Leica M9 vs. M240 (CCD vs. CMOS)… here we go again.

Inspiration, Q&A, Teaching point

Leica M(240) CMOSIS sensor

Something happened this week that compelled me to write this.

A well-known Leica guru and ambassador published a review of the Leica M240 and — unsurprisingly — praised most things about it: the new features, the new CMOS sensor, and (gasp!) even the EVF add-on.

The thing is, as I was looking at his sample images, my honest reaction was:  his previous Leica M9 photographs looked better.

My visitor statistics on Prosophos.com tell me one of my more popular posts this year is:  M240: More Thoughts.   Moreover, if I type the search “Leica M240 vs CCD” on Google, that same post and my Leica M240: Final Verdict post are currently the top two search results.   In fact, any combination of the search terms “Leica M240/CMOS vs. M9/CCD” on Google will yield one of my posts on either page 1 or 2.

I realized all this today, and wondered:  Why?

My best guess is that many of you see what I see, that the Leica M9 beats the M240 in the only thing that counts: image quality.

And no amount of cheer-leading for the latest and greatest will change that.

So I’ll keep photographing with my antiquated M9 until the successor to the M240 arrives.  And when that happens, if Leica sticks with a CMOS sensor (which they most certainly will), hopefully they’ll have enough sense to strike a deal with Sony.


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Prosophos Open Letter to Leica


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31 thoughts on “Leica M9 vs. M240 (CCD vs. CMOS)… here we go again.

  1. Evening Peter, I hope you’re well. The new M is a major change for Leica and those on waiting lists, lug issues and whatever other quarks that some are struggling with indicate how big a challenge this is.

    On paper the CMOS sensor chart data is impressive, even compared to the other leading sensors available. I really hope they can over come these challenges as I’d really like to see another sensor supplier other than Sony.

    And I agree with you that through post processing the CMOS files can almost look like the CCD files. But to me though we’re I’m only viewing online JPGs other than the few shots I did take with a 240. The images I took did require different processing in LR than the same scene with my M-E.

    The FF M9 is still and will be a great camera. It was not designed to be a rapid fire hope and pray camera. But one where the camera requires the shooter to be in control and the camera will not argue with that.

    I’ve had my first digital M for 6 months and I see no reason to have upgrade for a long time. My challenge is finally realizing I’m a 50mm FOV guy and just be satisfied shooting that lens.

    1. Funny, it took me 6 YEARS to realize I prefer the 50mm FOV. If it only took you 6 months Duane, then I think you’re doing rather well 🙂

  2. This again? Don’t you ever get tired of saying the same thing over and over, Peter?

    I like my M9 a lot. I look forward to buying an M next year or the year after too. They’re cameras, not religious icons. Work with what you like, concentrate on the photography.

  3. Godfrey, I absolutely agree with Peter. I’m sure that Peter shares his considerations just because, as a Leica lover, he wants the M to evolve as we all do but he’s not happy with the image quality of the current M version. It’s not about bashing Leica or other brands. To the contrary, it’s all about expressing the fear that Leica might not get the image quality to his (and my) liking in the future.

    Peter, I’ve had the very same impression on the latest photos taken by this person with his M240 and his photos taken earlier with the M9. He knows how to handle a camera, he has proven to shoot nice pictures and his retouching capabilities haven’t changed – so we can easily compare. I also prefer his outcome produced by the M9 by far. So I know what you mean and totally agree with your findings.

      1. Or perhaps you’re just comparing the best 10 shots from many, many years of shooting, with 10 average shots made in the last few months.

        If this is the basis for your assumptions of image quality, your logic might be flawed

        1. Thanks for your thoughts. Yes, that would certainly constitute flawed logic/analysis if it were true. In reality, I’ve based my assessment on several factors (see my previously referenced posts/comments).

          1. Well, I finally had occasion to do some side by side shooting with my M9 and my friend’s M(240). Looking at my photos, I disagree with you completely. The M(240) raw files are much better quality, have more detail and less moiré, more depth in the shadows, are more manipulable, etc. They produce better looking prints.

            You’re entitled to your opinion, and yes I still like my M9. But I know which camera I’d rather have.

            And no, I see no point to extending this absurd debate by providing my comparison files. Do your own tests and come to your own conclusions. I’m happy with mine.

    1. It’s hard to say what you are talking about if you don’t name the source of the photos that you’re displeased with. Who is this person and where is the set of photographs you are judging the camera by? I don’t read every single Leica gear blog in the world, every day, to pass judgement on the M.

  4. So Peter just to clarify your thoughts, it is more about the CMOS sensor that Leica custom made for the 240, as opposed to the likes of the RX1 CMOS sensor?

    You also mentioned the other day the D800/800e in a positive light from memory. Again a Sony sensor I think?

    1. I still prefer the rendering I see from my CCD sensors. I really believe that the manufacturers’ move to CMOS was driven by cost reduction and “me too” feature additions, and not for pure image quality considerations. And on an engineering level, the CCD sensor is more “elegant”, to borrow a mathematical term.

