Leica M (type 240)

12 September, 2013

Leica M (type 240) Review

Ah… heaven, bliss… precision.  It was a LONG time coming.

Leica fumbled, bumbled and kerfuffled the launch on their marquee product badly, very badly.

Production was almost no existent, even almost a year after announcement.  Accessories currently are vaporware.

Given all this or maybe in spite of this, I’m as in love with it as I was with my Leica M9P (reviewed here).

This will be a rolling review.  Clearly I know my way around the camera (took me about 2 minutes).  What you will get from me is an opinion on it IN THE FIELD.

I’m a techie guy, but what matters to me most is how does it go out in the REAL world?

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An incredible piece of machinery.  Of course, practically manual everything.. but I like it like that.  It’s all me.

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First up.  The controversial CMOS sensor.  A very heated debate on internet forums.  Is there a difference from CCD to CMOS, better worse?

I’m here to tell you, that it is neither.  There are advantages and a different ‘look’ to both.  I pledge you this is the utmost truth.  If people cannot see that, well, I can promise you that they have not used both.

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The files have different structures, tones and of course a different way of putting down colour.  This is huge.  The ‘Leica Look’ that everyone so famously talks about is not from the sensor, but from the Lenses.

The M has a Canikon look to them.  I would call it a cross between the Nikon D4 and the D800E.  At base levels (100-400iso).

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Once the sensor gets cranked to 800iso and up, the Nikon’s… certainly the D4 shows it’s true colours.  Remarkably, I would say easily a 2.5 to 3 stop advantage, all the way up to 12,800.

The D800E of course exhibits alot of noise because of it’s pixel density.

I am perfectly comfortable with the M at 1600.  Same with the D800E, but the D4 up to 12,800.

However…

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Given that the Noctilux’s performance (or any other M Lens you can name) is exquisite wide open…

and the hand-holdability of the M over the Nikon’s, mathematically, it is a wash on which is ‘better’ for low light.

For stagnant objects in low-light, the M is totally fine.  But if your taking images of moving people… i.e. dancing e.t.c.  Then the D4 with the extra stops easily accounts for that work.

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The LCD screen is a HUGE improvement over the M9, in every way.  Literally the M9 screen was only useful for a quick check of focus accuracy..

but beyond that.. it was quite a joke how bad it was.

The M with it’s vibrant screen and new Live View function is great (handicapped by not interpreting what you see on screen is what you get in final image…) is a great addition.

More functionality is never a bad thing.

The brains behind the M, which co-incidentally also powers the Leica S, is quick… not too much thinking going on here.  It’s fast, not Expeed 3 speed fast, but fast enough not to get in the way.

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The Battery has been beefed up.  I would say just approximately 1200 shots per charge with no chimping (I never do anyway).

If you use LV or preview heaps, of course, your usage will suffer.  Always good to carry a spare battery.  But as of yet, I have not used my spare one.

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The Shutter.  Specifically the Shutter sound.  Incredible.  Sounds succinct and truly means business.  Not Nikon D3 like ‘clack’, but a purposeful sound.  No whirring or buzzing like the M9.

Surprisingly, this is my most cherished new ‘feature’ on the M!  Sounds silly, but it’s the small things that make it so damn cool to use.  :)

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The body feels a wee bit bigger than the M9, just slightly enough to notice.  The extra protruding thumb grip doesn’t really help in holding the camera.

But it’s nice that it’s there.

I would have liked them to keep the rangefinder preview lever, but that’s no biggie taking it away.

The focusing aid is good but if you don’t use LV, then it is of no use.  I don’t use LV.

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Leica saw fit to have nicer packaging (something everyone can learn from Apple).

Most of the accessories in there I have yet to take out of it’s plastics, as I don’t require them.

Just slapped the Artist Artisan black silk strap on and I was out the door.

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Let’s now talk performance.  Metering.  A lot of people forget about Metering, but it is critical.

I feel the Nikon’s currently meter slightly hot so I compensate for those occasions but it is very very accurate for 90% of my work.

The M is a HUGE HUGE HUGE improvement over the M9.

Where there was ANY hint of trickiness (major contrast change) in scenery, the M9 would be thrown off… sometimes by 4-5 stops!

Which was crazy, but if you knew what you were doing.. you allowed for this.  But it was never ideal.

