One year ago this weekend, I was lucky enough to receive a Leica M (typ-240). As a photographer who had rediscovered his love of the craft by using a Leica M7 (2002), and then happily taking the leap to digital with an M8 (2006) and an M9 (2009), it was immediately clear that with the M, Leica had come as close to perfecting the digital rangefinder experience as seems possible. The Leica M has a 24 megapixel CMOS sensor, and from the first day, I found the image quality to be as good as the legendary M9′s, so long as one adjusted his post-processing technique to be careful not to oversaturate the colors.
There were immediate advantages in using the M over the M9, and especially the M8: its high ISO performance enabled one to shoot with much greater latitude at night, as as I noted after using it for a month.
One still had all of the advantages of using a rangefinder — speed of manual focusing, more intuitive, user-controlled operation, and of course, the Leica’s small size, but now, for the first time, you also had an option to set up the M as, in essence, a DSLR, and thus use long lenses. For the M offers Live View and with an adaptor — Leica’s own R-to-M lens adaptor was made available only last month, 10 months after the camera arrived, but we purchased a decent stand-in early — one could shoot Leica’s great R-mount telephoto lenses. As I noted in August, after spending a considerable amount of time with the M out West — and thus for the first time, able to shoot telephoto lenses on a rangefinder — it made me think of the M as a truly multipurpose tool.
I could now incorporate it better into landscape photography, which we welcomed. The versatility available to the user — being able to shoot at night…
while retaining the rangefinder’s advantage in being able to take intimate, spontaneous street photos without freaking out the subject…
made using the camera a complete joy.
I can’t say that using mine has been trouble free. Mine has a persistent annoying flaw where, after taking a number of shots in succession, the LCD reveals the images whirling past like they’re on a carousel. It’s really odd. It takes a minute or so to calm down and have me be able to look at the last image I shot. Yes, I could send this to Leica NJ or to the hospital in Solms, but it’s an annoyance, not a deal breaker. Should a camera this expensive have any flaws? No. But we live with it.
The new brightly lit frame lines in the viewfinder make the M’s intuitive focusing even better than the M9. Some pictures, such as the one below of the mother with her children skating, can be captured only via luck, or the practice that comes with having used a Leica for a decade or more. It’s my belief, however, that the rangefinder in the M is a better calibrated instrument than any previous Leica, because more pictures seem to catch exactly what I was hoping for.
When the Monochrom came out in 2012, many of us noted that the files it produced were more malleable than previous files we’d worked with, meaning that you could, in post-production, get effects and looks beyond what we’d been able to achieve previously. I found the same thing to be true with the M. I happen to like deeply saturated colors, and when I shot film, I often used Fuji Velvia. Some found the look of the M’s files to be too vivid; I found that, whether it was in Lightroom or using Nik’s Color Efex Pro4, I could get the look, and feel, I was after.
The camera seemed to be able to take maximum advantage of Leica’s lenses.
And it was especially clear that the combination of the M with the Noctilux was as special as the Noctilux’s marriage to the Monochrom.
Over the course of a single year, the camera has provided me with an inspiring opportunity to experiment with how I see the world — which is really all you want from a camera. Right? A tool that inspires you to try new things is a tool you can really learn to love.
All I know is that after a single year of using the M, I believe my photography is getting better, that the tool I am using enables me to have my camera be, as Cartier-Bresson said his M was, an extension of my eye. It is possible there are better cameras out there, and Leica may even be able to improve upon the M. But after one year using it, I am still somewhat stunned at how much it enables me to fulfill ambitions I did not even know I had.