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First Impressions: Leica M (Typ 240)

by Felix L. Esser on 10/19/2013

Felix Esser The Phoblographer Leica M Typ 240 Review Front Slanted View

Weeks ahead of Photokina 2012, the Leica world was abuzzz with rumors about the upcoming new M rangefinder, then believed to be called ‘M10′, analogous to the sequential numbering scheme of the models that came before it. But when the camera was actually announced, it made people scratch their heads: its name was simply ‘M’. In order to make it distinguishable from future M models, Leica added the suffix ‘Typ 240′. And just like they broke with the naming convention, Leica also broke with the essential M system philosophy, by introducing both live view and a video mode. These are our very first impressions with this entirely new kind of M rangefinder camera.

Tech Specs

These are taken from B&H Photo’s product listing.

  • 24MP Full Frame Leica Max CMOS Sensor
  • Leica Maestro Image Processor
  • 3.0″ LCD with 920,000 pixels
  • Full HD 1080p Video
  • Live View and Rangefinder Focusing
  • ISO Sensitivity to 6400
  • Fits Leica M-series Lenses
  • R-series Lenses Fit M Body via R-adapter
  • Durable, Splash Protected Body
  • Revised Ergonomics and Controls

Ergonomics

Felix Esser The Phoblographer Leica M Typ 240 Review Front View

At the top portion of the front, from left to right you’ll find the inconspicuously huge ‘M’ label, the rangefinder windows, the even more inconspicuously huge Leica logo, and the viewfinder window. But wait, where’s the frameline illumination window? This is the part that the M Typ 240 inherited from the M9 Titanium: LED-illuminated framelines. Hence no third window, but instead an even larger Leica logo centered above the lens mount. Oh, and … the framelines can be set to white and red color. Nice!

Top left of the Leica logo is a small window which contains a metering cell that meters the environmental light, in order for the camera to be able to guesstimate the lens aperture. This is relevant for in-camera vignetting correction as well as EXIF data. Below the ‘M’ logo and the rangefinder window is the focus aid button, which activates either magnification or peaking or both in manual focus mode. It’s in the same position where analog Ms have their rewind knob or lever, and is thus a nod to the M heritage.

In the center of the main body you’ll find the heart of the camera, the M bayonet lens mount. To the left of it the lens release button is located, and the little dark-grey patch in the bottom right of the mount is the 6-bit code reader. On the inside of the lens mount, at the very top the rangefinder cam is located. It is responsible for communicating the current focus position of the lens to the rangefinder mechanism inside the top of the camera.

At the very rear end of the lens mount, the shutter curtains are located. They are painted in different shades of grey, which reflect the incoming light down to the center-weighted meter cell in the bottom of the lens mount. Alternatively, light metering can be done in spot and multi-pattern modes via the sensor, which requires the shutter to be open. This is the case also in live-view mode.

Felix Esser The Phoblographer Leica M Typ 240 Review Top View

The top of the M Typ 240 is as spartan as all Ms that came before it, with the addition of a microphone at the very left–remember, the new M is able to record video. In the center of the top plate, you’ll find the flash hot shoe, pictured here with the protective cover attached. Then to the top right of it there’s the shutter speed dial, which has an ‘A’ position for auto exposure, a ‘B’ position for bulb exposure, and then goes in from 8 seconds to 1/4000 sec. in half-stop steps.

To the right of the shutter speed dial you’ll find the shutter button, which now has only two steps as compared to the M8/M9′s three steps. Half-press it to lock the metered exposure, full-press it to shoot. Btw., the sound of the new shutter is much more muted than that of the M8 or M9, which is a welcome change. It is still very audible, but nothing compared with the older shutter, which in addition to itself doing a ‘clunk’ noise was also followed by a noticeable whirr of the cocking mechanism.

Around the shutter button is the combined on/off and drive switch, just the way it has always been on digital Ms. The switch has four positions: off, single shot, continuous shooting, self timer. Finally, to the right of the shutter button, there’s the ‘M’ button, which activates the movie mode. It is located in roughly the same spot as the frame counter on analog Ms–another nod to the M heritage.

