Leica M9 vs Pentax K-1
The Leica M9 and the Pentax K-1 are two enthusiast cameras that were officially introduced, respectively, in September 2009 and February 2016. The M9 is a rangefinder-style mirrorless camera, while the K-1 is a DSLR. Both cameras are equipped with a full frame sensor. The Leica has a resolution of 18.1 megapixels, whereas the Pentax provides 36.2 MP.
Below is an overview of the main specs of the two cameras as a starting point for the comparison.
Going beyond this snapshot of core features and characteristics, what are the differences between the Leica M9 and the Pentax K-1? Which one should you buy? Read on to find out how these two cameras compare with respect to their body size, their imaging sensors, their shooting features, their input-output connections, and their reception by expert reviewers.
An illustration of the physical size and weight of the Leica M9 and the Pentax K-1 is provided in the side-by-side display below. The two cameras are presented according to their relative size. Three consecutive perspectives from the front, the top, and the back are available. All width, height and depth measures are rounded to the nearest millimeter.
Both cameras are available in two different colors (black, silver).
If the front view area (width x height) of the cameras is taken as an aggregate measure of their size, the Pentax K-1 is notably larger (36 percent) than the Leica M9. Moreover, the K-1 is substantially heavier (73 percent) than the M9. It is noteworthy in this context that the K-1 is splash and dust-proof, while the M9 does not feature any corresponding weather-sealing.
The above size and weight comparisons are to some extent incomplete since they do not consider the interchangeable lenses that both of these cameras require. Hence, you might want to study and compare the specifications of available lenses in order to get the full picture of the size and weight of the two camera systems.
The following table provides a synthesis of the main physical specifications of the two cameras and other similar ones. If you want to switch the focus of the display and review another camera pair, just select a new right or left comparator from among the camera models in the table. Alternatively, you can also move across to the CAM-parator tool and choose from the broad selection of possible camera comparisons there.
|Leica M9||139 mm||80 mm||37 mm||585 g||..||n||Sep 2009||7,999|
|Pentax K-1||137 mm||110 mm||86 mm||1010 g||760||Y||Feb 2016||1,799|
|Canon 5D Mark IV||151 mm||116 mm||76 mm||890 g||900||Y||Aug 2016||3,499|
|Canon 700D||133 mm||100 mm||79 mm||580 g||440||n||Mar 2013||649|
|Canon 550D||129 mm||98 mm||62 mm||530 g||440||n||Feb 2010||699|
|Canon 500D||129 mm||98 mm||62 mm||520 g||400||n||Mar 2009||799|
|Leica M10-P||139 mm||80 mm||39 mm||660 g||210||Y||Aug 2018||7,995|
|Leica M10||139 mm||80 mm||39 mm||660 g||210||Y||Jan 2017||6,595|
|Leica T||134 mm||69 mm||33 mm||384 g||400||n||Apr 2014||1,850|
|Leica X Typ 113||133 mm||73 mm||78 mm||486 g||350||n||Sep 2014||2,295|
|Leica X Vario||133 mm||73 mm||95 mm||680 g||450||n||Jun 2013||2,850|
|Leica M Typ 240||139 mm||80 mm||42 mm||680 g||..||Y||Sep 2012||6,950|
|Leica M8||139 mm||80 mm||37 mm||591 g||..||n||Sep 2006||5,499|
|Nikon D500||147 mm||115 mm||81 mm||860 g||1240||Y||Jan 2016||1,999|
|Olympus E-M1 II||134 mm||91 mm||67 mm||574 g||440||Y||Sep 2016||1,999|
|Pentax K-1 II||137 mm||110 mm||86 mm||1010 g||670||Y||Feb 2018||1,999|
|Sony A99 II||143 mm||104 mm||76 mm||849 g||490||Y||Sep 2016||3,199|
Notes: Measurements and pricing do not include easily detachable parts, such as add-on or interchangeable lenses or optional viewfinders.
(1) Number of images that can be taken on a full battery charge according to the CIPA-standard; (2) Official announcement.
The price is, of course, an important factor in any camera decision. The retail prices at the time of the camera’s release place the model in the market relative to other models in the producer’s line-up and the competition. The K-1 was launched at a markedly lower price (by 78 percent) than the M9, which puts it into a different market segment. Usually, retail prices stay at first close to the launch price, but after several months, discounts become available. Later in the product cycle and, in particular, when the replacement model is about to appear, further discounting and stock clearance sales often push the camera price considerably down. Then, after the new model is out, very good deals can frequently be found on the pre-owned market.
