The Leica M9: The Ultimate Street Photography Camera or Just Hype? My Practical Review

Leica M9

My Leica M9P* (gaffer tape upgrade) and 35mm Summilux 1.4. 


About a few months ago, I finally achieved one of my lifetime goals: purchasing a digital Leica (the Leica M9 to be specific). Although I was enthralled by the camera the first month I tested it (when Leica loaned me one for my Paris trip as well as a 35mm Summilux) the initial glitz and glamor faded away. However after shooting with one, I knew I wanted to get one nonetheless for a variety of reasons (explained in this article).

For this review I am going to give you my honest review of the camera, not focusing much on the technical aspects (other sites have already done this to death) but how it actually performs when it comes to shooting street photography. Considering that I have only been shooting with the camera around 3 months—I am not an expert with the Leica M9. However having shot with it enough when it comes to street photography, I am very confortable discussing how it performs when shooting on the streets.

What is a rangefinder?

Before starting off, I think it is important to discuss what exactly a rangefinder is and how it differs from a DSLR or any other camera out there.

A rangefinder is a type of camera that is much smaller in form factor, yet still has interchangeable lenses. Leica was the first company to produce the modern 35mm camera as we know it. It also doesn’t have a mirror in it, which results in a quieter shutter and less vibration when you are taking photos.

Rangefinders use optical viewfinders that don’t go through the lens. Therefore what you see through the viewfinder is not what your lens actually sees. Also the focusing mechanism is through two patches that you can stack up with one another. Oh yeah, and it is only manual focus. There are other technical differences, to consider but I will not go into detail about this in this article. 

Why rangefinders?

Leica isn’t the only company that produces (or has produced) rangefinders. You can find old film rangefinders by Contax, Canon, and several other companies.

The benefits of a rangefinder for a street photographer is primarily size, ease of use, as well as being discrete. The form factor is far less threatening than a modern DSLR, the shutter is quieter, and you don’t have to deal with a lot of functions or settings. Everything is done through dials.

Leica M9 Review by Eric Kim

Top of the m9

As I am writing this, Leica is the only company to currently produce a digital rangefinder. (Epson made one in the past—the RD series, which is currently very difficult to find). 

Focusing on a Leica

For those of you who have never shot with a rangefinder before, it is very intuitive but difficult to get used to. Pretty much to sum up the experience, when you look through the viewfinder you will see two little boxes. To focus, you want to stack the two boxes on top of one another to get your subject in-focus. Some people claim that they can manually focus as fast as an autofocus camera, but I feel that this will only be possible after decades of practice.

When it comes to street photography, I never focus. I pre-focus my camera to 1 meter using a 35mm and use an aperture of f/16-f/8 and zone focus my camera. When you are shooting street photography, everything happens so quickly so you don’t have the time to focus.

Leica M9 Review by Eric Kim

Zone Focusing at f/16

Another benefit of shooting with the Leica, is that the 35mm 1.4 Summilux lens I use has a depth-of-field scale embedded on the lens. Therefore I will know exactly what will be in focus, depending on my aperture and what I have my lens pre-focused to.

Leica glass

Leica makes the sharpest and most beautiful lenses out there, hands-down. Not only that, but it also makes it very convenient that all their lenses have a depth-of-field scale embedded, which makes zone focusing much easier (many modern DSLR lenses don’t have this feature).

I haven’t done any scientific tests in terms of the sharpness of my images, but I can definitely vouch they are extremely sharp. The only lens I currently shoot with is the 35mm 1.4 Summilux (the previous version) and when I blow up my files to 100% I am amazed by the sharpness.

But is sharpness everything? I disagree. When I am uploading photos to the web, I can’t tell a different in image quality between a Leica M9, Canon 5D, or even a Ricoh GRDIII. Having this extra sharpness would only be beneficial if you were to blow up your photos extremely large. Even so, I feel that using unsharp mask in Photoshop or any post-processing software makes this concept of “sharpness” irrelevant. As Henri Cartier-Bresson said himself, “Sharpness is a bourgeois concept.” If you want to save some money on glass, check out the Voigtlander lenses which are far cheaper. Not as great optically, but get the job done.


Bokeh is something highly overrated in street photography. I have the 35mm 1.4 Summilux and the only time I ever shoot at 1.4 is of my friends sitting down at restaurants. With a ton of experience it is possible to shoot at 1.4, but this is nearly impossible when your subject is moving.

But if bokeh is what you are going after, I can definitely say if you shoot wide-open it does give you a very “creamy” and “dreamy” look. Whenever I am shooting portraits of my friends at 1.4, I always love commenting on how “bokehlicious” the images look. But like I mentioned before, shooting manually at 1.4 is nearly impossible for moving subjects. For street photography stick to zone focusing at a high f-stop like f/11-f/16.

The feel

The Leica is built like a tank, is heavier than you would expect, and oozes of quality. It is very well-crafted, and I am sure it will last a lifetime. Not only that, but I am sure it can take a nice beating too.

The buttons are nice and responsive, the shutter dial on top clicks precisely, and the camera body’s texture is nice and tough.

People are always surprised to see how heavy the Leica M9 is when they first hold it—I would say it is comparable to weight to my Canon 5D (a bit lighter). However it is definitely far more compact and easy to shove into a bag.

Battery life

I know a lot of people out there complain about the battery life of the Leica M9. Most people report that they need at least two batteries to last them a full day.

I have turned off the auto-preview on my LCD screen, and have found that a battery can last me an entire day if I don’t look at my LCD screen too much. I also keep the “auto-power-off” featured turned off—which should theoretically drain more of my battery.

However if you go shooting for an entire day with the LCD screen on, you will probably need two batteries to make it through the entire day.

The LCD screen

Back of the M9. A bit dirty

One of the downsides of the Leica M9 is that the LCD screen isn’t great. The resolution is quite low, and if you are shooting with a high-ISO the image preview shows the image before noise reduction, which makes the images look very noisy. However once you import your photos into your computer, they look fine. Not only that, but the screen doesn’t “auto-rotate” which many of us nowadays are accustomed to.

However if you are shooting street photography, you should rarely be checking the LCD screen anyways, unless you are trying out new settings to check your exposure, focus, etc.

The High-ISO capability 

I shot with my Canon 5D for around two full years when shooting street photography, and have been shooting with the Leica M9 for around 3 months. I would say the ISO performance is pretty similar, although the Canon 5D is a bit better.

