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Leica R9 and Digita-Modul-R

In 2002, Leica released the R9 as the new flagship of its R-series line of SLR cameras. It represented an incremental upgrade of the Leica R8, retaining the latter's design and key specifications, while addressing some of the criticism that the R8 had been facing. In particular, the weight of the R9 was reduced by 100g (or 11%) from the R8 by replacing zinc alloy in the top plate by magnesium, and by using aluminum instead of steel for the bottom plate's frame. In addition, an LCD frame counter was added on the top plate, the mode selector dial gained a lock, and the rear LCD display could now be illuminated.

The R9 also brought several improvements to flash support. High Speed Sync flash is supported with appropriate flash units and SCA adapters, making it possible to use fill flash at shutter speeds greater than the X-sync speed. Moreover, the use of fill-flash at slower shutter speeds and wider apertures was improved by enabling lower-power illumination modes with selected flash guns.

Leica R9
Leica R9 with 35-70mm

The Leica R9 was sold in Black (order number 10093) and Anthracite finishes (10090). It can be used with all R-bayonet lenses, but Leica does not recommend the mounting of 1-cam and 2-cam lenses due to possible damage of electronic contacts on the camera. Similar to the R8, the R9 can take advantage of the lens-specific information transmitted to the camera by R-lenses that are equipped with a ROM chip. All the accessories that were developed in conjunction with the R8, such as the Motor Winder and the Motor Drive, may also be used with the R9. Up until the discontinuation of the R-system in 2009, about 8,000 R9 bodies were produced and sold. No major defects or reliability issues with the camera are known.

Leica R9 Specifications

  • Leica R bayonet mount with additional electrical "ROM contacts";
  • Copal focal plane, electronic, metallic curtain shutter; 1/8000s to 32s;
  • Program, aperture priority, shutter priority, manual exposure modes, and flash;
  • Selective (7mm central area), 6-element matrix, center-weighted, and flash TTL center-weighted metering;
  • Viewfinder with 0.75x magnification and 93% coverage;
  • Ground glass, interchangeable viewfinder screen;
  • Hotshoe flash control; 1/250s, TTL-metering; first or second curtain sync; High Speed Sync;
  • Exposure compensation from -3EV to +3EV (in 0.1 EV increments);
  • ISO range of 25 to 5000, automatic DX film speed recognition (ISO 25 to 12800) with manual overwrite;
  • Rear cover LCD showing frame counter, flash readiness, film speed, selftimer operation, and battery condition;
  • Film transport by manual lever or via optional Motor-Winder (2 frames/s) or Motor-Drive (4.5 frames/s);
  • Batteries: 2 x CR2;
  • Dimensions: 158 x 101 x 62mm (width x height x depth);
  • Weight: 790g;

From film to digital

In June 2003, Leica announced the development of a clip-on digital back that would turn the R9 (or its predecessor, the R8) from a film into a digital camera. After a two-year waiting period, the Digita-Modul-R (Leica order number 14439) finally became available in June 2005. The DMR consists of two parts: the digital back, which replaces the camera's backdoor, and the power unit. The DMR aligns well with the R9 body and adds useful controls for portrait-style shooting, but also brings additional bulk to an already large camera body. The size of the R9 with DMR grows to 158 x 140 x 89mm (W x H x D) and the weight increases to 1,395g. At launch, it sold for a steep $5,995.

The DMR was designed and manufactured by Leica in cooperation with Denmark-based Imacon. It uses a 10 megapixel sensor developed by Kodak that is 26.4mm wide and 17.6mm high, which gives rise to a format factor of 1.37 – meaning that a 50mm lens on the R9-DMR offers the same field of view as a 68mm lens on a full-frame film or digital camera. Leica provided special viewscreens with the DMR that indicate the outline of the cropped image in the camera's viewfinder.

