This review of the Leica M10 was a long time coming since I had originally planned on writing this review last Spring. It was during that time when I was fortunate enough to get the opportunity to pick up a second-hand Leica M10 in black from a fellow forum member in exchange for two of my lenses at the time (Summilux 35mm FLE and the Summicron 50mm V5). Was it worth selling my M240 at the time and trading off two lenses for the M10?
Before I continue with this review, I should caveat by saying that this is my second M10 as I sold the first one during the first draft of this review last year after my trip from Miami and Key West. I had sold it over the summer because I didn’t feel the premium wasn’t worth it to me, therefore I had sold it off and picked up a mint silver chrome M-P 240 which I loved and took it several trips with me.
Fast forward to 2020, an opportunity had come up for an M10 while I was at the gym one morning. I was catching up on Leica things during a break (as you do) and I had found a silver chrome M10 for sale for a price that was hard to pass up. A price so good, that I had completely stopped working out and went into full-time stalker mode with the seller on securing the purchase via text message. After less than 5 minutes of communicating back and forth, we had agreed on a price and a successful transaction was made.
I said farewell my beloved M-P (Typ 240) as it sold in less than a day to a gentleman in Texas. You were the best iteration of the best value digital Leica M camera, but how does the M10 compare and do I still think it was worth the money to upgrade?
“Minute changes like these is what legendary products need. Nothing drastic, but incremental improvements.”
When the M10 was first introduced in January 2017, it was a cause for celebration as reviews sang their praises as the ‘best Leica yet’ while commenting on its new 24 megapixel sensor paired with the latest Maestro II processor, a bigger viewfinder magnification with better eye-relief, a body that is as slim as the M7 film camera, a new manual ISO dial and what is this?
They’ve removed video recording!
Nobody cared. Moving on.
Not only did Leica giveth and taketh away with the M10, but they had also made the camera significantly more simplified compared to its predecessor. Leica’s new devotion to minimalism that could be seen back in 2015 with the introduction of the Leica Q, transferred over to the M10 as the camera now has less buttons, removed any superfluous menu options which led to a more structured and cleaner menu system. They even changed the power switch so that it only does one thing now: On or Off. This is a big deal as the Leica Q had a problem with some users accidentally switching to “Continuous” as the power switch had the tendency to go full-auto. Minute changes like these is what legendary products need. Nothing drastic, but incremental improvements.
Look at every new iteration of the the Porsche 911. It’s not the same car, but just improved.
As the difference in technology between the M240 (2012) and the M10 (2017) span 5 years, the improvements of the M10 can be noticed instantly with its new slimmer profile when you pick it up for the first time. While the M240 wasn’t a big camera compared to other full-frame cameras, but if you compared Leica’s other rangefinders, the M240 was a thicc boy. After a few weeks of getting reacquainted with the M10 again, I felt that the M10 is just like any other Leica: it’s more than the sum of its parts and more about its evolution rather than revolution. That’s why, at least currently, it’s the best digital iteration of Leica’s fabled rangefinder (until the M11).
“…it’s more than the sum of its parts and more about its evolution rather than revolution.”
Build & Design
The M10’s new slimmer body and lighter weight compared to the M240 was very obvious and noticeable to me. As your right thumb rub against the right corner of the body next to the exposure dial, you’ll also notice the new paint finish as Leica had decided to use matte/chrome treated paint compared to the previous “black paint” finish in the previous gens. I personally prefer the black paint finish as the lacquer paint would fade over time, showing the dull gold glow of the brass underneath. This brassing gave the camera a nice patina, like a worn leather jacket after years of use.
I believe that Leica did this intentionally to give the camera a more timeless look as the brassing would give the camera an aged look over time, but I feel that the patina brings out the character of the camera. With each worn paint on different parts of the body, there is a story that comes with it. The new chrome paint finish will not age as gracefully, as it will just dull over the time, losing its matte luster to just a shiny sheen of metal.
