Leica M (Typ 262) and Zeiss Distagon T* 35mm f/1.4 ZM Review

Reviews

WARNING — ARTICLE INCLUDES CAT PHOTOS!

Why am I writing about the Leica M262 in May of 2017 when the M10 is out? Well, it’s because of the M10’s lack of availability. My guestimate is that it’ll be about a year before they are readily available. Personally, I’ve been wanting a real Leica M camera (as opposed to Panasonic / Leica gear) for years now, and didn’t feel like waiting another year to hop on the Leica bandwagon. Previously, I’ve written about the M240 and M8. The M8 has a known infrared sensor issues. The M240 is a good camera with some issues (i.e. live view, awful film presets, poor video quality, a feeling of sluggishness, and it’s heavy weight), but still a very useable rangefinder. The M262 takes away all of the hinderances from the M 240 that I just mentioned and leaves all of the positive attributes.

I’ve read online that the M240 and M262 share the same innards with one another except for the shutter. I’m not an engineer and can’t comment on the technical specifications, but the M262 seems like it has better firmware because it doesn’t seem to lock up when leaving sleep mode, and the shutter operation of the camera seems more responsive. Maybe this is all in my head, but it does the one thing it was designed to do very well — take photos.

With regards to the new shutter, most reviews are saying it’s quieter than the M240. I didn’t measure the sound, so I can’t really comment. Either way, it’s not a big deal to me, but the fact is Leica did indeed change the shutter mechanism. Per my observations, the M240 shutter truly wasn’t up to snuff. In my previous M240 article, I mentioned a general feeling of sluggishness and missed shots. Because of this, Leica changed the shutter mechanism in the M262 very quietly and with little comment. It wouldn’t be the first time a corporation has tried to downplay an issue.

Pros:

  1. Easy to focus especially for someone new to rangefinders.
  2. Just works. The camera gets out of your way, and lets you focus on photos.
  3. DNG format plays very well with Lightroom.
  4. Native M mount. I’ve tried using M lenses adapted onto mirrorless cameras, it’s just not the same feel. The only way to have the best image quality from M mount lenses is on a native mount camera with a sensor designed for maximum efficiency with that mount.
  5. The simplest menu of any camera that I’ve ver shot with.
  6. Fun! It’s just fun to shoot with. You get to fiddle with the focus, the aperture ring, etc. Also, I get a thrill when I’m able to get sharp images at f/1.4 via manual focus.
  7. Beautiful images!

Cons:

  1. High ISO performance isn’t the best. Best to keep it at 3200 or lower.
  2. Shadow recovery is OK, but not the best.
  3. This one’s nitpicky for sure. Leica’s signature bottom plate, while cool looking and fun to fiddle with, could easily fall out of your hand, get damaged, or get lost. A door for the battery or SD card would have worked easier, but the bottom plate is a signature design element, so I’ve got mixed feelings on this one. Like I said, it’s nitpicky.
  4. Only 24 megapixels. Even the M10 only has 24 megapixels. I’m wondering if the current crop of Leica lenses can resolve well on higher megapixel sensors. Maybe not, perhaps that’s why Leica hasn’t released a higher megapixel camera. Purely speculation on my part, but I wouldn’t put it past any camera manufacturer.

Switching gears, let’s talk about the Zeiss Distagon T* 35mm f/1.4 ZM. 35mm is may favorite field of view, and I really want a fast lens for low light photography so I don’t have to crank the ISO as much, but also for the shallow depth of field effect. While I’m sure the Leica 35mm f/1.4 produces lovely images, it’s also more than I want to spend right now. The Zeiss on the other hand is slightly less than half the price of the Leica equivalent. Furthermore, the Zeiss has some very positive reviews out there too. Interestingly enough, there aren’t a lot of used ones available. This to me, speaks volumes about how people feel about the lens. That is to say that they are happy with it and aren’t selling them off.

On every other camera brand I’ve ever used, Zeiss is always a premium brand. On a Leica camera though, it considered a “budget brand.” My biggest gripe about the lens is the lack of an included lens hood. This is absolutely insulting for a premium lens priced over $2,000. Nevertheless, it is a sturdy feeling lens and while it doesn’t look as cool as the Leica lenses, it appears to offer pleasing results.

So just how good are the images from the Leica M Typ 262 and Zeiss 35mm f/1.4? Judge for yourself… I have to apologize though for the lack of street photos of random people going about their business. Also, I must be doing something wrong since all of these images are in color. Lastly, none of these were done with Zone focusing, I actually manually focused all of these at f/1.4. Photos were edited in Lightroom — oh look, a kitty…

So far after one day of shooting, I’m quite pleased with the Leica M (Typ 262) and Zeiss Distagon T* 35mm f/1.4 ZM. It’s a combo that I can quite easily recommend (assuming the budget allows).


Noah Bershatsky

Noah Bershatsky

I was a nerd before hipsters were cool.
https://bershatsky.com

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