Nikon D800 vs Leica M9 Review

Nikon D800 vs Leica M9 Review – Battle of the Titans!!

Samyang 24/1.4
(Nikon D800 Model Photography in the Studio)

Nikon D800 vs Leica M9!

I have owned a Nikon D800 DSLR since it was first released in May 2012. I was very happy with the D800 performance but by the end of the summer 2013 I was looking for something new. I bought myself a Leica M9 35mm digital rangefinder as the small form factor attracted me. I was blown away with how much I loved this little camera and use of the D800 suddenly ceased.

Leica M9 - B&W

(Leica M9 Model Photography in the Studio)(Same shoot, same model, different camera)

A few months on, I have used the Leica M9 for wedding photography, model photography / fashion photography, event photography, travel photography and even macro photography! Using only the Leica M9 has let me appreciate the strengths of both the Nikon D800 DSLR and the M9. As a result I think my photography has also matured. Now the initial hype of my new Leica M9 toy is starting to settle I thought it was time to write a comparison review between my two main cameras. The Nikon D800 and Leica M9.

Like any experienced craftsman I can now select the best tool for each photography job from my camera bag.

D800 vs M9: Topics I will cover:

10 Reasons to use a Nikon D800?

1. Studio Photography
2. Asian Wedding Photography
3. Macro Photography
4. Telephoto Photography
5. Portrait Headshots
6. Beauty and Fashion shots
7. Sport Photography
8. Wildlife Photography
9. When shooting in the rain
10. Children Photography

5 Reasons to use a Leica M9?

1. Location Fashion Photography
2. Environmental Portraits / Lifestyle Portraits
3. English Wedding Photography
4. Travel Photography
5. Street Photography

10 Reasons why I prefer the D800 (vs Leica M9):

I explain my reasons for each below:

1. Nikon D800 for Studio photography

The D800 lenses let you crop in closer so the photo concentrates on the model and excludes areas behind her that you may not want in shot. The D800 has a large 3.2 LCD if quick effective review of images and you can also shoot tethered to a laptop. The D800 has a PC Sync port build in and is also compatible with most flash triggers so strobist work with the D800 is easy.

2. Nikon D800 for Asian Wedding Photography

The same as the reason above, Asian weddings I have covered are very often in a marquee or temples that do not look great in terms of architecture or photographic interest. The couples themselves wear very beautiful colourful detailed garments so all the focus is on them and not the surroundings. Another problem I found when using the Leica is Asian weddings often have a video team of 3 or 4 people and multiple photographers so potentially 8 people in total wielding a camera. Unless you crop close the chances are one of these people will be in your shot most of the time! Using an 85mm f1.4 lens on the D800 lets me separate the couple from their surrounding when I need to.

3. Nikon D800 for Macro Photography

DSLR cameras and lenses let you focus very close to your subject via a dedicated macro lens, extension tubes or a clip on/ screw on magnifying lens.

4. Nikon D800 for Telephoto Photography

I currently use the D800 for any focal length longer than 50mm. Examples lenses being 85/f1.4 or 200/f2.

5. Nikon D800 for Portrait Headshots

I use the D800 for head shots as the lenses and focusing system let me get much closer to my subject so that the head fills the photo with most lenses not just telephoto ones. Obviously longer focal lengths can give more flattering photos but I can fill a frame with a head at 35mm if I would like to.

6. Nikon D800 for Beauty and Fashion Shots

The D800 is 36MP so fine detail beauty shots where you can see every pore makes editing very easy and the resulting images very sharp.

7. Nikon D800 for Sport Photography

I rarely do sports photography but the auto-focus of the D800 together with ease of using longer lenses makes the DSLR more suitable than a rangefinder camera. With a DSLR it is also possible to use a tele-converter (“TC”) to extend the reach of your lens. I use a 1.4x TC on my 85/f1.4 to give me 120/f2 (approx) and on my 200/f2 to give 280/f2.8.

8. Nikon D800 for Wildlife Photography

I used to do wildlife photography with a Nikon D700 DSLR. The auto-focus of the DSLRs together with ease of using longer lenses makes it more suitable than a rangefinder camera. As mentioned for sports photography, with a DSLR it is possible to use a tele-converter (“TC”) to extend the reach of your lens. I use a 1.4x TC on my 85/f1.4 to give me 120/f2 (approx) and on my 200/f2 to give 280/f2.8.

9. Nikon D800 for Shooting in the Rain

The D800 is reasonably weather proof and many of the telephoto lens have large hoods to keep the rain spots off the glass. Example lenses – 85/f1.4, 80-200/f2.8, 200/f2. I normally just wrap the body in a plastic bag to be safe.

10. Nikon D800 for Children Photography

As the D800 has auto focus it makes taking photos of moving kids much easier when there are limited light levels indoor and a wide aperture is selected.

 

Roxana SOOC by MatthewOsbornePhotography_
Roxana SOOC, a photo by MatthewOsbornePhotography_ on Flickr.

