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Leica M10-D: Digital for the next decade

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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.

Everything you need, no distractions (Leica Camera AG)

Happiness

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.

At the Leica Society’s AGM. Taken with the Leica M10-D and 75mm APO-Summicron (Image Mike Evans)

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.

Oddball

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.

A camera that will stand the test of time (Leica Camera AG)

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.

Ultimate rangefinder

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.

D-Lux conference, snapped with the M10-D and 75mm APO-Summicron (Mike Evans)

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?

Simplicity

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.

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34 COMMENTS

  1. Overall I agree, even though the only Leica I used was my father’s IIIg. However I cannot understand the advantage of not having a screen. I use the screen to check that focus and exposure were appropriate and that the image does not suffer because of motion, vibrations, or what else. If the image is defective it is better to know on the spot, because it is often possible to take another (at least if it is a landscape).

    • I think it’s all down to personal choice. I have had the M-D and now the 10-D and haven’t had focus issues. I use the EVF sometimes for wider or longer lenses and for the Noctilux, but otherwise I don’t bother. But if you prefer the screen the M10 or -P are good choices.

  2. Mike, can you address these questions?
    — Can the M10-D be set to use auto ISO in manual mode?
    — When in the above mode I use the wheel on the 262 to dial in any exposure compensation as needed. Using the large dial in in the middle of the M10-D’s back does not seem ergonomic and would force me to take my eye from the viewfinder to set it.

    • ISO: The camera has exactly the same functions as the M10 and M10-P. Normally the ISO dial is used but you can set the parameters for speed and maximum ISO in auto by using the Fotos app. You are right that the exposure compensation on the rear of the camera is not as convenient as on the other Ms. I like it because it offers a clear view of where you are, just like a physical compensation dial on, say, the D-Lux 7. But I agree this is a matter of choice.

  3. Of course the original M-D will also still be desirable in 2029, or 2039. Even less automation and fewer features to become obsolete, the same sweet 24 mp resolution and that glorious ISO dial on the back.

  4. I understand the delights of simplicity but if, like me, one travels to photograph for record and need to use the record for teaching, is recording a sequence of spaces or facades, and might never return to that particular building or city one really needs to check instantly that the picture is captured correctly – one needs a screen and live view! Too often in the days of film I returned home only to find that I had lost so many important images. But for those who are shooting for the pleasure of the capture I can understand the attractions of no screen- almost!

    • You could always add the ‘Visoflex’ electronic bulging finder, and review photos in that (..in that tiny viewfinder). But that’s hardly what you want, is it?

    • That is why the core M10 has an LCD but this camera is a treat for the purist that loves the purity of design. So we have amazing options to suit various people especially if they offer the special purple and so on releases 😊.

      • Ah, for the good old days when there were no aspirins, and one just gritted one’s teeth and tried to bear the pain, and when there was no glass in ‘wind-eyes’ and the wind came whistling through the castle, and when there were no cars, and if one couldn’t get a horse one walked it, and for the days of film, when one couldn’t see for a week (or more) what one had shot, and when there were no comfy mattresses and one had to sleep on an itchy hay bale ..etc, etc.. I know that Michael, and others, love their M10-Ds, but I find it ridiculous.

        Why don’t Michael, and others, prefer the days before the convenience of the ‘miniature’ camera, and go for ‘the real thing’; a 10″x8″ full-plate contraption ..or the Daguerrotype? Surely that’s even more ‘purist’..?

        • (Excuse me while I just nip out and fire up my Stanley Steamer, ready for an urgent meeting to get to in nine hours’ time..)

          • Lucky you. I love classic old vehicles. But I’ve found that few who own them SOLELY own them. Horses for courses.

            A bit like Mike doesn’t only own the 10-D. He also has the entirely modern CL.

            It don’t ‘ave t’ be one or t’ other, sir.

          • Or you could join the future of electric cars. I have a client constantly looking for a charging station after driving a relatively short distance but they think everyone should have one. I will stick with my old fashioned gas vehicle that requires a driver (a Tesla drove into the side of a transport here while under computer control killing all in car-i think it is called evolution). Luckily we have choices😂.

        • I’m not sure fun and enjoyment can be pigeon holed or derided, David. People like what they like, and as long as they do no harm, who cares? We all pay our money and make our choice(s). Especially in areas of subjective vibes such as photography.

        • One reason someone might prefer a camera without an LCD screen is so that they can make images without rubbing their face against a fluorocarbon coated screen all the time.

          • And don’t mention touch screens. As a left-eye shooter I have to turn them off because my nose makes a perfectly random focus finger.

        • I don’t suppose we will see eye to eye on this, David, but then, as I said, it is entirely a matter of personal preference.

          No one is suggesting all cameras should be like the M10-D (and heaven knows I have enough cameras with screen) but it is refreshing and different. For some inexplicable reason it sells — the original M-D would have quietly died the death if there had been no interest.

          We should applaud Leica’s willingness to pander to our eccentricities.

  5. I prefer film and like fully mechanical cameras, but the M10-D would be my choice for a digital camera — as, even if there are a few things I would change, it does do away with various things that I don’t like about digital cameras and provides the most similar experience to film cameras.

