For a long time, Leica was known for producing some of the best cameras on the market. Some of the most iconic images in history have been shot on a Leica and the M series has remained one of their most sought after and almost idolized series of cameras. Recently I had the immense pleasure of testing the Leica M10-P and here are some of my thoughts on the camera.
I feel this section is a little unnecessary because I could quite simply describe the M10-P as having the absolute best build quality and end it there. Every other camera I've used feels a little less in comparison. Now I will clarify this is specifically about build quality and not durability because those are two different points. The M10-P is probably not a camera I would use in the rain or expect much from it after a steep drop. This is as described, specifically about the quality of the build.
I've been very lucky in the last few years because I've had the chance to test and use a wide variety of high-end cameras. From Phase One XF systems to the Hasselblad X1D. The X1D was one of the most impressive cameras when it came to design and build but the Leica is something else.
The weight of the camera, for example, brings a certain presence. It almost demands to be treated as though it's important. The weight of it comes as a bit of a surprise when you first pick it up. It's not that it's heavier than many cameras I've used it's just a little unexpected due to how compact it is. The dials, the buttons, the way the aperture ring clicks, everything has been meticulously designed. The bottom plate that you need to remove in order to get access to the SD card slot is metal. Even the hot shoe cap is solid metal and that level of attention to detail is rarely seen by any other manufacturer.
Ergonomics and Usability
With the M10 series of cameras, Leica has worked hard to improve both the ergonomics and handling of the camera. the issue is that the whole form factor is pretty limiting when it comes to how much you can actually improve. Most of the M series cameras I've used form Leica have been pretty bad when it comes to ergonomics and the M10-P is not much better. Personally, I find the M3 to be the best when it comes to handling. It could be due to the smaller and lighter size of the camera but I just found that camera to be significantly better in the hand.
The main issue with the M10-P is that there isn't anywhere comfortable for your fingers to rest. There's no real grip on the front of the camera and on the back, it's pretty flat too. This makes the whole experience of holding and handling the camera pretty uncomfortable. The weight of the camera doesn't help in this regard either. Personally, I hate using any kind of strap with my cameras especially neck straps; however, with this camera, I had to use a wrist strap just to be able to have some purchase on the body.
With the wrist strap, the experience of holding the camera was better and it did allow for better usability, although it wasn't the most comfortable experience.
One of the key new features of this camera is the ISO dial and I think it's a welcome addition. Having physical and dedicated dial for ISO is pretty convenient. Unfortunately, the dial was extremely stiff and trying to lift it up to change the ISO was almost always a bit of a chore and it really took me out of the experience of shooting with the camera. I simply resorted to leaving the ISO on auto because I just didn't want to use the dial anymore.
Overall when it comes to sheer ergonomics, it's probably one of the worst cameras I've used so far.
Usability is an area where this camera is a bit of a mixed bag. If you've ever tried to manually focus with a DSLR you'll know how it's a bit of a pain. The Leica M10-P, however, is quite obviously primed for manual focus and I rarely found myself switching to liveview. Essentially focusing through the viewfinder was mostly a pleasant experience. The split screen focusing system within the viewfinder is excellent and I found it be a complete joy to use. I loved lining up shots to get the image and although it does take longer than shooting with most modern auto-focus cameras I really enjoyed the process. The few times I used liveview to focus was mainly in low-light scenarios. Shooting manually through the viewfinder in low light situations was almost impossible because you simply couldn't see your subject. Fortunately, the screen on the camera is brilliant and I found the focus peaking features to be very precise.
The menu systems was another thing I loved about this camera. There aren't many cameras on the market today that offer intuitive well-designed menus for their cameras. Leica has remained one of my favorite camera manufacturers when it comes to their menus. The fact that there are only three buttons on the back of the camera makes things extremely simple. Sure, there is no joystick or a scroll wheel but honestly, I didn't miss those features because for one it's manual focus only and two, the touch screen is excellent. The buttons and D-pad also have a really good satisfying feel to them; once again the construction of this camera is second to none.
Composing the Shot Isn't Easy
Most SLR and modern mirrorless cameras allow you to see exactly what the sensor or lens is seeing through the viewfinder. This makes composing your shot much easier. Rangefinder type cameras like the M10-P do not operate in the same way. Without getting too technical the viewfinder gives you an approximate view of what your image will look like. Even with the frame projections within the viewfinder, it's not the easiest camera to compose with. This may be down to my own individual capabilities and lack of practice with these types of cameras, however, this is still something that needs to be mentioned. Each focal length that you shoot with tends to present its own challenges. For example, with a longer focal length like the 75mm, you'll be able to clearly see the frame lines in the viewfinder to compose the shot but your view won't be magnified. When you shoot with a DSLR type camera changing the lens will change your angle of view in the viewfinder too. This doesn't occur with the M10-P or any rangefinder type camera that I can think of. Shooting with a wider angle lens like the 28mm will mean that the frame lines extend somewhat beyond what the viewfinder is able to show you. There is also the issue with the lens hood on the 28mm obstructing the view. The lens hood does have a slight cut out to help you see, however, this still isn't brilliant.
