Having owned my Leica M 240 camera now for about 9 months I thought I better share my latest thoughts. I wrote a review in January 2016 titled “Leica M 240 – It Wont Be Missed” (linked below). Since then we have started to get along quite well and have learnt to live with each others quirks and flaws. I am now happy to shoot both colour photos and black and white photos with the M 240 without commenting “It’s nice but it’s not as good as the Leica M9”. I now like the M240 photos as they are and i’ve started to shoot much more colour digital photography even if my film photography remains mostly black and white. I made basic Lightroom presets to apply to images, a few for colour photos and a few for black and white and that lets me quickly batch edit all images for models.
I used to shoot mostly wide open and in black and white and normally with a 50mm lens. My current taste is to use 35mm lenses stopped down so the little Voigtlander Color Skopar 35mm f2.5 lens has lived on my Leica M240 for the last few months. I used this setup for the Poland model photography trip and Ukraine model photography trip and am still using it now i’m back in the UK.
Here are a few digital sample photos from the Poland and Ukraine trips ahead of the film photos to follow, and also a few photos in the UK. All photos shot with the Leica M 240.
There is no digital camera currently on the market that I think would suit my needs better than the Leica M 240. I love rangefinder cameras and I continue to enjoy the quality of Leica M mount lenses and the overall small size of the Leica M camera range, whether digital or film. I don’t really lust after any digital cameras or lenses. If I ‘need’ something new to buy to explore / test / experiment with I buy old analogue film cameras. I am happy to use the digital photos for posting on the likes of Flickr, Facebook and Instagram but for me if I want to take a ‘proper’ photo I will always shoot it on film.
The Hasselblad 501C remains king (for me) until I find something that can ‘beat’ it! See my last post comparing the Mamiya 6 vs Hasselblad for more detail.
Last year I bought myself a Nikon F4 SLR so shoot alongside my Leica M3 double stroke and various other film cameras. I thought it might be quite nice to compare the 35mm Nikon SLR to the 35mm Leica rangefinder. For each camera I chose my go to lenses (at the time) and loaded both cameras with 35mm Ilford Delta 100 film. It was a bright day so I shot both lenses at f5.6 for the shoot. Harriet was modelling for me and kindly offered to be the subject for this short series of shots.
I developed both rolls of film together in the same tank using 1:3 Xtol developer solution at about 20 degrees (I guessed as no thermometer to hand) for 11 mins and once dry the photos were scanned with an Epson v800 flatbed scanner.
35mm Ilford Delta 100 Film Test:
Nikon F4 SLR + Nikkor 50mm f1.2 Ai-S
Leica M3 double stroke + Leica Summicron 50mm f2 DR
35mm Ilford Pan F 50 Film:
On a seperate occasion I was again shooting with Harriet and the Nikon F4 + Nikkor 50mm f1.2 Ai-S lens but this time the F4 was loaded with Ilford Pan F 50 film. Here are a couple of Pan F 50 images to compare to the Ilford Delta 100 film scans. I am a huge fan of both of these film stocks.
Nikon F4 vs Leica M3 – Thoughts
Unlike digital photography film cameras of varying price ranges from my low cost Nikon FM or Olympus 35RC film cameras to the more expensive Leica M6 and Leica M3s can all produce similar quality results with decent film loaded. I would not say that is the case with digital. I think with digital, to an extent you get what you pay for. For example I would expect significantly better results from a £30k medium format digital Hasselblad vs a Leica M240 or Nikon D800 and the same with the M240 or D800 vs an entry level camera. I recently tested my Hasselblad 501C medium format film camera against my 35mm Leica M6 film camera. The 6×6 film negatives did hold more detail but the gap between the two cameras is less noticeable to my eyes. This may also be the case for the photos from the aforementioned digital equivalent cameras but I would generally expect better results the more I paid with digital (to an extent)(some brands are perhaps over priced such as Leica!) 🙂
F4 or M3?
