Review: Leica M-D

The Leica M-D is a crazy idea–seriously, who decides to remove the LCD screen from a camera? It makes no sense, right? Honestly, you’d be amazed at how wrong you are. The Leica M-D is the closest thing that Leica has that fuses both digital and film. Indeed, it’s the true film photographer’s M camera. Scoff all you want at this camera, but after three weeks of time with it and the wonderful 24mm f1.4 Summilux, I genuinely started to understand it. You could indeed call it the Anti-Instagram camera, but I personally see it as one of the most important M cameras that they’ve released since the original M9 and the M Monochrom.

If you’re a true photojournalist or documentary photographer, this could be the only camera you’ll ever need. And before you sit there and hate on all the things about Leica cameras being so expensive, at least hear me out.

Pros and Cons

Chris Gampat The Phoblographer Leica MD extra image samples (3 of 20)ISO 2001-180 sec at f - 16

Pros

  • Pretty solid battery life when fully charged
  • Fairly simple to use once you read the manual
  • Major emphasis on just shooting and none of the other crazy stuff
  • Removal of video features makes you really just concentrate on photography
  • Great build quality
  • Bright viewfinder
  • Very solid image quality
  • Makes you shoot in a totally different way–as do pretty much all rangefinders
  • Higher emphasis in your mind on really getting the shot right

Cons

  • It should be $4,000
  • A 24mm viewfinder frame line would be nice
  • Didn’t work with Sony SD cards, and in fact, Leica says that it won’t work with all SD cards.

Gear Used

The Leica M-D was reviewed with the Leica 24mm f1.4 Summilux lens (yes, I got very lucky here)

Tech Specs

Chris Gampat The Phoblographer Leica MD extra image samples (7 of 20)ISO 2001-350 sec at f - 4.8

Camera Type
Compact digital view and rangefinder system camera
Lens Attachment
Leica M bayonet with additional sensor for 6-bit coding
Lens System
Leica M lenses from 16 to 135mm
Picture Format/ Image Sensor
CMOS chip, active area approx. 23.9 x 35.8mm (corresponds to usable format of analog Leica M models)
Resolution
5976 x 3992 pixels (24 MP)
Data Formats
DNG (raw data), compressed loss-free, JPEG
File Size
Depends on subject
Buffer Memory
1GB
Storage Media
SD cards up to 2 GB, SDHC cards up to 32 GB, SDXC cards
Exposure metering
Ambient light: Through the lens (TTL), with working aperture, flash light: TTL metering with system-compatible, SCA-3000/2-standard flash units
Metering Principle/Method
By metering the light reflected by light blades of the 1st shutter curtain onto a measuring cell: strong center-weighted;
for metering on the sensor: spot, center-weighted, multi-field mete ring.
Metering range
Metering the light reflected by light blades of the 1st shutter cur tain onto a measuring cell: heavily center-weighted
Sensitivity Range
ISO 200 bis ISO 6400, can be set manually in 1/3 ISO steps
Exposure Mode
Choice of automatic shutter speed control with manual aperture pres election aperture priority A, or manual shutter speed and aperture setting
Flash Unit Attachment
Via accessory shoe with center and control contacts
Synchronization
To the 1st shutter curtain
Flash Sync Speed
= 1 /180 s; slower shutter speeds can be used, if working below sync speed: Automatic changeover to TTL linear flash mode with HSS-compatible and system-compatible flash units
Flash Exposure Metering
(with system-compatible flash units, e.g. Leica SF 26) Control with center-weighted TTL pre-flash metering
Flash Exposure Compensation
+/- 3 1 /3 EV, adjustable in 1 /3 EV steps can be set (only with system-compatible flash units that do not have their own setting possibility)
Displays in Flash Mode
Readiness: by means of constant lighting of the flash symbol LED in the viewfinder, success control: by further lighting or temporary fast flashing of the LED after the picture has been ta ken, underexposure display: by the LED going out temporarily
Viewfinder Principle
Large, bright line frame viewfinder with automatic parallax compensation
Eyepiece
Calibrated to – 0.5 dpt.; corrective lenses from -3 to +3 diopter available
Image field indication
By activating two bright-line frames each: for 35 and 135mm, or for 28 and 90mm, or for 50 and 75mm; automatic switching when lens is attached; frame color: white
Parallax Compensation
The horizontal and vertical difference between the viewfinder and l ens is automatically balanced by moving the brightline frame in line with the relevant distance setting
Matching Viewfinder and Actual Image
At a focusing distance of 2m, the bright-line frame size correspond s exactly to the sensor size of approx. 23.9×35.8mm; at infinity setting, depending on the focal length, approx. 7.3 % ( 28mm) to 18 % (135mm) more is recorded by the sensor than indicated by the corresponding bright line frame and slightly less for shorter distance settings than 2m
Magnification
(For all lenses) 0.68x
Long-base Rangefinder
Split or superimposed image rangefinder shown as a bright rectangular field in the center of the viewfinder image
Effective Metering Base
47.1mm (mechanical measurement base 69.25mmx viewfinder magnification 0.68x)
Display
Four-digit digital display with dots above and below, displays
Shutter
Metal blade focal plane shutter with vertical movement
Shutter Speeds
For aperture priority: (A) continuously from 60 s (ISO-dependent) to 1 /4000 s. For manual adjustment: 8 s to 1 /4000 s in half steps. B: For long exposures up to max. 60 s (together with self-timer: T function, i.e. 1st press = Shutter opens, 2nd press = Shutter closes), (1 /180 s): Fastest shutter speed for flash synchronization, HSS linear flash mode possible with all shutter speeds faster than 1 /180 s with HSS-compatible Leica system flash units
Activation of Shutter Release Button
By integrated motor, low noise operation
Shutter Release Button
Two-stage, 1. Activation of exposure metering and exposure lock (in aperture priority mode), 2. Shutter release; standard thread for cable release integrated
Turning the camera on/off
With main switch on the camera top panel, reactivation by touching the shutter release button
Power Supply
1 lithium ion battery Leica BP-SCL2, rated voltage 7.4V, capacity 1800mAh, capacity indicated in top panel display, when shutter held open (for sensor cleaning) additional acoustic warning of low capacity, maximum charging current/ voltage: DC, 1000mA, 7.4V; manufacturer: VARTA Microbattery, Made in Indonesia
Charger
Leica BP-SCL2, Inputs: 100-240V AC, 50/60Hz, automatic switching or 12V DC, 1.3A; Output: DC, max. 8.25 V, 1100mA; manufacturer: Guangdong PISEN Electronics Co., Ltd., Made in China
Material
All-metal magnesium/aluminum body, leather covering, brass top panel and base, black lacquered finish
Tripod Thread
A 1/4 (1/4″) DIN stainless steel in bottom
Interfaces
ISO flash shoe
Operating Conditions
0 to 40 deg. C / 32 to 104 deg. F
Dimensions (L x H x D)
5.45 x 1.65 x 3.15″ / 138.43 x 41.91 x 80.01mm (Approx.)
Weight
680g / 24oz (with battery)