The imaging sensor is at the core of digital cameras and its size is one of the main determining factors of image quality. A large sensor will generally have larger individual pixels that offer better low-light sensitivity, provide wider dynamic range, and have richer color-depth than smaller pixels in a sensor of the same technological generation. Further, a large sensor camera will give the photographer additional creative options when using shallow depth-of-field to isolate a subject from its background. On the downside, larger sensors tend to be associated with larger, more expensive camera bodies and lenses.
Both cameras under consideration feature a full frame sensor, but their sensors differ slightly in size. They nevertheless have the same format factor of 1.0. Both cameras have a native aspect ratio (sensor width to sensor height) of 3:2.
Despite having a slightly smaller sensor, the K-1 offers a higher resolution of 36.2 megapixels, compared with 18.1 MP of the M9. This megapixels advantage comes at the cost of a higher pixel density and a smaller size of the individual pixel (with a pixel pitch of 4.88μm versus 6.91μm for the M9). However, it should be noted that the K-1 is much more recent (by 6 years and 5 months) than the M9, and its sensor will have benefitted from technological advances during this time that make it possible to gather light more efficiently. Coming back to sensor resolution, it should be mentioned that neither of the two cameras has an anti-alias filter installed, so they are able to capture all the detail the sensor resolves.
The resolution advantage of the Pentax K-1 implies greater flexibility for cropping images or the possibility to print larger pictures. The maximum print size of the K-1 for good quality output (200 dots per inch) amounts to 36.8 x 24.6 inches or 93.5 x 62.4 cm, for very good quality (250 dpi) 29.4 x 19.6 inches or 74.8 x 49.9 cm, and for excellent quality (300 dpi) 24.5 x 16.4 inches or 62.3 x 41.6 cm. The corresponding values for the Leica M9 are 26.1 x 17.4 inches or 66.2 x 44.1 cm for good quality, 20.8 x 13.9 inches or 53 x 35.3 cm for very good quality, and 17.4 x 11.6 inches or 44.1 x 29.4 cm for excellent quality prints.
Unlike the M9, the K-1 has the capacity to capture high quality composite images by combining multiple shots after shifting its sensor by miniscule distances. This multi-shot, pixel-shift mode is most suitable for photography of stationary objects (landscapes, studio scenes).
The Leica M9 has a native sensitivity range from ISO 80 to ISO 2500. The corresponding ISO settings for the Pentax K-1 are ISO 100 to ISO 204800 (no boost).
Since 2007, DXO Mark has published sensor performance measurements that have been derived using a consistent methodology. This service assesses and scores the color depth ("DXO Portrait"), dynamic range ("DXO Landscape"), and low-light sensitivity ("DXO Sports") of camera sensors, and also publishes an overall camera score. Of the two cameras under consideration, the K-1 offers substantially better image quality than the M9 (overall score 27 points higher). The advantage is based on 2.9 bits higher color depth, 2.9 EV in additional dynamic range, and 1.9 stops in additional low light sensitivity. The adjacent table reports on the physical sensor characteristics and the outcomes of the DXO sensor quality tests for a sample of comparator-cameras.
|Leica M9||Full Frame||18.1||5212||3472||none||22.5||11.7||884||69|
|Pentax K-1||Full Frame||36.2||7360||4912||1080/60i||25.4||14.6||3280||96|
|Canon 5D Mark IV||Full Frame||30.1||6720||4480||4K/30p||24.8||13.6||2995||91|
|Leica M10-P||Full Frame||23.8||5952||3992||none||..||..||..||..|
|Leica M10||Full Frame||23.8||5952||3992||none||24.4||13.2||2133||86|
|Leica X Typ 113||APS-C||16.1||4928||3264||1080/30p||..||..||..||..|
|Leica X Vario||APS-C||16.1||4928||3272||1080/30p||23.4||12.7||1320||78|
|Leica M Typ 240||Full Frame||23.7||5952||3976||1080/25p||24.0||13.3||1860||84|
|Olympus E-M1 II||Four Thirds||20.2||5184||3888||4K/30p||23.7||12.8||1312||80|
|Pentax K-1 II||Full Frame||36.2||7360||4912||1080/60i||..||..||..||..|
|Sony A99 II||Full Frame||42.2||7952||5304||4K/30p||25.4||13.4||2317||92|
Many modern cameras are not only capable of taking still images, but also of capturing video footage. The K-1 indeed provides for movie recording, while the M9 does not. The highest resolution format that the K-1 can use is 1080/60i.