The Nikon F4 SLR is much bulkier and heavier than the Leica M3 so if I am travelling light I tend to chose a Leica. For film photography when I am using lenses shot wide open at say f1.4 I would always chose the Leica as I feeel the results are better at the maximum apertures. If I am stopping the lenses down to f5.6-f8 I could use either film camera happily. For close subjects I prefer the close focusing Nikon F4. For a subject more than a few meters away I prefer the Leica rangefinder focusing. The Nikon accepts autofocus lenses for fast action and has various other advantages being around 30yrs newer (approx) than the 1954 Leica M3. The M3 accepts some of the smallest lenses I own such as the Leica Elmar 50mm f2.8 collapsible and Vougtlander Color Skopar 35mm f2.5 so both cameras have their pros and cons. I normally select my camera to use based on size and weight restrictions for that particular shoot if overseas. In the UK and moreso if in my studio I tend to rotate all the various film cameras to keep things interesting!
I did a shoot with Stacey recently in my home studio in Coventry UK. I decided to shoot my Leica M6 35mm film camera up against the medium format 6×6 Hasselblad 501C film camera. To give the Leica M6 rangefinder a fighting chance I loaded it with the super fine Ilford Pan F 50 film and attached the super sharp Leica Summicron 75mm f2 APO lens. I did do a few wider shots with the Voigtlander Nokton Classic 35mm f1.2 ASPH ii lens which is also nice and sharp. The Hasselblad was already loaded with Kodak Tri-X 400 but for some reason I thought it had Fomapan 100 film is so shot the roll of Tri-X 400@100 and developed accordingly Both rolls of film were developed in Xtol developer. Click any photo for more details.
Here is a sample of the film scans:
Hasselblad 501C + 120 Fomapan 100 Medium Format Film
Leica M6 + 35mm Ilford Pan F 50 Film
I was also using my digital Leica M8 for the shoot and it still impresses me as to how film like the Leica CCD sensor appears. Here are a few examples.
Leica M8 Digital Camera
Leica vs Hasselblad – Results
I think the Leica M6 was at the top of it’s game and thanks to the choice of Ilford Pan F 50 film. I actually preferred the Leica M6 photos on the whole to that of the Hasselblad. That is quite an achievement as the Hasselblad has done nothing but impress me since my purchase. The real test will be using the Hasselblad 501C + Zeiss Makro-Planar 120mm f4 CF lens + 120 Ilford Pan F 50 film for sharp lens and super fine grain film. That said, it’s great to remind myself of how good the little 35mm Leica film cameras can be.
Big thanks to Stacey for putting up with my usual array of quirky cameras pointing at her! 🙂
My photography journey is now perhaps into it’s 8th year. I started with digital cameras and worked my way through a Lumix G1, Nikon D90, Nikon D700, Nikon D800 but still wanted something more. I tried my late Grandad’sYasica MG-1 35mm film camera and then started looking at other film cameras. I bought a Contax 645 medium format film camera, ARAX-CM (Kiev 88), Mamiya RZ67 to name a few and then I bought a digital Leica M9.
The Leica M9 Kodak CCD sensor produced filmic looking images straight out of the camera without any need for hours of Photoshop or efforts in the dark room. The Leica M9 pretty much killed my film photography journey for perhaps 12 months. I then slowly started getting back into film cameras and new camera purchases included vintage 1950s Leica cameras like the Leica M3 and Leica M2. I also bought two large format 4×5 film cameras, a Pacemaker Speed Graphic and Sinar F2. I find I cycle between 35mm film, medium format and large format. Each format have their strengths and drawbacks.
Leica M 240
The next chapter in my photography journey was when my Leica M9 started to fail me. The rangefinder became misaligned, it was quite bruised and battered from so much use anyway and the sensor needed replacing. I decided to say goodbye to the M9 and part ex’d it in for a new digital Leica M Typ 240. Initially I was excited by the M240.
As quickly as the Leica M9 had killed my film photography I think the Leica M 240 has killed my digital photography. I would describe the M240 as producing equally unexciting photos as my Nikon D800. Both are good cameras with many positives but neither make me want to take a photo for enjoyment. The Leica M 240 is now only used on my model photography shoots for test shots and to warm up the models. The photos are fine and the girls use them for their portfolio images but I may only use one or two as preview images until the ‘proper’ film photos are developed.
