The Leica M: A Working Review by Sam Stroud

samstroudleica

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.

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The Basics

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

Focusing

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.

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Low Light

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.

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Battery Life

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.

The Experience

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.

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Conclusion

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.

Sam Stroud

84 Comments

  1. I just don’t get it. Why people shooting the top of the photogear-crown and still need to alter their images with lightroom. This is like buying a Rolls Royce and pimpin’ in a tune shop. Are you a dentist?

  2. I’m sure the M is a nice camera, but I don’t really care about your camera. There is too much focus put on gear on this site anyway. Your photos are simply exceptional on their own and I believe that you could take great photos with almost any camera! The composition and to some degree the use of light and color (love the last pic) are truly brilliant! I also really appreciate that you post-process your images in a very careful, subtle way that actually enhances their appearance rather than overdoing it.

    Who cares about the label of the camera if the output is as amazing as yours.

  3. I don’t care what camera you used – that headline picture with the building in the far background is sensational. The others aren’t half bad either (!) I’m somewhat cynical about the whole ‘Leica look’ thing but if the ‘look’ in these images is down to a combination of a good photographer’s eye and a particular combination of camera and lens, then maybe there’s something to it after all. Whatever, I’d be pretty overjoyed if my wedding photos looked like these.

    • Sorry, I really don’t understand what a “Leica look” is? Please explain it to me, I am anxious of it!

      • ‘Leica look’ is a term often used by Leica shooters to describe what they see as the unique rendering of images taken with Leica cameras and lenses. Some people see it, some don’t. I was merely commenting that these images do have a different feel to most others – whether that’s the special ‘look’ or not I really don’t know.

          • The good faith, puts all known mountains! I don’t believe in this Leica religion! They must cooking also with pure water!

          • Rainer, i think what most people are saying, or referring to and what Steve is talking about is that each camera produces different images. The Leica lens and sensor simply renders a different looking image. No question that is true. I can take my MK3 with my 50 1.2 set it to f/2 and shoot the same exact image with my Leica and it will look different. Leica is a lot like apple in that it is selling an experience. The Leica experience is different, starting with the process and ending with the image.

          • Fuji offers in their cameras the looks of PROVIA, VELVIA and ASTIA film Images! Why should not an smart software developer, introduce a special software, with an LEICA Image LOOK! Nothing is impossible today, and than, I would have a big smile in my face!

          • Sure..

            Try a 50 1.5 Sonnar 🙂 The new 35 1.4 should do it as well. In General, the Leica look comes from the lenses and not the cameras. You get a Leica look from the Noctilux, new or old version but it can be had on the Sony A7 as well using those lenses. For max effect, a Noct on an M9…this look can not be replicated by any DSLR or other lens/camera combo, so it is a “Leica look”.

          • “Today, you can manipulate almost anything with special software technics!”

            That’s an interesting comment. Does this come from experience and objectivity? Or just enthusiasm for software?

      • Really? Well let me see, it looks like a VIP in a Rolls Royce, or a King in Monaco, or someone with a $$$ Leica collectors item in his hands, you got it? That’s the Leica look:)

    • Stan’s comment is perfectly fair. I won’t disagree where he writes, “Whatever, I’d be pretty overjoyed if my wedding photos looked like these.” That’s the whole reason why we do photography – to make nice photos. 🙂

      I think I know why people keep arguing over the Leica look, glow, whatever. It does exist, but it is not always found in Leica shots and some other cameras exhibit it, too. To deny the Leica look is to deny the film look, or the medium format look, etc. They might be more generic than what is ascribed specifically to Leica, but they exist nonetheless.

      Some people can tell the difference between Leica lenses and other brands. I cannot. I can, however, tell you if an image looks nice or not. And I can sometimes tell when a shot has been taken on film as opposed to digital, and the difference is just about always in film’s favour. And if anyone does not agree, I am perfectly happy with that.

  4. Sam,nice pictures. But to me it seems to be a kind of a ‘justify myself story’:). And using plugin filters that much as you did, I guess VSCO, NIK, there is no need for razorsharp pics imho. A less $$$ camera will do the same trick for the pics as shown above. Talking about handling, looks, emotion and so on, that’s a personal taste and different story, or?

    • Thanks. I dont think so though. I simply and telling others my experience so far. I wanted to let others who are waffling on if its worth it or not understand my perspective. Thanks for the comment!

