Noise Generated from the Leica M9 Camera

I loved my time in Salzburg, Austria. While I only had a few days in Salzburg, close to the end of a pretty arduous six week photography trip to Europe and beyond, I loved the place. It’s fun to walk the old town and to explore the lovely parks such as the beautiful Mirabell Gardens.

A spectacular geometric arrangement in a public park in Salzburg, Austria.

Photographing Salzburg at Night

Night time presents other opportunities for the enthusiastic photographer. And rain, mist, fog and high humidity should be embraced for the opportunities they present us with. Just look how the color of the pathway glows as it’s wet surface reflects the colors of the surrounding buildings.

I made these photos with a Leica M9 camera and a Summilux-M 24mm f1.4 lens. The lens is superb and I’ve held onto it in the hope that it will marry beautifully with a new mirrorless camera, probably the upcoming Sony A7rII, which I hope will be released within the next few months.

Noise Performance on the Leica M9 Camera

However, while I was a huge Leica fan, having had 5 Leica cameras (4 of them being film based cameras) over the years, there were several limitations associated with the Leica M9 that were a real turn off. For example noise generated at even moderately high ISO’s on the camera’s CCD (i.e., Charged Coupled Device) sensor was just terrible.

An example of the horrible noise generated from a Leica M9 sensor, even at the relatively modest ISO 640.

The above photo, made at ISO 640, illustrates the problem. To my mind the noise has ruined what otherwise would have been an interesting image.

Now I was up against it from the start. It was raining, windy and I was holding the camera in one hand, at ⅛ second, while holding the other over my lens to keep it dry and reduce flare from the street lamp.

It was never going to be sharp under those conditions. I did my best by underexposing a little to prevent an even slower exposure. But, as you can see, the just over +1 stop exposure adjustment in Lightroom required to produce a decent brightness on the desktop really brings out the noise in the sky that the underexposure tends to hide.

While I could hide quite a bit of that noise through further processing it just wasn’t worth it and I’ve held onto this terrible image simply for illustration purposes. We all make poor pictures along the way. Here’s one of the rare ones that I haven’t deleted.

While I love Leica, after this little adventure I decided the Leica M9 just wasn’t up to it. After all,  not all of my photos are made under good conditions at ISO 100 or 400.

A rainy summer's night is no obstacle to dining outoors in the beautiful old town of Salzburg, Austria.

It’s interesting to note that in a slightly brighter environment, minutes early, I was able to achieve a much more successful result at ISO 400. The greater light levels allowed for the combination of a (slightly) lower ISO and a more generous (i,e., longer) camera exposure which made all the difference.

The above photo has had some noise reduction applied. It’s also been processed in Lightroom and Photoshop, but I did so because the quality of the original file was far superior to the previous photo.    

I understand the latest model, which incorporates a CMOS (i.e., Complimentary Metal Oxide Sensor) sensor, has far better high ISO performance. This is one of the advantages of CMOS sensors.

Needless to say high ISO noise performance on the upcoming Sony A7rII will be extraordinary. 

Glenn Guy, Travel Photography Guru