- + The best colour images yet from an M-series rangefinder
- + Exceptional build quality
- + Straightforward operation with traditional photographic controls
- + Large, clear viewfinder and superb rangefinder for focusing
- - Touchscreen could be better integrated into the camera’s controls
- - 28mm framelines are difficult to see
- - Poor battery life
- - Extremely expensive
Price as Reviewed:£7,100.00 (Body Only)
Andy Westlake takes a detailed look at Leica’s latest high-resolution rangefinder, which sports a tailor-made 40.9MP sensor
Leica M10-R: Build and Handling
In terms of design, M10-R is essentially the same as previous M10 models, and is built like a tank, with a die cast magnesium alloy body shell and brass top and base plates. Everything about it exudes quality, with all the controls operating with satisfying precision. It has the characteristic M-series styling and layout, with curved ends and a stepped top-plate. One welcome concession to modern design is the addition of a small thumb ‘hook’ on the back, which provides a nice secure grip.
External controls are kept to the essentials, with analogue dials on the top-plate for shutter speed and ISO, and mechanical aperture and focus rings on the lens. Exposure compensation is applied by pressing a button on the front of the body and spinning an electronic dial on the back. The power switch surrounds the shutter button, and a frameline selector lever is found beneath the viewfinder window. That’s all you generally need to operate the camera.
The ‘digital’ controls are likewise pared down to a minimum, with a d-pad positioned under your thumb, and a column of three large square buttons running down the left side of the LCD. Leica has done a great job of simplifying how these buttons work without restricting access to core functions; for instance in playback, the menu button essentially becomes the delete key. So despite the simplicity, it never really feels as if any buttons are missing.
Meanwhile the touchscreen gives quick access to secondary settings such as metering and drive modes, via an onscreen status display. However you can’t always then change these settings by touch, which is about the only jarring experience I encountered when shooting with the camera. The touchscreen can be also used for browsing through your pictures in playback, and checking focus by double-tapping anywhere within an image.
The M10-R is available in a choice of finishes, with the silver model providing the classic two-tone retro look, and the all-black version being the stealthier option for street shooters. For the first time since the original M10, the Leica red dot makes an appearance on the front, directly above the lens. The model name itself is engraved discretely on the hot shot.
The overall result is a camera that’s as beautiful to behold, as it is simple and intuitive to use. It really does reduce photography down to the essentials, giving a very different shooting experience to modern auto-everything marvels. It’s absolutely not an all-rounder in the manner of current high-end DSLRs and mirrorless models; instead the manual operation imposes a slower, more considered approach on your photography. Whether this is a good thing or not is purely down to personal preference.
Leica M10-R: Viewfinder and screen
A always for a rangefinder camera, the M10-R employs a direct-vision optical viewfinder, meaning that unlike a DSLR or mirrorless camera, you’re not viewing the image as seen through the lens. Instead, the field of view is indicated using bright framelines in the finder window that are displayed in pairs and selected automatically by the lens: 50mm and 75mm, 35 and 135mm, and 28 and 90mm. They’re parallax-corrected, moving diagonally across the frame as the lens is focused, and in principle indicate 100% of the lens’s the field of view at a focus distance of 2m. At longer distances you’ll get more in the frame, and at closer distances, a little less.
The viewfinder is bright and clear, and at 0.73x magnification, of a very decent size. But you do need to squeeze your eye close to the window to see the 28mm frameline. This means those who wear glasses, or shoot left-eyed, may well struggle; as someone who does both, I found it almost impossible.
Basic exposure information is projected into the viewfinder using red LEDs, including the shutter speed, exposure compensation, and metering indicators when shooting in manual. This works OK, but the display looks very dated compared to the excellent hybrid optical-electronic viewfinder used by Fujifilm in its X-Pro and X100 series cameras.
If you want to shoot with wideangle lenses, you’ll need to use a supplementary viewfinder. You can mount an optical finder on the hot shoe, but the process of switching back and forth between that and the rangefinder makes for a rather awkward shooting experience. The alternative is to switch to live view, but using this on the fixed rear screen isn’t necessarily great either. The best option would be to use the optional Visoflex (Typ 020) electronic viewfinder, which is a 2.36m-dot unit that includes an eye sensor for switching automatically with the LCD. It also includes a GPS unit for geotagging your images, but costs £420.
Leica M10-R: Focusing
As already mentioned, focusing is manual only, using a coincident-image rangefinder. This approach was popular on film cameras up until the 1970s, and won’t require any explanation for our more experienced readers. But for those unfamiliar with the concept, a second ghost image is overlaid on a bright spot in the centre of the viewfinder, and rotating the focus ring moves it relative to the main view. When the two are aligned, the lens should be correctly focused.
Getting used to this method takes a bit of practice. But once mastered, it’s pretty quick and accurate, due in no small part to the fact that Leica’s rangefinder is, by necessity, probably the finest ever made (indeed the complexity and precision of the mechanism is responsible for a significant fraction of the camera’s price). The rangefinder spot is bright and sharply delineated in the viewfinder, and both images are crisp, which makes them easy to align. You just have to be aware that repeating vertical patterns can contribute to incorrect focusing.
Rangefinder focusing does have its limitations. Obviously there’s just a single focus point in the centre of the frame, and when you’re shooting at large apertures, using a focus and recompose technique can result in the kind of small focus errors that we might not have really noticed when shooting with film, but which appear very obvious when examining image files onscreen – especially at such high resolution. So it’s best not to move the subject too far off-centre in your composition after focusing, which might explain why so many Leica photographers favour centred subjects.
It’s also important to understand that the accuracy of the focusing is limited by the rangefinder base, which is defined by the distance between the viewfinder and the secondary window on the camera’s front. In practice, this means that it’s not technically possible to focus super-fast lenses consistently accurately, especially given the even higher demands of the M10-R’s sensor compared to the M10-P. So if you’re contemplating pairing the camera with the £8,600 Noctilux 50mm f/0.95, for example, you’ll only be guaranteed accurate focus if you use live view.
In this mode, the body is smart enough to engage a magnified display when it detects the lens being focused, but alternatively you can zoom in manually by pressing the button on the front of the body. The focus area can be moved freely around the frame for use with off-centre subjects, and focus peaking is available in a choice of colours. It’s just worth remembering that the aperture will always be stopped down to what’s set on the lens: this has the advantage of always previewing depth of field, but sometimes it can be better to open it up for precise focusing.
- Sensor: 40.9MP CMOS, 36 x 24mm
- Output size : 7864 x 5200
- Focal length mag : 1x
- Lens mount : Leica M with 6-bit coding
- Shutter speeds : 16min - 1/4000sec
- Sensitivity : ISO 100-50,000
- Exposure modes : A, M
- Metering : TTL; Spot, centre, multi (in live view)
- Exposure comp: +/- 3EV in 0.3 EV steps
- Continuous shooting : 4.5 fps
- Screen : 3in, 1.04m-dot fixed touchscreen LCD
- Viewfinder : Direct vision, 0.73x magnification
- AF points : n/a
- Video : n/a
- External mic: No
- Memory card : SD, SDXC, SDHC
- Power : BP-SCL5 rechargeable Li-ion
- Battery life : 210 shots
- Dimensions : 139 x 38.5 x 80mm
- Weight : 660g with battery