I’d been shooting with a Leica M6 for a while then. I’ve gotten comfortable with film. I’ve had the luxury of simply shooting, and not having to go near anything that had “Adobe” written on it (I trusted the local lab technicians for developing and scanning. After all, they are the experts). I’d even properly learned how to shoot with flash. I was really happy that I returned to film. Maybe not because I achieved better image quality, but because I enjoyed and loved the process and the anticipation.
But all romance must end sometime. This wasn’t the case where death did us part, but I realized that it was simply too expensive to shoot film. So expensive that, if I stop shooting film for two years, I can literally afford a digital Leica.
The thought came to me as a revelation. I remember that the decision to buy an m6 was such a big one for me. $1000 for a film body felt very expensive then, but now I am even daring to think about buying a digital Leica? It was absolutely outrageous, impulsive, logical, and so well calculated that it even felt frugal – which is probably the one word you shouldn’t be using when you’re buying anything with a Leica logo.
My two brain cells were in dire protest and they successfully negotiated it down to a used M240. Nothing fancy, nothing new, and plenty good enough to be used in 2019. It will be a workhorse for years to come. It is, after all, a Leica.
The camera is built like a proper tank. The brass top makes the camera feel very dense and surprisingly heavy for the size. Supposedly it helps create a very premium and luxury feel. In reality, it was a pain in my neck – literally.
While mainly shooting film, I forgot that bad UI in digital cameras was a thing. Leica M240 reminded me of that unpleasant software feel.
I had to google the simplest things like changing the iso range. I quite didn’t like the metering on this one either. Not because it was inadequate but because of how it decided to do it. M240 offers minimum shutter speed that is configurable through auto iso setting. However, to the camera, it is a mere guideline more than anything else. I would much rather the camera take a dark photo than a motion blurred one. Former can be easily fixed in post. The latter, you need a proper time machine.
I would’ve so much more preferred the camera to take underexposed photos rather than decreasing the shutter speed below to what I’ve asked. The sensor is capable of 13.3 stops of dynamic range. The raw was already properly underexposed and I could pull out so much from the shadows. For a camera from 2013, it was damn impressive.
Luckily, the camera’s intelligence didn’t bother me all too much. I was used to shooting with everything fixed for some time with a flash, f11, zone focused, iso 400, and flash sync shutter speed with a little bit of blur in the image.
A little bit of tweaking was required to get everything the way I wanted on M240, but the principal was basically same as when I was shooting film.
Leica says that the camera is “splash-proof” and it absolutely did survive several street photography sessions while raining.
I suppose the good weather sealing came with some cost. The camera is a lot bulkier than its predecessor M9 and a lot thicker than film M’s. I like to wear my rangefinder around my neck because it helps me get into the shot quicker, but walking around with the camera + flash around my neck was getting too tiring. Since there was absolutely no way that I was not going to strap a $3k camera to my body in some way, I chose to have a wrist strap instead.
Along the way, I developed a weird way of shooting. Perhaps a bad habit or perhaps an artistic choice, but because I had my camera attached to my wrist and I wanted to shoot quickly, I shot a lot from the hip.
I contemplated if I should stop shooting like that, or at the very least, turn on the live view. With a modern mirrorless, the choice would have been dead simple. With a Ricoh GR III, I wouldn’t have have a choice or even the problem in the first place.
In order for any mirrorless camera to show live view on the screen and to calculate focusing for auto-focus, the shutter has to be open with the sensors exposed. Which is why almost all mirrorless cameras have their sensors exposed all the time. Also, with Sony’s Electronic First Curtain Shutter – EFCS implementation, it takes the photo as the shutter simply closes. Even without EFCS, the shutter operation is very fast that you don’t really notice that the front shutter curtain closes, opens, and rear curtain dropping to finish the photo.
Leica rangefinders on the other hand, does not need the shutter to be open for normal operations and only opens when in live view mode. So when you’re shooting thru ovf, the shutter only opens and closes. However in live view mode, the shutter has to close, open, and close again. Because of this, Leica’s implementation of live view is noticeably slower when taking photos when compared to ovf mode.
So I continued to shoot from the hip. No EVF, no ovf, and no preview. I had no idea what the photo looked like until I was editing. Perhaps it wasn’t the most practical choice, but in a way, that was similar to shooting film.
In the end, I learned how to frame from the hip. With 28mm and enough practice, I could pretty much get the portrait I wanted by pointing in the general direction. The subjects didn’t even know I was going to make a photo because I didn’t have to bring the camera to my eyes. I could keep people occupied with a conversation and get candid looks easier.
After shooting for a while in San Francisco and in Denver, the honeymoon period with the digital Leica was over. My good friend Eric Kim suggested that I part ways with it. So my $3k experiment came to an end after about a year and I went back to shooting film for the time being.
I sometimes do miss having M240. It had its quirks and it wasn’t flawless, but it still had soul and had character. However, considering the way I shoot and the workarounds/habits I had to develop really indicated that it just wasn’t a practical choice especially in 2019 – not that it would matter for most Leica shooters anyways.
Timeless design, guaranteed quality. Meßsucher, the rangefinder. Leica M240.