Leica M: Classic Camera or Digital Snob Photography? (Eng)

Categoria: English Pubblicato: Sabato, 19 Novembre 2016 Scritto da Max Angeloni

Translated by Pietro Todaro

 Lets be honest.

Generally speaking, its not rare that a debate will spark up when talking about photography. If we touch certain subjects then it will almost surely end up in a debate.
When we then speak about Leica we always have the feeling of walking into a crystal shop riding on the back of an elephant. We will surely wreak chaos.
This is so because “spoken” photography, just like sports and politics, is full of fans, technicians, philosophers and custodians of the absolute truth.
In Italy, when speaking about our national football team, we joke around by affirming that we are a country of 56 million coaches.

 Siamo onesti.

Quando si parla genericamente di fotografia non è raro innescare polemiche.
Se poi tocchiamo alcuni argomenti sembra quasi obbligatorio entrare in polemica.
Quando poi si parla di Leica si ha sempre la sensazione di entrare in una cristalleria sul dorso di un elefante. Si scatenerà sicuramente un casino.
E si perché la fotografia “parlata”, come lo sport e la politica, sembra frequentata prevalentemente da tifosi, tecnici, filosofi e depositari del verbo assoluto.
In Italia, quando parliamo della nostra nazionale di calcio, ci prendiamo in giro affermando di essere 56 milioni di allenatori. (Italian Version Here)


 Leica M (Typ 240) - Leica Summicron 28 f/2 ASPH (11604) - 1/500, f/6.8, Iso 200


 Leica M (Typ 240) - Leica Summicron 28 f/2 ASPH (11604) - 1/750, f/8, Iso 200


So for once let’s think about photography with a bit of irony and detachment.
Therefore abandon any polemics all ye who continue to read this article.
Even this time around we will discuss photographic experiences starting from the presumption that taking pictures is principally a fun activity. Activity in which MTF measurements, diagrams and cold numbers tend to create a distance from the principle that, being fun activity, everyone can take pictures with what they want.

Any camera is ok, any lens is ok, any sensor is ok… what's important is not to presume, with granitic certainty, that a particular photographic camera is better or worse than another or… even worse… that a particular way of taking pictures deserves greater consideration than another.
Obviously there are photographic instruments that offer greater “quality” or greater options.
But we must never forget that behind a picture taken there are, only and always, people who press that button on the upper right-hand side… of the camera.

All this chitchat to say that beginning from this article, Riflessifotografici, will start a section dedicated to the world of classic telemeters. World that, as far as digital cameras are concerned, will only regard Leica, while as far as lenses are concerned will encompass a wide range of lenses including among others: Zeiss and Voigtländer.

So lets start from here… Leica M240 and Leica 28mm f/2 Summicron ASPH.


 Leica M (Typ 240) - Leica Summicron 28 f/2 ASPH (11604) - 1/350, f/8, Iso 200


Leica M (Typ 240) - Leica Summicron 28 f/2 ASPH (11604) - 1/1000, f/8, Iso 200


 Leica M (Typ 240) - Leica Summicron 28 f/2 ASPH (11604) - 1/4000, f/8, Iso 200


Shooting with a telemeter is like riding a bicycle.... years can pass but all it takes are a few shots to get re-accustomed to this system. 
The analogy with the bicycle is not a casual choice.
With the evolution of digital photography, modern photographic systems can easily be compared to the latest motorcycles or scooters. More or less simple means of transportation, with good performance that are adequate for all necessities and to most pockets.

The Leica M instead remains anchored to the telemeter tradition and is unconcerned with autofocus, options and operative speed that are the main aspects of “modern” photography.
The most obvious question that comes to mind is legitimate... does it make sense to buy a bicycle today?
Moreover.... does it make sense to buy a bicycle that is more expensive than a super accessorized hyper motorcycle?


Leica M (Typ 240) - Leica Summicron 28 f/2 ASPH (11604) - 1/3000, f/2.4, Iso 200


Leica M (Typ 240) - Leica Summicron 28 f/2 ASPH (11604) - 1/125, f/8, Iso 200


Lets start from the price.

