Gear Reviews

leica m typ 240 camera review // mirrorless full frame camera

This is my real world review of the Leica M Type 240 camera. I’m a full time photographer and it’s a miracle I’ve even had time to write this review. After scouring google in search of other reviewers about this camera it looks like (at the time of this writing) I might just be the only professional in the world using it with the noctilux.

The Quick

Leica cameras and lenses are something people seem to love or hate. Most everyone on earth can agree that the M series is beautifully designed, however their insanely high price points and overall image quality leaves room for lots of debate about the company’s products. As a working professional I can say that the leica M typ 240 is exactly the camera I was hoping it to be. I’ve already run it through its paces at 5 or 6 jobs and will continue to bring it with me on everything I shoot. Perhaps not always with the HUGE Noctilux f/0.95, but that’s just because it’s a heavy heavy lens. I also own the 50mm f/1.4, 35 f/1.4 and 28 f/2.0.

NOTE: All these images are fully processed with my normal processing methods in Adobe Lightroom 4. I don’t care to show stale tests of comparison sooc photos of color boards and brick walls… there are plenty of other reviews like that out there.

The Build

No surprise that the Leica M Typ 240 camera is built to perfection. I’m not going to go into too much detail other than to say that it’s as comfortable as ever to hold (I like it more than the M9) and it’s now weather sealed! Always nice to have the added protection, however as far as I know there are no Leica M mount lenses that are weather sealed so it doesn’t really make that much of a difference. The overall design is just a little different than the M9 and in general I’ve felt the need for a grip or thumb lever to better secure my handle of the camera, but that’s really just the fault of the giant Noct 50mm 0.95 lens. With the leica 50mm 1.4 or other lenses it’s less of an issue.

The menus are much improved and modern compared to the M8 or M9. It’s a welcome change. The only thing I’d prefer to be different so far is the ISO screen. Currently it pops up and overlays the entire screen even in live view and it’d be much more convenient if it were just overlaid on top of the live view image.

The Use

It’s hard for me to even decide where to begin about the use of this camera. Coming from an M9, my expectations were mixed. I had collected a few leica lenses but never really considered using them on the M9 for most of my professional work because it was such a slow process to take a photo… at least at the settings I almost always want (wiiiide open).

I was never really impressed with the M9′s files. I love the camera because of the way it slows you down and forces you to THINK about a photograph before you make it, but editing the M9 files was always kind of frustrating. Skin tones always looked too weird and the dynamic range / iso performance of the camera left a lot to be desired next to my usual Nikon D4.

That’s all changed with the Leica M Typ 240.

 

LIVE VIEW

I’ve been spoiled with the live view on the nikon D4 for over a year now and really exploit this feature to make a lot of my photos these days. I’m so happy to say that the Leica M type 240 Live View performs wonderfully. You can see a demo of it in the video below. It’s responsive enough to be used constantly and I was even able to use the live view focusing my Noctilux f/0.95 while walking in front of this couple walking toward me!

So, if that doesn’t demonstrate my point enough I don’t know what will. Live view is a game changer and if you’re not using it already in whatever camera you own (if it has it) you better start… and get used to it! It’s the way of the future.

That being said… the optical viewfinder has been improved a good bit to me compared to the M9. I can’t tell if it’s larger, brighter, or what, but focusing is definitely easier than with the M9… just take my word on that.

One of my main concerns about the live view of the Leica M was whether or not the view would show exposure changes in real time as you adjusted iso, shutter, and aperture. At first I was really bummed because it appeared not to. The default of the live view will show you a scene based on whatever it meters. You have to half press the shutter before it will show you what your photo will look like that the setting you’re currently at… which is 100% fine with me! Works great.

ISO

I’m a big fan of shooting at night and in dark spaces. Again, spoiled by the iso capabilities of the Nikon D4 the Leica M had a lot to live up to. I’m happy to say that I’m totally comfortable shooting at 6400 iso. These 3 images were all photographed at 6400 iso. Yes, even the one of the couple dancing, which I photographed using live view and manually focused at f/0.95. Looks great to me and no noise reduction was used on these. There’s a bit of banding, but I also push my files pretty hard in post. If you properly exposue (I tend to underexpose and bring back in post) the banding isn’t as noticeable.

There is a some sort of glitch right now (to be fixed via firmware upgrades) where the auto iso doesn’t engage properly. Doesn’t really effect me much as I shoot in full manual for everything I do, but it would certainly effect some users.

FOCUSING

Anyone that’s used a leica camera knows that auto focus doesn’t exist on their M series cameras. The focusing as a traditional range finder is wonderful, but the live view is really where it’s at on this camera. No problem focusing at f/0.95 and the focus peaking feature is INCREDIBLY helpful. Works with pinpoint accuracy and makes me a lot more confident that my focus is where I want it. I was even able to make a 16 images brenizer panorama image at f/0.95 very quickly and efficiently

That’s 16 images stitched together at f/0.95. I have no idea what the depth of field on this is… but it’s probably something you’ve never seen before.

