Review Rewind: M9/M9-P

Overpriced. For collectors only. A dentist’s camera. Not for real photographers.

These are comments often associated with cameras produced by the German brand, Leica. While it is extremely true that the cameras that they produce are prohibitively expensive for most people, it is also true that they are one of the few companies that produce photographic tools that are unique. In a world where everyone seems to be obsessed with digital single lens reflex (DSLR) cameras, or within the last 5-10 years mirrorless cameras, the penultimate camera that Leica has been known for throughout the last 70+ years is the M. 

A little background for the uninitiated the M is short for Messucher the German name for “rangefinder” which appropriately is the category of camera that the M is in. Unlike SLRDSLR, or Mirrorless cameras in which a person “sees through the lens” to focus in a rangefinder a person focuses by aligning an overlaid superimposed projection in the rangefinder patch with what they see through the viewfinder. A person can also focus (with practice) by zone focusing as most rangefinder lenses include both distance scales and mechanical focusing for repeatable results. These are two of the most key features that made the M extremely popular with photojournalists, artists, street photographers, and for candid photography. 

So where does the M9/M9-P fall for me? Well it’s a bit complicated if one were to solely look at these cameras from a value perspective. If we are being objectively honest a DSLR or Mirrorless camera is infinitely more flexible. For one, you can’t get a M lens wider than 10mm or one longer than 180mm. While this may not seem like an issue as this range covers everything the average person would need, the reality is that because of  how rangefinder cameras work one would need extremely good eyesight to focus with fast lenses longer than 90mm accurately and most rangefinder camera require external viewfinders for focal lengths longer than 90mm and wider than 28mm to accurately frame the image. There are some notable exceptions to this back when Leica (and other film rangefinder manufacturers) offered optical viewfinders of different magnifications. There also aren’t any auto focus systems on board. Manual focus will be the name of the game if using a M camera from any era. Even still, I’d say that the ideal focal lengths for most rangefinder cameras will fall between 28mm and 50mm because one can compose and still see a good bit outside of the frame lines at those focal lengths to capture the image they intended to fill the frame with their desired subject. This is just my opinion based on my personal experiences… objectively speaking of course. The M, and in reality all rangefinders, are truly an emotional choice in camera because they are really fun to use. This is true even with all the mechanical and technical limitations that one places on themselves when using them. As such many don’t mind spending a premium for them simply because they are so much different from other cameras and require a different thought process to use them most effectively. I own digital cameras from both Sony, Leica, and Panasonic. I’ve owned DSLR’s from Canon in the past. I own a couple of film cameras still as well (Mamiya C330 and Minolta SR-T 202). The M9 and the M9-P that I owned in the past are probably the first cameras that I ever “loved” despite the limitations. I can’t completely explain why I loved them in light of all I just typed to specify why they aren’t a great choice for most people. If I had to explain to most people my rationale would be this for those cameras in particular - it was a combination of the image quality at base ISO, the excellent lenses available in the mount that provided a different look to the more modern lenses of today, the company’s  heritage and commitment to human rights dating back from helping Jewish workers escape Nazi Germany to support for the American Civil Rights movement, a level of exclusivity, and a way to execute my photographic desires seamlessly. 

So if you are paying attention then you noticed that I don’t own the Leica’s any longer despite all I said about them in the last paragraph. If I had to answer why I don’t then I’m have to attribute it to pragmatism. The point I made about the lack of flexibility comparatively to the modern DSLR and Mirrorless cameras is and was a real concern. Essentially I made a non-emotional decision to sell my Leica kit because it didn’t fit all types of my photographic needs any longer. If money were no option I would never sell them but it is as I’m not independently wealthy (like most people) yet. 

