The Leica M10, early 2017 updated 20 Jan 2017: 2000 hours
The new Leica M, introduced in Januari 2017 has the number ‘10’ as designation and identification. This number signifies that the digital M is a decade old and that the traditional numbering system from M1 to M9 and beyond will be adopted again. Undoubtedly there will be a successor of the M10 and this one will be called M11 or perhaps M10.2. The new method of type identification, starting with the introduction of the M body in 2012 was no great success. The basic idea was to clearly differentiate between the many product families within the Leica portfolio, comprising of the S, Q, TL, SL and M and drop the sequence numbering. But this system made it impossible to refer to new versions and it was decided to add the internal product design number. The result was the hardly-informative designation of the M/240, M/246, M/262. This numbering system did not reflect the steady progress of the camera body, as it did in the past when one had a clear succession from M3 to M7 where every number referred to a body with more integrated features. The first digital versions of the M-body continued the tradition with the numbers 8 and 9. The M9 was the last M-body that could be safely positioned in the Leica CRF lineage: providing cameras with a limited amount of features that were optimized for still photography. The M9 had some quirks that were remarkable compared to the competition of the day. These characteristics have to be interpreted against a background of modern small-scale manufacturing. This is true also for the current M/240 and the actual M10.
Most users and observers of Leica cameras still approach the camera with the ideas of mechanical manufacturing and of the production line of yore. In the period of the M3 to M5, the Leitz company manufactured all parts of the camera themselves, assembled all parts with manufacturing processes that were tightly integrated in one location in the Wetzlar factory.
This production system ensured that the assembly at the shop floor added the most value to the final product.
This system no longer exists.
Assembling parts into cameras does add less value than it once did. Design, supply-chain management, after-care and servicing now add much more value. It is easier to unbundle once tightly integrated production processes. A small company like Leica has to rely on parts produced by other companies around the globe. The overall R&D and the design of both the product and the industrial processes required to assemble the parts add the most pre-production value. The final assembly becomes less and less important and the management of the supply chain becomes more important. The regulations for the electronic components, including the control of electrostatic charge and discharge are an integral part of product design and testing.
The new M10 (and the M/240 and its siblings) is the visible result of this new production system. The design department may be already thinking about the next cycle, but product and supply-chain management are limited by the availability, performance, size and shape of parts made by the subcontractors. In the M10 one finds elements from cameras lines as diverse as SL (example: the sensor) and M-A (example: the rangefinder mechanism and top cover). This mixing of components is not yet a genuine platform strategy, however.
Comparison of rangefinder mechanism. Below M10
The previous M/240 tried to be a universal and flexible tool, like a Swiss knife, and lost much of the genuine Leica M character. This role has been relegated to the SL. The Leica SL is now the instrument for flexibility and general use. The mirrorless M with a complete list of features would be an internal competitor for the SL. Thus it makes sense to create a clear and unique profile for the M-camera. In the current photographic world one can see an almost universal trend to a convergence of features in one function profile with a maximum of functions. The expanded function profile of a modern top-of-the-range camera is almost identical with the profile of a middle-of-the-range camera and even at the bottom of this range one can see a strategy of including as many functions as is possible, including a tight integration with wireless tools and almost by definition the internet.
It is not possible for the Leica company to compete on this level. A unique profile for the digital CRF camera line has to follow the classic Leica adage: a focus on the (photographic) essentials.
The range of functions has been reduced, the handling and ergonomics have been improved and fine-tuned for its usefulness and effectiveness for still-photographic purposes.
