TEN OUT OF TEN

More of the tra­di­tional stuff on the out­side, less of the con­tem­po­rary stuff on the in­side – the M10 is de­signed to be more like the clas­sic 35mm film mod­els, so does that com­pro­mise how it works as a mod­ern dig­i­tal cam­era?

Camera - - ON TRIAL -

ever since Le­ica ven­tured down the ‘dig­i­tal M’ route, the chal­lenge has been balancing the new with the old. The M is Le­ica. It’s the sig­na­ture dish and the com­pany has vowed that there will al­ways be an M model in its line-up… which has been the case since 1954. The orig­i­nal M3 wrote the rule book for the 35mm rangefinder cam­era and there was lit­tle need to make too many changes un­til dig­i­tal cap­ture came along. Since then it’s been a case of try­ing to work out how much clas­si­cal RF cam­era to re­tain and how much dig­i­tal imag­ing tech­nol­ogy to adopt. As the se­ries of mod­els since the M8 was in­tro­duced in late 2006 at­test, it’s not an easy mix to get ex­actly right.

A big is­sue is man­ag­ing con­sumer ex­pec­ta­tions. Some want a stead­fastly con­ser­va­tive ap­proach while some want Le­ica to cut loose and do a full-blown mir­ror­less de­sign, per­haps even with a hy­brid OVF/EVF like Fu­ji­film’s X-Pro2.

It could be ar­gued that Le­ica is al­ready cater­ing for the con­ser­va­tives with the pared­back M-D, but for many this model is just a bit too Spar­tan while, at the other end of the scale, nei­ther the SL nor the TL have enough rangefinder DNA to be con­sid­ered by the more pro­gres­sive M afi­cionado. In truth, there is prob­a­bly still room for a Le­ica ‘X-Pro2’, but for now what the M10 rep­re­sents is a more con­sid­ered mix­ing of the key el­e­ments of the clas­si­cal and the con­tem­po­rary… a more prac­ti­cal in­ter­pre­ta­tion of the com­pany’s ethos of Das Wesentliche which trans­lates as ‘The Es­sen­tial’.

Le­ica says that the M-D rep­re­sents “state-of-the-art dig­i­tal rangefinder pho­tog­ra­phy in its purest form”, but in many ways – and for many more po­ten­tial users – the M10 is the purer man­i­fes­ta­tion of the state-of-theart… with­out com­pro­mis­ing any as­pect of Das Wesentliche.

THE NUM­BER IS UP

Firstly, there’s a re­turn to the tra­di­tional model num­ber­ing, drop­ping the ‘Typ’ fac­tory des­ig­na­tions which were al­ways go­ing to end in con­fu­sion. In­evitably, the M Typ 240 – orig­i­nally ex­pected to be the M10 back in 2012 – be­came the M240 in jour­nal­is­tic short­hand so we were right back where we’d left off with the M9… just en­tirely out of any mean­ing­ful se­quence.

Le­ica’s orig­i­nal ob­jec­tive with the Typ num­bers was to cover the var­i­ous spin-offs from the main model such as the M Typ 262, but then the spin-off from the spinoff, the M-D, was also called the Typ 262. And the M-P is also a Typ 240 be­cause it’s es­sen­tially an M240 mi­nus any badg­ing. Sooo… mov­ing right along.

At a rough guess, the M10 is re­ally the M11 or per­haps the M12 since it’s more a di­rect de­scen­dent of the no-video-please M262. But it re­ally doesn’t mat­ter… what’s im­por­tant is that Le­ica is still build­ing a clas­sic rangefinder cam­era with its roots firmly back in 1954 with the orig­i­nal 35mm M3 (which, in­ci­den­tally, came be­fore the M2 and M1, but that’s an­other story), but un­der the skin is also util­is­ing all the es­sen­tials of con­tem­po­rary dig­i­tal cap­ture. In other words, ev­ery­thing that, if we’re be­ing en­tirely hon­est with our­selves, is ev­ery­thing we ac­tu­ally need.

