Leica M: Quick initial impressions

Posted on by Mike Evans

Today I had my first opportionity to lay hands on the new Leica M (Typ 240). The all-black camera was the first display model to arrive at my local dealer. Supplies for those lucky enough to be on the pre-order list are due in tomorrow. If you haven't ordered already you could be in for a six-month wait. Since I am No.1 on my dealer's list for a black body, I am keeping my fingers crossed my M will arrive tomorrow or very early next week.

The new M feels just right in the hands and the hotshoe-mounted electronic viewfinder—a first for the M-series—is much less obtrusive than it is when perched atop the smaller X2. It is a good 1.2Mp finder with which I am quite familiar, having used a similar unit on an Olympus PEN three years ago. The one advantage of an external finder such as this (as opposed to an internal unit) is that it can be angle upwards to make lower shots easier.

I was blown away by the focus magnification and focus peaking system. Unlike with other cameras, where focus magnification involves pressing a button (The Fuji X-series for example), Leica has managed to make magnification happen automatically when the focus ring is turned. This makes for much greater accuracy and speed. Many times with the Fuji system I have forgetten to press the button before starting to focus.

I had not understood this innovation until I experienced it for myself. And focus peaking, although similar to the Sony system, works better in my opinion. Overall, even after a quick play, I can see that focus assistance, both in terms of magnification and peaking confirmation, is a triumph on the M. It is much easier to sense correct focus than when using Leica lenses on the Fuji X-E1 or X-Pro and I can see the EVF becoming the favoured viewfinder.

The excellent optical viewfinder, with updated graphics and a choice of white or red framing, is still there for the purists and will still be in demand for all for lenses between 35mm and 75mm.

The introduction of an electronic viewfinder backed by such a well-considered focus system opens up the possibility of much easier use of wider and longer lenses that have always presented a challenge to the split-screen optical system. Lenses wider than 28mm required an external, expensive optical finder while 90mm and 135mm lenses were always quite difficult to focus accurately using the old system. It also makes possible for the first time the use of zoom lenses, in particular those made for Leica's now defunct R SLR system. I have a good 28-70mm example, original made by Sigma to Leica's specification, which I am looking forward to testing on the M. I predict some inflation in prices of second-hand R lenses.

Ergonomically, the new M has a sort of vestigial thumb grip which makes the camera easier to hold steady. It isn’t as useful as one of Tim Isaac’a Thumbs Ups but is welcome nonetheless. The depth of field button next to the lens mount is ideally placed for the index finger of the right hand and, at a quick glance, the DOF visualisation is going to be really useful.

All in all, my first impressions are extremely positive and I cannot wait to get my hands on my own black M body.

by Mike Evans, 28 February 2013

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