It is as if the designers looked intensely at the roots of the CRF-camera system and transformed these into a modern product for the digital era. The basic functions have not changed since the days of the Leica II in 1932: framing, focusing, exposing are still the essentials of the photographic craft. Reviewers of the that camera noted that there was a high level of automation provided by the camera. If you wish to experience this feeling, the Leica M-A is your preferred choice. Since the Konica Autoreflex (1965), auto-exposure is a distinguished feature of every camera and since the Konica FS-1 (1979) an integrated motor drive is also part of every camera. The M10 has aperture-priority exposure automation and an integral motor winder that changes the principle of the decisive moment to a principle of ongoing moment. The time lag between the pressure of the shutter release and the actual moment of activation of the shutter mechanism which is non-existent in film-loading Leica CRF camera types, has been reduced since the original M8. The response time, even of the M/240 can be frustratingly sluggish at times. There is a difference between wake-up time (the moment the camera becomes active after being shut off and in sleep mode) and shutter response time. The latter is important when trying to capture the exact moment of interest. The more automation a digital camera has inserted between the moment the shutter release button is pressed and the actual triggering of the shutter, the longer is the time lag. The M10 has presumably incorporated the improved and noise-reduced shutter cocking system of the M/262 and coupled with a fast response time, provides a shutter release experience, quite close to that of the legendary M3. Without dedicated equipment, it is hardly possible to measure the real difference between the different models on the topics of noise and response time. Subjectively and intuitively the M10 is very fast and hardly audible, but not different from the MM2 that I used for comparison. In this respect we should clearly differentiate between fact and fiction.
The M10 continues the tradition of the earlier M9 as a dedicated instrument for still photography with the coupled rangefinder. Therefore it is logical to adorn the new camera with the next sequence number. The video and audio functions are gone (there is also a technical reason for this abandonment) and the functionality for the basic photographic style (frame, focus, shoot) has been enhanced. The ISO select wheel on the left side of the top cover (where in the past the rewind knob was located), the improved viewfinder, the less audible shutter (as claimed by Leica), the less voluminous body and the simplified user interface are all aspects of a rethinking of the camera as a still-photographic instrument. When the current product development is viewed against this background, the M10 is an extended facelift of the M/240/262. In the car industry it is now the rule that a major new model will be introduced every six to seven years. To keep buyer interest at a high level, the mid cycle is a facelift, with just enough additional features to invite prospective buyers to buy this one and not wait till the next model cycle. That one will be more advanced but not so much more advanced that buyers of the face-lifted car model will get a sour feeling. In this respect the M10 is an intermediate model that gives a clear indication for the future direction.
The internal code name for the camera is “Willi”. I assume that this is an homage to Willi Stein, the chief designer of the M3 camera. The M10 might be interpreted as the digitally enhanced/transformed version of the original M3.
There are lots of changes in the M10 that deserve to be mentioned and discussed.
The most obvious change is the slimmer body. A re-arrangement of the electronic circuitry and printed circuit boards and a more extruded bayonet front ring (by about 1.1 mm: M/240: extension is 2.25 mm, M10: extension is 3.35 mm) allowed the reduction of the thickness of the body from 42 mm (overall width including monitor thickness) to 39.0 mm. The body thickness of the Leica M-A is 36 mm. So the new M10 gets close to the classical body shape. It all depends however on what you wish to measure. Looked at the top-cover from above there are four possible positions where one can measure. The left most position with the extension of the eyepiece (A’), slightly to the right where the top cover is at its thinnest (A), the middle position with the extension of the monitor screen and the bayonet ring (C) and the right position with the thumb grip (D). The Leica specs are close to the C measurement
The three cameras used (M-A, MM2 and M10) have the following dimensions in mm and rounded to 0.1 mm (measured with a digital caliper made by Mitutoyo).
M-A: A’ = 36.0; A = 34.0; C = 36.0; D = 34.0
MM2 (M/240): A’ = 40.0; A = 38.0; C = 42.0; D = 41.6
M10: A’ = 37.0; A = 34.0; C = 39.0; D = 37.8
Looked at the camera from above the shape of the cover (that is what you see when looking casually at the camera from above) is definitely more solid in the case of the M/240. When you place the M-A and M10 side by side, both cameras give the same visual impression of the size of the top cover.
The bottom measurement includes/excludes the bayonet ring and monitor extension. The M-A has dimensions 34.6 and 32.6 mm; the M/240 has 42.6 and 37.0 mm and the M10 has 38.6 and 32.6 mm. The rewind knob on the M-A has a diameter of 13.6 mm and the ISO select wheel on the M10 has a diameter of 15.3 mm.
The thinner body also made possible the overhaul of the view/rangefinder, now with the magnification of 0.73 (M7, MP and M-A = 0.72) and a larger finder to give a more relaxed view for the 28 mm frame. The diameter of the eye-piece is (outside/inside) for the M-A: 18.8 / 11.3 mm; for the M/240 it is 18.9 / 11.4 mm and for the M10: 20.8 / 13.4 mm. The newly designed rangefinder for the M10 has not only a larger entrance eye piece, but also a larger finder window: M10 (width/height): 25.9 and 18.7 mm. (M240: 22.4 and 18.4 mm; M-A: 22.5 and 16 mm).
