Tuesday, May 08, 2012

Nikon D800 vs. Leica M9

If you read this blog, then you know I sold all of my Nikon equipment two years ago, and bought the Leica M9. You can find the three guest articles I wrote about the M9 on Steve Huff’s website here, here, and here. If you haven’t read them, it might be worth your time. I have also praised the M9 countless times on this blog. It would be fair to say I am now a “Leicaphile”. I love this camera, and I thought it would be my last camera ever…

Enter the Nikon D800...uh oh...

It’s funny. I was reading Trey Ratcliff’s blog  a couple of months ago, and he had an interesting post about DSLR’s and how he will never invest in another one again, and that the mirror-less cameras were the future. I was nodding my head in agreement and it was nice to have my decision to get the M9 rationalized even further. Then the D800 came out, and Trey suddenly did a 180, and bought it. He said that when he wrote what he did, he had never visualized something like the D800 coming out. I thought, “I won’t do that…I am happy with the Leica…I am not interested in the D800”. Ha! Who am I kidding? I am with Trey on this one...

My Underwater Camera Dies

Now I have a problem. There is not an underwater housing for the Leica…well, there is one, but it is out-of-this-universe expensive. Besides, the Leica is not really practical for underwater use. I need to replace my underwater camera as underwater photography is my first love and still what I enjoy the most.

Now you know how the D800 walked into my life…say it again, “uh oh”…

To make a long story short, and to get to the real stuff you want to hear about, I was able to try out the D800 last week, and I want to give you my impressions of this camera compared to my beloved Leica M9. It is NOT a review of the D800 or the M9, but my thoughts about these two cameras.

So, What did I think of the D800?

In a word, AWESOME! This camera is a game changer. It felt nice to actually hold a Nikon in my hands again. It was not as large as I thought it would be, and feels very well built. I put on the 14-24mm lens, and went outside to take a couple of photos. The feeling of shooting a Nikon again was strange…”wow, auto-focus, and FAST, ACCURATE focusing at that…” I was so accustomed to manual focus with the Leica, it felt strange to have the camera do it for me. I didn’t realize how much I had missed that. Then the screen…holy moly…huge and vibrant! Again, this is different from the Leica. So can you picture it? I am holding the camera in my hands (thoughts of size come to mind), then I snap a couple of photos (listening to the purr of the mirror flopping back n forth), then look at the screen (amazed). Isn’t this what everyone does when they are given a camera for the first time?

The next thing I do is dive into the menu(s). Ah, this is what I DON’T miss…so many menus, options, settings, blah blah blah…the manual that comes with the camera is thicker than my old Navy NATOPS manual for the HH-46 Helicopter. I could not figure out how to get the camera to take multiple exposures for an HDR. I know I could eventually figure it out, but the last thing I wanted to do was to look it up in that thick manual. This momentary setback did not squash my feeling about the camera, though. I was very impressed with what I was holding in my hands. Next, download the photos to my computer.

The D800 is a 36MP camera!! THIRTY SIX!!…THREE SIXER!!…whoa!! Twice the resolution of my Leica which I used to brag had 18MP…my thoughts were, “well, it is going to slow down my computer…working with these huge files (a RAW file is around 40MB) is going to be sloooowww…and I am going to need a LOT more drives to store photos from this camera”. Well, “yes” on the latter point, but the files opened quickly in LR and working on them in PS was just as fast. I noticed no difference working with the files from the D800 as the files from my Leica. Granted, I have the latest iMac with 16 gigs of RAM and the new i7 chips, but my computer was not slowed in the least with these huge files. The first thing I noticed after opening the files in LR was not a single spot of dust…the one thing that drives me crazy with the Leica. I had to make a note to myself about that. The detail was beyond amazing. You can crop half the picture out, and still have an 18MP file. Another note to myself…this camera is going to make an excellent underwater camera.

Ok, I am biased. I love the files from the Leica, and there was something missing in the D800 files…that “Leica Look” you have heard about. I don’t know if it is imaginary or not, but I am a believer…there really IS a distinctive look to a Leica file that no camera can emulate. I can’t describe it, and maybe you think I and other Leica users are crazy, but it is there, and it is missing in the D800 files. Don’t get me wrong, though. The files from the D800 are unreal…they are astounding.

