Leica M-E 240 Review

August 21, 2020  •  Leave a Comment

After using Leica LTM and M cameras for five years, I decided to add a digital Leica M camera. Main reason for me was to use my good LTM and M lenses on a suitable digital camera without adapter - I managed it well to use my rangefinder lenses with my Sony A7R camera for many years, but especially ultra-wide rangefinder lenses caused some color fringing and blurred corners of the full-frame sensor due to the thicker sensor stack used in the A7R. Problem with Leica M cameras is of course the price - I am writing this blog shortly after the latest flagship model - the Leica M 10-R - was released for over $8K new. But even when looking for used Leica M 10 cameras, the price tag was still around $4.5-5.5K. As I learned from buying Leica M mount lenses used, patience is key to wait for a suitable offer. One day I found a Leica M-E 240 offered on a local online sales platform for a good price. The M 240 sensor has a bit lower dynamic range (DR) than its M 10 successor and the high ISO is limited to ISO 6400 but the 24 MP resolution is the same as in the M 10. Not a biggie for me since I know that I am rarely needing high ISO in my style of photography and can live with a bit less DR. I met with the seller and it turned out that the description of the camera stood up to its promise: it was a nearly brand new M-E 240 originally purchased in summer 2019 with only about 800 photo frames taken. No scratch or any kind of mark on the camera either, also the sensor appeared perfect. I bought the camera and so far have no regret of doing this purchase. Later I found out that the M-E 240 was only produced for a short period of time in 2019 - only 750 cameras were made. I believe I got a great deal regarding price/quality ratio - impossible to get with any kind of M10 camera models for a while to come. The only compromise I had to make was in regard to sensor resolution - I was originally hoping to keep a resolution similar to my Sony A7R with 36 MP full-frame, so 24 MP was pulling me back to my Canon 5D MkII shooting days I thought. But meanwhile I am glad that I made the purchase since the M 240 sensor has benefits over the older generation of Canon 5D MkII sensor from 2009 (for example the M 240 has much better DR!). I summarize my pros and cons seen in the M-E 240 in bullet points below:

Photos above: Leica M-E 240 with Leica 35/2 Summicron-M vers. IV (pre-ASPH) lens

Photo above: Leica M-E 240 with optional VF-2 EVF. It can be flipped into vertical position. Olympus VF-2 and Leica Viscoflex EVF2 are exactly the same model and only different in price. 
 

PROS:

  • 99% of options as the twice as expensive M 240: The M-E 240 was sold by Leica for a very short time in 2019 as entry model likely to attract new customers and to empty stock of existing M 240 bodies before all production moved to the M 10. The original sales price of the camera was $4K and therefore 42% below the original M 240 sales tag. Leica took the original M 240 model from 2013 but doubled the image buffer size to 2 GB. The M-E 240 has no internal speaker as the M 240 series if this is of any importance (I doubt it). The M-E 240 menu and sensor/viewfinder specs are otherwise mostly the same as in the other M 240 models. 
  • Buffer size: The buffer size of the M-E 240 was doubled to 2 GB from 1 GB in the original M 240 series. This is helpful for long burst shooting which I rarely if ever do. But it's nice to have it as option at least. 
  • Weight and built: The camera is heavy - 680 g, 1.5 lb. The M 240 series including this M-E version is more bulky than the Leica rangefinder film cameras and the M 10 successor. I had to get used to the weight of the camera: you need to hold it differently than my smaller rangefinder film cameras. Best is to grab the camera with the thumb of the right hand on the protruding element next to the dial button on the upper right back of the camera and hold the right side with the rest of the hand. This avoids unwillingly touching the viewfinder window. I added the weight factor as a positive since the camera's weight allows to shoot handheld at very low shutter speed without having image stabilization. The camera is built extremely well, feels solid and of good quality. Day and night compared to my plasticky Sony camera. I also like the unique M-E body design with anthracite top plate which matches both black and chrome lenses very well. 
  • Sensor dynamic range: The sensor can push shadows easily 3 stops at low ISO and keeping structural elements. I found it to work similarly well as my A7R sensor in this aspect.
  • Optical rangefinder viewfinder: clear and bright, better than the M 9 from experience when I once tested the M9. The frame line color can be changed in menu (I keep it white) and shows the frame lines very well. Frame line selection is done electronically and works well for M lenses but needs manually adjusted with adapter-attached lenses (see below).
  • LiveView/EVF: Leica allows to attach as optional accessory an electronic viewfinder on the hotshoe. Leica didn't make this EVF on its own but had it made by a third party company (rumors claim by Epson). The exactly same EVF is available as Olympus VF-2 and Leica Viscoflex EVF2 - but with a significant difference in price. You can get the Olympus VF-2 for about $150-200 used whereas the Leica Viscoflex EVF2 costs more than twice this amount. The only difference is the brand logo on the outside of the EVF. Hint: the newer M 10 camera models rely only on a newer Leica-based external EVF which then costs even more! The EVF quality with 1.4 MP resolution is surprisingly good even it is no longer latest technology either (which is now 2.4 MP for M 10 models). The EVF allows critical focusing when needed and to see in one window exposure values of the image. One big advantage I see by using the EVF is that you don't need to move the camera away to see the LiveView image on the back screen. This is especially useful in sunny conditions. Another advantage of the EVF is that it allows to compose by looking into the flipped EVF from the top similar to vertical viewfinders in some film cameras. For example I had the camera mounted on my tripod below the height of my hip, but I composed very well by looking vertically into the EVF from above. In high contrast areas, the VF-2 EVF tends to be a bit brighter looking than the actual photo.     
  • Wide and ultrawide lenses: Work extremely well on the M-E 240. I tested the CV 12/5.6 II, CV 21/1.8, CV 28/2.0, and also the CV 25/4.0 LTM Snapshot Skopar lenses with great success. No color fringing in the corners of the frame nor blurriness. Now these lenses work as well for me in digital as they already did on my film rangefinder cameras! The steep incident light angles with the ultra-wide lenses is obviously not an issue with this sensor and its stack layout. This fact alone makes this camera worthwhile for me. 
  • Image quality: Probably the best digital camera I had so far in regard to the quality of both directly captured DNG and JPG files. There is not much post processing needed if the photo is done right straight in the camera. Colors come out very naturally like the eye sees them. The images look not at all flat - I see a big difference here compared to my Sony A7R files which require more processing when taken in the standard photo mode. B&W JPG files are often spot on and might only require some slight contrast and highlight adjustments in post processing. 
  • HDR: the camera offers HDR setting between 0.5 up to 3 stops. Three or five frames can be selected in the menu - a bit cumbersome to use the wheel to make changes for aperture stops and number of frames and then press the set button - I often forgot to press the latter only to be forced to redo the whole HDR setup procedure again. But once you get used to this, the HDR mode proves a very feasible and good one in this camera. It compensates for the limited dynamic range of the sensor especially in highlights. The photos are taken very quickly, I was able to capture 5-frame HDR shots handheld easily. The photos remain separate on the card depending on the file saving setup (I save them as RAW and JPG) - the camera won't process them upfront into a viewable full HDR like other cameras do, for example the Canon 5D MkIII. To get the HDR, it needs to be done in post processing with software. Especially for scenery shots, I often use this feature now. This way I am able to keep the sky blue and see details in the shadows. 