At roughly the same time as my Leica M 240 purchase I was experiencing a string of frustrating film camera issues. The Leica M3 rangefinder also needed recalibrating, the Mamiya 645 was misfocusing, the Rollei SL66E film back was not taking the film, the Fuji GS645 had a sticking shutter, the MamiyaRZbattery always seemed to be flat. The list went on. I decided to get a more modern 35mm film camera, a Nikon F4 SLR. I liked the photos and camera to use but wanted more resolution. That lead me to buy another more modern film camera, a Fuji GA645. The Fuji GA645 images were excellent but the camera is not that exciting to use. The search continued.
During all the time I have been buying and lusting after different cameras I have not once considered a Hasselblad. I’m not sure why, I think I always wanted the greatest shallow depth of field so went for cameras like the Contax 645 and Mamiya 645 using faster lenses. Many Hasselblad lenses are f4 widest aperture and I was used to using f1, f1.2, f1.4 on the 35mm Leica cameras. I already had four 6×6 film cameras, ARAX-CM, Rollei SL66E, Fuji GF670 in 6×6 format and the MamiyaRZ with a 6×6 film back attached. Again, all nice cameras but none were perfect and I think it is that that lead me to a 500 Series Hasselblad.
If the Leica M 240 killed my digital photography then the Hasselblad 501C hammered home the final nail in the coffin. The Hasselblad has single handedly transformed my photography for the better. Of all the cameras I use I think only the Leica M9 had such a positive impact on my photography. So what changed?
I enjoy composing the 6×6 Hasselblad square format and the Zeiss lenses give me the high resolution film images I like. At f4 the subject detail is super sharp yet the background can still melt away. The camera size makes it portable for location shoots yet slow enough to be selective about the photos I capture.
After experiencing the quality of a Hasselblad camera I then bought a 35mm Hasselblad XPan rangefinder. (Blog post to follow).
The Leica M 240 wont be missed
So I started by saying the Leica M 240 wont be missed so where is it you may ask? If you saw my recent New York (II) workshop blog post you may have noticed I took a digital Leica M8 (and my new Leica M6 film camera) not the M240. Well in addition to losing all interest in the Leica M 240 images (due to the flat and uninteresting photos that require far too much time in post processing to create something worth sharing) I also noticed the M 240 rangefinder was out of alignment. My M240 is currently with the engineers in Leica Germany and so the Leica M8 has stepped up to the mark as my digital camera for model photoshoots.
I think for the first 6 months of using the M 240 I ignored the fact that the photos looked like the Nikon D800 CMOS sensor photos. Photos took a lot of work in Lightroom but I could usually get something from it to share. I then recently went back to shooting B&W JPEGs (plus RAW) in the Leica M8 and it brought back the amazing memories of how I used to shoot when I first bought the Leica M9. I could shoot 200+ photos with a model and have them emailed to her within an hour of her leaving the studio. That alone shows how good the Leica CCD sensor is, whether Leica M8 or Leica M9. Photos just come out the camera ready to share without hours wasted in front of a computer. When I am using a digital camera to test the last thing I need is to then waste hours editing before I can give the photos to a model when I want to spend my time developing and scanning film.
You might say at this stage well stop moaning about it and just buy another Leica M9 and sell the M 240 or better still sell the Leica M 240 and buy an enlarger to start printing my own film images with! The problem I face is some clients want modern digital photos in colour and for that the Leica M240 does a better job than the Nikon D800 in my hands. Until I can persuade all wedding couples to request only film photography images I plan to keep the Leica M 240 for wedding photography as the camera does have some advantages over the M9. The M240 is a nice camera it just has a very boring sensor.
The Leica M 240 sensor captures lots of information in a very flat way making images great as a project to work on for hours in Photoshop but not the instant gratification of the Leica M8 / M9 I desire. I like to create images in camera not in computer. The M240 is a camera where perhaps 50% of the image is created in camera, 50% in computer. The Leica M9/ M8 B&W JPEGs can be created 95-99% in camera and I would say my black and white film images are 88% in camera/film developing, 2% scanning, 10% in computer to remove dust and do any basic darkroom style adjustments.
I hope Leica can release a digital camera in the future that excites me as much as the Leica M8/ M9 do but at the moment the future for me is looking like film. As probably expected I have not missed the Leica M240 being away for repair. When I had the Leica M9 I don’t think I could have imagined not having it with me. (That is why I used the M9 for over a year with a faulty sensor). Big difference!
(Leica M8 images blog in the pipeline to show what M8 black and white JPEG looks like).
