Leica M10. The Camera. Photography reduced to its essentials. This is what Leica says about this camera. If you care what I think of it: keep on reading.
For many people owning a Leica camera is a dream. But why is that so? Is it simply the high price tag, the Bauhaus look or the huge “Made in Germany” writing, not hidden on a sticker at the bottom of the camera, but easily visible on the back?
It surely isn’t image quality or ease of use. You get more of both, elsewhere, for less. This is why Leica cameras are often perceived as vain men’s luxury items, that happen to be able to take photos from time to time.
Did I dream of owning a Leica camera? I actually didn’t. I always had a look at them, tried out the newest model every Photokina I went to, but in the end, especially after the arrival of the A7 series, I did not think they would improve my photography or allow me to do things I wasn’t able to do before. And I didn’t talk about the price yet: could I afford one? Nope.
Sometimes destiny travels strange paths though, so I ended up winning a Leica M10 in a photography competition. Did I consider selling it while it was still new and worth more? Of course I did, we are talking about a lot of money here.
But then, this would have been incredibly boring, wouldn’t it? So instead I decided to give it a chance and see where it gets me.
The Leica M10 has the following specifications:
- Sensor: 24mp full frame CMOS without anti-aliasing filter
- Weight: 660g (without cap, including battery)
- Rangefinder: 0.73x magnification, framelines for 28, 35, 50, 75, 90 and 135 mm
- Electronic Viewfinder: optional accessory for hot shoe
- Shutter Speed Range: 1/4000s – 125s
- ISO range: 100 – 50.000 (Auto ISO 200 – 50.000)
- Liveview: yes
- Auto focus: no
- Image stabilizer: no
- Mount: Leica M
You may also have a look at Leica’s official page.
There are clearly different user types. Some who “just want to take pictures” are probably fine if the camera only comes with a shutter button. This is true for all those Fuji Instax (and similar) cameras. Picture comes out too bright or too dark? Who cares, as long as it was fun taking a picture in the first place.
I am not in that category. I need my pictures to come out in the best possible way. When I take a picture of bride and groom at a wedding I need it to be perfect. When I see one of the pictures I took hanging in their apartment afterwards I don’t want to think “Oh, the sky is blown out, maybe I should have checked the picture I took on the camera screen and readjusted the exposure and then taken another one”. It doesn’t work like this for me.
So first, consider in which category you are, it may vastly change your perception on certain aspects I will be talking about.
If you were born in the 80s or even after that you may not even know what a rangefinder is: it is an inaccurate and archaic focus mechanism.
I won’t go too much into detail how the rangefinder works here (there are clearly enough sources out there if you want to learn more) but I will tell you what it means for you and your photography and where its limits are.
It is an optical finder, but what you see through it does not change when changing a lens or the lenses’ aperture (unlike EVF or (D)SLRs). Instead you get framelines with compatible lenses that will roughly show you, what should be in the frame, but framelines are only available for 28, 35, 50, 75, 90 and 135 mm.
Even without glasses it is sometimes hard for me to see the 28 mm framelines, the 135 mm framelines are so small, it makes it hard to decently compose. Furthermore the framelines are not exactly accurate at all distances, which also makes exact composing harder.
If you want to use the rangefinder only I would recommend to stick to lenses with 28-75 mm.
For wider lenses it is mandatory to get an optional viewfinder, more on this in the next section.
Compatible M39 and M-mount lenses have a so called “rangefinder coupling”, a small metal piece attached to the helicoid of the lens that “tells” the camera at what distance it is currently focused at.
Quite a few problems derive from this: this metal piece needs to be perfectly calibrated across all lenses and cameras from different manufacturers. Interestingly only the newer chinese M-mount lenses allow you to adjust the lens yourself. If you have a Voigtlander lens that isn’t properly calibrated you are pretty much screwed.
Another problem is, that the focus range of this mechanism is limited to 0.7 m to infinity and most mechanical lens designs follow that. For longer lenses this does not make a big difference, but shorter lenses for other systems can usually be focused much closer. There actually are some M-mount lenses that can be focused closer than 0.7 m (when using liveview or the external electronic viewfinder) but these are the exception.
Apart from the framelines the only information displayed in this finder are ISO, EV compensation (both only when you change them) and current shutter speed.
We didn’t talk about the elephant in the room yet: focus accuracy.
The split image is in the center of the frame so you have to use focus-and-recompose, which is something I generally recommend not to do at wide apertures as your subject may not be in the plane of optimal focus anymore after recomposing.
Furthermore the split image only works well on clear vertical structures and “human eyes” don’t exactly fall into this category.
Leica knows this, so this is what the M10 manual says about accuracy with fast lenses.
