I suppose it was only to be expected. The Leica M is not immune to the sensor bloat phenomenon. While many rangefinder fans would have been happy to continue with an out-dated 24MP sensor, Leica has to keep up with the Joneses and the advent of the 40.89MP high-resolution sensor is therefore relatively unremarkable.
The change of sensor mid-series is unprecedented, as Leica watchers will attest to. If I‘d been asked a year ago, I would have acknowledged the eventual need for a higher-resolution sensor but I would have been certain that any change would be delayed until the arrival of the next series, thought to be the M11.
However, with the M10-R joining the M10-M, the immediate future will be dominated by that 40.89 megapixel sensor. It is likely to be the sensor chosen for the M11, whenever it arrives, and the move to higher resolution probably sounds the death knell for the old 24MP unit. Instead of running parallel models, Leica quashed the 24MP Q and SL sensor as soon as the new models were announced. The reason given was production capacity.
While the current M10 (£5,750), M10-P (£6,490) and M10-D (£6,490) will continue until stocks as long as stocks last, I don‘t hold out much hope for a medium-term continuance of manufacture. Their days are now numbered. Street prices will probably fall (except, perhaps, for the outlier -D model) and I would not be at all surprised if the production of the 24MP sensor has already ceased. Even if this decision has been taken, however, Leica will keep the models current while stocks last.
Before the arrival of the M11, I would also expect to see an M10-RP (or, more likely, a continuity M10-P fitted with the new sensor). We’ve already had the Monochrom and that is normally the last gasp of a model series before upgrade. But the -P designation is a vital part of the product mix and I cannot see the current model continuing without a sensor upgrade. These days, the only difference in the -P model is cosmetic, primarily the presence of that top engraving.
I do fear for the future of the excellent M10-D because it sells in relatively small numbers and I suspect it won’t pay Leica to upgrade the sensor, more’s the pity. Yet I am just one of many who is convinced by the -D concept. Several leading photographers I know do have a soft-spot for the screen-less M. Jono Slack is one of them.
Let’s keep our fingers crossed that rumours of the death of the M10-D have been exaggerated. I’d just be happy if they kept the current version going, 24MP sensor and all.
M11 not imminent
Where does this leave Leica and the rangefinder for the immediate future? The M11 is expected, but the sensor change in the M10 range tells me that it isn’t as imminent as many thought. Otherwise, I feel sure, the new sensor would have been delayed until the announcement of the next model.
Perhaps, in this regard, the M10-M and M10-R should be regarded as interim upgrades, serving to postpone the arrival of the M11. The M10 series is coming up to 3½ years in circulation. The M9 lasted three years while the M240 stretched to five. It is now quite possible that the M11 will not arrive until 2022.
The form and function of this next M is something of a conundrum. With the M10 having reached the desired convergence in size with the M7, and that not far off the original M3, I struggle to imagine what new tricks the M11 could bring to the party.
At Photokina in 2014, Stefan Daniel told me that the ultimate objective was to shrink the digital rangefinder to the dimensions of the M3. Well, they did that and I think any more fiddling with the basic concept would be counter-productive. The M is a one off, a traditionalist camera which doesn’t benefit from gratuitous fiddling. If you want something different, try the SL2.
What could Leica do to turn the M11 into a real upgrade, given that they’ve already released the major attraction, a bigger sensor?
The big trick, of course, and one that everyone has been hoping for, is a hybrid viewfinder, incorporating an electronic display into the existing optical rangefinder. We know that Leica has experimented with such a device but, up to now, it has presented too many problems, not least of which being cost, to be viable.
I am no longer sure that this is the case. A hybrid viewfinder would be one killer feature for the M11 and could trigger the sort of upgrade rush that Leica can normally only dream of. There will be many M users who will not be attracted by the larger sensor of the M10-R and -M but would rush to buy any rangefinder featuring a hybrid view.
In any case, even without a hybrid finder, the M11 would need a completely new accessory EVF. The current Visoflex, though adequate, is some six years old and beginning to show its age. Going the whole hog with a hybrid finder would solve that problem.
Another oft-requested change is the addition of in-body stabilisation. It would undoubtedly be a game-changer for the M11, but I doubt that it will happen. At the current state of technology, adding IBIS would result in a thicker, weightier camera, perhaps returning it to the dimensions of the M240. That, I think, would be seen as a retrograde step by M users. After all, if you want a Leica with IBIS, the cheaper SL2 is the obvious answer.
One improvement we will almost certainly see is a faster processor, one that permits the current 2GB buffer size to be increased, possibly to 4GB.
Any further changes, given that the camera has reached optimum size, will be limited to rearranging the deckchairs — but in the nicest, non-Titanic sense. Not a lot needs doing, frankly.
If I were to polish my crystal ball and seek out the M11, I would expect to see the new camera emerging in 2022. I think there is a very good chance it will have a hybrid viewfinder and a few minor tweaks, but certainly no change to the traditional appearance.
What’s your view?
When do you expect to see the M11? Or will there even be an M11? Could we be stuck with continuity M10 for much longer than anyone thinks?
A further question to ask is whether you think the M10 in its various guises has reached the ideal form and function for a digital rangefinder. Maybe we don’t want too many changes.