hands-on: leica M10
The new Leica M10 is now the same size as the old film camera, and that’s not the only advance
Rangefinder / £5,600 / $6,495 / leica-camera.com
PEOPLE BUY the Leica M because of what it is, and they don’t want it changed – so every new feature in the M10 is designed to make it better at what it already is, not to turn it into a different kind of camera. It’s still a full-frame rangefinder camera with interchangeable lenses and a 24-megapixel sensor. But there are big differences. First, size. Digital Leica Ms have always had a slightly fatter body than their older film counterparts. Not any more. The M10 now has exactly the same dimensions as the film version, and even though the difference is just a few millimetres, you can feel it in the hand. Second, the viewfinder now offers a field of view 30 per cent larger, and the eye relief is increased by 50 per cent. So you don’t just get a bigger viewfinder image, you don’t have to hold the camera so close to your eye either, and that’s especially good news if you wear glasses. From the top, there’s a new ISO dial at the left end of the top plate. This means you can now adjust the focus and all the exposure parameters – shutter speed, aperture, ISO and focus – without opening a menu and, indeed, without even switching on the camera. Inside, the sensor has been redeveloped and is matched with Leica’s Maestro II processor. This delivers an increased sensitivity range of ISO 100-50,000 and a continuous shooting speed of 5fps. There’s no low pass filter over the sensor, so that’s good news for fine detail rendition. There’s no image stabilisation, though, either in the body or the Leica M lenses, and no in-built dust reduction system. Leica does say, however, that it’s increased the distance between the sensor surface and its glass cover. This will put any dust spots further from the sensor plane and should reduce their effect. The M10 also comes with Wi-Fi. This works alongside an iOS Leica-M app for iPhone and iPad users (no mention of Android yet), which offers wireless image transfer and remote camera control. And if you’re shooting a subject that needs pinpoint focus and compositional accuracy, there’s an optional clip-on Visoflex electronic viewfinder, with a 2,400k dot resolution and GPS built in.
Build quality and handling
You can feel the slimmer body when you handle the M10 and it’s a small but welcome improvement. The increased viewfinder size is immediately apparent, too, and the increased eyepoint does make the M10 more comfortable to use. The rangefinder focusing method hasn’t changed, but the improved viewfinder makes it just that little bit easier to use. There’s a knack to this. To start with you do tend to focus to and fro a little, to convince yourself you’ve found the right focus point. This is a camera you have to learn, and to trust your hand-eye coordination to go straight to the right focus distance without constantly checking.
The Leica M viewfinder doesn’t show the view through the lens, and its angle of view doesn’t change when you change lenses. Instead, you use brightline frames in the viewfinder corresponding to the lens in use. In our short time with the camera, however, this proved pretty accurate, and there were no unpleasant surprises or cut-off subjects when the images were checked afterwards. The focusing is surprisingly accurate; the only focus errors were ours. Where there was time to focus carefully, the results were spot on. Some Leica experts, we’re told, use a kind of manual focus bracketing, just to be sure, taking a series of shots with tiny adjustments. That sounds like a drag, but there’s always the option Visoflex EVF for precise work. The picture quality looks impressive. We were restricted to a single shooting scenario, a special scene set up at the Leica press event, but even at ISO 3200, the M10’s detail rendition, contrast and colour look excellent. The M10 shoots JPEGs and DNG files simultaneously, so it was interesting to compare the results. The JPEGs have a little more contrast and clarity, but the DNG files, opened in Adobe Camera Raw, had a smoother texture and subtler, finer detail. The tone and colour differences between the two were minimal, though, which is nice to see. Overall, the M10 is a very well-judged upgrade. A higher resolution sensor might have been nice but, that aside, the thinner body, bigger viewfinder and higher ISO range are all really worthwhile.