Five years: In the age of digital cameras, that is an eternity for a model cycle. Despite the “facelift” with the M10-P and M10-R, this is still im Wesentlichen (a pun for Leica insiders) the camera that came onto the market in January 2017.
The fact that the M10 is celebrating its fifth anniversary is probably because of the pandemic. Since the M8, there have always been four years between models. Leica hasn’t told us why there had been a delay, but it stands to reason that the semiconductor shortage and disrupted supply chains are behind it. I suspect that Jonathan Slack has probably been doing gymnastics with a pre-production model since August.
But for Leica to say something, even internal information, would also be highly unusual. This company has an information policy that would have satisfied the Kremlin in the old days. They don’t even think it’s necessary to provide technical data such as push or pull values (which happened with the M10 and M10 Monochrome). You can discover this only through reverse engineering.
The marketing department is entirely different, they are allowed to tell us as much weird stuff as they wish, but unfortunately, there is nothing relevant for those who seek to get behind the rumours. In any case, it is probably pointless to introduce a new camera if it does not become available to the consumer in adequate numbers within an acceptable period.
I speculated about the possible features of the upcoming M11 in a blog post, and many readers participated with enthusiasm. But when I come to my senses for a moment, I ask myself: What exactly do I miss about the M10? What is lacking that prevents my achieving personal photographic goals?
Although answers to rhetorical questions are relatively uncommon, I can be pretty categoric on this one: Nothing at all! I miss nothing. Would I get better photos with an M11? No. It is just a new toy. In the best marketing tradition, the camera will have new properties (adjustable resolution of the DNGs, a Q-style bottom plate?) that I didn’t even know I were missing…
Let’s accept that an M (of any shape, form or age) is not explicitly suitable for sports reporters, bird photographers and children’s birthdays. Not that these areas of application are entirely closed, but at least my willingness to suffer is limited. If I need something with fast autofocus, I use the Q-P. Other M-lovers usually have a Nikon or similar slumbering for such purposes. It’s completely understandable.
The rangefinder. That optical-mechanical instrument from a time when the highest precision was achieved in the absence of electronics through sophisticated precision mechanics and minimal manufacturing tolerances. It is also a defining element and the namesake of the system. An M without a rangefinder? It’s as nonsensical as a Jaeger-LeCoultre Reverso with an LED display. Unthinkable, but the holy grail continues to wobble alarmingly. Rumour has it that an M11 with EVF could come soon, but the new model to be introduced soon will be pure rangefinder.
But hold your horses. There are certain conditions under which a rangefinder is superior to any EVF currently in existence. More on that later.
After squinting through rangefinders of all model generations for what probably amounts to several days in total over the years, I can state that the finder in the M10 is the best of the bunch. This comes with the risk of my being “cancelled” by the diehards, who still firmly believe that Saint M3 is imbued with pontifical infallibility. The M3 is highly practical for 50 mm focal length lovers, but when it comes to shorter focal lengths, it can be a pain in the fundament.
However, a rangefinder defines not only the system but also its limits. On the one hand, even the most precise rangefinder is of no use if you have the optical excellence of a Coca Cola bottle bottom in both eyes. On the other hand, focusing depends on the user’s skill set. But even the most impressive skills in this regard turn into “trial and error” when you try to focus the Noctilux wide open, especially when focal lengths over 50 mm come into play. In this regard, my personal sound barrier is the 50 Summilux, which I still have under control at f/1.4.
Apart from a wafer-thin depth of field, a preference for long focal lengths is another reason to get an M-Leica out of your head. Above 90 mm there is nothing that can be described as “reproducibly good results”, even with the lens stopped down.
These weak points are, of course, exactly the areas where an EVF such as the Visoflex or, if necessary, live view and a movable focus point are superior to conventional optics. And as I am assured, the Noctilux 50 and 75, which were actually designed as M lenses, and especially the 90s Summilux, can be focused best on an SL. Not to forget the wide-angle sub-28 mm focal lengths. The film cameras up to the M8 required an attachable viewfinder, which saves an EVF.