      Having said that, I like the D600/RX1(R) and D800(e) sensors (they’re all Sony sensors), and could live with a CMOS sensor of that calibre in a future M. But if they had just updated the M9 CCD, that would have been ideal for *me*.

      1. This move by Leica was to match sensor (custom made) and lense together I think I read somewhere when it was announced. Not entirely sure they have suceeded. The dynamic range is better so files are maleable, though lacks that micro contrast look of the CCD.

        I am not a fan of the black and whites in particular from the 240. They seem to lack depth.

        1. The strategy of matching sensor to lens(es) is sound (eg. RX1, Ricoh M module, Sigma DPM 1,2,3…). It’s just that a premium camera should be fitted with a state-of-the-art custom made lens… Objectively, the lens in the M240 scores reasonably well, but subjectively is lacking. Interestingly, the M9 behaved in the opposite way: it performed poorly when measured against objective benchmarks, but was/is capable of producing lovely images.

        2. Losing the microcontrast was what I was concerned about. I’m not sure from looking at the web images. The 240’s DR seems greater. The colors are nice. The microcontrast I’m not sure I can tell, but it appears that the M9 is better.

  5. Leica going with CMOSIS when pretty much everyone else went with Sony was an admirable effort…just like you find it not enough. however, the sensor is just one part of the equation in delivering the image Leica ultimately wants. I personally think that they should have hired Olympus for their imaging CPU and/or firmware. Olympus made stunning output with the very limited Panasonic sensors up to EP-3. I rarely have to tweak any RAW output from Olympus cameras…except, ironically enough, the EP-m2, which is a Sony sensor…still requires much less tweaking from, say, the Nikon D600 i also use.

    Leica going with Sony on the next iteration would be a copout. they should continue taking the road less traveled.

  6. Peter, interesting that I knew immediately whom you meant by the “well-known Leica guru and ambassador” whose “his previous Leica M9 photographs looked better” than his subsequent M240. That was because I had exactly the same thought when I saw his M240 photographs: the colour rendition of his M9 pictures is substantially better.

      1. Yes! When you have a detailed look on the photos by CCD Vs CMOS sensors, the difference is visible. The difference is not large however, the CCD sensor provide a third dimension on images on a 2D paper where as the same effect is not seen with CMOS sensor.
        For example, a good shot on waterfront with CCD (M9) will make you feel to take plung in the water, where as the same photo with CMOS sensor will be just admirable.

  7. I find it interesting that with each new iteration of Leica’s digital rangefinders, we seem to lose a little something. I think from the M8 to the M9 it had mostly to do with thicker cover glass over the sensor and it seems with the new M240 that glass is thicker yet again (each one seems a little less sharp, a little less micro contrast). The debate over CCD vs CMOS has gone on for over a decade now. Nikon for a long time championed CCD as having better overall image quality but eventually caved to consumer demand for cleaner and higher ISO speeds. It now seems that Phase One and Hasselblad are the last champions of CCD and as anyone who shoots with those systems will tell you, they are far superior to something like a D800e when it comes to skin tones, gradients and micro contrast. Of course, I’m sure the fact that Phase One’s RAW files are 16bit plays a factor as well.

  8. I began to shoot with Leica back in 1960 with an used 3f and a 35 mm Summaron. And my 53 year’s experience with Leica from M3
    to M 9 and then M-240 would qualify me to make the following comment :- Leica should work together with Sony to build a new
    generation of digital camera, using the 3f body, add a high quality EVF (no need of the expensive rangefinder) , m mount, and
    retail price not more than US$ 3000. Then, all Leica lens owners will not need to buy any other mirrorless cameras and m-mount
    adapters sticking expensive Leica lenses into inappropriate bodies.

    1. I agree that too many people put Leica or Zeiss lenses on inappropriate bodies, and then loudly proclaim them inferior (the Fuji X crowd being the worst offenders) when it’s really the sensor that is the issue, not the lens.
      However, I must disagree with Leica working with Sony. Sure, buy an EVF from them but I would avoid Sony sensors because I feel that they are somewhat flat and characterless in their rendering. Granted, the X1 and X2 managed to retain a little bit of the “Leica Look”, but I don’t feel they match the look that Leica was trying to achieve with their CCD sensored M8 and M9 cameras (nor does the M240 with it’s CMOSIS sensor).
      Leica does, absolutely, need to build a rangefinderless, EVF camera that plays nice with their lenses, even if that means a CMOS sensor but I think they should look elsewhere than Sony as everyone else has that “Sony Look” down already.

  9. By giving in to CMOS, Leica is repeating the same mistakes it did with the M5 and the Leica SLRs. In an attempt to compete against Japanese cameras with features as live view, peak focus, video etc, Leica is again trying to capture the larger market that buys Japanese cameras with more features. It didn’t work before and won’t work now. It will loose the following it gained in recent years with the M9. All we need is really a M10, with a 36 megapix CCD that takes great pictures and has the same quality black and white as the monochrome. That I would buy. Leica, please go back to your roots!!

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