Leica M10 First Impressions Review and Samples

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The Leica M10 is a 24MP, full-frame, manual focus camera with an archaic coupled rangefinder focusing system, a tunnel-type optical viewfinder, no video mode and not even so much as a USB socket. And it’s absolutely lovely.

Key Features
  • ‘Newly developed’ 24MP full-frame CMOS sensor
  • 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 menu system (including customizable ‘favorites’ menu)
  • Automatic lens corrections with 6-bit coded lenses
  • Compatible with ‘Visoflex’ 2.4m-dot EVF for eye-level live view shooting
  • ~210 shot battery life (CIPA)
  • Built-in WiFi

Leica is a refreshingly unusual company in the modern camera industry – weird, wonderful, gleefully anachronistic but never, ever, boring. As such, Leica is one of those companies that I’ve always enjoyed writing about.

This is the kind of picture that generally, I don’t take. But being handed a Leica to review spurred me to make a bit more effort to get ‘street’ shots on a recent trip to New York. I used live view to capture this waist-level image without drawing attention to myself.

35mm F1.4 Summilux ASPH. F2.8 (ish), ISO 500. (Converted from Raw)

In fact, the very first camera that I ever reviewed right at the beginning of my career was a Leica. This was more than ten years ago, around the same time that the M8 was released, but I wasn’t (yet) trusted with such a prestigious product. The camera that I was handed to review was one of those rebadged Panasonics that the German company still officially maintains in its lineup, but doesn’t really talk about anymore. I forget the exact model, but it wasn’t particularly good. I seem to remember high noise levels, lens aberrations and clumsy, detail-destroying noise reduction being the main areas of complaint, all of which were enough to take the (figurative) shine off what was physically a beautiful camera, and all of which I dutifully reported in my review.

While the camera was forgettable, more than a decade on, that review still sticks in my mind. It was shortly after filing my draft that my editor at the time pulled me over, the printout in his hand, to explain that ‘there are certain words we do not use about Leica’. Apparently, ‘disappointing’ was one of those words, indicated (ironically) with large red rings of ink, wherever I had used it.

My draft was massaged accordingly, and I didn’t review another Leica camera for a long time.

When on occasion Leica has tried something genuinely new, like the brushed-aluminum touch-sensitive experiment that was the Leica T2, it typically hasn’t made quite the same impact on the group psychology of photographers and photography writers as its M, R and (more recently) S-series.For a great many years, there really was a kind of ‘reality distortion field’ around Leica, and to some extent there still is. With some exceptions (the Q being one of them), the company specializes in high-cost nouveau-classic products with few objective advantages over their competitors. It’s all about the look. It’s all about the feel. It’s all about the magic. It’s all about Das Wesentliche1.

‘The Leica Effect’

I’m not immune to the ‘Leica effect’ myself. I owned and used an M3 for years, and wildly impractical as it was (considering I was attempting to make a career as a 21st Century music photographer3) I’ve always regretted selling it. There’s just something about the M series, some intangible magic when compared to the average mass-produced camera, regardless of whatever new and wonderful technologies they might lack by comparison.

I still maintain that if you can accurately focus on a human subject with a fast Leica prime wide-open, you’ve earned the right to call yourself a photographer. It’s not easy – and that’s the point.

It’s been a long time since I shot live music, too. I didn’t expect much when I took the M10 to a rock concert, but apparently my focusing gets better after a couple of beers. 

35mm F1.4 Summilux ASPH. F2 (ish), ISO 3200. (Converted from Raw) 

For all that, I’ve never really enjoyed the digital M-series models. The M8’s APS-H sensor felt like a compromise, and both that camera and the full-frame M9 always felt a little bloated, their shutters a bit too loud, their images a bit too noisy. Things got better – the Typ 240 and Typ 262 are very good cameras, and the Monochroms are fun – but neither they nor their predecessors ever really truly felt like a continuation of the classic film models. Leica claims that adding a movie mode to the Typ 240 was in response to demand from its customers, but the idea of shooting video on a rangefinder always seemed a bit silly to me.

The M10 can’t shoot video – let’s just get that out of the way. If you really need video in an M-series body, the Typ 240 is still available.