For Christmas I treated myself to a Leica M6 Classic 35mm film camera. It is one of the older versions with the Leitz red dot badge. It is black with the 0.72x viewfinder and looks in pretty mint condition for its age. The base plate still has the plastic on and it has the plastic bumpers on the edges. It came with box and I collected it from the private seller so I was able to see it before I paid which made a nice change to eBay!
I shot a test roll through the camera and the Leica M6 rangefinder seems spot on with my fast lenses shot wide open.
Why did I need another Leica film camera? The Leica M3 has been my favourite Leica camera since I discovered Leica but the camera only focus to 1m closest focus and my most expensive modern Leica glass work to 0.7m. It seems crazy I am not using my Leica Summilux ASPH 50mm f1.4 or the Leica Summicron 75mm f2 APO.
The Leica M6 has 75mm frame lines so interested me straight away. The M6 will also let me use and compose 35mm lenses (like the Leica M2) whereas the Leica M3 has 50mm frame lines. For events such as a wedding it is useful if a film camera has a built in meter. I normally use a handheld Sekonic light meter or spot light meter but when I want to travel light it is nice not to need to carry one. The Leica M6 uses a lithium LR44 battery to operate the light meter but the camera is fully mechanical and can operate without a battery (just no light meter).
I am looking forward to using the Leica M6 for wedding photography and with my modern fast and sharp lenses. I will share some results as soon as I get chance!
This is is photo from last weekend – me having coffee with my trusty Leica M3 Double stroke after it was recalibrated by the amazing guys at Aperture Photographic, London. I think that they are probably not the cheapest repair option but they do go the extra mile when it comes to customer service. I admire the in house technician and he’s a good guy, as are the other staff. For example there was a tiny part of the black leather ‘wrap’ missing when I bought the M3 yet when I got the camera back it was repaired and looked as good as new. They tested the M3 on their calibration machine (I forget the correct name) and checked the camera accuracy at infinity. I tend to shoot most my photos up close so I was hoping the camera would be accurate for my film portraits. I won’t know for sure until I shoot another roll of film. I took some photos with the Leica Summicron 50mm f2 DR lens and the images are still not as sharp as what the lens is capable of. The Summicron 50 DR seems fine when focusing using the close focus goggles at less than 1m distance but at 1m or more it looks soft (unless I just took a sequence of poor focus images!). I then tried the Leica Noctilux 50mm f1.0 v2 lens wide open at f1 for a self portrait in a mirror and it was sharp (as sharp as the Nocti can be when used wide open!) . I took the same photo with my Leica Summicron 50mm f2 v5 lens and the photo was also sharp (sharper being at f2) so I am hopeful that the camera is back to its former accuracy / glory. I need it to be.
Following on from my above statement about the Aperture Photographic service, they also looked at my Leics Summicron 50f2 v5 lens while I was in the store. I have not used my Summicron 50mm f2 v5 for a long time as I thought it was mis-calibrated. I say this as when the aperture was set at f2 for portraits the resulting images were too soft to accept. Such a shame as it is the perfect 50mm lens in terms of size/aperture ratio so I miss it. I asked the Aperture guys to to test it for me so the technician took it out in the street and returned with sharp photos at f2. Hmm. I tried again and soft! He thought it was my eyes until I explained that I normally use a Noctilux at f1. He looked how I took the photo and diagnosed that I have a tendency to focus as close as I can and at 0.68mm on this particular lens hence it was always soft. We tried at 0.8m and hey presto it is perfectly sharp. Soo happy!
I returned the Zeiss ZM Sonnar 50mm lens I recently re-bought for the M3 as that was too soft (compared to the previous version I owned) so now I will use the Cron 50 v5 instead of the Cron 50DR on the M3. I have the Leica Summilux ASPH 50mm f1.4 but it is just too long and upsets the handling of the camera (for me). My favourite lens on the M3 ergonomics wise is the tiny Voigtlander Color Skopar 35mm f2.5 lens but I often pick faster f1.4 lenses for my work.