It may look like the pre­vi­ous M dig­i­tal mod­els – which isn’t en­tirely sur­pris­ing, re­ally – but the M10 is ac­tu­ally quite a lot dif­fer­ent, both ex­ter­nally and in­ter­nally. The bodyshell is still diecast mag­ne­sium al­loy with brass top and bot­tom plates – so it ex­udes that won­der­ful feel­ing of both rugged­ness and re­fine­ment – but it’s slim­mer and lighter. In fact, size wise, the M10 is more like the 35mm M7 – still go­ing strong, by the way – than the M240 and this, ac­cord­ing to Le­ica, rep­re­sents the “dream di­men­sions”. It’s re­ally only a mat­ter of mil­lime­tres, but sur­pris­ingly it does make a dif­fer­ence… the other dig­i­tal M mod­els do look a bit pudgy in com­par­i­son – the pro­por­tions aren’t quite right – and the M10 just seems to fit a bit more com­fort­ably into the hand. This was al­ways an en­dear­ing char­ac­ter­is­tic of the later 35mm mod­els, ren­der­ing a hand­grip re­dun­dant.

In a cross­over be­tween the old and the new, the base­plate fully de­taches to ac­cess the bat­tery com­part­ment and mem­ory card slot, just as it does on the film cam­eras. Le­ica used this con­fig­u­ra­tion – rather than a con­ven­tional hinged cam­era back – be­cause it helped pre­serve the bodyshell’s struc­tural in­tegrity and while this is ob­vi­ously less of an is­sue with a dig­i­tal cam­era, it’s a nice clas­si­cal touch. Of course, it’s not so nice if there’s a need to swap mem­ory cards when the cam­era is mounted on a tri­pod. As much as is pos­si­ble with this body de­sign, there’s rea­son­able pro­tec­tion against the in­tru­sion of ei­ther mois­ture or dust, but the M10 isn’t fully weather-sealed. Of course, it helps that there are no aper­tures for built-in mi­cro­phones or any con­nec­tions of any sort (ex­cept for screw­ing a ca­ble re­lease into the shut­ter but­ton).

WIDER VIEW

Still on mat­ters ‘ana­log’, the M10 also has a re­vised viewfinder de­sign with the field-of-view in­creased by 30 per­cent, the eye­point by 50 per­cent and the mag­ni­fi­ca­tion upped to 0.73x.

The Le­ica viewfinder still has to be a ma­jor rea­son for buy­ing an M – which, in­ci­den­tally stands for mes­sucher, the Ger­man word for a com­bined viewfinder and rangefinder – and, iron­i­cally, here op­ti­cal con­tin­ues to be much superior to elec­tronic. This is not so much about im­age qual­ity, but the fact that this viewfinder gives a big­ger view than just 100 per­cent so what’s hap­pen­ing out­side the frame can be seen… which is very help­ful for gaug­ing ex­actly when it’s all go­ing to come to­gether in­side the frame. This has al­ways been the his­tor­i­cal at­trac­tion of the rangefinder cam­era over a re­flex, and it re­mains so now.

Good though the lat­est EVF’s are – in­clud­ing the one in Le­ica’s own SL – noth­ing beats the beauty of an M fin­der… and the M10’s big­ger and brighter view is even bet­ter. As al­ways, it pro­vides au­to­matic par­al­lax cor­rec­tion and has three sets of LED bright­line frame pairs which ac­ti­vate when the lens is fit­ted – 35mm and 135mm, 28mm and 90mm, and 50mm and 70mm. A lever on the front panel – which al­lows for the bright­line pairs to be pre­viewed – makes a re-ap­pear­ance on the M10, hav­ing been deleted from the M240 and M262.

Fo­cus­ing – man­ual, of course – is as­sisted by a dou­ble-im­age

THE M10 IS VERY MUCH A CAM­ERA TO HAVE A RE­LA­TION­SHIP WITH BE­CAUSE ITS OP­ER­A­TION IS SO MUCH MORE IN­VOLV­ING AND, SUB­SE­QUENTLY, SO MUCH MORE RE­WARD­ING.

rangefinder which has an ef­fec­tive base length of 50.6 mm. In RF cam­era terms, the longer the base length, the eas­ier it is to fo­cus pre­cisely… and 50.6 mm is com­par­a­tively long, al­low­ing for greater pre­ci­sion.

