The Leica M10 is a 24MP, full-frame, manual focus camera with an archaic coupled rangefinder focusing system, a tunnel-type optical viewfinder, no video mode and not even so much as a USB socket. And it's absolutely lovely.

Leica M10: Key Features

  • 'Newly developed' 24MP full-frame CMOS sensor
  • 1.04 million-dot rear LCD (with Corning Gorilla glass)
  • 5 fps max continuous shooting for up to 30 Raw frames
  • ISO 100-6400 (extendable to 50,000)
  • Center-weighted (RF), spot and 'multi-field' (LV) metering modes
  • Revised menu system (including customizable 'favorites' menu)
  • Automatic lens corrections with 6-bit coded lenses
  • Compatible with 'Visoflex' 2.4m-dot EVF for eye-level live view shooting
  • ~210 shot battery life (CIPA)
  • Built-in WiFi

Leica is a refreshingly unusual company in the modern camera industry – weird, wonderful, gleefully anachronistic but never, ever, boring. As such, Leica is one of those companies that I've always enjoyed writing about.

In fact, the very first camera that I ever reviewed right at the beginning of my career was a Leica. This was more than ten years ago, around the same time that the M8 was released, but I wasn’t (yet) trusted with such a prestigious product. The camera that I was handed to review was one of those rebadged Panasonics that the German company still officially maintains in its lineup, but doesn’t really talk about anymore. I forget the exact model, but it wasn’t particularly good. I seem to remember high noise levels, lens aberrations and clumsy, detail-destroying noise reduction being the main areas of complaint, all of which were enough to take the (figurative) shine off what was physically a beautiful camera, and all of which I dutifully reported in my review.

This is the kind of picture that generally, I don't take. But being handed a Leica to review spurred me to make a bit more effort to get 'street' shots on a recent trip to New York. I used live view to capture this waist-level image without drawing attention to myself.

35mm F1.4 Summilux ASPH. F2.8 (ish), ISO 500. (Converted from Raw)

While the camera was forgettable, more than a decade on, that review still sticks in my mind. It was shortly after filing my draft that my editor at the time pulled me over, the printout in his hand, to explain that ‘there are certain words we do not use about Leica’. Apparently, 'disappointing' was one of those words, indicated (ironically) with large red rings of ink, wherever I had used it.

My draft was massaged accordingly, and I didn’t review another Leica camera for a long time.

For a great many years, there really was a kind of ‘reality distortion field’ around Leica, and to some extent there still is. With some exceptions (the Q being one of them), the company specializes in high-cost nouveau-classic products with few objective advantages over their competitors. It’s all about the look. It’s all about the feel. It’s all about the magic. It's all about Das Wesentliche1.

When on occasion Leica has tried something genuinely new, like the brushed-aluminum touch-sensitive experiment that was the Leica T2, it typically hasn’t made quite the same impact on the group psychology of photographers and photography writers as its M, R and (more recently) S-series.

'The Leica Effect'

I’m not immune to the ‘Leica effect’ myself. I owned and used an M3 for years, and wildly impractical as it was (considering I was attempting to make a career as a 21st Century music photographer3) I’ve always regretted selling it. There’s just something about the M series, some intangible magic when compared to the average mass-produced camera, regardless of whatever new and wonderful technologies they might lack by comparison.

I still maintain that if you can accurately focus on a human subject with a fast Leica prime wide-open, you’ve earned the right to call yourself a photographer. It’s not easy - and that’s the point.

It's been a long time since I shot live music, too. I didn't expect much when I took the M10 to a rock concert, but apparently my focusing gets better after a couple of beers.

35mm F1.4 Summilux ASPH. F2 (ish), ISO 3200. (Converted from Raw)

For all that, I’ve never really enjoyed the digital M-series models. The M8’s APS-H sensor felt like a compromise, and both that camera and the full-frame M9 always felt a little bloated, their shutters a bit too loud, their images a bit too noisy. Things got better - the Typ 240 and Typ 262 are very good cameras, and the Monochroms are fun - but neither they nor their predecessors ever really truly felt like a continuation of the classic film models. Leica claims that adding a movie mode to the Typ 240 was in response to demand from its customers, but the idea of shooting video on a rangefinder always seemed a bit silly to me.

The M10 can’t shoot video - let’s just get that out of the way. If you really need video in an M-series body, the Typ 240 is still available.

Personally, as you might be able to tell, I like the M10 a lot more than the Typ 240 and 262. There’s no single major change which makes all the difference, but rather a raft of little tweaks which add up to (in my opinion) a more attractive product than the the digital Ms which came before it.

First Look: Leica M10

1. Which roughly translates as 'The pure / the essential / the heart / the bits that really matter'.

2. With original firmware, I should make that clear. It got better.

3. Ask me how that worked out.