Personally, as you might be able to tell, I like the M10 a lot more than the Typ 240 and 262. There’s no single major change which makes all the difference, but rather a raft of little tweaks which add up to (in my opinion) a more attractive product than the the digital Ms which came before it.

First Look: Leica M10

1. Which roughly translates as ‘The pure / the essential / the heart / the bits that really matter’.

2. With original firmware, I should make that clear. It got better.

3. Ask me how that worked out.

specifications

Price
MSRP $6595
Body type
Body type Rangefinder-style mirrorless
Body material Magnesium alloy
Sensor
Max resolution 5952 x 3992
Other resolutions 5952 x 3968 (JPEG, 24MP), 4256 x 2932 (12MP), 2976 x 1984 (6MP)
Image ratio w:h 3:2
Effective pixels 24 megapixels
Sensor size Full frame (35.8 x 23.9 mm)
Sensor type CMOS
Processor Maestro II
Color space sRGB
Color filter array Primary color filter
Image
ISO Auto, 100-50000
White balance presets 8
Custom white balance Yes
Image stabilization No
Uncompressed format RAW
File format
  • JPEG
  • Raw (DNG)
Optics & Focus
Manual focus Yes
Lens mount Leica M
Focal length multiplier 1×
Screen / viewfinder
Articulated LCD Fixed
Screen size 3
Screen dots 1,036,800
Touch screen No
Screen type TFT LCD
Live view Yes
Viewfinder type Optical (rangefinder)
Viewfinder coverage 100%
Viewfinder magnification 0.73×
Photography features
Minimum shutter speed 8 sec
Maximum shutter speed 1/4000 sec
Exposure modes
  • Program
  • Aperture priority
  • Shutter priority
  • Manual
Built-in flash No
External flash Yes
Flash X sync speed 1/180 sec
Drive modes
  • Single
  • Continuous
  • Interval
  • Exposure bracketing
  • Self-timer
Continuous drive 5.0 fps
Self-timer Yes (2 or 12 secs)
Metering modes
  • Multi
  • Center-weighted
  • Spot
Exposure compensation ±3 (at 1/3 EV steps)
AE Bracketing ±3 (3, 5 frames at 1/3 EV, 2/3 EV, 1 EV, 2 EV steps)
Videography features
Microphone None
Speaker None
Storage
Storage types SD/SDHC/SDXC
Connectivity
HDMI No
Microphone port No
Headphone port No
Wireless Built-In
Remote control Yes (via cable trigger)
Physical
Battery Battery Pack
Battery description BP-SCL5 lithium-ion battery & charger
Battery Life (CIPA) 210
Weight (inc. batteries) 660 g (1.46 lb / 23.28 oz)
Dimensions 139 x 39 x 80 mm (5.47 x 1.54 x 3.15)
Other features
Orientation sensor Yes
Timelapse recording Yes
GPS Optional
GPS notes via optional Visoflex EVF

Body and Handling

The M10 with lens removed, showing the gray stripes on the vertical-travel shutter that reflect light into the camera’s metering sensor for conventional center-weighted metering. Two additional metering modes, spot and multi-field, are available in live view mode.

Let’s start with the obvious things. The M10 is slimmer than the Typ 240. Not by much (about 4mm) but the decreased depth does actually make a difference. The M10 is the same depth now as the original M3, and although it’s a little taller, it has basically the same footprint as all of the film-era M-series. Four millimeters might not sound like a big deal, but the M10 definitely feels like a smaller, denser camera. It also apparently offers some degree of dust and moisture resistance although Leica is (understandably, given the lack of environmental sealing in its lenses) vague on exactly how much.

smaller, lighter and (sort of) weather-sealed

The M10 is also very slightly lighter than the Typ 240, too. Again though, not by much, and the decreased depth and correspondingly increased feeling of density effectively masks the drop in weight. More noticeable is the addition (finally) of a control point on the upper left of the camera’s body. In the film-era M models, this was home to a film tensioning / rewind knob, but up to now it has been left as smooth, bare metal in every one of the digital M-series. I don’t know why this has always bothered me, but it has. The cameras always felt like they were missing something.

