The new Leica M is out, and it's just starting to ship out to a handful of those that were quick to jump in and pre-order right away. As usual, Leica put the new M in the hands of some photographers and blog writers prior to its release, so there are already a few solid reviews out there floating around. Although I did take part in the pre-testing for the Leica Q and SL, I had to skip this release due to time constraints and not being able to get a review out in time for the announcement. With that being said, I did have the new M in my hands a few days after it was announced and I'm glad I took that route. I didn't have to send a test unit back. Instead, I was able to purchase one right away.
[UPDATE - May 11th, 2017]
Still loving the M10, which has been my go to for personal work, and 2nd body for weddings. Added and updated some of the images in here with more recent ones.
Although I still don't have the time right now to write up a full review, I did feel that I needed to publish something on my first impressions so far. I am prepping for a lecture at the Leica Store in LV this coming Wednesday so I wanted to get something out before my flight tomorrow. This is a quick, to the point, and honest review of the new Leica M. Within the first few weeks of having it, I got to shoot with it a good amount, including a wedding where I was really able to put it through its paces. Although I do have a relationship with Leica and work with them on different projects, I still shoot with other gear and do NOT get paid for these reviews. I make a living from my photography, so the gear that I choose to spend my money on are also the tools that I use to provide for my family. I appreciate those that trust the honesty in my reviews.
The new Leica M10 is a familiar face, an old friend that you're happy to see. There's something different this time, though. That old friend you haven't seen in a while looks even better this time. They've lost 30lbs, got a new job that they love, and ditched their coke bottle glasses for Lasik surgery. The M10 is a leaner, lighter, and sexier version of the classic M body that you're used to. It's also packed full of the most impressive engineering ever produced by Leica. But, after spending an hour with your old friend, you realize that you aren't quite as impressed as you first thought. I'll get to that in a little bit.
The body itself is a home run in my book, I am absolutely loving it. There were obviously a lot of different ways that Leica could have gone with it, but they thankfully stayed true to the classic M roots. Since the release of the M3 back in 1954, Leica hasn't strayed very far from that same classic and iconic body style. Instead of going in a new direction with the new M10, Leica decided to pay even more respect to the classic body style of the original M3. The move of adding the ISO dial wasn't just for cosmetic purposes, but it definitely gives the M10 an even sexier look than the previous digital M's. The thinner and lighter body make it even more enjoyable to shoot with.
THE BUTTONS - ALL 3 OF THEM
The Leica M is engineered in a very respectful way to be a simple camera, and provide photographers with only the essentials. Something that Leica M shooters truly appreciate, just as I do. There is very little to distract or get in the way. There isn't any fluff that you find with other cameras trying to appeal to the masses, with pages of menus, and covered from end to end in customizable buttons. Sure, some photographers like that, I don't. The M10 is no different, in fact it's stripped down even more than its predecessors. They simplified the menu even more, which I didn't think was possible, and there are now even less buttons. There are only 3 buttons on the entire camera, besides the shutter. The original and first digital M had 5 buttons, the M240 had 6, and the M10 only has 3. Compare that design to a Sony A7 camera and Sony looks like the cockpit of a 747. The only buttons remaining on the M10 are LV, PLAY, and MENU. I've yet to wish that I had more or felt that something was missing. Well done Leica.
One of the buttons that were removed, was the ISO button. With previous digital M's, you had to hold down the ISO button and turn the dial to make ISO adjustments. This required both hands and was the only setting that you actually needed to have the camera powered on to change. The new design of the M10 introduces an ISO dial that can be easily changed with your left hand on the fly. It can also be done without the camera being powered on. If you have shot with the M in the past, you should already know how awesome this change is. Plus it pays even more tribute to the classic 35mm film rangefinder bodies of the past, making the look even sexier than before.
To keep this short and to the point, the new M10 has one of the most impressive sensors I've shot with, period. This is the first M that I've owned that gives me that same unique rangefinder shooting experience that I fell in love with years ago, while adding a brand new sensor that allows me to pretty much shoot in the dark. This is new to me, and it will be to every M shooter out there. To be completely honest, I was shocked by what I saw when I first started shooting the M10. The previous digital M's were never known for their superb image quality in less than ideal lighting conditions. With the previous M, the M240, the dynamic range was way behind compared to the competition, and you had to be extremely careful not to shoot above ISO3200 unless you absolutely had to. In good light, the digital M's were all capable of producing beautiful images, especially when paired with Leica glass. They simply struggled in low light or not ideal lighting situations. The new M10 is a whole new beast.
