Leica M9 vs Fuji XT1!

Matthew Osborne Photography

I was teaching in the studio today and the photographer brought his Fuji XT-1 along to use.  I know many Leica photographers use Fuji cameras as a backup camera or as a cheaper alternative but I have never really given them any thought to be honest.  I know they can take nice images but there has never actually been enough interest there for me read up on them.

Today I saw a Fuji camera up close in action and to be honest I was a bit surprised and less than impressed.  The Fuji XT1 camera seemed to have a million different menus that hindered the photographer from being able to do what you want to do with a camera and that is take a simple photo. I was teaching portrait photography using speedlights and in this instance his lens was stopped down to perhaps f5.6 or f8.  He mentioned it was difficult to compose photos accurately as there was no constant image on the LCD (other than a brief preview that flashed on and off).  This was crazy to me.  How can you use a camera when you can’t see what you are taking a photo of?  I realise in brighter conditions or with the lens at a wider aperture this issue would be resolved but they are many occasions when you might be shooting in low light.  At a wedding for example you really do need to have your photo composed ‘correctly’ and in focus so you need to be able to see. (Original paragraph reworded to avoid confusion).

New photographers have absolutely no hope of learning photography with a camera like this.  They just get bambozelled by the menus before they can even start.  I guess this goes for some DSLR cameras but I found Nikon cameras easy to use in the past.

It really highlighted to me how valuable it is to shoot with film caemeras if you want to actually learn photography and improve your skills.  An old film camera only has a few settings to control – shutter speed, aperture and film choice / ISO.  The next best thing after film to me and from my experience is using a Leica M8 or Leica M9.  They share much of the simplicity of film cameras yet they have a digital output.  Learning with only a film camera can be slow as you need to remember the conditions and settings used for each photo for when you get your film developed.  With digital cameras you can see instantly the effects of changing aperture, shutter speed and ISO and the different looks achieved using different lenses or lighting.

In a professional photographer’s hands i’m sure the Fuji XT1 can be a useful tool and I know it can produce good photos.  For beginners however or someone wanting to go beyond a point and shoot automatic camera I highly recommend you try a Leica M8 / Leica M9 or get yourself a cheap film camera to use along side your Fuji camera.  That way you can start to appreciate photography and as learn with the film camera you can then improve your photos with the digital camera too.

*This is only based on my own experiences but I really was not impressed.

Here is a Leica M9 shot from today with model Becca helping me

Leica M9 Studio Photography

27 thoughts on “Leica M9 vs Fuji XT1!”

  1. no beginner is going to want to shell out $1500 to $4000 for a USED Leica! Let alone buying a ME for whatever they are going for…

    1. Thanks Steve, You can get an used Leica M8 for less than a Fuji or better still pick up an old 35mm film camera to play with. My Nikon FM was £100 with lens. I know what you are saying though and yes Leica are not a viable option in many cases (and the M8 has plenty of drawbacks of it’s own vs. ‘modern’ cameras)

  2. Hi Matt,

    Big fan of your work and we have a spoke a couple of times on messenger. I own a Leica M-E and M6 and own Fujifilm XPro-1 and XT-1. I sold all of my pro Canon gear and bought the Fuji Xt1 after seeing the amazing images it captures. I also bought it due to the all manual controls on top of the body which allows you to shoot it like a film slr without going into menus. ISO, shutter speed, exposure comp all on the top of the camera and aperture on the barrel of the lens. Other than a Leica I don’t know how much easier the camera is to work…unless the guy is a complete novice which you mentioned is the cause. Alot of my work on my Facebook and website are taken with the Fuji equipment. I am not left wanting my Canon gear back. I of course don’t shoot sports so no need for the heavy bulk anymore..I thought I would chime in before you thunk the Fuji stuff is garbage. You had a bad first impression.. take care and again you have amazing work.
    Cheers from America,


    1. Hi Vincent, many thanks for your input and setting me straight on the easy settings to operate a Fuji with. It was probably my fault on this occasion as we were doing speedlight work in dim lit conditions so it was more not being able to see the image through the Fuji XT1 viewfinder at f8 that was the problem. I am used to rangefinder focusing so didn’t even consider it. I know Fuji’s can take fine shots so thanks for putting me straight re the settings. Happy shooting! Matt

      1. Hi Matthew, this is an option in the XT 1 basically it shows what the sensor does (EV and/or WB), you can turn this option off (I do) in this way you’ll be able to see the image just like with any other camera withouth the effect of the exposure or the WB. I think your student should have read his camera’s manual first ;-).

