Leica M review: How does the new 24-megapixel CMOS sensor in Leica’s latest rangefinder perform?

By Paul Carroll - Thursday March 14 2013

Sensor Review
Introduction | Leica M sensor performance | Leica M versus competition | Conclusion

Leica M: CMOS sensor provides a welcome boost for Leica M image quality scores

Featuring a new higher resolution sensor and updated functionality expectations are high for the new Leica M and it doesn’t disappoint. Although remaining true to their ‘no gimmicks’ approach the addition of an improved LCD screen with live view, as well as the increased ISO sensitivity range are welcome additions that update Leica’s digital rangefinder for the modern era.

The latest 24-megapixel CMOS sensor offers not only six million extra pixels but DxOMark’s Sensor Scores indicate a +1 Stop improvement in overall image quality compared to the previous 18Mp CCD sensor. As well as offering more consistent Color Sensitivity across the ISO range there’s also an impressive extra +1.6 Stops boost for Dynamic Range and its low-light ISO scores are improved too, again beating previous versions by around +1 Stop.

So a big step in the right direction although the new sensor doesn’t quite match the heights of the best sensors DxOMark have tested or those of flagship DSLRs. Compared to the best sensors the Leica M is a little off the pace with the Sony RX1 and Nikon D800 boasting around +1 Stop better image quality overall.  

Against the Nikon D4 and Canon 1Dx the overall scores indicate the Leica M is either better or not far off in terms of Color Sensitivity and Dynamic Range. These overall scores are a little misleading however as image quality on the M drops quickly as ISO sensitivity is increased compared to this DSLR competition, which deliver a more consistent performance up to ISO 3200.    

Nonetheless a welcome improvement in image quality demonstrates Leica made a wise choice switching to a CMOS sensor. If you’re after a Leica digital rangefinder and your budget can stretch to $6950 the new M offers better image quality, features and functions compared to the $5450 M-E Typ 220.