The M9 and CCD sensor.

Inspiration, Teaching point

It is rumoured that the M10 [Edit: M (Type 240)] will be announced by Leica on Monday.

Supposedly, it will sport a CMOS sensor, which will allow for high ISO and video capabilities.  If true, I’m sure it’ll be a hit.

However, I can’t help but feel a little sad about the demise of the CCD sensor, and its unique rendering.  To this day, I believe digital images captured at base ISO with CCD sensors look different — and more appealing — than images from CMOS sensors.

It’s only my opinion of course.

If CMOS is part of Leica’s future, then I’m sure the venerable German company will have figured out a way to retain the fabled “Leica look”.  But I’m equally sure that the rendering of an M10 [Edit: M (Type 240)] with CMOS will be different from the M9/M8 CCD experience.

Whether better or worse is open to debate, but it will be different.

So — if you’re like me and you value the look of CCD images — you better grab one of those heavily discounted brand new M9 cameras, while you still can.


20 thoughts on “The M9 and CCD sensor.

  1. The common wisdom is that the new M10 (or whatever it will be called) will have a Sony built CMOS sensor, the same that is in their new A99 and RX1. It will have Live View (thus needing a CMOS sensor) as well as an EVF with “focus peaking”. Well, in other words, you will have a VERY expensive Sony camera.

    Now, don’t get me wrong, there is nothing wrong with that, though I bought my M9p in order to get away from all of that. I actually LIKE that ISO 1600 is grainy and barely usable. It is what I am used to from my film days. I know how to use it creatively and how to shoot within the limitations of the camera.

    Look, if the rumors are true (and I believe they are), I see no reason to go run out and buy an M10. I will wait on the sidelines and buy the 46mpixel Canon (when released) for all of my Canon glass, and a Sony RX100 as a pocket camera and be done with it.

    The M10 sounds like a give in to Fuji, Sony, Canon, etc. (I leave Nikon out as they are going in a different direction with their “1” system.

    Hell, for me, my next Leica will probably be an MP!

    1. “The M10 sounds like a give in to Fuji, Sony, Canon, etc. “

      That’s the danger faced by Leica. When they stick to their core values, they’re criticized for lagging the competition, but if they try to keep up, they’ll run the risk of becoming a “me too” product.

      Thanks for the thoughtful comments Peter,


  2. Hi Peter.

    I agree with you. A CCD image has its own look. Working mainly as an image retoucher I could develop several raw files from medium format CCD sensors (mostly PhaseOne and Hasselblad) and they match M9 images. I would say M9 images have a better ISO performance generally speaking. By other hand, I never saw a image from a CMOS sensor (even from newer Canon and Nikon bodies with its best lenses) that could achieve this “look”. I’m with you on thinking to buy a second M9 if the M10 would have a CMOS sensor.


    Luiz Paulo

    1. Thanks Luiz… the look, to my eye is — without question — different. Many cannot detect the difference however, so it really is a moot point for them. And that’s OK of course.

    2. Sorry, but I do not understand this different “look”. Both sensors (CCD, CMOS) are basically colour blind. In my opinion, if both sensors had the same de-mosaic filters in front of them and the same processing engines, their images would be identical.

  3. I have to agree with your Peter. The “look” from a CCD is much more natural than from a CMOS sensor. Owning a NEX-7 I have to significantly shift the raw’s to make them feel less plastic like.

    Personally I’m worried as to where Leica is going with their CMOS based cameras. BUT their is a chance that their new Leica “ME”? will stick to using a CCD as it’s quoted as being a lower end M10/M9 with no support for live view and electronic viewfinder (Still a rumour). We’ll see come Monday.

    I’ll wait for those who want the M10 and then pick up an M9 at a discount, or invest in the M-Monochrom. In the meantime i’ll continue to shoot with my M6 + Fuji Neopan.


    1. Hey Dominic, nice to hear from you again! Glad to know you’re still shooting the M6 (checked out your site and realized you had taken it to Ireland… nice images).

      I think you’d do well with an M9, M Monochrom, or M8… so keep an eye out for deals – you’ll be sure to find them now that the “next best thing” is coming…

  4. Hi Peter, CMOS is different. It’s cheap to produce and thus cheap to use.
    CCD is very expensive. Especially large sensors. Basically the Leica sensor would cost about 1500,- euro for Leica. CMOS would cost about 10%. CMOS also has a very dirty output without processing. This is called fixed pattern noise. This pattern worsens at high temperatures. This is the same for CCD. But CCD is more pink noise like and not digital noise. I hope for Leica that they got the processing right first time. Otherwise they will loose customers and fans. Regards Jeffrey

    1. Hi Jeffrey. That’s very interesting. I had always heard CMOS sensors were cheaper to produce vs. CCD, but I didn’t realize the spread was that wide. And I agree with your last few statements.

  5. Hi Peter, i’ve worked for Grassvalley for 7 years. A lot of camera’s I worked on (mechanical design). We always used CCD for the high-end line. CCD is real analog and hard in processing terms. CMOS could embed everything on the sensor (it’s basically a chip) A to D ie. also a lot of preprocessing could be integrated. This makes it also cheaper, you don’t need a seperate cirquit board. From what I’ve seen CMOS is good but relatively new. CCD has been around for a lot of years, developers know how to work with its flaws. We will be surprised in the future with CMOS, hopefully with the M10? Regards Jeffrey

  6. The magic of a ‘look’ in digital imaging has mostly to do with the rendering applied to the sensor data and very little to do with the characteristics of the sensor technology. There’s some influence, of course, but it is small—and easily overcome by the processing applied.

    I am quite happy with my M9, but I’m quite confident that whatever Leica does with the M10 or ME, they will be every bit the Leica camera just as my M4-2, CL, M9, and X2 are.

  7. Good insight, and the following from the press release shows that Leica agrees with you: “This new development successfully transfers the characteristic advantages of CCD sensors, such as natural and brilliant color rendition and impressive reproduction of details, to a CMOS sensor.” Whether they deliver on that promise will be interesting to see.

  8. Just read the brochure and spec sheet, and watched this nice video on the new M:

    Looks like they did a very nice job of it. I’m in no rush, but I know where a $7000 chunk of my bank account is going to go next year sometime. Meantime, I’m content to keep working with the M9, et al. 😉

  9. I’ve wondered whether switching to CMOS will produce an image that for Leica users — who seem to be hyperconscious of image quality — lacks qualities that make them lust after Leicas. I do very much want higher ISOs. They can’t be too high. Why? People asked what possible use would there be for the telephone. They asked it again of color monitors. We’ll think of SOMEthing. I did a rough calculation some months ago on where ISOs are going, and I think it’s possible that they’ll reach one billion with 10 years. What possible use would such high ISOs be? A flock of bats streaming from a cave in moonlight? Dancers illuminated by candlelight? A midnight crossing of a herd of wildebeasts? A leopard springing from a tree on a nocturnal hunt? Dark urban alleys the way they really look? Amber waves of grain by moonlight? All lit by natural light, all action stopped, if so desired, by very high shutter speeds. We’ll think of SOMEthing. In the meantime we’ll do what we can with what we got. I’m eager to see what Leica does with the CMOS sensor, and in the meantime I’m leaning towards and M-E and perhaps a Monochrom for those, as it were, darker moments.

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