I shoot at ISO 2500 (the maximum) with my Leica M9 all the time and find the files to look fine. However if I shoot at ISO 2500 and try to push my photos a stop above in exposure (in post-processing) the images become too noisy in my opinion. My Canon 5D seemed to handle 3200 ISO without much of a sweat, and would even create “acceptable” images when pushed to 6400 (3200 pushed a stop above). Also if I could compare, I would say that the ISO 1600 on the Leica M9 look similar to the ISO 3200 files on my Canon 5D.

How it performs on the street

Enough about the technical settings and appearances of the camera. As every camera in street photography—they are tools. So how well does it perform when shooting in the street?

The first thing I noticed is that it is far less intimidating to the average on-looker than a DSLR. Many people mistake the M9 to be a toy-camera, or even an old-school film camera. When I would point my Canon 5D at people, people would be taken back by the large body and suppose I looked like a professional (and feel more intimidated). With the Leica M9, they think I am only an amateur or hobbyist, strolling around and taking photos.

Another benefit of the Leica M9 is the bright and clear optical viewfinder. In my experience this is one of the most important things when shooting on the street. Compared to a DSLR, there is no “blackout” when I am taking a photo because the viewfinder is optical, and doesn’t see scenes through the lens. Also it gives me a more full view of the scene, so I can see people walking into my frame from the left and right, while a DSLR will only show you the perspective of the lens.

Adjusting settings on-the-fly with the M9 is also straight-forward and simple. With the shutter speeds on a dial on top, with the aperture settings on the ring of the lens, and the ISO button easily accessible in the back—I don’t have to worry about digging through menus to change a few settings. Even better, the aperture-priority mode of the M9 makes life very easy when it comes to zone-focusing as well. I keep my aperture at around f/11-f/16, ISO at around 800-2500, and just look through the viewfinder to make sure my shutter speed is above 320ths/second.


Although the Leica is comfortable to shoot with when shooting with two hands, I feel it a bit awkward to handle with one hand. There are many ways that people have added to the ergonomics of the camera, from adding a “Thumbs-up” grip, to adding a Leica grip, or a Luigi half-case shell with a handgrip built-in. I would use a thumbs-up grip but my problem is that I use the hotshoe mount for my flash, so I can’t do that. I plan on trying out the Leica grip (played with it once, but don’t remember if I preferred it). I might also consider getting the Luigi case, but I heard it is a bit annoying to remove when I want to take out my SD card or change my battery.

Leica M9 Review by Eric Kim

My Custom SLR Strap

I currently use the Custom SLR glidestrap with my M9, which attaches to the baseplate of the M9. Therefore I don’t have to hold my camera all day when shooting—I let it dangle off to the side and hold it with one hand (to make sure it doesn’t hit any poles or anything when I am out walking). I have found this to be an easy way to carry around the M9 for an entire day, as I don’t always have to hold it in my hand. I know other people who like to use a wrist-strap coupled with a thumbs-up or a Leica grip, which some people swear by.

Leica M9 Review by Eric Kim

Bottom of my M9

The shutter sound

I think the Leica M9 makes one of the most beautiful shutter sounds of all the digital cameras out there. It sounds like butter, and has a very mechanical sound to it.

However don’t be fooled. The shutter is not silent. It is definitely audible to the person across from you, especially if it is quiet out there. It is probably half the sound of a DSLR, but sounds more like a “clicking” of a film camera than a “clacking” of a DSLR. If you are looking for a camera with a nearly silent shutter, look at the Fujifilm FinePix X100. The “leaf shutter” of the X100 is practically silent (but almost too silent—I don’t know when I am taking a photo).

The price

The Leica M9 definitely isn’t cheap. It retails at around $7000, and the “cheapest” Leica glass out there starts at $2000. Therefore after buying a few accessories and this and that, it will probably run you around $10,000 new. However if you buy your gear used, I have seen Leica M9’s as cheap as $6000 and used lenses as cheap as $500 (Voigtlander lenses). Therefore a “budget” M9 kit will run you around $6500.

Is it “Worth it?”

You don’t need a Leica M9 to take great photos. I have seen people take horrible photos with the M9, and many street photographers out there are even using iPhone’s to take photos (with great success).

Spending around $6,500-10,000 on a camera is a ton of money and can be seen as a waste to many. However I know friends who spend $50,000+ on a new luxury car. Considering the price of an average car is around $25,000—spending $25,000 more on a car that gets you from point A to point B doesn’t make any sense to me.

After getting my Leica M9 I haven’t taken better photos than I was taking with my Canon 5D, and don’t be fooled into thinking that it will. However the benefits I have seen is that it is easier to use, more compact, more discrete, more versatile, and takes sharper photos. If you like shooting with a rangefinder (but want a digital rangefinder) I say try shooting with the Leica M8 first. It is only $2500 used, and picking up a 28mm Voigtlander lens for around $500 can give you a Digital Rangefinder experience with a roughly 35mm equivalent lens for only $3000. If you really want to save money, buy an old rangefinder camera and shoot with film.

But at the end of the day whether the M9 is “worth it” or not—is a personal decision. But remember to always test it before you ever consider buying it. Some people don’t like shooting with a rangefinder and prefer autofocus. Thomas Leuthard recently shot with a Leica M9 and didn’t like it much. I am happy for him, he saved himself $10,000 dollars and opted for the Fujifilm FinePix X100 instead.

How can I afford one?

Sell your organs, your car, or all your earthly possessions. (I’m only half-kidding) ;)

The reason that I bought my Leica M9 is that now I am a full-time street photographer, I need the best equipment that suits my needs—regardless of the price. My mother helped me finance the cost of half the camera (I love you umma!) and I wiped my personal savings clean to purchase the rest of the camera and a 35mm 1.4 Summilux lens. Fortunately at the end of the day, it is all a business expense and tax write-off.

If you are serious about wanting one, I suggest start saving for one now. If you tuck away $500 every month for 14 months, that will be around $7000—which should be enough for a used M9 and lens. $500 a month is about how much people spend on a car payment. Like I said in the end, it is all about priorities. I have an expensive camera and lens, but I drive an old used car, rarely buy new clothes, and try to live as frugally as I can.

But at the end of the day if you cant’ “afford” it– you probably shouldn’t spend the money on one.

