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Leica’s latest M camera blends the new with the old

The M10 features a pared-down design with new levels of image quality

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Leica has officially announced the M10, the first fully new M series rangefinder camera to be released in four years. The M10, which will be available in limited quantities starting tomorrow, has a streamlined design and fewer overall features than its predecessor, the M240. At the same time, the M10 features an all-new image sensor, processor, and wireless connectivity, bringing it to parity in terms of image quality and modern features with Leica’s other cameras.

The M10 is Leica’s first interchangeable lens digital rangefinder to have the same, compact dimensions as its film cameras. It is not as deep or chunky as the M240, and is very similar in size and appearance to the M7 film camera. Though it is smaller than before, the M10 is roughly the same weight, thanks to its brass and magnesium construction. There’s a new, more matte finish that’s both modern and classic looking at the same time. The M10 lacks the "M" badging on the front, but the classic red Leica dot is exactly where it should be and there’s certainly no mistaking this for anything but a Leica M-series camera.

There are a handful of other external tweaks, as well. The rear button configuration has been simplified down to just three buttons on the left of the display and a four-way controller to the right. (The display is not a touchscreen.) On top, Leica has removed the button formerly used for video recording, as the M10 does not have any video features whatsoever. But it added a dedicated ISO dial on the left side, which provides access to ISO 100-6400, auto ISO, and a custom ISO mode without having to dive into the menu system.

On the inside, the M10 has a new, 24-megapixel full-frame CMOS sensor and Leica’s Maestro II image processor. The new chip can shoot ISOs from 100 to 50,000 — a far greater range than its predecessor could manage — and has improved dynamic range. Leica says that the image quality from this sensor is comparable to the quality from the Leica Q’s sensor from last year. The new image processor lets the camera shoot at five frames per second up to 30 DNG RAW files or 100 JPEG images at full resolution. The camera’s battery is smaller than the M240’s, to allow for the thinner frame, but Leica says it will still last for a few hundred frames per charge.

Leica says the new camera’s viewfinder offers a 30 percent larger field of view, with greater magnification and 50 percent improved eye relief for photographers that wear glasses. The company is also selling a first-party thumb grip for the first time, in addition to the usual suite of accessories, such as cases, holsters, and hand grips.

Further bringing the M10 up to speed with the rest of the photography world is its new built-in Wi-Fi connectivity. Paired with Leica’s app for iOS (an Android version is planned for later release), the M10 can be remotely controlled by a tablet or smartphone. Images captured by the M10 can be transferred to the mobile device, as well. It’s the first M-series camera with such connectivity on board, and is very similar to the Q in this respect.

I was able to spend about 48 hours with a preproduction version of the M10 and found that despite the updates and changes, the traditional M experience is maintained through and through. I appreciated the improved viewfinder and the simplified controls, including the new ISO dial, but overall, shooting with the M10 feels very much like shooting with any prior M series camera: it’s a slowed-down experience with a lot of manual focusing and manual exposure adjustments. And I suspect that’s exactly what Leica intended when it designed the camera.

ISO 200, in-camera monochrome mode


ISO 200, in-camera monochrome mode

Perhaps most appreciated is the jump in image quality, especially in low light. M cameras have always produced images with a specific look and feel, but have never been great at ISOs beyond 800 or 1600. The M10, on the other hand, can easily shoot at ISOs up to 8000 and beyond and still maintain tremendous image quality. (The extreme upper limits of the M10’s ISO range, 25,000 and 50,000, are perhaps best reserved for emergency use cases.) Any full-frame camera on the market today can shoot at those ISOs, but it’s nice to be able to pair them with Leica’s legacy of lenses and the M shooting experience for the first time.

Leica says that it had the freedom to "bring the M back to what it stands for" thanks to the other cameras in its lineup, such as the SL, that satisfy the needs of video recording and other disciplines. By removing video recording from the M10 and simplifying its controls and feature set, Leica is speaking directly to the M aficionados that want as pure of a shooting experience as possible.

And, unsurprisingly, aficionados are the ones that will be most interested in this built-by-hand camera, which will sell for the same $6,495 as the M240 sold for at its launch. When it comes to Leica M cameras, some things never change.

Product photography by James Bareham.