Tough as Nails
Just because the M10 doesn’t brass like its predecessors, doesn’t the camera feels cheap. The components are still machined from solid brass and magnesium alloy chassis, holding in all the components in such a small body. Nothing about the build quality is different with the M10 and they are still built to same high standards. Don’t let the smaller size of the M10 fool you either as the weight between the M240 and the M10 are almost identical (1.46 lbs vs. 1.50 lbs).
- Width: 33.7mm
- Weight: 1.46 lbs
Leica may not openly advertise this, but the body is weather-sealed against light precipitation and dust.
The shutter sound is definitely quieter and more refined than the M240, but the feel is about the same. Half press locks the exposure and full press releases the shutter with a refined “click”. I can’t explain the sound, but it feels slightly muffled compared to the M240. It’s definitely quieter than the M9’s robo-sex doll shutter cock sound, but I kind of like that as that’s part of the M9’s many charms.
I can’t speak for the shutter feel on the M10-P or M10-D as I don’t have any experience with them yet, but they have the quietest mechanical curtain shutters. Maybe one day I’ll pick one up (actually I know I’ll have one in the future).
Diamonds are Forever
Most of the back panel is dominated by a 3-inch TFT LCD monitor which has 1,036,800 dots and can display 16 million colors in addition to providing 100% frame coverage during live view. The difference in resolution between the M240 and the M10 may not be noticeable, at least to me, but the difference in contrast is very apparent. It’s also years ahead of the M9, which is only useful for checking exposure as it has the same screen quality of a GameBoy.
The LCD glass screen itself deserves its own paragraph as it’s sporting the latest Gorilla Glass, specifically developed for this camera by Corning. While the glass feel strong and strudy, I personally question its durability compared to the Leica M-P’s (Typ 240) more robust and exotic sapphire glass. Something that Leica had also omitted from the M10-P and M10-D. This is a big difference as sapphire glass is borderline industructible by conventional means, which is why it’s used on high-end watches that can only be scratched by diamonds. I wouldn’t be surprised if the M10’s screen is very similar to the Leica Q.
Lastly, the body feels more balanced due to better weight distribution between the front and rear of the body if you hold the camera up by just the strap with a lens attached. This is one of the major benefits of the M10’s slimmer body as it pairs perfectly with compact lenses like the Summicron 35mm ASPH or the Voigtlander Ultron 35mm. This may not seem like a big deal, but weight distribution is counts if you want to pull some weight off your left hand, relieving some pressure off your fingers as you focus.
“…body is weather-sealed against light precipitation and dust”
There is something to be said about the user experience of a thinner, faster, and more accurate Leica rangefinder, especially with its improved eye relief for people with glasses. Compared to the M240, there are some noticeable improvements.
The new viewfinder has a magnification of .73x compared to the M240’s .68x magnification. This may not seem much, but that is a big difference when you’re looking inside a tiny window and you’ll notice it right away when you’re focusing your lenses. It’s much easier to nail a sharp focus and with fast lenses, this is a big improvement. By just walking around with the Voigtlander Ultron 35/1.7 ASPH I had at the time, I noticed that I was nailing focus with very little to no micro-adjustments to get a sharp focus patch. That means there is one less thing to worry about on getting a sharp focus. The second one being the quality of your eye sight to see the patch clearly.
This new viewfinder can also be a double-edged sword for those that wear glasses as composing with 28mm or 36mm lenses will have a more difficult time to compose since the eye-relief, while is improved, it’s still not ideal for glasses.
Simplified Menu System
Leica had released a firmware update in 2018, which introduced the Favorites Menu that was brought over from the Leica Q. A very handy upgrade since it no longer required you to dive into the 2.5 pages of menus to change something as simple as White Balance. These are mostly quality of life improvements and once you set up your menu settings, you will very rarely ever go back in terms of shooting experience as I have everything that I need on the body of the camera: ISO, Aperture, Shutter. The dials feels solid and tactile, as you would expect from a Leica.