Any other suggestions for street photography cameras?

Fujifilm FinePix X100

If you want a street photography camera that is digital, has an optical viewfinder, and a compact body—look at the Fujifilm FinePix X100. In my opinion, it is the best “bang-for-the-buck” street photography camera out there. The high-ISO on the files look great, image quality is solid, and the body is very comfortable to hold. The only frustration I have with the camera is that the autofocus is a bit slow (if you zone-focus this isn’t an issue), the menus are confusing, and sometimes it doesn’t listen to you (the camera sometimes won’t turn on or take photos).

Ricoh GRDIII (or IV)

My second favorite street photography camera in the world (after the M9) is the Ricoh GRDIII. It is a compact camera (that Daido Moriyama uses) that is high quality, comfortable to hold, and has a very nice 28mm f/1.9 lens. In all-black, it is non-intimidating and with the “snap focus” mode, you can use zone-focusing all day. However if you wait long enough, the Ricoh GRDIV is going to come out, so I suggest you to wait for that.

Olympus EP-3


Don’t like dealing with zone-focusing and want a street photography camera with blazing-fast autofocus? Check out the new Olympus EP-3. The micro 4/3rds form factor still has great image quality and ISO-capability- while you can use interchangeable lenses. I would recommend the Panasonic 14mm f/2.5 or the Olympus 17mm f/2.8 (which are a 28mm or 35mm focal length equivalent). Also the autofocus on the camera is so blindingly fast it is ridiculous.

If you are a Leica M9 user and switched from a DSLR or any other camera, what has been your experience. Thinking of getting a M9 but have more questions? Share your thoughts, questions, and opinions in the comments below!

Comment by Richard Bram from In-Public (so good I had to include it here)

“Good solid review, Eric, well thought out, clear and cogent for your core audience. (I might have said ‘fair and balanced,’ but that phrase has been perverted by a certain ‘news’ network.) As you know, I’m a long-time M user for my street work – since 1988. I never felt comfortable using my SLRs then DSLRs for color work on the street – too big, too heavy and too obvious, especially with any sort of zoom on the front. Thus I stuck steadily to black and white and my M3, then M6, only occasionally shooting color. (I have always shot color of course in my working professional life, just not for the personal work.)

I got an M9 about 15 months ago. At last there was a digital camera that enabled me to work the same way, with the same lenses that I’ve used throughout my shooting life, with no shutter-delay or nasty quirks that prevented the shutter from going off at the exact moment that I choose to press it. The results can be seen in the Street Reverb article from June of this year – – when for the first time in 25 years of street shooting I presented a show of color work.

Is it for everyone? Probably not, especially given the price tag. Using rangefinders and essentially all-manual cameras is not for everyone, and of course the M-series is tricky to use with telephotos and is only best with normal to wide. But as that’s what I exclusively use for street work so it was OK. As we all have said, it isn’t the gear – it’s finding a camera that feels right for you. A brilliant picture can be taken with a phone cam if you know what you are doing, and a crap picture can be taken with an M9. I do that all the time, too but never show those to anyone!”

-Richard Bram (Personal SiteIn-Public portfolio)

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  • Chris Gampat

    Hi Eric,

    Just an FYI, that’s a photo of the Olympus EP2, not the EP3.

    Wonderful article though, I just would’ve loved to have seen more images taken with the camera.

    -Chris Gampat
    The Phoblographer

    • Eric Kim

      Thanks mate, updated it! And have only taken a few good photos with it- I’m still trying to get better images!

      • hugo solo

        What happen mr Kim with my post ?

  • Tyson Williams

    Thanks for posting it. Now I feel like I want it less… than before. I have just got Fujifilm X10 (little brother to X100 but with a lot more features), I am very impressed by it and what you accomplish with this new camera and at $600 is a steal!

  • Tae

    Try using the M9 in the winter..then maybe you could update us on the battery issue. I heard it runs out really quickly.

    • Andrea Diener

      It’s not that bad. I used it in Finland last winter, it had minus 10 to 15 degrees Celsius outside, and two batteries always brought me through a day.

  • Karsten Seiferlin

    I have a Fuji X100 since July.

    Did it improve my photography? Yes it did. A lot. Not because it is a better camera, but because it encourages me to use it in a different way. It challenges me and encourages me to work for each image. Saying “the camera makes great photos” is like saying “your oven prepares great meals”.

    How is it to work with the X100? It is a Diva. Image quality is superb. Low light performance is amazing. Metering is amazing, too. Autofocus is a lottery. Sometimes fast, sometimes it just doesn’t quite want what you want. A Diva. At the beginning I also hated the UI and the buttons on the back of the camera, but meanwhile I notice that the functions are wisely distributed and rarely used. Besides formatting the SD card after downloading photos I rarely use the menu. The aperture, exposure and exposure compensation wheels are such a pleasure to touch and use. And the absence of a P/A/S/M mode dial or any scene modes is a further advantage. Just put the aperture and/or exposure wheel to “A” if you want the camera to take over. So nice and straightforward. The X100 is not and will never be my work horse, my all purpose best friend. It is like a Ferrari: somewhat limited in what it can do, and expensive. But brilliant at what it does, and such a pleasure to master.

    Find me on flickr as Time.Captured. or vist my blog at

    • Sthemeze

      (Self)Advertising is nice.
      Now and here is not the place.
      Odd camera review though.

      Cheers and Happy shooting!

      • Karsten Seiferlin

        Didn’t mean to self-advertise. I was carried away a bit, but my comment is what came to my mind when I read about the M9 and about the X100 which is mentioned as an alternative. I just wanted to explain how the choice of the camera can have an influence on your (my) photos. M9 in this article, X100 for me. Sorry if this didn’t come across as I meant it.

        • Eric Kim

          I see no problem you leaving a link to your site – thanks for sharing Karsten :)

      • Guest

        Are you seriously implying that this page is not about advertising? It’s fueled by a sloppy attitude towards copyright, payed for by advertisement and the community Eric talks about is all about building a customer base…

        • Sthemeze

          If you want to advertise your end, build yourself a page that is yours. That is what I said, meant and wrote pertaining the tone of Karsten post.

          Ranting might be fine too for you, but still it has to be done appropriately. Don’t hide to begin with.

          As for building a customer base, it seems the right thing to do when you want to make a living teaching street photography, or anything else for that matter.