In my use, I haven't found images from this camera to be mind-blowing or anything beyond what I've seen from many other cameras. If anything, image quality from this camera is decent at best, it's not fantastic and it's not bad. The lenses I used were the APO-Summicron-M 75mm f/2.0 ASPH and the Summilux-M 28mm f/1.4 ASPH. Once again the lenses were good but not the best I've ever used. The dynamic range is also pretty good but nothing to write home about. You could probably get away with recovering 2 stops of highlight information and 3 stops of the shadows. Anything beyond that is either going to be blown out or not worth recovering due to the noise in the image. When it comes to detail and sharpness the lenses I used were pretty sharp but once again not the best that I've ever used. The one area where I thought the Leica did exceptionally well was color. I doubt the camera is perfectly accurate when it comes to color, however, there was just something I found very pleasing about the colors from the M10-P. It's important to note the fact that when I say decent this is relative to the cameras that I normally shoot with. I regularly use medium format cameras for many of my projects. The reason I'm mentally comparing the M10-P to some of the high-end cameras I use is predominantly due to the high price tag.
Missing Focus is Easy
This could be due to my own individual capabilities when it comes to range finder type cameras however, it's pretty easy to miss focus with this camera. Even if you correctly focus using the viewfinder, shooting wide open is difficult. Even the slightest movement from you or the subject between when you focus and press the shutter button will more than likely lead to an image where you miss focus.
As you can see with the image above, focus landed on the eye that is not closest to the camera. Conditions were quite windy which meant that even after focusing the slight movements were enough to affect the image quite significantly. Another issue is that in many cases you may have to focus and then recompose and this will more than likely lead to you missing focus. The split focusing system only works in the middle of the frame and if your subject slightly off center you will need to recompose the shot after focusing.
Of course, this doesn't mean that you can't get images in focus and I found the best way to combat these issues was to take a large number of images.
Why I Love This Camera
In this article, most of my points about this camera have been somewhat negative. So far I've only really praised the build quality and described the image quality as decent. Even with that I absolutely loved shooting with this camera. I've never enjoyed shooting with a camera as much as I did with the M10-P. The whole experience of shooting with it was simply wonderful. I honestly couldn't leave home without it. Every picture required a certain degree of thought and process. The issues relating to focusing and composing very quickly became part of the charm. It's as though the camera was challenging me to be better. If I missed focus or messed up the composition it made me want to shoot more and get the shot that I wanted. Unfortunately, the time I had with it simply wasn't enough. I experienced a great deal of enjoyment shooting with this camera and in a weird way, I felt more like a photographer. I can appreciate how some of you may want to point out how I should shoot film or a full on manual camera and I disagree. I have several film cameras and although I really enjoy shooting with them it's not anywhere near the same experience. The only camera that comes somewhat close is the Fujifilm X100F and although it is my favorite camera, the Leica is a whole new experience.
Even the JPEGs coming from this camera were such a joy to look at. The Leica color profile really appeals to me; there's something so pleasing about how this camera renders color.
JPEG straight from camera only cropped in post
Looking at the two images below you'll see the difference between the standard Adobe color profile in Lightroom vs the Leica M10 profile and personally, I prefer the Leica profile. The skin tones look more vibrant and have more "pop" to them. The Adobe color profile looks a little muddy to my eye. Of course, we all have our individual preferences.
What I Liked
- Exceptional build quality, no one else makes cameras like this.
- Leica color profile and beautiful looking JPEGS.
- The experience of shooting with the camera is something special.
- The challenge of shooting with this camera.
What I Didn't Like
- Terrible ergonomics.
- ISO dial is far too stiff.
Honestly, I feel like I didn't do this camera any real justice. I feel like someone who has a lot of experience shooting with M series cameras could have produced much better-looking images. I only had the camera for about two weeks and the majority of that time was spent trying to get to grips with the whole system and figuring out the best way to shoot with it. This camera does require far more patience than what I've developed so far with many other cameras. What I've learned is that this camera does require a little planning before you start shooting. Finding a location that you think could work and then waiting for the right time to press the shutter button. This also prevents issues with focus and composition.
I don't think this is a camera that I would use for any professional work. The M10-P is more about enjoying photography and shooting with it because you appreciate the experience. After shooting with it I no longer feel these cameras are overpriced. Value is relative and we all have our own individual ideas of what we think is good value for money. Prior to shooting with it, I like many others considered it to be something for people with more money than sense. I'm genuinely convinced by the camera and I will now work towards purchasing one for myself.