Ergonomics

Chris Gampat The Phoblographer Leica MD product images (3 of 12)ISO 4001-60 sec at f - 3.5

The Leica MD is a camera that is designed very much like so many other Leica cameras, though it’s also the most unique of any of them designed. On the front we see something very characteristic of almost every Leica camera– a very empty front. Sure, we’ve got parts of the viewfinder, rangefinder, lens release, and other areas. But there are very few controls.

Chris Gampat The Phoblographer Leica MD product images (6 of 12)ISO 4001-60 sec at f - 3.5

Move over to the top of the camera and what you’ll find are the main controls. Besides the obvious Leica logo, you’ll spot the hot shoe, shutter speed dial, on/off switch, and a custom function button.

Chris Gampat The Phoblographer Leica MD product images (8 of 12)ISO 4001-60 sec at f - 3.5

Move to the back of the camera and what you’ll see here is the ISO dial–just like you’d see on a film camera. Unlike the film camera though, you’ll see a dial in the top right. I genuinely wish this were more pronounced to make it feel like a film advance.

Chris Gampat The Phoblographer Leica MD product images (9 of 12)ISO 4001-60 sec at f - 3.5

Move to the bottom of the camera and undo the bottom cover–what you’ll reveal is the battery and the SD card port.

Build Quality

Chris Gampat The Phoblographer Leica MD product images (5 of 12)ISO 4001-60 sec at f - 3.5

The Leica M-D is built super, incredibly well. It isn’t being billed as weather sealed but the entire thing is heavy, solid, and feels like a brick. You could probably beat someone with it if they tried to rob you. Considering that there is no LCD screen, it would just make so much more sense.

It’s best used with a strap wrapped around your wrist. The camera doesn’t need a grip–instead it needs a deeper and more film-like ergonomic area for your thumb to rest and truly grip the camera.

Ease of Use

Chris Gampat The Phoblographer Leica MD product images (1 of 12)ISO 4001-60 sec at f - 3.5

No major menus to worry about here–just straight forward shooting! Sure, the custom function button settings and a few of the things in the viewfinder will need to be memorized but you’ll be fine after a day or two and truly checking out the manual.

If nothing comes up in the viewfinder, then your SD card is probably not accepted–and that makes no sense to me.

Like all other rangefinders though, you’re bound to get fingerprints on the viewing areas like the viewfinder, rangefinder, etc. Always bring a microfiber cloth with you!

Further, using the film dial in the dark isn’t simple, so you’ll need to find some light.