    • Which Fuji? I have the X100s and really like it. Don’t shoot it much anymore though. I shot all of these with the 50mm Summicron

      • With FUJI cameras it can be the film looks of PROVIA, ASTIA and VELIVA selected. A smart soft ware developer could develop a soft ware, with an LEICA LOOK! Nothing is impossible, and I would welcome it, with a big smile!

  5. Nice photos, but for me weddings is money 🙂 time is money, give me quick and fast…..DSLR.
    When i want to look good at the cafes, i’ll borrow my leica from son.
    Sorry to be logical but business and pleasure don’t mix……did i say nice photos, cheers.

    • I get that. Makes sense. I think long term for someone like me who absolutely loves what he does, i have to think about the effect of thinking purely transactionally. I love the connected feeling to my clients. The Leica improves on that. For me at least. Thanks for the comment!

    • Vinny, I am very, very glad that people use different cameras and lenses to do similar jobs. And I think you, Sam, Steve and everyone would agree with that.

      It is puzzling, however, that you believe that a rangefinder system cannot be practical or logical. Okay, not for you and maybe not for lots of photographers.

      Your statement is problematic in and of itself. And it is – no, it has been already – refuted by great photographs taken by photographers using phones, compacts, mirrorless systems, rangefinders and medium format systems.

      Someone wrote in a photo.net forum some time ago that he believed that no great photos have been taken with digital cameras. Statements like that are easily refuted by the evidence, and yet people still make them.

      • For my taste, the best times of RF cameras are over, and LEICA tries hard to keep up with EVF and other electronical matters which they must generally purchase from other companies, incl. the digital sensors!

  6. Even though I agree with and enjoyed your article, I’m thinking to ask you those two questions again, just to see you smash your face with a mallet, but before you do, let me get my camera. That’s not something I see every day.

      • The bill for the wedding photographer is mainly paid by the bride parents! I know that these people are very picky, expecting a very good photographers work, for sure not looking for this foolish “Leica look”!

        • I see where you are coming from. But I think you are missing the point of my article.

          two things;

          1. The parents may be paying… although in most cases, my demographic generally are well educated, older couples with dough. So id say 75% of my weddings are paid for my the rich hubs!

          2. It’s not about a certain look. Although as Steve Huff said in a comment below, there IS in fact a distinct look. No two cameras render the same image. And Leica’s is distinct. However, for me, in my own words from the article

          “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.”

          It’s bigger than a “look”

          thanks for the comments!

  7. I don’t know, is it my PC monitor, but these images don’t look crisp to me! Sorry, it might not be the camera, it seems to be more the wedding photographer!

    • They don’t look so great on my monitor either. I think it’s the way they were shot and processed. I would never have guessed that these were shot with Leica. Maybe he didn’t use a Leica lens.

    • The only two images that seem a bit soft are the ones where the couple is walking away from the camera (night lights and along the waterside). All of the images have a wonderful, very “film-like” look to them – a GOOD thing – and beautiful colors. The whole “sharper is better” attitude these days is frustrating – so many over-sharpened images out there. Hey, I love a sharp image as much as the next guy, but I think a photo can still be good even if it’s a little soft – especially with wedding photography, where capturing the moment and memory are the most important things, and I think the OP has achieved this very nicely.

      • Nicely excused, but i have always shot the wedding images also “Film-like” as perfect as possible, using mostly an Zeiss Softar I !

      • they dont look as sharp for me either on the site. I sent Steve lower res images. But they look fine to me. The one of them walking away was done on purpose. I wanted a somewhat of a nostalgic feel as they exited the wedding. So underexposed and soft focus…

  8. Very accurate description of life with the 240. Beautiful weddings, you must have quite the reputation in your area

    FWIW I also have a 6D that gets used too and it’s an entirely different world.

    May I humbly suggest that you consider the EVF for your work, and use the rangefinder for fun. The EVF speeds things up somewhat, but still does not interfere with the joy of use too much. You don’t need the Leica one, there is an Olympus-branded one that is the same and works the same for a few hundred less IIRC. Check a site like B&H and you will see them.

    The EVF gives you 5X and 10X mag and makes most focusing a breeze. I still prefer the rangefinder for the noctulux, but I never work fast with that lens anyway. For “working” lenses or wider than 35 mm the EVF is a great asset.

    Good Luck in any case…. did I tell you that you appear to have a great eye for your work…?

    • except the damned EVF drains the batteries real quick, I go through almost 4 batteries on both my M240 each wedding, and have 2 chargers on hand JUST incase. On a weekend where I’m constantly on the go with back-to-back weddings, I burn through the 7 batteries I have if I’m using the EVF constantly.

      nice post Sam!