The thinner body requires a redesigned battery that is more narrow (from 23.6 to 16.9 mm) with less capacity. See specs.
Below you will find a body comparison. From left to right: MM2; M10; M-A; M7
Here is a comparison between the M-A; M10 and MM2 (top to bottom).
The cramped space for the electronics and sensor give rise to a problem with heat and cooling. That is the technical reason for the abandonment of the video function. The functional argument is the focus on still photography. On the other hand one might expect that a long burst of a picture series also heats the processor. The internal heat control system will take care of this I presume. The monitor on the back side of the camera has also been changed in dimensions: M/240 has width/height of 71.9 and 50,3 mm; M10 has 75.5 and 51.5 mm. The changes are small and only visible when the cameras are compared side by side. The lack of a video function removes the microphone (where the ISO select wheel is sitting now) and the speaker on the back of the camera and giving the monitor more room. The enlargement of the monitor window required slightly narrower and more elongated buttons on the left side (one mm less).
Below the back side of the MM2 (left) and M10 (right)
The more extruded bayonet of the M10 (left) and M/240 (right) can be clearly seen here:
Below is a side by side comparison of the battery in the M/240 (left) and the M10 (right)
The WLAN function allows the camera to be operated from an iPhone or iPad from a distance with a dedicated app. It is strange that the same function is not available for the Huawei line of smart phones. I could not use this app because it will only be available after the official announcement of the M10. The built-in WLAN and the additional external GPS functions are the only concessions to the internet culture and social media integration.
Below is a detailed list of the many major differences between the M/240 and M10/3656 (Willi)
CMOS-Chip: M10: dedicated sensor architecture, manufacturer not known; M: original Cmosis chip; both have 24 Mpix (updated Jan 20, 2017, 20 00 hours)
DNG: M10: compressed; M: compressed, uncompressed
Video and Audio: M10: no; M: yes
White balance: M10: 8 ; M: 7 presets
Buffer memory: M10: 2 GB; M: 1 GB
Basic sensitivity: ISO 200 for both cameras
Sensitivity range exposure meter: M10: EV -1 to EV 20; M: EV 0 to EV 20
Sensitivity range sensor: M10: ISO 100 - 50000: ISO 100 - ISO 6400
Magnification: M10: 0.73; M 0.68 (effective base 50.6/47.1 mm)
LCD Monitor: 3 inch, Gorilla glass (both); M10: 1.036800 pixels; M: 921.600 pixels
Series: M10: 5/sec and 30 - 40 in one burst; M: 3/sec and 12 in burst (for both: only with -L-JPG)
Battery: M10: thickness: 16.9 mm;1300 mAh; M: thickness:23.6 mm; 1800 mAh
Top-cover material: (both) brass
Weight (with battery): M10: 660 gr.; M: 680 gr.
Dimensions(as stated by Leica) M10: ca. 139 x 38.5 x 80; M: ca. 138.6 x 42 x 80
M10: no spirit level, no microphone, no video activation button, frame lines only white
M10: integrated WLAN; M: no integrated WLAN
Main switch: only ON/OFF (On/OFF-S-C-Selftimer)
The other functions are menu-selectable (in Drive Mode: single-continuous, interval, bracketing, self-timer)
M: three main groups (Camera-Image-Setup)
M10: Main menu and Favorites (select individually preferred menu functions)
The list of menu items is slightly different
The user interface has been changed
M: six buttons to the left of the monitor: LV, Play, Delete, ISO, Menu, Set, A thumb wheel right and a direction pad with center button (info in M and info + set in M10).
The M10 has only three buttons on the left: LV, Play, Menu). The ISO choice is now available as a wheel on the left.