The digital Leica M costs a lot... its true. Rather, its really expensive... an amount that is obscenely high.
There are are various reasons for this. Firstly there are no alternatives. There are no competitors.

Obviously there are also other factors that determine the high price, but I feel, that for the moment, we can easily overlook these “(il)logical” laws of the market.

But if its true that cameras cost a lot due to the lenses that they mount then the reasoning is completely different.

Ok ok... if we want to construct, at all costs, a complete set up with a last generation Summilux, adding a nice Noctilux-M 50mm f/0.95 ASPH without forgetting the “esoteric” APO-Summicron-M 50mm f/2 ASPH its becomes clear that the price would be prohibitive for all us mere mortals.

But as hinted earlier, the set of lenses available for the M system has no boundaries.

One can draw from the second hand market or fall back on (so to say) on Zeiss or Voigtländer in the event that one may want to buy brand new lenses.

In this case the prices are aligned, if not lower, than what is being proposed in the FF reflex and mirror-less segments. Prices are lower but the quality is always very high.

As far as the second hand market is concerned, keep an eye out regarding the 24MP that can reward the user with big surprises and big let downs when used with older lenses or with lenses that are not perfectly fine tuned after years (or decades) of continuous use.

In any case one only needs to try them before hand.


Leica M (Typ 240) - Leica Summicron 28 f/2 ASPH (11604) - 1/2000, f/16, Iso 200


Leica M (Typ 240) - Leica Summicron 28 f/2 ASPH (11604) - 1/750, f/6.8, Iso 200


Leica M (Typ 240) - Leica Summicron 28 f/2 ASPH (11604) - 1/1500, f/3.4, Iso 200


Lets pass on to the … operative speed.

I've been saying it since the beginning... you want a bicycle. You must pedal.

I always smile when I hear people speaking about photographic material in esoterical existential philosophical terms (Pietro Todaro will kill me when translating this concept :D). Photography is made by the photographer and the equipment doesn't have neither a soul nor its own conscience.

Its for this reason that each equipment is in its proper place if in the hands of the right photographer.

I have always furnished my photographic equipment on the basis of what I thought was best for my professional needs and based on the feeling that I established with the camera the first time that I picked it up.

Hence, who chooses a Leica M (well at least I presume) is conscious of the virtues and limits of such system.

The bicycle is designed to move around while enjoying the surroundings.

The M system is exactly this.
Its useless to discuss aspects that are tied to electronics.


Leica M (Typ 240) - Leica Summicron 28 f/2 ASPH (11604) - 1/4000, f/2.4, Iso 200


Leica M (Typ 240) - Leica Summicron 28 f/2 ASPH (11604) - 1/250, f/8, Iso 200


Electronics is that thing that costs a lot to project and practically nothing to produce. It gets outdated quickly and costs less to substitute it rather than to repair it.
Mechanical things instead are cheaper to design but cost a lot to produce, especially if they are hand made.
They get old slowly, if they get old at all, and can always be repaired.
The problems for Leica started when they had to unite tradition and innovation. Everyone remembers the superficial mistakes that were made on the M8 or on the first series of the M9.

With the Typ 240, it seems that Leica has finally found the squaring of the circle. They feel quite sure of this and have ventured towards options such video functions, live view, pixel picking so on and so forth.

Probably, the interest for these new functions for the typical Leica user is equal to zero, and I feel the same way.

I would surely never buy a Leica if I were interested in some aspects that modern cameras have been offering for some time now at a fraction of the price.
I would have preferred a more efficient buffer and real 6400 Iso that is not reachable via internal elaboration. Yes because the real Iso range of Typ 240 is 200 – 3200.

But even this is pub talk.


Leica M (Typ 240) - Leica Summicron 28 f/2 ASPH (11604) - 1/250, f/2, Iso 400


Leica M (Typ 240) - Leica Summicron 28 f/2 ASPH (11604) - 1/30, f/2.4, Iso 2000



Leica M (Typ 240) - Leica Summicron 28 f/2 ASPH (11604) - 1/125, f/2, Iso 5000 



Solid and sturdy.
Undoubtedly Digital Leica cameras have lost a bit of their elegance and grace compared to the analog models.
But the sober and clean shapes maintain the feeling of clutching a photographic classic unaltered.
Shot after shot, I even began to appreciate the dull sound of the shutter. Obviously we are not talking about the cloth shutters of the analogical M series. But the clunky sound of the M8 now seems like a distant memory.

