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Leica M (Type 240) Resolution Comparison

Published March 31, 2013

First and foremost, let’s be very clear: I am not a rangefinder shooter and certainly not a rangefinder reviewer. But I’m more excited than most people about the new Leica M (Typ 240) camera for one simple reason. It has live view and focus peaking so at long last I can, if I want, actually focus a Leica camera. (I have a vision problem that prevents me from focusing a rangefinder accurately.)

But like a lot of people I viewed Leica’s move to a CMOS sensor, rather than the CCD used in the Leica M9 and Leica M-E cameras, with a bit of trepidation. That 18-megapixel CCD had more resolution than one would expect from an 18-megapixel camera. Despite the sensors many limitations, I was concerned that a ‘modern’ 24-megapixel CMOS sensor might actually be a step backward on the resolution front.

So, while I’m not a reviewer, I am a tester and have access to a nice Imatest lab. It seemed a good idea to compare the MTF50 of the new M Type 240 against the older M9 with the same lenses.

I’m pretty sure I’ll be the only person to do this for one simple reason. The new base on the Leica M makes setting the camera up for Imatest incredibly difficult. It wasn’t easy on the previous Leicas, but setting up the M-240 took around 2 hours at just one focal length.

So what you have here is a comparison of MTF50 using the Leica 50mm f/1.4 Summilux ASPH lens. Since the same lens was used for all three tests and for each, multiple focus bracketed images checked and the sharpest kept, it should give us a nice comparison of differences in the sensors.

For those of you wanting numbers on other lenses, I hope someone checks for you. It won’t be me — the M type 240 is just too difficult to set up. But this should, at least, give us a comparison of system resolution with the same lens between the new M-240 and M9.

The M9 (left), M-240 (center), and M Monochrom (right) looking wildly different. 


Imatest Results

I’ll just give the results as tables with MTF (measured in line pairs / image height) in the center, averaged over 13 points, and averaged in the 4 corners. (Both horizontal and vertical resolution are measured at each point.)  We’ll measure at f/1.4, f/2.8 and f/5.6 for each camera.

Leica M9f/1.4700610500
Leica M (Type 240)f/1.4740630590
Leica M9f/2.81030850640
Leica M (Type 240)f/2.81070860770
Leica M9f/5.61110970790
Leica M (Type 240)f/5.61140990860


Well, obviously my initial concerns were incorrect. The new M-240 resolves at least as well (measured by MTF 50) as the M9 did. It probably is just a bit better. I don’t want to split hairs – the differences in the center and overall are pretty small and probably of no, or very little, significance.

The difference in the corners, though, does appear to be approaching significance. (One thing to note, in determining the overall weighted average, the corners count only 25% as much as the center, and half as much as the mid points, so the corner difference gets masked a bit in the ‘average’ number.)

Why would there be a corner improvement larger than the improvement in the center or midpoints? My first guess would be that Leica, those masters of on-sensor microlenses, have improved the microlenses on the new sensor. But that could be entirely wrong.

It might also be that the corners are better with a 50mm lens and won’t be as different at other focal lengths. Or perhaps this camera was just perfectly in tune with this lens. (We only have one right now, so I can’t do a comparison.) Hopefully, someone else will decide that’s worth further investigation.

But for any of you who were, like me, a bit hesitant about the new sensor, it’s really good. Judging by what real reviewers like Steve Huff, Ming Thein, and Sean Reid are saying and showing, this is rather redundant anyway. The images are awesome.


Roger Cicala

April, 2013

Author: Roger Cicala

I’m Roger and I am the founder of Hailed as one of the optic nerds here, I enjoy shooting collimated light through 30X microscope objectives in my spare time. When I do take real pictures I like using something different: a Medium format, or Pentax K1, or a Sony RX1R.

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  • RVB

    “Overall, this is not a meaningful upgrade, after 4 years.”

    I disagree.. It could have ben better… Diglloyd lista the main snags but it is still a big improvement .. DR is better.. ISO is better..(not Nikon better but still better)

    It can also use R glass and focus with live view..

  • Chris Livsey

    Jan 2nd 2012 you did the 50mm Shootout, M9, good correlation at f2.8, Centre 1025 now 1030 Average 860 now 850, but at f1.4 a bit more out, Centre 600 now 700 Average 530 now 610, better sample wide open this time? Just shows one of your mantras, sample variation, even Leica.

    Have to say “It probably is just a bit better” is not a ringing endorsement to spend the cash. “the images are awesome” as they can be, under the right conditions, with my M8, is also true of any top of the class camera from the big boys.

    As ever great thanks- you do the work so we don’t have to.

  • unlingua

    Overall, this is not a meaningful upgrade, after 4 years.

    The M is a sad disappointment. This is a bad time to upgrade from the M9/P, and not a terribly exciting time to jump into Leica.

    Maybe in 2014 (roughly 2 years from the M debut) we’ll see the announcement of a 2nd generation sensor with a meaningful step-up, particularly in ISO performance.

  • carlo

    new M is a Cmos camera Canon/Nikon quality, so not bad but not good as a CCD Camera; So the point for me is: why cost so much? In the past they said that CCD sensor is very expensive many time more than a CMOS!
    So a new Leica full fram CMOS camera have to cost less than the ME.
    all the electronic features, video etc are in the CMOS technology so Leica do invent nothing in this M to ask as to spent about $7000!

  • Fred

    their conversion to CMOS is minimal from the CCD, and the price is a little sticky too, maybe the M-E will be a good buy after all.

  • Too bad you didn’t have the new Leica 50mm APO lens to test with the two cameras. Would love to see how this new 50 performs on the new M.

  • Roger Cicala

    The Wi Fi card workaround might work. The setup involves 3-plane geared heads to mount the camera to: a hotshoe mount wouldn’t be stable or accurate enough I don’t think.

  • mounting the camera via the hotshoe to a tripod doesn’t count as a valid workaround? or is there some other problem than the bottom-plate-cover with the Leicas and Imatest?

  • So with others you can the camera perpendicular using some sort of tethered shooting or an Eye-Fi card, but the Leica not?

    By the way, the Imatest link is not working, I was interested to see what it led me to.

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