What can I say? It's a Leica...
Okay, enough fan-boying for a bit and let's get down to it. I bought this as an upgrade from the Fujifilm X100s that I've been using so much in the last year. Discovering the rangefinder form factor was the best thing I've done so it was time to cement my enjoyment for the rangefinder by going all out.
24 Megapixel CMOS
At 24 megapixels, the CMOSIS full frame sensor inside the M is a big step up from the 18mp CCD in the Leica M9. One of the biggest things you'll find is the noise performance far exceeds the CCD's capabilities, which makes it more capable in low light such as wandering around the city at night.
ISO 3200 stills looks great and gives quite a nice "grain" structure for black and white and colour photos alike. If you use some mild chroma noise reduction when developing in colour, the luminance noise will yield a very nice dithering grain.
13+ EV Dynamic Range
Leica has found a very modern sensor to use for this camera. The dynamic range is remarkable, being rated by DxOMark at 13.3 stops which places it closer to the incredible Nikon D810 sensor, which they rated at a whopping 14.8 stops. What this means is that your images will have smoother highlights and shadows and a lower noise floor. Coupled with the high resolution of the sensor, the Leica M captures images in superb quality.
The Leica M9 and typical Canon high end DSLR's by comparison can only achieve around 11.7 stops of dynamic range. That's a significant boost of around 1.5 stops.
The Camera Body
I don't know if I really need to say that much about the camera except for the differences between this and the M9. All Leica M rangefinders are semi hand-crafted and typically made out of polished brass. The Leica M 240 is no exception. It's heavy, but that makes it feel like it's going to last. At the price you pay, you'd want it to last. The shutter sound is much suppressed coming from the M9, and is more of a single, quiet CHNNK sound.
As far as ergonomics goes, you can get away with a bare camera and lens, but there's a few accessories I always tend to need on rangefinders and that is a soft release button to make the shutter button more tactile, a hot shoe thumb grip to provide a strong hold for your hand and a wrist strap (I don't like neck straps).
As pictured at the top, I use a Gordy's leather wrist strap. The concave Bip soft release I use is from Match Technical and I have ordered a cheap black hot-shoe thumb grip from eBay. The M 240 has a different thread to the X100s so I have an updated Bip on order. Also, you can spend up to $200 on matching brass Thumbs Up grips, but I'm not going to. $10 on eBay is fine for me...
The display on the M 240 is far more useful than the Leica M9 and is a much welcomed upgrade. It's detailed and smooth and provides a crystal clear preview of your photos. What I was hoping to find was the ability to set the DNG preview settings to black and white, as this is how I shot on the Fuji X100s. Even though I'm shooting to raw DNG files, I still want to preview my photos in contrasty black and white. I was in luck...
To do this, you go to the "Image" settings page and set the Film Mode to Black-and-white or any setting you desire. You can even use the JPEG settings as well. This is embedded in the DNG as a JPEG preview and will show this way when viewing your images.
The only issue I can see with the display is that it has a slight brown/bronze tone to it which shows up in the grayscale menu and when viewing black and white images. I don't see this as a real problem though, since I always shoot DNG and almost always in B&W anyway.
Issues With The Leica M
While I love the camera, it's not perfect so here is a small list of the issues I have. These are mostly minor and subjective so don't worry too much.
1) The mode/off switch surrounding the shutter button easily flicks past the "S" single mode to the "C" or timer modes when switching the camera on.
2) The strap lugs are a little low on the camera body and dig a little into your hand as you grip the camera. On the X100s, they are near the top of the camera and therefore sit above your hand comfortably.
3) With glasses on, the 35mm frame lines are only roughly visible without your eye right up against the viewfinder window. Makes framing a little tricky if you're going for accuracy.
4) In semi-automatic exposure modes, the Classic (internal light meter) is fooled by backlighting quite easily and requires you to be vigilant about your exposure compensation. The Advanced sensor-based metering may fare better in this regard but causes lag by having the shutter open. Just have to be mindful about lighting scenarios.
5) I'm going to miss the ability to focus closer than 0.7-0.8 meters away. Rangefinders generally don't focus close. The X100s on the other hand could focus as close as a few centimetres!
Leica Summarit 35mm f/2.5
When you are spending this much on the Leica M body alone, it's hard to figure out just how much you want to afford for a lens. On the one hand, if you can buy a Leica M, surely you should at least get the Summicron f/2 or even the Summilux f/1.4, but on the other hand, by purchasing a Leica M, you're probably now strapped for cash, so you have to weigh up your needs.
I opted for the middle road, choosing a Leica lens, but not spending 3 months pay on one. This turned out to be the Leica Summarit 35mm f/2.5 at around $2,000. I thought I would need f/2, as I was already used to this on the Fuji X100s, but so far the difference between the 'rit f/2.5 and the 'cron f/2 is negligible in real world terms.
Yes, it's a "cheap" lens for Leica, but it renders beautifully both the in and out of focus areas thanks to its 6 lens elements and 9 aperture blades. You can see quite clearly in the picture above how the bokeh looks on thin, bright shapes.
At its price tag and given the image qualities it exhibits, it's clear that it's no slouch and is a serious option. The 'rit is only 2/3rds of a stop slower than the 'cron and the CMOS sensor can handle that with ease.
The lens is tiny and doesn't add much weight to the camera. I tried out the Summilux 50mm the other day and it was considerably heavier, making the whole camera feel like something you could throw at someone in a fight (though I don't recommend it for obvious reasons).
If you are new to Leica and don't have a massive wallet for a Summicron or Summilux lens, you'll go no wrong by choosing from the Summarit range. Leica glass seems consistently top notch.
This isn't an exhaustive review and is mainly the major talking points of the camera as both a piece of engineering and as a technical tool. I'm thoroughly enjoying the camera and the issues I described above are minor and aren't deal breakers for my use case.
Having never owned a Leica, I'm still getting used to just how well constructed the camera feels, especially in comparison to the Fujifilm X100s I was using. Heavy, solid brass with a quiet but mechanical shutter and a sturdy, high quality lens is definitely a major part of why the Leica M will be my go to camera for the future.
While the X100s and similar cameras are fantastic and perfectly capable for most types of photography, nothing really beats the way a Leica feels in the hands.
The noise performance, resolution and dynamic range just make it feel that much more formidable as a modern digital rangefinder. Leica is really leading the way here, being just about the only full-frame true rangefinders on the market.
Will other companies follow suit? Who knows...