The M10 also sticks with tra­di­tion when it comes to ex­po­sure con­trol which is based on cen­tre-weighted me­ter­ing. The fo­cal plane shut­ter as­sem­bly is new (be­cause it needed to be more com­pact), but still re­tains a top speed of 1/4000 se­cond. There’s the choice of ei­ther aper­ture-pri­or­ity auto or man­ual modes, the for­mer sup­ple­mented by an AE lock, com­pen­sa­tion over a range of +/-3.0 EV and auto brack­et­ing.

Com­pletely new to a dig­i­tal M model is the ap­pear­ance of an ISO dial, lo­cated on the top panel where the film cam­era’s rewind crank is usu­ally sited. Yes, it’s a bit of a sur­prise that Le­ica has taken this long to in­tro­duce a pretty tra­di­tional con­trol, but its rea­son­ing is the same that of Fu­ji­film’s (which has pro­vided ISO di­als from year dot)… now the M10 can be flown vir­tu­ally en­tirely via its ex­ter­nal con­trols with­out go­ing near the menus. This re­ally is as close to the clas­sic cam­era ex­pe­ri­ence that’s pos­si­ble with­out ac­tu­ally shoot­ing film.

EX­TRACT­ING THE DIG­I­TAL

Yet, the M10 also makes the most of its dig­i­tal-era de­sign. It may not be able to record video – a pretty sen­si­ble move, given the in­her­ent lim­i­ta­tions – but it still has live view to the mon­i­tor screen and with this comes ad­di­tional fea­tures such as multi-zone or spot me­ter­ing and a move­able mag­ni­fy­ing ‘loupe’ for as­sess­ing fo­cus or a fo­cus peak­ing dis­play.

The sen­sor is a full-35mm for­mat CMOS with an ef­fec­tive pixel count of 24 mil­lion and no op­ti­cal low-pass fil­ter, but it’s not the same de­vice used in the M240 or the later Q. Ac­cord­ing to Le­ica, it has “a unique pixel and mi­crolens struc­ture” in or­der to han­dle larger-aper­ture lenses… of which there are quite a few in the Le­ica M Sys­tem. The sen­sor is mated with Le­ica’s lat­est-gen­er­a­tion ‘Mae­stro II’ processor and a much larger 2.0 GB buf­fer mem­ory with the re­sult that the M10 can shoot at up 5.0 fps for bursts of up to 40 max­i­mum qual­ity JPEGs. The na­tive sen­si­tiv­ity range is equiv­a­lent to ISO 100 to 6400 and all these set­tings are avail­able on the new dial which also has ‘A’ and ‘M’ po­si­tions. The for­mer is self-ex­plana­tory while the lat­ter ac­cesses the ex­pan­sion set­tings which range from ISO 8000 to 50,000 and are set via a sub-menu. A sen­si­tiv­ity set­ting can then be as­signed to the ‘M’ po­si­tion and the dial is locked by push­ing it down. A red band shows when the ISO dial is in the un­locked po­si­tion. Use­fully, the Auto ISO can be con­fig­ured to ‘Max­i­mum Ex­po­sure Time’ which can be man­u­ally set (be­tween ½ and 1/500 se­cond) or left to the cam­era, based on a spec­i­fied aper­ture.

RAW files are cap­tured with 14-bit RGB colour in the Adobe DNG for­mat at 5976x3992 pix­els and JPEGs in one of three sizes and two com­pres­sion lev­els. RAW+JPEG cap­ture is also avail­able, and uses the ex­ist­ing JPEG size and qual­ity set­tings.

SIM­PLE PLEA­SURES

The mon­i­tor screen is a fixed TFT LCD panel – now in the 3:2 as­pect ra­tio and with a res­o­lu­tion of 1.036 megadots. It’s pro­tected by a scratch-re­sis­tant Corn­ing ‘Go­rilla’ glass face­plate and ad­justable for bright­ness.