Nikon D800 B&W JPEG – Model Roxana SOOC (No editing) 

 

5 Occasions when I prefer the Leica M9 and why?

1. Leica M9 for Location Fashion Photography

Although I would chose the D800 for studio fashion shoot I tend to prefer the Leica M9 for location fashion shoots. The M9 Kodak CCD sensor renders the background details beautifully and the photos are more about the overall image content rather than just a close up of the model. A second advantage of using the Leica on location is if I am shooting by available light I can travel very light with a tiny camera bag and yet still pack a trio of prime lenses.

2. Leica M9 for Environmental Portraits / Lifestyle Portraits

The M9 frustrates me for many portraits as I cannot focus nearer than 0.7M using the rangefinder focus system. I normally work much closer than this with the D800. So because there is usually space either side of the model / person in Leica portraits it suits environmental portraits or lifestyle portraits where the photo captures the subject in their environment. For this style of portraits it works great.

3. Leica M9 for English Wedding Photography

For me English weddings are as much about the venues such as the church architecture as the couple getting married and their guests. I like to use a wide focal length such as 28mm or 35mm to capture reportage style / documentary style wedding photography images showing people interacting in their environment rather than just a head shot of one person isolated from their environment. This is why I have separated Asian and English weddings for my particular wedding photography style from the experience I have had of both. Unlike Asian weddings, English weddings often only have one photographer so I have no one getting in my shots if I use a wide focal length. I tried taking my Leica wedding photographer style to a few Asian weddings and it just was not working. I felt I needed a longer than 50mm focal length all the time and there were always video or photo guys in many of the photos captured. As with my Asian wedding explanation, if the wedding venue is unsightly for any reason I would using my longest focal length and get as close as I can to my subjects so the images are solely about the people. And accordingly if an Asian wedding is in some jaw dropping temple then of course I would shoot wide as much as possible and try to work in front of the videographers / photographers with their DSLRs and often 70-200 long lenses.

4. Leica M9 for Travel Photography

Due to the small size of the Leica M9 I can pack the camera body and 3 prime lenses such as 15mm, 35mm and 50mm and still have lots of space in my bags for non-camera equipment. The second benefit is when travelling on day trips the camera bag is less bulky and also it does not draw attention to itself when compared to a large DSLR.

5. Leica M9 for Street Photography

The Leica M9 is renowned for being THE street photography camera. The M9 is small and noticed far less than a large DSLR meaning candid street photography photos are much easier. When combined with the tiny Voigtlander Nokton 40mm for example it can pack easily into a large coat pocket when not in use.

Nikon D800 + Samyang 85mm f1.4 @ f1.4 (Yulya in the streets of Uzhgorod, Ukraine)

 

Nikon D800 vs Leica M9 – Summary

I am sure there will be a part 2 and part 3 to this D800 vs. Leica M9 blog post but for now the above gives you a quick summary of how I use each camera and why. The explanations are based entirely on my experience with both cameras and for the photography I do. I tried to cover a number of common topics even though I work mainly as a wedding photography / fashion photographer. Since owning the Leica M9 I have thrown everything at it, even styles of photography it was not designed for such as macro. It is a great little camera and owning one has made me appreciate how good the D800 actually is.

So, in Conclusion – Advantages of each camera

Here are some advantages of each camera (from my experience / taste):

9 Advantages of the Nikon D800 vs Leica M9:
  1. Weather sealed
  2. Auto focus (if required)
  3. 36MP so allows for creative cropping and super sharp images
  4. SLR style viewfinder so can use any lens and still focus it (such as a Lensbaby, tele-converter, extension tubes, macro lenses)
  5. No requirement for extra viewfinders for different focal length lenses (such as wide or telephoto lenses)
  6. Build in PC sync port (useful for speedlight photography)
  7. Many reasonably priced lenses available for every occasion
  8. 1080P Video (if needed)
  9. Large 3.2” high resolution LCD display for reviewing images (including Live View)
6 Advantages of the Leica M9 vs Nikon D800:
  1. Small size yet full frame sensor
  2. Does not draw attention to itself
  3. Kodak CCD sensor film-like rendering***
  4. Ability to use small size high quality lenses such as those made by Leica, Voigtlander and Zeiss.
  5. Less common (everyone has a DSLR now!
  6. ***For me the biggest selling point of a Leica M9 is the Kodak CCD sensor. I feel the rending of Leica M9 images places the photos it produces between digital and film. I shoot 35mm and medium format film photography so to have instant near film looking photos for me is a big plus especially using the Leica M9 in black and white JPEG mode that I use most of the time.

And Finally..

The Leica Myth – “You don’t have to be Rich…”

I think it is funny that everyone wrongly believes you have to be rich to own a Leica. I picked up a used Leica M9 body on eBay and paired it with the very reasonable priced Voigtlander Nokton 40mm f1.4 lens that I already owned (came on the Bessa R3A film camera). The total price of that setup was less than the original price of my new Nikon D800 and say the Nikkor 35mm f1.4G prime lens. I currently use all Voigtlander and Zeiss glass on my M9 and I don’t feel like I am missing out a huge amount by not having Leica lenses. Yes I my get some Leica glass in the future but that can be something to save towards. I realise the Nikon D800 is not a cheap camera either but I don’t smoke and rarely drink so enjoy my photography and drive a small car instead!