          Cheers and happy shooting

  • Anonymous

    A good review, unbiased and practical pertaining to street photography with the proper sprinklings of ‘you don’t need this to accomplish your goal’ but ‘if you want one just keep saving’ echoing in the background. Fulfill your dreams!! <3

    You are right.. the rangefinder experience is different. Using my father's old Minolta 35 Model II on the street I am surprised by the fact that no one seems to care– except the rare bird that comes up and says.. "Ohhh is that a Leica??". I had the same experience with my Yashicamat TLR. Old dudes thought it was neat I was still using one.. otherwise no one even noticed me.

    With my DSLR I draw everyone's attention. They either think I am a kook because I am doing something odd and admittedly I shoot street to macro so I can be in any position.. or they think I am doing it professionally and become suspicious. So.. while any camera will do.. I definitely endorse the smaller ones for streetogs.

    I would probably love the M9.. but I would be content with an M3 + Summicron 50mm DR :D I would also probably have to sell every piece of equipment I have for a film camera that might not be usable in a few years. Practicality gong ringing my my head LOL


  • Juergen Buergin

    Thanks Eric, again a great article, helps a lot about deciding if I ever want one or not. I think… hmmm. no. Not. At least: not yet. Just one thing: I disagree, when you’re saying that Bokeh is overrated in street photography… at least it’s a major part in my photography ;-) Have a great time, Eric!

  • Ranger9

    Kvetch first: If you always stop down to f/16, you’re pretty much erasing any supposed superiority that “Leica glass” might have over the alternatives. (I’m skeptical of the mystical virtue of Leica glass anyway.) And if you rely on zone focusing, you don’t really need the optical rangefinder itself. Any camera that has a good manually-focusable lens and an optical viewfinder would provide exactly the same feature set as what you’re actually using on your M9.

    Having said that, I also have to say that I “get it.” Most people who don’t grok rangefinder cameras don’t see what the point is… but for those who do, there’s no substitute. The fact that the view through the finder never disappears is huge. The fact that you can see outside the framing area is huge. I just feel a lot more connected to what’s going on in front of me when I shoot with an RF camera. Years ago a tech writer said it: You look INTO an SLR, but you look THROUGH a rangefinder camera.

    Being a non-winner in today’s winner-take-all economy, I’m never going to be able to afford even a used M9, but I’ve still got an Epson R-D1 that I bought when they were now and I was more prosperous. (In some ways the R-D 1 is even more “transparent” than an M9 because its viewfinder is life-size; you can use it with both eyes open, just as if you weren’t looking through a camera at all.) I don’t use it much anymore because I worry that 6 megapixels aren’t “enough” (even though I know they really are)… but it’s still surprising what a high percentage of my GOOD pictures were made with it.

  • Hi

    The entire article, while well written sounds entirely of “buyers remorse”.

  • Dietmar Bachmann

    I use Leica-M for years, today an M9, but not for street photography. I use it for business portraits in my studio or on location within offices of my customers. I can work without flash there, and I don’t “kill” the people with a biiiig camera in front of them… They love it, and I love it to work with the M9. I also use the M9 primarily for landscape and nature. The M-Lenses are simply the best I’ve ever used in terms of colors and sharpness. And once purchased, I can take benefit of it for decades without any need to invest in new/better lenses. Calculated ofer 10 years, the M9 and some lenses will be cheaper than any Nikon, Canons etc. That’s why I love the M9.

  • Matthew Healey

    Maybe it’s because my primary cameras have been Canon 1D series bodies for several years but I just picked up a 5D Mk2 and I feel like I am invisible with that camera. Small, quiet, fits my hand great. For the price of a Leica lens you can pick up a body and a nice prime and hit the street. Files are amazing and it shoots video if that’s your thing. I know that rangefinders have an old school appeal and I can understand why, but why not go an SLR route? Is the constant view through the viewfinder really that important? Just putting it out there.

    • patrick wilken

      I agree entirely. I am using a 5D2 with a 35mm L 1.4 for street work and love it. I like composing through the viewfinder; I just don”t really like the rangefinder viewfinder.

      Is it discrete? Not really, but it’s not such a big deal either if you just take the shots and move on. Eric I thought you used a flash for street work anyway? So how discrete are you? And with AF you can actually nail shots fast, and with a much better sensor than the M9 (the M9 does not compare in quality with 5d2 at higher ISOs) you can up the ISO and use a faster speed to compensate for some motion blur when taking a shot.

      Perhaps it’s just me, but Leica users always seem to make a virtue about the flaws with their focussing system: mostly it’s about the virtues of unfocussed shots (ooh what beautiful creamy bokeh), in this review it’s recommended that we use f/16 and don’t worry too much about focussing at all (which seems to waste the beauty of Leica glass altogether).

      Perhaps it’s because my last car cost $6500 not $250000 (average!!)-$500000 that I will always find the Leica too expensive.

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  • Jonas Normann

    Hi Eric.

    I was thinking.. How is the Leica m9 for shooting in the nightlife? I can read in your blog post, that you always shoot at high F stops. And you find it hard to focus at f 1.4.
    I take a lot of photos at night with my 5d and a 50 mm 1.2 lens. It works perfect.
    I’m really hooked on the m9 and would love to hear your opinion on that issue.

    Peace Jonas / Denmark

  • Danimal

    Hyper focal focusing is not a way to achieve pin sharp focus. As the latest LFI magazine explains, you can only achieve reasonable focus and manual focusing is far greater for actual critical focus. I pretty much shoot wide open in the street and prefer to manual focus for sharper results. Try shooting wide open man! That’s what Leica glass is made to do! :-)

    • Damnimal

      *rolls eyes

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  • Silken

    I’m a professional photographer (not street) who picked up an M9 6 months ago and agree that it is a fantastic tool. I still use my Canons for shots that require AF, T/S, zooms, weather sealing, and long lenses, but now find myself wishing I could see outside of the tunnel frame of the SLR viewfinder like the rangefinder allows. The sharpness and look from the Leica lenses also helps create unique imagery…and I bring it with me more as the lenses with a special look are much, much smaller than SLR equivalents, which helps me be more prolific.

    Regarding the regular price discussion, one also has to take into consideration the depreciation. All digital cameras lose value quickly, however, this one should be better than the much quirkier M8, should an M10 become available someday. The real interesting point, though, is the lenses are currently appreciating faster than the best interest rate you can find on a savings account! And you can generate sellable images with them! With limited availablity, Leica’s regular price increases, and added demand from EVIL camera users with adapters, this isn’t likely to change in the near future.