Would I recommend them today for a person looking to jump into a M camera? Well that is a bit of a difficult answer but it comes down to a person understanding what they’re getting into. The M9 family of cameras had a bit of an issue with corroding sensors. In fact I had to have both of mine, that I previously owned, repaired for this issue in the past. Also the high ISO/ lowlight performance wasn’t great even by 2010 standards let alone modern day ones in 2020 but your mileage may vary as they say. If you can afford it I’d recommend the M10 family of cameras instead as it’s the current model at the time of writing and corrects many of the issues with the older M cameras. For those that aren’t concerned about these limitations, then the M9 family will provide years of great images to a capable  photographer. It is and was a great camera in 2009 when released and still is in 2020 with a few quirks that may not may make it a viable choice for every single person. At the very least I encourage all remotely interested in rangefinder photography to rent any M camera with a lens or two to give it a reasonable chance of winning you over.

Sony A7RII Revisited Nearly Five Years Later

As some of you may or may not know I began shooting on Sony cameras as my main system back in the late 2013 to early 2014 timeframe after the original A7 and A7R were released. These were not my first Sony cameras as I own a NEX-5 still and owned a A77mkI in the past which I used to cover my telephoto photography needs when I primarily used Leica cameras. The original Sony FE cameras were capable but had some “rough edges” to overcome but you could tell the direction Sony was going with their camera system. 

The A7II added IBIS, some speed, and some refinement to the sensor processing to the original A7. The A7RII added a lot more refinement to the system, added speed, added 4K video without the need for an external recorder, and the now famous Eye-AF which gave it a feeling of an additional generational leap. There was also the small matter of a 42.4 megapixel BSI sensor. In short this was truly a revelation and probably the first really mature Mirrorless camera that got DSLR owners to legitimately take a harder look at mirrorless technology.

When the A7RII was announced, it was done with a significant price increase over its predecessor. While the first generation body retailed for $2300 when new, the second generation version retailed for $3200. Was the extra 6 megapixels worth it? Absolutely. For starters the autofocus system added additional phase detect points… 399 to be exact that cover 70% of the sensor area. In addition to this, the shutter was further dampened, electronic first curtain shutter was added, and additional durability was engineered in the process. It was rated for 500,000 shutter actuations. Eye-AF was added along with additional custom buttons. 4K/30p was added and one could reasonably track faster moving subjects in continuous AF. A heavier focused was placed on higher-end lens design with the announcement of the Sony G-Master lenses and the Zeiss Batis lenses which were focused on being able to resolve 100 megapixel sensors at a minimum. In addition to this, Sony began to ensure future lens designs would be designed with both photo and video in mind. All of this was to state that Sony took the next major step in the maturation of full frame mirrorless camera systems as a true alternative to established DSLR systems from Canon and Nikon. 

A7RII Overview

So going back to the A7RII what do I think about it nearly five years after release? Well it’s still a really good camera and one that I recommend to people that want a very good camera on a tighter budget. There were times within the last couple of years where one could be bought new for $1300. At that price it may have been the best value on a full frame Mirrorless camera. This is especially true when you consider the Sony lens ecosystem, the costs of newer camera, or the heavily stripped down but newer options in that price range from Canon or cropped sensor options from other competitors. While I believe that the A7III is likely the best option for most photographers because its a better camera in every way unless you need the additional resolution, the A7RII  does most things right. The biggest flaws of the A7RII are the single card slot, the decreased battery life compared to the newer third generation or later camera bodies, and the ergonomics may not be to the liking of many people with larger hands. While many reviews may harp on Sony menus, I truly find this and similar arguments to be redundant to highlight. If one actually uses the camera regularly and sets the cameras up for their typical usage (this includes organization of the quick menu settings, custom dial settings, and custom button settings) then this camera, like any other, will become second nature. I often find that this is an issue with people that are used to using other digital camera systems for years and/or people that are used to operating cameras with limited features by comparison. For instance I came to Sony FE cameras from a pair of Leica M9’s that ONLY captures still images without video features. As such the additional customization of video was and is a learning experience for me. Truth be told, I’m still learning video and video editing at this point but I do understand it in concept through reading and researching. Also one of the things that Sony does is allow a level of control that many other manufacturers don’t allow. This also contributes to deeper menus that sometimes have sub menus within the top menu options. It’s not a problem in general but I will say that it’s something to be aware of with Sony or really most modern cameras these days. 

