Leica M10 review
I’ve wanted a Leica M for some time now. It’s the camera of choice for most of my favourite street photographers. The top of their game, they must be using the M system for a reason. Small size and quiet shutter are often cited, but in the advent of tiny, silent mirrorless cameras, how does the M stand out, and justify its price tag?
A few years ago I grabbed a film Leica, the M6 and fell in love with it. Simple and feeling so great in the hand, it forced me to consider my image taking in a way digital doesn’t. I enjoyed the raw process of shooting with it. I even shot a full day of street with the film incorrectly loaded (something I found out near the end of the day), but having no images didn’t bother me, I still enjoyed the process.
The problem with film is the expense. I’ve still got 3 year old film in my fridge waiting to be developed. So my M6 ended up looking pretty on the shelf.
In 2015 I bought the Leica Q, (I did a little review). A totally different beast to the Leica M system, it quickly became my main camera body for weddings. The only problem I had with the Q was that superb fixed 28mm lens. I needed a second body to cover weddings, 50 or 85mm focal length. The line up of M’s at the time were limited by poor ISO capabilities, so I used my Fuji X system alongside the Q. This worked a treat, except for the editing. Fuji and Leica files look really lovely, but vastly different. Most of my time was spent colour matching parts of the wedding day from these two different bodies. It got to the point at the end of last year that I didn’t use the Q as much, purely due to the editing hassle I would get.
I hoped for a new improved Leica M, finally, it was announced in January. I did my calculations and figured if I sold my M6 and some of my Fuji gear, I could get the M10 without selling any body parts. So I placed a pre order the day it was announced.
A month later, I got a call from the guys at Leica Manchester and headed straight to collect one of the first M10’s they received 🙂
For those reading that have never shot with an M, it’s a completely different experience from an SLR or mirrorless camera. The major thing, which would terrify most wedding photographers, it’s 100% manual focus. The M line of Leica’s use rangefinder focusing, I wont go into detail here, but rangefinder doesn’t relate to how a camera looks (often people incorrectly state the Fuji XPro2 or X100 are rangefinder cameras) – but how focus is obtained using a rangefinder patch through the viewfinder. Google it if you don’t know what I mean.
DESIGN + Function
The body comes in two options, black chrome or silver chrome. I opted for the all black version because I’m batman. The first thing I noticed when coupled with my 35mm Summicron, it felt exactly like my M6. So much so, that for the first couple of days my reflexes headed to the film advance leaver that is on the M6. This is a purposeful move by Leica, redesigning the internal workings since the M240 to create the thinnest digital M ever. It’s the perfect size for me, coupled with my 35mm, smaller than my fuji + 35mm set up.
It’s a heavy camera for its size, a magnesium alloy body will do that. But it doesn’t feel uncomfortable, more like satisfying. I’ve carried it all day shooting weddings, and for hours of street photography, and have not felt weighed down at any point. There are smaller and lighter cameras out there. But this is full frame, and feels built to last a lifetime.
Memory + Battery – The memory card and battery are located under the base plate of the camera, so changing either is done the same way as changing film. Slightly more fiddly than a slot on the side of the body, but it keeps the clean Leica look. Unfortunately this design means if you use a tripod mount to attach a strap (which I usually do), this has to be removed as an additional step to reach your memory card. Not a massive issue in street photography / personal work, but a potential issue for wedding photography where time can be of the essence.
Due to the thinner body, the battery is a new design. I get a decent amount of shots from it, even when using Liveview, but I’d get a spare. I went through 2 batteries on a 12 hour wedding day, but will get a third to be sure. At £110 per battery, I need to save some more money first!
Buttons – Simplicity is the key to this camera. Leica want to take all the distractions away from photography. Just 3 buttons on the back, Liveview, Play, Menu, plus a directional / selection button. The camera again ensures you think about framing, exposure and moment. My 3 year old could work this camera, and he has!
Unlike previous digital M’s there is a dedicated ISO button (where the film rewind spool resided on many film Leicas). It’s perfectly placed, and a welcome addition. You can lock the wheel in place, or leave it unlocked in changing light. The ISO dial goes unto 6400, with an additional “M” setting that can be programmed in the menu to any value you choose. I generally have this set to 12,500 or 20,000 depending on the situation.
