Design & Usability
When you pick up the Leica M, it's immediately apparent that a lot of care went into crafting the camera. It's solidly built with a die-cast magnesium body, synthetic leather covering, and brass top and base plates. The single-piece design of the body, along with the two machined caps, gives the camera increased durability, with rubber seals used to ward off dust and moisture. The Type 240 is outwardly almost identical to the M9 that it replaces, and it's quite sturdy, even if the grip doesn't afford much comfort for the user.
Still, the design is classic Leica—clean lines, simple controls, and manual dials with just the right amount of resistance on each click. The camera features a hybrid rangefinder style optical viewfinder that is perfect for manual focusing. It also features a large 3-inch screen on the back that can now be used for live view and video shooting, with buttons for control and menu navigation on the left side.
Despite the largely similar design, the new M Type 240 does improve on the M9 in subtle ways. The rear control dial is now placed up closer to where your thumb naturally rests, the live view focusing is occasionally quite useful with the larger 3-inch LCD, and the additional "M" button on the top plate offers greater flexibility.
For Leica fans, the new M represents a mammoth step forward in internal design. The camera's Leica Max 24-megapixel full-frame CMOS image sensor and Maestro processor allow for the long overdue additions of live view and 1080/30p video shooting. The 3-inch 920k-dot LCD is protected by scratch-resistant Gorilla Glass, but its restrictive angle of view doesn't allow it to complement the live view and video features as well as it should.
For still shooters, the biggest enhancement over the M9 will be the Type 240's larger ISO range, which extends from 200-6400, with Pull 100 ISO available. That improves greatly on the ISO 160-2500 range on the M9. It's certainly not as expansive as the 204,800 that some other full-frame cameras are capable of, but it will give Leica shooters a little more flexibility in low light than they had before.
The new features are certainly not groundbreaking, but they update Leica's premier rangefinder model with modern conveniences that, quite frankly, have been notably absent from their lineup. Still, our favorite part of the Leica M is the part that's probably changed the least—the always excellent rangefinder viewfinder. It's bright, clear, and allows for near-perfect manual focusing at a much faster speed than you'd otherwise be able to achieve.
It's tough to discuss the pros and cons of just about any Leica camera without somehow commenting on the price. The Leica M Type 240 checks out at a cool $6950. Wallet-destroying price tag aside, it updates the Leica M line of rangefinders to better compete with the rest of the current camera world. We're pretty sure you'll see another Halley's comet before you'll see Wi-Fi in a Leica M-series camera, but the few concessions to modern technology on display here will allow Leica shooters greater flexibility when shooting in low light and, for the first time, allow them to capture video.
Is the price outrageous? Of course, but if you're buying a Leica, it's probably not for a feature-laden spec sheet. What the price gets you is an exceptionally well-built camera with just enough modern features, and flawless compatibility with Leica's excellent legacy M- and R-series lenses. When you buy a Leica, you're paying for entry into a rarefied level of photographic culture; but at least with the M Type 240 you're getting a powerful and relatively up-to-date camera in the "bargain." Does that fact justify the expense? Probably not in a world where full-frame bodies start at $2100, but if you're already in the Leica system, the new M is a worthy upgrade across the board.
Leica's booth at Photokina 2012 sits in a far corner adjacent to the rest of the trade show, a peaceful and almost serene place compared to the buzzing cacophony of the other halls. It's a fitting place for Leica, a company that has carved out a very particular niche in the imaging world, updating their line of carefully built cameras on their own idiosyncratic schedule.
It's from this corner of the photographic world that we get the Leica M, the replacement for the legendary M9. Dropping the integer-based naming scheme, the Leica M (model name Type 240) is a significant update over its predecessor, offering a slew of modern features and conveniences in an otherwise traditional camera design.
The Leica M is another in a swarm of full-frame cameras unleashed for Photokina 2012, but it still manages to stand out from the Nikon D600s and Canon EOS 6Ds of the world thanks to its rangefinder styling and its eye-popping cost—the Leica M's $6950 price tag flies in the face of the new class of "affordable" full-frame bodies. Leica's new flagship also stands apart from its own siblings, being the company's first high-end model to offer live view, 1080/30p video, and a CMOS image sensor.