Along­side is a pared-down se­lec­tion of but­tons… in fact, just three for live view, play­back and the menus. Press­ing this third but­ton ini­tially brings up a short­ened ‘Favourites’ menu which can be con­fig­ured with up to seven fre­quently-used func­tions so they’re all on one page.

The main menu is a bit more ex­ten­sive, but not by all that much given the keep-it-real de­sign phi­los­o­phy… or what Le­ica terms a “leaner op­er­at­ing con­cept”. Menu nav­i­ga­tion is via a four-way key­pad with a cen­tral ‘En­ter’ but­ton which oth­er­wise ac­cesses a com­pre­hen­sive ‘Info’ screen cov­er­ing all cap­ture-re­lated set­tings plus other use­ful de­tails such as the re­main­ing bat­tery life (ex­pressed as a per­cent­age of full) and the mem­ory card ca­pac­ity (ex­pressed as free space in gi­ga­bytes).

The frills are min­i­mal, but do run to an in­ter­val­ome­ter, pic­ture ad­just­ments for JPEGs (colour sat­u­ra­tion, sharp­ness and con­trast), monochrome cap­ture and two de­lay times for the self-timer. The auto ex­po­sure brack­et­ing can be set to se­quences of ei­ther three or five frames with up to +/-3.0 EV vari­a­tion per frame. The white bal­ance con­trol op­tions com­prise auto cor­rec­tion sup­ple­mented by seven pre­sets, one cus­tom mea­sure­ment and man­ual colour tem­per­a­ture con­trol… over a range of 2000 to 13,100 de­grees Kelvin which is com­mend­ably wider at the top end than is usu­ally pro­vided.

The live view ca­pa­bil­ity adds the fea­tures men­tioned ear­lier and also an ex­po­sure sim­u­la­tion dis­play. Also avail­able is a real-time his­togram, high­light and shadow warn­ings (ad­justable for the lower and up­per thresh­olds), a grid guide (ei­ther 3x3 or 6x4) and a se­lec­tion of read-outs and in­di­ca­tors.

The fo­cus­ing as­sis­tance mag­ni­fier can be set to the cen­tre of the frame or moved around as re­quired. The fo­cus peak­ing dis­play has a choice of four colours. There’s no level in­di­ca­tor, but oth­er­wise the live view mode has ev­ery­thing that’s needed and, of course, pro­vides the M10’s dig­i­tal cam­era ex­pe­ri­ence. An op­tional EVF is avail­able to make use of live view via a viewfinder and it’s a new Visoflex unit with 2.4 megadots res­o­lu­tion and a built-in GPS re­ceiver. Add-on EVFs al­ways seem a bit of an af­ter­thought and are gen­er­ally a bit awk­ward to use when perched atop the hot­shoe. The M10 is es­sen­tially de­signed to be used as a rangefinder cam­era with some ad­di­tional as­sis­tance from live view so it’s hard to see an ac­ces­sory EVF bring­ing much to the party… espe­cially as the op­ti­cal fin­der is such a de­light. How­ever, the abil­ity to re­motely con­trol the cam­era via its built-in WiFi – for the first time on a dig­i­tal M – and Le­ica’s M-App run­ning on a mo­bile de­vice is a much more use­ful piece of cur­rent tech­nol­ogy.

With the re­turn to an even more film-like ex­ter­nal de­sign and con­trol­la­bil­ity, com­bined with a dis­till­ing down of the dig­i­tal cap­ture ca­pa­bil­i­ties, the M10 could so eas­ily have been lit­tle more than an ex­er­cise in de­sign self­ind­ul­gence. But Le­ica knows what it’s do­ing here and the bal­ance is noth­ing short of in­spired… it makes so much sense to amp up what has made the M such an en­dur­ing de­sign while avoid­ing too much dig­i­tal di­lu­tion, but en­sur­ing the key in­gre­di­ents are still all there to de­liver the nec­es­sary ca­pa­bil­i­ties and per­for­mance. Like the in­stantly lov­able Q, the M10 is se­duc­tive in its looks and feel, but then also de­light­fully re­fresh­ing in its pu­rity of pur­pose. It’s amaz­ing how re­lax­ing it is, not to be con­stantly won­der­ing about whether to use one func­tion or an­other and be­com­ing so tied up in the cam­era work that the sub­ject is a sec­ondary con­sid­er­a­tion. The M10 is there to help, but it’s cer­tainly not go­ing to do ev­ery­thing so the re­la­tion­ship be­tween cam­era and pho­tog­ra­pher is re­set. And this is very much a cam­era to have a re­la­tion­ship with be­cause its op­er­a­tion is so much more in­volv­ing and, sub­se­quently, so much more re­ward­ing.