Apart from body and sensor, cameras can and do differ across a range of features. The M9 and the K-1 are similar in the sense that both have an optical viewfinder. The latter is useful for getting a clear image for framing even in brightly lit environments. The viewfinders of both cameras offer the same field of view (100%), but the viewfinder of the K-1 has a higher magnification than the one of the M9 (0.70x vs 0.68x), so that the size of the image transmitted appears closer to the size seen with the naked human eye. The following table reports on some other key feature differences and similarities of the Leica M9, the Pentax K-1, and comparable cameras.
|Canon 5D Mark IV||optical||Y||3.2||1620||fixed||Y||1/8000s||7.0||n||n|
|Leica X Typ 113||optional||n||3.0||920||fixed||n||1/2000s||5.0||Y||n|
|Leica X Vario||optional||n||3.0||920||fixed||n||1/2000s||5.0||Y||n|
|Leica M Typ 240||optical||n||3.0||920||fixed||n||1/4000s||3.0||n||n|
|Olympus E-M1 II||2360||n||3.0||1037||swivel||Y||1/8000s||18.0||n||Y|
|Pentax K-1 II||optical||Y||3.2||1037||full-flex||n||1/8000s||4.4||n||Y|
|Sony A99 II||2400||Y||3.0||1229||full-flex||n||1/8000s||12.0||n||Y|
One feature that is present on the K-1, but is missing on the M9 is a top-level LCD. While being, of course, smaller than the rear screen, the control panel conveys some of the essential shooting information and can be convenient for quick and easy settings verification.
The Pentax K-1 has an intervalometer built-in. This enables the photographer to capture time lapse sequences, such as flower blooming, a sunset or moon rise, without purchasing an external camera trigger and related software.
Concerning the storage of imaging data, both the M9 and the K-1 write their files to SDXC cards. The K-1 features dual card slots, which can be very useful in case a memory card fails. In contrast, the M9 only has one slot. The K-1 supports UHS-I cards (Ultra High Speed data transfer of up to 104 MB/s), while the M9 cannot take advantage of Ultra High Speed SD cards.
For some imaging applications, the extent to which a camera can communicate with its environment can be an important aspect in the camera decision process. The table below provides an overview of the connectivity of the Leica M9 and Pentax K-1 and, in particular, the interfaces the cameras (and selected comparators) provide for accessory control and data transfer.
| WiFi |
|Canon 5D Mark IV||Y||mono||mono||Y||Y||mini||3.0||Y||Y||-|
|Leica X Typ 113||Y||stereo||mono||-||-||mini||2.0||-||-||-|
|Leica X Vario||Y||stereo||mono||-||-||mini||2.0||-||-||-|
|Leica M Typ 240||Y||stereo||mono||-||-||-||2.0||-||-||-|
|Olympus E-M1 II||Y||stereo||mono||Y||Y||micro||3.0||Y||-||-|
|Pentax K-1 II||Y||stereo||mono||Y||Y||micro||2.0||Y||-||-|
|Sony A99 II||Y||stereo||mono||Y||Y||micro||2.0||Y||Y||Y|
It is notable that the K-1 offers wifi support, which can be a very convenient means to transfer image data to an off-camera location. In contrast, the M9 does not provide wifi capability.
Studio photographers will appreciate that the Pentax K-1 (unlike the M9) features a PC Sync socket, so that professional strobe lights can be controlled by the camera.
Travel and landscape photographers will find it useful that the K-1 has an internal geolocalization sensor and can record GPS coordinates in its EXIF data.
Both the M9 and the K-1 have been discontinued, but can regularly be found used on eBay. The M9 was replaced by the Leica M Typ 240, while the K-1 was followed by the Pentax K-1 II. Further information on the two cameras (e.g. user guides, manuals), as well as related accessories, can be found on the official Leica and Pentax websites.
So what conclusions can be drawn? Is there a clear favorite between the Leica M9 and the Pentax K-1? Which camera is better? A synthesis of the relative strong points of each of the models is listed below.
Reasons to prefer the Leica M9:
- More compact: Is smaller (139x80mm vs 137x110mm) and thus needs less room in the bag.
- Less heavy: Is lighter (by 425g or 42 percent) and hence easier to carry around.
- More prestigious: Has the Leica luxury appeal, which ensures a high resale price.
- More heavily discounted: Has been available for much longer (launched in September 2009).
Arguments in favor of the Pentax K-1:
- More detail: Has more megapixels (36.2 vs 18.1MP), which boosts linear resolution by 41%.