Here’s a bride and her bridesmaids photographed at f/0.95. That’s an extremly shallow depth of field for a group photo, but I was only concerned with having the bride in perfect focus for this particular image.

BATTERY LIFE

Soooooooo SO much better than the M9. In fact, it seems to be performing right along side with my Nikon D4. A full wedding day of shooting 1000 some images on just the Leica M had my battery a touch under 50%… and that’s with Live View running almost every photo. Can’t ask for much more than that.

VIDEO

This isn’t a video camera. You can see the sample video below of my silly handheld clip of the drummer from my band tracking drums in a studio in Baltimore. It’s kind of cool to have the feature, but I don’t at all recommend the camera for any professional video work. Also, the ISO seems to cap itself at 1600 when shooting video… it’s very weird.

THE EXPERIENCE

The process of making a photo with the leica m is unique. For the clients I’m photographing they get really excited to see such a classic looking and intrigung camera in front of them vs a traditional SLR. The look of the camera ALONE puts people in an artistic mindset. It’s bizarre, but extremely helpful because my subjects feel like they’re a part of a deeper process and experience. That’s something only a Leica and deliver… at least in the digital world. I’ve heard other large and medium format film photographers say similar things… but I hate film so I’ve never considered using a system from that realm.

Also, being that it’s a mirrorless camera it’s very quiet. That’s really helpful during sensitive moments of which there are many on a wedding day. People that spot you might be distracted by the beauty of the camera, but never the noise of it.

(Click image thumbnails to see larger version)

The Tips

  • Live view mode will change your life
  • Buy the grip plate, finger loop, or thumb mount for added comfort and stability – tradeoff is a larger overall camera
  • The focus zooming is incredibly useful so I set it to automatically engage whenever I turn the focus ring on a lens. The button on front of the leica can also be used to enable and disable this, but it’s in kind of an awkward place to use as often as you (probably) need to focus.
  • Try the electronic hot shoe viewfinder add-on. It’s expensive, but seems to work well for people that prefer to have their head smashed up against a camera when making a photo. I used it in the leica store here in DC and it performed as expected. Will help if you shoot in bright sunlight a lot!
  • Don’t take out a loan or buy this camera on credit because it would take YEARS to pay for itself.

The Conclusion

So many people have asked me why I spent so much money on a piece of kit that will largely create images on par with a camera I’ve already got and my answers always seem to drift back to the emotional experience of shooting with leica equipment. Much like Apple products tend to trigger an emotional connection with their users Leica products do too. The simplicity and and elegance of the camera just plain makes it fun to use. It’s in no way required to spend so much money on the Leica M to make professional photos, but I’m in love with create images that are unique as the people I photograph and by shooting with the M + Noctilux f/0.95 it’s safe to say I’m one of the only working professionals in the world that is able to deliver that.

There’s a lot more I could say about this camera. What I love what I don’t love what could be improved and what is overkill, but in the end you should know that I love it, recommend it, and use it as much as I possibly can. Yes there are many other wonderfully affordable mirrorless cameras on the market, but the Leica is still the only game in town that will provide interchangeable lenses AND full frame sensor size.

Summary

Rating

You know who you are if you want this camera. It will make images like you’ve never seen before when paired up with a lens like the Noctilux f/0.95. Don’t recommend buying it if you’re not a working pro or really rich.

  • Price
    $7,000
  • In my bag?
    Yes
  • Usage
    Weddings, Documentary, Portraits
About Sam Hurd

Sam is a professional wedding and editorial photographer based in the Washington DC area. He photographs 40+ weddings a year, press events, commercial portraiture, and regularly hosts workshops in his Baltimore MD studio and around the world. His work has been published internationally including the Wall Street Journal, the NYTimes, and the Washington Post. He's available for commissions worldwide.

Blog Comments

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  1. Awesome Sam, can’t wait to play with this in Vancouver.

  2. Paul Benjamin says:

    Great review, I really wished this would be a dog because now my credit card is cowering in fear in the corner.

    I guess we can survive with only one car…

  3. Nice review, Sam.
    Still waiting on my Noct order from over a year ago :(

    Steve Huff posted his review of the Leica M + Noct a month ago ;)
    http://www.stevehuffphoto.com/2013/03/11/the-leica-m-240-real-world-camera-review-2013-by-steve-huff/

  4. Woo. Amazing. That 16shot image is GOLD.

  5. I am also shooting with the M(240) and 50/0.95 Noctilux, and agree that it’s a great combination, but there is definitely room for improvement with the camera. Specifically I don’t like that the Live View 5x and 10x zoom and focus peaking only magnify the center of the frame. This can be an issue when shooting at 1m when wide open, as the DOF is so shallow that recomposing can throw focus off.

    I have the same issue as you with continuous mode changing speed, as well as the number of frames which can be captured before the buffer fills and slows the fps rate. My experience is that this is related to not only the type of SD cards used, but how they are formatted. I have been able to improve the performance by formatting the cards with SDFormatter 3.1, a free program available from the SD Association (who control the standard). I feel this is another Leica bug.

