Six Months With The Leica M Type 262

To be fair, about 30 days of the last six months had the Leica in intensive care at Leica New Jersey so this is technically five months with the M262.  Thirty days, a new sensor, a new shutter mechanism, and a couple other tweaks and the camera was better than new.  Though Leica has a reputation for being overpriced and lackluster on quality control these days, I can confidently say that my M has earned back every penny and then some for me.  Please don’t mistake that as being braggadocious, I only mention that because it is one of the most important factors when I consider any photography purchase I make…  Was it worth the investment?  If it was not then build quality, image quality, etc. are all pointless.

If you read my previous long-term review of the M262, it can be found here, you’ll remember that the three main reasons I settled with the M is file size, range finder shooting, and it’s design.  I won’t spend any time talking about image size here but instead will focus on my experience with the camera over the past 6 (really five) months.

Landscape photography shot with the M7 and Kodak Portra 400

First, how do I use it…  I use the M262 almost exclusively for street photography.  If I’m going to use a Leica for landscape photography I’ll opt for my M7 as I love landscape photography with a film camera.  One of the biggest strengths, zone focusing, of the Leica is perfect for street photography.  My M262 is simply faster than my Df, X100T, and D810 when zone focusing.

The M262 Experience

First, if you’re coming from something like the M7 (mad props if you still shoot film) the first thing you’ll notice is that the M262 is much easier to grip.  The raised finger bump on the back for your thumb means you don’t need one of the many thumb grips that slide into the hot-shoe.  I would even venture to say it’s easier to hold than the venerable X100T, I felt like I needed the accessory thumb grip attached to my X100T or I would drop it.

The camera is noticeably thicker than the M7 and noticeably larger and heavier than the Fuji X100T.  This is not an issue as I have muscles in my forearm and bicep that assist me (as do all humans).  Anyone you hear complain about the weight of this camera has never lugged a D810 with a 70-200 lens attached anywhere.  However, talk to any Leica owner who has owned one of their awesome film cameras and they will echo that the next digital M (M10) ought out to be the same weight and size as their film cameras were.  But, at the end of the day you’ll never please anyone and if you’re a street photographer you and I both know the best camera would be an invisible one that weighed nothing (we are still at least a year away from something like this…).

My only gripe with this camera is the limited metering.  You don’t get an option and the camera does some sort of center/top weighted metering hybrid that means I have to keep locking in my metering reading when shooting aperture priority by pointing my camera someplace that I feel will give me an average reading.  Don’t get me wrong, there are times I take advantage of this and now that I know exactly how my camera processes light I don’t have a problem with it…  I just want the option to change it.  I don’t prefer this method of metering but I’m sure some of you out there will.  To each his or her own.

The Leica M262 has allowed me to take photographs in just about any location without giving away my intentions.  I enjoy the candid moments much more than “street portraits” so I like to be able to steal moments with my camera and move on before anyone even knows I was there.  For instance, the shot below was one of three shots I took that were never noticed by the man in the window because I wasn’t hefting a massive camera, like my D810, up to my face.  The image above was taken in a church where nobody even noticed my camera or head the sound of the shutter actuating.

Finally, I would be remiss if I didn’t (again) mention the massive advantage a Leica has over other cameras…  Zone Focusing.  Sure, I can zone focus with some of my older Nikon lenses but none of them are as easy or quick as my Leica.  Simply setting my camera to f/8 and dialing in the focus to be sharp from about eight feet to infinity is priceless.  I can nail shots faster than any auto-focus mechanism invented to date.

Zone focusing with the Leica M7

Alterations

The only change I’ve made to my Leica is the lens hood. I’ve opted to use a vintage style lens hood which is circular (think Vietnam War era style) as opposed to the supplied lens hood that accompanied my Leica 35mm lens. Why? I would be lying if I didn’t say it looked way cooler but I would be remiss if I didn’t share with you the real reason. Lens flare! The old style lens hood is not ideal for keeping out “pesky” lens flare so it is perfect if you like your images to have deliberate imperfections.

