It’s actually a little more than a month since I got my M240 but for the first two or three weeks I didn’t have the time to get out and shoot with it so to keep it inline with my other reviews the title isn’t too much of a liberty.
I’m going to set the scene early on…
I mostly shoot street and I’m not a colour fan really… or so I thought. My main workhorse is the Leica M Monochrom which I have written about extensively and I love the thing. I understand it, I can rely on it, I know it’s strengths and I can live with it’s downsides… and there are a few.
I bought the Monochrom about 18 months ago as I was using an M9 and converting 90% of my work to black and white, so logically I thought I would be better with a Monochrom. The Monochrom outperforms all 35mm cameras in black and white and many Medium Format cameras too. So I bought it and my M9 sat gathering dust on a shelf for over 12 months. I actually only shot it a couple of times in a year and when I did take it out I wished I had taken the Monochrom.
An M9 sitting on a shelf is a real waste and it made me feel guilty owning a Leica body and not using it so I sold it and stuck the £3000 into the bank. I felt fine for about 10 days and then realised that I had no colour capability any more. Actually, that’s not really true… I have an M3 but I really only like shooting black and white film. As I said – I’m not a big colour fan.
However, the fact that I couldn’t shoot digital colour at all really started to eat at me. I get asked occasionally to shoot a Christening or take the odd portrait and I was now quite restricted.
This, coupled with the fact that I have some very persuasive friends who also shoot Leica, eventually led me to purchasing an M240, which I was previously very unsure of. I made my mind up on a Sunday and by the Thursday I had the M240 in my hands. there is about a 6 month waiting list currently for an M240, but as I said earlier, I have some very persuasive friends who shoot Leica and the camera was delivered from an Italian outfit within 4 days.
So, here’s what I think after a month…
The M240 is, without a shadow of a doubt, the most versatile and complete M that Leica have ever produced. Now I want to state that I am not saying it is the best – I’m saying it is the most complete.
As soon as you lift it out of the box you notice the extra weight. It’s not much heavier than a Monochrom or an M9 but it is noticeable. However as soon as you click on a lens you notice it less. The camera is extremely well balanced with a lens on it and it seems Leica have put some attention into the ergonomics of the body. There is now a small thumb grip for your right hand which some will find enough, but I didn’t. I use a Match Technical Thumbs Up grip on all my Leica’s and I added one to the M240 just to give it a little more grip. I’m not a fan of front grips as they add a massive amount of weight, but the Thumbs Up is unnoticeable.
The finish on the camera is stunning. Leica has always made very sound bodies with immaculate finishes, but the M240 is the best yet. I bought a silver finished body and the paint just shimmers. It looks fantastic. The body is now weather sealed and I have shot it in several downpours (I live in Scotland and downpours are a daily occurrence) and so far there have been no issues.
So the first lens I tried it with was my favourite little 50mm Summilux. I never changed any settings on the camera, just clicked on the lens, took a few shots and loaded the DNG’s into Aperture and my first thoughts were… Really? That colour looks cheap and nasty!
Yes I was thoroughly disappointed with the initial shots. I was expecting to see files akin to the M9, but they’re just not. The files are more like a Canon 5d MkIII. Obviously digital and obviously CMOS. In fact I was so disappointed that I nearly boxed it up to send it back. But then reason got a hold of me and I remembered it wasn’t an M9 and it wasn’t as CCD sensor, and importantly I hadn’t installed the latest firmware upgrade which is essential as it fixes a yellow cast that blows skin tones and amplifies man-made light.
So after the upgrade was installed I persevered for another 50 shots, played with the settings, fired them into Aperture and… same thing… very disappointed.
When I bought my Monochrom, I was a bit disappointed with straight out the camera results too, so I decided to give a few files some minor processing and this is where I started to fall in love with the M240.
You have to process the files. But not massively. I upped the contrast very slightly and tweaked the colour balance and the files just came alive. Really alive, which was great because I was really upset with the previous results, but now, with a little processing I was starting to see the potential of this camera. It has loads!
It’s worth noting here, that if you are considering a shift to the M240 from an M9 or M9-P or ME, you will notice a big difference with the files and colour handling. The M240 is an M240, not an M9. It has a new CMOS sensor, not a CCD. The files are much bigger (you will need at least 4gig of RAM dedicated to Aperture or LightRoom) and they will take time getting used to, but please persevere… you do get used to them and when you do you will be delighted with them. Really delighted!
The next thing I played with was Focus Peaking. This system draws red lines over the image on the LCD on the areas of the image that are in focus. It’s weird but amazing and with a little practice you can get some über sharp shots. Why bother though when you can get sharp shots through the optical viewfinder? Simple… using the screen to frame allows you to get into angles previously impossible with any M.
It’s a very strange feeling framing and focussing through an LCD screen if you are a long term Leica user. We’ve never had this facility before and there are a lot of us out there who think it’s nonsense and unnecessary on an M. I did before I got one and I don’t use it much now, but I do use it a little. There are times when I want to get a low point of view and previously I would have had to lie on the ground to nail a shot that I can focus off the screen now. Lying on the ground in Scotland gets you very wet!
There is also the option of an Electronic Viewfinder, which I have, but use very little. It works very well but adds extra bulk to the camera and so I rarely have it on. One thing I will say about it is it’s good for focusing in the dark, which leads me on to low light shots.
The M240 massively surpasses the M9 in low light capability. It can safely shoot up too 5000 ISO whereas the M9 was a disaster after 2000. This allows you to get a shot without too much noise in near dark situations. It’s nowhere near as capable as the Monochrom with it’s 100% useable 10,000 ISO, but 5000 ISO is still very good.
The other thing the M240 does is video. I’m not going into that here. If you want a camera that shoots video you’re not a Leica shooter. Spend the £300 on a Panasonic. I haven’t used it and I never will. It’s ridiculous. Just because you can doesn’t mean you should and Leica did. Ridiculous!
The M240 also allows you to mount Leica R lenses with an adaptor. I don’t own any R glass but I think this could be interesting, especially for Macro and for those who want to shoot longer focal lengths.
The menu system is also improved. The thing I liked about Leica’s previous menu was the simplicity and they have done a great job in adding more functionality and options to the menu and managing to keep it simple at the same time. It is bigger, but the button layout and hierarchy in the menu make it as easy, if not easier to use than the previous menus in the other digital M’s. The LCD is also much improved. You can actually see your images in it now 🙂
So, six weeks in…
I have used the camera extensively now and I do love it. It is better than the M9, in fact it’s a huge evolutionary step for the M. It was long overdue and will be a great platform for Leica to build on. But it’s also a great platform for us users to build on too. The camera feels very complete. There’s not much now that you can’t do with an M that you can do with a full frame DSLR. In fact I know three professional photographers who have dumped their Canon and Nikon systems to shoot professional studio work with their M240 system. I’m not sure you could have done that with the M9.
All in all I’m delighted with it. However, If I had to choose one camera to be stuck with for a month’s shooting would it be the M240? Not a chance! It would be the M Monochrom and I really hope that Leica use the M240 platform for the new MM240 🙂