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Leica M Typ 240: Unreliability Continues: Freeze and System Reset

Update July 2015: the latest firmware is more stable, but the M240 still locks up occassionally, as does Leica S with latest firmware. It’s in the family, so to speak.

Back in June I wrote about the Leica M Typ 240 being unreliable and noted various other design and operational flaws (detailed further in my review in Guide to Leica). Well, it’s late August so where is the firmware update? (I am not alone in having camera crashes).

Ironically, I was out in the same bristlecone area shooting the same M240 as with the prior camera freeze as back in June! This time, the camera went dead (nothing responded), then revived on its own 10-15 seconds later. It seemed odd, but then I noticed that the file format was now JPEG* (OMG as I never shoot JPEG, I only shoot raw). Probing further, I found that every last setting of mine had been whacked: the camera had done a total system reset to factory defaults. Oh joy. The problem is hardly the only one, there are others including the lockup with black frame bug.

I had just hiked 1.5 miles over rugged terrain to shoot the fleeting and best light of the day. So I spent the next 5 minutes resetting all the settings to my usual ones; I could barely see the LCD screen in the outdoor lighting, so this was not an easy task. That Leica engineers see fit to not display menus on the EVF is baffling (the Leica X Vario has no such menu-display limitation, but has its own measure of un-joy Leica-ness). So I squinted and and finally got everything back to normal; sunlight and bright rocks all around make for great difficulty in seeing the rear LCD which BTW is inferior to both the Ricoh GR or Sony RX1R. Why can’t I save settings to the card and just load them?

With crash bugs along with other inscrutable design decisions, every Leica engineer should have been working non stop to fix things since June at least. A camera that can fail at any time sounds like a good one... for weddings or that important moment or when hiring that $10K a day model perhaps. OK, so I don’t do any of those, but I expect my cameras to not fail unpredictably, even if I’m shooting some dead wood out in the mountains.

Now then, after a bit, I made a decision: the light was becoming gorgeous and the M240 was feeling tedious (try making a decent composition when you can only focus in the center, for starters), and I did not want to risk another “best test” experience. So I pulled the Sony RX1R out of the pack, stowed the M240, and proceeded to shoot with a far superior EVF with auto-switching between LCD and EVF (so convenient and time saving), faster controls with far less chimping, autofocus and a razor sharp lens. Wow. So much more enjoyable, so much more reliable, faster, just far more fun too. On this trip, I shot 10X more photos with the Sony RX1R, yet it had no crashes or freezes and I found myself resenting the Leica M240 crudeness.

Anyway, the M240 and the 50/2 APO ASPH both have to go back to Leica (Solms) when I return home: the rangefinder is way off and there is a lens skew with the 50/2 AA which could be lens or camera. So I will be out of my gear for 3-4 weeks. Brand new, very expensive gear. That context should not be forgotten in light of the foregoing camera failure.

* Do Leica buyers really spend $7000 on a camera and another $10K or $20K on lenses for it and then shoot JPEG?

Reader comments

A NYC professional photographer with decades of experience with many types of gear writes and captures the core issue better than I can (several emails condensed here):

Definition of Leica: Expensive and they break. The old mechanical Leica cameras were not as reliable as people think. The shutter speeds were always off. Nikon Pro bodies blow Leica off the map as far as reliability and long service are concerned. The Leica R cameras were always breaking as well as being slow to operate.

Now you can see that Leica does a great job of selling fluff. Nothing has changed after all these years. You keep thinking it's not possible to get away with an obviously inferior feature set and poor operational integrity. You are paying for fashion. You pay to feel good and be noticed. They don't even have an auto-focus top of the line yet. Hard to believe for street shooting machine. THE MONEY is right.

Absolutely absurd having to send your camera to Germany. How about the postage and insurance both ways? Customs BS and lots of time without the camera. The biggest problem is that now you can never really trust the camera. For that kind of money you should be able to bet you life it will work in a crunch. It takes time for the dislike to really settle in. It will never end, never has. Look at the new f/2 super lens performance. You must be kidding. It should be near perfect with no returns to the factory to be adjusted. Take a look at the new Olympus E-M1 when it arrives and I bet it will be a nice pro working machine. Great build quality and RELIABLE.

When you forget which camera brand you are using and go by the "feel" of the machine and the pictorial results and the ease of use and overall pleasure of shooting you will find the best camera for your needs. The hit rate is a good indicator of the right camera for you. The hit rate is what it is all about. You don't have to constantly think about what the camera is doing, you just shot. Good for you. The Sony-Zeiss sounds like one of your tickets.

Of course. It is still a valuable lesson, well learned. You are open enough to see the truth. When it comes to Leica lots of photographers go weepy eyed and simply cannot see the truth.