Metering

Chris Gampat The Phoblographer Leica MD extra image samples (14 of 20)ISO 2001-1500 sec at f - 4.8

According to our Sunny 16 tests, the sensor in the Leica M-D adheres pretty strictly to the metering type. So that means that street photographers and anyone else that uses old school film methods of shooting will not have any sort of major qualms.

Focusing

Focusing is done manually via a rangefinder. The one in the Leica M-D is very bright, accurate and beautiful. But you should always keep it clean!

Image Quality

Chris Gampat The Phoblographer Leica MD extra image samples (8 of 20)ISO 2001-45 sec at f - 2.4

The image quality from the Leica M-D is very similar to that of the Sony a7 and a7 II cameras. With that said, it’s very versatile and very good. In fact, it’s more than good enough for most uses–especially those needs of a photojournalist.

You’ll see…

RAW Quality Versatility

Chris Gampat The Phoblographer Leica MD extra image samples raw file original (1 of 1)ISO 2001-750 sec at f - 4.0

So here’s the original photo. As you can see, I underexposed.

Chris Gampat The Phoblographer Leica MD extra image samples raw file edited (1 of 1)ISO 2001-750 sec at f - 4.0

Now here’s an edit in color, and below is an edit in black and white.Chris Gampat The Phoblographer Leica MD extra image samples (11 of 20)ISO 2001-750 sec at f - 4.0

The Leica M-D allows you to have lots of really cool capabilities like lots of dynamic range, color depth, etc. It’s more than good enough and you don’t need more in the long run. As it is, no computer screen can handle a 24MP RAW file.

You’re not going to get something like the Sony a7s II or the a7r II, but you’ll still get a lot of range. 24MP is the best of both worlds in some ways.

High ISO Output

Chris Gampat The Phoblographer Leica MD review image samples (15 of 27)ISO 64001-90 sec at f - 1.4

High ISO RAW files tend to be amazingly clean, though what you’ll also encounter is still a lot of dynamic range. The grain is very film-like and you’ll really enjoy the conversion to black and white in the darkest of settings. At the same time, the color output is pretty decent too.

Chris Gampat The Phoblographer Leica MD extra image samples (6 of 20)ISO 40001-60 sec at f - 1.4

Extra Image Samples

Chris Gampat The Phoblographer Leica MD extra image samples (1 of 20)ISO 2001-500 sec at f - 8.0

Chris Gampat The Phoblographer Leica MD extra image samples (2 of 20)ISO 2001-250 sec at f - 8.0

Chris Gampat The Phoblographer Leica MD extra image samples (3 of 20)ISO 2001-180 sec at f - 16

Chris Gampat The Phoblographer Leica MD extra image samples (4 of 20)ISO 2001-125 sec at f - 4.8

Chris Gampat The Phoblographer Leica MD extra image samples (5 of 20)ISO 2001-500 sec at f - 4.0

Chris Gampat The Phoblographer Leica MD extra image samples (7 of 20)ISO 2001-350 sec at f - 4.8

Chris Gampat The Phoblographer Leica MD extra image samples (8 of 20)ISO 2001-45 sec at f - 2.4

Chris Gampat The Phoblographer Leica MD extra image samples (9 of 20)ISO 2001-1000 sec at f - 4.8

Chris Gampat The Phoblographer Leica MD extra image samples (10 of 20)ISO 2001-500 sec at f - 3.4

Chris Gampat The Phoblographer Leica MD extra image samples (12 of 20)ISO 2001-250 sec at f - 5.6

Chris Gampat The Phoblographer Leica MD extra image samples (13 of 20)ISO 2001-750 sec at f - 4.8

Chris Gampat The Phoblographer Leica MD extra image samples (16 of 20)ISO 2001-1500 sec at f - 5.6

Chris Gampat The Phoblographer Leica MD extra image samples (19 of 20)ISO 2001-1000 sec at f - 5.6

Chris Gampat The Phoblographer Leica MD extra image samples (20 of 20)ISO 2001-1000 sec at f - 3.4

Chris Gampat The Phoblographer Leica MD review image samples 24mm (1 of 1)ISO 4001-125 sec at f - 1.7

Chris Gampat The Phoblographer Leica MD review image samples (27 of 27)ISO 2001-60 sec at f - 1.4

Chris Gampat The Phoblographer Leica MD review image samples (26 of 27)ISO 2001-350 sec at f - 4.8

Chris Gampat The Phoblographer Leica MD review image samples (25 of 27)ISO 4001-12 sec at f - 2.0

Chris Gampat The Phoblographer Leica MD review image samples (24 of 27)ISO 2001-45 sec at f - 3.4

Chris Gampat The Phoblographer Leica MD review image samples (23 of 27)ISO 2001-250 sec at f - 2.8

Chris Gampat The Phoblographer Leica MD review image samples (22 of 27)ISO 2001-350 sec at f - 3.4

