I always tend to think of Leica as the Ferrari of cameras. Back in the small Italian town where I lived as a child, we had a neighbour with a great collection of Ferraris in his garage. He used to pick one out every Sunday morning and drive to the local kiosk to buy a newspaper. I made the connection a few years ago when I visited a family friend’s cottage and saw his huge collection of photographic equipment. Naturally, there was an abundance of Leica models and rarities only a collector would buy. It was fascinating to see, but at the same time, I couldn’t help but think: when was the last time these wonderful cameras were used?
It’s like seeing a Ferrari and thinking: when will the car’s true potential be unleashed? Of course, few drivers have the ability to release the true spirit of the Ferrari on the road, as only a handful of photographers know how to skilfully manipulate a Leica. Most of them are professionals, specialised in a genre in which the particularity of a Leica meets their photographic needs.
Then, I had the chance to experiment with a Leica M9-P in late 2012. I was lucky because the owner also had three summilux lenses. I played around, concentrating mainly on focusing with the rangefinder system, which is for me was the most fascinating thing about Leica. It takes time to learn how to use it properly, especially because my eye is not used to focusing manually. It was interesting because I felt like I was re-discovering photography, taking three times longer than usual to frame a single shot.
While I admit the Leica offers incredible potential in terms of image quality, especially with its lenses, I found it uncomfortable in many ways, due to the slow processor and poor quality of the LCD screen. It is a camera for specialists and probably one you won’t use in every situation. Is it worth it? In 2012, I would have said probably not, but then Leica announced its new M camera, and packed a lot of interesting features inside which put it on the same plane as other recently-released mirrorless cameras.
This new version represents a major upgrade from the first M digital camera, the M8, and includes lots of features that we see in both mirrorless and DSLR cameras today: video capabilities, live view, focus peaking, and so on.
The body is very similar to the M9 in size and design. The main difference is the new LCD screen, now 3 inches with 920k dot, giving us a clear idea if our picture is in focus or not. Two more buttons have been added, one for focus peaking, the second for movie recording. The body is now splash/dust proof. Sadly, the Leica M doesn’t have a sensor cleaner.
However, it is on the inside that you can see the most significant upgrades to the M system. First, Leica abandons the CCD for a full frame CMOS sensor with 24 megapixels of resolution that increases the ISO range of the camera to 200-6400. This is a great step up from the 2500 limit of the M9. Concidering the CMOS implementation, the Leica M should be able to provide less noise at high ISO, where the M9 was usable only up to 1250. The new Maestro processor will guarantee a higher processing speed, and will also allow for a live view function with which you can see the actual picture according to the focal length, as opposed to the optical rangefinder. Focus peaking is available, which will help you focus while using the LCD screen, and you will have selectable metering including spot and matrix. Another big step is the video mode: the M will shoot in full HD at 30fps. The quality of the video is yet to be seen and analysed, but given the sensor’s potential and the excellent Leica lenses you can use with it, this function will probably interest videomakers as well.
Speaking of lenses, Leica has also created new accessories especially for this camera. The most interesting is without a doubt the R-adapter, that will allow you to mount R lenses on the M mount. An electronic viewfinder is also available and can be placed on the flash mount.
Two words on the name: from now on, it will remain the same for every model in the series starting with this one. An M will be marked on the camera body, each camera distinguished only by the model number. The upcoming model is called “M 240″. Leica wants to reinforce the fame of its most successful product and utilise that famous letter to render the series immortal. Apple does a similar thing with its products, especially the iPad: for any version, old or new, you will only see the name “iPad” on the box and product.
Of course, as with every Leica, the price is set high, at around $6950.
It should be released around the end of February (BH has stated February 28th).
There aren’t a lot of pictures available as the camera has not yet been released. Of course, you can check the official Leica website, where you will also find some hands-on videos. For the truly curious, there are a couple of pictures here (thanks to stevehuffphoto for the news).
However, the very best preview of the camera is a nice video with John Dooley from the Leica Akademie Mayfair.