More Nikon vs Leica comparison photos

Nikon D800 Sample photos

2013 REPOST: Samyang 85mm f1.4 Portrait
Lencarta Elite Pro 300
D800 Portfolio Shoot
Samyang 85mm f1.4 Portrait
Fashion on Film
D800 6x6 crop of Nora

Leica M9 photos

Leica M9 Night Portrait
Leica M9 Fashion
Leica M9 6x6
FED-2 & Industar 26M
Leica M9 Model Photography
Leica M9 Colours vs Kodak Portra Film

Related Posts

Nikon D800E + 50/1.4 vs Leica M9 + 50/1.4 (By Stephen Bartels)

(Stephen is a fellow Leica photographer that I met on the Facebook Leica Group)

UPDATE* I can already feel the need for a D800 vs. Leica M9 Part 2 Post. Additional topics that will be covered include:

• Low lights photography – the benefits from each camera
• Colour photography
• Landscape photography
• Rendering – sensor or lenses

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Samyang 24mm f1.4 lens

Samyang 24mm f1.4 lens

Here are some Fashion Photography / Model Photography example photos using the less known, less raved about, less sharp Samyang 24mm f1.4 lens using my Nikon D800 DSLR in my Coventry UK, studio.

 

Samyang 24mm f1.4 lens

Compared to it’s big brother, the Samyang 85mm f1.4 super sharp manual focus lens, and it’s equally capable siblings, the Samyang 35mm f1.4 and Samyang 14mm f2.8, the 24mm does struggle to compete in terms of sharpness shot wide open. Stopped down a little however, it can produce some very sharp, very rewarding images with a useful focal length for tighter spaces.

I have found it useful for wedding photography when there is not much space and for getting close to your subject as shown in the example below to create a nice shallow DOF.

Samyang 24mm f1.4 photos –

Here is another example, this time shot at f1.4 using available light

Model Photography

MatthewOsbornePhotography.co.uk

Example with model Georgie

Samyang 24/1.4

Model – Charlotte

Light & Shadows

Rekated Posts:

Samyang 85mm f1.4 Stopped Down

ARAX-CM: Vintage Look Photography

6×6 Vintage Look Film Photography

Taken with my Russian medium format film camera, the ARAX-CM 6×6 that is a rebadged Kiev 88 and also known as a Hasselbladski. The Kiev 88 was a Soviet clone of the Hasselblad 1600 F hence the name.

arax-cm

If you want to buy an ARAX camera you should get in touch with Mr Gevorg Vartanian at http://araxfoto.com/ where he will be happy to help. I found the customer service to be excellent and have made several purchases from him.

This photo was shot in an old castle in Ukraine with model Olga on a day trip back in spring 2013. Shot on Fuji Pro400H colour film.

Details and defects as shot. I didn’t clean up the photo as it is slightly mis-focused on the face plus I liked the vintage look despite the light leak.

I have only recently had this batch of colour film lab developed and it was then I noticed the ARAX film back had incurred a light leak problem. Frustrating but it is now fixed with a bit of card and sticky tape!

I love the simplicity of my ARAX. No battery or electronics to go wrong, just a box, a viewfinder, a lens and a film back. It reminds me of my first car, a Russian Lada Niva Cossack 4×4 that also had minimal mod cons! Both can be mended with basic tools and their simplicity make them a joy to use.

I used to use the ARAX-CM as my travel medium format film camera as it would fit in my bag easily unlike my Mamiya RZ67 Pro II which is too big. The huge viewfinder on the Mamiya does makes focusing a doddle but I prefer the 6×6 format vs the 6×7 I think.

I guess they both have their pros and cons! 🙂

MatthewOsbornePhotography.co.uk

Note: If you are looking to get into medium format film photography I have both a Pentacon Six TL (6×6) and Kiev 88 (6×6) both in their original cases with lenses for SALE. Both cameras offer a fantastic cheap way to get into medium format film and the P6 especially would be great for photography students as the cheaper of the two.

Shared: Platinum Palladium Printing

Platinum Palladium Printing with Leica M Monochrom

I came across this on YouTube and was in awe.  A beautifully shot video and that will just inspire you to get in your dark room (even if using traditional methods!)

I don’t have a dark room yet and develop my film photography negatives using a Patterson tank in my kitchen.  One day!  I don’t think you can fully appreciate the magic of film until you develop you own prints.

I hope you enjoy it as much as I did! 🙂

MatthewOsbornePhotography.co.uk

Samyang 85mm f1.4 – Stopped Down

I tend to shoot the Samyang 85mm f1.4 lens wide open at f1.4 as it is sharp enough to use for paying clients. It is also much sharper than my Nikkor 85/1.4D that I found I had to use at f2.

In this photo of Polish model Nella I had the Samyang 85/1.4 stopped down at f4 and it is crazy sharp yet still creates a nice shallow DOF. Great lens and one of my favourites on the Nikon D800.

I increased the sharpness and contrast of my D800 B&W JPEG in PP but the eye detail is as shot. A credit to the very reasonably priced manual focus Korean lens.

MatthewOsbornePhotography.co.uk