The Leica 240
I would like to start by saying that I am certainly an enthusiast of photography and greatly enjoy looking at different camera models, lenses and technological improvements that continue to provide the photography world with new ways to see.
The Leica MP typ 240 is a very specific tool and I wanted to review this camera while it was fresh in my mind. I am also going to take the time to compare it to a few other models and approaches. To start I would like to say that this camera really should not be compared to any other camera, and at the same time it should be – we all need price comparisons and other comparisons to decide for ourselves if a camera is worth it or not. This is what I mean. This is a rangefinder and it is a very specific type of camera without autofocus and many of the bells whistles that you see in today’s current brands. Not only does one possess simplicity with this camera, but you have a body that is second to none. It is made out of brass and is as solid as any camera made today. It is made out of brass instead of a combination of various materials. It is heavy and feels great in your hand. You know you are in possession of quality when you hold any Leica M. Leica cameras also have the top lenses in the business. I’ve tested them against every company from Nikon to Canon to Fuji. Leica is the 35mm equivalent to Linhof in the larger formats. Both German….both impressive. With that said there are certain intricacies with the lenses that you have to get used to and need to be comfortable with.
Let’s start with some of the beautiful things about the Leica. This camera makes you work. We can start with all of the great fixed prime lenses. You have to move your feet and learn how to read light. There is no electronic viewfinder unless you want to use the live view mode. I am actually a fan of the live view mode. I think it’s important in certain situations like focusing far away where rangefinder cameras are hard to precisely nail the distance with precision. Using a 35mm lens and precisely focusing at infinity is not easy. So I do appreciate that Leica has included live view in their digital models though this may not entertain some enthusiasts and traditionalists of the brand.
Another appealing feature of the Leica is the relatively small size. It’s certainly not as small as a point-and-shoot and because of its weight (brass is not the lightest material) we often disregard the size as an advantage though I certainly appreciated it when I wanted to hike through a blizzard to get a few photographs. It was very nice to not have to carry a bag of SLR cameras and lenses, so in that case the size makes a big difference.
The minimalist approach is something I think every photographer should employ from time to time, if nothing else. It makes you better. It’s very easy to want every lens in the book and I’ve been there myself but can honestly feel like I could survive with the 35mm lens and a 135 mm for distances and shallow depth portraits. It would certainly be a very reasonable travel kit.
On this particular shoot I purely carried the Leica 240 and 35mm f/1.4. It was so much fun to just position myself and not have to worry about changing lenses. It enabled me to hike through 4 miles of a blizzard and not worry about being too weighted down. I was able to capture this photograph of the tree on route 20.
This leads me into my favorite part about Leica lenses. They are so sharp from end to end. Lenses have their sharpest point in their middle apertures but this particular lens is very impressive wide-open at 1.4. I also greatly enjoyed rangefinder focusing. There is just an experience where you feel like you do everything – there are no electronic controls. The downside to a rangefinder is that it might need to be adjusted from time to time so the focusing mechanism is accurate. However, that seems to be no different from the SLR lens combination from any of the major manufacturers. I typically send my equipment in once or twice a year to Canon for recalibration, etc. It’s like taking your car in for a service appointment “just to make sure.”
I’ve owned the Fuji x100t for a while. The Fuji and Sony mirrorless systems can certainly be compared to Leica and they certainly ask for a comparison with the retro styling and approach to the various builds.
In one area there is certainly a fair comparison….in another area, there is not. I love the Fujis and the ability to move around with them and be inconspicuous. The systems are small, they take great photographs, and honestly they have a great look to them.
The Leica is in a league by itself. There is no comparison with lens sharpness. Unless you are enlarging above 8 x 10, I doubt you will notice too much of a difference. The other difference is that there is no comparison to build quality. The Leica is a tank. When you feel them you will immediately notice a quality difference in that direction. There is simply no comparison. There is also no comparison in the price. You can get a Fuji x100 to you with a 35mm equivalent for $1000. Leica would run you $7000 for the body alone and at least another $3000 for a lens. So in regards to building up a Leica collection of camera and one or two lenses, you were looking at slowly starting to approach the $20,000 mark. Obviously these cameras and lenses only sell to a select few, devoted enthusiasts or those that will pay for the utmost in quality and branding. Leica is not interested in the quantities that Canon and Nikon produce. Compare Canon and Nikon to BMW and Mercedes, good quality and reliable handling. The Leica is your Lamborghini. Keep in mind, the Lamborghini brand commands its own portion of the price tag. ….just sayin’.
I want to talk about something that is very hard to put a price tag on. The Experience. Shooting with this camera was wonderful. I enjoyed every second of it. It begged me to frequently pick it up and walk around for a while. So I did. I also registered 13,000 steps on iphone from this movement…..not a bad result – all thanks to the Leica. Every function, down to even simple mechanical click of the shutter, is a beautiful work of art. Now you have to decide if you would like this camera and a few lenses or a new kitchen or bathroom remodel – a good used car may also fit into the same expense.
