I daydreamed of owning a Leica M9 for years. When I was finally able to bite the bullet it was both the first Leica and first rangefinder I shot properly. To this day there’s little I’ve enjoyed using more and the M9 has certainly had a strong influence on the way I’ve been shooting for the past 6 years.
It would be hard to argue it isn’t showing its age though. Even back when I first got it there was a clear step down in dynamic range and high ISO usability from the cameras I’d been shooting at the time. Its atrocious screen and less than discrete shutter sound have also stood out as downsides.
I’ve gotten used to working around the shortcomings though and I’ve rarely felt too limited by the M9.
Still there have been some twinges of feeling annoyed, realizing that far smaller and cheaper cameras with just slightly newer tech were often much more forgiving under challenging conditions.
So while I’ve been happy enough with the M9, the thought of an upgrade has been with me for some time.
Leica M 262 / Voigtländer 50/2.5
When the M Typ 240 came along it looked like a clear cut upgrade over the M9, improving on weak points and ironing out most niggles. I began thinking about moving over to the newer camera. But then I got to handle one.
The M9 isn’t particularly light. The metal construction results in a camera that’s heavy for its size.
Unfortunately the newer M 240 is even heavier. A 95g difference might not sound like much, but it’s definitely noticeable in hand.
This heaviness had also carried over to the operation of the newer camera. Added features such as live view, video, clip on EVF, configurable frameline color et cetera had made the M 240 more complicated. There were a lot more menu items to keep track of as well as a number of new buttons.
As someone who isn’t really too fazed by the derided menus in recent Sony cameras for instance, I’m sure I could’ve gotten on with the M 240 just fine. It’s just that for me a big part of the appeal with the Leica line of rangefinders is their simplicity and I felt like that had been at least a little bit lost with the M 240 as compared to the M9.
Overall the M 240 was starting to look like a less clear cut upgrade and more of a two steps forward, one step back type of a situation.
As the M 240 was also more than twice the price at the time I felt it wasn’t worth it. I decided to hold off from upgrading, sticking with the M9.
Leica M 262 / Voigtländer 28/3.5 / Leica 50/2
Launched in November 2015, three years after the M 240, the M 262 is a pared down iteration on its older sibling.
It removes live view and video capabilities, loses the ability to mount an external EVF and to switch frameline color. A few buttons are removed as they’re no longer needed with the reduced feature set.
The top and bottom plates are now made from anodized aluminum rather than painted brass, saving weight*. It also features a new, quieter shutter mechanism.
* The switch in material and treatment results in a more matte finish that is more durable than painted brass, though it will wear in a way that some might feel is less graceful.
Other than that it inherits the tech and ergonomics from the M 240.
The changes between the M 240 and 262 are pretty minor in the grand scheme of things, but taken together the result is that the M 262 feels much more attractive to me.
The simplicity of the M line feels more intact here than with the M 240. But it’s still more capable than the M9, polishing out most of its downsides. As such the M 262 feels like a more logical progression not only from the M9, but from the M line as a whole too.
It also doesn’t hurt that in terms of aesthetics I find that the tweaks done compared to the M 240 result in a more cohesive looking, attractive camera.
Leica M 262 / Voigtländer 75/2.5
As I had gotten in to shooting film most of the time back when the M 262 launched I had shelved my plans to upgrade from my M9. Instead I was mostly shooting my M4-P, and later the M3, with my M9 and other digital cameras seeing only occasional use.
Lately though, I’ve felt more keen on shooting digital again and the thought of upgrading popped back up.
I certainly wasn’t in any huge rush to upgrade though – I was enjoying the M9 more than ever. But when an M 262 came up for sale locally I decided it was a good time to make the switch.
Leica M 262 / Leica 50/2
At first glance there’s very little setting the M9 and M 262 apart. The cameras both look and feel extremely similar.
This level of familiarity also carries over in use and the basic shooting experience is almost identical. Sure some buttons are placed a little differently, but adjusting to the new camera was super seamless overall.
This is a huge plus to me as I enjoyed shooting the M9 so much, but if the barebones rangefinder experience isn’t for you the M 262 obviously isn’t going to change that.
It takes a keen eye to tell the two cameras apart. Can you spot the differences?
With all these similarities it can be easy to forget that compared to the M9 the M 262 is a completely new camera from the ground up. Every component and feature has been overhauled and modernized.
The M 262 feels far more refined and polished than the M9. To me, these are some of the most noticeable changes:
To me a lot of a cameras personality comes from the way its shutter sounds. In this regard the M 262 is wonderful. I find it to be among the nicest sounding cameras I’ve shot. The sound is subdued but still confident and distinct. It’s worth underscoring just how big of a difference it is to the noisy M9; they really are worlds apart in this regard and the M 262 is much more in line with the discrete ethos of the M line.
Higher resolution screen
The screen on the M9 is plain awful, no two ways about it. The one on the M 262 on the other hand is a big step up. Contrast, brightness and resolution are all good and the screen works well for judging both sharpness and exposure.
The most noticeable changes are seen from the back. The higher resolution screen is a huge improvement, as is the integrated thumb grip.
As someone who enjoys the outdoors regardless of weather it’s always made me a bit paranoid that the M9 lacked any proper sealing. The M 262 adds at least some level of protection. So while I’m not convinced it’ll stand up to being drenched the addition is still a nice peace of mind change.
I’m a fairly frugal shooter and never had much issue with the M9’s battery life, but the M 262 is still a noticeable improvement. Just as an example – we spent three weeks at our country house this summer and I shot the camera each and every day, but didn’t need to charge it even once. It’s certainly impressive and to me it takes battery life almost totally out of the equation.
