Conclusion

Looking for lines and patterns in snowy Manhattan. I used live view and the Visoflex EVF to make sure that the image I was looking at in the viewfinder was the image I wanted to capture.

35mm F1.4 Summilux ASPH. F4 (ish), ISO 200. (Converted from Raw)

Shooting with the Leica M10 for the past few days has been a lot of fun, but every good conclusion should include some criticisms, and inevitably, there are several things about the M10 that I don’t like.

Leica has made improvements to its Auto WB performance in more recent M-series models, but it's still not amazing, and there's more tonal variance from shot to shot than I'd expect from a modern digital camera. Likewise, the center-weighted metering system is predictably susceptible to underexposure when there are bright point light sources in the scene (on the plus side, this system gives very nicely balanced exposures in low light).

This shot of the top of the M10 highlights its relatively uncluttered control layout. The small dial on the upper right shoulder can be used for various functions, but I've found it is most useful when configured as a direct exposure compensation dial.

While shooting is brisk (5 fps for up to 30 Raw frames is seriously impressive, in Leicaland) startup time from power off is a laggardly one and a half seconds. This is better than previous M-series digital models, but prehistoric when compared to a modern DSLR. Speaking of which, a battery life rating of 200 or so shots isn't great. That said, just anecdotally, with WiFi turned off, some live view shooting and moderate image review, the battery level indicator in our M10 was still holding at almost 100% even after a long day’s shooting recently in sub-zero conditions in New York. I will add a caveat here, though - the battery indicator in our pre-production M10 does have a tendency to go from nearly-full to nearly-exhausted quite quickly - otherwise known as 'doing a Fujifilm'. With this in mind, keeping a spare battery handy is probably a good idea.

While not an issue unique to the M10, there’s no getting around the fact that a system-wide minimum focusing distance of ~2.5 feet can be limiting, and accurate rangefinder framing is a crap-shoot, especially at longer focal lengths.

truly accurate framing with a rangefinder camera is a virtual impossibility

The M10's viewfinder corrects for parallax to some extent (the frame-lines migrate diagonally across the finder when focus is racked from infinity to close up) but truly accurate framing with a camera of this type is a virtual impossibility unless you use live view. Another hangover from previous M models is the baseplate, which has to be entirely removed in order to change the SD card and/or battery. It's a bit daft, but you get used to it. As with the Typ 240, the tripod socket is attached to the camera's chassis, not to the plate. This makes the attachment more secure, but it also makes changing a card or battery considerably more awkward when the camera is being used on a tripod.

The M10' base-plate must be removed to access the battery and memory card compartments. Shine on, Leica. You crazy diamond...

I wish there was a one-touch magnification option in playback mode, and I wish the M10’s front button could be customized. I wish the M10 had an electronic level, and I wish the ‘A’ setting on the shutter speed dial had a firmer detent. The Corning Gorilla Glass-covered rear LCD screen is improved compared to previous-generation models but 1.04 million dots is noticeably less crisp than the XGA screens on some pro DSLRs. I also miss the touch-sensitivity of the Leica Q’s LCD, especially when it comes to zooming and scrolling through images in playback mode.

None of these issues is serious enough to detract from my genuinely favorable opinion on the M10 overall, nor the fun I’ve had using it. It’s all about the feel, man. It’s all about the experience. It’s all about the magic.

Another example of the kind of picture I don't normally take. This shot is cropped, to exclude some signage which I didn't realize would be part of the composition when I composed it through the M10's optical finder. The original Raw file is available in the full sample gallery if you want to compare.

35mm F1.4 Summilux ASPH. F2.8 (ish), ISO 400. (Converted from Raw)

The Leica magic is a product of the company’s legacy, which was primarily founded on finely constructed, high-precision rangefinder cameras. Leica can make a solid claim to have popularized the 35mm film format, with its (for the time) highly compact L39 and M-series rangefinders. Throughout the golden years of 20th century photojournalism, generations of photographers gilded the company’s reputation by carrying their cameras into every corner of the world, and coming back with images that in some cases, changed it.

Back in 2006, when my old editor insisted I tone down that review, I doubt that he was under any pressure from Leica for a positive write up. I honestly believe that as a longstanding bulwark of the 'old' camera industry (and the old media), he was demurring out of respect to his image of the company as a stalwart member of that industry. A company with such an important and hard-won place in the history of photography that it could not in good conscience ever be said to 'disappoint'.

Don't worry - the dog is light, and the ice thick.

35mm F2 Summicron ASPH. F5.6, ISO 100. (Converted from Raw)

The same sort of thing happens sometimes in music magazines when reviewers are called upon to assess yet another forgettable 'comeback' album from an aging rockstar. A sense that yeah, sure, maybe it’s not a shade on their earlier work, but give them some credit - their earlier work was era-defining, and this should be taken into account. A certain deference often comes into play whereby these figures are assessed in perpetuity not for who they are, but for who they were. In other words - 'they’ve earned this - don’t spoil it'.

Well now, finally, I think Leica has genuinely earned it.

Any excuse to run this image again - this is my (long-since sold) M3. Minus some cosmetic details (and a film frame advance lever) the M10 is a very close physical match for Leica's classic film rangefinders.

Final thoughts (for now)

All in all, the Leica M10 represents an impressive melding of the classic and the very modern. It’s the first digital M-series camera that I’ve used which doesn’t feel like a slightly self-indulgent compromise. It’s discreet (much more so than previous models like the M9), and its 24MP sensor is capable of excellent results. Live view is available for those times when rangefinder focusing (or framing) isn’t precise enough and the camera’s simplified menu system keeps my attention focused where it should be - on taking pictures.

We must reserve final judgement until we've been able to test a fully-reviewable, final production camera. For now though, I'm confident that the M10 is arguably the most attractive, least complex, most sensible, least cynical digital rangefinder that Leica has ever produced. The days of LIFE magazine, when journalists like Larry Burrows, Dicky Chapelle, Sean Flynn and Dana Stone would chopper off into the jungles of Vietnam with a brace of M3s around their necks are over, but I like to think that at the very least, those great photographers would be able to pick up an M10, use it, and recognize it as a continuation of the film rangefinders that they carried. In other words, as a tool, not an expensive toy.


Sample Photos

Please do not reproduce any of these images on a website or any newsletter / magazine without prior permission (see our copyright page).

Please note that because the Leica M10 captures Raw images in the open .DNG format we have opted to make this a primarily Raw gallery, with all conversions 'to taste' alongside downloadable original .DNG files. We make the originals available for private users to download to their own machines for personal examination or printing (in conjunction with this review), we do so in good faith, please don't abuse it. Unless otherwise noted images taken with no particular settings at full resolution.