  3. Hey Matt! Great insight into this!

    I’ve been shooting Fuji since 2012 with the X-Pro1 and X100 as my second system to Canon. I sold all my Canon gear this year and acquired the X-T1 and am very happy but realised something, just too much distraction from the task of image making. I love the camera but I feel and agree this is a camera for advanced/professionals and not novices.

    However with that said, it’s a great camera that’s for the person willing to spend hours understanding it. Because I already knew the system, it was easy for me. There is a setting to tune off the exposure preview mode which I think is what you were experiencing when shooting at f8 in dim light and it will up the gain so you can see the image, but to find that setting requires one to jump in the ocean of menus haha!

    My best decision this was to acquire the Leica M8 which has enhanced my style and experience and I agree is the best way to truly understand photography from a manual shooting perspective.

    Keep up the awesome work!

    1. Hi Munya, Many thanks for your support! It’s great to hear from a photographer who has experience with both the Fuji XT1 and Leica M8. I’m glad I was talking some sense even though I have never owned an XT1. Many thanks for the confirmation. Cheers Matt

  4. Hi Matt, big fan of your site, (and it’s very much in my 2015 planning to attend one of your London workshops) I agree with your M8 recomendation, although once you take your first step into Leica, it becomes addictive and the more expensive M9 starts calling. I came very close also to picking up lovely M3 a could of weeks ago and am sure one will follow soon. It’s very true, with the M8 I take a manual WB, set ISO to 160 or 320. Aperture open, Aperture priority and thats it, I don’t even have my rear screen on Chimp. With my wives Lumix camera I flick from one mode to another and miss shots as I’m playing. Regarding XT-1, I think for its size, being Made in Japan along with very capable Fuji lenses its a very good camera. The screen issue you mention has been addressed with the silver Xt1 and firmware update on the 18th December for the black version, will allow optional wysiwyg, adjusting to lighting conditions for view finder or natural view. So your not wrong to point it out as a failing. Of course the x100T (and no doubt XPro2) very cleaver OVF with a mini EVF in the corner showing the wysiwyg view for the focus point.

    1. Hi Sean, thanks for getting in touch and your thoughts. Yes it sure is a slippery slope once you buy a Leica but that said the M3 is a dream camera. My current favourite of my cameras. I agree Fuji do good lenses. The Fujion lenses on my GS645 and GF670 are both super sharp. I know the digital Fujis are also well regarded iamge wise. You are welcome to join me for an engagement any time. Just let me know even if you don’t see something advertised. Cheers

  5. It is always a problem if someone is not familliar with his gear like your client was… For Studio-Work you have to set the XT1 viewfinder in the menu “preview exposure in manual mode” to OFF. If you do this the viewfinder it is verry bright as it does not simulate the f-stop you have choosen. If you do not set it like this it is nearly impossible to compose any shoot under studio-flash conditions in the viewfinder because it darkens with higher appertures. That is nothing special to a Fuji XT1, this is a setting you have to do with every cam that works with an EVF! Sometimes it might be helpful to read manuals (even if I do not like to read them by myself too 🙂 ) Great work you provide here with your pictures Matthew!!!

      1. Why didn’t you update your article with the correct information the? He was just using the camea wrong.

        Also, the menu of the x-t1 is pretty basic, not as much as with a leica arguably but I don’t really see the problem: After setting the camera up you can just use the dials, your exposure triangle is right there. No need to use the menu.

        I hope I don’t come off as rude but I think this article is a bit flawed. Cheets.

      2. Hi Daniel, thanks for your post. I’ve not changed the orginal post but left on all comments so readers can take away any information they find useful to them. I still use Leicas so have no experience with Fuji or Sony so this post was only my observation at the time of writing. Yes I realise it is not a fair review of a Fuji. As you say if you don’t use most of the functions/menus most cameras can become much simplier. I did this with my old Nikon D800 and turned most settings off. Thanks

  6. Any new technology has a learning curve. Your review would cary more weight if it were not based on a superficial first impression…

    1. Hi Gorf, Yes I agree it is not a fair review, my apologies for that. It was merely thinking outloud.

      I recently got to see Sony A7R images up close so I would be interested to see how the XT1 compared. I was not a big fan of the overprocessed look from the Sony. Just my taste. I know many people swear by Fujis & Sony but I like the optical rangefinder system too much to change. By that I mean I struggle with other systems for MF (such as my Nikon D800) as my eyes have become so used to RF focusing. Thanks Matt