50 and 75mm framelines in the Leica M9 and M 262 respectively. Note how much brighter and more evenly lit the M 262 ones are. Something that has both pros and cons.
The move from CCD tech to a more modern CMOS architecture gives the M 262 major improvements in image quality. High ISO is cleaner by close to two full stops and dynamic range is expanded by a similar amount. There’s a slight boost in resolution too, though it’s less noticeable than the other changes. Overall the M 262 is a very capable camera in terms of image quality, holding its own under most conditions, even compared to contemporary benchmarks.
That’s a pretty substantial list and it’s safe to say that the M 262 feels a lot more refined as a result.
I’ll wrap up in a bit but before moving on I’d like to dwell on that final bullet point just a little, as it’s something of a point of contention around the web.
Leica M 262 / Voigtländer 50/2.5 / 75/2.5
The CCD in the M9 has some steadfast fans that find the output in good light far more appealing than what’s coming from the more recent CMOS-based cameras. To them it’s worth sticking with the M9 because of this alone.
I can certainly see where these opinions come from – under the right circumstance the M9 offers output that is exceptionally appealing, often almost straight out of the camera.
The CMOS-based M 262 on the other hand offers files that are more flexible and end up usable under a broader spectrum of circumstances. However the starting point is a little flatter and more work is sometimes required to bring out the best in the files.
Occasionally the output from the M 262 also doesn’t have quite that same luster in the quarter tones under ideal conditions as the M9.
But even under those ideal circumstances I end up preferring the possibilities of subtler tonality the M 262 offers a lot of the time. And whenever I stray from the optimal I end up always preferring the M 262.
There is one additional nuance to the image quality of the M 262 that feels relevant to bring up, and that’s color rendition and potential changes between the M 240 and 262.
Researching the M 240 I was never quite sold on the color rendition I was seeing in a lot of the samples. But getting the M 262 I was positively surprised. The output signature felt more balanced and appealing than I’d anticipated*.
* My expectation was to need to set up some custom profiles to get a color rendition I’d feel fully happy with. This is something I’m reasonably comfortable with, but in the end it’s not something I’ve felt the need to do here.
Now I do want to preface this by stating that I’ve not been able to find any conclusive information on whether or not anything has actually changed between the cameras. It might very well be that now that I have some files at hand to work with, they’re easy enough to adjust to my liking. But as there are enough reports on there being differences I suspect there to be at least some changes in the color profiles between the M 240 and 262. Leica’s also made a few cryptic statements on the underlying hardware, so there might be even more to it.
Regardless of potential changes to hardware or color science I must say I enjoy the default output of the M 262 more than I expected, in fact I like it a lot.
The palette is punchy but still neutral. It often tends to the warmer side. Reds and oranges can come out a little hot and I often dial the red channel back quite a bit. I also generally prefer bluer greens than most cameras give me, the M 262 included. Overall though the output feels well balanced.
Compared to the M9 the color response feels more stable – it’s more neutral, generally more accurate and doesn’t act up as much under tricky light.
So in broad strokes then, I find the M 262 a significant step forward over the M9. The M9’s CCD look is certainly appealing under the right conditions, but to me the output from the M 262 is generally as attractive and always better from a technical standpoint.
Leica M 262 / Voigtländer 75/2.5 / 50/2.5
One last, and very abstract, point that I’d like to make is one of personality.
I’d argue that the M9 is brimming with it. Picking it up, shooting it – it’s instantly identifiable. The paint on brass finish gives a dense and rich feel, the noisy shutter underscoring every frame captured. It’s unforgiving and you need to work around the cameras limitations to get good results.
The M 262 gives a much gentler impression. It’s more helpful, soft spoken and eloquent. It comes across as more permissive and less of a naysayer.
This more tender personality is a good thing for sure, but at times I wonder it’s making the camera a little less interesting. I’ve found satisfaction in wrangling the best out of the M9 and in some small way the M 262 doesn’t feel quite as exciting.
Still the newer camera is certainly more transparent and easier to get along with in use. The more I get to know it the more I appreciate the gentler temperament. It gets out of your way more than the M9 does and that’s what I always tend to strive for in the gear I shoot.
Leica M 262 / Zeiss 50/1.5
When I first got the M9 I felt like it was the camera to end all cameras for me.
The shooting experience, the simple interface and compact, minimalist design were all incredibly well aligned with what I was – and still am – looking for in cameras.
However over the years it’s become a slightly rocky relationship. It’s needed a few repairs that mean I couldn’t trust it quite as much as I’d like (even though I probably should’ve at this point). Some of its niggles have also become increasingly hard to accept and for my use its technical capabilities fall just shy of allowing me to do everything I want with it.
My impression of the M 262 after shooting it for the past few months is that it pretty much resolves all the reservations and niggles I’ve felt towards the M9. It’s a more capable and refined iteration on a concept that’s extremely familiar to me by now. It also reaches a level of performance where I find it hard to see ever wanting or needing much more. It’s less unique in some ways, but it’s also easier to get along with.
Perhaps the M 262 also won’t be the camera to end all other cameras for me, I’m a bit more pragmatic these days. But then again I can’t see any reason why it couldn’t be. It’s the closest I’ve ever come to the ideal digital camera for my tastes.
All photos in this post were taken using the Leica M Typ 262. The lenses used were the Leica Summicron 50/2 V, Zeiss ZM 50/1.5 Sonnar, Voigtländer Color Skopar 28/3.5, Color Skopar 50/2.5 or Heliar 75/2.5.
Images of the cameras were made with a Sony A7 and Leica Elmar-C 90. Exif-data is intact. Open any image in a new window for a closer look.