  • Video: All the M 240 cameras including the M-E 240 version allow for is 1080/25p video. But honestly, nobody will buy into Leica rangefinder cameras for mainly using it with video. I see it as a nice-to-have gadget which comes technically nearly for free as part of LiveView. The M 10 on the other hand has no video option anymore. I suspect it was removed in this successor model to allow a slimmer camera body without danger to potentially overheat. Other reason is differentiation in Leica's own camera market: to make video-interested customers look into the SL/SL2 camera series instead. The M 240 series is the last Leica digital rangefinder camera series which still offers video in a 2013 technology standard format (the first M 240 first came out in 2013). The later M 262 model released in 2015 excluded LiveView and video capabilities. 
  • Shutter: The M-E 240 shutter is one of the most silent Leica M shutters I know from own experience. You barely hear a click when releasing the shutter. It is super non-sensational, allowing the camera to be used in quiet gatherings like performances or ceremony in churches etc. It can handle up to 1/4000 sec exposure time which is 2 stops faster than my Leica M 7 with a maximum of 1/1000 sec (great when using faster lenses without ND filter!). The shutter uses a double metal blade system and is in front of the sensor. The grey bar in between is the reflective area to allow light metering. The shutter can handle a maximum of three shutter flaps per second - far below what modern cameras can do, but not really important for a rangefinder shooter. 
  • Battery and battery charger: The BP-SCL2 battery has a long lifetime when fully charged and used predominantly just with the rangefinder viewfinder. Without LiveView or EVF, this battery gets you through a full day of shooting. The charger comes with two cables - one for the US, the other for the German outlet standard. This is ideal for me since I travel often between both countries and don't need to worry with a 110/220 V adapter for this charger. It also comes with a plug-in car charger for the battery. Charging a totally empty battery takes about 4 hours with the Leica charger. Supposedly this battery has no memory effect. 
  • Light Meter: The light meter in the rangefinder viewfinder is exactly the same as in the Leica M6. You have up to three choices of metering modes: classic, center, and multi-field. The classic method is the standard metering as in the M6 for example. Center method might come useful for close-up/macro work, and the multi-field is only applicable in LiveView or optional EVF mode.  I keep the metering mode mostly in classic mode since I am also comfortable with this method from my Leica M 6/M 7 cameras. Interestingly, the Leica M 7 has a few more precise metering options in its display than the M 240 series has. This has proven to be useful for slide film photography where precise metering is key. Overall the metering system of the M-E 240 works very well, too.  
  • Camera Menus: For me a clear positive in this camera even I heard other users saying it has too many options (coming from Sony MLC, it is easy to satisfy me with a well structured camera menu!). I had an easy time to get used to the menu structure even it took me a while to find the singled-out INFO and SET menus which contain important additional features. Some menu options appear a bit weird when first using it like setting the ISO - it only works when the ISO button remains pressed and moving the dial at the same time. Leica could have just allowed to press ISO once and then changing the value accordingly. Probably it was done as safety step that the ISO isn't changed accidentally. I don't like using Auto-ISO, therefore I am quite often using the ISO button to change the ISO value. The camera menu allows to save settings as user-specific custom file which can be loaded and applied any time. I have currently two custom settings: one for regular color-based shooting and a second one for B&W. 
  • Shutter release cable: The M 240 uses the same method to with cable release as in the older M film cameras. Any kind of 35 mm camera based cable release with screw-in thread will work. There is no option to use a wireless cable release. 
  • Tripod mount plate inlet: This is a little thing which always annoyed me when using my Leica M film cameras on a tripod - that the tripod plate is always mounted off-center on the side of the base plate instead. I have to move the tripod off center to adjust for a central camera/lens lineup with the subject. The M 240 series has taken this into account and allows now to mount the tripod plate in the middle of the base plate. The camera sits now in center on the tripod head. The tripod mount uses the newer standard male 3/4" tripod mounting plate screws (same as for example in the M 6/M 7 cameras). Only slight issue here is that you can't remove the base plate when the tripod mount plate is still attached. The screw goes directly through a hole in the base plate into the camera body. You have to remove the tripod mount plate first before being able to remove the base plate, for example if you need to change the battery.
  • Camera menu and camera packaging: Simply excellent. A nice black cardboard box with magnetic flaps and drawers for manuals/cards and charger and cables. The camera menu in German and English is well written and allows to find camera options easily. Probably the best camera menu I ever had for any of my digital cameras in the past. Leica makes it clear that you buy not only the camera but an experience here. I am glad that I got all the original packaging even I bought the camera used. 

