When a new Leica M comes along it’s sure to raise eyebrows. As the German godfather of 35mm photography attempts to balance new features with traditionalism, Ian Farrell finds out if the M Typ 240 measures up as a serious photographic tool.
Leica M Typ 240 review – Noise, resolution and sensitivity
Image: Noise is extremely well controlled, especially colour noise. This image was shot at ISO 3200 and shows virtually no noise
The CCD-based M9 had a sensitivity range of ISO 160-2500, which was considered a little pedestrian next to cameras costing a tenth of the price. With CMOS sensor technology we’d hoped to see this pushed to the limit but, sadly, the M only offers ISO 200-3200 sensitivity, with the option to extend to ISO 100-6400 through internal software trickery. To put this in perspective, the big-name DSLR and CSC manufacturers are now routinely offering top ISO 6400 settings, expandable by a further 2 stops. Pro-spec cameras such as the Canon EOS-1D X or EOS 5D Mark III offer even more, and cost less.
When used at its top ISO sensitivity, images from the M are not overtly noisy, though, so at least results from this setting are usable, but they are lacking in biting sharpness, which is a shame. Better-quality noise reduction is available by applying Adobe Lightroom’s magic to a DNG file than relying on the camera’s built-in noise-reduction processing.
That said, the M is very enjoyable to use in low light. It’s easy to focus when one finds a speck of detail to look at with the rangefinder patch, and the wide apertures of many of the system’s lenses let in loads of light. It’s also easy to hold still at slow shutter speeds. I had no problem working with a 35mm lens at 1/15sec and constantly achieved shake-free results. It goes without saying that image stabilisation is not a feature you’ll find on the Leica M Typ 240.
When it comes to resolution, there aren’t many lenses around that will perform better than those of the Leica M system. You’ll often struggle to find any real-world differences in sharpness between the edge and middle of the frame, and it’s great to have the confidence to shoot wide open at f/2 (or even f/0.95 if you have the funds available for a 50mm Noctilux) and know you are still getting great performance.
The camera’s sensor, however, doesn’t live up to the quality of the image being projected onto it. Despite the move to more modern CMOS technology, images from the M lack the ‘bite’ you’d expect from a 18-million-pixel, full-frame camera that has no optical low-pass (anti-aliasing) filter. If anything, images from the older M9 are more detailed at normal ISO settings. This is backed up by our lab tests, in which the M resolved 32 line pairs per mm. That’s pretty much what we’d expect for a sensor of this type, but sub-standard given the lack of an optical low-pass filter.
These images show 72ppi (100% on a computer screen) sections of images of a resolution chart, captured using the 50mm f/2 Summicron lens set to f/5.6 . We show the section of the resolution chart where the camera starts to fail to reproduce the lines separately. The higher the number visible in these images, the better the camera’s detail resolution is at the specified sensitivity setting.