The journey towards professional photographer is often a complicated story to tell, in my case it started with a bachelor in fine art, a love of travel and a Canon EOS SLR as a birthday gift. I used to have friends who owned little Russian rangefinders and even one lucky guy who inherited grandpas old Leica, but I just plugged away with my little Canon working on learning the correct exposure, capturing peoples expressions and trying to find a way to make money. It wasn’t until a decade later that I even thought about owning a camera worth as much as an automobile, and back then it certainly wasn’t a manual focus rangefinder. I needed to make money with the thing, not enjoy using it!
Leica M240 Digital Rangefinder Introduction
Leica are not a brand for everyone, they make that very apparent with the pricing. It’s unconventionally expensive, priced to make you think anyone who would spend that much is crazy. But then you get the chance to hold one, and use it for just a little bit. Leica had a loaner stand setup at New York Fashion Week many years ago. They were passing out Leica M9’s (the first full frame rangefinder) with Summilux lenses if all you did was leave them your drivers license… free of charge!! Of course it wasn’t really free of charge, they knew it meant you’d fall in love with their little nuggets of expensive German engineering and impeccably polished glass. Straight out of the gate I knew it was a camera I would love and hate, but had to own. Within the year I had bought the Leica M9 and a Leica 35mm 2.0 Summicron lens. I thought it was the closest thing I could get to my old Mamiya 7ii with 65mm F4 lens. I didn’t realize at the time that I would end up hating the quality of the files, the general color balance and even the way the shutter release button felt. I didn’t get the love of SSD sensors, and battled the camera to make files I loved. With nearly $10,000 invested I wanted to make our little love affair work, so I added a few lenses to my line up. A cheaper Zeiss 21mm 2.8 and a more expensive Leica 50mm 1.4 Summilux. The Summilux suddenly clicked into place and the focal length started to make more sense for me, alongside the added stop of light that the M9 so desperately needed to keep it under ISO 1600 indoors. And then Leica dropped another bomb… the Leica M240 with better ISO on a CMOS sensor, live view and video. The upgrade took me a few months to wrap my head around, one of which I owned both the Leica M9 and the Leica M240. That month was the clearest moment I had being a Leica owner where it became apparent that the Leica M9 was just testing the market and had a load of flaws, but the Leica M240 was its much improved younger sibling. It was quicker to react in all senses, the files glowed at ISO 3200 and live view made pixel peaking and a good eyepiece viewfinder a real option. Finally I had a camera I could use, it only took me several thousands of dollars to find which still makes me a little crazy. I didn’t feel like being the guinea pig for such a big brand. Still, bygones should be bygones.
Leica M240 with Leica 35mm 2.0 Summicron, Leica Handgrip M and Apolis Transit Issue Camera Strap
Using the Leica M240 Digital Rangefinder
There really aren’t many cameras on the market that feel as solid or great as a Leica. I had a Voigtlander R3A for a while and the Mamiya 7ii which are both rangefinders but not digital, and not with the quality of the Leica. Every bit of the M240 is machined to perfection. It’s a solid little thing. The lenses click into place with such satisfaction, the shutter fires with such precision, the lenses focus so smoothly and when you get everything working together to perfection the images come out of the camera looking incredible. Yes, yes, yes, the camera isn’t what makes great photographs… I know! But this little thing makes you want to shoot, and makes you want to leave the house with it, and that means you have a camera more and that surely means you take more photos and hopefully that means you make better images. I battle with it being sharp in every single frame; F1.4 is a slim plane of focus that is hard to hit with a manual focus lens. It is however much easier to get your focus right when you’re shooting into the light, or under more extreme conditions like very dark situations. Infinity focus is also something I use a lot more than I thought I would.
The camera is surprisingly heavy, and that means you need a good comfortable strap to carry the thing around with. Of course my $7000 didn’t buy me a good strap straight out of the box so I’d recommend looking at the Apolis Transit Issue Camera Strap. Once you’ve found a comfortable way to carry it you need to let go of the fact that it will scratch and brass on the edges the more you have it. It’s cheaper than buying the pre-worn Lenny Kravitz version (another reason to hate the brand).
Focusing through a rangefinder window takes some getting used to, and really its just a practice makes perfect scenario. Or maybe more like a “practice makes better than not practicing” scenario. Rest assured with the Leica glass that if you nail the focus then the images are gonna be sharp dropping off to some beautiful out of focus backgrounds (I won’t use the bok** word). The rangefinder style focusing window allows you to remain more engaged with the subject as it doesn’t hide you behind the camera. It does throw out the actual alignment of the image to what you’re looking at, although this has rarely actually been an issue. I would imagine that if you shoot macro images or shoot through things a lot, then this might be aggravating, thankfully Leica has live view now. An interesting little fact is that the “M” stands for Messsucher which is the German term for a combined range/viewfinder or more simply translates as “Rangefinder.” Anyone considering owning a Leica should read this article about the “Leica Freedom Train.”
Leica M240 Digital Rangefinder Pros
- Compact full frame camera
- Build quality unsurpassed
- Sensor quality
- Brand Recognition
Leica M240 Digital Rangefinder Cons
- Only manual focus
- Only takes one SD card
- Brand Recognition
Leica M240 Digital Rangefinder Conclusion
How can brand recognition be a pro and a con? Well it’s really the biggest part of the Leica dichotomy. People who see that you own a Leica immediately know you have a lot of disposable income, that could mean that they know you’re a professional photographer who takes pride in owning the finest camera, but it could also mean that they know you’re someone who buys really expensive status symbols that don’t always have the best features for a working professional. Some photographers are jealous of the camera I own, but I’d guess that more think I’m an idiot for spending the money. People I photograph in the financial industry are impressed that I shoot with a Leica, it’s a status symbol they know, but working press photographer see me carrying a $10,000 necklace. There’s no right or wrong answer, I feel both ways almost all of the time. The really amazing times I’ve had with this camera have not been professionally, but on personal family vacations where it is just a joy to use. It reconnects me to being a photographer and makes me think about the craft in the most fundamental ways. It’s a pleasure to carry and a pleasure to shoot with presuming I don’t have to rush. You don’t necessarily buy this camera to make money or add to you’re work routine, but you do end up loving it for removing you from the rat race of technology.
If you’re really into dropping some cash on a personalized Leica, you can visit their “a la carte” site and build you’re own personally engraved ostrich leather clad, sapphire glass monstrosity.