It is perhaps ironic that the release of a ‘budget/entry-level model’ from a luxury brand elicits the most interest in a long time, but it has for me. The Leica M 262 arguably replaces the previous M9-based ‘ME’ model, but the philosophy is different. This isn’t just a stripped down Leica M Type 240 in the way the ME was a M9 without the frame line preview lever.
So why am I more excited by this camera than the Leica SL, or the M240? The answer is simple: it builds upon the excellent M240 platform, but takes us a little closer to the original M concept: small, light, quiet, simple (my words, not Leica’s). It is the Leica M that has defined the brand, for me. As for the Leica SL, I have other cameras that already do the things I might require of a 800g SLR sized camera (and in some cases much better i.e. tracking AF).
The M262 may not be cheap, but is is less expensive that the M240, which is good.
This does not mean the Leica M Type 262 is just for those users who would like to have owned a M 240 but can’t afford it. Simply put, I would choose the 262 over the 240 at the same price. In fact, I’d probably choose it over the 240 even if the M240 were cheaper and here is why:
- The Leica M Type 262 is nearly 100g lighter than the 240.
- The Leica M Type 262 is quieter.
- I don’t need video (which the 240 has and the 262 lacks).
- I don’t need live view on such a camera (which the 262 also lacks).
- I don’t need the 2GB buffer of the Type 240 ‘MP’ model.
So, in short, all the features removed from the M240 to make the Leica M Type 262 are features I don’t have any need for in a Leica M, but the changes they have made are genuinely useful (quieter shutter and reduced weight). 100g might not sound much, but with the M on a wrist strap as I tend to use mine, that’s two Mars bars you’re not carrying around all day. You’ll notice the difference, for sure.
At 700g, the M240 is a bit portly compared to the M9 and many already considered the latter to be at the very upper end of what feels right in a Leica M. Thankfully, Leica has made a good call on where to respect the wishes of purists and where to ignore them. With the type 262, Leica has cut weight by ditching the brass top place and replacing it with lighter aluminum. Sure, you don’t get ‘classic Leica brassing’, but I have always felt that’s a bit forced on a digital camera anyway. Such patinas are almost entirely self inflicted these days, rather than the product of several decade long histories. There aren’t many M240s that were dragged through the Vietnam jungle and then the Sahel… and as for that Leica legend, the M6, zinc plated alloy never was pretty, yet they still sold in huge numbers. Yes, there was a time before Leica was synonymous with man-jewelery.
I own various film Leicas, including a Leica MP, a M6, a truly beaten up M3 and a M2 which needs its 50 year service and they all have one thing in common: at no point did I ever feel that I would rather have been shooting anything else (aside from missing a meter in the meterless models).
In my opinion, all Leica needs to do with the M is to keep reducing weight (and thickness, if possible) and refining its digital innards to keep pace with sensor/imaging technology. That’s it. The M shouldn’t progress as a concept, because it can’t. That’s like asking a Ferrari to be more ‘BMW-like’ i.e. pointless. All you can usefully do is tweak what has already reached its conceptual zenith, or make a new model according to a different concept (like they did with the Leica SL). If this means that the Leica ‘fails to innovate’ with the M, but refines it over time, while making it cheaper and more accessible, Leica will be doing things right in my opinion. They will sell more bodies and people will buy more lenses, of that I have no doubt at all.
Yes, the digital M is maturing and stabilising. The list of future wants and needs is shortening. Second hand prices of bodies are falling gradually (the reduced price of the M262 surely helping further) and more people can now access a truly wonderful system. That makes me happy, because there was a time I thought Leica was alienating their true user (rather than collector) base. Cameras are for using and for many people, the Leica M Type 262 is arguably the best yet.
500-550g for the next model please, Leica!