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leica M9        and an idea of the M type 240

Wolfgang Bleier
Austria, September 2010, updated in October 2013



In the past the German camera and optics manufacturer Leica AG took its own sweet time to develop new camera models only once in a while, particularly M-Leicas. This has changed in the age of digital cameras. Although Leica was the driving force behind 35mm film, which has revolutionized photography at the beginning of last century, since the nineteen-eighties M-Leicas could not keep pace with advanced mainstream cameras made in Japan. When digital sensors took over the world of photography at the end of the old millennium I thought that M-Leicas will soon be part of history. However, things turned out different and in 2006 Leica introduced its first digital rangefinder camera, the M8. Although in 2008 Leica's M8.2 tried to weed out some shortcomings of the M8, the necessity to use UV/IR filters to compensate the sensor's extreme infrared sensitivity and the 10,3 megapixel sensor, which applies a 1,33 crop factor on all lenses, remained somehow an awkward compromise. Only in 2009 Leica finally arrived in the full-frame digital world by introducing the M9 powered by the Kodak KAF-18500 CCD sensor, which has been specifically developed for the newly announced Leica M9.

Leica M9 rangefinder

The swift technological progress in digital imaging and consumer electronics meanwhile results in such short product cycles that became annoying for several reasons. Extremely rapid drop in prices of second hand cameras is just one of them. When digital sensors took off to replace film I knew that that things will change. Meanwhile things have changed, and will continue to change in the annual technological contest. DSLR cameras are even bigger, heavier and faster than some years ago and got another twenty something of auto focus points, compact cameras have small sensors with more megapixels than they should have. Leica's digital M8 has evolved to the Leica M9, an uncompromising and yet simple, straightforward camera, and in 2013 Leica has introduced the "M Type 240" to the market with some additional features that many have missed on the M9.

Leica M9 rangefinder


Haptic and perception
Unlike professional photographers, whose criteria for choosing equipment are obviously based on the commissioned work and the necessity to reliably deliver perfect results, the motivation of ambitious amateur photographers to decide for the one or other camera model seems to be more complex. Of course it is about the creation of personal work of art and the equipment that suits best, but amateur photographers can take pictures of almost anything they find interesting or visually attractive, however, by using a limited range of equipment. It may be about shooting sport or wildlife at high frame rates in auto exposure and dynamic AF mode, or the careful composition of landscape images while being in full control of the entire process of taking a photograph. Thinking of my personal preferences it is mainly the latter. In fact I was rarely in a situation with my Nikon F5 ("the beast"), in which I had to fire 8 frames per second in dynamic AF tracking mode. Certainly there are also those amateur photographers who need (or just want) such performance, but the majority I think wants their images carefully composed or go out for spontaneous street photography, and that's the domain of a Leica M.
The Leica M9, as the M, is among the smallest full-frame cameras, and even though it is all-metal and built like a tank it weighs half of a DSLR with a decent lens. Although it is comfortable to hold, ergonomic design is practically absent as with any classic M Leica, unless the optional handgrip is fixed on the body. Just as the M9, the M Type 240 is built to perfection. By just holding the body one can feel its excellent quality. All controls feel very solid and work precise, not to mention the superb M lenses. There is one thing all M Leica's have in common: it is a real pleasure to use any of them.

Leica M9 rangefinder

In spite of the fact that I grew up with film - and still love to take photographs on film - it happened in 2010 that I have picked up a Leica M9, which I have meanwhile traded against a Leica M Type 240. Well, it seems that in my old age I became more open-minded, perhaps also a bit lazy. I liked the M9 very much and now I'm very happy with the M. Among professional digital cameras it is the most consumer friendly camera I ever experienced, side by side with my "old" Nikon film cameras. Both, the M9 and the M Type 240 are professional full-frame digital cameras, which still feature photography as a careful process because they are not crammed full of questionable gimmicks. Both cameras force you to think of the photograph before you take it. This kind of quality is an essential statement of both, the M9 and the M Type 240. Both are as puristic as in my opinion a camera should be. Everything one needs has a dedicated control, and everything one doesn't need simply isn't there. The menu is limited to the essentials in a single level menu, every menu item is a menu item without breaking up into several menu banks. A Leica M is a high-grade camera that weighs so little that it can come with me everywhere at any time. I can take it even to dinner and not look odd, quite to the contrary, a Leica looks posh. Whether it is film or digital, M-Leicas are demanding, serious cameras, which insist that I, the photographer, take care of the focus, exposure and aperture, thus the depth of field. Thank you Leica for letting me take my photographs.