A7RII Color

Another thing I often hear about Sony color is that many people don’t like it. In my experience this comes down to a few factors. First and foremost, Sony cameras have exhibited some of the most accurate color I’ve seen in a camera without any manipulation. This can be verified in vector scopes. Second, the increased dynamic range can make colors appear more “flat” and “linear” when compared to some other cameras without as much dynamic range. Third many people are more used to the color they get out of say a Canon or Nikon camera. This isn’t to say that those cameras produce poor colors but Canon has a reputation for “boosting“ the red color channels to produce a warmer tone which can be more pleasing to some in some fairer skin tones. Nikon has a reputation for yellow and green channels to blend and sometimes exhibit near “neon” colors in spring when newer vegetation is growing based on the opinions of many landscape shooters. Fujifilm has a reputation to have a slight “boost“ in the blue-green channels which can provide a different cast in some of the way certain RAW converters process their X-Trans Color Filter Array equipped cameras. Fourth, and this is really important, increased color accuracy does not necessarily translate to more aesthetically pleasing images. Sony’s sensors have a way within their sensitivity to really draw out the reflected undertones in skin whether they’re red, yellow, or olive undertones. This can give an unflattering color cast for many people (without “perfect“ skin) but a skilled editor can easily correct for this to get to a pleasing end result. Due to this, some of the newer cameras from the third generation and on have shifted to a less accurate color palette but one that ‘s much more appeasing to some that prefer a warmer tone out of camera.

A7RII Conclusion

Where does the A7RII sit today? Well for those on a budget it Represents an excellent value on a former flagship camera provided some of the shortcomings don’t pose a problem for you. These shortcomings include decreased battery life compared to modern Sony cameras, single SD card slots, a smaller autofocus area compared to newer cameras, and worse Eye-AF comparatively speaking. None of these things make the camera unusable for many but they are items that should be taken under consideration. For about 50% more money one can have the A7III that fixes most of the shortcomings and produces smaller files that won’t fill your computer storage space nowhere near as quickly. So would I recommend the camera? If you’re on a tighter budget the answer is yes but if you can swing a little more money into your budget I would probably recommend the A7III to most people over the A7RII.

The State of Sony

After enjoying a five year head start in the Digital Full Frame (FF) 35mm market, Sony has received a lot of competition from the likes of Canon, Nikon, the L-Mount Alliance, and to some level even Fujifilm with both their APS-C and G-Format systems. While Sony is still pretty comfortable at the top of the Mirrorless market, their path to system maturation, coupled with, some industry and customer pushback towards their development rate between 2010 and 2015 has somewhat placed them into a more “comfortable” position. Once the generation three bodies were released, beginning with the Sony A9, the pace has generally slowed down to where there is usually 24-36 months on average between an updated body. There are extreme cases like the A7SII which was released in Fall 2015 and is approaching five years without a replacement. In general though, Sony has gotten to a point where they has a mature system with a comprehensive lens lineup without many shortcomings. I’m a person that always looks for improvement. I’m something of a tech head but I also love photography. I first became interested in Sony shortly after they bought Minolta when I handled the Sony A900. I don’t know if it was the FF sensor, the three axis image stabilization, the Sony Zeiss AF lenses, the excellent color out of camera, or a combination of all of the above but I realized that something was a bit different with the files that I saw compared to the Canon files I was used to. This isn’t to make this a brand war, but rather a realization that I saw that Sony was approaching photography not from a standpoint of  maintaining “status quo” but innovation of what could be versus what was. It’s not to say that Sony didn’t have it’s “quirks” throughout the years such as BetaMax that never reached commercial success despite being technically superior, proprietary media such as Memory Stick that not many ever adopted, or A-mount that ultimately failed commericially like so many SLR systems that did not have a Canon or Nikon badge displayed up front… they clearly did. With the E-mount I saw the potential immediately in 2010 when I bought a NEX-5. The sensor tech in that camera was clearly better than my Panasonic G1 that replaced my Canon 10D and 20D. I felt the Panasonic was already a bit better than those Canon cameras in image quality but the Sony was clearly better despite having worse lenses early on and a quirky non-traditional menu layout that was meant to be a lot more user friendly for new photographers. The colors from Sony IMO were second only to the color I was getting out of my Leica M9 that I owned at the time which was a camera that sold for about 10x the price new. This camera ultimately paved the way for me to eventually add a A77mkI DSLT to handle telephoto duties where the Leica M9 seemed to come up short for me. It was a useful kit but also reminded me of why I sold my previous DSLR cameras. It was somewhat cumbersome and to get the most out of the camera, I needed to be comfortable with the requirement to utilize larger FF DSLR professional grade lenses. I had no huge issue with the sentiment most of the time here and there but ultimately it wasn’t the best purchase for me long term… simply put Mirrorless wasn’t there yet and I really didn’t care for DSLR and DSLT system as they were largely mature but “dying technology.” 