  • Aaron Offord

    Hey Eric,
    Great post. I myself decided to try the leica myth this summer and sold off all my canon stuff and bought a “budget” leica (used m8 and vc glass). I have to say that I thoroughly enjoyed using it and made some great photos. I found the biggest thing using the leica is you move towards shooting completely manually and become very in tune with the light. Although, I zone focused I found myself just using that as a starting point for my manual focus.

    With all that said I found the leica to be an extremely limiting camera for just a hobbyist and moved on. I sold it and was able to fund an e-p3, the 12 f2, and 25 f.1.4. I couldn’t be happier with my move, the ep-3 is extremely light and the lens produce excellent photos. Also the 12mm has a dof scale for all those that like the manual zone focusing.

    Will I ever get a leica again? maybe if I become crazy righ :)
    Just thought I would weight my 2cents.

  • Jerome

    Hey Eric, great writeup, I really like your common sense approach to this. Having tried the M9 myself I feel very few reviews are as realistic as the one here

  • Oldchen1970

    Hi Kim, I am an M9 user for over a year.

    Your blog mentioned you ae using flash with extension cord. Would you like to say something more for your flash set up? Such as the mode and settings on the flash. I tried Nikon SB-800 but the outcome is hard to control. No TTL is working with M9

    • Alexey Masolov

      You don’t need a TTL to shoot with a flash. Check Strobist’s site for more information how to use it in manual mode. In a nutshell, aperture setting depends on your flash power and shutter speed relates with ambient lighting.

      • Disraeli Demon

        I’m a big fan of using old-fashioned auto flashes (the ones where flash output is controlled by a sensor built into the flashgun itself). I find it makes setting predictable fill-flash levels even easier than with TTL. I use a couple of different flashguns, a tiny little low-powered one hat I can carry anywhere and an old Nikon SB-24 that has a very good multi-range auto mode. Both of them work fine used with a cheap wireless trigger for off camera shooting.

  • Seb

    A couple of things you’ve got completely wrong.
    1. Leica M9 does NOT go beyond ISO2500. Even though you mention 2500 is maximum, you’re kind of contradicting yourself in the next sentence.
    2. Tucking away 500/month for a year is not even close to $7000. It is exactly $6000.

    Your review is well written and to the point (to some extent). While it may turn some potential Leica buyers away, you’ve brought the good and bad in front. I don’t get what do you mean by the camera is comfortable when shooting with two hands. How do you actually shoot (focus, hold and press the shutter button) with one hand? I would love to see that done.

    • Eric Kim

      Oops thanks for the corrections Seb- will fix them!

      Also I typically shoot in hyperfocal- keeping my aperture at f/16 and prefocused to about 1 meter. This way when I am shooting with a flash, I can hold my flash in my left hand. When not shooting with a flash, I like to handle the M9 with both hands.

      Hope this clarifies things!

  • Agmail

    FYI – they make a version of the “Thumbs Up” with a built in hot shoe – that is the version that I use & a Thumbs Up transforms the handling of an already fantastic camera!

    • Alexey Masolov

      Agree with you, one more voice for “Thumbs Up” with a hot shoe!

    • Eric Kim

      Ooh will check that out!

  • Tomas

    Hey Eric – Thanks for posting your M9 experience to date.

    Since I am not a professional photographer, I went the route of a less expensive used M8.2 and love it. As much as I would like an M9, it’s better to have the investment in the lenses, and not in the body. I’ve been shooting since the age of 7, and have had many different cameras along the way. What I figured out a long time ago is that all cameras have limitations, depending on your needs. I also realized that the best camera is the one that you have with you.

    The Leica M is definately not for everyone. Unlike most modern cameras, the Leica M requires patience. It requires dedication. It doesn’t have 200 menus and do everything for you. What it does deliver, and what makes it so appealing, is a unique combination of a back-to-basics user experience, compact size, and stellar image quality. The build quality is also quite nice. That is a unique combination in the marketplace, though a very expensive one.

    Do you need one? NO.

    Is it worth the money? That’s fairly subjective, as it’s appeal goes beyond just value for money. The same can be said of performance cars such as Porsche or Ferrari. A Corvette can compete with them on performance at a fraction of the price, but it can’t offer the same experience on other levels.

    For me, photography is my creative expression – and I chose a Leica as my extension of that.

  • Noname

    For high ISO, how about Sony NEX-5n for less than 1/10 the price of M9.
    If one shoots at f/16, does it matter what brand lenses one uses? My 2 cents.

  • zaru

    My E-p3 must be defective. The autofocus with the new 14-42 kit lens is fast in good light and on stationary subjects, but isn’t all that fast otherwise. CAF speed/accuracy. Let’s just say ti is entertaining. Once I tried to use it on an guy jogging past and watched it follow 2 head lengths behind.

    I can’t tell any difference in focus speed between the E-P3 and my Nikon DSLRs on stationary objects in good light, but on moving objects, the Oly is far, far, behind. With the Oly as fast as claimed on the Internet, I should be able to use it on birds-in-flight as well as street.

    What am I doing wrong?

  • Guest

    I am a photographer for over 50 years, I started school when I was 14y.o., I have seen every type of Leica from film to digital and I never like it, I don’t doubt that it is a good camera, but in my humble opinion for $ 10000 there is plenty to choose from. Leica has never changed the shape, it is heavy and never looks modern.

  • Digital Dave

    I don’t think I’ll ever understand the Leica attraction. If I wanted a camera that looked and acted like that, I’d just go and fish one out of the attic.

    I remember rangefinder/viewfinder cameras…. they were incredibly annoying! The thing you didn’t mention was parallax error, whereby people end up with pictures of people with their heads cut off! That was always so …annoying’…

    After the first time I used an slr I never looked back. I just don’t see how this hunk of old-skool can be justified at that price.

    I’m even surprised you said it has one of the best lenses, as in general most would say Carl Zeiss does.

    Having said all that, I did enjoy your article though. To each his own… but I’d never pay $7000 for parallax error… no way, no how…



    ps. I also keep reading about memory card problems.

  • Guest

    “When it is nighttime, it is even more difficult to shoot wide-open, and your shutter speed will be slower (which means you need to shoot stationary subjects).”

