Three Months with the Leica M10

This is not so much a review as opposed to a write up of my short experience using the M10 as a street and travel camera.

The M10 has been reviewed a million times, so rather than going into technical detail, I thought I’d compare it to other M’s that I have had a lot of experience with.

First and foremost, the big difference with the M10 is it’s size and weight. It feels like an M7, in fact in a side by side comparison, the M10 is actually a little smaller and lighter than the M7. So what? Well, with a smaller, lighter camera you’re more likely to sling it over your shoulder than you are with a Canon or Nikon which in turn means you’re more likely to use it.

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Leica M10; 50mm APO Summicron

Leica M bodies have always been small in comparison to SLR’s, however, in the last ten years, mirrorless technology has allowed other manufacturers to produce smaller and lighter cameras and indeed many are now even smaller and lighter than the Leica M. This was one of the two big mistakes Leica made with the M240 I think. It was just obese in comparison to any other M ever made. The other mistake was the sensor.

The sensor in the M10 is just perfect. Unlike the M240, the colours are more saturated and cooler, more realistic and cinematic, much like the colours from the M9 sensor. Auto white balance is the best I have seen on any full frame camera and I’ve never felt the need to manually set it.

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Leica M10; 50mm APO Summicron

The tonality the M10 sensor delivers seems to me to be perfect. Most of the shots I have taken are very realistic straight out of the camera. Yes, post is still required, as it should be, to make the shot your style, but you don’t need to do so much. I use Lightroom and Nik as my main post production apps and find myself doing less and less post work on M10 RAWS.

The other major pro for the M10 over any other colour digital M is the low light capability. The M10 produces useable results up to 10,000 ISO. It is capable of 25,000, but the files are grainy and, in my opinion, unusable past 10,000. The highest useable ISO on the M240 was 5000, and even that was a push.

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Leica M10; 35mm Summilux

Black and white conversion on the M10 is also much improved with much richer blacks and better tonality over the M240. It is not comparable (or even close) to the image quality produced by the Leica M Monochrom Typ 246, however, that is a dedicated black and white sensor and it’s probably not fair to compare the two.

The only real downside I’ve experienced with the M10 is the battery life. It’s just awful, but then the trade off for a smaller body is smaller batteries.

In my experience, the battery is good for 300 shots without using LiveView / EVF. If you do use LiveView / EVF, you can half that. I tend to mix it up a bit and use both and a battery gets me about 200 shots if I’m lucky. There are some things you can do to make your battery last longer, like turn off GPS and the screen, but realistically if you are on a whole day shoot you are looking at 3-4 batteries and they are a hundred bucks a piece! Leica really need to release a multi battery charger that can be used in cars.

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Leica M10; 35mm Summilux

The shutter release on the new M10 is soft and precise. Very German. I know a lot of M users get deep into how noisy M shutters are but I’ve never worried about it. The loudest shutter I’ve experienced is the Hasselblad V system. Trust me, when that mirror slaps up it’s makes a racket and I’ve used it to shoot candidly in the street. No one ever hears that so there’s no way they will hear any Leica M.

Another interesting difference between the M10 and any other digital M is analogue access to the ISO control. Leica have placed this where the film rewinder is on film M’s. It looks good, but to me it’s pretty useless as I tend to shoot Aperture Priority most of the time. I can see it being useful to those who like to shoot fully manual though.

As far as the sensor, weight and size goes, Leica has listened to it’s core user base and delivered exactly what they wanted. The M10 is back to being a real M, a proper Leica. Video is gone, LiveView is there (and very useful) but can be made to disappear by simply using the  rangefinder. The menu is tiny, fast and accessible. It’s back to being a tool and its stopped trying to be a system and this is huge for Leica M users. They wanted a small, light, fast, useable camera that gets out of the way and just lets them shoot, that is what a Leica M has always been about, and it’s back.

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Leica M10; 35mm Summilux

 

Now this might appear like I’m slagging off the M240, and I suppose I am. I had one for a couple of years and for the first three months I thought it was great. I could do video, I could do macros and frame perfectly with an electronic viewfinder attached, I could do lots of things I could never do with my M9… and after three months it lay sitting on a shelf, I just never felt inclined to pick it up and take it with me. The reason for this was it simply didn’t feel like an M. It felt like a big DSLR squeezed into a fat M body. It felt like Photoshop, full of useless crap you don’t want and you’ll never use. It felt awkward.

However, since the release of the M240, Leica have catered properly for the system market with the Leica SL and if you are looking for an end to end full frame Leica camera that can do everything you ever want to do in photography, that’s the road to take, not the M, not any M. Leica M’s are for a certain type of photographer who wants to make photographs… not get bogged down tackling functionality.

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Leica M10; 35mm Summilux

 

Here’s some pro’s and con’s…

PRO’s

  • Small and light
  • Fantastic colour, metering and white balance
  • Larger viewfinder
  • Tiny, accessible and useable menu system
  • Faster focus peaking
  • Faster EVF
  • Feels great

CON’S

  • Battery life is poor (300 shots without LiveView / EVF – 150 with LiveView / EVF)
  • Long order to delivery time

 

And so Leica has brought us back to basics with the M10. The most perfect digital M body yet… Now I’m off to shoot, where’s my M7?