Why Isn't Leica's M10-D ISO Dial A Problem?

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maxotics Regular Member • Posts: 351
Why Isn't Leica's M10-D ISO Dial A Problem?
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Yes, sorry, if you believe your ISO dial affects image capture…

For close to 100 years Leica never put an ISO dial on its cameras, even the digital models…until last year. Why, now, would they treat the ISO dial as a mechanism? For us purists, ISO can only be a measurement.

The left ISO dial will make this an $8,000 piece of Scheisse for some Leica lovers. That said, feel free to send me this Leica as a loaner or gift and I will not look a gift-horse in the mouth! Image from B&H Photo.

Before you get fired up and jump to the comment section, YES!, I recognize that the ISO dial is crucial if you shoot in-camera JPEG. It controls the amount of digital amplification/de-amplification needed to create a viewable image in a 24-bit (8-bit, RGB) color space from the sensor’s “RAW” data. The question is: does it have a place on a Leica M?

Fact, the ISO dial is connected to the camera’s computer, not the camera’s optical and mechanical image capture system.

If all you shoot is JPEGs on the Leica M10-D, then having that ISO dial on the left is a good addition.

If all you shoot is JPEGs on the M10-D then why remove the back display which, at 8-bit, would show you exactly what you got for your in-camera JPEG exposure?

I don’t believe history will be kind to the Leica M10-D. It may even become a collector’s item. I say this because Leica putting a JPEG dial on the camera and removing the back screen seems to be, sorry, an attempt to sucker in the rich buyer.

Why would you shoot JPEGs on a Leica? Or any camera? Why would any serious photographer shoot JPEG unless they absolutely had to? Where did everyone go? To the comment section! HA HA

I understand the pressure on Leica. I, too, started drifting towards ISO as a control dial.

Then, a few years ago, I became frustrated with the slowness of my Sigma DP2M. I buy a used Ricoh GR. I knew the GR wouldn’t have the image quality of the DP2M in optimum situations (good light). But it would do better in low light and it’s smaller too.

After getting the camera I read various essays and comments about the camera. One photographer says he sets the camera on TAv mode, sets the shutter and aperture as he sees fit and let’s the camera set ISO for the JPG (or RAW sidecar value).

I returned to the philosophy I had when shooting film. I returned to the philosophy Leica was sworn to, until recently. For exposure, I set aperture and shutter and live with what noise will come!

If I’m worried about camera shake I accept that increasing the shutter will add noise. If I want to shoot a group of people at f8 (so they’re all in focus) instead of f2.8, indoors, I accept there will be a trade-off in noise.

On the other hand, If I want to reduce noise, because I’m taking a photo of a beach at sunset, then I might set the camera at a 2-second delay, open up to 2.8 and set the shutter at 1 second and put the camera on a rock.

How did I let a measurement slip into functioning as a control? Like everyone else, I started using ISO as a way to simplify (dumb down) an image to a JPEG not realizing that it was distorting my original goal to capture the highest fidelity image the camera could record — the “digital negative”.

My Photographic Goal

I “develop” all my RAW images on a PC; that is, I want as much image information as I can get out of the camera which means I only want to control the camera in a way that it best records the electrons (light intensity) at each pixel location. Today’s cameras are capable of recording 42-bits worth of light-intensity information, which is more dynamic range than the eye can see.

If a button or dial doesn’t improve sensor IQ I don’t touch it. I only have so much time to think about the photograph I’m taking. That’s the core problem of using ISO on a camera, it wastes time doing what is done better later— developing your “RAW” image into a final JPEG image.

I rarely care about what the camera can do with its internal computer, from auto-focus to image stabilization to HDR. I want to emphasize this: After I focus, set the aperture and shutter, I want as much image data as the sensor captures and nothing more — because really, there is no more.

Yes, I may dumb down the image to fewer colors and add noise later but I want to have the most latitude to choose which way I go. Here’s the final photograph of my wife to show I’m no crazy purist.

I didn’t need to shoot RAW to end up with this

How do cameras work?

Little has changed in 200 years, when it comes to how a camera records an image. A chemical that is sensitive to photons (light) is placed on a surface so it doesn’t, well, slop around in a can. The surface can be the acetate of film or silicon in electronics. It’s all the same.