Leica M9 rangefinder


Features & Specifications
As every camera, the Leica M9 as well as the M have advantages and disadvantages. Let's start with the advantages. M-Leicas are among the smallest and lightest full-frame digital cameras available these days. The body is unobtrusive, classic design. It is a quiet, all-metal camera built for utmost mechanical reliability under adverse conditions, but weighs only a bit more than 500 grams. Just as every M-Leica you can bring it wherever you like and not look strange like with a bulky DSLR. The M9 (which in 2013 became the Leica M-E) has a 18 MB Kodak CCD sensor and combined with far superior optical lenses - whether it is a lens from 1960 or a brand new one doesn't matter - it will give you excellent results as long as ISO is limited to 800. With its first rate image quality it is - in my honest opinion - among the very best in its class, especially for travel, street and landscape. From an overall perspective the newer M Type 240 with its new CMOS sensor surpasses the image quality of the M9 / M-E particularly due to lower noise at higher ISO rates. Leica M9 Some argue that the M9's CCD sensor had a more pleasing tonality, which to me is is a subjective argument. The M Type 240 delivers slightly different, but great image quality. Not only that the Leica M Type 240 is a great digital rangefinder camera, it is the most important digital camera by Leica since long.
Let's come to the disadvantages now, as there are a few. Compared to modern DSLR's digital M cameras work rather slow, which doesn't bother at all as long as you don't shoot action. The frame rate is slow (M9 2 fps and M 3 fps) compared to modern DSLR, and if you are lucky the buffer takes 8 frames in series and a few more in the M Type 240 before it starts to slow down. It takes considerable time to format a 16 GB SD-card with an M9, in this respect the M Type 240 is much faster and on level with professional DSLR's that can do this within a few seconds. Simply put, M-Leica's are not made for people who are in a hurry, they are made for aficionados who can enjoy the moment and life's simple pleasures. High ISO is another weak spot of the M9, first of all because of its limited sensitivity of only ISO 2500 and noticeable noise above ISO 800. Above ISO 800 image quality dropped off considerably, with ISO 1200 not usable. This has been considerably improved in the M Type 240 by its excellent CMOS sensor with a maximum of ISO 6400 and much less noise at high ISO. The new M can climb to ISO 1600 without losing its color integrity, and even if there is a drop in quality it is in many situations graceful up to ISO 3200. I had my M9 set to an Auto-ISO maximum of ISO 800 and now the M Type 240 to ISO 1600, nevertheless I use a tripod whenever I can. Beyond such ISO values noise is a serious issue where the M9 clearly looses against Nikon's and Canon's flagships, but the new M Type 240 is state-of-the-art and on level with the best low light performers.
The shortest flash sync-time of both, the M9 and the M Type 240, is 1/180s or slower in auto and manual exposure mode. Unfortunately the M9 does not support high-speed flash synchronization (HSS) while the M Type 240 does. This allows daylight fill-flash at sync-times shorter than 1/180 sec up to 1/4000s, for example with the SF58 flash unit set to TTL-HSS mode. Both cameras come with the brilliant menu option to set the sync-speed to auto-slow-sync, for example at 1/focal length of the lens or another slowest sync speed set in the menu, which in dim light gives more weight to the ambient light.
Occasionally I noticed that automatic white balance and colors can be tricky in certain situations with difficult light. In this respect the M Type 240 was also considerably improved compared to the M9 and since the firmware update 2.0.0.11 in October 2013 it is almost perfect. The 230.000 pixel 2,5 inch LCD monitor is simply beneath the overall quality of the M9, to look at the bigger and much better monitor of the new M is a pleasure without alloy. Most cameras in the price range of an M9 have about 900.000 pixel on 3 inch monitors, and the price of the M9 should have justified such LCD resolution and a monitor screen made from special tempered glass. After all, the M9 was a quite costly affair. Leica made it up with the new M.