There are some limitations on the Leica MP typ240. It only goes to a 1/4000 of a second so if you think you might want 1/8000 shutter speed then obviously you would need to look elsewhere. This is not your action sports camera. It’s a totally different thing. I’m not saying you can’t shoot action sports with it but you need to manually pre-focus on a point and wait for the athlete to end up in that area or zone focus and shoot sports but you won’t have the same high number of quality captures that one might obtain with an SLR. It’s simply a different tool. It’s why you don’t see rows of Leica’s at the Super Bowl.
In the wedding photography world, I could certainly see using a Leica in some situations. When the bride is getting ready, the action isn’t moving as fast, I could thrive with one of these cameras. I’m also very intrigued by the Leica Monochrom typ246 for this reason. You can shoot in high ISOs and not have color noise affecting the image at all. Those cameras are beautiful. If you haven’t had a chance, Google some full size samples of the Monochrom Typ 246 and look at the detail for yourself at 100% in Lightroom or Photoshop. See for yourself! I had a chance to use one of these in Washington DC and was blown away at ISO 25600.
The Leica camera is simply less intrusive than a big SLR and lens equivalents. I think that would be a wonderful option in certain aspects of the wedding. They’re just simply times with low light focusing and the speed of current SLR autofocus standards that I’m not sure I could live without in many situations that present themselves in weddings. Canon is my number one choice for nuptials.
If you were into having long zoom lens, a rangefinder is probably not for you either. Since the viewfinder doesn’t change, you are looking at the focal length lines through a very small piece of the viewfinder and that is why you don’t see many rangefinder lenses eclipsing the 135 mm mark. If you were interested in bird photography with the 400 or 600 mm lens you are shopping in the wrong place when looking at this camera. Long focal lengths and rangefinders are like oil and water.
Street photographers love this camera and for good reason. You just have to justify an extremely high price tag. It’s the equivalent of buying a car that will get you from point a to point B. We all choose to drive luxury cars at times but we certainly don’t need them. This camera falls into that category. It’s a luxury piece. It’s selling your brand. It’s got wonderful quality but a very high price tag. Only the user can decide if it brings appropriate value. In a world of overusing the term investment in what we sell, I can honestly say that these cameras hold their value well but they certainly depreciate over time. I’m not sure there is a camera made today that’s a good “investment.” Of course I would also say the same thing about a vehicle purchase.
With all of that said, I do think I will own one at some point, possibly buying used or previously released model that’s one generation from being the latest and greatest. I really do love them.
Fuji has just released their xPro2. This is a very nice camera for someone who is looking for the rangefinder look and feel without the true focusing experience of the rangefinder. It’s still an autofocus camera with a fairly unusable manual focus option. I’m not sure if I have made a decision on the direction of Fuji. They have certainly dabbled in the SLR world and elected not to continue, instead finding their own niche with their X series.
The other option for owning a Leica would be to buy a used Leica film camera and a used lens. You can certainly enter the market in the $1000 to $2000 range and develop a lot of film before you equal the cost of any digital Leica. Just a thought. The Leica M6 is very affordable and has many advantages. Even if the battery expires, the camera is purely mechanical and as long as you understand exposure you don’t need a functioning light meter to take photographs. It has many advantages over the newer M7. The M7 has an electronic shutter so if you lose battery power you totally lose the ability to take photographs. It makes the M6 a little bit more appealing in extremely cold conditions. The electronic shutter has proven to be slightly more accurate, but I’m not sure that makes one bit of difference other than for the sake of discussion.
Leica has also released a digital M262 which is a toned down version of the MP 240. It’s got the same sensor, so the image quality is not different but it doesn’t have live view. If you’re interested in purchasing a new camera it would certainly save a few thousand dollars by electing to purchase the M262. You do have an aluminum top instead of brass, saving the camera little bit of weight.
The experience shooting with these cameras is second to none. It’s very different from an SLR so please don’t think that it’s even a fair comparison. Different tools for different jobs. The current versions of most SLRs will certainly have higher ISO abilities than a Leica. So if stretching the limitations of ISO is your thing then again you may want to go another direction. Personally I found the ISO noise levels at ISO 6400 very acceptable. I’ve also found low ISOs and those Leica lenses nothing less than stunning.
If you end up purchasing one of these cameras one will certainly miss a few focus on a few photos of your kids running around or moving extensively – but the joy in shooting this German made a work of art may override a few missed shots here and there. I certainly recommend getting close with a 35 or 50 mm lens as a great starting point. If it were me, I do believe I would start with 35. It’s wide enough to capture the scene and you can still do portraits with that lens. I think I would possibly gravitate to a longer lens like an 85 or 135 and stay with those two for a while. If I could have three lenses it would be a 35mm (or 28mm), a 50mm and a 135mm.
Remember one thing, no matter what you pay for a musical instrument it’s about the person more than the instrument. With photography, the most important piece of equipment is the one on top of your shoulders.
…..and if you are buying a brand, remember that the M240 doesn’t come with that nice little red dot. They left it off of this camera to add to the nostalgic feel and look of the MP film cameras as well as a more inconspicuous feel.
Below, an image of my daughter, Clare, taken with the MP Typ 240 and a 35mm f/1.4:
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