M is for “more.” Experience heavy-duty image quality in the best digital Leica yet
We at Pop Photo have long had a simple catchphrase to explain the mystique, foibles, cachet, and just plain quirkiness of Leica rangefinders: “It’s a Leica.”
“This camera cost more than my first car. My first new car.”
“It’s a Leica.”
“The lens close-focuses to, um, one meter?”
“It’s a Leica.”
“The camera came in a box that’s in another box in a velvet-lined drawer in another box.”
“It’s a Leica.”
In other words, there are Leicas, and everything else. This latest imperiously unique Leica, the successor to the M9, is not named the M10 but just plain M. (Leicaphiles have taken to calling it the M240, Leica’s internal designation for the model.) Its 24MP full-frame CMOS sensor has the most resolution yet in a digital Leica, and it’s the first of its ilk to provide live view and Full HD (1920x1080p) video capture. Topping the company’s digital line, it streets for $6,950, body only; an 18MP CCD sensor similar to that of the M9 soldiers on in Leica’s current “economy” model, the M-E ($5,450, street, body only).
We were eager to find out just how much of a Leica this latest Leica is in our lab and field tests. Read on.
In the Test Lab
With ample resolving power, accurate color reproduction, and well-controlled noise, the Leica M easily earned top honors in our lab tests, conducted using a Leica APO-Summicron-M 50mm f/2 Asph lens. In overall image quality, the camera earned an Excellent rating from its lowest sensitivity of ISO 100 through ISO 1600.
As we did with the Leica M Monochrom and Samsung’s NX300, both of which also ship with Adobe’s Photoshop Lightroom for RAW conversion, we ran our lab tests with varying levels of noise reduction applied.
We found that applying 25% of Lightroom’s noise-reduction capability provided the best compromise from ISO 100 through ISO 800. At ISO 1600 and above, we applied 50% of Lightroom’s noise reduction. Doing so kept noise to acceptable levels through ISO 3200. Obviously, the amount of noise reduction you apply will vary based on the content of your image and your desired results. Even when there was noise in the M’s images, it mostly took on a very fine-grained look, so some shooters might not find it all that objectionable and may prefer to leave the noise reduction low.
In our color accuracy test, the Leica M aced an Excellent rating with an average Delta E of 6.8.
Possibly most impressive is the M’s resolving power. Given competition from the Nikon D800’s and Sony Alpha A7R’s 36MP sensors, the M doesn’t shatter any records, but it does a great job of holding most of its resolution as sensitivity is increased. With 25% noise reduction applied, the M served up 2810 lines per picture height at ISO 100 in our test, well above the cutoff of 2500 lines for an Excellent rating. At ISO 800, where the camera earned a Very Low noise rating, it delivered 2700 lines in our resolution test. At the camera’s top sensitivity setting of ISO 6400, with 50% noise reduction applied, the M still has enough resolving power for an Excellent rating with 2550 lines. Stepping down one stop to ISO 3200, with the same amount of noise reduction applied, resulted in 2640 lines. So, outside of the M’s top sensitivity setting, the camera maintains its resolving power within 200 lines. Leica prides itself on consistency, and we’d say the company has well achieved it.
Of recently tested 24MP cameras, the APS-C-sensor Nikon D7100 put up very similar test results, and it gives you two more notches of sensitivity, to ISO 25,600, to boot. The Leica M does do a better job holding onto resolution at high ISOs. Cynics might sniff that, at a street price of $1,097, you could buy six of the Nikons and have change left over, but true believers will insist that the Leica is a completely different experience. And it is.