 

CONS:

  • Reduced handgrip functionality: Often overlooked in reviews, The M-E 240 is not compatible with the full electronic Leica handgrip #14495 commonly used in the rest of the M 240 series. You can attach it to the M-E 240 body, but all (or most?) electronic functions like GPS will remain disabled. This information can only be found in a little addendum sheet Leica added to the camera manual (the original manual which comes with the camera mentions #14495 as suitable handgrip option which is false). If you decide to get a handgrip for the M-E 240, you might be better off with the cheaper version without electronic features, #14496. No idea why Leica disabled this functionality in the newer M-E 240 model since the ports and software are all the same as in the M 240. I suspect it was one way to hinder professionals going with the much cheaper and newer "entry" level camera version. This is the main difference to the original M 240: not the camera itself and its functions, but in regard to compatibility with the handgrip accessory. This might or might not be a deal breaker for some (not an issue for me other than USB accessibility).
  • Viewfinder: Same as in the original M 240 series, the viewfinder magnification is less than the common 0.72x and only uses 0.68x magnification. The rangefinder rectangle to focus both frames is therefore a bit smaller than in most Leica rangefinder film cameras like the M6/M7 series for example. Also the viewfinder itself is not as wide as in film-based rangefinder cameras. With a 28 mm lens, you need to use the whole viewfinder frame available, there is barely any space outside the frame left. The viewfinder window can smudge easily, always have a lens cleaning cloth available to clean the window. 
  • Automatic lens recognition: The camera allows for 6-bit coded M lenses and can then automatically apply an in-camera profile for a specific lens. The lens frame in the viewfinder is electronic and selected by the bayonet mount according to the M lens focal length. If you have the camera menu set up with "Automatic Lens recognition", this will apply the lens frame in the viewfinder automatically for all M lenses - no matter if coded or off-brand. It's getting a bit tricky when using older vintage LTM screw-mount lenses (or any other kind of manual focus lens) with adapter: you need to have the camera menu set to automatic lens recognition. After you attached the LTM/M adapter, the correct pair of frame lines will be displayed. In case you need to change the LTM/M adapter with a different pair of frame lines, you need to turn the camera off first - otherwise the camera remembers the former setting and doesn't change the frame lines! After you exchanged the adapter, turn on the camera again, and the different frame lines according to the used adapter will be displayed.
  • High and low ISO range: this is the obvious and main limitation of the M 240 series in general, but you would only consider such camera if you don't need high ISO in the first place (otherwise you really have to go the M 10 route which is its main improvement over the M 240 series). After testing exposures at ISO 100 to 6400, I am feeling comfortable using the camera up to ISO 3200. ISO 6400 shows quite a bit of noise but which can also be significantly reduced in post processing with anti-noise filters. ISO 100 is pulled from the native minimum ISO 200 camera setting. It keeps exposure values at ISO 100 the same as the ones measured at ISO 200 without changing the registered amount of light (seen through exposure simulation at ISO 200 and 100 in the EVF). 
  • Sensor dynamic range:  Regarding highlights (for example sky and clouds), this sensor is super sensitive and can clip highlights very easily. There is no way to rescue clipped highlight structures in post processing. I found one stop overexposure in highlights is already a culprit. Pulling even slightly overexposed highlights is impossible - here the sensor differs significantly from the Sony A7R sensor performance. Since shadows can be pushed nicely on the other hand with the M 240 sensor, make sure to better underexpose half a stop or a stop. Use a graduated ND filter for landscape photos or push shadows in post processing. When underexposing areas too much, you might observe greenish casts in the shadows which you might need to desaturate in PP. 
  • LiveView/EVF: the magnification area cannot be moved within the frame - the whole camera needs to be moved if an area to focus is outside the center magnification frame. This can cost time to focus and then to move the camera back to its original position on the tripod. The EVF slows down shutter release times in case this is critical. The EVF uses a lot more battery power - better have a second charged battery ready when using the EVF more often. The camera's back screen cannot be tilted - hard to go back to this when coming from a mirrorless camera with tilt screen. 
  • Access to battery and SD card: only possible by unscrewing the bottom plate. I guess you get used to, but I felt it was a but of a step backward when coming from DSLRs and MLC where the battery and memory card simply sit in a chamber which can be opened and closed with a lid quickly. I found that the plate can't be removed if a tripod mount is still attached to it. This can cost lots of time to change a battery for example when the camera sits on a tripod.
  • Red Leica button: Nothing against the brand logo, but I am used to tape Leica name and button on my Leica film cameras to be less conspicuous. The anthrazite M-E 240 camera color of the top plate looks actually very nice, but any kind of black or silver tape will stand out against the grey background. So far I haven't found a solution and keep the red Leica button visible. 
  • Optional battery: The M 240 series BP-SCL2 battery is much thicker than its successor in the M 10 and lasts also a lot longer when fully charged. But there is visible drain of battery power when using LiveView or optional EVF. A second battery is a good idea to keep going especially when using the optional VF-2 EVF. 50% remaining battery charge was used up in combination with the VF-2 in two hours. Problem is the price - a new one costs still about $200, and no third party company offers a replica. Used batteries go for $150 - not cheap either, and you don't know what you might be getting and how much the battery was used before. I had to bite the bullet and bought a new BP-SCL2 battery as spare one.
  • No ultrasonic sensor cleaning: Standard feature in most digital cameras now, but not in the M 240. I have mixed feelings about having this option - I didn't see much benefit of ultrasonic sensor cleaning in my Canon 5D MkII and only a bit with my Sony A7R. In fact it can delay turning the camera on or off. On the other hand I need to dry-clean the M 240 sensor with my arctic butterfly swap quite regularly.
  • Strap: Do not use this strap! After a couple weeks of walking around with this strap, I realized that the plastic fixing on the strap for the metal ring holders gives indents on the side of the camera in the black leather. The metal is protected for this reason with plastic parts on both sides of the camera which helps, but the lower end below the strap mounts isn't protected. I still need to find a camera which comes with a well suited and easily adjustable neck/shoulder strap. Same here with the Leica M-E 240: First I had to find an online YouTube video to figure out how to connect and disconnect the strap from the camera - it is not intuitive. When using the Leica strap, it also became a hassle with curled strap all the time - no fun. Simply purchase another strap and forget about this one - IMO it is unusable. The strap is really nothing special either other than the Leica brand name on the shoulder/neck plastic cushion.