The battery life will be a hit for people as the Leica M10’s BP-SCL5 battery has 1300 mAh of charge, which is noticeably smaller than the M240’s 1600 mAh battery. The difference of 300 mAh may not seem much and you should be able to hit 300 photos on one battery if you don’t use Live View (or EVF), but this is a far cry from the M240’s BP-SCL2 battery as a single one of those guys would last me all weekend.
The exposure compensation dial is just where it needs to be like the M240, but the Leica M10 has a slight curvature on the left side of the dial that acts as a pseduo thumb rest. Doesn’t seem like much, but it makes a noticeable difference in ergonomics, especially on a slimmer body like the M10. I still ended up buying a OEM Leica thumb grip and I recommend it wholeheartedly as we all know that Leica cameras were built for Lego people.
“…you will very rarely ever go back in terms of shooting experience as I have everything that I need on the body of the camera.”
The MAESTRO II processor is quick and depending on the Read/Write speed of your SD card, it’s as quick as the Leica Q on writing those DNG files. It’s capable of taking 5 shots per second on continuous which is impressive for a M camera.
Wi-Fi is Lo-Fi
The built-in Wi-Fi feature is nice to have, but I doubt I’ll ever use it as my dedicated source of raw transfers since I prefer to use the SD card to transfer photos via iPad Pro or on the PC. The app itself is cumbersome and the transfer speeds are abysmally slow. To make matter worse, using the Wi-Fi feature absolutely destroys your battery life.
“…thumbs up grip is crazy expensive at $240 a pop”
Things I Don’t Like
Despite all these improvements, not everything is perfect with the M10. This may be the best digital Leica M camera to date, but there are a couple of issues I want to point out as they were noticeable that prevented the camera from winning over me completely.
The buttons on the back are big and easy to use, but it will take some time to get used to getting around the menu system if you’re coming from the M240…especially when you want to delete a photo.
You first have to press the “PLAY” button, which is one of the three primary buttons on the back, then press “MENU” to bring up the delete option since there is no dedicated delete button anymore. Then once you do that, you have to use the center button on the D-Pad to confirm your choice (what would be the INFO button on the M240). It’s not very intuitive but neither was the M240’s use of the “SET” button on the left. This is a minor issue as you’ll get use to it after a couple of days.
That ISO Dial
The new ISO dial on the left of side of the camera was one of the defining features of the M10 and while it is nice to have, I personally think it’s highly overrated. To change the ISO, you need to lift the switch up to unlock it (which surprisingly takes a bit of effort with your left fingers) and then turn the dial to your desired ISO settings, then press the dial back down until it snaps in to lock the ISO dial. I’m not of fan of this effort of using the ISO dial and practically impossible with gloves on.
I personally leave the dial unlocked and upright position while I’m shooting without the fear of accidentally bumping the dial to the wrong settings since theres enough resistance to stay in place. The constant adjustments to the ISO dial will require you to alter your grip a lot when it’s in locked position.
Also, good luck using the ISO dial in the dark as you can’t see anything. At least on the previous M240, you could easily manipulate the ISO on the LCD screen while turning the exposure compensation dial.
Overall, I think they just should have made the dial more tactile to reduce the chance of accidentally bumping the dial, a la Fujifilm X-Pro3. It’s a cool feature but I hated using it and I promise you that this feature will either be revised or removed in the next generation Leica M11 body.
The Options List
This should come to no surprise to anyone as Leica anything is expensive, but I want to point out that the accessories for the Leica M10 are noticeably more expensive than the M240. Par for the course, but here is the breakdown in costs for my recommended accessories.
- Leica Thumb Grip – $240
- Leica BP-SCL5 Batteries – $190 (however, cheaper than the M240 batteries)
This is a WTF moment for me and for those that need GPS coordinates baked into their DNG files. If you want this feature, it’s only available if you use the optional Leica Visoflex EVF which costs a cool $600, which is odd to me. I never used or cared about this feature but it made me raise an eyebrow.
