Welcome to part… <check notes> 6, (Is that right?)… yes part 6 of this guy obsessing about a camera released over 10 years ago. The Leica M Type 240.
I will jump right into it. Here are some notes from week 1 of ownership.
Not apples to apples.
As I have repeated a couple of times before there is always a danger when meeting your heroes. This camera has long wreaked havoc on my logical side. It makes no sense at all on paper. While the “That thing is nice.” side of me has been trying to make a case for years, the utter lack of practical sense has been the main sticking point for me.
Case in point let’s compare the current model 60MP Leica M11 to Sony’s 60MP offering, the A7RV. On paper the Sony A7RV is an easy win. Slam dunk even. I will not bother to list them all here, but suffice it to say that the Sony offers many, many more features on its spec sheet. All for more than $5,000 less. This price gap widens further when you start looking at the prices of new Leica M mount glass. With the exception of two bazooka-sized telephoto Sony sports/wildlife lenses Leica lens prices start around the same price point as the most expensive Sony lenses and then go on up into the stratosphere from there. And that is with no manner of common features like sensor or lens stabilization or even autofocus. Let us take a look at one lens spec example. There is an almost $6,000 price gap between each company’s 50mm f/1.2 offerings. Enough to cover the purchase of the aforementioned Sony A7RV and an additional top end native lens.
But a week in I now realize I had been looking at this all wrong. This is not an apples to apples comparison. True they are both cameras. But a Mazda Miata and a Honda Civic, a Ford Mustang GT and Kia Stinger GT, or a Chevrolet Corvette and BMW M3 are all cars. But few, if any, would cross shop them. While all cars are used to take us to and fro all of these pairings are made to suit a different purpose and audience. Given Leica’s adherence to ways of the past, a better comparison might be a restomod Dodge Charger and a brand new Dodge Charger. Need to simply get back and forth to work with no muss or fuss? One might choose the new Charger. Want to tool around on a warm evening, cruising the boulevard with your better half and nowhere particular to go? One might choose the restomod Charger. And that is the case here. Different tools for a different purpose and audience.
There are those that would and do use a Leica M for actual paid work and kudos to them. Anything is possible, but I would reach for a modern system with every aid available every time. Want to walk about capturing moments with as little between myself and the image and no care for modern conveniences? Then Leica all day for me. Sure a modern system could be used for the latter just like you could go cruising in that new Charger, but given a choice I would rather the restomod. The same applies here. As I have stated in prior posts it is not about “better” but experience for me. Your mileage may vary. With that comparison, it seems fitting that I went the restomod camera route for everyday work choosing a 10 year old vintage digital Leica M. And you know what? So far it suits the task perfectly thank you very much.
Samey can be a good thing.
One thing that should have struck me sooner is how similar later film and digital Ms look. Should have acknowledged this earlier but I only recently have grown to know the subtle differences between M generations. As a result, I do not feel like having a 10 year old Leica M is a penalty box. The different generations are more alike than they are different. And most cues could not easily be spotted from across the room. There is a benefit to this in both aesthetic qualities and daily use. Though they appear different the M240 (Shorthand for this number orphan.) very much reminds me of the M3 I had a while ago. Though developed under a more mainstream operational model it reminds me of the no rangefinder having Q as well. Like the M3 before it, the M240 is made so well that I would not guess that it was made so many years ago. Feels as fresh and well put together as any other later film M or digital M I have laid hands on. Maybe the pleather is laced with an addictive substance, but I have no desire to change cameras. There are other vintage digital cameras I have reviewed that may have performed just fine, but I could not say the same.
Case in point. The, released in 2013, Sony A7 I once had was great at that time and Sony’s earliest full frame offering laid the groundwork for my shooting Sony to this day. With the swift march of camera advancements and early adoption bestowed Sony with the healthiest native, third party, new, and used lens selection by miles. But… You could not give me a first generation Sony A7 now. Other than the mount it could not be more different than the current models. No phase detect AF or IBIS and ergonomics only a mother could love. Additionally, any OG A7 copy I have seen recently looks like it has been through it. They usually look hurt. Meanwhile, the Leica M Type 240 was released a year earlier in 2012 and this copy, absent a minor top plate ding (That saved me a bundle.),…
…looks like it could have just come out of the box.