  7. I do understand what you are saying, but I have something to add. Pretty soon machines will be very fast and intelligent. New forms of photography will emerge. In my imagination I see a drone flying with me all day. It films everything and it does this in an ultra high resolution. It’s possible for me to extract still images from the recorded data, but I can also let the machine choose the best shots automatically for me. Live or afterwards. Or maybe my house android can make photos (as it is one of the many tasks it can perform flawlessly). You can be an excellent driver in a modern car, without having to have started in an old model from yesteryear. I think the same goes for photography. People really don’t need to start with an ancient simple camera. The simple Leica you mention, is not simple at all. It’s the high tech result of many decades of research and development. A real purist would start with some sort of plate camera. Good luck with that 😉

    1. Thanks Francis. Yes I am working backwards so my oldest camera is a 1920s large format camera. As you correctly state the older the camera and the more simple it is constructed the more you can appreciate how modern cameras work (or how the computers inside are designed to emulate). I guess you are correct in your statement. You can be an amazing computer operator and get stunning results in auto mode all day long but that doesn’t really interest me. I guess I am a purist at heart as any camera without batteries wins over one needing batteries. Hasselblad 500 series vs Mamiya RZ67, Leica M3 vs Nikon F4, Large format. Each to their own I say 😉 Cheers

  8. It is very depressing that people keep comparing photography with cameras. It would be like comparing writers based on what ink they used for their printer. It’s apples and oranges in every way. The tool you use is the tool you have available. Period. No one went through Iraq or Vietnam asking about depth of field or bokah. They asked if you got the photograph? The studio photo sample is simply a poor example for comparing any camera. What am I looking at and more importantly, why? Aside from the lighting, she doesn’t evoke anything. I have used a Leica M8 in Ethiopia and loved my files. I also have an M9 and a Mamiya Leaf digital set-up. I love those files. I grab the right tool to tell the right story. Can we get back to making images worth discussing and forget about the gear? I must be a better writer than Hemingway because I use Microsoft Word 2000 and he used a pencil. I think you get my point.

    1. Thanks Martin, sorry for the delayed replay and Happy Easter! I like how you look at photography and do agree it is only the final image that counts. That said, if I use your pen example the problem I have is if I have a cheap biro and a fountain pen, both let me create the piece of writing in my head but I probably wouldn’t bother writing for the sake of it if I only had a biro. I used to do calligraphy which is kind of writing for the sake of it but I did it as I enjoyed the process. For me it is the same with a camera. I could take photos with my Nikon D800 but I chose not too as it is of no interest to me. To the same extend I wont take many photos for the sake of it with any digital camera. I only really use film now for photos of interest as I enjoy the process.

      As with your example, if I was at war and needed to document it then of course you have whatever photo capturing device you have whether iPhone or dedicated camera.

      Sorry to discuss gear but I read up on it myself as it interests me. I just share my experiences here for those interested.

      Yes the image is important but if the camera is of no interest to use the image will never be created in the first place. Chicken and egg.


  9. Let me just say when it comes to the xt1…you don’t know what you’re talking about. It’s obvious the guy was an amateur and didn’t know how to use his cameras the xt1 is very easy to shoot when you’re not intimidated by technology. I use mine all the time and it’s very simple once you set it up and understand it.

    1. Thanks Ed, I was only an onlooker but I guess like anything once you have set the menus up as you like them you probably don’t need to use them much after that. That’s what I did with my Nikon D800. I turned mostly settings off snd set to manual and rarely needed the menu after that. Cheers

  10. If you want a Fujifilm camera, get an X-Pro2 or X-Pro1 (used, if your budget is really tight). They have an optical viewfinder, and you almost never need the menu.
    The viewfinder of the X-T cameras is just a small TV screen, and the ergonomics are worse than those of the X-Pro cameras.

  11. harry winston

    Wow i have to laugh at most of these comments,but i must say although i do have a fuji xt1 pro-1,there is no way i would give up my nikon dslr for serious work they are simply too slow and not yet up to the task,but i sense in a few years they will ,cause they are moving in the right direction with these cameras….by the way i love fuji xt1 but would not give up my nikon d4 or my d800 for it..

    1. Thanks Harry, sorry for the delayed reply. Yes I think Fuji and more so Sony are pushing the boundaries for the smaller format cameras but as you say I too still prefer my Leicas and Nikon D800 as my wedding backup camera. Cheers

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