  9. There are some very nice photos here, so thank you very much for sharing them with us.

    I think my favourite is the last one, of the couple in the long grass. I’m not sure if you agree, but the 3:2 aspect ratio doesn’t work very well when oriented vertically and needs to be cropped to 4:3. However, when oriented horizontally, it’s a solid, attractive aspect.

    My answers to the questions that have been put to you:

    “Is it worth spending $7500 to shoot with something that is on par with other cheaper systems like the MK3 or D800″

    If cost was the main factor, then the Sony A7 would be the camera to buy. Many DSLR users somehow wouldn’t like that idea!

    “Can you really tell a difference? You can’t really tell a difference.”

    I think people need to realise that the camera will make a difference for the photographer. It matters that the photographer feels at one with the camera. And the camera will influence the way you shoot – almost always, even if it’s subtle. So there is a difference, and to deny it is either naive or pretentious. Anyway, the viewer is just asked to look at the photo, not the EXIF data!

    As for low-light, the M is underestimated, as you have discovered. In fact, so is the M9. The reason why the M9 has a bad reputation is because of its chrominance noise. But, like with any other sensor, you should always filter out chrominance noise and leave luminance noise alone, especially with people shots.

    I have put some M9 files into DxO Optics Pro and I am satisfied that the M9 has a more useable ISO range than people think. I dare say that on sensor specs alone, I prefer the M9 to any Canon DSLR of around that time – Nikon’s D700 being the only DSLR that I might put ahead of it, thanks to its higher DR and better sensitivity. Actually, I would like to invite you or anyone else who uses a digital M to submit a piece to this site about using digital M bodies with high ISO.

    P.S. If you can do me a favour, can you put up a RAW file? It doesn’t have to be from a wedding. Just something shot at around ISO 400 where there are shadow areas. I’m noticing a flaw in the Leica sensor and I am looking for more evidence. So far I’ve seen it from three different units.

  10. Which lens or lenses did you use? The Summicron f2 would inspire more confidence than say a Noctilux f0.95! I’ve handed my camera to waiter (who asked to take a group photo) and he managed to take a picture in good focus with the Summicron set wide open.

    A Leica 60 (no rear screen) with a Noctiux – now that would be one brave wedding photographer!

    I got rid of all my Canon gear earlier this year in exchange for a Leica Monochrom with 1 lens (I chose the 50mm Summilux) and have never regretted it for a moment. As a starter set-up I would recommend an M-E with a 35mm/f2 as a simple but rewarding rangefinder set-up to people moving from a DSLR.

    My favourites pics are your second and third from last ones.

    • Akis, agreed. Plus the Noct is ridiculously expensive. But I do thnk I am going that route. I love that DOF! I bought the 50mm Summicron and love it

  11. Hey Sam, I´m visiting this great blog almost every two days and just now I saw your opening picture. Really nice and lovely photos! Your first picture of the couple at Keswick Hall Estate ist great! What a wonderful moment and – location. I was working there as a pastry chef 18 years ago! All the best

  12. Ive been following samstround a while on instagram! great photographer, really captures “the moments!”

    Shooting Leica is somehow religion! ( insta: @perbendiksen )

  13. I don’t have an M, and I probably never shall, but what you say about the experience of shooting with a particular camera resonates strongly. I feel that when holding my Digilux 2 and my X Vario and my IIIf compared with my X100S and my Sony Nex 3 despite the qualities of the latter and the criticisms which have been levelled at the Vario in particular. So I like a Leica and entirely understand what you say!!

  14. I am surprised that the famous Leica bokeh looks so unpleasant on many pictures here! The out of focus rendering of my Pentax FA*24/2.0, FA31/1.8 Limited and FA*85/1.4 seems to be much more creamy, smooth and simply beautiful.
    It looks also that main subjects on many pictures here were not precisely focused on.

  15. I used to photograph weddings with a 500cm Hasselblad. A camera that you had to change film every 12 shots, was manual focus and had no meter in the camera. You had to work slow as to not pay a fortune every wedding in film and processing. I suppose being old school I have always found digital SLR’s while fantastic in ease and convenience, not as easy to bond with as a well made manual camera. I have recently brought a second hand M9 and loving the need to use my light meter and manual focus skills again. i’m shooting a couple of weddings soon with it and I’m sure I will enjoy the light camera bag that goes along with a Leica. in terms of money a 2nd hand M9 will not be any more than a new good DSLR, especially if you get Voigtlander ASPH lenses that are very reasonable priced.

