Much has been said about digital rot, the fast depreciation of digital cameras because of continuous advances in sensor size and features. Longevity has never been a virtue of the digital camera, although there are clear signs that many are happy to keep their cameras a little long, especially if they continue to favour the sweet-spot 24MP sensor over the latest 40-odd brigade.
Things they are a-changing. Modern digital cameras have reached a sort of plateau as far as image quality for general use goes. Provided you can inoculate yourself against bigger and brighter viewfinders, extra buttons, more automatic features, and ever-expanding dynamic range, you could well live happily for a few years with today’s new cameras.
Unfortunately, cameras begin to show their age in other ways – screens or viewfinders which begin to look old hat, or focus systems that are slow in comparison with the newer opposition.
Nevertheless, there is one outstanding camera that is going to be with us for years to come. It’s the nearest we can get to the immortality of the film camera. Buy it now and use it for the next ten years and you will have a peaceful and productive life. Not everyone will agree, of course, but here goes.
The camera in question is the Leica oddball, the M10-D. Following the success of the first M-D, based on the M240 design, the latest M10-D is a perfectly formed replica of Leica’s most advanced film camera, the now defunct M7. The only difference is that instead of a film you have a sensor and the ability to juggle ISO from frame to frame. Otherwise it handles just like the M7 and feels more or less like any M film camera made in the past 65 years.
This camera will last precisely because it is simple. It is less complex than the M10 on which it is based and, with the screen gone, any advances in that department are irrelevant. It has the most basic of options for you to fiddle with — aperture (on the lens), shutter speed, exposure compensation and ISO adjustment. It’s really all you need to make pictures. But, as a nod to modernity, the M10-D uses a wifi connection to the FOTOS app.
The app gives access to a few more set-it-and-leave it adjustments such as white balance, file format, ISO parameters, power settings, autofocus aids, power saving and card format. I set up the camera initially and have not needed to use the application since. I’ve never been much of a chimper and prefer to wait until I get home before seeing the results of the day’s outing. It’s a slightly more immediate experience than with film, especially if you had to send the roll away for processing.
Back at Photokina in 2014 when the Ur-D was introduced — that special edition which served as a testbed for the 240-based M-D — Stefan Daniel told me that Leica’s ambition was to make a digital camera to match the M3 in size. Well, they didn’t quite succeed, but the M7 will do as a template. It’s just a bit taller than the M3 and we can all live with that. The point is, having achieved parity of size with the classic film camera range, Leica has reached a point where drastic body changes are unlikely. If drastic changes are needed, the answer is probably a mirrorless camera designed to work with M lenses.
Any attempt to radically change the traditional appearance of this camera would upset fans. It wouldn’t be the Leica rangefinder. As a result, we have probably reached the ultimate iteration of the rangefinder as far as the body design is concerned. No changes needed there.
Future improvements will come in the form of sensor technology, electronics and added auto features. None of these is especially relevant to the M10-D. If the M11 has a 40-plus MP sensor as expected, few M10-D owners will be lustful. 24MP is the sweet spot and will be for years to come.
Rangefinder owners are not interested in faster AF speeds, of course, because there is nothing to automate. Nor are they much bothered about burst speeds, stabilisation or video. The M is a tool for careful, studied photography and it will remain so.
Will the M10-D still be desirable in 2029? I believe it will. Take the M9 as an instance. It was introduced ten years ago and is still going strong, still selling for around £2,000 — more if it is the more desirable P model. Some friends prefer the M9, with its CCD sensor, to all the more modern variants. What other production camera is maintaining those sorts of values and remaining so desirable after a decade?
If you go back ten years, digital cameras and sensors were developing at such a rate that it was hard to imagine a time when you could happily predict that a particular camera would have a useful lifespan of a decade.
Before you mention it, though, I am aware that many current 24MP cameras, in particular the M10 and M10-P will also be around in ten years’ time, just as the M9 is still going strong now. But the M10-D is a classic and, I think, will stand the test of time even better. Who knows, it could still be desirable in 2039, never mind 2029.
The M10-D appeals precisely because it is a camera pared down to the minimum. It’s a film camera with a sensor instead of film. It handles beautifully and the screenless back is a tactile delight. Even the faux rewind crank works well as a thumb rest to steady the camera and act as a hook on which to dangle it when using a wrist strap. If you enjoy street photography with an M3 or M6 (to mention just two of the family) you will feel quite at home with the M10-D.