The Leica M: A Working Review
by Sam Stroud – His website can be seen HERE
A few weeks ago I picked up Leica’s M typ 240. In my own research, while looking to buy one, I couldn’t find a lot of reviews from the wedding industry on those who were using it. I wanted to post a little bit of my thoughts about it now that I have had a few weddings under my belt with it.
First let me say, what this wont be. I am not going to talk about the technical details much. As odd as this sounds, I don’t quite care about that. I am not a pixel counter. I knew well in advanced that the quality of the image was going to be fantastic. No surprises there. For me shooting with this camera had to be about a few things;
1. It couldn’t inhibit the process of creating
2. It absolutely had to push me beyond the place I was currently in. I didn’t want to spend money on something that would allow me to just keep doing what I am doing. What’s the point in that?
Those two seem kind of vague I know. But it was important to me that I could get the image I set out to create, and that at the same time I wouldn’t be tied to creating the same kind of work I have been.
The M typ 240 is a 24MP Full Frame, Manual focusing camera with a CMOS sensor. It comes in Black and silver. (I chose black) It also has an optical view finder that is easily used to frame and compose your subjects. There are a lot of other really neat technical details that I honestly couldn’t care any less about. Oooh wait… it has a movie mode.
There aren’t a lot of features to brag about. I think it is purely a digital rangefinder. No frills. It wont shoot 100 frames per second and it wont HDR an image for you. Looking through the viewfinder is about one thing and one thing only. Composing, framing and taking the shot. There IS a red dot above the lens mount that reads “Leica”. So there is that.
Using It For Work
I don’t think there is any question you could buy this camera and without feeling any pressure to get anything right, could go and shoot some street photography and be really pleased. But for me, in my work, there is a certain level of pressure not to miss anything. With that pressure, for me, comes the absolute need to know my camera. To know how everything works together. And to be honest I struggled with it at first. And that has nothing to do with any kind of limitation of the M. It has everything to do with my current system and setup. I could legitimately close my eyes and in a matter of seconds set my MK3 to be ready to shoot in any situation and get the image I want right away.
That isn’t a bad thing at all. But when you introduce an entirely different system it becomes a problem. So at first I kept it simple. The first wedding I stuck with using it exclusively for the getting ready shots and portraits. Focusing was tough. What can I say? The MK3’s auto focusing system is incredibly fast. I don’t know how it compares to a Nikon and I don’t care. For me, the MK3 AF system works and acquires focus so quickly!
So to move to a completely manual system was again, intimidating. And slow. You want to be precise, and you don’t want to miss. At first, yes I was slow with it. And for me photographing natural expression, including during the bride and groom’s portrait sessions, is paramount. It’s tough to try to be precise without making it, seemingly, awkward. But I knew the more I did it. The faster I would get.
Once you’re used to it there isn’t an issue. Focusing is as easy and as fast as moving the focusing ring clock or counter clock wise. There is a box in the center of the view finder. Find your subject, and align the boxes. That’s it.
Again the MK3 is king. Throw the 50mm 1.2 on and you are ready for any situation. I was really excited to see totally usable images up to 6400. I had read online, some people saying files were only really usable up to 3200. I found that not to be true at all. The beauty of this is that I knew I could totally use the M in darker spaces like during the reception. More specifically during the first dances where really beautiful images can be created.
I will keep this short… I shot two weddings this past weekend on one charge. The battery is big. The charger is kind of awkward. But it did come with a car charger. So that’s cool. I am not sure I will use it. But regardless, the fact that the battery lasted two weddings is a huge positive.
Handling the camera feels amazing. From the moment I picked it up I was impressed. It feels good. I don’t know how to properly describe that. It just feels like a camera should feel. The dials are tight, the size just right, and the sound of the shutter click is quietly sweet. The menus and buttons are minimal to say the least. You can quickly and easily move around once you are familiar with where everything is located. It is a sturdy build and is surprisingly heavy.
Here is where I really care about this camera. Using this camera has been a completely different experience for me. I started out using the Canon 5D, and have been using Canon exclusively. So with that in mind, from the moment I picked up the Leica I was both intimidated and confused. And I am not new to the rangefinder. But first using the M I could tell I was going to have to undo a lot of terrible habits I have picked up over the past 4 years.
The look and feel instantly creates a different atmosphere for creating your work. It also requires from you a level of patience and “slowing down” that I haven’t experienced in quite some time. I think the initial inclination is to fear what you may miss. But when you think about it, if you are comfortable with your gear, and you are required to slow down and pay more attention to whats happening, you will be infinitely more connected to your subject. And if you are connected to your subject you will create better work.
I have now been asked on so many occasions (so many times that now every time I hear it I want to smash my face with a mallet) one of two things;
1. “Is it worth spending $7500 to shoot with something that is on par with other cheaper systems like the MK3 or D800”
2. “Can you really tell a difference? You can’t really tell a difference.”
Honestly, I cant answer that for you. All I can tell you is that for me it absolutely is worth every single penny. For now at least. And if you are asking for my recommendation, I would tell you unequivocally, yes buy it! And for so many reasons. But mainly because of the experience. There is an experience that exists between me and my subject that is realized when shooting with this camera. And I would of paid double to have it because of that reason alone. Yes, the images are beautiful. Yes the technology behind it is fantastic. And yes there are very very few companies who make a better lens. All of that absolutely matters. But more than anything and above all of that, it is about the simple and beautiful process of creating and nothing else.