The M has grown up from this erratic behavior.  Sure it can be ‘tricked’, i.e. shoot into a light source and see what happens…

but for the most part, the worst I can make it do is around a 2 stop difference.

Which is much more manageable.. and given the much improved dynamic range of the sensor.. easily recoverable.

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The Auto ISO implementation needs work (I was told they are addressing this in the next firmware update).  Currently Nikon is the king of the Auto ISO functionality.

Other makers seems to be befuddled with it a bit.

Shouldn’t be so hard.  But remember, no matter how good the Auto ISO function is… it is based on the metering of the system.  Keep that in mind.

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What I look for in any camera body is the ability of the camera to get me what I want, as fast as possible.  This is priceless to me.

This is where a properly calibrated rangefinder (especially with the Noctilux lens) is crucial.  If this is perfect… then there is no reason why your image shouldn’t be perfect.. YOU become the issue.

Even with the most advanced and accurate AF System, there is always a measure of slight ‘inaccuracies’.  The detection system works on contrast.  It could hunt, guess and hit and miss if it wants to.

But for the most part, unless I’m can’t see what I’m shooting, the Nikon system is insanely good at this.

The Rangefinder system fails in low light.  If I can’t see my subject, it becomes a guess at the distance they are to me and then I shoot ‘blind’.  But I’m pretty good at that too.  :)

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I had the monster dilemma of choosing between the MM (Monochrome only sensor – M9 variant) or the M.  Given my skills with B+W conversions, I went with the M and the new functionality it gave me.

Although… I am secretly in love with the MM and I would hope, touch wood… that one day, it will sit along side the M.

I would just die!…  :)

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The shooting experience is definitely still Leica ‘M’.  That will never change with the rangefinder system.

Some people hate it, others adore it.  I love it to pieces.

The M seems more ‘robust’ and accurate than my M9P, but that is going by ‘feel’.  Leica fans won’t want to hear it, but the M9P at base iso is ‘sharper’ more ‘crisp’ than the M.

But with proper techniques in post, I can match it.

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Something that goes unmentioned in Camera bodies is tactility.  I love shooting street when I’m not shooting Weddings.  The feel of it, the size… I can just blend in with the crowd.

Literally get as close as I can.  The camera looks like a toy.  People even smile at me because of it.  It’s really funny to watch in real life.  Yet I put the D4 or even the D800e up to my face to shoot and it’s a totally different outcome.

Bigger is not always better in this instance.

3

The movie feature is not something I think Leica should have added.  The rolling shutter is terrible.  It’s ergonomics miserable.  Best left off the body entirely.

2

So is it a worthwhile upgrade from the M9/M9P variants?  That’s the $$$$ question I get asked alot from other Leica owners.

Yes AND No.

IF you don’t shoot in dynamic situations ala Weddings.  If you have time to be considered with your exposure and normally stay within the confines of iso160 to 640 max on the M9 and if you like the shutter sound on the M9.

Then yes, it is a ‘waste’ of money to upgrade, go get another lens with your pocket money.

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But if higher iso and better colour at those levels is what you require, if a longer battery life and the silent (quieter) sound of the M shutter is what you’d love.

It’s a no brainer.. if you CAN get your hands on one.  Get it.  The M has grown up.

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 I have had the M for all of about 3 weeks total.  The images you see here are pretty random, but I chose them to highlight the different lighting conditions at different times.

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The coolest thing for me, and I know how lucky I am… In my arsenal of gear, everything in there, from lenses, to bodies to flashes e.t.c  has a specific purpose.

I hope that others treat their bags the same way.  For 90% of my work, I choose to shoot with Primes.  Always have.  Is it ‘easier’, hell no.

But I don’t get paid by making things easy for me… in fact shooting with primes is MUCH harder than just standing there and zooming back and forth.

But it pushes you to get the better shot.  To compose strongly… to make an physical effort no matter how cumbersome it may be.. so that my clients benefit from having something special.  Great for the client.

But at the end of the day, they are all tools… exquisite tools, but just tools.

Having my main camera, the D4 rocking along side the M warms my heart.  The M is now in play for all my Weddings this season.  I can’t wait to keep this rolling update flowing with new images from them.  :)

If I have missed anything or you have a question you want to ask me, email me on van@vandang.com.au.

Thanks for reading.  If this has helped you in anyway, then my efforts are well rewarded.

V

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