Camera Review: The Leica M-10
April 4, 2017
While Leica has a diverse camera lineup that covers everything from a $300 instant film camera to a five-figure medium-format camera, the beating heart of the Leica brand is unquestionably its M-series rangefinders. So when a new M comes along, as it has in the form of the M10, it’s kind of a big deal.
The M10 is a successor to 2014’s M-P digital rangefinder (which stays on the market). It’s a manual focus camera with a streamlined feature set that’s short on the bells and whistles that typically accompany cameras costing half as much. While it may not have an abundance of features, it does deliver a few notable firsts to the M-series line. First (sorry), it’s the fastest digital rangefinder to date, with a continuous shooting speed of 5 fps. Second, it’s the thinnest digital M ever built. Finally, it’s Leica’s first rangefinder with built-in Wi-Fi.
You can use Wi-Fi to remotely change exposure settings like shutter speed, remotely trigger the shutter or wirelessly transfer images from the M10 to your mobile device. If you’re the type to throw caution and internal memory to the wind, the Leica M-app can transfer DNG files to iOS and Android devices too—not just low-resolution JPEGs.
While it has the same resolution as its predecessor, the M10 employs a new 24-megapixel full-frame CMOS sensor that’s been reengineered to deliver improved sharpness, wider dynamic range and improved results when shooting wide open. There’s no optical low-pass filter on the sensor, either.
The M10 has an ISO range of 100-50,000, adjustable in 1/3-stop increments. Mechanical shutter speeds top off at 1/4000 sec. and you can take long exposures (using the self-timer function) of up to 125 seconds. Thanks to the Maestro II image processor and 2GB buffer memory, the camera can fire off at 5 fps for up to about 30 images in RAW (DNG) or JPEG.
As noted above, the M10 is the thinnest digital rangefinder Leica has ever made—on par with the analogue model of old. But its tinier dimensions haven’t diminished its durability. The M10 is weather-sealed and is an incredibly solid piece of magnesium alloy. The 3-inch LCD is built from scratch-resistant Gorilla Glass. If you were in a tight spot, you could brain someone with the M10 and probably not damage the camera. (Note: We didn’t try this.)
In keeping with its minimalist theme, Leica trimmed the number of menu buttons on the back of the camera to three. Unlike its predecessor, the M10 has a dedicated ISO dial (ISO, aperture and shutter speed can all be set via manual dials even when the camera is off). Unlike the aperture and shutter speed dials, though, the ISO dial requires a firm nudge up before it can turn. Leica clearly wanted to avoid any accidental ISO dial turns with this design, but in practice it proved cumbersome.
The viewfinder has also been tweaked from the older M. The M10 offers a 30 percent larger field of view than its predecessor and the magnification factor has been bumped to 0.73x. No complaints here. Another nice touch: the eye relief (the distance of the eye from the viewfinder eyepiece) has been increased by 50 percent–which those of us saddled with spectacles definitely appreciate.
One design element of the M that we’re not a fan of is the bottom of the camera. Rather than an integrated door for a memory card and battery, the entire baseplate is removable via a simple screw. Once removed, you’ll have access to the memory card slot and battery hatch, but it means that you’ll have to fumble with a loose piece of metal whenever you want to change a battery or swap out a memory card. It also means you can’t replace memory cards if you’ve screwed a quick-release plate in (quick release plates need to be screwed in when the baseplate is attached). Obviously, most M users are likely to have the camera dangling off of their (scarf-clad) neck and not on a tripod, but it’s still a design element to consider.
Leica spends plenty of time promoting the concept of a “Leica look” and while we can’t say we necessarily discern some metaphysical difference in the M10’s images from those of other cameras, we’re still extremely impressed with the image quality coming from the camera.
We were huge fans of the image quality of the M10’s predecessor and this 2017 update only ups the ante. We were particularly impressed with improvements to the camera’s dynamic range. The M10 does an excellent job with high-contrast scenes and while 24-megapixels isn’t a high-water mark (particularly for a camera with the M10’s steep price tag), most users should be happy with the detail it resolves. Color rendition is first rate.
The camera does an excellent job suppressing image noise through ISO 3200. Noise pops up in RAW files at ISO 3200 but you’ll be able to remove it with an undue loss of detail up to around ISO 12,500.
The M10 is a camera for deliberative photography. Yes, it’s faster than prior Ms, but the lack of AF means it’s not really optimized for speedy image capture. That said, Leica offers plenty of focusing aids to ensure you can compose your image swiftly—either through the viewfinder or even through the camera’s display. There’s focus peaking to help confirm focus when shooting in live view mode. You can also magnify subjects in live view mode to confirm focus and move the point of magnification around the frame.
If you’ve never shot a Leica rangefinder before, focusing through the viewfinder takes a bit of getting used to. You’ll have a small floating box in the center of the frame that overlays your view through the viewfinder. As you rotate the focus ring on the lens, the box will shift until what it’s displaying is precisely mapped onto what you’re seeing in the viewfinder. It can be a bit tricky to ensure these match neatly (and you’re in focus) if what you’re shooting is dark and/or devoid of finer details.
As we’ve noted above, the M10 doesn’t overflow with bells and whistles, so your menu experience is pretty streamlined. We liked that the opening menu can be customized to present a list of favorite settings so you can quickly access what you want. If you need to make further tweaks, there’s a second, comprehensive menu accessible in this initial quick menu.
One consequence of the M10’s smaller body is a tinier battery. Where the prior Leica M could fire off close to 1,000 frames before the battery taps out, the Leica M10 manages around 700. Still very respectable.
It will come as a surprise to exactly no one that the M10 commands a steep premium over similar rangefinder-style cameras. For less than half the price of the M10, you could spring for the Fuji X100F and enjoy 4K video recording, autofocusing, film simulation modes and much more. The Fuji has a fixed lens, a shorter battery life and a smaller image sensor, but you’ll have plenty of pocket change left over. If you’re undeterred by the M10’s price tag, you’ll be delighted by its performance and image quality.
PROS: Superb build quality; excellent image quality and dynamic range; Wi-Fi; weather-sealed design.
CONS: Clumsy bottom plate hinders access to memory card and battery; pricey for the feature set.