It’s strange to categorize the quality of the image output from a camera body, so I guess you can call this part the sensor’s characteristics.
The overall fidelity and tonality produced by the Leica M10 is excellent and while it may not win any DXO scores because Leica couldn’t give a shit about winning sensor awards, the overall output is absolutely beautiful. This is also very dependent on the type of glass you put in front of the sensor, but to keep things consistent, I’ve used both the 35mm and 50mm Summicron lenses to get a good reading on how the M10 likes to paint its pictures.
The M10’s DNG files have noticeable bump in saturation, and contrast straight out of camera when you upload them into Lightroom. Compared to the DNG files from the Leica Q, the output from the M10 is consistently more “colorful” with a hint of warmer tones. Another underrated improvement over its predecessor is the the white balance. How the M10 figures out its white balance is a big improvement as it is definitely more accurate compared to the M240’s yellowish tint.
The dynamic range is actually pretty good based on my experience in Lightroom. You can pull several stops on both highlights and shadows without destroying the file, and it should be satisfactory as long as you don’t expect Sony levels of dynamic range.
This doesn’t mean that you should be lazy on setting your exposure before taking the photo because a good baseline photo in RAW is much more preferable than trying to salvage your mistakes in post. A good rule of thumb is to underexpose my photos just a little bit to save the highlights during your tricky in/out lighting situations.
Expose for those highlights
What Leica had done here was to take a successful formula and make minor improvements to an already successful camera, but doing this also risked alienating fans. This is a known problem with any manufacturer that have a rabid fanbase with a long history (a la Porsche 911). When Leica developed the M10, it took some risks with some of these changes, but it’s easy to see that Leica went back to what they were very good and just made improvements to their existing core strengths. They understood who their base customers were and listened. It simplified the camera to its basics (it has three menu buttons for crying out loud) and took video out. While most DSLR and Mirrorless photographers will laugh at the idea of taking stuff out but charging the same price (if not more) for such a “low-tech” camera, this is not what Leica is about.
They cater to the niche and not the masses – something they’ve been doing for a long time and longer than any manufacturer.
M10 vs. M240
Now, some of you on the fence of purchasing a Leica M10 may be asking yourself if this camera was worth the upgrade over the M240?
Yes and No. Let me explain.
I came from a background of owning the following Leica cameras chronologically.
- Leica M9 (Black),
- Leica M9 (Steel Gray),
- Leica M240 (Silver),
- Leica M10 (Black),
- Leica M-P 240 (Silver),
- Leica M10 (Silver).
So I’ve been around the block and back and I feel as though I have some experience on this topic and for the most part, I would say no, it’s not worth the upgrade in my opinion. While the M10’s improvements are tangible, I don’t feel as though the incremental improvements are worth the premium. For example…
- While the ISO dial is great, M240 owners can just as easily change their settings using the rear LCD and rear dial.
- The improved viewfinder is wonderful and the magnification is great, but if you shoot between 35mm-50mm lenses, you won’t really notice it too much.
- The battery life is worse on the M10.
- The M240 is thicker than the M10, but I don’t think you’ll notice the difference when you’re out in the real world taking photos, especially if you use a thumb grip for both.
- The improved LCD screen is nice, but I never looked at the M240’s screen and thought it was crap in 2020.
- ISO Performance – if you’re not Batman and prowl the street at night often and don’t shoot a lot in low light, this is hard to justify.
This is how I feel after owning the two cameras (twice) back to back, but it’s ultimately up to you if you feel that it’s worth it to you. Otherwise, the M10 is the best digital M camera that you can get right now. With the predictable upgrades without changing the primary formula of what made the Leica M so great, it makes you wonder what the future holds for the next Leica M as we’re going to be due for an upgrade in 2022.
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- Leica M10
- Leica BP-SCL5 Battery
- Leica M10 Thumb Grip
- Leica Summicron 35mm f/2 ASPH II
- Voigtlander Nokton 35mm f/1.4 MC II
- Voigtlander Ultron 35mm f/2 ASPH