The front of the camera features a frame line selector, a lens release button, and another button I had no idea was there until now. I just googled and discovered it will zoom and assist live view, useful, I’ll give it a go.
Menu – A simple menu system, not bogged down by sub menus. It’s possible to add any of the items to a favourites page, instantly accessible, it’s very handy for switching burst mode and quickly adjusting auto ISO values The screenshot below shows my favourites screen.
Standard in most cameras today. I was a little surprised to see it included in the M10. Works with my iphone, a useful feature.
FOCUS / LIVEVIEW
No autofocus to review here, but still lots to consider. There are three methods for focusing with this camera, all suited to different scenarios.
Rangefinder focus – Standard focus is achieved by using the rangefinder patch through the optical viewfinder as per usual with the rangefinder system. A failsafe way of focusing, it is what I use for 90% of a wedding day. It takes some getting used for the first couple of weeks, but becomes instinctive. I love shooting like this. The viewfinder is bright and little big bigger than previous M’s. I have no trouble seeing the 35mm frame lines, even wearing my glasses. With the lens hood attached to my 35, it blocks the corner of the frame, but nothing that bothers me.
Live view focus – Live view is accessed by clicking the LV button on the back of the camera. Auto magnification and focus peaking ensuring focus is spot on, even wide open. There is a slight blackout after taking an image in live view, the first firmware update addressed this, but it could still be improved. I find liveview really useful for quickly checking my exposure, focusing in low light, and getting perfect focus when wide open.
There is an optional Electronic viewfinder, the Visoflex. I had play at Leia Manchester, and definitely think this is a great option for low light shooting. I’ll be getting one soon.
Zone focus – I use zone focusing for all my street photography work. The M10 coupled with the 35mm summicron is the perfect combination. I’m slowly getting quicker at working out my zone focusing distances when shooting on the streets. I love the simplicity of setting my exposure, and not having to rely on the camera AF. It is near instantaneous to focus on any subject, near or far, this is why so many street photographers employ this technique.
The ISO capabilities of the previous digital M cameras have been behind the likes of Fuji and Sony. This time they have nailed it. The M10’s blow the M240 out of the water, and is as good as (if not better) than my Fuji XT2. I’ve shot 20,000 at weddings and have been happy with the noise levels. Unlike some other systems, the colours still look great at higher ISO’s.
One thing I did notice, is that the M10 is around a stop darker than my Leica Q. I ran a few tests to be sure. Exact same settings (shutter speed, aperture, ISO, focal length) and the exposure was much darker. I contacted Damian at DSB creative (awesome wedding photographer!) and he replicated the issue. So the ISO isn’t quite impressive as it first seems. I’d be interested to hear from anyone how it compares to other digital M’s.
FILES + Performance
The quality of the files is one of the main reasons I was drawn to this camera. They are just sublime. I don’t have an M9 or M240 to compare with, I just know I love the tone, dynamic range and look of everything out of the M10.
With so much manual control, its performance is largely down to the user.You cant blame this camera for your bad images. Saying that, it is sometimes the digital wizardry that goes on under the hood that is not upto scratch. It is a little slow to startup, so I just keep it turned on. Image review speed is a little annoying, if a burst of shots have been taken, I sometimes have to wait 15-20 seconds to review an image. Also, due to the Leica lenses, aperture information is missing from the exif data, which feels a bit strange, but something I quickly got used to. On the plus side, they have really sorted out the buffer speed, it’s not a camera for machine gunning, but knowing the camera internal memory will not slow you down is great.
In a nutshell
I’ve only shot one wedding so far (I’ll share a separate post with wedding images and thoughts soon), but have used it extensively for street and personal work for the past couple of months.
The simplicity and joy to use I associated with the M6 are what Leica have attempted to re-create with the M10. This is something they have achieved with previous M models, but they have refined it to a level I was happy to commit to this time. Smaller size, faster buffer, much improved ISO, less buttons, no video mode. Where other manufacturers are bolting on as many features as possible, Leica have been sure focus on the core values of a camera and deliver them perfectly.
Its a lot of money, and I know if won’t make me take better pictures than my other cameras. But I love it. Anyway, if I need the money in the future, I know it will hold its value 🙂
Some M10 street photography from the past few weeks…