Chris Gampat The Phoblographer Leica MD review image samples (21 of 27)ISO 64001-45 sec at f - 1.7

Chris Gampat The Phoblographer Leica MD review image samples (20 of 27)ISO 64001-15 sec at f - 2.0

Chris Gampat The Phoblographer Leica MD review image samples (19 of 27)ISO 64001-60 sec at f - 1.7

Chris Gampat The Phoblographer Leica MD review image samples (18 of 27)ISO 64001-60 sec at f - 1.7

Chris Gampat The Phoblographer Leica MD review image samples (17 of 27)ISO 64001-180 sec at f - 1.4

Chris Gampat The Phoblographer Leica MD review image samples (16 of 27)ISO 64001-30 sec at f - 1.7

Chris Gampat The Phoblographer Leica MD review image samples (15 of 27)ISO 64001-90 sec at f - 1.4

Chris Gampat The Phoblographer Leica MD review image samples (14 of 27)ISO 2001-750 sec at f - 3.4

Chris Gampat The Phoblographer Leica MD review image samples (13 of 27)ISO 2001-250 sec at f - 4.8

Chris Gampat The Phoblographer Leica MD review image samples (11 of 27)ISO 2001-2000 sec at f - 4.8

Chris Gampat The Phoblographer Leica MD review image samples (12 of 27)ISO 2001-90 sec at f - 6.8

Chris Gampat The Phoblographer Leica MD review image samples (10 of 27)ISO 2001-350 sec at f - 2.0

Chris Gampat The Phoblographer Leica MD review image samples (9 of 27)ISO 2001-180 sec at f - 4.8

Chris Gampat The Phoblographer Leica MD review image samples (8 of 27)ISO 2001-500 sec at f - 11

Chris Gampat The Phoblographer Leica MD review image samples (7 of 27)ISO 2001-500 sec at f - 2.8

Chris Gampat The Phoblographer Leica MD review image samples (6 of 27)ISO 2001-1000 sec at f - 2.0

Chris Gampat The Phoblographer Leica MD review image samples (5 of 27)ISO 2001-3000 sec at f - 2.4

Chris Gampat The Phoblographer Leica MD review image samples (4 of 27)ISO 4001-45 sec at f - 1.7

Chris Gampat The Phoblographer Leica MD review image samples (3 of 27)ISO 4001-180 sec at f - 1.4

Chris Gampat The Phoblographer Leica MD review image samples (2 of 27)ISO 2001-60 sec at f - 1.7

Conclusions

 

Likes

  • The film world and the digital world truly meet

Dislikes

  • Leica should work on anti-smearing coatings for their glass viewfinders.

So why do I like the Leica MD? There are lots of very legitimate reasons. I like the feel of film cameras–and considering the trends involved with photography these days, that just makes sense. Leica’s addition of the film ISO dial vs the LCD screen will make you joke around with friends that you just shot a great photo only to then show them the film dial. Typically people want to chimp their LCD screen immediately, and that’s being done away with.

The result can go one of two ways: digital only photographers will get frustrated as heck. Film photographers will know that they’ve been very careful and will put greater trust in what they’ve done because they’ve taken more careful steps to get the image. Once they get an image, two, or three, they’ll move on in life.

Just like with film too, they’ll accumulate loads of photos and then choose to develop them. The excitement they get will then be well rewarded. To that end, I don’t recommend this camera for even the most skilled digital photographers that have only shot on digital. You’ll need to embrace film and digital mentalities both when using this camera, and if you don’t know how to use film or what it entails, then you’ll need to just be careful.

Not having an LCD screen on the back of the camera also has another advantage: you can’t delete your photo. As long as you’ve got good intentions with your picture taking, you’ll need to tell people that you’re shooting film0–and that to that end, you can’t delete the image. This is great for photojournalists and documentary shooters alike.

No LCD screen also means that there is one less place on the camera that can potentially crack in a rough and tumble.

Leica could have gone even further here though: locking the white balance into either daylight (or providing a switch to make it tungsten for night shooting) and adding more of an ergonomic grip kind of like a film advance would be amazing. But they didn’t do that.

For $4,000, I’d highly consider this camera. As it is, I don’t buy cameras often and I’ll stick with one model for a while. I own an OMD EM5, an X Pro 1, a Canon 6D and a Sony a7 for the reason that I often need to test gear and coordinating more than one loaner of a unit or two can prove impossible. As it is, I still use all these cameras. They’re all great–and the Leica MD will still be fantastic in a few years too. But at $6,000 the price is just a bit too much. You get a lot of fantastic benefits from not having an LCD screen, but there isn’t enough to make me want to completely sell everything for it here.

four-star-Phoblographer-Star-rating

The Leica MD receives four out of five stars. It’s a truly wonderful camera and if you’re a film shooter, it makes total sense.