In-depth review: Leica M262 vs M9 vs M240.
On November 19 Leica introduced the M Typ 262, the successor to the Leica M-E, which was really an M9 minus the frame line preview lever and USB port. The M262, however, is based on the M240 but shares the body shape and weight of the M9 series.
My first Leica was an M2, purchased used in 1982 with a new 35mm Summicron. The M2 changed how I saw photographically. The Leica M has been my camera of choice since.
Related article: Why I use a rangefinder camera.
The M-E was my first digital M. For a new Leica that camera was a bargain. I made more “keeper” images with that M-E in the 2 years I used it than I had with my DSLR in previous years.
I was hoping for a refresh of a classic digital M. With Leica’s introduction of the Q and SL, and strangely enough, the collector’s item M60, I thought this was a good sign for the return of a “classic” digital M focused only on still images. The Q and SL are better video platforms and gives Leica the space to produce a purely still image M body.
The M60 signaled Leica’s understanding of minimalism, but taken too far for the non collector. The M60’s downfall as a user camera is the lack of auto ISO. I contest manual mode with auto ISO and the ability to use exposure compensation is the ultimate shooting mode. You can’t shoot that way with an M60.
Thankfully, Leica understands they need a camera like the M262 for rangefinder traditionalists. A camera that does only one thing and does it like every M still camera before it. I don’t want a mass-produced M60. Sorry, an LCD screen comes with today’s territory.
Leica has a hit on their hands with the M262. After a few weeks using the M262 I’m declaring it the best, pure digital rangefinder Leica has made to date. I was so taken with the M262 after renting it for a week I sent my M-E to off for sale and purchased the M262.
This is the camera rangefinder enthusiasts like myself were hoping Leica would release. I will be surprised if it doesn’t start outselling the M240. If that is the case I hope Leica rethinks their strategy of releasing a stills-only traditional M body near the end of the product cycle. When the 240 is finally updated, give us one body like the M262, sans video and live view, and another body with live view and video for those who want or need those features.
How the M262 differs from the M9 and M240
- There is no Live View or provision to use an electronic view finder.
- The live view button at the top-left back of the M240 body is now a white balance button on the M262.
- Center-weighted metering only, no spot or multi-metering options.
- The top plate is made from durable aluminum instead of brass, making it 100 grams lighter than the M240. The M262 is essentially the same weight as the M9.
- Body styling the same as the M9 with stepped top plate.
- New quieter, more refined sounding shutter.
- No silent or discreet modes like in the M9
- LED illuminated frame lines like in the M240, but no red frame line option. White only.
- Frame lines optimized for 2 meters like the M240, instead of 1 meter like the M9.
- Simplified menus. Only three pages (2 menu pages and 1 settings page).
- No film mode options found on the M240.
- Dust detection feature included like on the M240.
- The Multifunction Hand Grip M (14495) does not work on the M262. The interface at the bottom of the camera is for diagnostics only.
Look, feel and heft
The M9, compared to a classic film M, added significant depth to the body. In a short amount of time you adjust and only notice the difference when picking up a film M body again. I only used an M240 for a short period at a trade show, and found it noticeably heavier.
I added a “Thumbie” device to my M-E. When I weighed the M262 and the M-E (with Thumbie attached) on a scale, the M262 only weighed about 6 grams more. Even though the 262 is 5mm deeper than the M9 series, because of the weight difference of the 262, I did not notice any difference in size or weight from the M-E when using them side by side.
Officially the M262 weighs 600 grams, the M9/M-E 585 grams and the M240 weighs in at 680 grams.
I like the look of the stepped top plate from the the M9 series and glad Leica went back to it in the M262. Without video we also lose the body holes for audio on the top and back of the M240.
The M262’s covering is somewhat soft and grippy. The pebbled surface of the fake leatherette is reminiscent of the classic M2 and M4 . The M-E actually had a wonderful feeling camera cover but was a little more bland in appearance.
