Leica's new M10 is a $9,950 digital camera which even analog photographers will find hard to resist. Old-fashioned film lover Gillian Laub went to a Sunday family gathering to test out Leica's latest digital delight.
I have been using the same film camera for 15 years: a Mamiya RZ67, which I've used to shoot most of my commissioned work, as well as the pictures that ended up in my two monographs, Testimony and Southern Rites.
In the past few years, though, as my favorite 220 film made by Fuji and Kodak has been discontinued, I have reluctantly started using a couple of digital cameras: the Pentax 645Z, a medium-format digital camera that has a sensor size and image output that mimics the quality of film; and the Canon 5D Mark 111, which has the ability to switch between moving and still image.
Although I often romanticize film and still believe that no digital file will ever truly compare to a film negative, these two cameras expand my arsenal of photography tools, and I have slowly come around to appreciate the latitude that these digital cameras give me.
So when I heard about the new A$9,950 Leica M10, which comes with a 24MP, full-frame CMOS sensor, an LCD live view finder, and no USB ports, it sounded like a camera that would be the perfect fusion between new and old.
And among professionals, the German brand already has a stellar reputation as a compact camera that has firm, moving parts catered to the needs of working photographers.
When you pick up the Meica M10, you can feel how light is. And yet it still feels solid.
The sturdy, metal body feels capable of enduring multiple weather conditions. Turn it on, and it’s a straightforward process to adjust the aperture and shutter speeds.
The ISO, or “low-light” setting, was a bit awkward and needed to be firmly moved to adjust – to move it, you must pull it up, then turn and push back down. Because of this, moving from scene to scene in different light conditions is not ideal if you need to change the ISO quickly. Luckily I don’t like to change my ISO very often.
The menu functions are also direct and simple to navigate. The Leica’s 1.04 million-dot rear LCD screen provides a crisp, clear image when reviewing pictures, and it can be initiated with the touch of a button.
This impressive screen measures 3 inches across the back and gives the user an easy-to-follow menu to change settings and format cards. Some earlier digital cameras did not use this type of interface, which made formatting difficult and more time consuming than necessary.
Another thing that helped me create a different variety of images – more so than the cameras I usually use – is how small and light it is. Moving around and navigating big groups, especially with the 21mm wide lens, is much easier with the M10; you really can get a lot closer.
ISO range is where the Leica really shined. At ISO 1600 the dynamic range of the image was fantastic, and both low lights and highlights were present. This powerful CMOS sensor is capable of making an image in low light without muddying colors.
Menu and live view
At first, I used the camera’s viewfinder to frame my pictures – as opposed to the “Live” view LCD screen – because there was a lot of available light and I thought it would be easy to line up the Leica’s focusing mirrors. But I found that it often took too long to focus through the viewfinder.
When I switched to Live mode (which is where you simply use the LCD screen on the back of the camera to focus), it was much easier to navigate: It shows red lines and dots where it is in focus, and that was very familiar to me, as I shoot video on a Sony FS5, which has the same focusing feature.
It was also especially helpful in difficult, low-lighting conditions. I ended up shooting mostly in Live view.
The biggest challenge I found was the focus. As I mentioned, it took me too long to line up the mirrors in the range finder, and I felt like I was missing moments, especially in low light – with this option it can be hard to see. The manual focus using the LCD screen was much easier. I felt I could use it in bright light the best.
One downside of shooting primarily on the live LCD screen is that the battery life drains quickly.
I started out with a fully charged battery, but because I only had one, I had to take an hour break of shooting so it could recharge.
To me, it felt like the battery lasted less time than the one in the 5D and Pentax, even though I always work with more than one battery on hand.
Dynamic range and image sharpness
When in focus, the M10's images are gorgeous. The dynamic range is beautiful capturing shadows and highlights without clipping. The depth of field obtained at 1.4 is stunning and crisp.
Color and light
The light of my shooting day changed throughout, so that really gave me a window into how well the camera handled all different light situations and captured the color that was true to life in all its vibrancy.
Because I am so at ease with my own cameras and use them as if they were an appendage of my body, it was intimidating starting fresh with a completely new camera. I was out of my comfort zone and worried.
The focus was a bit frustrating, but as the day went on, I became more and more acquainted with the camera and began to love using it. I like to shoot fast, and the more comfortable I became, the more agile I felt with it.