 

What do I miss in the M-E 240?

  • Easy accessible USB port on the camera. The port is only available with the optional handgrip I mentioned earlier. It's not a must-have for me since I normally simply unplug the SD card to upload the photos on my hard drive, but it would be nice to have to allow for example battery charging inside the camera. Due to the limitation of the handgrip functions on the M-E version as mentioned earlier, I am not sure if the USB port is accessible in the first place.
  • Mentioned above, not being able to move the zoom magnification window in LiveView or EVF is a disadvantage. This alone will likely stop me  to use the M-E 240 for macro photography and using my Sony A7R MLC instead which is much better suited here with movable zoom magnification window. 
  • I wish the M 240 sensor would allow highlight capture and pulling like my Sony A7R does. The M 240 behaves more like the M 9 regarding highlights. I am spoiled here with the bit better dynamic range of the A7R, but going back a step feels hard after getting used to the highlight post-processing capability of the Sony sensor. But shadows can be pushed nicely with the M-E 240, I just need to make sure that I always underexpose instead of overexposing highlights. The other option is to use the HDR function of this camera. 

Overall I am very happy with this camera purchase. Leica is and remains an expensive brand, but getting a used (and nearly mint) camera for a good deal limits value depreciation significantly and allows me to actually use the camera in the wild without being afraid to carry a big jewel around my neck or shoulder. The M 240 was its first and last hybrid camera series made by Leica combining rangefinder, LiveView/EVF capability, and video. The M-E "entry" version has the same capabilities as any other professional M 240 series mostly just compromising in electronic handgrip accessory functionality. Leica currently doesn't make entry-level cameras or Summarit-lenses anymore, they also removed video capability from the M camera series fully. I believe therefore the M 240 series is and will remain in demand for many who accept the camera's lower ISO limitation compared to expensive current M systems. I will use the M-E 240 for years to come in combination with my Leica LTM and M film cameras. The M-E 240 won't replace my track-proven Sony A7R camera either - both will be used in different shooting situations. 


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