    Really? How does this work. When you shoot wide open you let more light in, therefore you can shoot at faster shutter speeds. If you shoot at 1.4 and set your shutter speed even slower you’re going to over expose. That’s why people shoot at 1.4 at night, to avoid movement/blur and get a faster shutter speed out of the camera.
    Right?…. Maybe need some revising on that.

    • Eric Kim

      Hey Rock, thanks for the comment. I phrased that a bit wrong. Meant to say when you are shooting at night, there is less light- thus your shutter speed will be slower (rather than meaning shooting wide-open gives you a slower shutter speed).

      Thanks for the pointer!

  • Cris

    With all due respect I’m kind of tired to read the equation street photography = aperture 11 or 16 and 320th of a second. And then we talk about Leica or Canon 5D with 1.4 lens? Come on, mostly point and shoot cameras can accomplish that (and you don’t even have to go so low on aperture).
    You’re stuck with a mathematical idea of photography that is so limited. You’re always quoting Cartier Bresson, did you really think he always shooted that way? In a lot of his pictures there is motion blur and even depth of field blur wisely used (not too much, nor too few). Not to mention other photographers like Robert Frank.
    Sure thing using lower aperture values help to be quicker but that’s not the only way to hit the street with a camera and in my opinion having that idea on your mind doesn’t help to improve.
    Look again at the photos of the masters and maybe let’s talk about what reportage is instead of trying to shoot always random pictures in the street and pretend they tell a story. We always forget that HCB and almost every master were photo journalists before street photographers.
    I think we’re convincing ourselves of something that is not wrong but it’s nonetheless a lot limited way of thinking and only a fraction of what is street photography or photography in general.

    • Dima

      True that!

    • Eric Kim

      Dear Cris,

      Thanks a ton for your comment. However that is definitely not the equation in terms of street photography- rather my personal preferences. I have also seen great shots with slow shutters and shallow depths of field (there are a ton). But consider what I say a structure that you don’t need to abide by!

    • Jeremy Krumsick

      Shooting f 11 or 16 with 320th of a second means broad daylight. Something I rarely encounter as an avid street photographer in NYC. In the subway my standard is 400 iso @ f2.8 at 1/60th of a second. And I shoot all BnW film.

  • Randall Kelley

    One point I try to make to people about shooting “manual everything” is that if you are learning photography it will teach you FASTER about what all that f stop, shutter speed, depth of field mumbo jumbo is about. I used to be able to say manually focusing on anything other than a rangefinder was extremely difficult, but now with software enhancements like “focus peaking” on the Sony NEX series (and several other brand variations on that theme) it is possible to do so more and more.

    Even if you plan to shoot mostly “full auto” practicing for a time full manual will give you a better understanding of what you give up for that convenience, and allow you to decide when you want the trade off with more certainty.

    And remember, Eric, not all street scenes move too fast for f/1.4 (though I know it’s usually bright in LA)! Another secret of really fast glass is that f/1.4 lens at f/2 get a LOT more manageable and yet still has a lot of bokehliciousness left!

  • Mr Gubrz

    you didnt make mention of the x100s zone focus thing in the vf, or the oly 12mm with dof scale! :)

  • Brian Day

    Nice write up, E. I would love to own an M9 someday, but I simply can’t bring myself to spend the money. The recently leaked Fuji ILC looks and sounds promising from the rumor mill, but in the meantime, I couldn’t be happier with my x100. I enable the shutter sound at its lowest volume so that I know that I’ve taken a photo (you’re right, it IS that quiet, especially outside), and I love the image quality, even at high ISO. Autofocus isn’t an issue on the streets, really; as you mentioned, pre-focusing tops even the fastest autofocus.

    I will say that in all the time I’ve been shooting street photography, discretion is an art in itself, and much more important than the form factor (or even the sound) of the camera. I’ve seen people freak out about having their photo taken by a camera phone, and I’ve had people “pre-emptively” shun me the minute they see even my tiny x100. Needless to say, I employ both the subtle and the direct method, depending on the situation.

    I watched a Steve McCurry Magnum in Motion video recently (, and it’s quite interesting to watch him walk around with a DSLR, bagging shot after shot, and yet he is clearly discrete (even more discrete than Meyerowitz was with his Leica and ninja suit on that MagRack episode, lol).

    Thanks for the writeup, and it was cool to see you in action live on the streets of Detroit. Slow’s BBQ on me the next time you’re in town, bro! :)

  • Anonymous

    Nice and useful review, Eric. I wanted to have a m9, after reading this article even more. Instead of reading about X100 I know that i couldn’t spend much money for a camera with those problems (in AF). I believe that I will continue to dream leica for the moment, and hope that Fuji makes a rangefinder, or maybe Panaleica…

    Cheers, mate.

    Alex Coghe

  • Steve Foon

    Hey Eric…. long time. I think you know my feelings towards the M9 and that you and Steve Huff were kind to post my articles.

    With Leica M being the only digital rangefinder right now, it is indeed a very expensive tool. Shooting rangefinder is for me a “feeling” experience. I’m not “taking pictures” but making, creating “photographs”. It comes down to ME. If the image isn’t exposed the way I wanted it or the focus was off…. I can’t blame some electronic doodad for the error. I messed up. I’m the photographer and it’s up to me to make it. It’s what makes a Leica M what it is.

    The X100 still see’s duty out on the streets but I find that I use it differently versus the Leica.
    Higher ISO capability, deadly silent shutter and just a pretty versatile camera with the essence of a rangefinder.

    I’ve just picked up the Olympus E-P3. Primarily to get that blazing fast auto focus and (don’t hang me for saying this) a zoom lens. Yes, there are times where I am just a bit lazy but have also found times where I needed a bit more range and speed that me feet and brain just couldn’t do fast enough (getting old).

    The Nikon D3S is still the “Swiss Army Knife” of cameras. Only wished they could shrink it to the size of their old film SLR’s. The thing is just a tank.

    I pulled out an old Nikon F3 and placed it next to the M. If they could only get the D3S guts in that form factor of the Nikon F.

    I think all of us who love “street” quickly learn that our cameras are just the creative tools to capture magic.
    It’s the never ending conundrum of us searching for that perfect tool.

    Even after using all the “toys”, I still gravitate towards the M when it comes to “street”.

