One week, several outings, and a weekend camping trip have cemented my relationship with this new digital photography concept from Leica.  The Leica MD Type 262 has one major difference from other digital cameras, including the Leica M series – it contains no LCD screen on the back.  In place of the traditional viewing screen is a metal ISO dial reminiscent of the Leica M film cameras.  Leica Camera AG calls this Simplicity and I would have to agree.

While, in my view, there are many philosophical reasons that removal of the LCD is a great idea, the focus here will be on the usability experience and what I’ve found over the last week that I like and don’t like.  The second list is far shorter than the first and this camera is not for everyone.  All the photographs here were taken with the Leica MD.

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Fountain Park Crossing

The most common comment I see and hear is “you can just put tape over the LCD and save yourself a lot of money!”  Well, that’s not really true with the Leica-M system because the Leica MD costs less than the Leica M Type 240 and the Leica MP Type 240.  But more importantly, there are some other great differences between the traditional Leica M digital lineup and the Leica MD.

Similarities with the Leica M Type 240

Leica took some of the great aspects of the current digital lineup and kept them in the Leica MD.  Here are the best similarities.

  • Same build quality and weather resistance
  • Same tripod screw quality
  • Same battery type and memory card
  • Same sized sensor
  • Same rangefinder magnification and frames
  • Same thumb wheel

Let’s look at these a little more in depth.

 Build Quality

On the Leica MD, unlike the previous Leica M Type 262 that was the predecessor, the top and bottom plates are made of brass and not aluminum.  Because the body is painted in black lacquer, not the chrome black, it will eventually show the brass through the paint.  Not important, but nice.

The weight of the Leica MD is 680g, the same as the Leica M Type 240 where as the Leica M Type 262 is only 600g.  The weight is important to me because the heavier body helps me hold the camera steady for slower shutter speeds.  I’ve managed a few shots with a 35mm Summicron at 1/15 second with the Monochrom.  That’s all due to the weight.

Probably best is the weather and dust resistance.  The Leica MD has the same sealing as the Leica M Type 240.  One small point about the Leica MD is that it does not have the interface for an Electronic Viewfinder, or EVF.  This means there is no port in the back below the flash hot shoe to leak water and dust.  The shutter speed dial turns over 360 degrees and uses magnets to read the setting inside the camera leaving no hole for dust and dirt to enter the body there.  This is the same as the Leica M Type 240.  Leica says this about their weather and dust resistance on their web site:

Specially designed rubber seals protect the cameras from splashes, moisture, dust and uncooperative weather.

Tripod Screw

The tripod screw remains in the middle of the bottom plate and is firmly fixed to the magnesium alloy body.  This provides the most stable attachment of a monopod or a tripod.  Especially with the quick release connectors, having the screw in the middle is easier to handle than on one side like the old M’s.

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WRHI 107 FM Van

Battery and SD Card

As a great addition to a collection of digital Leica M’s, the Leica MD takes the same battery as the M and MP Type 240’s use.  So, one charger and one battery type still work with an existing Leica M lineup.  Of course the memory card is the same and my experience with the SanDisk 64mb Extreme Pro cards has been great.

Digital Sensor

The sensor in the Leica MD has the same number of megapixels and it is advertised by Leica Camera AG as using the Leica Maestro Processor.  The CMOS sensor is not confirmed as the same one in the M Type 240 series, and some have indicated their belief that it is a new sensor of the same size only.  Without direct knowledge from Leica, I’m afraid it will be difficult to confirm.  The processing of the RAW files appears to be extremely well done and the color out of the camera seems to be more in-line with the old CCD and less with the original programming of the CMOS.

Rangefinder Magnification

While I enjoy shooting black and white film and while I love the magnification of the Leica M-3 to my older eyes, the standard digital magnification of 0.68 in the rangefinder has been around now for awhile.  The advantage of this standard is the viewfinder shows the same sized frame lines as the sister M Type 240’s use.  So, using the same lenses there is no additional thinking needed like the difference between the cropped sensor on the Leica M8 and the full frame sensors.

Like all Leica M camera bodies since the M3, the eye piece of the viewfinder contains screw threads.  All of the Leica diopter adjustments and the Leica 1.25x and 1.4x viewfinder magnifiers work great with the Leica MD.  I use the 1.25x magnifier frequently when I am only using a 50mm lens.  If I move up to a Summilux 75mm or a Summicron 90mm, then I’ll attach the 1.4x magnifier.

Thumb Wheel

The thumb wheel in the upper right of the Leica M Type 240 is also part of the Leica MD experience, although the use is different.  One side note about the thumb wheel is it’s use as a better grip on the camera body.  The thumb wheel has a slight protrusion from the body where the thumb rests.  It has become a great tool to help firmly hold everything and worry less about dropping the camera.