SPEED AND PER­FOR­MANCE

With our ref­er­ence mem­ory card – Lexar’s Pro­fes­sional 2000x 128 GB SDXC UHS-II/U3 speed de­vice – loaded, the M10 cap­tured a burst of 35 JPEG/large/fine frames in 7.155 sec­onds which rep­re­sents a con­tin­u­ous shoot­ing speed of 4.89 fps. This is pretty close the quoted max­i­mum speed, and it’s worth not­ing here how quickly the buf­fer emp­tied so the cam­era was ready to go again al­most im­me­di­ately. The test file sizes were around 10.5 MB on av­er­age.

The new sen­sor and processor de­liver a num­ber of imag­ing per­for­mance ben­e­fits, most no­tably a wider dy­namic range, but also en­hanced def­i­ni­tion with the ex­cel­lent re­solv­ing of fine de­tails. There are, of course, quite a few full-35mm 24 megapix­els sen­sors cur­rently at work in both D-SLRs and mir­ror­less cam­eras, and the M10’s is up with the best. The colour fidelity is ex­cel­lent across the spec­trum and pleas­ingly sat­u­rated with­out the need for any in-cam­era (or, for that mat­ter, post-cam­era) tweak­ing. While the cen­tre-weighted av­er­age me­ter­ing proves to be fairly re­li­able in many sit­u­a­tions, there’s a greater reliance on ex­po­sure com­pen­sa­tion to deal with back­light­ing or ex­ces­sive con­trast. For­tu­nately, this can be as­signed to the rear thumb­wheel and is then very eas­ily di­alled up or down… as­sisted by a huge scale in the info dis­play. It’s back to the good old days of think­ing more care­fully about ex­po­sure con­trol av­er­ag­ing to an 18 per­cent grey tone. Of course, there’s al­ways auto brack­et­ing as in­sur­ance. In prac­tice, a small amount of un­der­ex­po­sure is de­sir­able to main­tain some tonal­ity in the brighter high­lights.

Noise is very well man­aged all the way up to ISO 6400 with both the colour sat­u­ra­tion and the de­tail­ing hold­ing to­gether ex­tremely well. This means ev­ery set­ting on the new ISO dial is use­able which, in­ci­den­tally, was never re­ally the case with the film cam­eras. The ex­ten­sion set­tings ex­hibit pro­gres­sive de­te­ri­o­ra­tion as the noise re­duc­tion pro­cess­ing be­comes more ag­gres­sive, but ISO 12,800 is still use­able in terms of both colour and con­trast with only min­i­mal grain­i­ness (which is quite finely struc­tured and so ac­tu­ally looks pretty good in B&W).

There’s al­ways been a Le­ica ‘look’ which is largely at­trib­ut­able

THE DEPTH RE­DUC­TION IS RE­ALLY ONLY A MAT­TER OF MIL­LIME­TRES, BUT SUR­PRIS­INGLY IT DOES MAKE A DIF­FER­ENCE… THE OTHER DIG­I­TAL M MOD­ELS LOOK A BIT PUDGY IN COM­PAR­I­SON.

to the con­trast char­ac­ter­is­tics of the M lenses which give real depth and clar­ity to an im­age. It’s been a bit lost in trans­la­tion with dig­i­tal cap­ture, but the M10 re­turns to some of those dis­tinctly Le­icaesque pic­to­rial qual­i­ties.