Rangefinder focusing isn’t easy, but bright, straight lines on your plane of focus really help.35mm F1.4 Summilux ASPH. F4 (ish), ISO 1250. (Converted from Raw)

In the M10, this previously-empty space is occupied with a physical ISO sensitivity dial, which must be popped upwards in order to be rotated. Like all ‘manual’ ISO dials, I keep mine locked to ‘A’ most of the time, but the ability to pre-select all exposure parameters using physical dials with the camera turned off will be useful to some photographers.

A new ISO dial can be found on the upper left of the M10, with fixed positions for every ISO sensitivity within the standard range of 100-6400. ‘A’ stands for automatic, and the ‘M’ setting can be registered to an ISO sensitivity of your choice. To rotate this dial, it must be unlocked by being ‘popped’ upwards (shown here).

The M10 dispenses with the multi-position on/off switch of previous M-series digital models, making do with a much simple on/off toggle. This means that accessing timer and continuous shooting modes is no longer so direct (you have to find them in the menu) but they’re also less likely to be activated accidentally.

On the opposite side of the top-plate is the shutter button and integrated on/off switch, which is now – finally – a simple on/off switch. Gone is the multi-position switch that also gave all-too easy access to continuous and self-timer modes, and good riddance. Say goodbye to accidental self-timer shots – those modes are now accessed through the camera’s menu.

And then there’s the viewfinder. Compared to the Typ 240, the magnification has been increased to 0.73x (up from 0.68x) and the eye-relief has been increased by 50%, which is great news for anyone who wears glasses. According to Leica, the field-of-view has also been increased by around 30%. The end result is a viewfinder that feels larger and clearer than any previous digital M-series camera, and (except of course for magnification) comes close to the famously immersive finder of the M3.

A 3Q-view with the lens removed, showing the rangefinder coupling cam (it’s the cylinder at the top of the lens throat) and the frame-line preview lever just below the main viewfinder window. The M10’s frame-lines are illuminated by an internal LED, hence the lack of a traditional window above the lens axis.

The viewfinder frame-lines preview lever was omitted on the Typ 240/262, but has been reintroduced on the M10. You might never use it (I don’t) but it looks nice. Like the Typ 240, the frame-lines are illuminated by an internal LED, rather than ambient light collected via an optical window. I prefer the look of older M-series bodies that feature this window, but having the illumination built-in makes the frame-lines much easier to see, especially in poor light. The Typ 240 had an option for these frame-lines to be lit up in red, but this has been omitted in the M10.

The M10’s slimmer body has necessitated a smaller battery (8.2Wh compared to 13.2Wh in the Typ 240). The M10’s CIPA rating is a modest ~210 shots but Leica claims at least twice this figure in ‘normal’ use, and quotes a rating of ~500 shots when the camera is used in optical (rangefinder) mode.

The M10’s standard ISO sensitivity span covers 100-6400, and higher ISO sensitivities are still very shootable. With a 35mm attached, An auto ISO setting of 2/FL (1/60sec) kept this hand-holdable picture sharp in sub-zero shooting situations.35mm F1.4 Summilux ASPH. F2 (ish), ISO 6400. (Converted from Raw)

On the rear of the M10, Leica has simplified things quite a bit. With half the number of buttons as the Typ 240 (live view, playback and menu), the rear of the M10 looks far less cluttered than its predecessor. The dedicated ISO dial takes care of the need for an ISO button, and the ‘Menu’ button now works overtime. On first press it brings up a slimmed-down, customizable ‘Favorites’ menu, which only contains your most often-changed functions, and on a second press it activates the full menu. In playback mode, pressing ‘menu’ brings up a contextual menu overlay for image deletion or rating, negating the need for the old ‘delete’ button. The middle button on the 4-way controller effectively replaces the old ‘Set’ button, too.

A new ‘favorites’ menu makes it simple to get access to often-used settings like white balance. This list can be customized, and pressing ‘menu’ again provides access to a full menu.

Overall, this is a much more elegant approach than early digital M-series cameras, and makes the M10 surprisingly intuitive to use. I wish there was an option for one-touch 100% magnification, but once you’ve zoomed in (using the rear dial) you can at least jump between images at the same magnification by holding down ‘play’ and using the left/right buttons on the 4-way controller.

