The M240 hurt Leica.

The news today that Leica has reduced its lens prices by 12% should come as no surprise.  Leica has been quietly discounting new lenses and cameras and selling them as “demos” for many months, and those same lenses and cameras have been languishing on dealers’ shelves for at least as long.

Why has Leica, who had trouble meeting demand for its products several years ago, experienced this reversal of fortune? 

Simply put, the M240 did not ignite the passion of photographers (or at least camera purchasers) and it didn’t become the blockbuster Leica had hoped.  And since camera sales drive lens sales, the lenses are now – figuratively and literally – collecting dust.

People who follow this blog know of my passion for the M9 and of my distaste for the M240 (see my Open Letter to Leica).  The reasons for this have been well documented, so I won’t rehash them here.

Even if you put my personal bias aside, the M240 was made obsolete by other CMOS-based cameras (I’m thinking specifically about Sony’s cameras) the moment it hit the streets.  The M9 at least offered something different, while remaining true to the Leica ethos.

Whatever Leica does with the next M, I would humbly suggest that they focus on the following:

  1. superior image quality
  2. reliability
  3. a less-is-more interface
  4. rangefinder accuracy and precision
  5. weight and size reduction.

Until then, I’m holding on to my M9P and M9 Monochrom*.

—Peter.

*Incidentally, my good friend Alex here in Toronto (who sells more Leica gear than anyone else in Canada) tells me that he has trouble selling new or used M240s, while used M9s fly off his shelves, despite the very well known sensor corrosion issue.

34 thoughts on “The M240 hurt Leica.

  1. andygemmell says:

    Alex’s experience is universal it appears….well at least here in Australia.

  2. Dave (D&A) says:

    No doubt there are a variety of reasons why Leica lowered prices in North America. Some say its the strength of the US dollar. I honesty don’t know but also got the impression that there was aglut of new cameras and lenses. Like yourself Peter, I’ve stuck with the M9 and MM. Although I don’t favor the M240, I’ve often wondered why Leica at the very least didn’t release a regular production varient of the M240 that simply removes the video, EVF capability, focus peaking etc., and simply released a simplified model based closely on just the features that many current M240 users say they primarily use with their M240’s. I know it’s not CCD based but in my opinion a more purest digital camera. I’m not refering to the M60 limited edition which does have some appeal.

    Dave (D&A)

  3. Andrew says:

    A cheaper M240 stripped of unneeded features would likely do well, though like you I prefer the M9. I took delivery of a brand-new M-E two-weeks-ago (very hard to find these days) and couldn’t be happier. Likewise after two years of use I’m still smitten with my M Monochrom and have no plans to upgrade.

  4. Roger Wojahn says:

    I’m with you and an M9 – P user for the last three years. The only addition I would make to your list is to include a professional, original equipment magnifier and diopter that would stay on the camera. I was in Tokyo a couple of weeks ago and was amazed at the prices for used M-9s and Monochromes. Not much of a discount to new. All hail the CCD sensor!

  5. Gary says:

    Agreed Peter! Like any high end product of significant cost, it reaches such a position through quality and uniqueness that sets it apart. CMOS, Scheemos; CCD is at the heart of this uniqueness.

    Did you hear that Porsche are building a front engined 911…………………………….I doubt it!!

    • Joeri says:

      Funny you mention the 911. You’re not the first to do so. Surprisingly, the 911 DID go through a similar transition as the Leica M did. When Porsche announced they would no longer build air cooled boxer engines and replace it with water cooled engines, all the Porsche purists went mad. Totally. We’re more than 20 years past now and the 911 will never be built with an air cooled engine again. But people love the new 911 series from the 996 and up. They’re faster and more economical than ever. There’s a group that still loves the old 911 series, but it’s all good now. In fact, a lot of people own both an old air cooled 911 and a new 911, like the 991. They both deserve its place in history. I think the 240 does too. Being one of the few pros here in Holland shooting with the M-system, I like the M240. It’s not better than the M9, just different.

  6. PI says:

    I was under the impression the M240 outsold the M9 in terms of units sold maybe I am misinformed. (Does anyone know)

    Any way I see with the new Monochrom coming prices dropping on the old one, one dealer here has reduced by $2,000 AUS in the last week, I definitely want the old one so I hope the prices continually drop.

