My first serious camera was a Minolta SRT101b, purchased in 1976 from RG Lewis in Holborn. I bought it in preference to the competition - Nikon, Olympus and Praktica (I don't recall Canon being a big name then but maybe they were) - because I had heard vague talk of Minolta glass being special and of linkages with Leica, then a more magical name than it is today. Unfortunately, I could not not then afford Minolta glass so it was a bit pointless - except that unwittingly I had bought one of the best made cameras of its day. I still have it though many have come and gone in the intervening years.
In more recent years I have been greatly fortunate in being able to indulge myself occasionally and the advent of full frame digital SLR made the a900 a temptation too great to pass up, particularly at a price in real terms (ie inflation adjusted) around half of what I paid for my treasured SRT101b in 1976, and thanks to the miracle of the internet and (flawed) miracle of eBay I have also been able to pick up amazing Minolta lenses at a fraction (in real terms) of their original cost. Oh, great joy!!
And now, bounty upon bounty, we have a full frame Leica M, the M9.
Concurrent with my loyalty to Minolta / Sony I have kept up with Leica, having owned an M6 and an MP along with two of their cheaper lenses (50/2 Summicron and 90/2.8 Elmarit M) and a number of Voigtlander M fits. Both the Leica camera bodies have been sold, the MP since the a900 acquisition, but I have hung on to the lenses (along with the cheaper but still excellent Voigtlander variants) and now that the M9 has come along I am mighty pleased at my foresight
. I still smart at the recollection of my sale of my Minolta 35/1.4 for £300 (how could I have done that?!) but fortunately that was the only one to go.
Now the big question - do I buy an M9? While I owned a couple of film Ms as noted above I have hitherto eschewed the digital Ms because I am convinced that the strength of these rangefinders is in close range photography (ie up to 90mm) and even a 1.3x conversion factor ruined the wide-angle possibilities (except at astronomical expense for the Leica ultra-wides). The M8 was also flawed in a number of ways and the 8.2 was a silly and expensive attempt to address these.
There are still question marks. The brochure I have received (unrequested) from Leica is very vague. There is barely mention of bright-line frames but I presume these will be the same set as on the MP / M& /M6 etc 0.72 finders. The rear LCD is a pitiful 230,000 pixel 2.5" screen but Leica is clearly constrained to using this size screen on the M9 and, presumably, the higher resolution screens are not available for 2.5". No doubt there will be other issues but at least we will not have to use special IR filters on our lenses and we can now manually insert details for non-chipped older M lenses (although whether this will include ZM or VM lenses I am not sure).
But as a close up "shooter" who leaves the birds and balls to others this is the holy grail of photography arrived early.
Now I really want Leica to be around in the years to come. This is not just nostalgia. It looks to me as though they have left their complacency behind and we should really welcome their efforts. Rollei failed (sadly the final incarnation, Franke & Heidecke has just closed its doors) because of complacency in the digital age and insufficient investment. Leica for far too may years has rested on its laurels, content for too long to massage its paper-fine margins with pointless commemoration issues, and avoiding the central issue of the day, digitisation. It has relied on die-hard enthusiasts, (who are often rather defensive and prickly if the Leica forum is anything to go by) for it's relevance but not for its sales. But hopefully all that now has changed. I am not properly equipped to discuss the marvel of producing a full frame range finder with its close lens to image plane distance but many said it could not be done. Now Leica has done it, in constrained financial circumstances and without the mega-finance of the Japanese competition behind them.
That takes guts and a huge measure of self-belief. Will I support them? You bet I will if the reviews are positive and I can find the necessary lucre and I hope that real photo enthusiasts will as well. Good luck to them!