A few thoughts on the Leica m 240. Softer than the M9? by George Sutton

A few thoughts on the Leica M 240. Softer than the M9?

By George Sutton

I thought I would add my comments on the Leica M240. By way of background, I owned a M9 previously and now shoot a M240. It has taken some time to get used to the M240 but the more I use it the more I like it and now rank its image quality among the best available. At first the images seemed less crisp than the M9 but when enlarged the detail is there and the images have a kind of 3D character. The softness many people see with a M240 is actually a smoother rendering that really shines when the image is enlarged, especially compared to the grittier character of the M9. Another thing I notice is that details just flow out of an image when it is enlarged. The M240 has a lot more range than the M9. Shadows are noiseless. I have increased the exposure by 3 stops on underexposed shots with no noise or loss of color or contrast. In terms of ISO, the M240 is as good as any camera I have used. The live view is helpful much of the time especially for framing the shot. I can shoot an 18mm lens easily without having to mount the extra viewfinder. The only thing I don’t like about the new camera is having to go into the menu to adjust exposure.

When I travel I want a simple and compact camera but also the ability to get the best IQ when a I encounter something special. I now carry a Sony RX100 in my pocket and a small backpack with the M240 and a couple of lenses and small tripod. The only photo I can’t get with that kit is a fisheye or very long telephoto. I also have a top of the line Canon DSLR and lenses and I know I could not get a better image if I hauled it along instead of the Leica.

I have not shot a MM and would not buy one because I don’t want to be limited to B&W and I am very satisfied with the B&W conversions I get with the M240. Would I get an even better B&W image with a MM? I don’t know. I do know that the images I get from the M240 are really good and meet my needs for both color and B&W in one camera.

The following are three shots I took on a recent trip to visit Christmas markets in northern Europe. The first is a color shot of a restaurant on the main square in Brugge, Belgium taken with a 35mm Summilux. The color is a big part of the character of this place and the shot would not work as well in B&W.

I recommend right clicking these and opening in a new window as they are full size files..

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The second is a night shot of part of the front of the cathedral in Cologne, Germany taken with an 18mm Elmar. it is cropped about 50%. Although there is not much color it still works better in color than it would in B&W. It shows how well the image holds up enlarged.

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The last shot is a B&W conversion showing sculptures on the face or our hotel in Colmar, France taken with a 90mm Elmar. It works much better as a B&W and retains the detail and 3D character of the original color photo.`

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26 thoughts on “A few thoughts on the Leica m 240. Softer than the M9? by George Sutton

  1. I live in Belgium, so I am honoured to see this Bruge picture here! The red in the facade is oxen red, by the way. Bruge has a lot to offer, but I would advise all of you to visit Ghent as well, which also has a formidable historical centre.
    I like the color picture, but iI do see some artifacts in it. In the text on the menu on the left hand side of the entrance, and also in the texture of the dark chairs, there is a kind of mooire or aliasing. Perhaps I’m pixel peeping too much, but that’s my reaction when the photographic gear costs as much as a family car!

    1. Ivan,

      I see the same moire now that you point it out. Unfortunately, that is a risk with a Leica. It has no AA filter, which increases sharpness and detail but occasionally moire happens. Check an earlier post I did on this site comparing a M9 with a Canon G1X. I got some major moire in one of those shots.

  2. I have an M9-P, MM, and now M10 (240 type). My wife also shoots, but still, I just need 2 cameras. I decided that since we usually shoot together, I could live without having a color backup as I could “borrow” the M10 from my wife if needed. When my M9-P wouldn’t sell for what I felt it was worth (and since my wife really did not want me to sell it), I decided to try conversions on the M10 with the thought of selling the MM (which still brings a good price).

    If you haven’t used a Monochrom, I’d see NO problem with the conversions from an M10, they can be great. Even more so if done in Something like Silver Efex Pro or the like for a bit of “film look”. However, after all the work converting a weeks worth of shots, one shot again on the Monochrom and I could not sell it. If you don’t have one, don’t buy one. It’s like crack and stuff that should be just fine seems “off” after working MM files.