Leica M9


Why a digital M-Leica?
For several years I considered to buy a semi-professional digital SLR camera, but luckily I have made experience with Nikon's F5. Don't get me wrong, the F5 is a fantastic SLR, if only it was not that big and heavy. Lately I bring my F5 only when traveling by car, if at all. With Nikon's (as well as Canon's) DSLR cameras things became even worse, the overloaded menus of such cameras are - in my opinion - ridiculous. By using a Leica M7 I have realized the tremendous advantage of a small, lightweight and yet professional rangefinder camera, which turned my plan to buy a DSLR completely upside down, and finally helped me to make a good decision in favor of a digital M. Leica M9 rangefinder Just its compact dimensions and relatively little weight, combined with superior image quality, are simply outstanding features that compensate for any disadvantage I made out.
Taking pictures with a digital M feels like shooting with earlier analog M-Leicas, and these feel great. The only thing I miss is the film advance lever, not only for good old times sake but also to hold the digital M more safely. Compared to Nikon's F5 rubbery body, which virtually sticks to my hand, a Leica M body is more difficult to hold due to complete absence of ergonomic design. And since most owners of M-Leicas like the classic way it is built and certainly wouldn't like to have this changed, they are well-advised to keep the carrying strap always around their neck. Digital M-Leica's are not stuffed full of electronic complication or digital junk features. There is nothing to spoil the act of photography, which remains about the scenery, image composition and exposure by using the most evolved optical performance and mechanical reliability. At the same time a Leica M never forgives mistakes. Even at first-rate optical quality, it sets back its owner to his or her real photographic skills. If these are poor, no face or animal recognition feature will secretely compensate for it, and nothing of its software will smooth out deficiencies of the photographer. If not set correctly the M produces junk. A Leica M is a merciless tutor on the way from a point-and-shoot amateur to a photographer.

In addition to manual exposure setting with shutter speeds between 8s and 1/4000s in half increments, the Leica M features also aperture priority auto mode with infinitely variable shutter speeds and exposure memory lock by pressing the shutter release half-way down. This allows you to focus easily, meter and re-compose quickly, and thus devote the full attention to taking the photograph. Nikon and Canon DSLR owners may believe me or not, everything more than that is a non-issue in 90% of real world photography but a lot more weight to carry. Those who for example have worked with the fantastic Nikon F3 in the eighties or nineties will for sure agree.

As other M-Leicas the digital M displays bright-line frame combinations according to the focal length of the lens. The M9 did this by the classic optical system, in the M Type 240 it was replaced by LED frame lines, which in fact work better and can be set-up in either white or red color. A major improvement from the M9 to the M Type 240 is the live-view mode, focus assist with focus peaking and the advanced exposure mode, which now features also multi-field and spot metering. For most situations, however, the center weighted metering mode does an excellent job and I leave it this way in order that the shutter stays closed most of the time. More about the Leica M Type 240 and its features may follow another time.
For "autofocus" simply use your finger to turn the smooth focus ring until two small superimposed images merge as one. It's so easy and quick to bring the lens in perfect focus.

Leica M9 rangefinder

As to the fundamental differences between rangefinders and SLR viewfinders, their advantages and limitations, you will find more information on my Leica M7 page. There the issues are described in detail, which are exactly the same with the other digital M-Leicas.

Finally, be warned that one of the key features of rangefinder cameras can end in a big embarrassment for newcomers: while you can nicely view the uninterrupted, sharp image all the time when you compose your image, you won't see if the lens cap is still on. But don't worry, friendly people standing nearby will tell you, and people in bigger distance will give signs to you - I went through this. My tip to get out of it nicely: try not to blush, keep a low profile and pretend that you were metering the light according to the Zone System by Ansel Adams.

Good luck!