- High quality composites: Can combine several shots after pixel-shifting its sensor.
- Better image quality: Scores substantially higher (27 points) in the DXO overall evaluation.
- Richer colors: Generates noticeably more natural colors (2.9 bits more color depth).
- More dynamic range: Captures a broader range of light and dark details (2.9 EV of extra DR).
- Better low-light sensitivity: Can shoot in dim conditions (1.9 stops ISO advantage).
- Broader imaging potential: Can capture not only stills but also 1080/60i video.
- Larger viewfinder image: Features a viewfinder with a higher magnification (0.70x vs 0.68x).
- Easier setting verification: Features a control panel on top to check shooting parameters.
- Larger screen: Has a bigger rear LCD (3.2" vs 2.5") for image review and settings control.
- More detailed LCD: Has a higher resolution rear screen (1037k vs 230k dots).
- More flexible LCD: Has a full-flex screen for odd-angle shots in portrait or landscape orientation.
- Faster shutter: Has higher mechanical shutter speed (1/8000s vs 1/4000s) to freeze action.
- Faster burst: Shoots at higher frequency (4.4 vs 2 flaps/sec) to capture the decisive moment.
- Easier time-lapse photography: Has an intervalometer built-in for low frequency shooting.
- Better sealing: Is splash and dust sealed for shooting in inclement weather conditions.
- Sharper images: Has stabilization technology built-in to reduce the impact of hand-shake.
- Easier geotagging: Features an internal GPS sensor to log localization data.
- Easier file upload: Has wifi built in for automatic backup or image transfer to the web.
- Better studio light control: Has a PC Sync socket to connect to professional strobe lights.
- Greater peace of mind: Features a second card slot as a backup in case of memory card failure.
- Faster buffer clearing: Has an SD card interface that supports the UHS-I standard.
- More affordable: Was introduced into a lower priced category (78 percent cheaper at launch).
- More modern: Reflects 6 years and 5 months of technical progress since the M9 launch.
If the count of individual advantages (bullet points above) is taken as a guide, the K-1 is the clear winner of the contest (24 : 4 points). However, the pertinence of the various camera strengths will differ across photographers, so that you might want to weigh individual camera traits according to their importance for your own imaging needs before making a camera decision. A professional wedding photographer will view the differences between cameras in a way that diverges from the perspective of a travel photog, and a person interested in cityscapes has distinct needs from a macro shooter. Hence, the decision which camera is best and worth buying is often a very personal one.
In any case, while the specs-based evaluation of cameras can be instructive in revealing their potential as photographic tools, it remains incomplete and does no justice, for example, to the way the M9 or the K-1 perform in practice. User reviews that are available, for instance, at amazon can sometimes shed light on these issues, but such feedback is all too often partial, inconsistent, and inaccurate.
This is where reviews by experts come in. The following table reports the overall ratings of the cameras as published by some of the major camera review sites (cameralabs, dpreview, ephotozine, imaging-resource, and photographyblog). As can be seen, the professional reviewers agree in many cases on the quality of different cameras, but sometimes their assessments diverge, reinforcing the earlier point that a camera decision is often a very personal choice.
|Leica M9||..||..||4.5/5||4.5/5||..||Sep 2009||7,999|
|Pentax K-1||..||84/100||5/5||4.5/5||5/5||Feb 2016||1,799|
|Canon 5D Mark IV||+ +||87/100||4.5/5||5/5||4.5/5||Aug 2016||3,499|
|Canon 700D||..||76/100||4.5/5||4.5/5||4.5/5||Mar 2013||649|
|Canon 550D||+ +||77/100||4/5||5/5||4.5/5||Feb 2010||699|
|Canon 500D||+ +||74/100||4.5/5||5/5||4.5/5||Mar 2009||799|
|Leica M10-P||..||..||..||..||4/5||Aug 2018||7,995|
|Leica M10||..||..||4/5||..||4.5/5||Jan 2017||6,595|
|Leica T||..||..||4/5||..||4/5||Apr 2014||1,850|
|Leica X Typ 113||..||..||3.5/5||..||4/5||Sep 2014||2,295|
|Leica X Vario||..||..||4/5||4/5||4/5||Jun 2013||2,850|
|Leica M Typ 240||..||..||4/5||..||..||Sep 2012||6,950|
|Leica M8||..||+ +||..||..||..||Sep 2006||5,499|
|Nikon D500||+ +||91/100||4.5/5||5/5||5/5||Jan 2016||1,999|
|Olympus E-M1 II||+ +||85/100||4.5/5||5/5||4.5/5||Sep 2016||1,999|
|Pentax K-1 II||..||79/100||4.5/5||4.5/5||4.5/5||Feb 2018||1,999|
|Sony A99 II||..||85/100||4.5/5||4.5/5||4.5/5||Sep 2016||3,199|
|Notes: (+ +) highly recommended; (+) recommended; (o) reviewed; (..) not available.|
The review scores listed above should be treated with care, though. The ratings are only valid when referring to cameras in the same category and of the same age. Hence, a score should always be seen in the context of the camera's market launch date and its price, and comparisons of ratings among very different cameras or across long time periods have little meaning. Also, kindly note that some of the listed sites have over time developped their review approaches and their reporting style.
