Leica M-D: Review and First Impressions

Jun 7, 2016  By Mike Evans
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Tired of pressing buttons by mistake? Fed up scrolling through endless lists of jpeg settings you are never  going to use? Discouraged by digital bloat? Always feeling your camera is out of date, with a new bobby dazzler just  arrived at the local dealer?

If so, you are not alone. But the new Leica M-D (Typ 262) could be just the digital camera you have been waiting for. No buttons to press, whether deliberately or otherwise, no endless menus (because there are no menus), updates few and far between.

I’ve had the M-D in my hands for the past 72 hours and have run around 600 test shots to get familiar with the handling. For an experienced M240 user, the M-D is business as usual. It performs just like the M but shoots only RAW files, as we know, and has the simplest possible set of controls.

Although it weighs exactly the same 700g as the M and M-P and shares all major dimensions, this camera feels slightly  smaller and more comfortable than the parent cameras. This is an illusion created mainly by the flat, featureless back and the lack of buttons. But it does feel different.

DESIGN

General styling of the camera is similar to that of the M-P, with an unadorned central screw head above the lens instead  of the Leica logo. The top plate carries the familiar Leica  script logo and “Leica Camera Wetzlar Germany”, again identical to the M-P. On the back of the top plate is the engraving “Made in Germany”, missing from the M-P.

The top plate, which is made from brass, has a small step on the left hand, similar to that of the old M9 and the new M262. It is made possible by the removal of the microphone found on the M and M240.

The small thumb rest to the right of the back incorporates a thumbwheel which is used in set-up functions and to adjust exposure compensation. Finally, right in the middle of the plain expanse of the rear is a chrome circular dial for ISO adjustment.

CONTROLS

This is the simplest digital camera you could imagine. It takes around a quarter of an hour to learn everything there is to know.

Controls are sparse in the extreme, little different from those of a film camera. The shutter speed dial is identical to that on its sibling cameras—a fastest speed of 1/4000s and an A position for aperture priority. With A selected you can choose the aperture and the camera will set an  appropriate shutter speed. The main switch on the top plate is identical to that on all Ms, with positions for single-shot, continuous and self-timer.

Near the main switch is a small chrome function button which is dedicated to a select set of functions. This is the selfsame button that engages the video mode on the M and M-P. On those cameras I always had it disabled but it now has a real use.

Unlike the M240 and M262, the M-D features a frameline lever enabling you to preview alternative sets of framelines without needing to change lenses. This is similar to the  arrangement on the M-P model.

The most obvious of the few controls is the large chrome ISO dial in the centre of the camera back—just where you would expect to find it on any M from the M3 in 1954 to the M7 or M-A in 2016. On earlier cameras this served the purpose of an aide memoire to indicate the loaded film. On later cameras equipped with exposure metering it offered the ability to adjust sensitivity in accordance with the film.

On the M-D the ISO setting is a simple dial showing values between 200 and 6400 in 1/3 stops. There is no auto ISO. I thought I would miss this (it is something I use by default on the M-P) but this direct access to a clearly marked ISO scale is very usable. I found myself easily switching from the standard 200 to a higher setting when necessary, such as indoors). It’s just a matter of remembering to set it back again afterwards, but this will become a matter of habit. The dial is beautifully precise and perfectly damped, easy to move with one finger but not loose enough to be moved inadvertently.

The beauty of this dial, despite its retro pretensions, is that it constitutes a vital third side of the exposure triangle:  Aperture, speed and ISO. It really is very straightforward and totally satisfying to use. Nothing could be easier. I could envisage the M-D becoming an essential tool for teaching photography. If it weren’t so expensive, of course.

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