If you use mainly wide and slow lenses you will most likely “be fine” with the rangfinder mechanism. Actually I have also been fine with the 7Artisans 28mm 1.4. But if you use fast portrait lenses like the Voigtlander VM 75mm 1.5 I advise to use the optional electronic viewfinder to get consistent results, especially under dim light.
It should also be noted, that focus shift cannot be accounted for when only using the rangefinder. With such lenses it is also advisable to use an optional finder or Liveview.
Some of my friends who have used the camera were asking what is the benefit of this rangefinder focus mechanism. It was – and still is – hard for me to name even one, actually. The only thing I could come up with is seeing more of the surroundings if using a lens of 35 mm or longer which can be a benefit in street photography.
Whether this outweighs the disadvantages is up for you to decide.
Electronic Viewfinder EVF 020
If you want to use lenses that are wider than 28 mm this accessory is pretty much mandatory. Also if you want to get consistent in-focus results with your fast portrait lenses. And also if you want to use a polarizer without getting insane.
It is expensive (affiliate link), it is ugly and the quality can best be described as “soso”. Leica has access to some amazing electronic viewfinders (Q(2), SL(2)), but this is not one of those.
The colors often look pale and washed out and the dynamic range is not up to today’s standards either.
It gets the job done, somewhat, but I would take any A7 series’ viewfinder over this one any day.
There is focus peaking available but you cannot adjust its strength. Generally I found it to be too sensitive, which is why I often have to turn it off to properly focus.
Customizable over- and underexposure warning (known as “Zebra” among Sony users) is also available.
Many people claim having connection issues with the EVF 020 and I also had to remove and reattach it to get it working again a few times.
The metering of the M10, compared to other modern cameras, it sucks in rangefinder mode (and there is only one metering method in rangefinder mode). It simply sucks. For bright scenes better dial in +1 EV, for dark scenes better dial in -1 EV to start with, but this can still be off by a lot.
In Liveview/EVF mode you can choose between multi, center weighted and spot. While I would generally prefer multi I use center weighted here as it is closest to the rangefinder mode metering. Sometimes I switch between rangefinder mode and LV/EVF mode and using completely different metering methods means that I constantly have to adjust the exposure compensation dial when switching between these two.
The rear display cannot be tilted, something that constantly annoyed me coming from cameras where this is easily possible.
Button layout / Menu
There are not that many buttons to begin with and while there are a few minor things you can change about the behaviour of some of those, they are generally not programmable. There isn’t even one button that you can assign a custom function to.
While some people claim that fewer buttons make a camera easier to use I most certainly disagree: many of the buttons have more than one function here and to get access to some functions you even have to press two buttons at the same time. Not very intuitive.
I also missed having a button for AEL, self-timer and to toggle focus peaking.
The ISO dial, generally a good idea, is a pain to use: the knob has to be lifted first before you can change the ISO and lifting it is not that easy or intuitive actually.
Another nuisance: despite DXOmark showing that there actually is a higher dynamic range captured at ISO100, Leica decided to introduce a stupid firmware update that will limit the Auto ISO base ISO to 200 only.
So the only reason I ever touched that ISO dial is to change from Auto ISO to ISO 100 with fast lenses in bright conditions (to avoid overexposure because the fastest shutter speed is only 1/4000s) or if I wanted to maximize the dynamic range in tripod based shooting.
The menu is quite okay. There even is a custom menu where you can add the functions you need most, but unfortunately you cannot add sub functions. For example: focus peaking can be found under focus assist. You can add focus assist to the custom menu but not focus peaking directly.
Battery door / Tripod Socket
Why this needs its own chapter? You will see.
To change the roll of film you had to detach the bottom plate of the analogue Leica M cameras. For sentimental reasons this is still the case with modern digital M cameras to get to the battery or SD card.
To my surprise removing the bottom plate is slightly less bothersome than I would have expected: only a very small rotation of the wing screw is necessary.
No third party manufacturer bothers to make batteries for this camera, so you have to buy the outrageously priced original batteries and you will probably want a spare one.
For stability reasons the tripod socket is connected to the camera itself though, not to the removable bottom plate. So if you want to use an arca plate you always have to remove it first in order to get to the battery or SD card. Unacceptable.
Your only option here is buying the RRS L-bracket (affiliate link) which will replace your original bottom plate.
If you don’t want to read the whole paragraph I will summarize it for you: it is okay.
If we look at DXOmark’s sensor measurements (which I consider way more useful than their lens ratings) they rate it slightly worse than the original A7 which pretty much matches my findings.
High ISO noise is on par with the A7(II) and dynamic range slightly worse. Dynamic range is still on par with Canon’s current cameras though and I was told they are actually okay to take pictures with . There is no anti-aliasing filter in front of the sensor, which is a small benefit over the older 24mp Sony cameras.
