Time flies really, at least for a 39-year-old dad with twins. It’s been a month since the delivery man handed me my dream camera – the Leica M Type 240.
Before I put a user review on it, I want to update here with an interim report after a month of ‘domestic’ use. Well, I lie. I did take my M out for a model shoot but it was only a test. You may wonder why on earth do I need numerous tests before actually using the camera, properly? Well, I hate getting my shots wrong, especially when I am making money from photography. Yes, we may be in a digital era (which also means more forgiving in terms of rescuing a photograph if shot in RAW) but getting the photograph right in the first place also means more flexible in creating the PERFECT final picture. The camera is essentially a tool and an extension to my vision so I need to get the ‘feel’ I want so learning all the characteristic of the camera and the lenses is ever so important to me. In the end, my digital Leica is a ‘NEW’ system and VERY different to my established Canon stuff.
So far, I have done around 600 shots with the M, mostly with my new 50mm Lux ASPH and my old 35mm Lux classic. These are the two most common focal lengths I use on a daily basis. Last week, I also took my newly acquired Konica Hexanon 90mm 1:2.8 (a copy of the famous Leica Elmarit-M 90mm 1:2.8 from Japan) out for a spin too! I have yet to use my old 90 Summicron M and 135mm Tele-Elmar. I may decide to get the EVF before shooting longer lenses, which requires a bit more delicate focusing and the rangefinder simply reaching its limit for such precise focusing.
My favourite M lens after a month? It has to be the 50mm Summilux ASPH. I haven’t seen anything like it and when paired with the new M, it’s stunning! This is coming from a pro Canon user for many years. I’ve used nice lenses over the past ten years but this Lux is definitely from another planet, lovely rendering, superb bokeh, super sharp when shot wide open, lovely colour and superb build. But what about my old 35mm Lux which I adore when using with my M6? It is the most charming if not technically perfect lens I have in my collection. I love it for its size, distortion-free, acceptable sharpness from f/2 onwards and that famous Leica glow. I haven’t thoroughly test it but although it looked perfect on my film M6, it’s a little dated on my M, especially now I see a little bit of focus shift between f/2.0 – 4.0. As a working lens, this is a little bit ‘off’ my requirement so I may be seeking another fast 35mm in the next few weeks. Voigtlander Nokton 35mm 1.2 VM sounds a good lens so I may give it a try. However, I wouldn’t go into details of each lens and I will write a separate review on ‘OLD’ lenses on ‘NEW’ M. This blog is about my M, the sexy body only.
Yes, the M is dawn sexy. More than Marilyn Monroe! It’s a little chubbier than my M6 in all dimensions but it’s still as simple and clean as ever. One thing that I love about M is how simple it is. When I opened the box and charged the battery, I turned it on and started shooting (ok, apart from setting my copyright details and setting the time and date..). The M is simple, a purpose-built photo-taking machine. I remembered when I first picked up my first Canon 5D, I needed to read the menu. Then when I upgraded to the Mark II, I spent the whole evening playing around with the functions. When the Mark III arrived, I spent the whole day reading the instruction! Worst??? In the end, I still only use three things – Aperture, Shutter and ISO. Umm…..
Now, the M has all these control at my fingertips. My M6 was very simple and full manual control. There’s a meter but no semi-auto aperture priority. So most of the time I just ‘read’ light and shoot. It was kind of simple because there’s only a couple of exposure perimeters while my ISO is fixed by the speed of my film in the spool. No cheating and I am pretty much fixed for that 36 exposures. Now, digital bodies can vary sensitivity by a tough of a button. How convenient! But M’s direct control is great! I also love the fact that I can now do exposure compensation with the use of front button and the back dial.
So far, I haven’t used any manual shutter speed control. I let the camera decides on shutter speed. I want to judge how accurate the M in reading the light. So far, so good. I certainly appreciate the centre-weight metering and in fact, I love it more during operation. Because the metering area is virtually the focusing patch in the centre. While I use the patch to focus, I could also use it to measure the light by pressing the shutter button half way and hold (exposure lock!) and then compose the picture again. This method really suits my style of shooting. Because I shoot mostly people so this method allows me to get correct exposure of the subject first, which is always more important for me. With DSLRs, I need to press the exposure lock button before I can recompose. The M, despite its simplicity, is more effective in this occasion.
Shutter is really good and lag is relatively minimal. I do notice it but now I learn when to press, with a little prediction. Focusing is dawn easy with this new M’s bright viewfinder. I have no problem focusing 35mm, 50mm and 90mm. I do have a 1.4x magnifying lens but so far I haven’t used it. Talking about focus, I do like the new focus assist of the M. Yes, the shutter needs to stay open for this to work and taking a photo means it lags even more but it’s effective if I am shooting a portrait when using 90mm or longer. So Leica purists may not like this but to me, a working pro who loves Leica, this is an interesting option that will only enhance my work!
I haven’t used an M9 before and my M6 never needs a battery for operation (only a button one for the meter) so I can’t compare with any M. But the latest Leica battery is rather large and heavy. I haven’t counted the number of shots I made but it just went dead after 600 photos, with a mix use of Live View and normal rangefinder. This is respectable indeed. My Canon may last longer per charge (about 900 shots) and my Olympus OM-D E-M5 is terrible with around 300 per charge. The M is right in the middle. But I believe if I only use the rangefinder and ignore Live View, I can stretch the battery life to around the same as my Canon if not better.
Any nags so far? Yes, I do. The M Type 240 may be revolutionary for the M series with all the goodies and latest technologies, some areas still feels a little off (at least to me). Certain operation is still not as slick as my 5 year-old Canon. Photo playbacks is much much better than the M9 and Monochrom (I did try them at my local dealer). But only for scrolling through the photos. If I want to zoom in to a picture, it will take a couple of seconds before the camera responds to my request. Similarly, focus assist in Live View and exposure compensation both take about a second to react. It’s definitely not instant. High ISO may be much improved from previous Ms, it’s only equal to my 5-year-old Canon, which isn’t a bad thing as I am oh so familiar with my Canon’s high ISO capability so this isn’t a learning curve but I did hope that the M will be at least similar to 5D Mark III (which is at least a stop better). However, between ISO 200-1600, the M is actually better than my 5D Mark II with better colour depth and greater dynamic range!
Is it the right tool for me? Yes yes and YES!!! Despite being manual everything (apart from aperture priority), the M hasn’t slowed me down in any way. In numerous occasions, it’s faster and more accurate than when I was using my Canon. The results are simply mind-blowing and its high ISOs are decent enough if not the best in the world. However, I can live with these minor flaws if I may call them. Nothing is ever perfect in my opinion but this M is perhaps the closest thing to my perfect photographic companion EVER (may be until the next M).
A proper review is coming soon so stay tuned!
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