I plan to pack the Leica M3 DS and Leica M240 cameras for my next overseas trip so fingers crossed it is sharp this time. On that note and slightly off topic I weighed my new Hasselblad 501C with 45 degree prism finder attached plus the new (and preferred lens of choice) Zeiss Makro-Planar 120mm f4 CF lens and it weighed 2kg! Not a camera for a week away when I only have 8kg hand luggage. 10kg hand luggage however and it is already packed!
When buying the Leica M Typ 240 camera I didn’t think for a minute that I would be be using the rear 3 inch LCD display for anything other than chimping and changing menu settings.
Leica M Rangefinder
I bought the Leica M camera as I enjoy using and get my best results from focusing with the Leica optical viewfinder (rangefinder focus system). I now struggle to use a DSLR accurately with manual focus lenses. I confidently focus my Leica Noctilux 50mm f1.0 v2 lens wide open via the rangefinder system.
I did my first Leica wedding with the M 240 camera rather than my usual Leica M9 (that I part exchanged in for the M). I suddenly found the LCD had multiple advantages I had never really considered. I am sure there are more but here are some features that I love about the Leica M 240 LCD.
6 Reasons why I Love the Leica M 240 LCD
Gorrila Glass cover – The Leica M LCD has super tough Gorrila Glass so it hopefully wont get chipped /cracked liked my old M9 LCD display.
Exposure preview – Pressing the shutter button half way down on the Leica M gives an exposure preview via the LCD live view mode. I am strange in that I normally guess my exposure, take a shot then adjust up or down as needed. That is how I used the Leica M9. The Leica M lets me preview the available light exposure so I can adjust as needed before taking a photo. The only exception to this is when I am using a combination of strobes and continuous light when I would then do a test photo.
Wide lens composition – With the Leica M9 I used auxillary external viewfinders for lenses wider than 28mm such as the Zeiss Biogon 21mm and 25mm f2.8 lenses and the Voigtlander Super Wide Heliar 15mm f4.5 lens. For fast shooting I still use the external finders especially in bright conditions but the LCD live view now gives me an alternative option to compose wide lenses without needing an external finder if required.
Shooting height, low and from the hip – I love the waist level viewfinders of my medium format cameras such as the Mamiya RZ 67 Pro II, Mamiya 645 Super and Rolleiflex SL66E. I shoot low and from the waist with ease. It is not always practical to lie on a dirty floor to line up the optical rangefinder against the eye with a Leica M camera. The M 240 LCD live view lets me both compose but also focus when shooting above head height, waist level and low level too.
Focusing lenses that needing recalibrating – Some of my older lenses need recalibrating to be able to focus them accurately via the Leica M rangefinder focusing system. The LCD live view and focus peeking lets me focus any lenses accurately and easily. Using various adapters on the M 240 I can focus a whole range of non Leica M mount lenses such as Leica R glass, Nikon glass, Mamiya glass or any others I have.
Focus lenses closer than the 0.7m rangefinder closest focus distance – I use both Leica glass but also Voigtlander and Zeiss lenses on the Leica M cameras. One common feature seen on non-Leica glass is that some lenses can be focused at 0.5m instead of the standard 0.7m Leica rangefinder lens distance. On the Leica M9 I could only focus these lenses accurately at 0.7m. With the Leica M 240 the LCD live view mode lets me focus these lenses at 0.5m using the focus peeking. One lens the really benefits from this is the Voigtlander Nokton Classic 35mm f1.2 ASPH II lens as the depth of field at f1.2 and 0.5m is very shallow and gives a slight Noctilux look.
I will post more thoughts on the new Leica M 240 camera as I get to use it more. So far I have no regrets in terms of camera handling and features vs the Leica M9.
Leica M 240 + Voigtlander Super Wide Heliar 15mm f4.5
After buying a used Leica M9 camera two years ago today I bid it farewell when I part exchanged the M9 for a brand new Leica M Typ 240. Below is my Leica M240 review so far-
Leica M 240 – Why the sudden purchase!?