The M262’s finish is deep black and fairly flat. I might call it close to a matte finish. The M262 does not collect and hold finger prints. They wipe off easily and cleanly. Leica describes the M262 as an “all-metal die cast magnesium body, synthetic leather covering, aluminum top panel, black anodized finish.” For the brassing enthusiast the M262 won’t be your cup of tea. There won’t be any Lenny Kravitz Correspondent versions of the M262
In person this camera looks and feels great. It feels solid. Leica left the script off the top and reduced the red dot to the size used on the M6. If you’re apt to cover the red dot with black tape the M262 becomes a total black beauty. Will Leica eventually introduce a chrome version of the M262?
A little point, but I liked the button actions better too than on the M9.
Coming from a Leica M9’s 230,000 dot pitch screen you will find the 921,600 dpi screen actually useable to check focus. The Maestro Image Processor in the M262 makes the camera feel much faster if you’re coming from an M9. The The M262 screen uses Gorilla Glass. I would still slap on a screen protecter just to be safe and worry free. I’m using the Pavoscreen screen protector, distributed by SopiGuard in the U.S.
A look at the three main menu pages, simplified due to the lack of video and live view:
Setting dial and shutter speed selector
The setting dial on the M262 is the same used on the M240, located on the top right of the camera’s back. To the left of the setting dial Leica incorporated a thumb rest. I find the setting dial used on the M262 and M240 series better ergonomically. I found the setting dial on the M9 too easily turned by accident while shooting with EV activated, often being surprised by an EV setting. It’s also easier to reach the dial on the M262. The M9 wheel was awkward to reach with the camera to your eye.
The “Auto” A setting on the shutter speed wheel takes more force to move it off when set, which should help protect it from being accidentally bumped to speed settings. The shutter dial allows half stop settings between marked speeds.
I could not anything on this, so I contacted Leica. Their official word:
The camera construction on the M (Typ 262) is the same as the M (Typ 240) with the same main weather seals in place. However, as it has no LVF port on the back of the camera, it is more weatherproof (the Typ 240 is fully weather-sealed if the original hotshoe cover is in place, but not if being used with an external accessory on the hotshoe).
The big, beefy battery from the M240 series is also used in the M262. Even though I carried two batteries with my M-E, I never needed the second battery. I’m pretty selective when I shoot, a carry over from my film days.
I would get a second battery for the M262 if I were taking an extended trip where I might not have access to charging on a daily basis and didn’t want to risk the camera becoming a paper weight. I can’t imagine running out of battery life even on a full day of shooting.
Custom Greycard white balance
With the removal of live view on the M262 Leica replaced the live view button on the top left back of the M240 with a white balance button on the M262. Being a RAW shooter I’ve never spent time messing with white balance on my cameras. Now that it’s so fast to set a custom white balance I may find myself doing it more to speed post processing.
Compared to the M-E the auto white balance on the M262 is more accurate.
Below are the steps to set custom white balance:
- Press the WB Button
- Press the up direction pad button twice or turn the setting dial two clicks left to reach the “Greycard” setting
- Click the SET or INFO button. (Notice appears on LCD to take photo).
- Take photo
- Photo appears on LCD along with small crosshairs in the middle. If your neutral area is already in the middle with the crosshairs, press the INFO button to measure it, then the SET button to save it. Or, use the direction pad buttons to find an area that is neutral and press the INFO button to measure again, then the SET button to save the measurement. The screen confirms the setting then clears automatically and you are ready to shoot.
The next time you press the white balance button it returns you to the greycard setting.
Tip: To immediately take a new white balance photo after initially setting it, you can bypass a step by first holding the right direction pad button THEN pressing the white balance button. This makes subsequent custom white balance setting fast and easy.
New Shutter with reduced sound
Leica introduced a new shutter that is quieter then the M9 and M240. The M9 shutter sounded “whiny” on recocking to my ear. There is no discreet or soft shutter release modes on the M262 like on the M9. The shutter release on the M262 is smoother and more pleasing to use than on the M9. The shutter release on the M9 always felt notchy to me in standard release mode.