    I agree Sony with the A7 series is the main culprit😀 Hmmm I wonder what their A9 will do, Leica next has to be good.

  7. Jason DeBord says:

    I’m not a Leica user, but have always followed users and changes in technology with great interest (and love this site and your work).

    I wonder how many Leica users – who are driven more by image quality than maybe the unique rangefinder experience – are tempted by the (relative) lowering of costs of medium format cameras, the Pentax 645z in particular (which is widely hailed with a body cost of under $8,500)? In the case of the Pentax, I don’t think the lenses can compete with Leica glass, but the sensor and some of the abilities of the camera (i.e. shooting in low light) certainly offer something compelling.

    I also wonder how many Leica users are putting their lenses on Sony A7 cameras (or at least watching these releases with some interest)?

    I did personally try out the A7s (to user exclusively on one lens) and it was the most non-camera-like experience I’ve had with an interchangeable lens system (felt like a camera version of a PlayStation).

    Certainly, it feels like the photography landscape changes pretty dramatically year to year these days…

    Jason

  8. You have a point and from what I can tell, you are right. Or, at the worst, you are not wrong. What are Leica’s USPs? Rangefinder camera: check. Nobody else does that for now. But what about the details? Having a CMOS is basically me-too marketing. Perhaps the 246 does not need a CCD, but the colour M bodies probably would benefit. Mind you, lots of people love the colour from the Fuji sensors, and they’re CMOS.

    I did throw Leica a few suggestions: a touch screen on the next M; let the RF cam convey distance information to the camera (this would help with flash metering as well as lens corrections in RAW converters).

    Another idea might be to implement a variable AA filter by virtue of a vibrating sensor, just like Pentax does. Or maybe do what Fuji does with its X-Trans Bayer arrays. But those are secondary considerations.

    Leica is not the only manufacturer to experience a slump, if indeed that is what’s happening. DSLRs are hardly in a golden age. I bet lots of sports photographers are happily using old D3’s and so on. Newspapers and magazines don’t need anything better as far as sports and politics are concerned. And if you wanted better, you’d invest in a digital MF system or something.

  9. sgoldswo says:

    Peter, why is it then that M240 use has been rising significantly on Flickr recently (it’s now the number 1 Leica body on Flickr)? Could it be that what’s happening with the Leica discounts on lenses is simply people realising there are far cheaper lenses to adapt to Mirrorless bodies that will give very good results (eg Oly OM, Pentax, Nikon AIS etc)? All Leica are doing is removing more recent price rises on their lens range.

    There’s an interesting side point here in that I’ve been wondering for months what the impact of the price rises on Leica lenses over the last 2-3 years would be. I think we now know – they are negative for sales given that such an active secondhand market exists for M mount lenses, voigtlander and size glass punches hard in terms of price/performance too. If Leica wants to expand sales they need to give more love to their more reasonably priced glass and avoid artificial differentiation. Despite the fact people like me buy the APO cron to use on my M240, I don’t imagine lots of people are buying the £4000+ glass. so while the per unit margins are great, that doesn’t seem like a longer term business plan by itself.

    • sgoldswo says:

      “zeiss glass” rather than “size glass”. I love autocorrect…

    • Have you held any of the new Leica “reasonably priced glass” in your hands? It’s definitely a step down in quality, yet doesn’t remotely approach the price of glass from other vendors. My take is to pay the premium for the good stuff.

      • sgoldswo says:

        I think what I’m trying to say (likely poorly) is that Leica needs to sell lenses to make money. The debate on Peter’s site might be all about CCD vs CMOS but from a corporate perspective, that’s irrelevant to Leica aside from its impact on how many lenses get sold (because that’s where the volume is – similarly its where Canon and Nikon make money too). Ultimately though, lens pricing is a bigger factor here. I’m not arguing the case that the existing summarit line is perfect, but rather that Leica needs to be selling that line and making money from it. In fairness, they also need to sell and make money from the (current) Summicron (the non APO 50 jumps to mind) and Elmarit lenses too, because the market for the APO-Summicron 50 and Noct isn’t big enough to carry the rest of the company. I kind of hate myself for saying that, because it sounds like an argument for Leica to become Nikon. It isn’t, it’s just making a point that focusing solely on the top of the range isn’t a sustainable volume business.