Leica M Type 240



Specifications - M9
Model
Leica M9
Camera type
digital rangefinder system camera
Focus control
Manual (optical system)
AF area modes
-
Viewfinder
Large, bright viewfinder with automatic parallax compensation.
Viewfinder optical system with reduced stray light sensitivity.
Bright lines activated in pairs and automatically displayed
according to the lens mounted.
Magnification 0.68x
Exposure metering
TTL, center weighted working aperture exposure metering system
Metering range
(at ISO 160) EV 0 to EV 20, which corresponds
to f/1.0 and 1,2s to f/32 and 1/1000s, flashing of left
triangular LED indicates values below metering range
Exposure modes
Aperture-priority auto control (A), manual exposure control (M)
Exposure compensation Via menu, –3 EV to +3 EV in 1/3 increments
Auto exposure memory lock
by pressing shutter release halfway
Shutter
microprocessor controlled vertical-travel metal focal-plane shutter
Shutter speeds
Automatic mode: 32s to 1/4000s (infinitely variable)
Manual mode: 8s to 1/4000s (in half increments)
Bulb (B) for time exposures, or (T) in combination with self timer
Sensor sensitivity range
ISO 160 to ISO 2500, auto or manual setting in 1/3 increments
Pull ISO 80
Image sensor
Kodak KAF-18500 CCD chip (full-frame)
18,5 Megapixel, active area 23,9 x 35,8 mm
no anti-alias (moiré) filter for better image quality
0.8mm integral IR-cut filter
Image processing module (DSP): Jenoptik
Data format / file size
DNG raw data compressed/uncompressed, JPEG 2 compr. levels
DNG: 18MB / 36MB, JPEG approx. 2 - 10 MB
Color spaces
Adobe RGB, sRGB
White balance
Auto, manual, 7 pre-sets, color temperature setting
Storage medium
SD cards up to 2GB, SDHC cards up to 32GB
Buffer
max. 8 frames in series
Menu language
German, English, French, Spanish, Italian,
Japanese, traditional and simplified Chinese, Russian
Compatibility
Mac OS X, Windows XP, Vista, Win7
Shutter cocking
low-noise integral motor,
frame rate: single, or 2fps at ISO 160 and compressed DNG
Shutter release modes
Standard (1. meter on, 2. meter memory lock, 3. shutter release)
Discrete (delayed advance after taking finger from shutter release)
Soft (release of shutter at earlier detent for less camera shake)
Viewfinder display
automatic LED brightness control
Flash status
Exposure compensation warning
Shutter speed (in automatic mode)
Indicators for manual exposure control
Auto exposure memory lock indicator
Overexposure and underexposure indication
Remaining seconds for exposure times slower than 2s
Progress counter of expired exposure time in bulb mode
Flash unit connection
ISO-Standard accessory shoe
Flash synchronization
1/180s at flash sync-time or slower in auto and manual exposure mode
Flash exposure metering TTL (center weighted) pre-flash metering
Flash sync modes
Synchronization with 1st (front) or 2nd (rear) shutter curtain
Rear panel
2,5" TFT LCD color monitor, 230.000 pixel
Live view
no
Depth of field preview
-
Self timer
12s or 2s, indicated at camera front
Multiple exposure
No
Interface
5-pin mini USB 2.0 socket
Power
1 Li-Ion rechargeable battery, 3,7V, 1900 mAh
Dimensions and weight
139 x 37 x 80 mm, 585 g (body with battery)
Other features
Frame selector to view frames which do not correspond
to the lens actually fitted to the camera
Included accessories
Charger 100V - 240V with 2 mains cables (EU / USA)
1 car charger cable
1 Li-Ion rechargeable battery
1 USB cable
1 carrying strap




