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Leica M Typ 240: Unreliable

I will be working through a lot more material taken with the Leica M Typ 240 over the next few weeks, in Guide to Leica.

On my recent trip, the Leica M Typ 240 proved to be the most unreliable camera I have ever used in the field in the past eight years, accompanied by many irritating behaviors.

I hope a firmware update fixes these issues soon (one is likely to arrive in July):

  • On at least three occasions (I lost count), the camera locked up, which required unscrewing the base plate and popping out the battery (tool disaster averted: RRS plate). In one case, this was during the last 2 minutes of the best light of the day. The lockup killed that opportunity; at the summer solstice sunset is over in an instant.
  • The camera repeatedly lost it video signal; the EVF and LCD both going black and staying that way. The camera would take pictures using the rangefinder, and operation was restored by power cycling the camera.

Other irritating factors which are a direct result of marginal design thinking:

  • Turning the camera off loses the “last menu” memory, such as the horizon feature. This and other behaviors make it the most “chimpy” camera I have used in a long time—lots of make-work button pressing.
  • The EVF option is good to have, but resolution and handling of bright lighting make me wonder why a Sony NEX-7 EVF is so much better at 1/7 the price, and built-in too.
  • The zoomed-in Live View focusing is very helpful under most conditions, but certainty on focus turns out to be difficult with many real subjects: the focus peaking feature does not operate on uniformly colored areas, such as the orange-red wood of bristlecone pines. If the lighting is flat, it becomes hard to be sure of focus.
  • The electronic rangefinder frame lines are easy to see, but it was a shock to find that they show up only if the camera is turned on. And turning on the camera is not instant, and sucks power if one normally has the EVF engaged. On the M9, the frame lines are always there, on or off, which is the Right Way to do it.
  • The array of buttons to the left of the LCD are the same size and shape (and too small). Try working this array arrangement in the dark— there are no tactile clues other than braille-like finger counting.
  • The Live View zoom button is badly placed (quite awkward to reach), one can only focus in the center, and lightly pressing the shutter pops out of zoom mode (making it tough to make certain types of closer range images).
  • The brand new camera arrived with a rangefinder whose calibration was off for the brand-new 50/2 APO ASPH, so my only option for accurate focus was the EVF. It took some effort, but my older M9P has been spot-on with its rangefinder for nearly all my M glass (though one or two lenses needed adjustment). Apparently I will have to send the M240 in for a checkup since all my lenses are “known good” with my existing M9P.
  • Lenses frequently would not click into the mount (no audible click); I had to loosen and re-attempt lens mounting at least 30 times during my trip. Possibly this is related to rangefinder operation.

And so on. I really felt myself thinking of switching back to my M9: it’s a better camera operationally. The saving grace of the Leica M240 is the Live View and EVF, which make precise compositions possible. For my needs, the Liview View/EVF outweighs many things, and I presume a firmware update and service can fix most of the above, at least the bugs. But I have to say I am disappointed at the implementation quality and design thinking, which is underwhelming for a camera in this price range. And I suspect that the rangefinder focusing (once calibrated) will continue to be a superior operational method for many shooters.

Update August 2013: now having used the latest Olympus VF-4 electronic viewfinder which the Leica M240 does not support, I am struck by how night-and-day superior the VF-4 is over the low-res overpriced ($500) Leica EVF. It’s not the cost so such as the grossly inferior viewing experience at odds with the concept of paying $10K - $30K for a decent M system, and it’s not even clear if Leica will ever support more than this consumer grade EVF.

Update November 2013: with the latest firmware, the M240 still suffers from camera lockups and the occassional damaged image (camera makes strange noise pattern with a black or mangled image). Power-off is needed to restore operation, and sometimes pulling the battery.

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