I like Leica M gear, or I would not cover it. And I have shot it for years now. It has many very fine qualities, and I’m not looking to dispose of my Leica gear at all. It can be a very good choice in the field for its compactness (an entire kit can go into a small hip pack), and used well the image quality can be very high and quite satisfactory. I go into such considerations and many others in Guide to Leica.
But at the same time, the frustration with Leica are the many limitations which need not exist, which could be designed-out, and some of which could be fixed in firmware. The pace is glacial in this regard.
The M Type 240
I’ve updated my Leica M Typ 240 Usability pages to discuss these issues.
I have very high expectations for a luxury brand carrying a premium price, and hence shortcomings one might accept in a consumer camera really are not defensible in a Leica.
The M Typ 240 moves ahead in three key areas: accurate composition and the ability to use a wide variety of lenses, along with much more viable focusing via the EVF for fast apertures (Noctilux), as well as reduced high-ISO noise. And a pleasant higher resolution rear LCD. All good, all very nice to have, all forward progress.
But in core ways, I am tempted to go back to the M9P from the M Typ 240: operationally the M9P is friendlier, including no need for power-on to use the frame lines. And the Leica M Typ 240 isn’t any sharper than my Leica M9P. Leica glass is so good in theory, why wasn’t the new M 36 megapixels at least? Presumably sensor design difficulties.
My brand-new M240 rangefinder backfocuses on a brand-new 50mm f/2 APO-Summicron-M ASPH, which itself has veiling flare problems which frequently forced me to shield the lens in real-world field use (this is not so easy to do when trying to focus and compose). I expect a $7K lens to be all but flare-free.
There is a little more—
- The M240 becomes unresponsive at times, which requires the battery be removed to resuscitate it. This makes me very unhappy with two minutes of “sweet light” remaining in the day (images/moment lost on two sunset occasions). At other times, it seems to go semi-dead, and power cycling is necessary.
- The M240 should have a little chirp or notice that lets a user know when lens coding has failed (numerous times with my M240). With an option to disable the warning. Because once shot, uncoded wide angles can produce some unfriendly color casts and Leica provides no tool to fix—it is baked into the DNG file (or JPEG).
- When can we expect the video button to be programmable, for example, to initiate Live View zoom or the Horizon feature (deeply buried in the menus)? I don’t use video, so this is a non-button that gets in the way (by making a video when I don’t want one), and is otherwise 100% useless.
- The menu system seems arbitrary in its order and arrangement. Include a “My Menu” possibility so I can put the 4 or 5 most frequently used items in it? Retained at power off.
- Why does turning the camera off forget the last used menu item? For deeply-buried items like Horizon, this is a regular headache.
- Six tiny identical-to-the-touch and invisible-in-dim-light buttons at left spell usability trouble. They cannot be distinguished by feel, so count them off: one has to learn braille skills to operate the camera in dim light. Working them with gloves on in cold weather is trouble.
- The VF-2 is overpriced and under-pixelled, and offers washed-out visibility in many lighting conditions. Will Leica support the higher resolution EVF displays (e.g. Olympus VF-4) with the M240. The EVF has too low a resolution, and the user cannot discriminate ideal focus with f/2.8 - f/4 apertures.
- The display modes (EVF vs LCD) are modal and inconvenient: there is no eye detect to activate the EVF (as with Sony NEX and Olympus and Fuji consumer cameras), and no option to display images on rear LCD or EVF or both. Constant chimping required.
- Why is magnified Live View restricted to the center only?
- Why does magnified Live View pop back to full screen when I press the shutter? It makes it very difficult to take any kind of close up, where I might be moving slightly, or the subject moving. Make this an option to not pop-out to full view.
- The Live View zoom button is awkwardly placed. Which makes reprogramming the video button to do Live View a practical solution.
- Why are exposures limited to 60 seconds when the sensor is clearly good enough for longer? For night shooting, image quality can be badly degraded by underexposure at 60 seconds (when 2-4 minutes might be needed), rendering the camera visibly inferior to $800 consumer APS-C cameras with night exposures, which can expose for the time required, and do it quickly and efficiently and explicitly.
- One cannot select manual exposure beyond 8 seconds. With the consequence that I have to trick the camera by partially covering the lens to attempt to obtain a shutter speed I desire. The shutter dial is limited to 8 seconds, but just as there is exposure compensation in the menus, selectable exposure times are possible with menu support. Using B or T exposure should be possible without a cable release, and offer long exposures, say up to 10 minutes.
- Exposure compensation is 1/3 stops, but cannot be applied in manual mode (which is limited to 1/2 stop shutter speeds). Make it 1/6 stop and optionally applicable to manual mode so that exposure fine tuning can be done for those images in which dynamic range is at its limits.
The above were noted as field-use issues that kept degrading the experience.
The core problem is that I expect a luxury product to offer luxury performance free of irritants, not to make photography more difficult, not to make it more constrained, not to make it harder than is demonstrably possible with far less expensive cameras whose image quality is nearly as good.