The Thumb wheel is used for one purpose only, different from the Type 240.  The thumb wheel changes the exposure compensation of the metered exposure values.  It is simple and intuitive to use and is a welcomed item kept for those that use exposure compensation on the existing M digital bodies.

One of the great attributes to these similarities is there is no lost reflexes or lost ability to take properly exposed images when switching between a Leica MD and the Leica M and MP Type 240.  Very little loss of use between the M8 or M9 series and the Leica MD exists and at least not more than when switching from the older digital bodies to the newer bodies.

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Historical Homes on Confederate Avenue

Differences Compared to the Leica M Type 240

Now, let’s look at some of the differences between the two newer designs in the Leica M repertoire.

  • No movie capability and no EVF capability
  • No multi-function handgrip capability
  • No worry of Quartz or Gorilla Glass
  • Shutter click?
  • Only a 1gb buffer
  • No JPEG out of the camera
  • Auto White Balance only
  • Battery Life a Question
  • Function Button Included

Movie and EVF Capability Removed

As Leica moved more towards their idea of Simplicity, the extra technology not necessary to the taking of photographs was removed from the Leica MD.  Some have reported that this was a waste of good technology already in the sensor, but  I disagree.  The removal of the movie capability means the Leica MD is more targeted towards still photography which is the point.  No LCD and thus, no menus, means an interface for movie settings and other settings is really not easy to accomplish.  I can use any of the Leica M Type 240 models and make cinematography, I don’t need to do that with the Leica MD.

My guess is that removal of the movie capabilities and processing images from the CMOS and transmitting them to a display also necessitated the removal of the EVF port.  Additionally, sound recording isn’t needed if movies cannot be recorded – which is the other accessory that fit the port under the hot shoe.

I have to belive that two improvements are the results of removing these two functions.  First, the Maestro processor doesn’t have to do as much, which should translate to speed.  If the chip is the same speed, but there is less programming to sift through and use, the speed of taking an image from the CMOS and getting it to the SD Card should improve.  This helps continual shooting.  Second, less work by the circuitry should improve battery life.  I mention more about battery life and digital file writing later in this section.

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Historical Homes on Confederate Avenue

Multi-Function Handgrip No Longer Compatible

In the same way the Maestro processor must not have the required extra programming and chips for the movie recording and EVF usage, I assume the same is true for the flash extension and GPS capabilities of the multi-function handgrip.  The simple Leica M Handgrip fits on the bottom of the Leica MD, but it is merely a mechanical accessory to give the user more to hold on when taking photographs.  No menus means no settings and confirmations for the GPS, so it was left off the compatibility list.

No Quality Arguments Between Quartz and Gorilla Glass

Everyone seems to have an opinion about whether the Gorilla Glass was really as scratch resistant as the Quartz used in the M8.2, the M9P and the MP.  My opinion was that the quartz was superior, but that really no longer matters.  The Leica MD has no LCD screen, so no more debate for this model!

Shutter Click?

Leica Camera AG says the Leica MD has a quieter shutter assembly.  There have even been a few You-Tube videos surrounding the comparison of a Leica MD shutter press to a Leica film camera.  There is really only one way to describe the shutter sound of the Leica MD – WOW!

Each new Leica M digital camera has provided a quieter shutter with a shorter rewind.  The Leica MD is no different.  With the exception of a leaf shutter, like the Fuji X100 uses, I don’t know of any quieter digital shutter on the market for a camera with interchangeable lenses.  You may laugh, but I literally took the first few photographs with the Leica MD and my thumb went to rewind the shutter like my Leica M3!

The shutter sound of the Leica MD really is just a simple ‘click.’  It is very comparable to the Leica M3 and other film bodies.  The sound is muted and very quick.  The rewind noise, if there really is any, is shorter than the initial click!

The new meaning of stealth with the Leica MD will be hard to beat.  I no longer have people on the sidewalk look down at my camera when I press the shutter from waste height trying to be discreet.  Sometimes I just feel the shutter click rather than hear it.  The Leica M Type 240 has a relatively quiet shutter, but the Leica MD is no match and much improved in sound.

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Historical Homes on Confederate Avenue

Only a 1gb Buffer

The Leica MP sports a 2gb buffer as well as the Leica M Type 242 Monochrom.  The advantage is more storage while waiting to finish writing images to the SD Card.  It allows for more rapid shooting for longer periods before potentially having to wait for the buffer to empty and make more room.

That said, I have never used the continuous modes in the Leica digital camera.  I may press the shutter in quick succession, but I want to be in control of pressing the shutter not at the mercy of when the camera is ready to take another image.  In one of my next few planned posts, I talk about using the Leica MD on a biking trail with the Boy Scouts in Virginia.  Several times I was shooting multiple images quickly as the kids moved and changed expressions.  Not once did I hit the full buffer limit.

