Leica M in low light
Low light performance of the Leica M (Typ 240) digital rangefinder camera.
10 Photos • 03 March 2014
The Leica M (Typ 240) is the successor of the M9 and M9-P digital rangefinder cameras by Leica. It features a new 24MP CMOS. imaging sensor, a ‘upgraded’ rangefinder mechanism that is supposed to be more precise and some other upgrades that are not in the scope of this article.
In this article I’ll be focussing on the low light capabilities of the new Leica M (Typ 240).
The new sensor the ‘Leica Max 24 MP Sensor’ is the first CMOS sensor to be found in a Leica digital rangefinder camera, lots of people were worried that Leica would loose the CCD, or Leica ‘look’. It features as the name states 24 mega pixels, and has a range from ISO 200 – 3200 with ISO 6400 stated as ‘push’.
The switch from CCD to CMOS made it possible to build in ‘Live-View’ and video recording capabilities, features I wasn’t waiting for, and neither were a lot a other Leica users. The increased light sensitivity of the sensor was welcome though since the M9(-P) lacked high ISO capabilities, the M9 ISO range goes from ISO 160 – 2500 but in my opinion was for colour use only usable up to ISO 800, and for monochrome images usable up to ISO 1250.
When I got my M (Typ 240) I was so used to not going over ISO 800 that I didn’t even try it the first weeks of use, but then I saw how clean the images were at ISO 800, that I had to try. I asked myself: ‘Would it really be that much better?’
Yes it is that much better, I can easily use the M (Typ 240) up as high as ISO 3200 and sometimes higher, for monochrome images. Even for colour ISO 3200 is very usable, but the exposure has to be right, and certainly not underexposed. This applies to all cameras if you ask me. Dynamic range gets less and lower the higher you set the ISO as expected, but even at ISO 3200 the files, if exposed correctly are still very usable and ‘shop-able’. Colour and exposure adjustments can still be applied up to a certain level.
The noise pattern of the M (Typ 240) is very natural for a CMOS sensor, most of the noise is luminance noise, which is the noise I prefer over the colour noise. A grainy image is okay with me, as long as I don’t get all sorts of funny colour noise over my images.
Being that the Leica M (Typ 240) is a mirror less camera, with a physical vertical focal plane shutter that rates from 1/4000th of a second to 8 whole seconds, and longer using bulb. You can easily use handheld shutter speeds much slower than with a (D)SLR since there is no slapping mirror going up right before the exposure starts and down right after the exposure ends. The shutter is also much more quiet compared to the M9(-P) but does have a more electronic sound to it, compared to the more ‘mechanical’ sound the M8(.2) and M9(-P) have. The camera does not feature any image stabilizing and neither do the lenses.
I can safely say that the M (Typ 240) is a lot better than its predecessor the M9(-P) both in dynamic range, and high ISO capabilities. The shutter is less noisy, and the overal handeling of the camera has also become better.
Personally, I decided I preferred the low-ISO look of the M9 to the M(240), so I kept the M9 and picked up a RX1r for low-light work.
Great photos and great article, keep ’em coming!
I owned the M240 for about 6 months now and I too preferred the M9 output. I’m thinking of swapping my M240 with an M9-P which i just sold. :( For low light situation I will go with Sony Alpha 7.
Great article. As the others, I too actually prefer the output of the M9 better than the M(240). I think the sensor in the M8/9 series had more character (IMHO). The M seems to now produce files very similar to a lot of DSLRs. Not a bad thing, but the look of the CCD files just seemed to have a more filmic look to me. However, I am still considering the M for it’s lens mount flexibility.
Jip van Kuijk
Hey guys, thanks for the replies!
I also had to get used to the M (Typ 240) colour, compared to the M9(-P) but after a while I discovered it wasn’t so much for the camera colour that differed but the dynamic range that is so much larger with the M (Typ 240) making the files look ‘flatter’ straight out of the camera. Yes the M9(-P) files look better straight out of the camera, but they are much less mendable. I can say I can create very pleasing results with the M (Typ 240) especially after I created my own Lightroom profile for the camera. For me the colours are the same as the M9(-P) after I created the custom profile in Lightroom 5. I’ll write a article on this subject later.
Thanks for reading, and leaving your thoughts!
Dr. Ulrich Rohde
Very well and thoroughly written, I am looking forward to your profile thought !
I guess adoption of the M(240) has been one of the most polarizing issues for myself. With the M9, I felt I could get results I wanted very quickly without too much post processing but on the M(240), I find myself needing to spend much more time trying to get pleasing results.
I am possibly at the point of giving up on the M(240) but still think certain color issues may be fixed via a future firmware update.
I am interested to hear of these LR profiles you have custom created for the M(240). Thanks for sharing.
Thanks for the blog
I don’t understand the colour issues people talk about
I had a M9 and now a M240
I only use raw
The M240 is superior to the M9 in every way. There is a kind of Kodachrome 64 colouring that the M9 has. It is not superior, just different, and less accurate IMHO then the M240.
I have been using the M Typ240 for about 4 months now and feel comfortable up to ISO5000 for night shots. It’s color is very distinct from my other camera (Nikon D4) and what I have used in the recent past (D700/RX100) — and not DSLR like at all. Typical ISO5000 shot (35mm Summilux f/1.4 at f/4):
I have found the DR to be fine, not quite what I get with the D4, but more than enough for what I want it to do. I cannot image a better photographic experience that what I’m getting right now.
Nice little article, well done. I also find the M image improved over the M9. The CCD vs CMOS appearance doesn’t seem any different to me in print. Leica themselves don’t seem to believe there is a difference either:
“Many people think there is a big difference in the touch and feel, and the look and feel of the CCD vs CMOS. We think a pixel just renders light or transforms light into electricity. And the look and feel is done in the image processing. On the other hand, the CMOS sensors have a lot of advantages such as video and live view and we therefore think that the CMOS have the future at Leica.” – Stefen Daniel, February, 2014
Very nicely laid out article, and tastefully done. I find the color from my M240 perfect. It has more color depth to my eye, more accurate, and a subtler palette. Reds are better..The landscapes I am getting are so good I could never go back to the M9p..the look is very refined, as a flemish painting at base iso’s. The extra resolution is just the right amount for fine 18×27 prints..keep the well done articles coming-we need more like this
My solution is Leica Monochrom! You do not need better one.
And you do not bother about the color.
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Karim D. Ghantous
This was very helpful, so thank you. The new M seems much, much better than the M9 at handling light sources. The M9 (and a lot of DSLRs) rendered light sources very harshly. The new sensor handles them as film would. This is most evident in the shot of the Christmas tree.
Low noise is a good thing, but natural rendering of highlights is just as important. I think the new M could, in theory, replace film.
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agree and thanks for the article. As a previous owner of the M9 , the new M has far better DR. As long as you exposure the right way (i. e do not underexpose) images are better than the M9 ‘ ones.
I enjoyed your article.
I too was hesitant initially with the M240 but I must say after having it for a year I have no problems at all now.
The M9 was such a hard camera to beat .