespannt wie das mit dir und der Leica weiter geht und was Luca nach einer Weile über die x100 sagt.

  4. I have owned D3 and am currently a M mount owner, as well as Hasselblad H with back. For me the biggest advantage to the Leica M is the process in which it allows me to operate in a street environment. The viewfinder allows me to see my subject coming into frame with my lefy eye. It’s silent, small and for my money sits head and shoulders above any DSLR. I use my Hasselblad for studio only.

  5. My M9s are expensive enough without adding to the cost with superfluous fancy packaging! Why do you need a wooden box?

    I agree with most of your points. The screen truly is a disgrace but 18MP is what makes it special. Like the new Canon, it should have been able to excel with high ISO performance without sacrificing pixels. The M9 can be a frustrating beast at times but it suits me just fine.

  6. @Lee I agree with you. thats why I got it, but I still don’t think it’s the wondermachine everyone say it is…

    @Jon well good we agree on the important stuff… the wooden box is just a little thing that showed how Leica is ticking in my opinion. They dont need to do more aparently, but also if you buy a nice watch like a Breitling or Tag Heuer you get a nice box with it… why not with your cam… its just a gesture. I certailny don’t need any more boxes… thats for sure 🙂

  7. The D3S & M9 are both amazing cameras, but comparing the two is like comparing a sports car to a 4-wheel drive – and then complaining that sports car doesn’t perform well off-road and the 4-wheel drive isn’t fast enough or tight in the turns.

    In your photo review, in my opinion, the M9-P images are superior in every side-by-side comparison. Granted the M9 isn’t a great performer at high ISO, the display isn’t great, and perhaps the box it came in isn’t fancy.

    But for most real world photographic situations, using good Leica glass and rendering images in RAW – the photos are without peer.

    I own a D700 with pro glass and an M9 with Leica glass; I recent covered an X-Terra race and took my son trick or treating … the D700 was the obvious choice for these high speed and low light shooting conditions.

    Out shooting landscape in pretty much any decent light though, the M9 captures breathtaking images.

    Different horses for different courses.

    Thanks for sharing!

  8. Hey there Glen, thanks for visiting,

    well… I would agree with you if I had tested any of the other features a D3 comes with…, but its just full frame sensor and good glass… and the opinions about the photos are quite different, which show how subjective this all is, but for example the shots I took with the 85mm Nikkor lens, the bokeh in my opinion is so much nicer and smoother. and here sensor and lens quality are very close to each other, wouldn’t you agree?

    and I never felt the M9 had bad image quality in general, actually both are very close to each other, but its about the other stuff too. when you sell a premium product for a premium price, I somehow think you should be premium in any way… you also wouldn’t buy a ferrari and then be ok with cheap leather and plastic interior, or?

  9. At first I sold one of my both oldtimers. Then I bought a 35mm 1:1,4 Summilux-Lens because it was available. And at last I purchased a M9-P (ok, and a 90mm 1:2,8 Elmarit-M…). And I’m happy with it. I could have bought a really cool Nikon or Canon DSLR with some fine lenses. But I wanted to have a inconspicuous full frame camera with interchangeable high quality lenses. I always knew that the Leica wouldn’t be the best camera for all situations. But I thought I could live with this compromise. And I can. The Leica is in comparison light and small. And that’s the reason why I take the Leica nearly everywhere I go. I wouldn’t do that with a huge DSLR.
    (Sorry for my English)

  10. congrats on the purchase first of all. and understand completely. kinda same reasons why I bought it. but the M9-P is still a heavy thing… very close to my D3s with the 85mm on it.

  11. These kind of shots you can do with a P&S camera, no point to spend several thousands of $ for equipment when the photographer is not up to the task.

  12. Now I wanted to know it: My M9-P weighs with the 35mm 1:1,4 Summilux 936g. I think, that’s not too much. For example: My Nikon D5000 weighs with a 35mm 1:1,8 836g. 😉

  13. I use a Leica M9 and a Nikon D700 with old glass I love both and the M9 is what got me interested in photography again but the D700 has features that I can achieve
    Beautiful low light shots with a similar feel to the Leica using old glass ie Nikkor Noct 58 1.2 which is one of the best aspherical low light lenses ever made in my opinion and I think as good as the new Noctilux but a combo worth 5000 not 17000 the main reason I bought a slightly used D700 was this lens and it is dreamy so I guess what I am trying to say is it is glass combined with a good body that is important apples and apples on 2 different oranges that’s all

  14. @Slomo 🙂 good point you have there!

    and I have finally decided that I will sell the M9P. so if you are from my area and are interested… please let me know!

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