    The camera is also prone to freezing and locking up, and I have usually had this happen at least once per shoot, requiring removal of the battery.

    Finally I am really struggling with not only the AutoWB (which is terrible) but the overall colors coming from the camera. Even after correcting the much too warm WB the skin tones still often come out with too much pink and orange; so much so that I have stopped showing previews to clients on the camera (which they all ask to see). The amount of PP to get acceptable results is currently maddening, because no two shots are the same. I have created custom profiles in Lightroom, but again it’s currently a moving target and no one profile is universally acceptable.

    I think this will be a great camera, but at this point my M9 is much more predictable and dependable.

  6. Manual Leica Laborer says:

    Sam,

    I agree, color is fantastic – much better than the M9 which produced magenta skin tone that was often problematic especially at higher ISO. The new M color is excellent. If, WB is correct, the files need very little PP. I have yet to make a better camera profile than Adobe Standard. I think it is pretty good at this point. The LCD on the back of the camera gives gorgeous previews where my M9 was embarrassingly bad, not to mention it was difficult to judge my own shot on the crappy M9 LCD screen /image.

    I have yet to have a lock-up. Sounds like Steve got a lemon and I would return it to Leica with the list of the problems you are having and ask for an exchange. I formatted my cards in the camera and haven’t had a problem there either. Not sure why you need a special program to format a memory card – I haven’t heard of that before. Sounds like you have a bad camera.

    Most of the recent reviews have been good and I am glad Leica has produced such a great camera. Sam, I’m glad you love your new Leica as much as I do.

    Manual

  7. dnguyen says:

    1.0 < 0.95

  8. In my bag? Yes=) now thats swagger!!!
    As always you’re pictures come out awesome.

  9. TopShelf says:

    Wedding Photographers lol

  10. I think there might be a few other pros out there rocking the Nocti and an M :-)

    Nice review. I’m patiently waiting for news of mine. Back end of the year probably. Ugh

    To prevent banding its best to expose to the right huh. Over rather than under will appease some of the banding issues. More likely to pull back details in the highlights in LR than blacks which will just turn noisy and band for fun.

  11. Hi,

    very nice review, thanks for that. I am a wedding photog, too, and implement the M9 into my work. Of course the M plays in another league, but many things apply to both, like the rangefinder advantages. As I still wait for my M to arrive I have to get the M9 to work.

    Here you can see some insights of how the M9 performs under stressful reportage wedding shooting.
    http://www.schmidt-weddingphoto.com/?p=2676

    a nice day to you,
    heiko

  12. EvilTed says:

    What’s your thoughts on the Summicron 28 F/2 on the new M?
    Tim Ashley states that it is just plain boring.
    Makes me wonder if the Elmarit is better for the wide end at this point in time?

    ET

  13. Wow Sam… I have been fighting Leica haters for years… The Noctilux images are amazing! I have a 50mm Summilux but have found myself using my 35mm summicron more.. This article has made me want to go back to using the summilux!

  14. well – then we’re two working professionals with that kit. good times. i still miss my mp, though.

  15. The colour in these shots look in my opinion pretty damn bad, I agree with Steve, everything I see from this camera is dissapointing. They should’ve kept the M9 the way it was, weather sealed it, gave it an increased buffer, and slightly increased the ISO performance if possible. Basically the only problem with the M is the sensor, i.e. the most important part of the whole camera. Skin tones and general colour reproduction look utterly foul. If you or your clients can’t see this I don’t know what to say to you.

  16. haha, do you have a link to any of your work?

  17. I really like the pictures! Being a photographer I know it could be tough to choose the best shots but
    they are fantastic. I personally use some Lightroom presets to maintain some consistency with my
    own.

  18. Hey Sam, nice article, a strange kind of providence that I should come across it now a few days after meeting you at Pro Photo in Portland. I hope you’re putting that 135mm to good use!

Trackbacks

  1. [...] Sam Hurd beschreibt in seinem bilderreichen Review seine Erfahrung mit der Leica M und kommt auch auf die neuen Features der Kamera zu sprechen: Live View, Video und Fokus-Peaking. Er schätzt die Kamera mit allen ihren Stärken und Schwächen. [...]

  2. [...] Sam Hurd describes his experience with the new Leica M (Type 240) and talks about the different new features of the camera: live view, video and focus peaking. He appreciates the camera with all its strengths and weaknesses. [...]

  3. [...] a lot more qualified have already provided this information (see Ming Thein’s article and Sam Hurd’s take on this camera).  But why the excitement about all these functions that have already made their [...]

  4. [...] were made using the leica m typ 240 (i reviewed here) the leica 24mm f/ 1.4, the leica 50mm f/0.95, and the voitlander 35mm f/1.4. a few were iPhone [...]

  5. [...] with CMOS sensor, video recording(!), and live view(!), roughly £6k body only. – Reviews: Wedding Photographer, Specifications, Sample Photos: ePHOTOzine, [...]

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