Even the duration of the battery is a point in favor of the Typ 240. It easily goes beyond 500-600 shots without great worries, provided that the monitor and various electronic functions are used moderately.

Speaking about the monitor. Finally an LCD screen that is worthy of a Leica. Especially as far as the visualization of the pictures taken are concerned. They seem quite faithful without “beautifying” deviations in I-phone style.

Keeping with the positive notes, I really liked the reorganization of the buttons that are positioned on the back of the camera. Finally the big dial, in compact camera style, on the back is gone. To the right of the monitor one finds an elegant multifunction button. The control gear is finally positioned on the upper right hand part of the camera in an ergonomic position for the thumb.
A functional and refined solution.


Leica M (Typ 240) - Leica Summicron 28 f/2 ASPH (11604) - 1/125, f/2, Iso 2500


After the plaudits here are some notes on what I don’t like.
The Typ 240 is slightly “chubbier” than previous models. This fattening cure has made the position of the shutter button slightly uncomfortable. The sensation is that it slitghtly feels that its positioned slightly backward compared to its optimal position. This feeling is amplified if the camera is used in its leather case. In any case its nothing too dramatic.
Other two points are tied (I suppose) to the tradition, and due to this I suppose that they have not been updated in fear that some people would pull a face.

The first is regarding the absence of a dial dedicated to the ISO. I can understand tradition, but ISO have become of frequent use, quite close to the same use that one makes of the aperture and shutter speed. Keeping a button pressed and scrolling among various options is surely not the easiest thing to do. Especially during a sunny day with light reflecting on the monitor. A procedure that is typical of reflex cameras. But seeing that Leica M is the farthest thing from a reflex, a simpler solution is desirable.
The second point is the battery and memory card access. Having to dismantle the bottom part of the camera is certainly not the most practical solution. One must also take into account that if the camera should fall or get deformed it would not be able of taking pictures anymore. In fact the Leica M240 freezes until the bottom cover is reattached.

I personally find the solution that has been elaborated by Luigi Crescenza of Leica Time perfect.



On the field
Shooting with a Leica M, always transmits a pleasant feeling. Don’t get me wrong. I am absolutely not a nostalgic of the past nor of “old school” photography. But to rediscover ancient gestures and dedicate them to a photography that does not have “performance anxiety” was a wonderful thing.
Useless to reiterate that the Leica M is principally an instrument for reportage. Obviously it can be used for other photographic fields. But lets be honest. In professional photographic fields there are an infinite number of systems that can offer more options that surely will make a photographer's life easier.

I dont see a reason why one should complicate ones professional life that is already rather complicated per se.


Leica M (Typ 240) - Leica Summicron 28 f/2 ASPH (11604) - 1/250, f/5.6, Iso 5000


Leica M (Typ 240) - Leica Summicron 28 f/2 ASPH (11604) - 1/250, f/2, Iso 800


Leica M (Typ 240) - Leica Summicron 28 f/2 ASPH (11604) - 1/250, f/2, Iso 1000


For narration through images instead, I feel that the Leica M, has still a lot to offer.

In particular, the lenses of this system represent the true secret of the longevity of this telemeter.

Regardless of the fact that one decides to close the diaphragm to shoot in hyperfocal range or to work in full aperture to tighten the depth of field, the lenses dedicated to this system deliver images that are characterized by a unique “flavor”.

With unique, I am referring to the infinite range of options given by the numerous lenses ranging from new to used ones that everyone can acquire based on the result that one desires and on their economic means.

I was personally very much impressed with the delivery of the last generation (or almost) of the Summicron. I feel that theses lenses are the optimal choice for those who wish to achieve an image that unites the past and the present. This does not mean that there may be people who desire results that are less aggressive as those achieved with older lenses or with “less perfect” results but equally fascinating of certain Voigtländer (the first example that comes to mind is the Nokton 35 f/1.4 MC) or the equilibrium of certain Zeiss.

I repeat... here we are venturing in the field of personal choices.