Other camera comparisons
Did this review help to inform your camera decision process? In case you would like to check on the differences and similarities of other camera models, just make your choice using the following search menu. Alternatively, you can follow any of the listed hyperlinks for comparisons that others found interesting.
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Specifications: Leica M9 vs Pentax K-1
Below is a side-by-side comparison of the specs of the two cameras to facilitate a quick review of their differences and common features.
|Camera Model||Leica M9||Pentax K-1|
|Camera Type||Rangefinder camera||Digital single lens reflex|
|Camera Lens||Leica M mount lenses||Pentax K mount lenses|
|Launch Date||September 2009||February 2016|
|Launch Price||USD 7,999||USD 1,799|
|Sensor Specs||Leica M9||Pentax K-1|
|Sensor Format||Full Frame Sensor||Full Frame Sensor|
|Sensor Size||36.0 x 24.0 mm||35.9 x 24.0 mm|
|Sensor Area||864 mm2||861.6 mm2|
|Sensor Diagonal||43.3 mm||43.2 mm|
|Sensor Resolution||18.1 Megapixels||36.2 Megapixels|
|Image Resolution||5212 x 3472 pixels||7360 x 4912 pixels|
|Pixel Pitch||6.91 μm||4.88 μm|
|Pixel Density||2.09 MP/cm2||4.20 MP/cm2|
|Moiré control||no AA filter||no AA filter|
|Movie Capability||no Video||1080/60i Video|
|ISO Setting||80 - 2,500 ISO||100 - 204,800 ISO|
|DXO Sensor Quality (score)||69||96|
|DXO Color Depth (bits)||22.5||25.4|
|DXO Dynamic Range (EV)||11.7||14.6|
|DXO Low Light (ISO)||884||3280|
|Screen Specs||Leica M9||Pentax K-1|
|Viewfinder Type||Optical viewfinder||Optical viewfinder|
|Viewfinder Field of View||100%||100%|
|Top-Level Screen||no Top Display||Control Panel|
|LCD Framing||Live View|
|Rear LCD Size||2.5inch||3.2inch|
|LCD Resolution||230k dots||1037k dots|
|LCD Attachment||Fixed screen||Fully flexible screen|
|Shooting Specs||Leica M9||Pentax K-1|
|Focus System||Manual Focus||Phase-detect AF|
|Manual Focusing Aid||no Peaking Feature||Focus Peaking|
|Max Shutter Speed (mechanical)||1/4000s||1/8000s|
|Continuous Shooting||2 shutter flaps/s||4.4 shutter flaps/s|
|Time-Lapse Photography||no Intervalometer||Intervalometer built-in|
|Image Stabilization||no shake reduction||In-body stabilization|
|Fill Flash||no On-Board Flash||no On-Board Flash|
|Storage Medium||SDXC cards||SDXC cards|
|Second Storage Option||Single card slot||Dual card slots|
|UHS card support||no||UHS-I|
|Connectivity Specs||Leica M9||Pentax K-1|
|Studio Flash||no PC Sync||PC Sync socket|
|USB Connector||USB 2.0||USB 2.0|
|HDMI Port||no HDMI||micro HDMI|
|Microphone Port||no MIC socket||External MIC port|
|Headphone Socket||no Headphone port||Headphone port|
|Wifi Support||no Wifi||Wifi built-in|
|Geotagging||no internal GPS||GPS built-in|
|Body Specs||Leica M9||Pentax K-1|
|Environmental Sealing||not weather sealed||Weathersealed body|
139 x 80 x 37 mm
(5.5 x 3.1 x 1.5 in)
137 x 110 x 86 mm
(5.4 x 4.3 x 3.4 in)
|Camera Weight||585 g (20.6 oz)||1010 g (35.6 oz)|
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