    • Eric Kim

      Great to hear from you Steve! You are definitely right. We just need the tools to capture the magic, but it is ultimately the photographer who is the magician ;)

      See you soon!

  • John Kim

    I only have Leica film RF cameras, not a digital one. But it is possible to take photos as fast as other AF digital cameras if one gets familiar with lens. When I use 50mm lens with my Leica M film camera, zone focusing is not enough to get reasonably sharp images sometimes. I need to adjust focus quickly. By some practice, I could get focused images without looking lens or without detaching my eyes from the viewfinder. With my hand-on practice, I remember where the focusing knob was located. While raising my camera to take photos, my lens would be in reasonably focused by adjusting the focusing knob without looking at it. By combining higher aperture number(above f8) for zone focusing, I could take photos manually as fast as other digital cameras. I think it doesn’t require decades of practice as you mentioned. :)

    I doubt people can use M9 or digital cameras over 10 years. In the meantime, LCD will be degraded as well as sensor. Lifetime of these electronic parts( LDC and sensor & processor) would not be that long. It could be misleading if you say “lifetime” unless those parts can be replaced 10 years later.

    As I heard from my friend who met Mr. Daido Moriyama recently in NYC, Moryama uses a Nikon p&s camera for color photography recently. For B&W in the past, he mostly worked with Ricoh GR film cameras(not sure if that is GR1s or GR21), not GRD p&S. My friend told me that Mr. Moriyama tried GRD but he said it was not for him.

  • Aaron

    Hi Eric, after the 1.11 firmwire upgrade. The Fujifilm X100 autofocus perform better and faster but shooting close up object is still like a snail.

    PS you should get a soft release button for your rangefinder.

  • altaf

    Hello Eric,
    Thanks for thr honest review. As for a Lieca M9 dreamer ,your words realy let reconsider this camera. I use Nikon D7000 for my general photography. DSLR’s are great, but uncomfortable to travel with. I’m not a professional photographer, just a hobbyist loves high quality cameras.Beeing passionate towards street photography, i wanted an easy portable camera with respectable resaults. Of course Lieca M9 was on top of the list.Then the poor man Lieca (as they say) FujiX100 came up, & with all the buzz about it, i thought of it serioucly. I even had a chance to buy it in Malaysia as a kit with a good price, But guess what? i didn’t buy it! Unforcunatly Im a picky person, i coundn’t accept buying abeautiful camera with all thoes quirks! Now the fujiX10 just released in the market. I’m observing it carefuly, i’ll also will take your Ricoh recommendation on the side. And let’s see what my hands will grab at the end!
    I dont mind a film camera too:)

    Truly a good expesive camera will not let you a better photographer. But might gave you confidence:)

  • Ralph

    Hi Eric

    Just wanted to thank you for this review. I already thought that a Leica M fits you well during your and Thomas’ workshop in Zürich.

    I have a good suggestion for carrying around your Leica M: The Sling from
    Here’s the link to the website:

    For me it’s the best solution for the Leica M.

    Cheers, Ralph

  • Thomas Leuthard

    Although I could afford a Leica M9-P with the best glass I would never buy one. I could try it out and didn’t like it at all. For me there must be autofocus and speed. I even sold the X100 I have bought about 2 months ago. I still have my Lumix GF1 which I will replace with a Lumix GX1 in January. This is the perfect camera for street to me. Everyone has his personal attitude regarding cameras. The Leica hype is highly overrated and I’m wondering what all these people do, when the Leica M10 comes out. It’s just too expensive to spend so much money on something that will not last longer than 2-3 years…

    • Eric Kim

      Keep us updated with the GX1 – it seems like the GF1 suits you extremely well Thomas!

  • Fabio Gambini

    i actually have a fujifilm x100 and a leica m9.
    to make a long story short, i entered in the photography world thru the pentax door, and just love it over all my other friends cameras because of the details that made me feel …me on the field.

    As an amateur that was lucky enough to have a bit of money saved to spend on his hobby… i wanted to enter the street photography world and i realized that my pentax kd20 was too bulky for it.
    I got the x100 and just love it, even if the autofocus made me wanted to trow it in the lake ( i live just right across a REALLY BIG one ) within a couple of months i start getting at it enough to be happy.

    And all of a sudden… i got a super deal for a merely used m9, a 50mm summicron and a 35mm voigtlander, and wipe out my account with no regrets so far.
    Is now the camera that i use the 90% of the times, has been 2 months now, and i shoot in full manual every day.

    I’m able to take terrible (but terrible !!! ) pictures with it, but everyday, i got 2-3 shots that i like a lot, nothing to compare with my other cameras, and the satisfaction make me put the m9 in my bag the next day.

    Night life is still a nightmare , and i don’t like too much how it handles the hight iso as well… but hey, is all about learning photography again with the m9…

    i would buy it aging ? yes.
    it is worth ? it depends how much you value your money. i have my budget for living, for traveling and then i have photography. i also have a 12 years old car, and i’m a cheep bastard in many other things.

    i just remember to :


  • Disraeli Demon

    Thanks for an interesting and informative review – it made me nostalgic for my old Leica M4-2, which was so battered it was literally held together by electrical tape – the only way I could afford an M series camera!

    The main advantage I found to using a rangefinder was the way the viewfinder let you put a frame around your subject in a wider field of view – so. for example, you could see people coming outside the frame and wait for them to walk into it. The parallax focussing window is about the best manual focus guide I ever used and it was accurate even down to f 1.4 (I was also lucky enough to own a 35mm 1.4 Summilux and often used it wide open in low light conditions).

    I also liked that you included more affordable alternatives at the end of the piece – as a micro 4/3rds user, I’d also thoroughly recommend the Panasonic 20mm 1.7 pancake, which ould work perfectly well on the Olympus EP-3.

  • Sascha Erni

    Eric, as said before, get a Thumbie rather than a Thumbs-up. More ergonomic, free flash port, very inexpensive.

  • mugget man

    Good article, I think that sums it up fairly well.

    I only recently ‘got into’ photography (about 4 years ago). When I had the cash and decided to take it seriously I got myself a Canon 1DMkII and 100-400mm f/4.5-5.6L. My main interest was shooting motorsports, so I didn’t use the gear all that much, certainly not on a daily or weekly basis. Still – I learnt alot and got very comfortable with my ability in shooting my chosen discipline.