    One point about working the M10 files. The same complaints about flat files was made when the MM came out. In my opinion, it’s a result of the much greater dynamic range. The amount of info there is so spread out that it seems flat until you “develop” it. You have to decide how much contrast is needed how dark the blacks etc. It took me way longer to come to find a few settings on the M10 that I use as a “starting point” than it did on the M9, and I find there are a lot more “ways to go” with the M10. I think it will be the camera for people who want to impart their “own look” as there is a ton to work with and not as much “signature” from the camera itself like the M9 had.

    I like the color here, particularly the first one. I would note that I prefer to get a similar effect to the “clarity” slider with a slight bump up in contrast, a slight bump down in blacks, and sometimes a slight tweak to the sharpness (which I never usually touch). I used to bump the clarity more, but then someone showed me how it can induce a sort of “digital looking” effect hard to describe but noticeable when comparing. I still go to it somewhat, but I have backed off from the high percentages into the lower half of the single digits and find that with a little work on the others I can get a similar “pop” with less of that digital artifact.

    Great work, nice write up. Have fun and keep shooting.

  3. My feeling is that it is harder to nail color with the new M compared to the M9. I know it has been discussed elsewhere but I agree that there is more IR contamination under certain light conditions. Detail is not so much the issue for me but color. I have not yet decided-at the moment I keep both cameras because I like all the other new features of the M, specially the shutter.

  4. Great write up! However I have one big complaint. More photos . . . By that I mean, I just wanted to see more, they look so good. I know there is the old saying “leave them wanting more” and maybe you subscribe to that. Anyway thank you for your efforts in writing this post and for your photos.

  5. Well, I never got used to the M240 and Its “soft” pictures. I never found the right way to process the files to my liking, I’ve tried with Aperture, dxo, lightroom, spent an incredible amount of time… And finally sold the M240 and bought a M8.2 (which I’ve always prefered to the M9). Maybe I’m incompetent, but the less pixels in the camera (M8 vs M, 5D vs 5DII) the more satisfaction I gest from myvcameras.

  6. If you really want the perceived punch of the M9 files, why don’t you just crush your blacks a bit. The M9 dynamic range was fairly limited at the very low end. That’s part of what gives images pop. It’s a bit like a cat chasing its tail. People want large dynamic range, but then huff at the flatness of whatever file that generates. You can’t have it both ways, but you can record a larger dynamic range and then crush it in levels and curves to get the image to pop exactly where you want it to.

    1. Agreed. As a former M9 owner, and current RX1 user, much of the “magic” of the M9’s sensor is just that its lower dynamic range creates a more contrasty image. It’s a pretty outdated sensor, and while you can make a modern sensor resemble the output of the M9, you can’t make the M9’s output resemble the more modern sensors with high DR.

  7. Great article George.
    My experience is similar to yours held onto the M9 for a long while and finally changed last month and yes it grows on you and is surprising how well the images enlarge with the M240.
    No hesitation in recommending it to others now at all.
    I also have an MM and I think the MM images are superior to the M240, but for convenience and budget the M240 is no slouch.
    Just my .2

  8. The colour shot is excellent I think with the new firmware upgrade the colour signature has improved. However the black and white shot to be honest you could match with any quality CMOS camera 5D3 or 800e, and that’s the problem if you are a B&W shooter the MM and M9, M8 is superior . I recently went through the filckr M240 groups and compared B&W files to the M8 groups B&W files ordinary shooters I know, but they were so much better on the M8 almost film like. I then compared to a 5D2 group I could not tell the difference between the CMOS cameras B&W files.

    1. I think if you are comparing shots on flickr to determine differences on cameras you are in trouble! As an owner of a D800E and an M240 there is a clear difference between your average DSLR results and the M240. In fact, as a former M9 owner as well, there’s a clear favourable difference in the M240 files vs the M9 too. The best way of explaining it is that the results from the M240 look like beautifully exposed slide film. This shot is one of my favourites: http://www.flickr.com/photos/sgoldswo/10392913136/

      As to the assertion that for B&W the M9 is superior I would have to disagree. Personally, I think the results from the MM are beautiful, but the next best B&W results are from the M240. End of discussion.