A list of menu items of the M10
Lens detection: OFF, Auto, manual M/manual R
Drive mode: single, continuous, interval, bracketing, self timer 2 and 12 sec
Exposure metering: spot, center-weighted, multi-field
Exposure compensation: -3 to +3 in 0.3 EV
Flash settings: max flash sync time, first-second curtain, flash exp. compensation
ISO setup: M-ISO select from 100 to 50000, max auto iso, max exposure time
White balance: Auto, 8 presets, color temp in K
Photo file format: compressed DNG, JPG
JPG settings: contrast, sharpness, saturation, monochrome
Auto review: Off, 1s, 3s, 5s, Hold
Capture assistants: exposure simulation, histogram, clipping, two grid line display (3 x 3 and 6 x 4), focus aid, focus peaking
EVF/Display control: switch between display in EVF or monitor (proximity sensor)
User profiles: 4 profiles can be stored
Customize Control: edit favorites menu, customize thumbwheel for LV zoom or exposure compensation
Display Brightness: auto, and settings from low to high
EVF brightness: : auto, and settings from low to high
Auto power saving: off, 2, 5, 10 minutes
WLAN: works with iPhone and iPad
GPS: works only with Visoflex attachment
Date & Time: several options
Language: a range of languages
Reset camera: set to initial factory settings
This listing provides a good overview of the functions of the M10 camera. It is a modest list when compared with the average digital camera in the high-end segment of the market. The range of functions is focused on adapting the user interface to individual preferences.
The sensor of the M10 is not the same as the one in the SL, which is (almost?) identical to that in the Leica Q. As a small-scale manufacturer, Leica can not use off-the-shelf products, because the manufacturers would demand that Leica should purchase too large a volume, restricting its flexibility to implement new features in new products. The consequence is that Leica has to rely on manufacturers who can handle small-scale production volumes. The drawback of this position is a higher cost per unit which may go some way to explain the high price of a digital Leica M camera body. The advantage is of course that Leica’s design team can include in the architecture many characteristics and features that are unique and at the same time dedicated to the special demands of a camera type.
All “full size” 135 type cameras have now the same processor (Maestro-2). In this respect we see only a certain level of standardisation. (Updated Jan 20, 2017, 2000).
All three cameras have a high ISO value of 50000. Improvements in the noise-reduction algorithms give the M10 a marginal edge in performance compared to the SL and an improved performance when compared to the M/240. A comparison with the MM2 however shows that the lack of a demosaicing algorithm in the MM2 provides better performance. The MM2 has better performance when the ISO range lies between 6400 and 25000, the really useful high ISO value lies around 6400, exactly the range that the M10 has on its ISO select wheel. For critical noise-free imagery the limit for the M10 is around ISO1600 and for the MM2 it is around 6400.
The non-standard ISO value is software-defined as it is in fact underexposure with gain amplification and noise reduction. Noise reduction is always accompanied by a reduction in sharpness, again complicated by the demosaicing algorithm. Finding a practical balance between these different parameters is not easy. The main test for the usefulness of higher ISO values (aka underexposure) is the combination of definition (reproduction of fine detail) and noise (destruction of fine detail).
The table below shows the comparison between the M10 and the MM2 (which has no demosaicing algorithm) for a range of ISO values from 400 to 25000. It can be seen in this comparison that the fine textures gradually disappear and that the colour noise (in the case of the M10) increases (quite steep above ISO6400). In this side by side comparison the acceptable balance would be reached at ISO 6400, but the MM2 does quite well up till the maximum of ISO 25000.
Below M10 ISO 200 and ISO 50000
Below is a series of pictures that show the difference in quality between the M10 (top) and MM2 (bottom) for several ISO Values
M10 ISO 6400
The M10 goes one stop further, compared to the MM2 and three stops compared to the M/240., but at this level of underexposure, the usefulness may be questioned. The comparison between the ISO 200, ISO 6400 and ISO 50000 of the M10 is revealing (below)
The reproductions of the Siemens star pattern give a comparable impression. With this pattern the M10 performs quite well at ISO6400 and is still commendable at ISO25000. The final step, ISO50000, shows the limit, but also how effective the software does its job.
The results for the M/240 with the same Siemens Star pattern are hardly different for the relevant ISO values. Do not pay much attention to the resolution around the centre spot. The pictures were made with different reproduction and sizing scales. They are meant only for comparison within the camera range.