Fast forward about a year or two and Sony shocked the world with the original A7 and A7R. Many flocked to these first generation products expecting a miracle. They would be an affordable entry point for those that wanted a FF “digital back” for vintage SLR and rangefinder lenses… except they really weren’t . Some of that is the fault of Sony for promoting lens adaptation in some territories and part of that is the lack of expectation management people tend to have. Personally, I’m not opposed to adapting lenses provided the end user has a rational expectation and understand the limits of a non-optimized optical path. In short, not all adapters are created equally. Not all vintage lenses are up to the challenge of modern sensors. Few cameras are optimized for use with vintage lenses… really the only one that really come to mind is Leica with their SL cameras… and even still they are a compromised when compared to the lenses being used on their native body. Getting back to the point though I understand how adapting lenses can cover up huge holes in a lens lineup. It’s a bandaid solution and a part of me cringes whenever I read about people trashing cameras and camera systems while 100% only using adapted lenses. It’s a ridiculous notion and one that companies consistently have to talk through… but I digress.

Back to the topic at hand… the State of Sony. With all of their success and with many of their products diversifying into areas based on typical users I pose a question. Is it time for Sony to reorganize and shift their entire camera product line. 

Hear me out.

There was a time that the A7 line was marketed as a “basic model” but I’d argue that the “basic model” is probably the best all around product they make and everything else has become far more specialized. For instance the A7 line has always had two additional variants, the R and the S. The R was always the high resolution model… but it also became the first A7 model (Specifically the A7RII) to do internal 4K (UHD) video. The S was always the lowlight high sensitivity model but it somehow became known as the “video” model since it was the first model that could record 4K (UHD), though it required an external recorder to take advantage of this feature. As such, many people have begged, pleaded, cried on occasion, and some have ultimately given up until recently on a successor to the A7SII which was released nearly five years ago.

The A7 body should continue as it is. It’s the basic all around model that fits the needs of most people whether they’re photographing weddings, photojournalism, occasional sporting events, model shoots, etc. Perhaps the megapixel count can be raised to provide somewhere between 24 (current amount) up to 32 megapixels assuming it can keep the same excellent lowlight performance… or perhaps they can scale back the pixel count to fall somewhere between 18-24 megapixels to increase sensitivity and provide more than enough pixels for most needs.

The A7R should morph into the A8. At this point it is different enough that it can be it’s own thing. It’ll focus on the idea of high resolution photography whether it’s commercial with some lighter video functions that allows the end user to capture video as needed.

The A7S line should first end and second morph into an Alpha X (AX) that’ll highlight the hybrid nature of a more video natured camera where photographic applications are more of an afterthought. This camera would completely break away from the traditional hybrid SLR form factor and grow somewhat in size for the purposes of adequate cooling while maintaining features video creator desire. Perhaps this camera can offer many of the features of the more fully features FX9 but in a smaller light package with fewer external connections. This camera would feature a single XLR input, a full size HDMI, a traditional 3.5 microphone, and a headphone jack in camera. This camera would do DCI 4K up to FF at up to 120fps, be able to record internal H.264, H.265, ProRES, and AVID DNxHR as standard codecs, provide external RAW video (ProRES RAW and BRAW), and 12-bit color at a minimum. It would be compact, look like a smaller version traditional cinema camera (along the lines of the RED Komodo) with the ability to mount an external video and audio recorders, in addition to an aftermarket EVF. It also should implement an A9 style AF system. It would also be the first camera from Sony to feature a Global Shutter with built in ND filters. Ultimately this can be the camera to replace the function of the FS5 and FS7 camera in a shrinking camera market while also moving slightly upmarket to between a traditional photography hybrid system camera and a dedicated large sensor cinema/ENG camera. This can be the model that videographers, cinematographers, and indie filmmakers would go crazy for.