I use the same SD Card for the Monochrom as I do for the Leica MD – a SanDisk Extreme Pro 64gb 95mb/s SD Card.  For whatever reason, the design of the 64mb card versus the 32mb card of the same specification would wake up much, much faster with the Leica M Type 240.  The card is quick and has taken on the challenge with me and the Leica MD.  So, for now I do not see a problem with the 1gb buffer.

No JPEG Out of the Camera

With no LCD to review images, there is no reason to create a JPEG as part of the process.  Not only does it make sense from the lack of viewing perspective, but it speeds up the writing process to only write one file.  Presumably, this is what led Leica to only save a DNG file when using the Leica MD.  There are no choices that can be made for saving a DNG file, nor should there be.  The DNG file is a Digital Negative file structure created by Adobe as a standard.

The DNG format only includes the RAW data from the sensor.  So, each pixel has a level of light and an RGB color associated with it.  There is no sharpness or coloring attributes in a DNG file, so none need to be set by a menu or processed by the Maestro processor.  This translates to faster write time and presumably extended battery life.

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Street Light Trio

Auto White Balance

The only setting stored with the DNG file is the white balance value that was calculated by the sensor when taking the image.  There is no setting and not confirmation of what is being used.  I have found the white balance is very close in outdoor lighting and iffy on indoor lighting.  However, Adobe Lightroom makes adjusting the white balance of an image file painless.  I have not found any heartache in the way the white balance setting has been implemented.

Battery Life a Question

Above I told you about all the reasons I believe the battery life should improve on the Leica MD – no LCD power, no review of image, less work by the Maestro processor and less write time with the SD card.  However, the battery life may or may not be as good as the existing Leica M digital bodies, even with these power saving items.  Why?

Leica Camera AG tells us that the camera is always on, even in the power saving modes.  One of the reasons the Leica MD is almost always ready to shoot images is that the camera never really enters a true sleep mode.  Unlike the Type 240 series, the Leica MD just appears to be shut down, but all is ready and pushing the shutter part way down will very quickly activate the frame lines and the light metering.  There is an easy way to see how much battery life is left, and I have shot enough straight through a day to see how the battery life fairs.  Time will tell us.

You can easily see the battery life left every time you turn on the camera.  By looking through the viewfinder immediately after turning on the camera, you can see the percentage of battery life left before the display resets and goes back to the over- and under-exposure display.

Function Button Included

The function button is the silver button located next to the power button.   On the M Type 240, this was the movie button.  This function button does everything needed to work with the Leica MD that the f/stop, shutter speed dial and ISO dial does not provide.  This includes setup, providing shooting information and cleaning the sensor.  I’ll tell you about these three scenarios below.

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Eagle at the Old Post Office

Setup

Setting the time and date for the Leica MD is not needed often, thankfully.  Setting these items which later help us catalog and store our images is not difficult to accomplish, but hard to get started.  The Leica MD manual says to enter the setting mode the power switch should be turned to the self-timer indent.  This means the power switch must be turned on to the single-shot mode (S), then the continuous mode (C) and then the self-timer mode (timer icon).  This represents the third stop in from the off position.

This is important!  The first few times I tried to set the date and time on the MD, I  could not get the setting to come up and allow me to make the change.  I read quickly and did not comprehend the power switch had to be in the self-timer mode.

Once there, press the function button and hold it down for at least 12 seconds.  This seems like a long time, but I am sure it helps keep accidental changes from happening.  After the requisite 12 seconds, the LED inside the viewfinder will show a two-digit year followed by double quotes.  So, (16″) represents 2016.

Using the thumb wheel, the year can be changed.  Then a simple, single press of the function button shows the month with a space and single quote – (5 ‘) representing May or the 5th month.  Another press shows the day with a single quote and no space – (24′) representing the 24th of the month.

By pressing again the hours are brought up with a single quote and no space – (11’) representing 11 o’clock.  Finally, the last press shows the minutes with a single quote and one space – (50 ‘) representing 50 minutes pas the hour.

Continuing to press the function button will cycle through the options infinitely.  Moving the power button back to Continuous Mode, Single Mode or Off will save the changes and cancel out of the setting mode.  Briefly tapping the shutter button will also cancel out of the setting mode.

Shooting Information

Both (1) the percentage of battery life left and (2) the number of images that can still be written to the free space on the SC Card can be shown quickly in the Leica MD viewfinder.  The function button helps us see this information.

First, look through the viewfinder and then press the function button.  This enters an information mode.  Pressing the function button will toggle between the two pieces of information.  After a brief few seconds, the viewfinder reverts back to the under- and over-exposure information or if the shutter button is tapped.