I rarely had the feeling that the sensor is holding me back, but still, if you are used to cameras like the Sony A7R series or A7III you may notice the differences in certain scenarios, e.g. high dynamic range scenes or shooting at higher ISOs.
Also, Auto White Balance is not exactly doing a great job under artificial lighting, but this might also be a matter of taste to some degree.
If you expected this chapter to be longer: I see no point posting high ISO or sharpness crops here. You will not buy this camera if you are looking for maximum image quality anyway.
Some people claim how Leica cameras have the most beautiful color science which makes the pictures look significantly better compared to the competition and how this easily makes up for the higher price.
I have often shot my Sony cameras and the Leica side by side, sometimes I preferred the Sony colors, sometimes the Leica colors (before editing anyway).
In the (D)SLR era the small yet capable rangefinder lenses were certainly one of the most appealing benefits of using a Leica camera. The shorter back focus distance (possible due to the absence of a mirror box) allowed for smaller lenses, especially when it comes to wide angle designs. This is of course no advantage over the new mirrorless cameras from various manufacturers anymore, that offer the same advantages.
Leica cameras come with a very thin filter stack in front of the sensor, therefore they work significantly better with lenses designed for analogue cameras than Sony’s stock cameras.
Still, there are some lenses that still show issues like color cast. Unfortunately this color cast varies greatly across the different digital M cameras. It seems to me, the M10 is the best so far though.
The Voigtlander VM 15mm 4.5 II for example shows a very noticeable magenta color cast on one side of the frame which apparently is true for many of the older ultra wides.
For Leica’s own lenses in camera correction for color cast can be applied, if the lens has been 6-bit-coded or is manually chosen from the menu. Only Leica lenses are included, no Voigtlander or Zeiss lenses. There are even some lists available online which profile ought to work for third party lenses, but I can only recommend to stay away from these and fix it properly in post instead.
Generally lenses work best on the sensor they were designed for. I also took this opportunity to use the Leica M10 mostly with lenses that perform not so great on a stock Sony camera and where there is no direct substitute, like the tiny Voigtlander VM 15mm 4.5 II and the Voigtlander VM 75mm 1.5.
So if you have a collection of old rangefinder lenses you might be tempted to think that a modern Leica is your only way to go, but I would still recommend to look into a kolari modded A7 series camera instead. You will be getting a more modern camera with better usability and image quality for significantly less money but the same (or better) compatibility to your rangefinder lenses.
When buying a Leica M10 you do not spend ~7.000€ on a camera. The camera is not worth 7.000€. You spend this amount of money to be a part of the Leica cult. To have a reason to go to the fancy Leica Boutiques, to be invited to events in Wetzlar, to put it on the table in a nice café and have other people look at that beautiful piece of mechanical engineering. This is also what appeals to me personally most: the unobstrusive stylized look compared to other modern cameras.
You also buy into a story. A story from a time, where those rangefinder cameras offered clear technical advantages over other camera systems, especially in terms of size but also speed of operation. Those times are long gone.
While it is clearly possible to take good pictures with a digital Leica camera, you have to be a mix of sentimentalist and masochist to enjoy that whole process, especially so, when you are used to any modern camera from Japan. So would I recommend to get this (or any digital M) Leica camera?
If you care most about the image quality of your pictures and getting the shot: No.
If you don’t care about the money and you enjoy the rangefinder cameras because you have already used them 40 years ago: sure, get one. And please use one of the affiliate links provided.
Personally, I will keep the camera for now. I see a clear benefit for this blog when evaluating the performance of future M-mount lenses from Cosina/Voigtlander and 7Artisans/TTArtisan.
With the Voigtlander VM 15mm 4.5 II, 7Artisans 28mm 1.4 and Voigtlander VM 75mm 1.5 it also makes for a nice compact and lightweight 3 lens kit for the times when “getting the shot” is not of utmost importance.
Also, the Leica M10 probably lost 30% of its value when I took the first picture with it. German cameras have something in common with german cars it seems…
Lenses I have used for the pictures in this article:
- Voigtlander VM 15mm 4.5 II SWH (discontinued smaller Version II)
buy from ebay.com/ebay.de for about $400 (affiliate links)
- TTArtisan 21mm 1.5
buy from amazon.com and ebay.com/ebay.de for about $429 (affiliate links)
- 7Artisans 28mm 1.4 FE+
buy from B&H, amazon.com/amazon.de ebay.com/ebay.de for about $499 (affiliate links)
- Voigtlander VM 75mm 1.5 Nokton
buy from B&H, amazon.com and ebay.com/ebay.de for about $999 (affiliate links)
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