The Leica M10 refocuses on what really matters to stills photographers. Michael Topham tests the latest model in Leica's famous M-system to find out if it performs as well as its price suggests
Leica M10 review: Dynamic range, resolution and noise
Leica made it clear from the outset that the sensor you find in the M10 isn’t the same as the sensor used in the Leica Q or Leica SL as it has to be specially adapted for Leica M lenses. The 24-million-pixel full frame sensor is most likely manufactured by Sony and claims to deliver improved low light sensitivity and dynamic range, with two stops of overall improvement in performance compared to previous digital Leica M-system cameras.
During our product briefing, we were shown example images of the camera’s low-light capability at high ISO settings and were told users can shoot comfortably up to ISO 6400. Our real-world images and lab tests confirm that the M10 produces fantastic results across ISO 100-6400. The dynamic range doesn’t set any records, but reaches a respectable 12.9EV at ISO 100. The level of detail the sensor resolves is about what you would expect from a camera with a 24-million-pixel resolution.
When we previously reviewed the Leica M (Type240) we recorded 12.5EV of dynamic range at its lowest sensitivity setting. The Leica M10 improves on this by offering 12.9EV at ISO 100 – not as jaw dropping as some recent sensors that are reaching upward of 13EV, but more than enough to recover a good level of shadow information from the camera’s DNG files. The dynamic range figures steadily fall as the sensitivity increases, dropping to 10EV at ISO 3200 and just below 9EV at ISO 6400. It’s great to see the dynamic range figure holding above 6EV all the way through the ISO range, right up to the M10’s ISO ceiling of ISO 50,000. Our Applied Imaging tests tell us the M10 manages to surpass the Leica Q’s dynamic range, albeit by a slim margin.
To resolve the finest detail from the M10’s sensor it’s imperative users choose to shoot in the raw (DNG) format ahead of JPEG. An inspection of the camera’s uncompressed raw files tells us that the sensor resolves around 3,400l/ph at ISO 100 and manages to preserve this same level of detail right up to ISO 1600. The resolution drops ever so slightly at ISO 3200 to 3,200l/ph and remains impressive at ISO 6400, where we recorded a 3,000l/ph figure. As you push beyond ISO 6400 you start to notice the detail tailing off a little faster, but the way the sensor still manages to resolve 2,800l/ph at ISO 25,000 and 2,600l/ph at ISO 50,000 is very respectable.
Below we show details from our resolution chart test pattern . Multiply the number beneath the lines by 200 to give the resolution in lines per picture height.
Examining both our diorama test shots and real-world images reveals that the M10’s sensor produces exceptionally clean, noise-free raw files between ISO 100 and ISO 800. At ISO 1,600 you can just about start to make out luminance noise appearing in shadowed areas and it becomes slightly more pronounced as you push past ISO 3200 towards ISO 6400. You can confidently achieve acceptable results at ISO 6400 and push as high as ISO 12,500 if you’re prepared to carry out some cautious application of noise reduction in post processing. Although the level of detail the sensor resolves beyond ISO 12,500 is impressive, the same can’t be said for the level of noise, which gradually deteriorates to the point where a purple tinge is evident in files captured at ISO 50,000. Colour noise is exceptionally well handled throughout the sensitivity range, both in the Leica M10’s JPEGs and raw files.