How did this come about you may ask considering I liked the Leica M9 and my heart is in film photography not digital photography? I noticed my M9 camera rangefinder needed slight adjustment to get sharp focus at apertures wider than say f4. This is why I took the Nikon D800 to Poland and Ukraine as the M9 was not useable. A Flickr follower, Wolfgang then advised my that Leica Germany had a good part exchange deal. I contacted my friend Jimmy at the Leica Mayfair London store and he said they to had a similar part exchange offer on for the Leica M9. https://www.flickr.com/photos/32681588@N03/20207868168
Leica M 240 – Offer details
Leica currently has a fixed price offer for a M9 suffering from a delaminated CCD sensor coating – Pay £2250 and exchange your M9 for a new Leica M Typ 240. The price of a new Leica Typ 240 camera is £4650 in Jessops (to put things in perspective!) (link below). Considering how well used my M9 camera was (high shutter count and strong signs of use including a chipped/ cracked screen), the fact that the M9 CCD sensor had been diagnosed as suffering from delamiantion and needed replacing and the rangefinder needed recalibrating it really was too good an offer to refuse! I find film cameras (Leica film cameras but also medium format and large format cameras) far more rewarding and enjoyable to use compared to modern digital cameras so some people might think I’m crazy to spend a lot of money on a camera that doesn’t really interest me. You would be correct if it was for personal use only but when shooting with model agencies or offering Leica wedding photography I need high quality digital images in addition to film. I already have a 36MP Nikon D800 but I can operate a Leica rangefinder camera more accurately and quicker and the Leica M mount lenses tend to offer superior optics (across the board)(I recently bought macro lenses for the Nikon to achieve a level of sharpness I was acustom to with Leica). As I have written before, I can achieve sharp focus at f1.0 (using the Leica Noctilux 50mm f1.0 v2 lens) with relative ease on a calibrated Leica body yet I misfocus f2.8-f4 with manual focus lenses on the Nikon (especially at greater distances). It is for that reason why I am 100% tied in to the Leica M rangefinder camera system.
Leica M 240 – Interest and expection was low
Considering the high cost and me being, in theory a “Leica Fanboy”, I wasnt really that excited by the thoughts of the new Leica M Typ 240 camera purchase. I was far more excited when I fixed the focus issue on my Mamiya 645 Super medium format film camera on Friday! The Leica M purchase was more a job that needed doing ahead of my next wedding (so asap!). I arranged the purchase with the Leica Mayfair store a week in advance and during that time I read up on reviews such as ‘Leica M9 vs Leica M 240’ and asked questions on camera forums like ‘Did anyone buy a Leica M 240 and regret it’. I then came up with the idea of buying the Leica M 240 then selling it wth zero accuations and buying another used M9. I contacted a shop that sold used Leica cameras and once we did the maths and took VAT into consideration it didn’t really make sense so I decided for now (at least) to keep the new M. I guess it is a bit like driving a taxi for a living. You have you existing car that you know and love. You know it’s strengths and weaknesses and have learnt to love it’s little quirks. The car has been reliable since purchase despite the now high mileage but it suddenly fails it’s MOT. The garage offers you a brand new car replacement on a new government scrappage scheme for half it’s list price. It has the same german build quality and same excellent customer service yet has no miles on the clock and benefits fromt the latest technology. Would you say no!?
Leica M 240 – First Impressions
I said farewell to the M9 and hello to the M 240. I decided to buy a silver (“chrome”) Leica M rather than black to match my Leica M3s /M2 film cameras. (I still have the black M8 also). I didn’t need the manual and soon found my way around the settings from using a Leica M9. I’ve read many Leica M 240 reviews and people normally always find something to moan about when comparing to an M9. From a handling perspective I quite liked the new thumb roller dial and bulge in body to act as a thumb rest. I used the “Thumbie” accessory on the M9 body and didn’t notice a real difference. I love the quieter shutter sound of the M 240. It will be perfect for church weddings yet is still audible. The near silent shutter of my Fuji GF670 is just unnerving! The 3 inch LCD screen is amazingly sharp and much welcomed. The slight increase in size and weight wasn’t noticed and the larger battery capacity will be great for location shoots and weddings. The optical viewfinder works as well as the M9 and I fitted my 1.4x Leica viewfinder magnifier to it straight away. The lack of framelines in the viewfinder with the camera switched off is not a problem as I only use the camera when it is switched on. So far so good it seems!
Leica M 240 – CMOS vs CCD
The Leica M 240 24MP CMOS sensor certainly produces nice sharp images but the CCD vs CMOS sensor is a debate for anothe blog post once I have used the camera more.
