Digital Outback Photo
- Photography using Digital SLRs


Leica DMR Experience Report

A review by Uwe Steinmueller @Digital Outback Photo

Also photos by Bettina Steinmueller



Note on image processing:

As usual we work only with raw files and use a beta version of RawShooter essentials (with preliminary support for the Leica DMR) and Adobe CS2 with ACR as reference.

All images are also sharpened using EasyS Sharpening Toolkit and tonality tuned with our Tonality Tuning Kit (e.g. mid-tone contrast and opening up shadows).



Back to the Future

Last year Leica announced the first digital back for any 35mm SLR. It took quite a while until the back was ready for shipping but now it is reality. We received one of the first samples of the Leica Digital Module R (DMR) in the USA.

We personally are not interested to test the Leica R with film as it is a very well know camera that is why we tested the Leica R only with the DMR back.

DMR Back

Some facts

  • Uses a 10MP Kodak CCD chip
  • Was developed in cooperation with Imacon/Hasselblad
  • Multiplier is 1.37x (crop factor)
  • ISO 100-800 in full f-stop steps
  • First camera using DNG as its native RAW format
  • Uses SD cards only
  • Sensor has no AA filter

At its price point (DMR alone over $5000) this back will probably only play a role in a niche market (as does the Leica R). We see the main importance of this camera in the fact that this is Leica's preparation for a new Leica M Digital planned for next year. All the experience gained with the DMR will have influence on the design of the Leica M Digital.

Some findings using the R9/DMR

  • Heavy and bulky (not much more than a Canon 1Ds Mk. II though) and no real problem for us
  • Viewfinder is recessed and this may not be welcome by all users
  • Very bright and good viewfinder
  • There are markers on the special focusing screen that indicate the crop used by the DMR
  • Handling the digital part of the camera is much like any other digital SLR
    • Useful histogram preview
    • 3 RGB channel histogram (bravo)
    • Clipping indicators (on a tiny preview though)
    • Slow power up operation
  • Shutter noise is quite loud. Probably even louder than a 1DS Mk. II and these cameras are not really silent
  • Good mechanical mirror lockup
  • Battery lasts at least for 150 pictures including the use of the LCD for histogram checks (this is 3GB of data)
  • A single RAW image is 20MB in size (use of compression could save space here)

Cleaning the sensor

We did not clean the sensor during our tests. But it should be a breeze as the back allows you to get open to the sensor.

Autofocus or not

The Leica R is one of the last remaining SLRs without an autofocus system. Working from a tripod and with static object this is no problem at all. We got soon used to use the manual focus of the Leica R9. We had the same feeling as with our old trusty Nikon F2.

Note on CF cards

We used a 2GB SD from ATP. At first we sometimes got damaged images due to a problem of the original DMR firmware. The original firmware (pre 1.1) was not compatible with some SD cards on the market.

We recommend to download the latest firmware 1.1 from here. We installed the new firmware without any problems but did not test the camera any further.

DNG RAW files

The DMR is the first camera/back that uses Adobe DNG as its native RAW format. In consequence Leica does not even deliver own RAW software but relies on other RAW converters to handle DNG (at this point only Adobe ACR and a beta of RSE that we use). The DNR ships with a copy of PS Elements 3 to open the RAW files.


Los Gatos Test Shot

Ristorante with DMR

100% magnification of the RSE converted file

Overall we were very pleased by the colors and with RSE we also got some nice detail from this shot. Please remember you look at a 100% pixel level here for a 10MP camera.


What about noise? We used a beta of RawShooter Essentials with no extra noise removal. We shot once again the Los Gatos Bear Cafe at different ISO levels:

The following crops are all at 100% magnification.

Note: The DMR was used with the 28-90mm Leica zoom (expensive zoom).

Leica R / DMR

ISO 100

ISO 200

ISO 400

ISO 800

The images at ISO 100 and 200 are pretty good and 400 quite useable. We would use ISO 800 only in exceptional circumstances. The noise patterns is about the same as we have seen with other cameras that use Kodak sensors.

Compared to the Canon 1Ds Mk. II

The Leica R9 with DMR costs about the same as a Canon 1Ds Mk. II. Also the DMR 10MP are not that way off from the 16MP of the 1Ds2. We photographed a brick wall with two top lenses that are highly rated at (both lenses are rated at 4.5, that is nearly as good as it gets).

Actually the Leica 100mm has about the same angle of view with the DMR as the 135mm on the 1Ds Mk. II full frame sensor. We photographed the wall from about the same distance.

The wall

100% magnification crop from the DMR

100% magnification crop from the 1Ds Mk. II

As you can see the 1Ds Mk. II provides quite a bit more detail to work with. In any case we most of the time we would be happy with the DMR resolution.


Finally some real Photos

After all these test shots we had the pleasure to use the DMR for our real work

Half Moon Bay Harbor

Fish Containers

Details at the Pier


Rusty Car Trunk


Overall we would be able to use the DMR for most of our work. We also like the mechanical and optical quality of the Leica lenses (not the price tag though).

In the end we don't think that this camera is a real competion to a Nikon D2x or the Canon 1Ds Mk. II because the the Nikon and Canon systems are more modern and sophisticated (autofocus, image stabilized lenses, flash systems, highly integrated digital systems developed over quite a few generations). On the other side we also understand that some may fall in love with the Leica optics. We ourselves wait for the Leica M Digital. If that camera delivers as much as the DMR shows today the Leica M Digital will be on our shortlist for a top class street camera.

Before we got this DMR sample we heard many negative comments based on pre-production samples. The DMR we have in our hands does not disappoint at all. We think Leica delivered what they promised with the DMR.





Review methodology (or lack of :-)) here.


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