The M262’s shutter sound is one of my favorite improvements over the M9 series. Listen in the video below:
The M262 shutter should go unnoticed out on the streets. If you want a truly silent camera get a Fuji X100 series camera with its leaf shutter. It’s a camera I also own and use in conjunction with my Leica.
The shutter blades on the M240 and M262 are oriented in a different direction compared to the M9/M-E shutter. In the images below note the rivet for the latter M’s is located on the bottom right where it’s on the top left in the M9/M-E. Not sure what this means, just pointing it out.
How durable is an M shutter?
An acquaintance has an M8.2 he purchased new in 2008. As of January 2016 his M8.2 was still in action with 103,708 shutter activations.
The 262 only offers classic heavily center-weighted metering, no spot or multi-metering like the 240. This is due to the lack of live view in the M262.
Frame lines and viewfinder
Coming from an M-E, the frame lines and viewfinder changes are some of my favorite upgrades.
The frame lines in the M262 are illuminated by LEDs. The frame lines dim as light levels drop. I never found them too bright in any situation. There isn’t an option to turn the frame lines red like in the M240 series. It’s classic white for the M262.
With the M240 series Leica returned to frame lines optimized for 2 meters. This is another favorite enhancement coming from the M9. For middle to far distances the frame lines in the 262 are more accurate than those in the M9 series. Except for a brief appearance in the Leica M8.2, Leica standardized on 1 meter optimized frame lines, starting with the M4-P film camera, to better squeeze in 28mm frames. This came at the expense of getting much more in your image than indicated by the projected frame lines. I always appreciated the more accurate frame lines in the classic M2 and M4’s. I could never mentally adjust to shooting a 50mm lens with my M6 as the frames were so inaccurate. It’s great to see the more accurate frame lines return in the M262 (and M240).
Below are images taken through the M262 and M-E viewfinder with a 50mm lens from 10 feet along with the resulting image. Click the images for larger versions.
Leica M-E/M9 frame lines as seen through the camera viewfinder
What the M-E/M9 actually captured
Leica M262 50mm frame lines as seen through the camera viewfinder
What the M262 actually captured
On the M262 what is just on the outside of the frame lines is what is being captured in the image. On the M-E about three times the frame lines thickness appears on the final image. At the distance I often find myself photographing, the M262 frame lines are pretty accurate to what appears in the image.
Below is what the M9/M-E and M262 manuals claim will appear at different distances. They appear a tad conservative. Click the image for a larger version.
Dear Leica, please offer the service to blank out frame lines. When using a 50mm lens not having to see the paired 75mm frame lines would clean up the viewfinder considerably. Having just the 35, 50 and 90mm frame lines would turn the M262 into the digital M2, which was the greatest film M series ever produced (IMHO…).
ISO and EV values in viewfinder
Leica made a wonderful user-friendly improvement in the viewfinder information display on startup compared to the M9. I assume this comes from then M240 series. On startup the M262 will first display the set ISO. A tap on the shutter release will display any non-zero EV settings for a brief moment, then display the shutter speed or manual settings, depending on the mode you’re in. These are great visual reminders to keep you informed of crucial settings.
The fastest startup time I was able to achieve, from turning the camera on to being able to make an image, was 1.6 seconds. That was with a Panasonic Gold 8GB card.
Time of other cards I tested:
- 16GB Sandisk Extreme Pro (95MB/s): 1.8 seconds
- 16GB Panasonic Gold: 1.9 seconds
- 16GB Samsung Pro (white card): 1.75 seconds
In order to measure the time, as I turned on the camera while holding down the shutter button, I recorded this on video. Using Audacity I was able to “see” the sound of the “on” switch and ended with the sound of the shutter opening, allowing for a precise measurement.