Felix Esser The Phoblographer Leica M Typ 240 Review Rear View

The back of the M Typ 240 is dominated by the new 3″ screen, which looks massive on the comparably small M body. But let’s start at the top: at the left, there’s the rear end of the viewfinder window. Just as it has always been, there’s no built-in diopter compensation. Instead, screw-in diopters are available for the M. Why Leica didn’t change that while they were at breaking with their own tradition eludes us.

Next up, in the center of the top plate is the accessory port which takes either Leica’s or Olympus’s electronic viewfinder. It’s the same that can be used on most Olympus models and the Leica X Vario. At the far right of the top plate you’ll find the scroll wheel, which at the same time acts as a small thumb rest. It’s no way as good as a Thumbie or Thumbs Up, but it’s better than bare metal.

Okay, now let’s take a look what’s around that huge LCD screen (which is great, btw., and nothing like that of the M8 and M9.) Left of the screen are six direct acces buttons:

  • ‘LV’ activates live-view, alas only when a coded lens is attached (which, again eludes us.)
  • ‘PLAY’ activates playback mode.
  • ‘DELETE’ deletes an image in playback mode.
  • ‘ISO’ shows you your current ISO setting, but doesn’t let you change it via the scroll wheel, which would’ve been the intuitive thing to do. Again, this eludes us and can only be explained as Leica-specific logic.
  • ‘MENU’ activates the main menu, which is pretty self-explanatory and contains all the settings that one would expect to find there.
  • ‘SET’ either confirms a setting when inside the main menu, or opens a panel with quick settings when not. This is a very nice feature.

To the top right of the display you’ll find the four way controller which lets you navigate through menus and browse through images. In the center, it has an ‘INFO’ button instead of a ‘MENU’ or ‘SET’ button. We’ve seen this already in our X Vario review, and the most probable explanation is that Leica wanted to make sure that people with large fingers don’t accidentally change any settings (the cameras require you to use both hands in order to change settings.) The INFO button shows general information on the camera, lens and SD card in shooting mode, and changes the view on the display in playback mode.

Finally, to the bottom right of the screen there’s a little speaker for video playback as well as small LED that lights up under certain circumstances, for example when writing a file to the SD card or during video recording.

Felix Esser The Phoblographer Leica M Typ 240 Review Bottom View

Finally, we’re at the bottom of the new M. Just like all Ms that came before it, the M Typ 240 has the traditional base plate that has a simple but effective locking mechanism and protects the battery, SD compartment and the electronic contacts for the accessory grip very well.

When the bottom plate is detached, you’ll find the compartment for the huge battery at the left, with the SD card slot below it. To the right of the battery compartment you’ll find the electronic contacts for the accessory grip. Finally, in the center of the camera’s bottom, there’s the standard tripod mount.

Build Quality

As with all Leica products, the M Typ 240 is of excellent build quality. The main body is made of magnesium alloy, with the top and bottom plates made of solid brass. This adds not only a feel of weight and heft to the camera, but also makes it very durable. The rear screen is also well protected, covered with a plate of Gorilla glass. All the buttons require precisely the right amount of pressure, and the little thumb wheel on the back of the camera feels like it won’t fail even after being turned a million times.

Where users should be cautious though is the area beyond the lens mount. Here we find the rangefinder cam which can easily be damaged when too much pressure is applied, as well as the delicate shutter curtains behind which the previous sensor is located. So caution should be applied when attaching a lens to or removing a lens from the M (or any rangefinder camera in general.)

Focusing

As a first in the history of rangefinder cameras, the M Typ 240 supports both rangefinder as well as live-view focusing, thanks to its newly developed 24 megapixel CMOS sensor. For rangefinder newbies, focusing through the optical viewfinder may require a bit of training, but once you’re familiar with how a rangefinder works, it’s quick and easy to achieve spot-on focus–provided both your rangefinder mechanism and your lens are properly calibrated.