  10. Linden says:

    USD / EUR strengthening a prime cuplrit I think. But it is interesting that you can buy anything you want from the Leica catalogue without delay (at least here in Hong Kong), and even the limited edition M60 is still not sold through, and is offered at good discounts.

    But I take no pleasure in that (and I don’t think you are implying that you are either). The switch to CMOS was ‘going with the flow’, so not an unusual decision, even if CCD might have strengthened Leica’s niche play. Then again, if the M240 had been CCD, and faced the same corrosion issue as the M9, I think they would be feeling even more exposed now.

    I agree with your 5 priorities. I might humbly add some sort of sensor cleaning solution, and for your number 4. I wonder if some kind of self-calibration technology couldn’t be employed based on specific optical tests. (That idea springs to mind in light of the AF calibration built in to some DSLRs now). At least with live view on M240, we can know when RF is mis-aligned via live view confirmation… but doesn’t exactly help when you can’t do anything less than send the kit off. (2 attempts to buy the Noctilux were abandoned when both brand new samples were found to be back-focused, consistently, on 3 different digital M bodies).

    I remember you had issues with the MM when you first tried it out. I hope you have more luck this time.

    Have you decided not to buy the 50mm APO-Summicron?

  11. I sold my Leica M9 last summer because I just was not using it enough and wanted to sell it while it still had value. I have read your arguments about the virtues of CCD and signed your letter. I agree that the CCD sensor definitely had a unique look and it would be nice if Leica offered both. I bought a Sony A7R and Novoflex Leica M to Sony E mount adapter. I have no problem paying big bucks for a lens, but the price of the M240 for me is ridiculous. I can understand a premium for the Leica name but to pay $7,000 for a camera body that is already obsolete makes no sense. I would be happy if they made a less expensive, full frame, smaller camera body with an EVF. I enjoyed the rangefinder experience, but could be happy with an EVF. Sensor technology is just changing too fast for me to spend that much money.

  12. sgoldswo says:

    To add to your list, I would suggest wifi and in camera RAW processing. I would love it if every picture was a lovingly processed work of art – sadly sometimes speed matters and that’s where cameras with more options, such as wifi (think Nikon, Fuji and Sony for example), come into their own.

  13. Alex M says:

    The price in Europe ( and rest of the world? ) is not reduced at all. $ has gained more than 25% of its value over € during the last 12 months. 12% “reduced” price in North America and Leica is still taking overprice…
    If they sell less, I do not believe that’s because M240 is not good ( unique? ) enough. In my opinion ( again – if true ) it would be more due to harder competition on the market ( Sony e.g )…

  14. Leonardo says:

    I would love to replace my M240 by an updated CCD-based M model, however, I have the opinion that the CMOS vs CCD issue is not the reason of current Leica sales numbers.

    Today one can buy a new Sony A7II for US$ 1,500. A better camera from a pure technical point of view, which is a fair priced, full frame option to bulky DSLRs.
    The price discount happens due to the dollar strength, which is something that is currently affecting other businesses as well.

  15. jkjod says:

    I see it as both Sony and Leica’s fault – for sure Sony has hurt them though. If you wanted full frame and something smaller than a CaNikon, then Leica was the only game in town. Then Sony released the A7…I would much rather use a rangefinder personally, but digital Leica’s are out of my price range. A7’s on the used market are well under $1000 now. I have one, it makes great images – but if Leica had a similarly priced digital rangefinder than what the A7R was at its debut I would jump on it in a second.

  16. Philip says:

    My opinion is that Leica had no choice but to adopt the CMOSIS sensor for the M240.

    (I doubt there will be a satisfactory solution for the IR filter problem and I am also not convinced that ON Semiconductor will pursue further development of its CCD sensor line.)

    However, I heartily agree with your five bullet points, with the exception that I would place reliability at number 1.