  16. Sam

    Welcome to the club. Using a digital range finder is a new experience, even if you are previously experienced using a film rangefinder. Digital can change your expectations and reveal any deficiencies of process or equipment.

    Your assessment is correct about focus getting easier the more you do it. The expression, “Slow is smooth, and smooth is fast” definitely applies. So the more you do it the better you will be, and street or festival photography is a good way to practice without the pressure of needing to please a customer. It’s also a good way to stretch your self and have fun doing it.

    Str8_Shot

  17. I think you really pulled a nice feel into these shots was it the camera or your eye? I recently finally got an M Ind the jury still out for me but one thing is the shots coming from my M are super clean and pretty accurate I think the m240 is a great photographers tool for this reason but I still don’t know if I like the m9 better.BTW I READ EVERTHING I THOUGHT BUT IM ALITTLE ADHD SO I DIDNT SEE A LENS OR LENSES MENTIONED WHICH TO ME ARE THE GREATEST THING ABOUT THE LEICA EXPERIENCE SO COULD YOU TELL ME WHICH ONES YOU USED PLEASE THANKS

  18. Lovely pictures. Most pictures of events that I see are pretty mediocre, poorly framed by someone just blazing away with autofocus and a zoom lens, who has covered himself too often with a burst from his huge DSLR. These were created by an artist using an artist’s tool.

    • First: Some nice captures here, Sam. Use what works for you as the best natural extension of your vision.

      Second: A tool is only as good as its functionality, artistry notwithstanding. And the fact of the matter is that a DSLR remains the tool of choice for the vast majority of working professionals because its shooting envelope is much greater than any rangefinder camera. I’m speaking to those who slavishly heap praise on Leica’s whilst simultaneously feeling the need to deride other gear and those who shoot with it.

      • Falconer, you are a dependable broken record. Why so thin skinned about DSLRs. Do you blaze away with bursts using a huge DSLR? I doubt it. And I have no idea what you mean by shooting envelope, a sweetly ambiguous term. Leica’s seem capable of any type shot with few exceptions in the hands of some one who has expertise. What is your problem that makes you a dependable irrational Leica putdown?

      • Robert no question the DSLR is an efficient tool. I built my business from 5 to 150 weddings with one! And I love my MK3. And I mean LOVE it! But what my MK3 is, the LEICA isnt. The Leica is a stripped down compose and shoot camera. It forces you to pay attention. It forces a connection with your subject. I love that.

        • For me, the best times of RF cameras is over! LEICA must try hard with all electronical posibilities, to keep the RF system alive! The mirrorless technics are the future camera systems! I would bet, that behind the curtains,at Wetzlar, autofocus prototype LEICAs are in test runs!

  19. Nice review I came from 5D2 to M8 now the M I found the upgrade from M8 to M the hardest as I was at that time convinced CCD was better. Having used the M now there is no comparison the M is superier in IQ. All the pro MF makers are now using CMOS sensors that’s a pretty good indication I think the new Leica S will also have the CMOS sensor, there are still some dinosaurs trying to push the older sensor but nobody cares any more about that, skin tones are amazing on the M when the user knows and learns how to do it correctly it’s just a learning curve. Good to see wedding photographers like yourself now using M, again nice review.

  20. The experience is what make it photography. Otherwise it is just snapping pics. It’s why I prefer my X100 and 5Dc to 7d even though the 7D is amazingly fast. Such speed disconnects me from the event. Of course it does have it’s uses but for a photographic experience I prefer the handling and viewfinder of the X100 or gazing through the cinematic viewfinder of the slowish 5Dc. Shooting with my LF1 is a non experience.

  21. Very nice work.

    The only issue I have with digital Leicas for pro work is service. If anything goes wrong with Canon or Nikon, they have service locations that will get you back up and running in a couple of days. it you have a problem with your Leica, it can take months before you get your camera back.
    I love my M-E, but that was what happened to me after it had a sensor issue under warranty. It was about 4 months before it was fixed. Leica did not offer a loaner camera while it was waiting for parts.

    Best regards
    Huss

  22. I am not a professional like Sam, but I too had been shooting with all three Canon 5D’s ever since the first one came out. I got my M 240 in December of 2013 and love the challenge. My images from my Leica and from my 5D MK III have both improved. Photography with the Canon was so automated I had stopped seeing and thinking. Now I am doing both and having more fun than ever. Just got my 50mm f2 summicron asph a few weeks ago. More fun!

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