Anyhow, to regain confidence with the M system, I had opted of the Summicron 28 f/2 ASPH (cod.11604).


Leica M (Typ 240) - Leica Summicron 28 f/2 ASPH (11604) - 1/250, f/2, Iso 2000


Ready? Go.

I immediately deactivated all the options tied to the Live View. I thought to myself, if I want to shoot with a Leica M, and want to take advantage of the characteristics of this system. If I wanted a monitor or an electronic viewfinder then I don't see any reason why I should choose to use a camera with a “traditional” concept in the place of the most modern mirror-less ones.

Battery is full... memory card inserted... and we're off.

Its a nice day and the sun is nicely illuminating my surroundings. Diaphragm at f/8 and I have set the depth of field between 1.5 and infinite, shutter speed between 1/250 and 1/1000 and auto-ISO (200-3200).

Shooting this way is absolutely simple. Contrary to what happens with other digital systems, the scale depth of field always appears to be extremely precise.

Moreover, even with very closed diaphragms, the image that is captured is always able to deliver impressive three-dimensionality. This is a characteristic in photography that I really appreciate.

As the light gets dimmer one must inevitably open the diaphragm and decide whether to opt for a fixed shooting distance (for example the Summicron 28 at f/2 set with a depth of field from 1.5mt to 2m) or to focus manually. Its inevitable that compared to a camera that has a high performance auto focus, some “unique moments” will be lost. But this is part of the game.


Leica M (Typ 240) - Leica Summicron 28 f/2 ASPH (11604) - 1/250, f/2, Iso 3200


There are not many things to add. Its a type of photography that, in its gestures, has remained unchanged since the first half of the last century.

Naturally I am speaking in broad terms.

One must pay attention to certain details. Like, for example, the actual area of the framing that is outlined by the lines. Substantially, if on one hand there are scarce options that can be selected on the camera, on the other, the photographer will cleanse himself of all those aspects that at times transform themselves in complications for an action that is so simple such as taking a picture.

All it takes is to fully understand what can and cannot be done with a Leica M.


Leica M (Typ 240) - Leica Summicron 28 f/2 ASPH (11604) - 1/125, f/2, Iso 200


Leica M (Typ 240) - Leica Summicron 28 f/2 ASPH (11604) - 1/45, f/2, Iso 800


Leica M (Typ 240) - Leica Summicron 28 f/2 ASPH (11604) - 1/125, f/3.4, Iso 800


Image Quality.

Here things get a bit complicated. That is.. the sensor of the Leica M must have different characteristics compared to those of other cameras in general.

In brief... usually a camera will have a sensor that is designed to adapt to very different lenses.

One passes from fisheyes to wide-angles to telephotos... to prime lenses to zooms to specific lenses such as those for architectural photography.

In Leica's case the range must go between 18mm and 90mm (exception is made for the 16mm del TRI-ELMAR-M 16-18-21mm f/4 ASPH).

In reality this is not an advantage for the German brand as the optimization of its lenses must reach the limits of perfection. I have repeated this time and time again. The real treasure of the M system are its lenses. And its sensor.... within possible limits, must exalt the delivery of all the lenses of the past and present. I repeat... within possible limits.



Leica M (Typ 240) - Leica Summicron 28 f/2 ASPH (11604) - 1/4000, f/2, Iso 200


Leica M (Typ 240) - Leica Summicron 28 f/2 ASPH (11604) - 1/1000, f/3.4, Iso 200


Leica M (Typ 240) - Leica Summicron 28 f/2 ASPH (11604) - 1/125, f/2, Iso 400


Leica M (Typ 240) - Leica Summicron 28 f/2 ASPH (11604) - 1/125, f/2.4, Iso 3200


Under this prospective the sensor and the image processor do not let us down.

I have seen many “experiments” made with various types of mirror-less cameras using M lenses attached with an adapter. Some were successful while others less successful due to the lenses and the camera that was used. But none that have reached what one can achieve with the Typ 240 especially with wide angle lenses.

The passage to the CMOS sensors has brought about many benefits and those who were worried about a loss of quality compared to the more traditional CCD sensors have had to change their minds.

Detail, dynamic range, colors, demonstrate that the sensor coupled with the image processor do a really good job.