Leica R9
Leica R9 Anthracite with DMR

The sensor in the Leica Digita-Modul-R has no anti-aliasing filter, so that it can capture very sharp and detailed images, but is susceptible to moiré-artefacts. In order to alleviate the adverse impacts of moiré, the DMR has a software filter function built in. The DMR records true 16-bit color depth for enhanced dynamic range and faithful color reproduction, offers hardware-based noise reduction, and can shoot up to 2 images per second. ISO sensitivity ranges from 100 to 1,600. The DMR-sensor is readily accessible and, hence, relatively easy to clean.

The DMR does not support TTL-metering when using flash (since there is no reflection off the "film"). Hence, a flash unit should be operated in computer controlled automatic or manual mode. Images taken with the DMR are stored in DNG, TIFF or JPEG format on SD cards. There is a 1.8" LCD panel with 130,000 pixels on the back for image replay and menu control. Images can be transferred to a computer via a Firewire connection.

Leica DMR
Leica DMR

About 2,200 units of the DMR were produced and sold before the digital back was discontinued in 2007. Leica then was working on a fully digital successor to the R9 that would also support autofocus operation. However, this Leica R10 never made it beyond the development phase, and Leica decided in 2009 to terminate its R-series line of SLRs altogether.

The Leica R8 and R9 remain the only hybrid film and digital 35mm cameras available. The DMR made it possible for Leica shooters to continue using their trusted camera bodies and excellent R-system lenses, while taking advantage of the benefits of digital image capture. However, due to the delays in developing and marketing the Leica Digita-Modul-R, the device was no longer at the technological frontier when it finally started shipping. Alternatives, such as the Canon 1Ds II, provided higher resolution, better low light image quality, and faster continuous shooting ability, while a camera like the Canon 20D offered similar imaging performance as the DMR at a fraction of the price. Some users also reported dissatisfaction with the use of SD cards instead of the more popular Compact Flash cards, the absence of TTL-flash support, and the wide-angle unfriendly crop factor.

Headline specifications of all Leica R-system cameras
Camera
Shutter
(1/sec)
TTL-
metering
Exposure
modes
Hot-
shoe
Flash
control
Size
(mm)
Weight
(g)
Prod
run
Prod
period
Price
range ($)
ebay
offers
Leicaflex2000MNonon-TTL148.0 / 97.0 / 57.0770~32,5001964 - 68200-400check
Leicaflex SL2000selMNonon-TTL148.0 / 97.0 / 57.0770~75,0001968 - 74125-250check
Leicaflex SL22000selMYesnon-TTL148.0 / 97.0 / 57.0770~25,0001974 - 76400-600check
Leica R31000sel & intA/S/MYesnon-TTL148.0 / 96.5 / 64.6780~70,0001976 - 80125-250check
Leica R41000sel & intP/A/S/MYesnon-TTL138.5 / 88.1 / 60.0630>100,0001980 - 87150-250check
Leica R4s1000sel & intA/MYesnon-TTL138.5 / 88.1 / 60.0620~25,0001983 - 87150-250check
Leica R52000sel & int P/A/S/MYesTTL138.5 / 88.1 / 62.2625~34,0001986 - 91250-500check
Leica R61000sel & int MYesTTL138.5 / 88.1 / 62.2625~24,0001988 - 92400-550check
Leica R-E2000sel & int A/MYesTTL138.5 / 88.1 / 62.2625~6,1001990 - 94450-600check
Leica R6.22000sel & int MYesTTL138.5 / 88.1 / 62.2625~21,0001992 - 02500-750check
Leica R72000sel & int P/A/S/MYesfull-auto138.5 / 98.8 / 62.2670~30,0001992 - 97350-450check
Leica R88000sel, int, multiP/A/S/MYesfull-auto158.0 / 101 / 62.0890~36,5001996 - 02500-600check
Leica R98000sel, int, multiP/A/S/MYesHSS158.0 / 101 / 62.0790~9,0002002 - 091,000-1,500check

Further Reading

Additional information on the R9 and the Digita-Modul-R can be found in the pdf-versions of the respective Leica user manuals. Moreover, a description of the evolution of all Leica reflex cameras is contained in the R-system camera overview. A similar compendium of R-lenses with their main physical specifications is equally available on this site.

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