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The End Of An Era (Leica R9 w/ 35mm F2 & 90mm F2)

Posted by Jesse Seberras on

Back in 1964 Leica noticed that rangefinders weren't the hot ticket they once were and an emerging market of SLR bodies coming out of Japan were slowly taking over their turf. So what was a hoity-toity German camera company to do? Well, after trying for 12 years with the awkwardly designed Leicaflex line they finally cried uncle and partnered up with Minolta to create the R series in 1976. And by 'partners' I mean they copied most of Minolta's electronics and chassis design, set up shop in Portugal, and called it the Leica R3. And this went on for decades! Right up until the end of the R7 in 1997. That's not to say that the R series are terrible cameras, far from it. But it wouldn't be for many years that Leica would release an R body that would blow me away.
Finally, after dropping their partnership with Minolta, they designed a modern reflex camera of their own. And it was beautiful. The R8 ran from 1996 - 2002 being replaced (with some very minor changes) by the R9. Alas, it was too good to be true as Leica ceased production in 2009 and said goodbye to the R series as a whole. A shame really. The Leica R8 and R9 got everything right when it came to 35mm film photography. Even if you have never held a Leica before you can just pick these cameras up and go.  Everything is so intuitive that I'm surprised they even came with a manual.
I had always wanted to try out R series lenses. Canon users can't seem to get enough of the Leica 50mm Summicron-R F2 lens but being a Nikon user myself it wasn't that simple for me (while it is possible to adapt them it's a complicated process that involves modifying the lens). So when an R9 landed on my desk last week I grabbed some lenses and hit the streets.
As expected the lenses didn't disappoint. I used a 35mm Summicron-R F2 and a 90mm Summicron-R F2.  Both lenses were stellar, even wide open. My only complaint is that the R9 takes CR123a batteries. These batteries are the bane of my existence. Impossible to find and bizarrely expensive when you do. Why can the Nikon F100 operate on AA's but the R9 needs CR123a's? But if that is my only complaint about a camera then you know that it is just that good. If you are given the option, go for the R9 as the film counter window comes in handy more often than one would think, but both the R8 and R9 are just great to use.

Photos taken on a Leica R9 Anthracite w/ Kodak 200 Gold

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Main image: Leica R9 Anthracite with a Leica 50mm Summicron-R f/2 lens

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  • Fine cameras, both R8 & R9. However, to any prospective purchasers, dark clouds on the horizon: All electronic, a small failure in a component buried deep in the camera turns it into an impressive paperweight. When produced, these cameras had a five-year warranty with return to Leica at Solms.
    Today with the warranties long expired, no service available. Any repair, if such repair would be at all possible, would cost more than the camera was purchased for (circa £300 for R8 & £500 for R9).
    Fortunately there are really good alternatives, around six in fact. First the R6 or R6.2. Next, the Leicaflex, Leicaflex SL or the Leicaflex SL2. That leaves obtains a cheap, Chinese adapter to use your Leica R lenses on other film or digital cameras – Nikon, Canon, Sony etc.

    Yes, the R8 and R9 are impressive and the price has dropped. However, despite being tempted by a £549 R9 Anthracite body to use with my six 3 cam lenses, I’ve opted to buy a second Leicaflex SL body for £125, boxed, as new in perfect working order. I follow the Motor Rallies in Europe and Scandinavia and prefer to take two bodies and swap lens rather than reload in the field. In view of conditions, I much prefer a completely manual body with a simple, built-in meter. I strongly recommend the SL, it’s the best of the three. I’ve not tried the R6.

    David Murray on

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