      1. I am in trouble comparing ordinary shooters files Wow I did not realise you could only compare the pros files. End of discussion, good luck with that, big discussion on whether the M240 will sit comfortably along side of the M5 in the history of Leica.

      2. sgoldswo,

        That is a remarkable portfolio, the images look so clean as though a veil had been removed. They very much reminded me of why in my film days I ditched my Nikon gear and bought into Leica after seeing a colleague’s Kodachrome 25’s shot with his new R4 and Leitz optics. What I saw in his slides was a complete absence of colouration in comparison with what I thought were good slides of mine.

        Seeing is believing and whilst an M digital plus the latest opics are way over budget for me, I can appreciate what people see in Leica M digital ownership. Thanks for sharing.

    2. M8 is probably the second-best black and white digital camera out there. I think its the infrared sensitivity, whatever it is, only the M Monochrom can top the tonality of the M8 in B&W.

  9. Hey George – there is an alternative to going to the menu for Exposure Comp. It can also be accessed by holding the new front button + rolling the data wheel with your thumb.

    1. The problem with many new digital cameras these days is that you need to dive into menus or hold multiple buttons to control simple exposure functions.

      It makes you appreciate the simplicity of cameras like the Sony RX1 which has directly accessible controls for aperture, exposure compensation and shutter speed.

    2. I have issues with that new front button. I find it awkward and difficult to press. I find going the menu to adjust exposure almost easier. I really miss the M9 back dial for EV adjustment.

  10. George,

    There is a terrific amount of detail in the pic of Le Pannier d’Or on the Mark’t Square in Brugge. Very impressive.

    One thing though. I’ve been visiting Bruges/Brugge every year since 2003, except 2004, and have dined at Le Panier d’Or, but at no time have I seen such deep colours of its facade as here. I’ve taken pictures in the Mark’t, the buildings are so photogenic, with various makes of digital cameras ranging from Canon, Olympus, Panasonic and Sony and in December, March and May, and all produce the facade in a surprisingly similar and identical hue. None have the deep saturation of yours. So with respect, I think there must be some post processing here. Would I be right?

    1. Terry,

      Yes, but not much. Clarity +22, vibrance +16, saturation +6. The light was mid morning and quite crisp. Also, M240 colors are pretty rich.

      1. Thanks, George.

        Light can be very crisp and clear there, early winter and early spring, sometimes being so contrasty as to be difficult to control. I can see from the shadows that we’ve taken pics at roughly the same time of day.

        I shall be back there mid-April 2014 with my new toy, the Sony A7, but not with any modern exotic Leica optics, just my R lenses. Weather permitting, I’ll take the same view and see how it looks.

        1. Terry,

          I would like to see the comparison. Would you send me one of your shots at [email protected]? Thanks.

          BTW, I took some other shots closer to the building and pointing up to get a soaring effect and that color is pinker and lighter. Is that closer to the color you get with other cameras? Both were taken at the same time and place, just a different angle to the building. I think the explanation is that the shot with the deeper color is slightly underexposed. It was f8 at 1/750th of a second. The shot with the lighter color was f11 at 1/180th. I am surprised by that difference. It shows how much range there is in this camera.

          1. George,

            Will do. I don’t have a close-up at present of the frontage and I doubt I will get what you have as at that time of year all the cafes/bistros put seats out under awnings. But this won’t impinge on the upper half of the image to check out colour balance.

  11. Many people comment on the better image quality or the special look of the M9 files. But in reality it is a bit like comparing the M9 to the MM for black and white shots. Out of camera the files may look crisper but once you adjust the files the MM and the M240 are far superior to the M9. The image quality and the bandwidth of the files to adjust them is in another league. Black and white conversions with the M240 are really beautiful. Now going back I find the M9 files too harsh. You can dial that look in with the M240 but it allows you to have much better transitions between the tones. It gives you a smoother curve out of camera, which I find to be a better starting point. It is a wonderful camera with a few flaws but image wise the M240 captures amazing files. Sadly mine has a sensor problem. It started to create a line on the images. Looks like that an entire line of pixel died. So it has to go back to get fixed. In the meantime I will switch back to the M9 and see how that feels. I may write about that experience soon. D!RK

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