Dynamic Range Examples
ISO SAMPLES - ISO12500
For the first time, I'm able to shoot the camera that I love without restrictions. The M10 allows me to shoot in just about any lighting conditions, something I haven't been able to do in the past. I previously had to rely on my DSLR's once the sun went down. For a portrait and wedding photographer like myself, being able to shoot in low light is crucial. With the M, I won't have to reach for my bigger and bulkier DSLR as often as before. A couple things to point out real quick here, Leica did away with uncompressed DNG files, only compressed. This is fine though, since it is lossless DNG compression just like the M240. Lastly, the M10 has no low-pass filter just like its predecessors. The lack of a low-pass filter helps maximize sharpness, something that I have always loved about the image quality produced by the M sensors.
I would have bet money that Leica was going to use a tweaked version of the sensor that they used in the SL and Q. I was wrong. I tested and shot with both of those cameras extensively and the M10 sensor is not only different, it's all around better. The sensor used on the SL and Q was quite impressive, but I wasn't a huge fan of the colors it produced. Leica sensors were never known for having beautiful skin tones and colors. The biggest surprise I think overall with the M10 sensor has to be the colors. This new sensor produces some of the best colors I've seen, and not just in terms of the M family, but out of any camera. I would honestly say that I personally prefer them to the Canon colors that I love so much. Yes, they're that good.
With all of that said, there is one issue that I have found with the sensor of the M10. Depending on how you shoot will dictate how much of an issue it will be. From the testing and shooting I've done so far, I've noticed that while the shadow recovery is excellent, the highlight recovery is pretty shitty. The Leica M sensors have always been known to have trouble with preserving data in the highlights, it's nothing new. With the massive improvement on DR that Leica was able to achieve with the M10, I was surprised to see the lack of highlight recovery. Not only recovery, but I have found that it can be pretty easy to clip the highlights when close to proper exposure in certain lighting situations, such as bright skies. This doesn't bother me a ton since I typically do like to under-expose, but it is definitely worth pointing out. Personally, I would much rather have exceptional shadow recovery, but it is something that I am starting to keep an eye on.
PERFORMANCE AND FOCUS
One of the benefits that the Leica M-P (240) over the M (240), was the improved buffer. While it was better, it still wasn't all that impressive. The buffer of the M10 is 2GB of memory, allowing you to shoot up to 40 JPG images. The M (240) allowed for 12 JPG images and had 1GB. Quite impressive, and it is extremely helpful in real life shooting. Leica also went with an all new processor in the M10 - the Maestro II.
As far as focus is concerned, the viewfinder is larger by 30% and it has a higher magnification which is like a breath of fresh air. Looking through the viewfinder is a thing of beauty and makes the shooting experience even more enjoyable. Even with Leica deciding to not include video functionality, the decision to keep Liveview was a biggie for me. I'm not a huge fan of using the attachable EVF, but I do use Liveview a good amount. With a much better LCD, and the ability now to move the focus point, Liveview focusing is now more affective and I no longer need to focus and recompose.
I'm a huge fan of shooting with a rangefinder, and I've been waiting to see what Leica had in store for us with the next M. The M10 is by far the best M to date, and I have to applaud the Leica engineers for a job well done. I really appreciate the fact that instead of trying to re-engineer their classic rangefinder into something to compete with the mirrorless market such as Fuji and Sony, they stayed true to their roots. Rather than adding a bunch of new fancy features, they actually stripped it down even more than it was. Simply put, they focused on giving M shooters the camera they have been waiting for. Leica knows that the M isn't for everyone, and they are good with that. I'm one of the few wedding photographers that built a brand around shooting with an M, and while it's certainly not a camera designed for a wedding photographer, I used it to mold my shooting style into what it is today. The new M10 now allows me to do even more, with less restrictions, and opens the door for me to shoot with it even more than I already had been.
While I have been more than impressed with what the M10 is capable of, there are a few things that I feel could have made it even better. Liveview shooting is improved now with the ability to move the focus point, but it's slow, and I really wish Leica had given the M10 a touch-screen like the Q and SL. The battery life isn't great, and it's even worse when shooting in Liveview for extended periods of time. The last thing is the highlight recovery that I mentioned earlier. While none of these are a big deal, I think the biggest disappointment is the missing touch screen. Especially after seeing how helpful it is with the Q and SL. Whether Leica planned on saving that feature for the M-P version or not, it is a bit frustrating they didn't include it.
I will try to write up a full blown review in a couple months after I've shot with it extensively, but for now, hopefully I covered everything I wanted to. I'm finishing this up while waiting for my flight to board for Vegas, and it's about that time so enjoy! Thanks for reading! Please leave any questions in the comment area and I'll make sure I get to them. I also apologize for any typos, wanted to get this out before my flight, later!