Buying a used digital Leica

I recently decided to return a new Fujifilm X100V and get something older, more expensive and with less features. Something objectively worse for more dollars. Makes total sense.

It wasn’t her fault. We both had significant birthdays within a year of each other and it was my wife’s first. She’d had time with friends in New York and we’d taken a great road trip in California with her side of the family. And then we started to talk about ideas for mine. And she mentioned Leica. I can’t remember why or the context, but the idea was there.

But no Leica seemed a good fit. The Q just seemed like a more expensive and heavier X100 (gross simplification I know). The SL2 too bulky. The CL has the smaller sensor so again seemed similar to a Fuji at a higher price. And to do Leica, didn’t that mean rangefinder? So an M. But the M10 is too expensive. Way too expensive (they’re all too expensive but especially the M).

So I got the Fujifilm X100V. The best X100. The perfect focal length for me, weather-sealed and a great design. I expected to love it. The X100F was fabulous. Nothing about the X100V is worse, although I’m not a huge fan of the tilting screen (I just prefer the more simple design of a fixed screen). But it didn’t excite me.

So it went back to B&H. And I started considering the Leica M240. A little larger than the M10 and a 7-year-old camera, but still a digital Leica M with a full-frame sensor and live view. As a test, I picked up a m-mount Voigtlander 35mm lens to try out on my Fuji, and enjoyed it a lot. I also called in at B&H and tried an M10 and an M240 to make sure I’d be happy with the viewfinder. B&H had two used M240’s in at the time. One for $6k and one for $20k. Oh. (Both special editions).

In addition to the main US stores for used camera gear (B&H, Adorama, KEH and MPB), I started checking the inventories at a few stores such as Tamarkin Camera and Leica Store Miami.

I liked the M-P (larger buffer, more discreet without the red dot logo) but they seem to fetch a premium of around $500. Then I came across a listing for an M240 at Popflash Photo in California. No box but ‘as-new’ and a good price. I thought about it, talked it over with Helen, talked to the store about it, considered it, considered it some more, checked their returns policy, then went ahead.

It’s immaculate. I don’t know how it can have been used much in it’s 7 years. I know it’s only a thing, a tool, but it gave me that thrill that I had with my first Fujifilm camera, the X-E1, and years later with the X100F. Something special and different. An incredible tool to be learn and used.

I’m not going to write a full review. It’s an old camera in digital terms, and there are many reviews online. And I’ve only had it for a month or so. But here are some thoughts:

  • It’s not a big camera, but it is heavy. I do notice the weight after a few hours.

  • It’s so solid. It makes most others cameras feel like plastic, even when they’re not.

  • I’m not fast with it yet but I do like rangefinder focusing. Using manual lenses on Fujifilm bodies, I don’t enjoy using focus-peaking. It feels intrusive to me.

  • I like the RAW files. They have some contrast and character, not as ‘flat’ as Fuji files (not necessarily good or bad, I just personally prefer them as a starting point).

  • Dynamic range is relatively poor, especially compared to newer sensors.

I’ve only used the Leica for fun so far, mostly for street photography and a personal project. I’m still learning the camera so I’ll add more thoughts later on, when the honeymoon period is over. Sometime soon I’ll photograph with it alongside the X-T3 and see how the results compare. But honestly, and this might sound strange, I didn’t choose the M240 for the image quality. I bought it for the experience and for the process. For the challenge of photographing manually, for the rangefinder experience, for the quality of the tool, and for the hope that it would lead me to be more careful and considered in making images. That it would help to improve the final image by making me think, not by adding resolution or technology or features.

A camera can still be a really simple device. Maybe it should be a really simple device. And Leica still does that very well.


Headshot, portrait, street and documentary photographer in NYC and Jersey City

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