M/240-ISO ISO 6400
The dynamic range is identical to the one measured for the SL (see my report of that camera) and as with colour reproduction one should differentiate between measured results and practical usefulness. A wide dynamic range of more than ten stops is often claimed for black&white film emulsions, while a useful range is closer to five or six stops. The same argumentation is valid for digital photography. It is better to have a six stop range with finely separated shadows and highlights than an eight stop range with blocked shadows and highlights. The dynamic range of the new 24 Mp sensor for Leica M10 and SL lies between six and twelve stops depending on what type of measurement one uses and which criteria are applied. A pragmatic conclusion might be that the exposure latitude is high, but overexposure should be avoided at all cost. (No new insight for older users who know how to expose slide film!).
I did not compare the colour rendition of the M10 with that of the M/240. Psychological studies of the human perception show such a large divergence in colour assessment and a wide range of important variables that influence the individual colour perception, that any comment is not scientifically relevant. The measurement of the colour differences in the format of Delta E are not very relevant because of the non-uniformity of the colour distances. The upshot is that all one can say is that some colour reproduction (in print or on the monitor) is individually more or less pleasing. There is in this respect hardly any change with the days that photographers discussed the colour reproduction of colour films. One should be very careful when comparing colour renditions because of the large dose of subjectivity and environment conditions involved.
Leica has implemented only the option of the compressed files to reduce the size of the image file and enhance the speed of operation when selecting continuous shooting operation. There are many different lossless algorithms, but all of them have to cope with noise, a method that limits the possible compression. The M10 files have a standard size of between ± 25 and ± 30 Mp (at ISO 200 and depending on the amount of detail information), increasing to 40.2 Mp at ISO 50000.
Camera in daily use
Most improvements are meant to enhance the user experience and joy of taking photographs. The camera as a tool does not produce better pictures than the M/240. A thinner body does not automatically lead to improved pictures. Nor does the increase in magnification of the finder from 0.68 x to 0.73 necessarily help making better pictures. The increase in magnification will theoretically lead to a higher accuracy of the manual focusing when using wide aperture lenses, especially the SX and NX 50 mm lenses. More important is the ease of focusing and viewing, even for spectacle wearers. When adding the 1.2 or 1.4 magnifier there is an effective finder magnification of 0.876 and even 1.022 (the iconic finder of the M3 had an effective magnification of 0.92). It might be argued that a thinner body in combination with an easier-to-use view/rangefinder reduces the subjective interference of the instrument between photographer and subject. It has always been one of the biggest advantages of the Leica camera that the camera becomes an extension of the eye and that the camera hardly interferes with the mental flow of taking pictures. The other argument, the camera is inconspicuous and not intimidating is still true, but the claim for silence and hardly audible shutter noise has to be shared with many other digital cameras.
In this sense, there is indeed a subtle difference between the M/240 and the M10. The bigger volume of the M/240 makes its presence felt and distracts from the attention span for picture taking. The body weight of the M10 is hardly less than that of the M/240 (the M-A has a body weight of less than 600 grams and this figure might become the target figure for a next digital model). The original body size and weight of the M3 are just right for the style of picture taking that made the Leica camera famous and in hindsight one has to express admiration for the designers of the M3 body. The code name of the M10 (Willi) specifically refers to that model.
The M10 operation is indeed hardly audible. There are continuous improvements in shutter noise and activation: reason why the discrete mode (introduced in M8.2, M9) was abandoned already in the M/240. The shutter noise is for both cameras quite low and will be submerged in most environmental noise levels. The sound profile for the shutter release and cocking action is different for the M3, M7, M10, M/240 and M-A (from most silent/pleasant to least silent (relatively speaking).
The image quality at higher ISO values (more underexposure) is useful for most applications where such a technique is needed. It does not make sense to use high ISO values when the camera is on tripod. As with high-speed film emulsions of ISO 3200 (effective ISO 1600) the employment of these higher ISO speed is restricted to low ambient light situations where shadow detail is more important than reproduction of subtle surface textures. In this context, the M10 is a very effective tool. The easy operation of the ISO value to the desired speed, the low camera noise and the fast response times support the photographer in capturing a crowded scene in dynamic and rapidly changing configurations. The discerning Leica user may ask why in these situations one could not use the Auto ISO function, limited to ISO 6400. The answer is simply that the camera has a user interface that supports both options and the user is free to select what is more convenient.