Aesthetically and operationally, a classic.
Back screen blues.
A voice in the camera world that I have great respect for, Hamish Gill of 35mmc, when asked for an opinion mentioned that one downside of the M240 is “the colour rendition on the screen on the back” as he “found it to be quite unpleasant”.
Have seen this elsewhere and I agree fully. The man is not wrong. Fortunately for my purposes, this is a non-issue as I tend to only use both EVFs and back screens for framing and occasional focus checks. I currently own two Sony bodies on opposite sides of the scale. One has an EVF that is derided and the other gets rave reviews. Lost on me. I get along fine with both just the same. Was what I wanted to be in the shot in the shot? Good. So a valid point, but no issue here.
This also brought another odd knock-on effect. Though the back screen may not display what was actually captured what IS captured is usually good anyways. This brings about pleasant surprises when reviewing photos later. As a result, I spend less time chimping after shots and accept that I likely got what I intended. A quasi-film experience. For example the other night I was leaving chorus rehearsal. My friend Stuart and I were babbling as we opened the door and were immediately hit with headlights blasting us through a light fog from the top of the nearby stairs. As we both lack any good sense we both thought of the ending of Purple Rain (wouldn’t everyone?). I said to stand there, Stuart did so and turned back, and I made my best attempt at focusing blindly through the light and mist trying to line up the outline of his head in the rangefinder. We both looked at the back screen and saw a train wreck of darkness, blur, and color wonkiness. But when I got home and edited the RAW files it was a completely different story.
The result was exactly what I was hoping for. I can look at this one of two ways.
- The back screen lied to me.
- Stay in the moment and let the frames already shot go. Kind of like film. Use the back screen to check framing and focus but expect nothing more.
I choose option 2. Instead of being disappointed at the moment, I am content with potentially being pleasantly surprised later.
Sensor dust check feature.
This may be the most German or Teutonic feature I have encountered so far. Many cameras allow you to expose the sensor for inspection. Most mirrorless cameras expose the sensor by default.
Sidebar: A few other top of the line mirrorless cameras offer the option to cover the sensor with the shutter when not in operation. Some have touted it as a great feature. I find it funny that this over 10 year old camera covers the sensor with the shutter when not being exposed by default.
Leica? When you choose “Dust Detection” under the “Sensor Cleaning” menu you are prompted to close down the aperture, throw the focus out, and point the camera at a “homogeneous” surface. Riotously if it does not approve of your selection it bluntly tells you that the image is “inhomogeneous”. But if you appease the M240 you will be shown a picture of the open lens mount on the backscreen with a replication of the sensor in white with dust displayed in black. I used this and after two rotations of checks and air can blasting the sensor was clean. Nice. Best implementation of dust detection I have seen yet. Other cameras may offer this, but I have not seen it before.
Why is Auto ISO not rising?
I like the way ISO control is implemented. There is a dedicated ISO button that you hold down while making changes, use the D pad and back wheel to make adjustments and simply let go of the button to save the settings. But after using my go-to set up of AUTO ISO, 3200 limit, and added a limit of 1/focal length. Cool. Or so I thought.
I noticed later that the camera would hold on to ISO 200 and would slow the shutter to unmanageable, slow shutter speeds. What gives? After some trial and error, it turns out that for the 1/focal length focal length to work… it needs to know what the focal length is. This is when I found something else out about the lenses, but before I go into that I will say that when the camera does know the focal length the 1/focal length default works just fine.
Lenses not coded… and a workaround.
The three 7Artisans lenses I have are all listed as being Photoelectric. I can find little information about this online so far, but I had assumed that this meant that the lenses would relay focal length information to the camera. But they did not. I was not sure whether this had to do with a lens issue, a camera issue, or my elevated expectations so I decided to let it go. Largely because it is not the only way that the camera can add lens information to the EXIF file.
One way is to choose a lens when you change a lens. But above remembering to do this it does require a couple of steps and scrolling to the right lens. But I found a quicker way.