The battery life shows a dot before the number and ranges from .100 down to a low number and finally the letters “bc” to indicate the battery needs charged.  The number of images that can still be taken maxes out at 999.  This is because only three digits are shown which is similar to the M8 and M8.2 which had black and white LCD displays on top of the camera showing battery life and image capacity.  Because most SD Cards today hold much more than 999 images even in DNG formats, unless the number starts decreasing, the SD Card in the camera has plenty of available space.

Bomb Shelter at the Old Post Office

Bomb Shelter at the Old Post Office

Sensor Cleaning

While sensor cleaning can damage the camera if not properly performed, if you are comfortable cleaning your sensor, it can be done on the Leica MD.  There are a few steps with no menu and LCD screen to guide you.

First, make sure the battery has at least 60% remaining.  Then, like the setup, turn the camera on to the self-timer mode or the third click after off.  Finally, while holding the function button down, press the shutter release button all the way down.

The shutter will open and remain open until either the battery runs down or you turn off the camera.  Note that turning off the camera is the only way to set things back to normal and the self-timer light on the front of the camera will blink for 10 seconds after turning off the camera.  Then, the shutter will close and the camera will turn off.  This is a safety mechanism to avoid getting something in the way of the shutter and damaging it.

Wishes

I have only a few wishes, and none are essential to using the camera, but would be helpful.

  • Multi-function handgrip support for GPS
  • An extra digit to really tell me how many images I can take
  • Software to save settings on the SD Card and load to the Leica MD
  • A 2gb buffer

I really like having GPS coordinates for images, especially from a trip out of the country.  If the programming were available already in the Leica Maestro processor, I would pay more to have the electronics embedded so I could attach a multi-function handgrip.  I am sure there are others that would like the ability to use the flash extension in the same manner.

It would be interesting instead of having the space available on the SD Card to instead show the number of images taken.  I rarely take 999 images on a single SD Card before downloading and formatting the card.  Moreover, all of my SD Cards hold more than 999 images.  So, it might be nice instead to see how many images I’ve taken.

One way of making changes to items in the camera would be for the camera to read a settings file on an SD Card much like it loads firmware changes.  Leica could make a simple software program to allow a few changes to write to and SD Card file or even better, just produce a web-page to enter settings and download a change file.   These settings might be things like – red or white frame lines, counting up or counting down the number of images, turning off the front LED for self-timer shots, or even settings for the ‘A’ on the shutter speed dial – like auto ISO functions.

Yes, it hasn’t yet been an issue, but it seems easy to just put a 2gb buffer in the Leica MD, just like the Leica MP Type 240 and Leica Monochrom have.

Conclusion

I love this camera body on a number of fronts.  The ‘Simplicity’ that Leica put here makes it easy to switch between shooting film and digital.  Look for more about the concept of LCD-less digital experiences and results from using the Leica MD on outings!

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Parking Garage on a Cloudy Day

Thanks to Leica Store Miami and the great service where I purchased my Leica MD Type 262.

About The Author

David taught film photography and development for 3 years at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill (1989-1991). He began using Leica cameras in 2000 and still shoots 70-100 rolls of film through a Leica M3 and Leica MA while enjoying the challenges of the Leica Monochrom and the new Leica MD 262. David has written about photography and is working on several volumes documenting changes and artistic merit throughout Old Town in Rock Hill, South Carolina, USA. His full-time job is as a CPA, but spends free time with a camera at the ready.

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6 Responses

    • dknoble

      Thanks, Ross! I really enjoy the MD. I’ve got more to write on the Monochrom and plenty on film. Thanks for the nice words!

      Reply
  1. David

    for the lack of auto shutoff i am returning the M-D — two unexpected dead batteries in five days barely using it (maybe 25 exposures?) — sometimes Leica is completely brain dead

    Reply
    • dknoble

      David, I have had the same trouble in that I inadvertently leave the MD on and the battery goes dead. I hope Leica adds a way to turn on / off a sleep feature. I don’t mind a choice of an hour, but I too mind having to charge a battery every day.

      Reply
  2. Malcolm Farrar

    Just found and read your article on the Leica MD David and I have to say, as an MD owner myself, that your review is very accurate; great read! However, I think Leica has a firmware update for the MD which solves the battery problem with early versions. I bought mine in 2017 so it came with the latest firmware and my battery lasts for a week with daily use. I also have the M-A film camera and love it too. Yes, other cameras (and lenses) do a similar job but it really is all about the experience with these Leicas – no LCD, no menus, no buttons, makes taking photographs a pleasure again.

    Reply
    • dknoble

      Malcom, I could not agree more that the experience is half the fun – which translates to better photograph! Simple is good. Thanks for the comment!

      Reply

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