The A9 is likely fine with what Sony is doing but perhaps there’s room for a APS-C version for action shooters in the form of the A6. Same features as the A9… just with a smaller sensor and priced similarly as the base A7. As previously mentioned the camera market is already shrinking and Sony already does a great job at continuing sales of older models at a more value friendly price which allows potential users to purchase a great camera option at a bit of a bargain.

Above the A9 there’s room for a true professional body upmarket and I’m gong to call it the “Alpha Pro“ (AP) Model for now. What this could be is a camera that offers a 64-80 megapixel sensor that can also “pixel bin” in order to “super sample” color data to provide images 1/4 the original size with full color data. This can also be where Sony experiments with a new simplified touch based menu similar to say what Blackmagic Design or Phase One utilizes on their cameras. Additionally Sony could make it so that it integrates with the smartphone app on a deeper level. Users would be able to define internal crop mode options and make the menus are complex or simple as wanted. Don’t want video menus? No worries hide the options from the camera and add them back through the app when wanted if ever. Just want Aperture Priority, Shutter Priority, and Manuel modes? Cool just eliminate the other modes on the digital LED mode selection wheel. Want high resolution imagery? Shoot in standard mode. Want maximum color reproduction and speed? Shoot in that mode. Want a basic user mode? Select that from the get go. Want deep layers and sub menus? Choose the advanced user mode. Additionally Canon has shown with their RF lenses that there is a market for  premium lenses that don’t follow the traditional SLR offerings like the “f/2.8 trinity” lenses. Perhaps Sony can introduce a line of lenses above the G-Master lenses in maybe the G-Pro lenses. Sony could make a 20-50mm F/2 zoom, a 55-110mm f/2 zoom, and a 100-200mm f/2 zoom which could be true prime replacement lenses. They could also make some f/1.2 primes in popular, but different from G-Master, focal lengths like 21, 35, 55, 100, and 150mm focal lengths. Obviously there’s room already to refresh some of the older optical formulas with more modern linear focusing motors as well.

I have zero insider information on Sony’s plan but I do believe that they receive so much market growth through innovation and exciting products. With more competition in the market I don’t feel that now is the time for them to play it safe and get more complacent given the hype driven by Canon’s RF lens designs and R5/R6 bodies, the potential of the L-mount Alliance, or the Nikon faithful that provide mirrorless solutions for those already invested in their brand.

Panasonic S1H Announced

Osaka, Japan – Panasonic Corporation announced today the development of the LUMIX S1H, a new Digital Single Lens Mirrorless camera equipped with a full-frame image sensor. It is the world’s first camera capable of video recording at 6K/24p (3:2 aspect ratio), 5.9K/30p (16:9 aspect ratio), and 10-bit 60p 4K/C4K. Combining the professional-level video quality and high mobility of the mirrorless camera, Panasonic will release the LUMIX S1H to world markets in fall 2019.

Since starting the development of video recording technologies for digital cinema in the 1990s, Panasonic has produced a host of innovative technologies for impressive cinematic imagery, such as 24p video recording, slow motion video using a variable frame rate, and the wide dynamic range and color space of V-Log/V-Gamut. Panasonic has been working with film creators for over a quarter of a century to design and develop a number of cinema cameras, which has resulted in stunningly high video performance.
The LUMIX GH1 made its debut in 2009 as the world’s first Digital Single Lens Mirrorless camera capable of full-HD AVCHD video recording. The LUMIX GH4 was launched in 2014 as the world’s first Digital Single Lens Mirrorless camera capable of 4K video recording. And in 2017, the LUMIX GH5 was released with the world's first 4K/60p, 4:2:2 10-bit 4K/30p recording capability. The LUMIX GH5 is highly acclaimed by film creators for its high performance, excellent mobility, and superb versatility in film production.