    The change came when I started to read about the X100, I thought it would be great to have a really capable, high quality camera that would be so compact and easy to carry around. I did use my 1D with a 50mm lens as my ‘walkabout’ kit when I went to Japan last year – it’s really hefty, and not the most inconspicuous choice!

    I was reading more about the X100 and it was being compared with the Leica M digital cameras, so I looked into those. I knew of Leica, but I never really understood the big fascination that alot of people have. Until I found that rangefinders have such a big, bright viewfinder that never blacks out… I was just about sold on that alone! I realised how frustrating it was to have the view through my dSLR black out when taking a photo, it never felt quite as natural while I was looking through a tiny peep hole compared to the large viewfinder on other cameras.

    So earlier this year I had decided that I was going to go for a Leica, I sold all my dSLR gear, found an M8 (really hard to find in Australia actually – had to order that one from KEH. It was in absolutely perfect condition and I just checked the actuation count last night – only a bit of 1,000 and that includes at least a couple hundred photos of my own so I was well pleased!), I was still on a bit of a budget but I found a slightly damaged 50mm Summilux on eBay and saved about AUD$500 on that so I was happy (I just can’t use any lens filters because the filter thread is damaged, not that I ever planned to. Only problem is that I would have liked to use an IR filter to fix the ‘purple blacks’ problem, but whatever – I’ll just live with it and convert to B&W for any ‘problem’ photos).

    After using Leica for a little bit I was blown away by the image quality. For me, it’s definitely worth it. I have decided that if for any reason I could not afford to keep the M8, I will keep the Leica glass and just shoot film on an old M3 or something – the Leica glass is that fantastic, it’s what really makes the photos for me.

  • Akaky

    Eric, I love the blog, no two ways about it, but both you and some of the commenters have hit upon one of my pet bugaboos: discrete and discreet do not mean the same thing. If a man and his best friend’s wife remain discrete, then there’s no need for them to be discreet.

  • Nsy Tsang

    This is not to reply to any particular comments. I am one those suckers who always want to get the best (or perceived as the best mainly based on prices). Leica is position as such with good justification. This is where the 80/20 rule applies when you pay 80% more for further 20% improvement. When someone who have just wasted (not in the strictest meaning of waste) $10,000 on an M9 (with lens) will certainly need to justify the ‘investment’ when a $2000 camera would do nicely. If you already have a $20M house and a beach resort get-away with Porsche Cayenne and Mercedes S600 in the garage (all paid up), $10,000 would be loose change (1 night in a presidential suite in Monte Carlo). You would probably have a Titanium M9 sitting in a glass case in your study for display and another ‘normal’ M9 to shoot. So, just shoot with what you’ve got and be thankful for having it; and great pictures you will make.

  • Nsy Tsang

    This is not to reply to any particular comments. I am one those suckers who always want to get the best (or perceived as the best mainly based on prices). Leica is position as such with good justification. This is where the 80/20 rule applies when you pay 80% more for further 20% improvement. When someone who have just wasted (not in the strictest meaning of waste) $10,000 on an M9 (with lens) will certainly need to justify the ‘investment’ when a $2000 camera would do nicely. If you already have a $20M house and a beach resort get-away with Porsche Cayenne and Mercedes S600 in the garage (all paid up), $10,000 would be loose change (1 night in a presidential suite in Monte Carlo). You would probably have a Titanium M9 sitting in a glass case in your study for display and another ‘normal’ M9 to shoot. So, just shoot with what you’ve got and be thankful for having it; and great pictures you will make.

  • CRMarshall

    Any thoughts on the M8?

  • Lord_polak

    Hi Eric,

    Thank you for this article.
    I am still looking for a camera to start street photography and I have a quick question for you.
    I know that everyone ‘s got his own preferences in terms of camera but I was wondering if you could give me your thoughts.
    What do you think about the SONY Nex 5NK ? How would you compare it to something like the Fuji X100 or the Ricoh GRD IV ?
    Many people will say do with what you have but we have to start with something if we wanna learn and improve.


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  • Jay

    I think that overall the best investment is in a camera that can be with you most of the time. I sold all my pro canon gear including a 5DMII and 7D body because they weren’t easy to transport. I switched to an Oly OMD EM-5 for the interim until the Leica Type 240 is released. I can take it everywhere with me and just having it all the time allows for more opportunity to take pictures which is better than having a DSLR that stays home.

  • Sean Breadsell

    great review Eric, the Leica is a camera i am dying to own. Why? no idea, i guess it is every photographers dream, to own a Leica in their lifetime.

    For my streetography ( I predominantly now use the OM-D with a Voigtlander lens and that is bloody awesome I can not complain. But I still find myself wanting a Leica.

    I know now you shoot a Leica film and this has also tempted me, then I would stick with the OM-D for digital and shoot film on a Leica, but then I’d get rid of the FM2 haha. Really I know what I need to do is stop worry about gear and shoot….which is generally what I do, hence my blog.

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  • Greg Apodoca

    This was helpful for me and it really gave me allot to think about. Thanks for this!

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  • Volkan Gürgen

    Hi, I admire your works Eric, thanks for all.. I really appreciate… I
    want you to help me to consider M8. Is ıt an alternative to M9 still
    or it has irrecoverable defects.. what would you recommend? Should I go
    for it? with rx1 no chance for hyperfocal or zone focus. I can spend
    more m8 if you recommend.. thanks

  • Guest

    Actually after some research, I decided best and cheap option is A7 with a zeiss biogon 35 f2.8 on it with an adapter… better sensor than m9 and still enables manuel focusing with a great lens.. total about 2600$

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  • http://yahoo Anil B Kamalia

    Over the years I have acquired many cameras and still do collect new models out in the market. My collection includes Leica M6 TTL, Mamiya 7, Pentax 645, Nikon D800, Sony RX100 and the latest one is Sony RX1R full frame compact. All these cameras have given me a lot of pleasure and satisfaction. However, the best street and landscape photographs I have taken over the years have been taken by my humble Sony DSC-HX9V. The camera is small, discreet and the auto functions take care of all that is required to get the best exposure, leaving me free to frame what I require.
    In the final analysis, if you want to collect the best equipment then you have an open field, but if you want the best street and general landscape photographs then get yourself a point and shoot camera of your choice, use it correctly and you will be amazed by what you achieve.
    Always remember “You are the limitation, not the camera”.


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