Leica M Typ 240: Part 1 (design, controls, basic operation)
Above: M, 90mm f/2.8 M-Hexanon, ISO 800
Like a squadron of flying monkeys from the Wizard of Oz, the Leica M (a/k/a M240) is now shipping in production quantities. No one will ever know why production was so choked for so long. Regardless, these are some first impressions of the camera’s usability.
The design. Most of this is similar to the M8/M9 with a few exceptions.
- There is a dedicated function button on the front (mainly for EV compensation), a control wheel on the back (not unlike a Nikon DSLR), a small microphone cutout on the top left, and a movie button on the top.
- The camera is not thicker (or at least appreciably thicker) than the camera it replaces. If you can to live with a detachable bottom plate, this one is much improved. Using a tripod does not strain the baseplate (the tripod screw goes right into the chassis of the camera).
- The bottom plate has weather seals, as does the rest of the camera. The rear screen is larger.
- The most significant change, however, is the missing frame illuminator window on the front. The ugly red dot has moved into its position.
The electronics and controls. The cardinal virtue of the new M is that its electronics are mostly up-to-date, and the camera responds quickly and definitively in shooting pictures and playing them back. The controls are very significantly improved.
- The main thumbwheel is much more comfortable and solid than the flimsy, yet thumb-wrecking M8/M9 wheel. This wheel controls many main parameters without going into menus.
- ISO is adjusted by holding in the ISO button and turning the thumbwheel.
- EV compensation is achieved by holding down the front function button and turning the thumbwheel. EV comp is visible in the viewfinder while you are changing it.
- The live-view button is easy to confuse by feel with the play button (it is the top-most button on the back left).
- The abbreviated “set” menu (activated by a single button) is still there with the short list of key items (resolution, white balance, etc.)
Use this camera for a while, and you will wonder why anyone ever tolerated the prior version of M8/M9 controls. Or their Atari-800-age electronics.
The screen. It is fabulous. Period. It would make you think the old one is from 1986. That said, the high pixel density makes it a bit harder to spot the moire that tells you that the picture is focused.
The shutter action. Short, high-pitched, and still quiet. It reminds you a little of the Hexar RF shutter, just shorter and less loud. Oh yes, it also fires much faster in sequence than any M ever has.
The rangefinder/viewfinder. The big improvement here is the LED framelines, which adjust to ambient light and turn off completely when the camera is off. Although there are some strange people who claim they like to wander around looking through the framelines with the camera off, for the rest of us, the bigger hazard is to frame up a picture only to forget that the camera is off. Some claim that the RF/VF is better; any visible differences are sufficiently subtle to be almost invisible. The RF LED array has two new display modes.
- EV compensation display, two digits and decimal (you also get a minus sign if the correction is negative).
- Movie mode, which shows the frame rate and two flashing dots.
The rangefinder/viewfinder is a model of clarity. And just as on every Leica following the M3, it seems as if the plane of the framelines is slightly different from the subject.
Live view. This is a very contentious feature for some reason. It should not be. It is activated by a single button. It comes up quickly, and there is very little lag when you shoot (even compared to an X-Pro1). A future installment will discuss the use of the electronic viewfinder. One interesting thing about focus assist is that the camera can tell when lens focus is shifted significantly (possibly though a sensor in the RF assembly), and this brings up a magnified view (up to 10x, selectable by the thumbwheel). Focus peaking is hard to see unless magnification is on. Upshot. This is a well-though-out, modern camera that does not make using M lenses a physically or mentally punishing exercise. Future installments will address:
- The significance of 24 megapixels and whether it is really more useful than the 18 megapixels of the M9. That is, in situations where you are not running a fleet of $10K apo lenses.
- Whether the Fuji X series actually competes with something like an M240. I love the X-Pro1; I have an M240. How are they the same? How are they different?
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