Utilizing Digital M User Profiles
Last updated on October 16, 2013
In this article, we're going to take a look at a user profiles on digital Leica M bodies. What they are and how to use them effectively - to increase both the speed and enjoyment of your camera. User profiles aren't discussed much, nor are they described in any great detail in the user manual. But if you operate under specific, varying conditions often or find yourself switching options on the camera a lot... They could be of great benefit. Even if you don't change your settings that often, everyone should create at least one - your own "default" settings. What these profiles are in a nutshell, are snapshots of all your camera settings that can be recalled quickly later.
First, a caveat. The specifics of using user profiles varies from one camera generation (covering one or more models) to another. The following cameras in each row function similarly, and represent the evolution of the digital Leica M:
- M8, M8.2, "M8u"
- M9, M9-P, M-E, M Monochrom, M9 Ti
- M (Type 240)
Each model allows the user to set and remember several profiles and recall them quickly via the SET button. What differs between them are the number of possible profiles and user-friendliness in managing them. The original digital Leica M was the M8 (and later M8.2 and "M8u" models - the latter being an M8 that was upgraded, unofficially). It offered four profiles, three of which could be set by the user. They could only be referred to by number (i.e. "User profile 1-3"). This meant having to remember what numbered profile did what. The first profile, "User profile 0" could not be modified and reset the camera to factory defaults.
It wasn't until the M9 (and later M9-P, M-E, M Monochrom, M9 Ti models) that user profiles became much more user-friendly. You could now store four profiles and actually name each one. This makes remembering them essentially a "no-brainer." You could enter a name up to ten characters long of mixed (upper/lower) case letters, numbers or spaces. The camera also has one profile (that cannot be modified) called "Snapshot profile." This used to be a shutter speed dial setting on the M8.2 but was moved internally to a profile with the introduction of the M9. It's as close to "auto everything" as you'll find on an M; white balance is set to Auto and ISO is set to Auto-ISO. If you place the camera on aperture priority, or A mode - all you need to worry about is focusing and setting the aperture. Needless to say, it was never - and is still not - very popular.
The Leica M Monochrom is somewhat different in that there are less (or different) camera settings than the M9 and variants - obviously because this is a monochromatic (B&W) camera. So you won't find settings to do with color saturation or white balance, for example.
The Leica M is different in a couple of ways, as there are a lot more camera settings that you can change and consequently store as a user profile over previous models. There is also increased functionality in that you are able to export and import your user profiles (more on this below).
Scenarios and Uses
User profiles don't suit everyone - as they're a very personal thing. There's no set of recipes out there as everyone shoots their own way in various situations. As we mentioned earlier, at the very least you will want to create one; we suggest calling it "Default." This is the easiest one to create and perhaps the most useful.
The notion of a personal default setting is essentially setting up the camera as you will shoot it most frequently. Set your base ISO, image format, white balance, etc. to the most common settings that you'd use - and store this as a profile, be it "User profile 1" on the M8, or "Default" on the M9/M. This way, when you're out shooting and you've managed to change your settings here and there for whatever reason... You can quickly return to a known configuration. Think of it not as Leica's factory settings, but your own.
So why use anything beyond that? You're only limited by the combination of the various camera settings that you select. User profiles are most beneficial when you're changing multiple settings to arrive at a particular configuration, as it's much faster to switch to (and from) them. Arguably, even changing a single setting can be made faster with a user profile; such as when it's buried in the menu and would require many key presses to get to and change (let alone back again).
Let's take a look at some scenarios that you may find yourself in and what camera settings you might change. In fact, we have our cameras set up with these very scenarios (including the default profile mentioned above):
|B&W||Compression: DNG & JPG Fine|
Sharpening: Medium high
Color saturation: Black & White
Contrast: Medium high
ISO: Auto-ISO (1/8s / 1250)
Auto review: Off
Monitor brightness: Medium low
|Velvia JPG||Compression: DNG & JPG Fine|
Color saturation: High
Given the above examples, it's easy to think of user profiles much like modes on a DSLR... Sports, Landscape, Night, etc. While true, shooting an M affords us additional interesting (or annoying) scenarios where a quick change of configuration can be beneficial. Say you had an old LTM or similarly uncoded M lens, especially something like a wide or ultra-wide angle. You could set Lens detection from Auto to something specific (manual) that works best with your lens. When you then want to shoot with that lens, one quick change of user profile and you're ready to go. When you switch back to your normal or other lenses, just load your default profile. Easy and fast!
How to Use
There are two things you need to know when setting up and using user profiles. First, you want to tweak the camera settings exactly how you want them for a given situation. To save them as a user profile, hit the MENU button and select (with SET) Save user profile. On the M8 you can save simple as a numbered profile (1-3). On the M9 and M you can select a slot and enter a ten character description, which would be the next prompt from the camera. Use the directional pad's up and down arrows to change the character and left and right arrows to change position. Once you're satisfied, simply hit SET again.
The second thing to know is how to recall your profiles. This is how their efficiency really shows... Any time you're shooting, simply hit the SET button, followed by the up/down arrows or turn the directional pad's dial until you get to Set user profile and hit SET again. This places you within your list of profiles. Select which one you want to activate with the up/down arrows or dial and then SET to select and exit. The camera is now setup as you defined beforehand! If you memorize this sequence (and you will) you can activate a particular profile without even looking at the camera and do so very quickly. Need to reset your camera to your default? On the M9 it could be as simple as hitting SET, up, SET, down, down, SET. However, this only works from a fresh power on of the camera or if you haven't used the SET menu since. As long as the camera is set to on, the SET menu will remember the last item highlighted, and won't necessarily be the first item (e.g. ISO on the M8 and White balance on the M9). Just an ergonomic niggle to keep in mind.
As the M9 was to the M8, the M marks another level of improvement over the generation(s) before. The Leica M user profiles operate much the same way, but the larger, higher resolution LCD of the camera is put to good use with more verbiage on the menu options and feature better use of colors as visual cues (e.g. when saving profiles; grey denotes a used slot whereas green means available). The important improvement however, is the ability to export (and later import) your profiles to the SDHC card. Why? Read on.
A problem common with the M8 and M9 series cameras is that firmware updates often obliterated your saved user profiles. This was not always the case but there have been many reports of this happening. With the Leica M it is now easy to export them to the SDHC card, update your firmware - and import them back if they ever get erased. You can also transfer your user profiles to other bodies using this method.
So that's user profiles! The hardest part is coming up with your personal scenarios and camera settings for each of the limited slots available. Once set, they're fast to access and should make using the camera in changing conditions much easier. Think of what you need before setting them up so as not to create extra work for yourself in case of error.