Wednesday, January 18, 2017

Leica Launches the M10



Hello it's been a while....

That is true of the frequency of posts going up on this blog lately, as it is of new M-system news from Leica. Today, after numerous rounds of leaks Leica launched the successor to the Leica M Type 240, the M10. With the simpler name comes a an exquisitely paired down body and control structure. This one is pretty much one for base; in many ways it's what Apple would call the "s" version of the M240; the same, but better. It will most certainly please the faithful, and it touches upon many of the wants that have collected over the past generation. Just like how the SL is minimalist in a modern design sense, the M10 is a minimalist callback to tradition.


The M10  is noticeably - but not significantly - thinner than its predecessor. It isn't "thin" in the traditional sense of the word, as the M10 like all M bodies before it has a fair bit of density and heft compared to a Japanese camera of its size. It just feels like the M240 re-sized to a more ergonomic form factor.



While I never found the M240 to be uncomfortable to old, the M10 is pretty much an improvement in most aspects.. If you found that you needed to add a Thumbs Up grip or Leica's own baseplate grip extension to the M240, you might not need it for the M10.  Leica now has their own version of the flash-socket mounted thumb support for this generation.

  • The ISO dial is a welcome addition; this makes all of the exposure variables visible at a glance. (Though not earth shatteringly new, since most of the Fuji's are this way.) 
  • The back dial is stark in its simplicity, just three buttons and a control pad. This is pretty much what traditionalists wanted all along.
  • Movie mode is gone. Traditionalists didn't care, and the M240 sensor made for a poor video platform to begin with. (Low frame/bit rates compared to today, incredible amounts of jello-shutter.) If you must insist on using your Noctilux as a cine lens, then your choices are either the old model or a SL with the M-mount adapter.
  • The frameline selector switch is back. (Personally, didn't miss it when I did get a chance to use a M240. The era of coded lenses and electronic frame lines makes this a bit moot.)
  • The larger viewfinder is more comfortable use, especially so the eye relief point for eyeglass users like your author. What hasn't been enlarged is the actual range finder patch, which is often a challenge for older M users.
  • Gone is the ancient optional  Olympus-sourced EVF-2 electronic viewfinder. The M10 uses the same Visoflex finder used for the TL and  X  Type 113.

Unfortunately, a new generation means a new battery, the BP-SCL5 which is rated at 7.4V, 1300mAh;  there is no continuity between generations once again. (But at least, gone are the days of the woefully small and quirky M8/M9 battery.) This is somewhat less objectionable than Sony persisting with the diminutive NP-FW50, but falls short of the standard set by Nikon and Canon, whose users (generally) rely on using the same battery across different generations.

If you are a M240 user, there likely won't be enough to tempt you in to upgrading. (But hey, what do I know... as they say "The very rich are different from you and I.") The thinner body and expanded ISO/dynamic range are nice, but if you aren't pushing the extremes of exposure the differences close up. As with anything Leica, you can never justify the M10, the price won't let you. You either have one or you don't. However, it isn't the anachronism hanging onto former glory that the internet often makes it out to be. To be clear, the Sony FE system is not a replacement for the M system. Sony has given up all pretense of having a small full frame mirrorless system... and we do mean "system" here. The bodies are small but the lenses are increasingly larger with every new release... even the prime lenses.

Fujifilm has built a loyal following with it's X system, but for lack of any better reason it's not full frame. The Fuji X system pretty much captures the Zeitgeist of the Leica M system in an affordable package, but the image captured isn't quite the same. Full frame depth of field control + Leica lens rendition = "different". Sometimes "better" ... but most definitely different. Fujifilm has a decent lens selection for APS-C, but the rendition of the XF35 F1.4 is not the same as how the Summilux 50mm F1.4 renders, all things being "equivalent".

There will be consternation that the sensor is still 24mp, but the ISO range is expanded and the early samples from DPReview look promising. While lenses like the 50mm APO can certainly handle more resolution than 24mp, Leica has been hesitant to be drawn into a megapixel race across pretty much their whole lineup. The S system does not outmatch the other medium format contenders and  the SL stays comfortable away from the top end full frame, and on pure pixel count. This dulls the conceit of how good the Leica lenses are given what can be achieved a higher  with the 36mp D810 or the 42mp Sony A7r Mark II. However, you can't have your cake and it eat it too. Mounting Leica glass on the Sony system is not the best of both worlds, as the corner to corner performance does not match the lens on the native M body.  There's resolution and then there's rendition, not quite the same.

What the M10 probably is not, is the the new core of the Leica lineup. With the popularity of the Leica Q and the diversification (some would say "experimentation") in various form factors like the TL series, the M-series is now to Leica what the 911 is to Porsche... historically and culturally important from an identity standpoint, but no longer the sole focus of the brand itself. There will always be M enthusiasts just as there will always be 911 enthusiast... it's just that Porsche sells more light trucks than it does pure sports cars these days.

Regardless, in some ways, the M10 isn't just an update to the M240, it feels like the second coming of the M9... something that enthusiasts imaged an M body could be, and one which they waited patiently to arrive.

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