A little over 24hrs ago, I walked into Red Dot Camera in downtown London. I was full of giddy anticipation - the kind you get when you know something exciting is about to happen, a feeling I associate with opening Christmas presents as a kid. The time had come; I was about to become the owner of a Leica digital camera.
My introduction to Leica as a brand came early in my photographic journey - I heard it referenced as being top-of-the-line equipment so I Googled it. After seeing the price tag on the cheapest camera, I closed the browser in dismay…. I’d never own one of those! A few years later I had a chance to demo a Leica S2, which is the $25,000 dSLR system made by Leica Camera. It was a beautiful machine and the images it made left my Nikon D7000 feeling inadequate.
Not longer after I upgraded to what I thought was going to be the end-all-be-all of my photographic equipment - a 36megapixel Nikon D800. I loved this camera. Together we took over 25,000 photos, won awards, got printed in magazines, sold plenty of prints, and even had a guest appearance on CNN.
Within the past year, I had the lofty ambition to refocused my photographic efforts to be a more patient and thoughtful photographer. As part of that effort, I wanted to explore the roots of photography by shooting more film. Early this summer I decided I could finally afford a Leica, but only as a 35mm film camera.
To say that Leica MP 35mm film camera ruined me would be an understatement. The Leica rangefinder system is the perfect tool with which I can create a masterpiece. Being fully manual, it requires thought and patience to work, along with a very strong understanding of photographic principals. I invested in a 35mm and 75mm lens and was blown away by the quality of them relative to their size. My Nikon glass was huge and heavy, this could be tossed in a purse!
I began seriously considering my future equipment setup - the lenses I was investing in and loved for film don’t work on my Nikon and vice versa. When I travel I may want to shoot digital and film, would I have to bring both setups? After days (ok, weeks) of deliberation, the truth was clear - I was going to become one of those people who sold off their dSLR setups and moved to Leica.
Fast forward to Saturday - I’ve arrived at Red Dot Camera in London to see a barely used Leica M-P 240. The M240 is the top of the line model of digital rangefinder made by Leica and the “P” version is upgraded slightly from there (cosmetically and with a 2GB buffer). The camera I was eyeing vas virtually new - the battery still in the original plastic wrap from the manufacturer. Apparently someone with more money than common sense decided after buying this that they wanted the black instead of chrome one and I was eager to take advantage of them paying the initial depreciation.
Unfortunately the battery was nearly dead, but the folks at Red Dot are fantastic and offered to charge it while we walked around an outdoor street party for a little bit. An hour later, I came back and picked up the camera for a stroll through London.
As of this writing, the Leica M-P 240 and I have been together for 29ish hours and 15.87 miles (or 36,855 steps, according to my Fitbit). It’s certainly premature for me to offer a comprehensive review, so this represents my impressions after a day and a half of shooting.
First, the Leica M-P 240 is a wonderful camera. Unlike the film version that I own, the camera is not fully manual, but focusing and setting the aperture are still manual operations. Initial edits of the files shows tremendous depth and color - although I haven’t done a side-by-side comparison, there appears to be more dynamic range than found in my Nikons.
- Silence. The sound this camera makes when the shutter actuates is a whisper; the Nikon suddenly sounds like a machine gun.
- Quality. Even with the best Nikon glass, there is distortion and vignetting. I haven’t seen any artifacts on the images produced by the Leica.
- Weight. It is such a joy to carry lightweight equipment! I never appreciated how heavy and burdensome a dSLR is until walking around with this camera all day.
- Feel in my hands. I really liked the feel of a D800 in my hands, so I was concerned that the lack of hand grip was going to make the Leica awkward to hold for a long day of walking around; however, I found the little thumb notch/rest near the scroll wheel to be a surprisingly comfortable grip and the camera never felt out of place. I think that’s largely a factor of weight as the D800 had to offer more ergonomics to accommodate for the heft!
- The menu system is a little cryptic to me, which may be a result of being so accustomed to a Nikon format. Changing settings like file type from .jpg to .DNG was surprisingly tricky..... on a Nikon all adjustments are made from the "Menu" button, but the Leica uses the "Set" and "Menu" buttons to adjust settings. This wasn't obvious to me without reading the manual, and I think if I have to read a manual, it could have been done better. I do like that I can set a profile to save particular settings though!
- I am used to the Nikon providing a lot more information in the viewfinder display, so it’s been a little jarring to not see the aperture displayed. With time, I’ll become more used to this.
- The increased buffer size for the Leica M-P 240 (from 1GB on the Leica M to 2GB on the Leica MP) makes a difference! I was shooting some images from the train home from London and would rattle off a burst without ever worrying about the buffer.
- I’m surprised that Leica will let you change the film mode to something like black and white when the camera is saving .DNG RAW files. Why isn’t that menu greyed out? The files don’t save black and white, but they give the illusion that they do.
- The shutter is smoother on the Leica M-P 240 digital camera than it is on the M-P 35mm camera. I attest this to being a digital camera vs a fully manual camera, but the difference in shutter feel is rather significant. I don’t dislike either.
- The external “leatherette” cover on the 35mm and digital Leica M-P is very different. The Leica M-P (35mm) is more finely textured, like sand paper, while the Leica M-P 240 is like real leather.
- The Leica M-P 240 is taller and wider than the M-P 35mm brother. It is also significantly heavier, but still far lighter than my Nikon’s.
- Thank you to Leica for including adapters for the charger for the most common plug types!
Clearly the Pro’s outweigh the Con’s on this list, especially because the negatives are mostly things I need to learn or become accustomed to doing. It took me months to fully master using my Nikon D800 without thinking as I worked the menus and expect it will take some time for me to really get comfortable enough that I could use the camera by touch only.
Overall, I am extremely happy with my purchase. Saying goodbye to the Nikon D800 was heart wrenching, but I am not regretting it for an instant! Having the quality, optics, size and flexibility of Leica is well worth the adjustment.
Stay tuned for more reviews of the Leica M-P 240 once I’ve really had a chance to put ‘er though the paces!