But most of all its the delivery at high film speeds that marks a leap forward compared to the Leica M9.

Its strange, but the maximum sensitivity stops “only” at 3200. If excposed correctly, in fact, the images will actually deliver details that are even cleaner and dryer.

Going beyond this sensitivity does not make much sense being ISO 6400 an elaboration of the image processor, the risk of taking pictures that are extremely corrupt is rather frequent.

Perhaps when shooting in Jpg things could improve slightly, but using the DNG and especially in the presence of uniform colors (for example: a night sky), its easy to take a picture that cant be used.
Regarding the DNG. I find that using Adobe's Digital Negative as a standard is a winning choice.

The files are compatible with practically all softwares that are dedicated to image processing, even older ones. Obviously the new versions offer more options when working on the files. But I find it quite annoying to have to force users to buy new programs or to wait for current programs for new releases to allow them to develop their negatives.

After all, creating ones own raw format does not make much sense if one is not capable to offer a software that can correctly interpret all the information that are registered at the moment that the picture is taken.


Leica M (Typ 240) - Leica Summicron 28 f/2 ASPH (11604) - 1/125, f/2, Iso 2500


Leica M (Typ 240) - Leica Summicron 28 f/2 ASPH (11604) - 1/500, f/2, Iso 200

Leica M (Typ 240) - Leica Summicron 28 f/2 ASPH (11604) - 1/90, f/2.4, Iso 1000



And so... are Leica M photographic cameras that are destined only for users that are bit snobbish or are they actually instruments that can offer something more to a photographer?

Its impossible to give an answer to this.

Its rather evident that for the characteristics that distinguish it, using it in certain photographic situations would be very difficult. While in others this camera could make the difference.

One thing is certain, images produced with this system can rarely be obtained with other means. This does not mean that its better or worse compared to what the market has to offer.

Neither does it mean that these images, that have a unique “flavor”, can make a difference or can be perceived as unique from the eye of the beholder.


Leica M (Typ 240) - Leica Summicron 28 f/2 ASPH (11604) - 1/500, f/8, Iso 250


Leica M (Typ 240) - Leica Summicron 28 f/2 ASPH (11604) - 1/125, f/2.8, Iso 3200


Leica M (Typ 240) - Leica Summicron 28 f/2 ASPH (11604) - 1/1600, f/2, Iso 1600


Leica M (Typ 240) - Leica Summicron 28 f/2 ASPH (11604) - 1/500, f/8, Iso 250


Leica M (Typ 240) - Leica Summicron 28 f/2 ASPH (11604) - 1/90, f/8, Iso 200


Leica M (Typ 240) - Leica Summicron 28 f/2 ASPH (11604) - 1/125, f/2.4, Iso 3200


urely, one who chooses a Leica M must be conscious of what one can and cannot do with this camera.

Personally I find this camera still very much valid in certain photographic fields.

The simplicity of the system allows the user to quickly get accustomed to the camera, this is an aspect the must not be underestimated.

In any case one must leave aside the rational aspects while expressing judgments, even if they are superficial, on the Leica M.

Shooting in manual with a telemeter today still offers unique sensations. And this alone could be a valid reason to evaluate its acquisition.

If one wants a Leica M just for the “red circle” hung on ones neck and to boast it to ones friends... well... I guess this is OK as well. But its a pity, because with this camera and with these lenses one can take wonderful pictures... but one has to pedal.


Leica M (Typ 240) - Leica Summicron 28 f/2 ASPH (11604) - 1/125, f/2, Iso 3200


I like:
Optical delivery of this camera
Excellent delivery on the whole sensitivity range (200-3200)
Battery duration
Standard DNG
Menus that are reduced to a bare minimum

I don't like:
Maximum ISO only reaches 3200
Dedicated ISO dial that is missing
Difficult battery and memory card access.
Slow buffer


Leica M (Typ 240) - Leica Summicron 28 f/2 ASPH (11604) - 1/45, f/2, Iso 3200


Leica M (Typ 240) - Leica Summicron 28 f/2 ASPH (11604) - 1/45, f/2, Iso 3200 



Special thanks to Luigi Crescenzi (www.leicatime.com)