    On another note, it is true that there are various advantages to the CCD sensor versus the CMOS. The M10-D could be an interesting candidate for a CCD sensor, since there is no need for live view (although some might use it on the cell phone application). It might partly depend upon the high ISO capabilities of CCD versus CMOS nowadays and what users were willing to have. It probably makes more sense, though, for Leica to keep it the same sensor as the standard M10.

  6. I think the M10-D will be a classic. I have the Leica Q-P that went into a half case that has a removable LCD cover that very rarely gets removed to change a setting. I rarely chimp as that breaks the flow of seeing what is around me. If I do decide to check an image I review it in the viewfinder but that is not very often. Everyone has a different shooting style but I have rarely missed a critical shot due to not chimping. I usually take more than one image anyway with some exposure compensation.
    Basically I find chimping interferes with my artistic flow but it would be of value to inexperienced photographers but they would unlikely be buyers of an M anyway.
    Simplicity of interface with only intuitive key controls for shutter, aperture, focus, ISO, and exposure compensation are what I want so that I can intuitively capture a fleeting moment or a methodical shot. Unfortunately, the majority of camera makers seem to be making cameras for gear heads that result in complicated computers that can also take images via countless buttons, complicated menus, silly features such as animal eye AF BUT you do not feel in control and will miss more pictures if you are an advanced photographer. I just want to be in control of my tool which needs to be an extension of my arm and facilitate my creative vision instead of getting in the way.
    I enjoyed shooting the M but my vision is not good enough for rangefinder focussing wide aperture glass anymore or I would jump on the M10-D. However, a m-mount Q (24MP) would have me selling some equipment to reinvest in M system!

  7. It all makes sense. That is why L makes so many different models. I prefer simplicity too but find it h ardent and harder to get proper focus with my m-240 as my eyes are not as good as they were a few years ago. Therefore, a Leica Q2 with interchangeable m lens capability would be perfect for me. It would serve as my everything camera until I stop taking pictures.

  8. If I have the option, I usually buy cameras with an articulating screen largely in order to close the screen off and not use it (except where needed for awkward angles). So the M-D and M10-D both make sense to me, I understand the lure.

    On camera redundancy, I can certainly see these cameras being sought after (for actual usage) in 10, 20 years. I suspect they won’t have the longevity of the film bodies though. 60-80 years on, the electronics will likely have long failed. And as M8 owners are finding, repairs are either impossible or prohibitively expensive. As an aside – I’d love an M8. But they’re still fetching $2k in Australian dollars and that’s a lot for something with a genuine risk of becoming a paperweight. The -D’s alleviate some of that of course, due to no LCD that will inevitably fail. The Epson R-D1 is another that I’m interested in, but again there’s that risk of redundancy, albeit apparently the camera can still be used effectively without the LCD working.

    But ultimately, generally, we buy what we buy to use in the here and now. Two potential decades of use is more than enough to justify something if we really love it.

    • Very good point, Jason. Both Olympus and Panasonic have used reversible screens on several cameras, including the GX8 and G9 and I love them. I was disappointed to see that the new S1 and S1Rs don’t have this feature.

  9. The thing that will make the cameras redundant in a few years time though will be when SD cards are replaced with something else or cameras all go to using built in memory.That could be right around the corner. I must admit I really, really like that Leicas have a longer lifespan than most modern cameras.Apple (annoyingly) already doesn’t want us to use SD cards.

    • Ah, another interesting and important point which, I confess, I hadn’t considered. You are right, of course. Computer storage in general has gone through many versions, from the 5in floppy to the 3.5in plastic-encased floppy, to CDs, mechanical disks and on to solid-state memory. There’s nothing sacrosanct about the design and form of the SD card and I agree that it could be the major problem in the future.

      However, let’s hope someone continues to manufacture the SD card in its current form, just as film is still in production despite the rise of digital photography. I suppose that if there is a demand, someone will meet it. The other aspect, too, is that SD cards are pretty robust and there will be millions of them going spare if manufacturers switch to an alternative. There should be a lucrative trade in recycling….

  10. There, took only half an hour to start the Steamer – lost my matches, but used one of those gas-stove flint-striker things..

    Having removed the screen, Leica are next going to introduce the M11-P (..for Pinhole..) with no lens. I mean ..let’s get back to basics. With no lens, but vastly raised highest ISO (because it’s only black-&-white) one (..the one who buys it?) will be able to take instantaneous pinhole snapshots. Covered in a mixture of ostrich and lemming skin, it’ll cost only €12k.

    Notice that it’ll be far cheaper to make, as it won’t need the complicated rangefinder mechanism inside ..no lens, you see!

    That’s to be followed by the even more pared-back M12-S ..no sensor! It’ll feature the hinged, opening back of the M-series film cameras, but with no sensor you’ll be able to put a piece of ground glass, or tissue paper, on what would have been the film rails in the days of film ..what an achievement – though an admittedly rather niche market: no rear screen, no front lens, no troublesome rangefinder prisms and rollers (so no need to send it back for re-calibration every few years), and ..above all.. no sensor! Back to the days of the real camera obscura ..what could possibly be more authentic?