Leica M 240 – First Sample Images
(3 different lenses used – Noctilux, Noctilux, Summarit 50/1.5, Voigtlander 15mm)
Leica M 240 – Related Links
(If you have the time and interest read them in order listed as you will see my opinion change (as date of writing, oldest first). Second link has much more spec detail*).
I ran a model photography workshop in London on Saturday and the photographer brought along his full frame Sony A7R camera. I often hear good reviews about the Sony and Fuji cameras from Leica photographers using these bodies as a backup body or as a more affordable alternative. I have had photographers bring the Fuji XT1 and the Sony A7R to the workshops before but I have never really taken much interest as my heart in in film photography (and digital Leicas).
The photographer owning the Sony A7R was keen to see how I worked and also see my Leica cameras. I had with me the digital Leica M9 and Leica M8 bodies and was using the Leica Summicron 50mm f2 v5 lens. He had the Sony A7R with the Sony Zeiss FE 55mm f1.8 lens and also an old Leica Summicron 90mm f2 R lens with an Sony adapter.
We met the model and took similar photos side by side with our own cameras. Over lunch we reviewed the Leica M8, Leica M9 and Sony AR7 images on a laptop full screen in Lightroom. Small size the Sony A7R images look OK. If i’m honest from a small size images I could not tell you what modern camera they were taken with, Fuji, Sony, Nikon. (Canon photos usually have an orange pink tinge so are easier to identify!) When we compared the Leica M9 colours to those from the Sony A7R the M9 colours were more natural looking with slightly better skin tones. I was still not offended by the Sony images.
We then viewed the Sony A7R JPEG and RAW 100% zoomed in and I was shocked. I am used to seeing the film like grain of the Leica M9 (and Leica M8) DNG and JPEG files when I zoom in. It looks quite ‘real’ desite being an electronic image and reminds me more of film negative scans. The Sony RAW and JPEG files however just looked like a mass of coloured noise with little structure. It looked very artificial and computer generated.. of course it is but the Leica files look less so. I have owned Nikon cameras for years, and before Leicas so am well aware how the Nikon NEF files look. If I had to try to compare simply I would say the 18MP Leica M9 and 10MP Leica M8 DNG files are the most real looking, then followed by the 36MP Nikon D800 that gives a sharper and more modern look yet still the RAW files appear ‘real’ when viewed zoomed in, and lastly the Sony A7R files that look the least real. For my taste the Sony images look too computer generated and not at all to my liking. I like the look of film photography so it makes sense that the most filmic looking digital images are my favourites, from the Leica M9 and Leica M8.
Interestingly, we discussed the Sony A7R images and this very modern ‘over processed’ look and the photographer showed me some photos taken with an old Mamiya RZ lens on the Sony A7R via an adapter. To me these images were far far better than the images produced with the Sony 55/1.8 lens. They had more of a realness to them. I think the problem is that when there is a Sony lens on the Sony A7R the in camera computer is doing so much manipulating of the files that it results in very over processed straight out the camera images. When there in a non-Sony lens used with an adapter that doesn’t talk to the camera there is less in camera processing so the resulting image is nearer to what you can see with the naked eye.
In conclusion, if I had to have the high ISO ability and all the other mod cons of the Sony A7R or keep my old Leica M8 then M8 would win hands down despite it’s flaws. For a more fair comparison, the Leica M9 vs Sony A7R, the M9 colours and rendering of the images is far more real and natural looking to my eye so I would never be tempted by the Sony.
(Only my opinion but I am glad I had the oppotunity to see the side by side comparison).
Sorry I do not have any Sony A7R images to share but there will be plenty to review on Flickr i’m sure. For Leica M8 and Leica M9 example images you can find plenty of samples both on my blog and on Flickr.
Here are two examples from the workshop (more for the rendering than the colours!)
Leica M9 + Leica Summicron 50mm f2 v5 (DNG & colours made more satured in PP)
(I’m sure many Sony users will disagree with our observations or point out that the colours of the Leica M9 image shared are far from natural but this blog is just my opinion based on my own experiences).
As many of youmay have noticed from my Flick feed (from the comments received), I’ve suddenly started using my pre-Leica days NikonD800 DSLR again. At first it was to test lenses for my Nikon F4 SLR, then I took it to Poland for a model photography trip to share lenses with the Nikon F4. Love for the Nikon D800 was reignited using it with autofocus lenses such as the Tokina 100mm f2.8 Macro. Life was good.