Formatting the SD Card as exFat seems to be the key. I also tried SD Card Formatter alone and in conjunction with formatting in the camera. That didn’t seem to make any difference. Once I formatted the cards as exFat I recorded my fastest start-to-shoot times. The 16GB Panasonic start-to-shoot time when the card was formatted only in the camera at the card’s default MSDOS FAT format was 5.2 seconds. Formatting the card first in my computer as exFAT, then formatting the card in the camera reduced the startup time on this card to 1.9 seconds.
The M262 has a 1GB RAM buffer, the same as the M240. The M-P240 has a 2GB RAM buffer.
The Sandisk 16GB 95MB/s card, allowed me to capture about 65 photos in a minute. The Samsung and Panasonic cards could only capture about 45 images in one minute. This is still much better than the M9. I don’t think the addition of a 2GB buffer like in the M-P240 would make any difference to the way I shoot. There was only one instance I can remember when shooting with the M-E where the smaller buffer and slow write time caused me an inability to make an image. I’m a marksman, not a machine gunner.
My takeaway is the fastest, smallest card may give the ultimate in performance considering startup, buffer speeds and computer transfer times. The 16GB Sandisk Extreme Pro is my winning SD card for the M262 considering its price and test results. Samsung also makes a 32GB Pro card with 90MB/s read and 90MB/s write speeds that could also be a card worth considering for the M262.
1600 on the M262 is cleaner than 1600 on the M9, but not by breathtaking margins. The M9 series was not as bad at 1600 as pixel peeping lore suggests. Where the M262 trumps the M9 series is the ability to shoot without restriction at 3200. 6400 showed banding. I would restrict my use of 6400 to times I absolutely had to have another stop to get my photo. At higher ISOs on the 262 I take care to expose to the right (ETTR) when possible or necessary for maximum image quality.
Once you are south of ISO 1600, in terms of image quality, the M9 is as good as the M262, which I find stunning.
I made test images with the M-E and M262 of the same subjects during several photo walks. I used the same aperture, shutter speed and ISO. I could not see the special magic others see in the M9/M-E CCD images over those produced by the M262’s CMOS sensor. Download some of the RAW files from these photo walks and decide for yourself.
The M-E was my favorite digital camera until the M262 came along and simply made everything better. Below are my reasons for upgrading, improvements over the M9 or items I appreciate on the M262:
- 2 meter optimized frame lines.
- LED illuminated frame lines.
- better high ISO.
- New shutter. The sound of the shutter is sweet.
- Smoother shutter release.
- Larger 1GB RAM buffer gives more headroom than M9.
- Ability to see ISO and EV values in the the viewfinder on startup.
- Better ergonomics of the setting dial compared to the M9.
- More accurate auto white balance means less time tweaking images in Lightroom.
- Fast setting of manual white balance due to direct WB button.
- Battery that seems to last forever.
- No live view or video mode. Less is more.
- No unnecessary USB port on side of camera akin the M-E.
- Body weight practically same as M9 series.
- Dust sensor feature.
If you’ve ever wanted a digital Leica M body there’s never been a better time to buy. Leica is standing behind any sensor corrosion issues on the M9 series of cameras, even if you are not the original owner. This may cause M9 prices to rebound a bit, but you can find M9/M-E bodies in excellent condition from reputable dealers. The M9 is still an awesome camera regardless of its age.
If you are already an M240 owner there is little reason to move to the M262, outside of the lighter weight and potentially quieter shutter.
There are sensors on the market capable of 6,400 and beyond. You can make the argument the sensor used in the M262 and M240 is now a generation behind those offered by Sony, Nikon and Canon.
Those are not rangefinder cameras and Leica is the only game in town. With the M262 we have reached a point where the image quality is “good enough” and the technology in the M262 doesn’t hamstring the camera. I can see being happy with an M262 for many years. The M262 is a zen digital camera that’s simply fun to use and keeps out of your way. It strips away things I don’t need or want from the M240, makes the camera more simple and leaner by improving the buffer, shutter, tactile feel, LCD and high ISO from the M9.