    Price; €25k, but of course that won’t deter dedicated Leica aficionados.

    [The follow-on M13-VL will be the Virtual Leica; you don’t actually get any functioning, tangible device for your €35,000, but you do get a certificate which says that you’ve paid €35k, and you can now take virtual photographs. Comes with a platinum-plated 35mm viewfinder.]

    But now I’ve got to get straight back to that article I’m working on for Michael ..cheers!

  11. I’m only getting around to this now as I’ve been pretty busy for the last 24 hours, including writing an article on ‘Fake Leicas’. I have a large number of vintage film Leicas, including many with no rangefinder or meter of any kind. While I love using those cameras, when it comes to digital I must have a screen for a number of reasons, including checking images and making minor changes in settings. I do not see how the M10-D can replicate the joy of using a I Model A, a II Model D or an M3 to name 3 of my favourite Leicas. Of late a cataract in my right eye is giving me issues with using M rangefinders, but not, strangely enough, with LTM rangefinders which have a magnified view. EVFs can over come this too, but I really don’t like the accessory EVF for Leica Ms. I will have the cataract attended to soon, even though my eye doctor tells me it is not an urgent issue.

    As I am a collector, I had better say something about collectability and the M10-D. I must say first of all that I do not collect digital cameras and I use them only as tools. My collecting is confined to the film models. Secondly, I do not collect either as an investment or to create an asset bank. I collect purely for the pleasure of owning (and sometimes using) the items that I collect. Of late there has been some growing collector interest in very early digital cameras from the late 90s and early ‘noughties’. At this stage it is an immature market and nobody can say where it might lead. With the M10-D I would feel that it would lose some value initially and the price to be obtained in the first 5 years or so would be very much demand led. Further out, it is difficult to say what might happen, but if digital Ms (apart from some special editions such as the famous red models which are well outstripping inflation) become collectibles then the more scarce camera and lens models will probably be the most valuable ones. Whether they will ever produce a ‘profit’ is difficult to say. The other factor is how long will this take and will my heirs and successors be the ones that might benefit most? This is an eternally unanswerable question as most of us cannot say how long we can expect to live with any degree of certainty. Meanwhile those who like and purchase an M10-D should give it a good workout, as that is its primary role.

    William

    • Have you thought of trying the screw-on optical viewfinder magnifiers for the M cameras? I am not sure at which model they started being compatible, though. 1.25x for 50mm+ lenses and 1.40x for 75mm+ lenses.

      I don’t think digital cameras will ever have the collectible value that film (particularly mechanical) cameras do. Think of mechanical watches versus electronic watches. Digital cameras are a much more utilitarian tool, mostly without the art, craft, mechanics, and longevity of mechanical equipment. I don’t think they elicit the same emotions in people.

      • I tried one, but I did not like it. It still not as good a rangefinder view as a well maintained LTM. I agree about digital v mechanical cameras. That is why I have so many of the latter. No current Leica can compare as a beautiful object with the black paint and nickel fittings models from the 1920s and 1930s. Those cameras will also last much longer as usable items than any digital camera.

        William

        • I have just seen your article on the Rolleiflex TLR. Great cameras. They have only gone out of production this decade. There are still some professionals making regular use of them. For mechanical cameras, collecting and using, I think those from Rolleiflex, Hasselblad, and Leica can’t be beat, as well as the early Canon and Nikon. Some of the Pentax are pretty interesting, too. And the Linhof Master Technika has impressive mechanics. The (reborn) Alpa with wooden hand grips, Linhof roll film backs and Copal shutter Schneider, Rodenstock, and Zeiss lenses are impressive cameras, too.

  12. I love my M-D but have been coveting an M10-D, not least because of the thinner body and better viewfinder…or so I thought. I got my hands on an M10 the other and was surprised: the viewfinder – to my mind, at least – was not much improved over my M-D and the body did not feel noticeably thinner; the improvements did not feel significant enough for me to justify an upgrade.

    I also really like the ISO dial on my M-D, and I’ve often though the M10-D would be improved if Leica had followed this formula: keeping the ISO dial on the rear of the camera and moving the on/off/wireless switch to the position currently occupied by M10-era ISO dials. Now, an M10-D like that, with a higher magnification viewfinder (like the M3) and in silver/chrome…well, that would be heavenly.

    • Yes, I agree there are many factors to take into account. Everyone has different preferences and it’s a matter of deciding what suits you best. All your points are valid ones and I wouldn’t argue.

  13. Maybe someone has mentioned this before but if this camera comes with an in-built evf that would make it so much better for some, failing eyesight, image preview possibility, etc. This will also still keep the camera to minimum interfaces as the concept goes. My money awaits for such a camera. And yes a bit of in-built grip would also be great rather than adding extra expensive ugly grips!

    • I reckon we will never see an M rangefinder with a hybrid viewfinder. I understand Leica looked carefully at the possibilities but concluded that it was impossible, at least at a realistic price.

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