Leica M10 vs Leica M9 vs Fujifilm S5 Pro - A Comparison of Digital Rendering with Vintage and Modern Lenses
This article started out too ambitiously, so I've decided to split it in two. For the sake of this article, I will concentrate on addressing a common gripe I frequently hear grumbling in photographic circles. Modern lenses and sensors are too exact and without character. I admit, I too have made the same claims. But are vintage lenses and sensors really all they're cracked up to be?
Well, I decided to have a look into it... seeing that my main article isn't ready... and that I've cut this bit from that main article for the sake of clarity... and that I didn't want all this effort to go to waste... this should be interesting...
For this comparison, the combination I used were as follows:
Leica M10 + Leica 85mm f/1.5 Summarex
Leica M9 + Leica 75mm f/1.4 Summilux
Fujifilm S5 Pro + Nikon 58mm f/1.4G (equivelant to 90mm)
Why did I select the S5 Pro? I wanted another camera with a CCD sensor. And also I wanted one with less resolution. The S5 has roughly 12 megapixels, compared to the M9's 18 megapixel, and the M10's 24 megapixel.
I paired the Leica M10 with the 85mm Summarex, because I wanted to see how a modern CMOS sensor would render a vintage lens. I paired the Fuji S5 with the Nikon 58mm f/1.4G, because I wanted to see how an old CCD sensor would render a modern lens. As for the Leica M9, I paired it with the 75mm f/1.4 Summilux, in order to set a relatively contemporary baseline for this comparison. Although in retrospect, I should have used a more updated CMOS sensor and lens combination. But then again, I believe the M9 rendering would be more interesting to see.
It should also be noted that I only shot at close focusing distance wide open for the sake of optimizing background blur. I thought that bokeh would make the overall rendering more interesting. With that said, getting tack focus wide open with the 85mm Summarex wasn't exactly easy, nor was it much easier with the 75mm focal length on the M9. But at least with the Summarex, the M10 has live view, which was surprisingly good. As for the 75 Lux... well... not so good in bad light.
As for the Fujifilm S5, it felt like a digital dinosaur. The response time of the camera buttons reacted like TSA agents at airport immigration controls. Shooting with it was truly insufferable.
So which rendering do I prefer?
The rendering from the Leica M10 and 85mm f/1.5 Summarex looked rather flat - especially when the background lacked noticeable contrasts in depth. From my perspective, the CMOS sensor of the M10 had that clinically neutral appearance typical of modern lenses. However, when the background was full of contrasts, the rendering benefitted from the imperfection of the vintage optics. It gave it an extra shot of character.
The rendering from the Leica M9 and 75mm f/1.4 Summilux was consistently pleasant, except for the aberrant digital streaking that appeared from time to time. Clearly the sensor and lens were produced at a time when optimization of digital rendering was still at its early stages of development. As a result, the rendering has a quality of imperfection, which adds to the character of the image capture. Much of this can be attributed to its CCD sensor.
The rendering from the Fuji S5 and Nikon 58mm f/1.4G was rather unique. Like the M9, it also had the benefits attributed to CCD sensors. However, there is an impression of clear intent demonstrated by that lens. The precision of the modern optics appeared to have offset the imperfection of the older Fuji sensor. It rendered the foreground sharp, while keeping the background blurry. But most importantly, the texture of the rendering was very different from modern sensors, giving the image a very unique look.
Also worth noting was how differences in sensor resolution impacted image rendering. In comparing the three pairings, the pixels from the Fuji is most noticeable. Perhaps it is because the sensor resolution is significantly less on the Fuji, at 12 megapixel, when compared to the M9's 18 megapixel and the M10's 24 megapixel. Perhaps in rendering, smaller sensor resolution is better at creating the illusion of film grain.
Overall, the three pairings appeared to work best at different situations. But if I had to select the best pairing, I would pick the M9 + 75 Lux, since it rendered most consistently. Having said that, I am no longer accustomed to the so-called handling characteristics of the M9. And it's not like I need the aggravation, just for the sake of character, in sensor rendering. That goes double for the Fuji S5. The user experience of that camera is truly insufferable by today's standards.
Given that, my preference is for the M10. Honestly, who needs character, when being exact in rendering is good enough - even with a vintage lens like the 85 Summarex. Clearly, vintage lenses and older image sensors can be used to great effect in giving an image a more unique rendering. It may be excessively cumbersome, but in the end, it might be well worth the effort.
All images in this comparison have been optimized and cropped for composition. The only thing we're comparing is rendering, so corner and edge sharpness is irrelevant. All images were shot wide open.