The Leica M10 experience
The M10 was released in January, 2017 and is a refreshing new addition to the Leica M series of rangefinder cameras. Leica has designed a product focused on the needs of still photographers and dumped the video feature from the previous model M (Typ 240). Lets be honest, the key advantages of an M series camera are: rangefinder shooting experience, relatively small size & weight, and the fact that you can put amazing Leica lenses on the body without adapters. Keeping the design simple and not putting half-baked video into the camera was a good decision.
- 24MP full-frame CMOS sensor
- New Maestro-II processor and 2GB RAM for improved image quality and increase shooting speed
- 1.04 million-dot rear LCD (with Corning Gorilla glass)
- 5 fps max continuous shooting for up to 30 Raw frames
- ISO 100-6400 (extendable to 50,000)
- Center-weighted (RF), spot and 'multi-field' (LV) metering modes
- Revised and simplified menu system, includes user defined favorites
- Automatic lens corrections with 6-bit coded lenses
- Compatible with 'Visoflex' 2.4m-dot EVF for eye-level live view shooting
- Resistance to light showers, dust and bad weather is provided by special rubber seals
- Built-in WiFi
- ~210 shot battery life (CIPA)
- Weight (inc. batteries): 660g (1.46 lb / 23.28 oz)
- Dimensions: 139 x 39 x 80 mm (5.47 x 1.54 x 3.15")
Handling And Ergonomics
I used to own Canon DSLRs (1Dx and 5d) and sold them on eBay a couple of years ago. These cameras had superb image quality, electronics and lightening fast autofocus, yet I never bonded with them. Thinking back the main reasons I sold them were:
- SLR body and lenses were big and bulky
- Looking through the SLR viewfinder made me feel boxed in, since you can't see what is around the frame
- The plastic material used in camera and lens construction by Japanese manufacturers doesn't appeal to me
- Mirror bounce, noise and resulting blackout in between shots is annoying
The M10 is a precision milled instrument, with a solid metal construction, and black chrome finish. You need to hold it in your hands to get a true appreciation of the craftsmanship. The camera immediately formed a bond with me and I'm digging the minimalistic design.
The top of the camera has a shutter button, shutter speed dial (Bulb - 1/4000s) and an ISO dial. There are no "Leica" or "Witzler Germany" etchings on the top plate, which is welcome change from the M240-P. I end up putting black tape on the logos anyways, so the camera is harder to identify.
The shutter button has a good feel to it and leads to a satisfying mechanical shutter sound when pressed. You can shoot either in single shot mode or up to five frames a second in continuous mode. The great thing about shooting with a rangefinder is that your subject is always in view, unlike an SLR where the mirror bounce leads to a short blackout of the image.
The shutter speed dial allows you to move in full or half increments, although the ISO dial only rotates a full click, i.e. ISO 100 -> 200. Both dials have good resistance in order to minimize accidentally rotation. The ISO dial is well engineered and locks in place when pressed down.
The movie button from the M240 is gone and results in a simple looking top plate. There is a hot shoe present, which allows for accessories such as a EVF, flash, or Thumbs Up to be mounted.
I purchased the Leica half-leather case and recommend getting this for your M10. Not only does it protect the LCD on the back, but also gives you a better grip. A side effect of the LCD cover is that it discourages chimping, since you have to go through the extra step of folding down the cover to review a photo.
The M series rangefinders are an acquired taste. They force you to be deliberate about your photography and require an understanding of technical terms such as aperture, shutter speed and focusing distance. There is no autofocus system on a Leica, so you have to manually focus using the rangefinder or zone focus techniques. There is a ramp-up curve, but once you get hooked, there is no going back. The quality of photos I've gotten using rangefinder cameras is significantly better those I got from DSLRs.
The rangefinder of the M10 is the star attraction of this camera. It is bright and uses white LEDs to indicate the frame of the lens being used. A 28mm lens takes up almost entirely the frame of the rangefinder, while a 90mm lens takes up a much smaller central frame. I've had excellent results focusing with a 24mm, 35mm, 50mm and 90mm Leica lens on an M10. Framing with the 24mm lens is more difficult, although I ignore the LED lines and use the entirety of the rangefinder. The M9 and M240 rangefinders were excellent as well, although I'd give a slight edge to the M10 due to improved clarity and magnification ratio.
About 70% of the photos I take use deliberate focusing. You have to rotate the lens focus ring until the image aligns in the central rectangle of the rangefinder at the focus point. This requires practice, particularly shooting at wide apertures such as f1.4 or f2.0. Over time you learn to focus first and then recompose by moving your body to minimize distance fluctuations from the focus point. Using live view can help with precision focusing, although it causes a lag between when the shutter button is pressed and the image is captured. The lag is shorter than the M240, although it is still annoying.
The other 30% of the time I use zone focusing. This requires setting the lens aperture between f4 - f8 and adjusting the distance scale on the lens to where you want sharp focus. Leica lenses have a hyper focal distance marking on the lens barrel, which show the sharpness zone for a particular aperture. This technique works well for candids or street photography and I've also used zone focusing for fast moving or erratic subjects.
The Visoflex electronic view finder (EVF) is a 2.4 megapixel view unit and also contains a GPS. It can be paired with the M10 and performs significantly better than the Leica EVF-2, which was compatible with the M240. The higher resolution (2.4 mp versus 1.4 mp) allows for precision focusing and you can now zoom to any point within the frame by moving a cross-hair cursor. The GPS unit is sufficient, but definitely takes its merry time to acquire a signal and can be intermittent.
Leica skimped a little with the Visoflex EVF and didn't give us the most modern EVF, i.e. from the Leica SL. Still, if you use the M10 primarily as a rangefinder and use the EVF to supplement your shooting then it is progress over the earlier M models.
The Leica M10 is my favorite digital rangefinder and best M series camera yet. The mechanics have been simplified and improved over the older M cameras, while the electronics just got a significant upgrade. You can find more advanced sensors and electronics in cameras from other manufacturers, but the M10 represents a blend of mechanical, optical and electronic excellence, which makes it a joy to use.
Features that impress
- Design of the camera is elegant, build quality and feeling when held is your hand a step above the competition. Improvements include: mechanical ISO dial, black chrome finish and less button clutter.
- Optical rangefinder if a joy to look through. Viewfinder magnification has been increased by 30% to 0.73x compared to 0.68x on the M240.
- Full frame 24 megapixel sensor, which produces great colors, sharpness and low light performance. High ISO performance and dynamic range has been significantly improved over the the M240.
- The top plate is 1/8" thinner than the Leica M240. Weight has been reduced by a smidge as well.
- EVF resolution and lag time have been substantially improved over the M240. Although, still not as good as Leica SL or Sony Alpha cameras.
- Built in Wifi for connectivity with smartphones is a welcome addition
- Electronics of the camera have been upgraded with a faster processor and 2GB RAM. This enables 5 frames/sec shooting speed, along with more buffer for consequetive JPEGs and RAWs.
Areas for improvement
- Battery life is not as good as the M240 due to the slimmer battery design
- Visoflex EVF is an improvement over the EVF2, although the blackout time between frames is still noticeable.
- Image scrolling while previewing an image at full resolution is slow and jerky. Hopefully, this will be fixed with an upcoming firmware update.
- Connecting the Leica M10 to an iPhone using the M app takes time, the Leica mobile app is not high quality and can be inconsistent. Leica needs to invest in it's software engineering branch.