Photo enthusiasts acclimatised to digital and autofocus assume when looking at the M-System “from the outside” that an M-Leica, with all its manual controls, is suitable primarily for still photography. But how, do they imagine, were fleeting scenes photographed in the days of film without autofocus or automatic exposure?
There are situations in which I certainly do not wish to have to rely on Visoflex or live-view, namely when it has to be particularly fast. Let’s take a look at the correct process of image creation using live-view (Visoflex) with focus peaking:
- The aperture must be wide open to focus. So open the aperture.
- “Level off” the correct distance with focus peaking.
- Close aperture to the working setting.
This takes place — at least with the M240 and the M10 (regardless of which incarnation) — only after a delay because the shutter first ends live view and then takes the picture. This is one of the reasons why it is significantly louder, and in quiet surroundings you lose the advantage of the discreet shutter sound.
When focusing through the rangefinder, I don’t need any of that. The aperture is preselected, one turn of the focus ring and the subject is in focus in a fraction of a second. If necessary, recompose and release the image section without any delay. Bingo! The picture is in the can, and the next one comes a much faster sequence than would be possible with Live View. And this is not about continuous shooting.
You can be fast with an M-Leica without perishing from stress. I have demonstrated that in many reports and the “evidence photos” about concerts, stage photography, weddings and such events. If I had to rely on focus peaking for this type of photography, I would now be sitting in a rubber-walled cell (apologies, the correct expression is “crisis intervention room”. Right, I would have had a crisis).
Should there ever be an M11 with an electronic viewfinder with the quality of those in the the SL or Q2, I would be willing to wait for it, because the additional information in it (in addition to the exposure time and ISO, for example, histogram or scale) is valuable. But… only if, through some trick, focusing is as effortless as with the focus patch of the optical viewfinder!
Especially for contemporaries whose perception of reality is distorted by DxO sensor ranking, I would like to emphasise that the image sensor of the M10 will deliver results for many years to come (under halfway “normal” lighting conditions) that will not differ from existing devices (at least as far as the naked eye can distinguish). I mean, who can see today whether a photo might be from an M9? And now I don’t come across with an “analogue look” and blah blah. What is meant is the image quality itself. In any case, I can’t tell the difference between the photos from the M9, M240 and M10 (except that of course I know when I took what).
Sure, there are now technically better sensors, but the practical value remains to be seen. Always nice to have maybe a stop more dynamic range, but if you use the exposure compensation intelligently, depending on the subject, you have neither a problem with burned out nor with flooded areas, which would be important for the image effect. I don’t need a night vision device either. My need to take a picture of a black cat in the coal cellar at midnight is limited.
And in connection with night vision: There are, of course, noticeable differences between the digital M-Leicas. For example, the chic stripes (“banding”) in the dark areas of the M240’s image files were annoying, no doubt to interrupt the dreary monotony there. I have no qualms about working at ISO 12500 with the M10 (and the need arises extremely rarely. An aperture of f/1.4 is more than adequate even for candlelight). And since I noticed that the M10’s sensor behaves in an “invariant” manner (what is invariance?), strong backlighting or extreme light sources (stage lights, spots) have lost their horror. It will then be underexposed at low ISO. In extreme cases, it’s no problem to increase the exposure by four f-stops in Lightroom.
Incidentally, the M9’s CCD sensor incorporates a trick that has nothing to do with invariance: Set it up to a maximum of ISO 640, then mercilessly underexpose, even if the light continues to dwindle, provided the exposure time is acceptable. The photos can later also be upped by three f-stops in Lightroom, which mathematically results in an ISO of 5000, an ability which the camera never actually possessed.
The sensor of the M10-R technically has better data and is more modern than the original 24 MP sensor. But because I was (and am) completely satisfied with the resolution of the M10 and the number of pixels of the M10-R causes a slightly less favourable noise behaviour, I never considered an upgrade. Nothing against the camera and the high resolution ultimately has certain advantages.
And the M10 Monochrom? A chapter of its own. The sensor is mega. Period.