Specifications - M Type 240
Model
Leica M (Type 240)
Camera type
digital rangefinder system camera
Focus control
Manual (optical system or live view with focus assist/peaking)
AF area modes
-
Viewfinder
Large, bright viewfinder with automatic parallax compensation.
Viewfinder optical system with reduced stray light sensitivity.
LED illuminated frame lines (white/red) activated in pairs
according to the lens mounted.
Magnification 0.68x
Exposure metering
TTL, center weighted, multi-field and spot metering
Working aperture exposure metering system
Metering range
(at ISO 200) EV 0 to EV 20 at aperture 32
Flashing of left triangular LED indicates values below metering range
Exposure modes
Aperture-priority auto control (A), manual exposure control (M)
Exposure compensation Via menu, –3 EV to +3 EV in 1/3 increments
Auto exposure memory lock
by pressing shutter release halfway
Shutter
microprocessor controlled vertical-travel metal focal-plane shutter
Shutter speeds
Automatic mode: 60s to 1/4000s (infinitely variable)
Manual mode: 8s to 1/4000s (in half increments)
Bulb (B) for time exposures (max. 60 s.)
(T) for long time exposures in combination with self timer
Sensor sensitivity range
ISO 200 to ISO 6400, auto or manual setting in 1/3 increments
Pull ISO 100
Image sensor
CMOS chip, full-frame, made by CMOSIS/STMicroelectronics
24 Megapixel, active area 23,9 x 35,8 mm
Video/movie: 1080p, 720p, 640*480 (VGA)
no anti-alias (moiré) filter for better image quality
Image processing: Maestro processor (based on Fujitsu Milbeaut)
Data format / file size
DNG raw data compressed/uncompressed, JPEG 2 compr. levels
DNG: 20 - 30 MB / 48,2 MB, JPEG depending on resolution
Color spaces
Adobe RGB, sRGB
White balance
Auto, manual, 7 pre-sets, color temperature setting
Storage medium
SD cards up to 2GB, SDHC cards up to 32GB, SDHX cards
Buffer
max. 12 frames in series
Menu language
German, English, French, Spanish, Italian,
Japanese, Traditional and Simplified Chinese, Russian
Compatibility
Mac OS X, Windows XP, Vista, Win7
Shutter cocking
low-noise integral motor,
frame rate: single, or 3fps at ISO 200 and compressed DNG
Shutter release modes
1. meter on, 2. meter memory lock, 3. shutter release
Viewfinder display
automatic LED brightness control
Flash status
Exposure compensation value (during setup)
Exposure compensation warning (flashing)
Shutter speed (in automatic mode)
Indicators for manual exposure control
Values beyond metering range warning
Auto exposure memory lock indicator
Overexposure and underexposure indication
Buffer full indication
No SD card loaded indication
SD Memory card full indication
Remaining seconds for exposure times slower than 1s
Progress counter of expired exposure time in bulb mode
Flash unit connection
ISO-Standard accessory shoe
Flash synchronization
1/180s at flash sync-time, or slower in auto and manual exposure mode
up to 1/4000s in TTL-HSS mode with SF58 flash unit
Flash exposure metering TTL (center weighted) pre-flash metering
Flash sync modes
Synchronization with 1st (front) or 2nd (rear) shutter curtain
Rear panel
3" TFT LCD color monitor, 921.600 pixel, 16 million colors
Protective Corning®Gorilla®Glass
Live view
yes
Depth of field preview
permanent in Live View
Self timer
12s or 2s, indicated at camera front
Multiple exposure
No
Interface
Accessory sockets for EVF2 viewfinder and Multifunction Handgrip
Power
1 Li-Ion rechargeable battery, 7,4V, 1800 mAh
Dimensions and weight
138,6 x 42 x 80 mm, 680 g (body with battery)
Other features
Video recording (24 / 25 / 30 fps), Motion JPG, Quicktime
Audio recording
Included accessories
Charger 100V - 240V with 2 mains cables (EU / USA)
1 car charger cable
1 Li-Ion rechargeable battery
1 carrying strap
Optional
Multifunction M Handgrip (incl. SCA port, USB interface and GPS)
SCA adapter set (support rail w. cable, requ. multifunction M handgrip)
Flash units SF24D, SF26, SF40, SF58, SF64
USB cable
Electronic viewfinder EVF2
Microphone adapter set
R-Lens adapter for Leica R lenses
Novoflex lens adapter for various brands




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