On film, a chemical reaction creates a physical image. On silicon, electronics count the electrons at each pixel location and save them as light intensity (and color by inference through a filter).

Can any dial, on a film or digital camera, change the light sensitivity of a chemical on acetate or silicon? The chemical nature of film or sensor is set at the factory. If you believe Leica can change the physical properties of the sensor in their camera by turning a dial, stop reading and head to the comment section below! Better yet, email me so I can take this essay down!

How Much Light For The Most Realism?

Systems like ISO were developed to rate the sensitivity of film in a way that a photographer can go from one brand of film (or silicon) to another, and be confident that, given a certain amount of light, they will capture, say, a black and white cookie on a gray background — with the least amount of noise!

Generally, the optimum exposure of film is 100 ISO. It’s a super complex subject which I’m going to unapologetically simplify here. If you expose an ISO 100 film/sensor to a burning candle for 1 second at f-stop 1 at ISO 100 it will be a perfectly exposed; that is, there will be the minimum amount of noise achievable with the chemical used to translate light to electrons in digital, or opaque molecules in film.

In film, you can change the sensitivity of your chemical ONLY by loading different films. ASA/DN/ISO dials were only put on some film cameras to remind the photographer what film they had in the camera if they wanted to over/under expose the film. That is, if they had ISO 100 film in the camera and set the dial to ISO 800 they knew to develop the film for a longer period of time because they didn’t give the film enough light to expose that black and white cookie properly on the gray backdrop.

The lack of ISO dials on Leica cameras is the first key to understanding the Leica philosophy of photography. Forget the cost of the cameras. The Leica philosophy is that the best camera tries to perfect only those parts of the camera that create the “negative”.

Leica didn’t put ISO dials on its cameras for the simple reason that the ISO dial wouldn’t do anything to effect the best image the camera can capture.

Why buy a Leica that thumbs its nose at hundreds of years of photographic struggle? A camera that pretends to solve the problem of changing sensor sensitivity on the fly?

Leica cameras aren’t expensive because rich people buy them. They are expensive because serious photographers, like Robert Capa, Alfred Eisenstaedt and Henri Carter-Bresson, etc., chose those cameras and their fame made the cameras desirable to those who wanted to emulate them.

Since there is always a shortage of super-serious photographers, Leica eventually had to price their cameras to balance the market realities of how many people will buy cameras for serious photography and how many will buy them to pursue the dream of one day doing serious photography.

If more people wanted the Leica philosophy the cameras would cost less and I would buy them. Instead, I buy the cameras everyone else buys (Canon, Nikons, Ricohs, Sonys, etc) and just IGNORE the ISO dial and its cousin, “EV Compensation”.

Further, the addition of the ISO dial to the M10-D is evidence that serious-photography buyers of Leica camera must be shrinking. (I’m disheartened that so many Leica vlogger/bloggers are not embarrassed by the ISO dial).

Your Camera is Part Instrument, Part Computer

Camera computer brains can think faster and more accurately. They can calculate exposure faster. Can calculate focus. It can do image processing, like warm up the photo if a portrait, or cool it down if its architecture.

A camera with the latest brain makes you feel like you have more power to get a better image. For many people, it can. Even for me, if I’m rushed, the Auto dial is my best friend.

But no camera makes better decisions about focus, aperture and shutter. No camera computer can read my mind, figure out what emotional response I’m looking for.

Only the photographer can try to pick the focus, aperture and shutter that will best capture the photograph they want to create.

Conclusion

Whatever amount of light I have, I must accept that I am beholden to the sensitivity of my camera’s film/sensor. The physical world determines how much light I have (assuming I’m not shooting with artificial lights). The physical world (materials science) determines how sensitive a chemical is to light. What camera makers can cheat Mother Nature, with even an infinite number of camera dials. All the computational power in the world cannot predict what pixel was in the scene that wasn’t detected in the first place.

Finally, please don’t misunderstand me. I love all cameras. I don’t care if they’re pinholes or have a thousand silly dials and buttons. It’s no big deal that Leica put an ISO dial on one of their cameras. I just find it odd.

Leica M10-D Sigma DP2 Merrill
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