Live view shooting with a rangefinder? Not as silly as it sounds

Live view might seem like something of an anachronism on a camera modeled after a mid 20th Century rangefinder, but it’s very useful for candid shooting and waist-level compositions, as well as anything requiring critical framing. It also unlocks two of the M10’s three metering modes – spot and ‘multi-field’, both of which provide greater versatility than the conventional center-weighted metering used in normal rangefinder shooting.

The optional Visoflex electronic viewfinder makes the M10 a surprisingly useful camera in live view mode. 

During my shooting I’ve used live view at least as much as the optical finder, and I’ve come to really appreciate the experience of shooting with the M10 using the (optional) Visoflex Typ 020 EVF. Unlike the Typ 240’s companion finder, the $545 Visoflex Typ 020 offers decent resolution (2.36 million dots) and an eye sensor, which saves time and provides a surprisingly intuitive shooting experience. It also has a GPS module built-in.

Another candid shot where live view came in very handy. These sports fans didn’t notice my camera when it was sat on a tabletop, but I might have attracted attention if I had pulled the M10 up to my eye.35mm F1.4 Summilux ASPH. F2 (ish), ISO 640. (Converted from Raw)

Cleverly, the M10 knows when you’re manually focusing, and automatically magnifies a central area of the live view image to help out, with the option of focus peaking overlay. The automatic magnification puzzled us a bit (how does a manual-focus camera know when I’m turning the focus ring?) until we figured out how it works. The physical cam in the roof of the lens-mount which moves the viewfinder optics must be linked to a movement sensor. Very smart.

If this doesn’t work (if, for example, you’re shooting with a third-party lens that can exceed the typical Leica minimum focus distance, thus leaving the physical cam behind) focus magnification can be activated manually by pressing the small button on the front of the M10, just above the lens release.

Image Quality

Shooting a rock show with a rangefinder is a bit like trying to ride up Mont Blanc on a unicycle. You can do it, and maybe one of the people who sees you trying might think you’re pretty cool, but there are easier ways of getting to the top of a mountain. 35mm F1.4 Summilux ASPH. F2.8 (ish), ISO 6400. (Converted from Raw)
Auto ISO

I mentioned earlier that I tend to keep manual ISO dials locked to ‘A’. Some Leica users will cry foul at this, but I’m primarily an aperture-priority shooter, and I enjoy the luxury of only having to worry about one exposure variable. Also, I’m lazy. But this only works if the Auto ISO setting is actually useful. Fortunately, Leica’s automatic ISO system works very well. A simple 1/FL option is a good starting point, whereby the camera will stick to shutter durations shorter than (for example) 1/30 sec when using a 35mm lens. In addition, 2/FL and 4/FL options provide more insurance against shaky hands or faster-moving subjects, and you can also pick your own specific maximum exposure time from 1/500 sec down to 1/2 sec.

Image quality is superb across the M10’s standard ISO sensitivity range of 100-6400

Of course, the X/FL modes rely on the M10 knowing the focal length of whatever lens you’re using. Modern M-series lenses are ‘6-bit coded’, which means that the M10 can recognize their focal length and maximum aperture (albeit not the aperture you’re shooting at, hence the ‘ish’ noted in my image samples in this review). If you’re using an older lens, or a third-party one which isn’t 6-bit coded, you can enter its focal length manually in the menu system. If you don’t swap lenses much this is very straightforward, but if you shoot with a wide selection of older glass, it’s something to bear in mind. Auto ISO works in manual exposure mode, as well as aperture priority.

‘Newly Developed’ Sensor

Speaking of ISO sensitivity, the M10 has a new base ISO of 100, courtesy of its ‘newly developed’ sensor.

Leica won’t be drawn on the exact details, and we can’t perform in-depth lab testing on our late pre-production camera, but it certainly seems better than the 24MP sensors in the Typ 240 and the Q. At low ISO sensitivity settings there’s no banding, even when files are pushed considerably, and image quality is superb across the M10’s standard ISO sensitivity range of 100-6400.