For my last model photography shoot in the UK I decided to dig out my LeicaM8 to use. I shot the Leica M8 plus Leica Noctilux 50mm f1.0 v2 lens against the current flavour of the month, the D800 plus Tokina 100mm prime. Suddenly the Nikon D800 didn’t look so special. Out gunned by the old slow simple Leica M8 which produced far more pleasing images to my eyes. Hmm, the new Nikon romance was starting to show signs of weakness.
I then had another trip to pack for. I wanted to take one film camera and one digital camera. The smaller and lighter the better. I could not take the Leica M9, reasons to follow, so for the digital camera it was the Leica M8 or the Nikon D800. I needed professional quality images, not just arty looking, and possibly shooting in very low light. I picked the Nikon D800 and packed my smallest Nikon mount lenses, my new Voigtlander Ultron 40mm f2 SL II pancake manual focus lens and also my new Nikkor 28mm f2.8 E series manual focus lens. For the film camera the possible obvious choice was the Nikon F4 SLR as I took to Poland but the F4 is bulky and heavy. I also needed lenses to be sharp wide open and I know the Nikkor 50mm primes are sub-standard vs Leica quality. I therefore picked my Leica M3 double stroke paired with the mighty Leica Summicron 50mm f2 DR lens.
After a two days of shooting the Nikon D800 with manual focus lenses the Nikon romance was dead. I wished for my Leica M8 despite one shoot being at ISO 3200 and me having to use pop up flash on the D800 for some photos. My eyes really struggled to focus the MF lenses by eye resulting in mis-focused images for the first shoot. When I tried to work fast and focus by eye at more than 0.5m I sometimes missed on a few photos. When I focused at more than 1m distance from my model I used the Nikon focus confirmation green dot in the viewfinder and it was still easy to miss focus. Next option was to stop lenses down to from f2-f2.8 to say f4-f5.6 and I was still able to miss focus on the eyes. On the Leica M cameras I can hit focus at f1 on the Leica Noctilux pretty much every photo with the Leica rangefinder focus system. It seems my eyes became spoilt by 18 months of using the Leica RF system and now I am no longer able to focus a DSLR accurately and quickly with manual focus lenses.
When I did the Nikon F4 vs Leica M3shootout prior to the trip with model Harriet (results and conclusion still to follow) I did not struggle using the Nikon F4 with manual focus Nikkor 50mm f1.2 AI-s lens but then thinking back to it, most photos were taken at around 0.5m or less distance. Some models make me want to shoot as close as possible to capture face details yet others make me want to back up to get full length images. It also depends on the location, whether to include the background or hide it.
Soto conclude, the Nikon D800 cannot match the Leica M8 or Leica M9 in creating interesting images in terms of rendering from the CCD Leica sensor (together with Leica M lens glass) vs Nikon CMOS sensor. No surprise that I prefer the filmic look of the CCD sensor when I love film photography. The D800 can however create clean sharp modern looking images and at an ISO of 1600-3200 vs 640-800 on the M9 and even lower ISO on the M8. Secondly, for manual focus lenses, I found my weakness in that I have lost my ability to focus MF lenses accurately with the D800. This is not a deal breaker as I have some autofocus lenses for the D800 like the Tokina 100mm Macro. This camera-lens combination still lets me focus longer and closer that my regular Leica M lenses and as quickly and accurately. I still love the large file size of the Nikon D800 for creative cropping, the long battery life and the modern larger rear LCD display. It looks like maybe I am moving towards getting a Leica M 240 again!
Is the Nikon D800 dead once more, to be returned to the shelf to collect dust for another 18 months? No. I just need to be aware that personally I can operate the D800 better (faster and more accurately) with autofocus lenses. Strangely I find it easier to focus the Nikon F4 vs the D800 for manual lenses.
Blog posts in the pipeline for –
> Nikon F4 vs Leica M3 Shoot Out
> Nikon D800 vs Leica M8 image comparison
> Nikon D800 with Voigtlander Ultron 40mm f2 SL II lens
> Film images and more details from my latest trip
> Ilford Delta 100 vs Kodak T-Max 100 vs Fuji Acros 100 film comparison