The new LUMIX S1H has been designed and developed by applying the vast expertise and technologies accumulated in the cinema cameras of the LUMIX S Series of full-frame mirrorless cameras. It packs all of these technologies, especially in the field of digital signal processing and heat dispersion, into a compact, lightweight body to achieve both high performance and nimble mobility. It opens the door to creative film production in ways that conventional, bulky camera systems simply could not do.

The main features of the new LUMIX S1H are as follows:

1. High resolution up to 6K for multiple formats
Maximizing the use of the pixels in the full-frame image sensor, the LUMIX S1H, as a digital camera, has achieved 6K/24p (3:2 aspect ratio) or 5.9K/30p (16:9 aspect ratio) video recording for the first time in the world. It is also the world’s first full-frame digital interchangeable lens system camera to enable 10-bit 60p 4K/C4K video recording. It accommodates a variety of recording formats, including 4:3 Anamorphic mode, to meet professional needs. Its high-resolution data can also be used for creating 4K videos with higher image quality or for cropping images in 4K.

2. Rich gradation and a wide color space virtually equal to those of cinema cameras. The LUMIX S1H features V-Log/V-Gamut with a wide dynamic range of 14+ stops, which are virtually the same as those of the Panasonic Cinema VariCam, to precisely capture everything from dark to bright areas. The color and even the texture of human skin are faithfully reproduced. Designed under consistent color management, the S1H's recorded footage is compatible with V-Log footage recorded by VariCam or V-Log L footage recorded by LUMIX GH5/GH5S.

3. High product reliability that allows unlimited video recording. In every S1H recording mode, video can be recorded non-stop under the certified operating temperature so the user can concentrate on shooting.
Panasonic now offers three innovative models in the LUMIX S Series of full-frame Digital Single Lens Mirrorless cameras – the S1R, the S1, and the new S1H. The LUMIX S1R is ideal for taking high-resolution pictures, the LUMIX S1 is an advanced hybrid camera for high-quality photos and videos, and the LUMIX S1H is designed and developed especially for film production. With this lineup, Panasonic is committed to meet the demands of every imaging professional by challenging the constant evolution of the photo/video culture in today's new digital era.

About Panasonic
Panasonic Corporation is a worldwide leader in the development of diverse electronics technologies and solutions for customers in the consumer electronics, housing, automotive, and B2B businesses. The company, which celebrated its 100th anniversary in 2018, has expanded globally and now operates 582 subsidiaries and 87 associated companies worldwide, recording consolidated net sales of 8.003 trillion yen for the year ended March 31, 2019. Committed to pursuing new value through innovation across divisional lines, the company uses its technologies to create a better life and a better world for its customers. To learn more about Panasonic:

Affinity Suite Updates And 20% Off Sale

Serif, the makers of the Affinity Suite, which includes Affinity Photo, Affinity Designer, and Affinity Publisher have released version 1.7 today. If you own the software, then you can download the updates right now.

If you aren’t aware of the Affinity Suite, in short, they’re one of the few true legitimate alternatives to the extremely popular industry leading Adobe programs. The best part is that they don’t require a monthly or yearly subscription. Affinity Photo is their Photoshop alternative, Affinity Designer is akin to Adobe Illustrator, and the soon to be released Affinity Publisher was created as a replacement for InDesign. Those that own and use Affinity Suite tend to be ecstatic by the quality of the software and really impressed at what you can do with it at any price point. It’s just a bonus that they cost $50 USD regularly priced for the desktop version. There are mobile iPad versions as well that are less expensive but offer most of the same functions. Additionally, Serif is offering a 20% discount on all of their software right now to commemorate the launch of their update. This has been the norm for the company the last few years that I’ve owned Affinity Photo. Typically Serif will offer the 20% discount when there’s a software update, a product releases, and as a Black Friday/Cyber Monday deal. Since ending my Adobe subscription about three years ago I’ve been using Affinity Photo. If you aren’t a Photoshop guru then I’d also recommend picking up their Workbooks which are well written, easy to follow, and will take you on a step by step journey to learning how to execute various functions of their software.

You can read about the version 1.7 update here.