The Facts

The Nikon D800 has these advantages over the Leica M9…

Larger screen
Twice the resolution
Weather sealed
Higher resolution screen
Lower noise at high ISO
Auto focus
Live view
More dynamic range
Longer battery life
Great for sports and other types of photography the Leica is not good with
More storage slots
Built-in flash
Self-cleaning sensor
Shoots twice as fast
Significantly longer exposures
Faster max shutter speed
Much faster write times to memory card
Does video
Way, way, way more cheaper

The Leica M9 has these advantages over the Nikon D800

Easy to carry (a GREAT travel camera)
Small, fast lenses
Leica glass (the finest optics in the world)
The “Leica Look”
Simple menus
Simple design
The “FUN” factor
Low profile (great for street shooting)
Requires a much smaller tripod (if you use a tripod)

Look at these two lists carefully. Why would any sane individual buy the Leica M9 when they could have the Nikon D800 for less than half the price? I guess it is what is more important to you. When I gave up Nikon, and went with the M9, the things I listed under the M9 were all very important to me, and still are. The list under the Nikon was not nearly as extensive with the older Nikons. The advantages of the two were more in favor of the M9. However, I would have certainly made a different decision if I were trying to decide on the M9 today.

What am I going to do??

I am going to keep my Leica M9 if at all possible. I am going to buy the Nikon D800. I am going to sell my old Nexus underwater housing and the ports/accessories, and buy the new Ikelite housing that is much more affordable than the other housings available.

I won’t travel with the D800…too big, too much to carry. I will use my Leica for trips and Photowalks. I will use the D800 for sports, parties, shots of my kids, and any studio type work.

I will have my dream…the BEST travel camera in the world, the Leica M9, and the BEST overall camera in the world for everything else, the Nikon D800. Decision made.


Anonymous said...

Nice one Scotty. I got my D800E yesterday and this camera is amazing. I shoot medium format film mostly and have not really invested in digital for IQ reasons.

I cannot afford an M9 (seriously contemplated getting this) or an ALPA with IQ160 back (my dream camera)so I went with the D800E, as close as I can get.


Anonymous said...

Hi Scotty -

I agree - Love my M9 but tested out the D800 - choose the D800E - Doing my best to keep both for exactly the same reasons ( Except the underwater part :) Have yet to do that -



Scotty Graham said...

Gordon...good to hear from you! I am going to get the D800E as well, but have no idea when I will actually get it, or where I am on the waiting list.

Pierre Manoury said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Tirish said...

Lovely blog post. It told me a lot about the goodies of the Nikon and the Leica.

I have a question though. Say you do not have any camera, for which one would you go for between the Leica and the Nikon?

I would like to know.
Thank you very much :)

Scotty Graham said...

Tough call! If cost was not a factor, I would go with the Leica even though it is not as "flexible" of a camera...but it suits my style well...but good question!

Anonymous said...

Hmmm, used m9, or a d800e...what's that thing over there...a sony rx1 full frame compact that weighs less than 500g with a fixed lens..? oh bugger, now what?!

nikon usa said...

Nikon D800 36.3 MP CMOS FX-Format Digital SLR Camera (Body Only) http://www.nikonusa.info/nikon-d800-36-3-mp-cmos-fx-format-digital-slr-camera-body-only.html

Anonymous said...

I have, and use, both the M9 and D800e. The M9 is sharper because it's got the best glass in the world. The D800e with primes, however, is astonishing. The D800e blows away the M9 in low light, particularly with VRII lenses. The new Leica M is supposed to be better at higher ISOs but I don't know anyone who has gotten to play with one yet.

Anonymous said...

The D800E is a great camera; I just had to return it back; not good enough and worth it for the money and size. The Leica M, it just gets better pics. Hard to beat.

Nikon Cameras said...

Nikon D5300 You Save: $353.00 (25%) at Camera Stores http://camerastores.org/nikon-d5300-24-2-mp-cmos-digital-slr-camera-with-18-140mm-f3-5-5-6g-ed-vr.html