At low-medium ISO sensitivity settings, the M10’s 24MP sensor delivers excellent resolution. And compared to some previous M-series models, its shutter is very discreet – certainly discreet enough to use in a library.35mm F1.4 Summilux ASPH. F2.8 (ish), ISO 500. (Converted from Raw)
The M10’s center-weighted metering system is a little prone to underexposure when there are strong light-sources in the scene. I set +1/3EV exposure compensation for this low-light shot but ended up pushing it further in Photoshop.35mm F1.4 Summilux ASPH. F1.4, ISO 12,500. (Converted from Raw)

Leica claims around 13 stops of Raw dynamic range and anecdotally, this is backed up in my use of the camera so far. We don’t know yet whether the M10’s sensor is technically ISO invariant but I have found that in Raw mode I can shoot the M10 in the same way as I tend to shoot the Nikon D750 in contrasty conditions – expose for highlights, and pull the shadows up later, without needing to worry about a lot of noise or banding spoiling the view.

This shot was not taken to deliberately test the M10’s sensor, I just messed up the exposure.

I shot in JPEG+Raw, and right now you’re looking at the out of camera JPEG. 

If you look really closely at the lower-middle shadow area, you might be able to tell that there’s a dog in there…

35mm F2 Summicron ASPH. F4 (ish), ISO 100.

Do you see it now? This is the simultaneously-captured Raw file, pushed by 3.5EV in Photoshop. As you can see, even after a fairly aggressive exposure push, there’s very little penalty in terms of image quality loss in what had been areas of deep shadow.

We’ll expand this section of our review when we have access to a fully reviewable M10. For now though, we’re impressed.

Conclusion

Looking for lines and patterns in snowy Manhattan. I used live view and the Visoflex EVF to make sure that the image I was looking at in the viewfinder was the image I wanted to capture.35mm F1.4 Summilux ASPH. F4 (ish), ISO 200. (Converted from Raw)

Shooting with the Leica M10 for the past few days has been a lot of fun, but every good conclusion should include some criticisms, and inevitably, there are several things about the M10 that I don’t like.

Leica has made improvements to its Auto WB performance in more recent M-series models, but it’s still not amazing, and there’s more tonal variance from shot to shot than I’d expect from a modern digital camera. Likewise, the center-weighted metering system is predictably susceptible to underexposure when there are bright point light sources in the scene (on the plus side, this system gives very nicely balanced exposures in low light).

This shot of the top of the M10 highlights its relatively uncluttered control layout. The small dial on the upper right shoulder can be used for various functions, but I’ve found it is most useful when configured as a direct exposure compensation dial.

While shooting is brisk (5 fps for up to 30 Raw frames is seriously impressive, in Leicaland) startup time from power off is a laggardly one and a half seconds. This is better than previous M-series digital models, but prehistoric when compared to a modern DSLR. Speaking of which, a battery life rating of 200 or so shots isn’t great. That said, just anecdotally, with WiFi turned off, some live view shooting and moderate image review, the battery level indicator in our M10 was still holding at almost 100% even after a long day’s shooting recently in sub-zero conditions in New York. I will add a caveat here, though – the battery indicator in our pre-production M10 does have a tendency to go from nearly-full to nearly-exhausted quite quickly – otherwise known as ‘doing a Fujifilm’. With this in mind, keeping a spare battery handy is probably a good idea.

While not an issue unique to the M10, there’s no getting around the fact that a system-wide minimum focusing distance of ~2.5 feet can be limiting, and accurate rangefinder framing is a crap-shoot, especially at longer focal lengths.

truly accurate framing with a rangefinder camera is a virtual impossibility

The M10’s viewfinder corrects for parallax to some extent (the frame-lines migrate diagonally across the finder when focus is racked from infinity to close up) but truly accurate framing with a camera of this type is a virtual impossibility unless you use live view. Another hangover from previous M models is the baseplate, which has to be entirely removed in order to change the SD card and/or battery. It’s a bit daft, but you get used to it. As with the Typ 240, the tripod socket is attached to the camera’s chassis, not to the plate. This makes the attachment more secure, but it also makes changing a card or battery considerably more awkward when the camera is being used on a tripod.

