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
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.
- 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
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
- 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
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
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
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
The following crops are all at 100% magnification.
Note: The DMR was used with the 28-90mm
Leica zoom (expensive zoom).
Leica R / DMR
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
about the same as we have seen with other cameras that use Kodak
Compared to the Canon 1Ds
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 photodo.com (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.
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
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
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.