You can also set the lens in a user profile. As luck would have it I have four lenses and there are four user profile memory slots. So I set each lens in a user profile and renamed the profile to reflect the focal length.
Shutter speed defaults.
Result? Now the 1/focal length calculation works properly. A smashing success as far as I am concerned.
One side note is that even though lens information is not automatically relayed, somehow aperture is. While not 100% accurate it does relay a close enough approximation to be useful. Especially when the camera has access to the lens information. For example, it seems that without lens information lens wide open is recorded as f/1 regardless of the lens up front. As a result, when the lens is set to f/5.6 on the TTArtisans it is recorded as f/5.6 instead of f/1. Not sure how this is accomplished since I could not locate any mechanical aperture linkages between lens and camera here we are. I am sure there are those far better versed in Leica-dome out there who have a firm grasp on the hows of it I will not overthink it and say cool.
The Artisans lenses.
I will be the first to acknowledge that the wave of Artisans (7 and TT) lenses do not measure up to native Leica and other high-end brands like Zeiss and Voigtlander. But they come far closer than they have any business doing considering their extremely reasonable pricing. I have already written up posts about seven of these lenses individually…
- 7Artisans 28mm f/1.4 (No longer have this one.)
- TTArtisans 28mm f/5.6
- 7Artisans 35mm f/1.4
- 7Artisans 35mm f/2 (No longer have this one.)
- 7Artisans 50mm f/1.1
- 7Artisans 75mm f/1.25
…but instead of going into more detail here, I will likely write a dedicated update post about all of these lenses later on. I bought these lenses as placeholders expecting that I would upgrade some if not all of them at a later date. But they have performed so well that I am in no rush to do so.
M mode Auto ISO is a thing.
This was a self-own. Had thought the purist Leica experience dictated that AUTO ISO would not be a thing in M mode and you would have to choose everything for yourself. But nope. I am happy to report I am wrong. Was a silly misunderstanding on my part. When holding the ISO button the “AUTO ISO in M mode” menu item has a value of “Previous ISO” by default. For some reason, I thought it was a declaration rather than a choice, which makes no sense in retrospect. Confirmation bias is a thing. After a few days, I rolled the back wheel and it changed to “On”. At first, this was before I got the 1/focal length default sorted, but once everything was dialed in I was good to go. As in it now had AUTO ISO in M mode. Cool.
Video is not totally useless.
Low Capabilities + Lower Expectations = Pleasant Surprises
I had said in an earlier post that I would ignore the fact that this camera could shoot 1080p video… That lasted a few days. Was in chorus rehearsal snapping a few pics with the TTArtisans 28mm f/5.6 and the thought hit me. Wobbles in motion, lack of IBIS, low resolution, no mic inputs, and no AF should not matter at all sat upon a table aimed at the chorus for a casual video. Turns out I was right.
My Sony gear has nothing to fear, but not bad. Cool.
Old sensor + Practical lens = Consistent results
Despite their low price many of the 7Artisans lenses and the one TTArtisans are solid options. They are plenty sharp wide open. Most show a bit of chromatic aberration in certain circumstances at times, but this is not all that bothersome most of the time and is easily remedied in Lightroom using the defringe slider under manual lens corrections if it does bother you. They are so good that I have no plans to replace them. These lenses would be:
I remain well pleased with all.
Old sensor + Goofy lens = Magic
There is one lens that is not as well behaved as those mentioned above wide open.
Flare can be had. Will likely see some blurriness under close inspection. I would have it no other way. Great fun can be had wide open.
But stop it down a bit or avoid shooting directly into the light and this lens behaves itself.
So much so that it also prevents me from seriously considering the purchase of another M mount 50mm lens. Pick up something like an f/2? Why? I can more easily stop the lens I already have down to f/2 or f/2.8 and have a solid result.
It is likely that I will eventually purchase another M mount lens. But it will either be something to cover a focal length I do not have like the Voigtlander 15mm f/5.6 or because I just want the lens. Need will not be a part of the equation.
Well, that is about it. Having a great time so far and only see it getting better from here.