The M10′ base-plate must be removed to access the battery and memory card compartments. Shine on, Leica. You crazy diamond…

I wish there was a one-touch magnification option in playback mode, and I wish the M10’s front button could be customized. I wish the M10 had an electronic level, and I wish the ‘A’ setting on the shutter speed dial had a firmer detent. The Corning Gorilla Glass-covered rear LCD screen is improved compared to previous-generation models but 1.04 million dots is noticeably less crisp than the XGA screens on some pro DSLRs. I also miss the touch-sensitivity of the Leica Q’s LCD, especially when it comes to zooming and scrolling through images in playback mode.

None of these issues is serious enough to detract from my genuinely favorable opinion on the M10 overall, nor the fun I’ve had using it. It’s all about the feel, man. It’s all about the experience. It’s all about the magic.

Another example of the kind of picture I don’t normally take. This shot is cropped, to exclude some signage which I didn’t realize would be part of the composition when I composed it through the M10’s optical finder. The original Raw file is available in the full sample gallery if you want to compare.35mm F1.4 Summilux ASPH. F2.8 (ish), ISO 400. (Converted from Raw)

The Leica magic is a product of the company’s legacy, which was primarily founded on finely constructed, high-precision rangefinder cameras. Leica can make a solid claim to have popularized the 35mm film format, with its (for the time) highly compact L39 and M-series rangefinders. Throughout the golden years of 20th century photojournalism, generations of photographers gilded the company’s reputation by carrying their cameras into every corner of the world, and coming back with images that in some cases, changed it.

Back in 2006, when my old editor insisted I tone down that review, I doubt that he was under any pressure from Leica for a positive write up. I honestly believe that as a longstanding bulwark of the ‘old’ camera industry (and the old media), he was demurring out of respect to his image of the company as a stalwart member of that industry. A company with such an important and hard-won place in the history of photography that it could not in good conscience ever be said to ‘disappoint’.

Don’t worry – the dog is light, and the ice thick.35mm F2 Summicron ASPH. F5.6, ISO 100. (Converted from Raw)

The same sort of thing happens sometimes in music magazines when reviewers are called upon to assess yet another forgettable ‘comeback’ album from an aging rockstar. A sense that yeah, sure, maybe it’s not a shade on their earlier work, but give them some credit – their earlier work was era-defining, and this should be taken into account. A certain deference often comes into play whereby these figures are assessed in perpetuity not for who they are, but for who they were. In other words – ‘they’ve earned this – don’t spoil it’.

Well now, finally, I think Leica has genuinely earned it.

Any excuse to run this image again – this is my (long-since sold) M3. Minus some cosmetic details (and a film frame advance lever) the M10 is a very close physical match for Leica’s classic film rangefinders.

Final thoughts (for now)

All in all, the Leica M10 represents an impressive melding of the classic and the very modern. It’s the first digital M-series camera that I’ve used which doesn’t feel like a slightly self-indulgent compromise. It’s discreet (much more so than previous models like the M9), and its 24MP sensor is capable of excellent results. Live view is available for those times when rangefinder focusing (or framing) isn’t precise enough and the camera’s simplified menu system keeps my attention focused where it should be – on taking pictures.

We must reserve final judgement until we’ve been able to test a fully-reviewable, final production camera. For now though, I’m confident that the M10 is arguably the most attractive, least complex, most sensible, least cynical digital rangefinder that Leica has ever produced. The days of LIFE magazine, when journalists like Larry Burrows, Dicky Chapelle, Sean Flynn and Dana Stone would chopper off into the jungles of Vietnam with a brace of M3s around their necks are over, but I like to think that at the very least, those great photographers would be able to pick up an M10, use it, and recognize it as a continuation of the film rangefinders that they carried. In other words, as a tool, not an expensive toy.

Sample Photos

Please note that because the Leica M10 captures Raw images in the open .DNG format we have opted to make this a primarily Raw gallery, with all conversions ‘to taste’ alongside downloadable original .DNG files. We make the originals available for private users to download to their own machines for personal examination or printing (in conjunction with this review), we do so in good faith, please don’t abuse it. Unless otherwise noted images taken with no particular settings at full resolution.

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(dpreview.com, https://goo.gl/MsuKUr)

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