When using live-view via the rear screen or the optional electronic viewfinder, the M user can choose between two levels of magnification as well as additional focus peaking, which helps tremendously when shooting at wide apertures. They way focus peaking is implemented is that you push the button top right of the lens mount, and the display will instantly switch to magnified mode in which the contrast edges around focused objects are highlighted in red–pretty much the same way it works in most cameras that offer this functionality.

Ease of Use

The M Typ 240 is a very user-friendly camera overall. Since the lenses for both the M- and the R-system are all manual, the camera works in aperture priority all the time. However, thanks to the shutter speed dial on top of the camera, the user can switch to manual mode with a twist of the dial. Shutter speed is also indicated in the viewfinder, which also gives basic feedback about over- and underexposure.

Thanks to its CMOS sensor and live-view capabilities, the M typ 240 adds spot and multi-pattern metering via the sensor to the classic center-weighted metering via the shutter blades. This makes it much easier to achieve correct exposure under certain conditions. For the beginner multi-pattern metering might be the safest way to go, since it takes a little getting used to Leica’s classical center-weighted metering, which is easily fooled by bright or dark areas.

The menus of the M Typ 240 are pretty self-explanatory, and contain all the settings that we expect to find in a modern digital camera. The only gripe we have with the camera is that there’s no way to preview the effects of a given aperture + shutter speed + ISO speed combination on video footage before actually hitting the video recording button. So in order to check how the settings will work, the user needs to record at least 1 second of sample footage and then tweak the settings if necessary.

Image Quality

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When it comes to image quality, the M typ 240 is right up there with the best full-frame cameras currently available on the market. Images are perfectly usable up to the highest ISO settings and require little to no noise reduction during post processing. Dynamic range is vast, and when choosing uncompressed DNG as the file format, there is so much detail and information that you can do almost anything to the M’s pictures without them even getting close to falling apart.

Since there’s no lowpass (anti-aliasing) filter on the sensor, there’s sharpness in every single pixel, provided the lens attached delivers enough resolution to begin with. When using Leica or Zeiss glass, that shouldn’t be a problem, though. As has been noted in many reviews before, the auto white balance tends to generate very warm colors. This has allegedly been solved with the latest firmware update, which we didn’t have the time to check out, though.

In general, though, the color rendition of the M Typ 240 is very natural, and there is a huge latitude for post processing in the DNG files. Speaking of which, when shooting uncompressed DNGs, their size is around 50 megabytes per image, and around 25 megabytes when shooting compressed DNGs. We couldn’t observe any difference in image quality–but then again, we didn’t prepare any images to be printed at 4×6 feet.

Overall, the Leica M Typ 240 delivers some extraordinary images, with lots and lots of detail, clean high ISO files, pleasing colors and loads of post-processing latitude. Dynamic range is large enough to be able to rescue overexposed highlights (up to a certain degree), and shadows can be pushed almost indefinitely before noise starts creeping in and colors begin to fall apart. Which in our tests never really happened.

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First Impressions

The Leica M Typ 240 breaks with tradition in several aspects. First of all, it is the first M-series Leica to ever offer a video mode. Secondly, thanks to its CMOS sensor, it supports live view and manual focusing with focus peaking, in addition to its inherited rangefinder focusing. And finally, it no longer sports a frame line illumination window, but rather opts for LED illuminated frame lines that come in two selectable colors.

All this might seem like blasphemy to the die-hard conservative Leica believer, but in fact it is the consequent modernization of a system that has a legacy which dates back to the middle of the previous century. The dedicated CMOS sensor makes as good use of Leica’s M-mount lenses as is currently possible, and delivers stunning images with lots of fine detail, superb clarity and amazing colors. In fact, the images have an almost film-like look to it thanks to the great dynamic range of the sensor.

Without the shadow of a doubt one can say that the M Typ 240 is the pinnacle of Leica’s rangefinder camera evolution, and most certainly one of the best digital cameras currently around. Granted, it’s way out of the financial range for most of us. But for those who are committed to the system and are ready to shell out the big $$$ for it, it will deliver the ultimate M-mount rangefinder experience.

We’ll spend a little extra time with the M Typ 240 before our final review of the camera will be published, but at this point, we’re almost certain that we won’t have to change a single word of the above verdict.

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