Photos

Leica M10: Return of the Master

Images taken with the Leica M10 are super sharp, and full of crisp details even in the shadow areas. Colours are vivid without being too contrasty. Chromatic noise is not an issue, even at up to ISO 6,400.
Images taken with the Leica M10 are super sharp, and full of crisp details even in the shadow areas. Colours are vivid without being too contrasty. Chromatic noise is not an issue, even at up to ISO 6,400.PHOTO: LEICA

Sturdy like its predecessor, the M9, this model is the thinnest camera in the series

The Leica M10 is the latest of the German company's legendary rangefinder cameras.

The M series rangefinders are made famous by the fathers of photojournalism, such as Henri Cartier-Bresson and Robert Capa, who used them to record many of history's iconic moments.

Unlike DSLR or mirrorless cameras, a rangefinder camera uses a range-finding focusing mechanism incorporated into an optical viewfinder that lets the photographer measure the subject's distance and take photos.

The rangefinder shows two images of a subject. To focus, you need to look through the rangefinder and turn the focusing ring of the lens till the two images fuse into one. Everything, down to settings such as shutter speed and aperture, are done manually.

The design of the Leica M rangefinder series, including the M10, has remained largely the same since the M6.

  • TECH SPECS

  • PRICE: $9,950 (body only)

    IMAGE SENSOR: 24-megapixel full-frame CMOS

    DISPLAY: 3-inch LCD with 921,600 dots; optical rangefinder

    SENSITIVITY: ISO 100 to 50,000

    WEIGHT: 980g (body with Summilux-M 35mm f/1.4 lens)

  • RATING

  • FEATURES: 4/5

    DESIGN: 4/5

    PERFORMANCE: 4/5

    BATTERY LIFE: 4/5

    VALUE FOR MONEY: 4/5

    OVERALL: 4/5

The M10 is also as sturdy as its predecessor, the M9. The camera body is made of high-strength magnesium alloy with leather wrapped around the middle. The review unit's top plate and base plate are made of brass and finished in black chrome. It isa delight to hold the camera.

However, there are some slight changes to the body design. It is the thinnest M model, at 33.75mm thick. As a result, the M lens mount is raised to accommodate the thinner body.

A shutter-speed dial and a shutter-release button sit on the top and right of the camera respectively. Under the shutter release is a lever that works as a toggle for power on/off.

In the M9 and others in the digital M series, this lever also toggles through the single, continuous shots and timer options, but not any more for the M10.

Like the M9, the M10 has no M button or dedicated video recording button (they can be found in Leica's M Monochrom and some others in the M series).

Yes, this camera does not shoot videos. If you are someone who is buying a rangefinder camera, chances are you will not be looking to shoot videos anyway.

The biggest change in the M10 is the addition of an ISO dial on the top left of its body. During the heyday of film, this is where the film cranker would be.

Instead of going through the menu, you change the ISO setting by lifting up the ISO dial and turning the dial to the number you desire. Push down the ISO dial to secure it in place. The ISO dial can turn only when lifted up, to avoid accidental turns.

The ISO dial has settings from ISO 100 to ISO 6,400. There is also an M setting on the ISO dial that you can preset - from ISO 8,000 to ISO 50,000 - in the menu.

On the camera's rear, there is a small command dial sited on the little thumb rest at the top right. Below it is a four-way directional button and an information button. The display takes up most of the back, with only three buttons - Live View, Play and Menu - to its left, compared with six in the M9.

For this review, Leica sent us the sublime Summilux-M 35mm f/1.4 lens to use with the M10.

Having reviewed so many cameras with autofocusing, it was refreshing to go manual on everything. It is like going back to when I started photography 25 years ago.

The M10 powers up almost instantly but is slow to shut down, taking about 2sec. Using an SD card with a writing speed of 90MB per second, it shot 33 RAW images in 6.9sec before running out of buffer. This speed is really impressive for a digital rangefinder camera.

Image quality is, quite simply, amazing. Images are super sharp, and full of crisp details even in the shadow areas. Colours are vivid without being too contrasty.

Chromatic noise is not an issue, even at ISO 6,400. Between ISO 6,400 and ISO 10,000, noise artefacts are more evident but there is no significant loss of details. At ISO 10,000 and beyond, I saw abundant image noise, which appears in the form of visible bands and makes images look unnatural .

No wonder the ISO dial ends at ISO 6,400 by default.

Battery life is pretty good at around 500 shots on a full charge. Most mirrorless cameras have a battery life of only around 350 shots.

• Verdict: The Leica M10 is a superb rangefinder camera that brings one back to the essence of photography with its simplicity, solid construction, great handling and amazing images.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on January 25, 2017, with the headline 'Leica M10: Return of the Master'. Print Edition | Subscribe