THE VER­DICT

One ques­tion to be asked is whether there’s enough Le­ica sat­is­fac­tion to be had from the fixedlens Q with its wider em­brace of moder­nity (such as aut­o­fo­cus­ing and touch­screen con­trols) and, more sig­nif­i­cantly, far greater af­ford­abil­ity. The Q cer­tainly con­vinc­ingly repli­cates the M ex­pe­ri­ence, but in­ter­change­able lenses are a big part of the Le­ica RF deal, espe­cially in terms of ac­cess­ing wider an­gles and larger max­i­mum aper­tures. Nev­er­the­less, any­body who thinks they’d be largely be sat­is­fied with a 28mm at f1.7 needs to take a close look at the Q be­fore mov­ing on to the M10.

The tac­tile ap­peal of a Ger­man-made Le­ica is unique – even the ul­tra-mod­ern TL has it – but it’s more to do with sub­stance than style. And it’s be­cause these cam­eras are built to be used. What’s more, used on the un­der­stand­ing that the pho­tog­ra­pher is the most im­por­tant part of the pic­ture­mak­ing process, and the cam­era merely a tool… al­beit a very fine one. The M10 em­bod­ies this ap­proach bet­ter than any pre­vi­ous dig­i­tal M model be­cause it achieves an in­spired har­mony be­tween all the clas­si­cal at­tributes and the nec­es­sary con­tem­po­rary ca­pa­bil­i­ties. Who would have thought that go­ing back­wards would rep­re­sent such an im­por­tant step for­ward? It gives the M10 a much stronger iden­tity as a Le­ica cam­era and, as a re­sult, greatly en­hances its at­trac­tion. The M9 and M240 were still ex­cel­lent cam­eras, but some­thing was Not Quite Right Le­ica-wise. With the M10 ev­ery­thing is very right in­deed.

THE LE­ICA VIEWFINDER STILL HAS TO BE A MA­JOR REA­SON FOR BUY­ING AN M AND, IRON­I­CALLY, HERE OP­TI­CAL CON­TIN­UES TO BE MUCH SUPERIOR TO ELEC­TRONIC.

Iconic viewfinder is made bet­ter in the M10 – with the field-of-view in­creased by 30 per­cent, the eye­point by 50 per­cent and the mag­ni­fi­ca­tion to 0.73x. Keep it sim­ple… rear con­trol but­tons kept to a min­i­mum Menu lay­out is clean and crisp. Base­plate com­pletely de­taches as on all the film cam­eras… a nice his­tor­i­cal touch, but not all that prac­ti­cal in the dig­i­tal era. Rear panel lay­out has been sim­pli­fied down to just three but­tons, nav­i­ga­tor key­pad and a thumb­wheel… it’s all that’s needed.

New ISO dial – dig­i­tal M mod­els haven’t had one be­fore – makes for quick and easy set­ting of sen­si­tiv­ity. ‘M’ po­si­tion pro­vides ac­cess to the ex­pan­sion set­tings. Shut­ter speed dial is marked down to eight sec­onds. ‘B’ set­ting ac­cesses slower speeds down to 125 sec­onds. The magic of the mes­sucher is be­hind this lit­tle win­dow. Le­ica’s leg­endary com­bined viewfind­erand-rangefinder may be olde worlde, but it makes man­ual fo­cus­ing a breeze.

Info dis­play screen in­cludes use­ful in­di­ca­tors of the re­main­ing bat­tery power and mem­ory card space. Ex­tra-large ex­po­sure com­pen­sa­tion scale is hard to miss.

Im­age re­view screen in­cludes a bright­ness his­togram and key cap­ture set­tings, in­clud­ing the ex­po­sure com­pen­sa­tion set­ting.

Favourites menu can be cus­tomised to con­tain the most fre­quently used func­tions on one page.

Look closely… it’s what you can’t see that dif­fer­en­ti­ates the M10 from its dig­i­tal M pre­de­ces­sors, namely a slim­mer and lighter weight bodyshell. Di­men­sions are now very sim­i­lar to those of the 35mm M7.

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