- + 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: Performance
Shooting with the M10-R provides a very different experience to modern auto-everything cameras. With its ultra-quiet shutter and understated design, it’s extremely discreet. Like the rest of the M10 series, it’s about the closest you’ll get to the simplicity of the old-fashioned analogue experience, before the introduction of autofocus and multi-pattern metering.
The camera takes a moment to get itself ready to shoot when you flick the power switch to the on position. At this point you can choose to work in any way from either fully manual, to aperture priority with Auto ISO. Given that you can set the latter to use either a specific minimum shutter speed, or base it on the focal length of the lens in use (with the option of biasing towards high speeds to minimise any chance of blurring from camera shake), I can see little reason not to use it.
Whichever approach to shooting you take, it’s important to understand the characteristics of the lightmeter. It’s not like modern multi-pattern systems, able to analyse and understand almost any combination of light and shade. Instead, you need to manually adjust it according to the subject, giving an extra stop or two when faced with a bright sky, for example. As usual it’s best to avoid overexposure whenever possible, as your ability to recover clipped highlights raw processing is pretty limited, especially when you need anything resembling colour accuracy.
Leica’s stated battery life, according to CIPA standards, is just 210 shots per charge, which counts as disappointing by any standards. I found it to be pretty representative of what you can expect to get in real-world use when shooting mostly with the viewfinder, with the occasional foray into live view and image playback. But with no USB port, there’s no option to top the battery up in-camera, so I’d recommend carrying a spare or two. Curiously I got rather better stamina from the M10 Monochrom.
Leica M10-R: Image quality
When it comes to assessing the image quality, there are really two things we need to consider. The first is whether it surpasses existing M-mount options, and the second is how competitive it looks with other high-resolution full-frame cameras. To cut a long story short, it clearly outperforms the M10-P for resolution, and should get the most out of any M-mount lens for colour photography. The only caveat is that the M10 Monochrom is still better a better choice for those who are really serious about black & white.
I tested the M10-R primarily with the peerless APO-Summicron-M 50mm 1:2 ASPH, which is one of the finest lenses I’ve ever used. At low ISO settings the combination delivered remarkably clean images, with lots of detail from corner to corner. Not only does this offer the potential to make large, detailed prints (up to 24 x 16 in / 60 x 40 cm at least), it also enables considerable leeway with cropping after shooting. This is handy when you’re working with primes.
I’ve not generally been a fan of Leica’s JPEG processing in the past, but the M10-R is capable of delivering attractive files, especially in sunlight. Auto white balance is generally well judged, if a touch on the cool side, while colours are strong without being overblown. The in-camera monochrome setting also gives attractive results. This means that you have decent source material to work with if you want to share your images via Wi-Fi using the Leica Fotos app. However, you’ll probably still want to tweak them in a program such as Snapseed for brightness and tonality first.
You’ll get most out of the camera, however, if you shoot raw, and here Leica’s use of the DNG format is especially welcome, as you can work on your files pretty much straight away using your existing raw processor. You’ll then be able to make full use of the sensor’s impressive dynamic range, which gives plenty of scope to extract additional shadow detail during raw processing.
With a bit of care, I was able to pull the shadows up by about four stops, which perhaps doesn’t quite match the very best full-frame sensors available, but is pretty close (and far more than you need for most photography). Go any further, though, and you’ll start to see ugly low-frequency colour noise appearing in the darker regions of the image. As always there’s considerably less headroom for recovering clipped highlights, so it generally pays to err slightly on the side of underexposure.
Image quality holds up very well at high ISO settings, too. I’d be perfectly happy shooting at ISO 12,500, and maybe ISO 25,000 with a generous dose of noise reduction. But I’d draw the line at going up to ISO 50,000, due to ugly green and purple colour blotching that’s near impossible to treat. As tends to be the case, high ISOs generally look nicer if you convert the images to black & white.
Leica M10-R: Verdict
There’s no doubt that the Leica M10-R is a lovely camera, although to me it doesn’t have quite the same irresistible charm as its Monochrom sibling. If your aim is simply to make high-resolution colour images, rationally it makes far more sense to buy something like a Sony Alpha 7R IV, with all the latest features such as in-body stabilisation and eye detection AF. On paper, the M10-R doesn’t make much sense.
However, choosing a camera isn’t always just about specifications and buying into the latest technology. Ultimately, it’s a creative tool that has to fit with the photographer’s way of shooting, and in this respect the M10-R is unique. With its pared-back design, it has a straightforwardness to it that allows you to concentrate fully on the process of shooting. Used with a few small primes, it also makes for an extremely portable and discreet set-up with stunning image quality. It’s not for everyone – the price alone determines that – but for some photographers it’ll be perfect.
Of course, you’ll need good lenses to get the most out of the 40.9MP sensor. However that’s not necessarily a problem, as Leica’s lenses have an enviable reputation for quality. It’s also important to understand that a high-resolution sensor will get the best out of any lens you use, whether or not it’s sharp wide open or into the corners of the frame. In other words, you’re never going to get worse pictures from the M10-R compared to the 24MP M10-P, you just might not get proportionally higher image quality all the time.
Ultimately, though, the M10-R really is an anachronism, especially in the age of full-frame mirrorless where we can buy small, discreet bodies with excellent image quality elsewhere. But it’s an utterly beautiful one, and long may Leica continue to make cameras like this.
Leica M10-R: Specifications
- 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