I had the experience when I was a working pro in NYC to steer me right. If you screw up you lose your client forever, no second chances. Leica couldn't cut the mustard. I always had my Nikon F3's to back me up and I NEVER used a camera on a job unless I was 100% sure it wouldn't let me down.

Your experience matches exactly my experiences with Leitz. You keep thinking you will arrive at the perfect Leica end and all will be bliss. Never happens. The Buddhists call it "the ambush of hope". You never really reach Nirvana and the more you look the more troubles you find. You keep feeling it will be different the next time. The next time is the same but with different problems. You might note that one of the most prolific extreme situation journalists uses a Canon EOS.

DIGLLOYD: My Leica M Typ 240 and Leica 50/2 APO ASPH are on their way back to Solms via Leica USA; they take care of the customs hassles. I expect them back in 3-4 weeks. Leica did provide an outbound UPS label, so no cost involved apparently. But there are no loaners for either item: what would a working professional do about that? Stop working for 3-4 weeks? In my case, that is the unfortunate answer: I’ll shoot other gear.

Then there is the 50/2 APO ASPH flare issue which remains a grave disappointment for in the field shooting, especially so for contre-jour lighting. Unfortunately, that “settling in of dislike” is a useful insight: in the field I enjoyed the Sony RX1R immensely by comparison.

Roy P writes:

Just saw your comments on your M240 / 50AA misalignment. Re. your comment, “My Leica M240 and 50/2 AA have been sent to Leica for this and other issues”, this is an important point that fails to get sufficient attention.

An $8,450 camera (what it takes an M240 to be usable: body + grip + EVF) + a $7,000 lens should NOT have such problems, and should not have down times. It is extremely frustrating, especially at the front end of the life cycle of these ridiculously expensive products, to have to send them back to Leica for a month or longer for repairs. I can’t imagine customers in any other business being so forgiving to such absurdities.

It seems to me the more Leica M lenses you have, the higher the odds that your brand new M camera or lens or both have to go back to Leica. I had to send my M9 and two M lenses, all brand new, to Leica for focus related issues. I had to send my brand new M 240 to Leica for the strap lug issue. And if I still had my M 240, I would probably be sending it to Leica now, along with 2-3 M lenses, to get RF alignment issues to be worked out!

Every passing day only further reinforces it in my mind that the RF is finished as a camera paradigm. A few die hard RF users will no doubt continue to use it, just as a lot of engineers in the 1970s continued to use slide rules for a few years, even after digital calculators became commonplace. But after being in business for 106 years, Aristo, the king of slide rules, closed down in 1978, exactly five years after Texas Instruments introduced the SR-10 digital calculator. SR, incidentally, stood for “Slide Rule”.

If the rumor mill is right, we are now only days or weeks away from the industry’s first full-frame EVF / mirrorless cameras from Sony. I can’t wait! I think an E-mount FF mirrorless camera from Sony will be a game changer. Perhaps, it will finally get Leica to build a true next generation M camera with a Sony sensor, built-in high res EVF, built-in grip, built-in WiFi or NFC, GPS, etc., and most importantly, no RF!

DIGLLOYD: In some situations, the rangefinder is a faster and easier tool. But continuing to design lenses with severely restricted close focus (Leica M) is yet another compromised aspect of rangefinders.

Mauro B writes:

Given that both my lenses were returned totally off after the "M240 standard alignment", I think that it is just a way Leica devised to make money out of M legacy lenses. I asked for the lenses serial no from which the supposed new standard is in place and had no reply.

At the end of the day I decided to temporarily give up on Leica digital rangefinders due to this neverending shuttling of cameras and lenses back and forth from Solms since I bought my first M8 in 2009.

As per the X Vario, I had a chat on AF performance with a Leica technician, who told me that the "spot" af requires way more contrast that the "1 point" and advised me to run some additional tests to check if the "false positives" rate would drop. Which I did, and realized that the XV needs strong vertical "grey scale" contrast to lock focus.

In the end I kept the X Vario in view of its very good optical performance, but still have doubts on its "every day" usage due to its unacceptable "360° lack of speed". Maybe it keeping it was a mistake, but could not find any suitable mirrorless alternative (not keen on m4/3, burnt by Fuji X's, cold on Nex lenses). Luckily I bought the XV with a 22% discount, so I would lose not a lot by ebaying it.

DIGLLOYD: I had the X Vario in the field with the Sony RX1R, Ricoh GR and Sigma DP Merrills. The X Vario was a poster child for everything done wrong, though one cannot quarrell with image quality. Still, it is not better than those other cameras in image quality, and a huge slice of aperture range is truncated off an unavailable.

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