    • Adam Spencer says:

      Hi Philip, On Semi are still pursuing with CCD as its still preferred for Medical scanners. At its heart CCD is a superior light gatherer to CMOS. However the off pixel processor is power hungry and takes space, mobile phone companies prefer CMOS and thats where the money and development is. The corrosion issue was due to bonding agent with IR filter rather then a CCD issue. Leica have stated they want to use a European producer, which limits CCD, ON Semi’s multi change of hands makes quality control difficult to enforce, a European company is literately on their door step. Like most here I would like an up to date CCD camera, I prefer the look and if the off pixel processor can be brought up to date should be superior, reduce pixels to 12,14,16 MP like A7s, Nikon D4 and even if the processor is only slightly better combined should provide the 1 or 2 stops of ISO. Unlike most here I want it to have video capability, nothing amazing but there are times when as I’m shooting, being able to capture movement and sound is very useful. (my 10 year old CCD point and shoot can do it). I’m going for image quality first, but reliability is very close behind. For cost saving, one body, CCD, CMOS, MM. plus a viewfinder as clear as my M3, or choice like M7 (.91 option of .85)

      • andygemmell says:

        Sony sell over 40% of sensors in the world and could be more however they can not keep up with demand. It indicates that CMOS is leading the charge and once you get that level of supply it’s going to be a struggle to compete. Some serious R&D.

        Build a $3000 body with a CCD, but some of the qualities of the 240 and see how things go! Please….:-)

      • Philip says:

        The corrosion issue is not a problem with the CCD sensor per se, but with the thin (0.8mm) IR filter covering the sensor.

        The IR filter material (Schott S861), while effective, has long been known to be chemically and structurally fragile.

        Once the IR filter is damaged, heat (CCD’s get hot!) and humidity result in sensor corrosion.

        Leica / ON Semi is constrained as to the materials they can use for the IR filter as it cannot be too thick because of refraction issues with short nodal length lenses.

        (Refraction is an issue because the photo diodes of all current CCD and CMOS sensors are located at the bottom of deep wells.)

        So, given the known constraints:

        1) The thickness of the IR filter (it can’t be too thick)
        2) The time and cost to develop a suitable replacement (R&D is expensive and time consuming, also, there is a limit how long M9 users can be expected to wait)
        3) The very small market

        I am not optimistic that an alternative IR filter material can developed and produced in a reasonable period of time and for a reasonable cost.

        (If a better material were available, Leica/Kodak would have used from the onset, as they were fully aware of the limitations of the Schott S861 glass.)

        The only feasible, short term “solution” I can envision, is to replace the current filter with a stable, non-IR material. (The same filter material as on the M8 sensor?)

        Of course, this means going back to using IR filters on the lenses. I am not sure how many M9 users will accept this as a “suitable” fix. This is something that Leica needs to discuss with the M9 user base.

  17. I sold my M240 and felt lucky that my financial loss wasn’t worse.

    I found the M240 to be buggy (the camera would lock up almost every time I took it out for a shooting session), almost impossible to shoot with due to Leica design considerations (shot bracketing would go away when the camera went into sleep-mode, fixed in a later firmware update), an incredible dust magnet, very heavy (compared to M film bodies) and big. Not to mention hideously expensive.

  18. Arlo says:

    Nice photos on this site with M9.

    Stunning photos on Thorsten Overgaard site with M240

    Amazing photos on Ming Thein site using Nikon 800

    Shakespeare – Much ado about nothing

  19. TC says:

    I recently sent my 3 year old M9 to Leica USA due to sensor corrosion. Got it back in 2 months. Leica replaced the sensor, re-calibrated the rangefinder and replaced the leatherette, although it seemed fine to me, Leica said that it needed to be replaced. Now my unique M9 has the same leatherette as my MM (the old M9 leatherette was no longer available). What I got back was a brand new M9, at no cost, including the shipping. I am not sure how long the new sensor will hold out, but I will keep the M9 and MM as long as Leica is around and parts are available. As soon as I got it, took a few shots and again the CCD “pop”, with brilliant colours takes me back. What Leica needs to do is get back to its roots. My ideal is a M10, CCD 36 MP sensor with no corrosion problem. Make it the same size as the M9 with a faster, bigger buffer and no live view, video, just the basics. That I would buy.

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