The rangefinder has been improved, but only an attentive comparison between the several versions reveals the (slight) improvement. The white frame lines are very bright and the finder patch is effectively shielded from stray light. The focus peaking option when Live View is active is not the best method for fast responses when the objects are moving erratically and unpredictable. In such environmental conditions the limits of the rangefinder mechanism are rapidly reached, but compared to the easy functioning of an auto-focus mechanism, the enhanced consciousness of what you are doing is well noted, if not always effective.
The choice for continuous shooting that produces a series of pictures in rapid succession could be helpful in this respect. Many photographers fix the distance setting on the lens at a certain position (around 2 meters is often selected) and move the arm or body successively closer to the subject to statistically find the correct distance. The number of pictures in one burst depends on several settings and when using DNG files, the buffer is quickly filled up. More than ten to fifteen pictures are not possible within a timespan of several seconds. On the other hand it may be argued that if you cannot get your picture within this time- and distance frame, a faster burst rate over a longer period of time will not be helpful.
The reduction to three buttons on the back side of the camera body of the M10 produces a cleaner overview. The LV and PLAY buttons are convenient to have, but it is the MENU button is essential because there are many functions that are only accessible through the menu. Leica claims that the aim of the reduction to the essential elements of photography improves the simple handling of the camera. When the thumb wheel is set to exposure compensation all major components (shutter speed, aperture, distance setting, ISO selection and exposure compensation can be operated manually. It is however a matter of preference and convention whether this approach is better (more effective and productive) than the one found in the M/240 whose interface shows a different mix of manual and menu operations. The ISO speed setting on the M/240 is menu driven instead of wheel-operated which enhances the speed of selecting the required setting. The exposure compensation can be assigned to the thumb wheel for direct operation (visible in the finder).
The reduction of the number of buttons on the camera body is less confusing for the user and may help to focus exclusively on the main task: taking pictures.
The reduction to the essence has always been one of the enduring statements of Leica for their range of CRF cameras. What G. Crawley said about the Leica M4-P (“the writer has no hesitation in recommending it (the M4-P) as a draught of pure spring water in in a Pepsi-Cola world”.) is even more valid for the Leica M10. Between 1980 and 2017 Leica cameras have seen a kind of roller coasting development, but now it seems as if Leica has at last rediscovered its roots (at least those of the iconic CRF models). It makes sense to reduce the amount of functions for reasons of simplicity of use and cleanliness of interface. It is a smart move and Leica should now commence on a quest for perfection and focus on optimizing the narrow range of essential functions for a detective-like style of photography. It is true that there is a strong partisanship for the style and approach of photography that is embodied in the Leica CRF models. While the M10 is a delightful implementation of the basics of manual CRF photography, it has to be said that the camera is not yet perfect. The mechanics of the rangefinder are at its limits, the optical performance of the best Leica M lenses exceeds that of the sensor capabilities, there are (technically speaking) doubts about the effectiveness of the removal of the AA-filter and the weight is still too high.
The M10 has lots of emotional appeal: the compacter body is easy to work with, the simplified handling does not distract from the main task: taking the picture you want at the moment of your decision, the finder is crystal-clear with bright frame-lines that help to frame the scene, the shutter pressure is extremely smooth with hardly a delay and low noise, even when using the series feature. Every feature of the camera has been improved and sophisticated measurements will undoubtedly illustrate it. The camera as a package, or a black box if you wish, hardly interferes with the mental flow and has that undefinable character of a precision tool that enhances your confidence and challenges your expertise.
A critical comparison with the predecessor, the M/240, and especially the MM2, in the critical metric of the ISO-speed and definition shows however that the M10 has increased the range by a nominal three stops (from ISO 6400 to ISO 50000), but from ISO 25000 the advantages are relatively minor. If your important metric is this, then the performance of the M10 might be an argument to change the M/240 for the M10. When your aim is having an instrument that supports you to take pictures in the Leica CRF style, the advantages of the M10 compared to the M/240 and especially the MM2 are less obvious.
The standards and methods of Leica photography are easy to learn, but very difficult to master. The path from learning and mastering has been made shorter and straighter with the introduction of the M10.
If you are happy with the results of the M/240 or the MM2 it is best to skip the M10 release. For M9 and M8 owners/users, the migration to the M10 is advisable and should become a serious consideration.
NOTE: all comparison pictures are DNG files, converted to web-suitable JPG files in Graphic Converter without any pre- or post-processing.
Below a series of handheld pictures
Selection from full image ISO 6400