I love lens flare in my images, I think it adds character and ensures a unique quality that can’t be reproduced by other photographers.  Images like the one above are created by knowing exactly how my gear reacts to various light sources and exploiting its “imperfections”.  This shot would have been impossible had I not been using the old style lens hood.

**I believe I purchased this particular lens hood from popflash.com (link here) and it’s item number is 12504.

I also purchased a black Leica dot to replace the loud red dot that currently adheres to my camera but have not had time to switch them out.  My M7 has the black dot and it definitely helps keep a low profile.

Issues I’ve Experienced

Over the summer I began to notice a yellow/red line extending from the bottom to the top of a frame on the far right, about a quarter of the way from the furthest right side of the frame.  It was always perfectly straight and looked almost like one of those “cut here” lines you find in children’s coloring books, etc..  Obviously, I was very concerned as I use this camera for professional work and some of the images I take get blown up very large (therefore, any visual issues would be magnified).  Luckily, it began right after a large project I had finished in Boston.

I immediately contacted Leica and Leica New Jersey got back to me with a return label and directions on how to get the camera to them to be fixed and returned to me.  The whole process was great.  Leica was understanding as I had never sent in my warranty card and accepted it after the fact.  Once the camera was at Leica New Jersey it was a mystery as to where it was in the queue because if I called they simply let me know that it was checked in but there was nobody back “there” to answer the phone.  Don’t get me wrong, I’m not the type to call daily like it was my child in the hospital…  I called once, 20 days after they had received it.  The kind woman who answered the phone let me know that the average wait time was thirty days so I relaxed and decided to take a chill pill.

About a month and a week later my camera  was shipped back to me without notice from Leica (the original email directions said that they would notify me when it was finished and being shipped out).  That would normally not be an issue except I was out-of-town working on another project when the UPS delivery person left about 4 “sorry we missed you” stickers on my door which would let anyone know I was not home (in case they wanted to rob my house).  Add to that the crazy two-hour window that the UPS warehouse has where I live and it was almost impossible to get my camera back…

The other main issue I mentioned in my original review, found here, was that every once in a while I would hit the shutter button and nothing would record…  Simply a black frame with all the right settings recorded.  The shutter sounded as if it only half released and it was hard to replicate.  I had mentioned this to the gentlemen I was working with at Leica NJ and when I got my camera back they had replaced the shutter mechanism and I have not had an issue since.

I believe that my M262 had a faulty shutter mechanism and sensor from the get go.  When I got my camera back they had replaced both the shutter mechanism and sensor (as well as a few other things) and it has never been better.  My high ISO shots have less grain and more detail, continuous firing mode works much quicker, and I don’t get the mysterious black frames anymore.

I’d like to say that all camera have issues and this isn’t to be unexpected…  But in reality, I’ve never had issues like this with any of the many cameras I’ve owned.  Perhaps this is a Leica thing and part of the “experience”.  Regardless, despite these issues I still love my Leica and will be purchasing the M10 when it is released next year.

Conclussion

Can I recommend the Leica M262?  Yes.  Can it do anything different than the X100T or other cheaper competitors?  Well, yes.  With that being said, with all the advantages that come with the M262 there are disadvantages as well.  Zone focusing makes the Leica one of the best street photography cameras available but the lack of auto focus creates a steep learning curve for anyone hoping to make the leap to Leica.  Range finders take a considerable amount of time to master and nail manual focus as fast as a modern camera can nail auto focus.  Really, this is only noticeable in low light where you need to shoot wide open and have to manually focus as opposed to zone focusing…  During these times you may miss your auto focus a bit while learning to focus quickly.

At the end of the day, the M262 was enough to win me over to Leica for good I suppose.  I’m going to upgrade to the M10 when it’s made available because of it’s rumored design (supposedly it’s designed to look similar to the Leica MP film camera).  I would prefer a Leica with options in regards to metering and a thinner/lighter body won’t upset anyone.  If you are considering a Leica I would encourage you to wait until the M10 is released (supposedly the first quarter of next year).  In the meantime, rent a Leica and begin practicing your manual focusing skills and zone focusing.

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