And the “shape” of the M10, the external design features? The “bar of soap”, the sharp edges of the base and cover plate? The arrangement of the functional components on the front, the window of the rangefinder, the bayonet attachment and the unlocking for it, the image field selector, the minimalist interface on the back? Of course, the shape is copied from the analogue M-Leicas, but I still find the design timelessly beautiful. The clean lines are reminiscent of a Mondrian painting.
No sensible haptics or ergonomics? Many people have complained about this since the M9, and that’s okay. If someone has the impression that the “clarity of the lines” is more important to me than good haptics: I never thought about it, the shape never bothered me or caused bruises, and I held the M-Leicas at events (when there were still some) in my hands for hours.
Maybe I’m quite undemanding in that respect because I’m left-handed. It wasn’t until I was an adult that I realised that I could have difficulty cutting with “normal” scissors. Pas du tout. Left-handed people can quickly adapt to objects that are actually intended for right-handed use without sparing a thought.
A thumbs rest or hand grip was a no-go for me. I avoid anything that makes the camera bulky in any way (but if these things are helpful for you, pay no attention to my babbling). In any case, it is no coincidence that the illustration of every stylised camera looks like a Leica, even with converted to emojis. “Icon” has something to do with iconic form. It doesn’t have a knobbly piece of plastic with recessed grips.
If the leaked images of the M11 are authentic, I need hardly worry about radical taboo breaks in design. Good riddance if the base plate disappears in favour of the Q2 or SL technology.
The materials of the M10: The magnesium die-cast housing, tightly packed with circuit boards, sensor and lock. The top cap is made of brass, within which the rangefinder features mechanical components, mirrors and glass. All of this gives the camera that indescribable feeling of “density” when you pick it up. Those less romantically inclined would say it is a little unusual, perhaps even awkward. But this is no obstacle to handling; on the contrary. With the right lens, M10 is perfectly balanced. And since it has almost assumed the physical dimensions of film bodies (which was always Leica’s aim), this has intensified the aura. It is clear that I have irrevocably crossed the threshold to the irrational, but probably almost everyone who has or has an M can understand that.
The probability that something breaks or does not work correctly on such a complicated technical device seems to me to be very high. The Internet and various forums wallow in a vale of tears, gnashings of teeth and tales of woe about the failure of technology and, possibly, also of the shortcomings of Leica Customer Service.
But either I am fortunate, or it doesn’t happen that often with the number of items sold. I’ve not been affected. Nothing about the M10 is so universally unreliable that it would warrant all Leicas being sent to the scrap heap.
I have never had any unresolvable problem with any digital M (please don’t fill the comments with heartbreaking stories about various defects. I am not saying that they don’t exist. Only that I never had any). The M10, in particular, has now been in service with me for five years without having to visit Customer Care (except at the very beginning, when I dropped it on the pavement, but that doesn’t count as the camera’s fault). And five years with me for the camera, it’s like Conan the barbarian as a child in the mine… pure labour, torture! There is no consideration for supposedly delicate components, namely the rangefinder, which is still fully adjusted. I have always been able to control sensor dust with an air blower.
Five years is a long time to retain the same camera in today’s climate. But hand on heart and not fooling around, if I had to use this camera for the next five years, I would lean back and relax. I would continue to) pity anyone trapped in the camera industry’s eternal hamster wheel, constantly convinced that only “the latest and greatest” helps you get even better pictures. Somehow I have a Hieronymus Bosch painting in mind. Poor tormented souls.
That said, I’m still curious to know when the M11 will be announced (the latest rumours say January 13, but who knows? All we can be reasonably sure of is that it will be a Thursday).
And if it turns out that a model with EVF may still be some time in the future, I would be tempted to wait for it (assuming certain technical properties of this EVF as described above).
To prove that I am serious about “the next five years” bit, I have recently purchased an (almost) new M10-P. My “old” M10 is finally at customer service for an “inspection” (nothing was defective) and, of course, sensor cleaning. I will then be able to sell it at a fair price.
If you wish to see more pictures from the M10, click here for the articles (in German): The first year with the Leica M10 and Three years of the Leica M10
Translated from the German by Mike Evans (to whom all complaints and brickbats be addressed)
Visit Messsucherwelt, the leading source for Leica rangefinder enthusiasts (in German)
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