Monday, July 18, 2016

Leica M Typ 262 Review- Old, Meet New

Leica M Typ 262 Review- Old, Meet New
July 2016, Carl Garrard
Leica's M Type 262 is a 24mp stills only rangefinder camera. It boasts a glass LCD screen, weather sealing, quiet shutter, huge bright viewfinder with accurate frame lines, forged aluminum top plate and brass lower plate, refined menu system, and a simple and pure design that keeps to a more traditional Leica philosophy. Currently it's priced about mid range for Leica M's, and yes that is still a wallet full of money. Regardless, it might be the best money spent on a Leica rangefinder if it suits your needs. This is a simple beast that oozes tradition, yet the modern sensor and menu system give it a breath of fresh air. Take a look further.

Leica M (Typ 262) Current Best Price

Leica M Typ 262 Review- Intro
Leica's are mostly about the mechanics, lets face it. They don't have the most modern sensors, but newer models like the M Typ 262 still produce excellent image quality. The M262's IQ is very good for full frame by today's standards, but not quite at the level of my Canon 6D which is truly excellent.

However, with a good lens, especially a Leica lens, you start to delve into the world of atmospheric image quality- even when using the Voigtlander lenses (I've the Nokton 50mm f/1.5 and it's excellent). There's a tone and texture to the images that indeed has a "Leica M stamp" on them. Again, subtle, but it shows. Call the effect more "artistic", or pure, it's something.

Enough of what you need, and nothing you don't.

Leica M Typ 262 Review- Using
The advantages of using an M generally speaking though are starting to dwindle, as they are no more the most compact or discreet way to get excellent images. So to me, owning an M begs the question...

Do you want to shoot with an expensive precision mechanical product and, do you desire to learn a new way of shooting, or not? It's truly the question you should ask yourself prior to a purchase.

A side benefit at least for now, is that Leica cameras hold value better than other digital cameras- so your investment doesn't dwindle nearly as quickly, and in some rare cases you may make a profit on your M in the future if you have the right model or hold onto it long enough. Just a thought to ponder. Now, on with shooting with it.

Shooting with the M262, or any M for that matter, is really about learning a whole new way of capturing a photograph. The M262 feels like more modern tech mixed with old proven true rangefinder technology. It takes some getting used too if you are used to TTL interchangeable lens systems. Some may love it, some may hate it. I'm indifferent- it's just a different way of shooting. After a while it became second nature to shoot with it, and before I knew it, I started to like shooting with it.

Owning both the Leica M8 and M262, I can say wow, what a difference in the two. Mainly in the quality of the images and how quiet the shutter is. Other noticeable differences are the improvement of the navigation of the menu system, the improved viewfinder, and thumb catch/scroll wheel (huge handling benefit there). Subtle exterior improvements such as the lack of a viewfinder bright line window and name badge tone down the M262 a bit and make it harder to recognize (frame lines are lit with an LED now).

Simple. Functional. Intuitive.

Regardless, I like shooting with the M262 and find the images very appealing, even if it's  full frame image quality is about as good as 2009/10 DSLR tech. Up to ISO 6400 is totally usable- it's a pity that ISO 100 (a true ISO 100) and above 6400 aren't available. Being limited a bit seems to be part of the appeal/ecosystem of the M genre. 

Mechanically, I love how the body feels in hand, very stable, rock solid. It's shutter and weight contribute greatly to the ability to keep the camera steady and free of vibration resulting in sharp low shutter speed shots (I can get sharp images at 1/4 of a second). It's flat top and bottom and straight sides also promote a very steady hold which also contributes here too. It's cool to the touch, which is nice during warm weather, but you better wear gloves in cold weather, even 50 degrees it can feel like an ice cube on a morning's shoot.

It's beautiful, admit it.

Focusing - that's the topic here. It takes practice, and there are two things to get used too to make life easier. Practice with the focusing patch and "feeling" your focus position while paying attention to your f/stop can really speed things up. With practice, you can focus much more quickly. That said, using an M is more like playing a musical instrument than any other camera type out there. It takes skill, practice, and a lot of mental focus to master. Practice, more practice, and patience never killed anyone.

Leica M Typ 262 Review- Image Quality
I'll get right to it. Overall for a full frame camera, the image quality is very good. I do not like the omission of ISO 100 (pull 100 is not a true 100), but over 6400 I can live with. Raw files look like full frame image quality from 2009/2010 when compared to brand  name DSLR's. Again, very good, but not top notch. In the world of Leica though, it's about as good as it gets with this size sensor.

Jpegs are processed with class and integrity to color and detail- very nice. Choices of processing are minimal, but well implemented. I can't see using Jpegs for a camera of this stature personally, but for others I can certainly see the appeal. Either way, use them or not, they are lovely right out of camera.

Click on any image for a larger view

Raw- Converted b/w






Favorite Traits

  • Simplicity 
  • Very good Image Quality (realistic Jpeg processing)
  • Excellent, Simple Menu System
  • Well Placed External Controls
  • Rock Steady Design (helps steady the camera)
  • Superb Build Quality and Craftsmanship 
  • Comfortable to Hold
  • Huge Bright Viewfinder w/Well Lit Framelines
  • Quiet Shutter
  • Sturdy Battery Life
  • Easy to Keep Clean/Maintain
  • Gorilla Glass Covered LCD Screen
  • Weather Sealed (but you need a lens that is, too)
  • Traditional Rangefinder Experience (no live view/video)

Areas of Concern

  • Top Shutter Speed "Only" 1/4000th 
  • Durability of Paint On Top/Bottom Plate (easy to brass on lower)
  • Expensive Means Worry/Babying It
  • Limited Close Up/Telephoto Shooting
  • No true ISO 100 or higher than 6400 ISO

Leica M Typ 262 Review- Concluding
Although the M9 technically replaced the M8 I feel the M Type 262 is the last of its kind, and the best replacement for the M8.

So, If you're willing to pay the price of admission on all counts, shooting with the M can be glorious. The Leica Typ M262 although modern, is one of the last "true" M's that refuses to let a shooter be sidetracked with the live view or video world. If you desire a lesson in fundamentals and have the patience to carry it through, this is your camera. 

I fear that Leica's Typ M262 is one of the last made to adhere to Leica "tradition". Within the M space, it seems to match the philosophy of Leica and liberates the genre. To me it's the best of the M's yet produced if you want a simple, stills only rangefinder. It's not for everyone of course which is why Leica have several models.

To me though there is something to be said for simplicity, training the mind, being patient, and learning a trade. If you get this camera, treat it as though you bought a musical instrument you intend to master. This mindset will yield satisfaction through hard work and concentration. When you nail an image with the M Typ 262- you are rewarded with a feeling of satisfaction that can't be had with many cameras. You've simply earned it, there's no luck involved.

There is something oddly gravitational about old school craftsmanship and man made parts working together in your hand. In this way, it's a unique experience in the world of cameras. Reflecting upon the pride and dedication of its staff to build such a device, has a profound impact on how much you appreciate your purchase. To some, this means nothing, to others, it means everything.

Therefore ladies and gentlemen, it is this photographers opinion that the Leica M Typ 262 is an excellent blend of the old, meeting the new. It may not be for everyone, but that might actually be it's greatest appeal to those who love shooting with them.


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