TWO DAYS WITH THE LEICA M10 IN ICELAND
Note: this is a Fine Art Landscape Photography with the Leica M10 user review, not one of my usual in-depth reviews. I started using Leica M cameras more than a decade ago. Film Ms have always been my tool of choice for Street photography, and for Portrait / Concert photography as well at the beginning of my career: my 50mm f/1 Noctilux has always been “the only lens I’ll never sell”.
When I started working with Fine Art Landscape Photography almost exclusively, digital Leica M cameras were in their infancy, and by their nature weren’t much suited for this kind of work. The rangefinder, while a wonderful compositional and focusing tool for street and people photography, is not really conducive to the kind of accurate framing I need for my Landscape work. Getting objects precisely where I needed them to be in the corner of my frames with a M8 or a M9 was a trial and error affair, and ended up in being frustrating at best, futile at worst.
So, while I always had a digital Leica M for candid, travel, portrait and street work, and to use as a sketchbook in the field, during these last years I never considered using one for my professional Landscape work.
Yet, Leica makes the most wonderful and unique lenses, and M lenses are definitely among them. Yet, the size and weight of a Leica M kit with 4 lenses (i.e., for me, 15mm Voigtlander, 21mm Super-Elmar f/3.4, 28mm Elmarit f/2.8 and a 50mm or 75mm) would make for a dream bag compared to the 10-15kg I am usually carrying around with me. So, I always waited for the next iteration of digital Leica M in expectation: would the next one finally be the right one for my work?
When the Leica M (Typ 240) came, and with it Live View and the possibility of using an external EVF, I had my hopes up: the camera was much more suited for Landscape than any previous digital M, but still not there where I wanted it. Maximum long exposure limited to one minute was a serious drag for my Fine Art work, and file quality at that shutter speed was not as good as I needed it to be. Lower ISO of 200 was not great. The camera was not weather sealed and had only one SD card slot. I tried one for some time and while I created some Portfolio images with it such as the one of Mesa Arch at Sunrise below, I decided that the time hadn’t come yet for me to move to a digital-Leica-M based kit only for my professional Fine Art Landscape work.
Enter the Leica M10.
The last iteration of digital Leica M, the Leica M10, is undoubtedly the best digital M yet. Thinner than its predecessor, no video but still offering the fundamental Live View and the Visoflex. Weather sealed. Long exposures is now two minutes, lower ISO is now 100 and it sports a great 24 Mp sensor outputting beautiful files. Still a single SD card slot, and a bit shorter battery life than the M (Typ 240). With these characteristics, the Leica M10 for me was definitely worth a try in the field.
So, I got one and brought it with me to Iceland during a Workshop One-on-One I led there last December: freezing cold temperatures, long exposures before sunrise and after sunset, what better than that to try a new camera alongside my unbeatable workhorses Leica SLs?
During these two days of Workshop in Iceland, I used the Leica M10 with my Leica 21mm Super-Elmar-M f/3.4, and with the Voigtlander 10mm and 15mm which I love on the SL. Let’s see how it did, and what I thought of the M10.
BODY / CONTROLS
The Leica M10 is definitely the best digital Leica M yet. The new and thinner body feels great in the hand; adding a Leica M10 Thumb Support for better handling, and a Really Right Stuff L-Plate set to use it on my tripod, I was good to go. I love the simplicity of the interface; the new button solution on the camera’s back is much better than the previous one, and I personally like the new ISO implementation very much. I set M-ISO to 12500, so that I have one more stop after the ISO 6400 on the ISO wheel; Auto ISO is set to 1600, since I never need more when I am in Auto mode. I also love the new implementation of the On-Off button cleared by the shutter options, even if (as many others) I would probably have preferred the red dot to show up when the camera is ON rather than when it is off.
ICELANDIC WEATHER: BODY AND BATTERY
During our two days in Iceland, the camera and lenses were submitted to below-zero degrees Celsius temperatures, cold winds, waterfall spray and sea spray. The Leica M10 never skipped a beat, and neither did my Leica SLs (no surprise there!). Battery life was Ok, and I never had to change batteries in the field during a day of work – keep in mind, though, that I was using multiple cameras aside the Leica M10, thus sharing the burden.
My Workshop’s participant uses a Leica M10 exclusively for his work, and he has been doing so for quite some time now with great results: his Leica M10 as well worked just perfectly and without any problem whatsoever during our time together in Iceland.
MENUS / CAMERA SETUP
The new UI of the Leica M10 goes even more in the direction of simplicity and essentiality, following Leica’s philosophy: not only it features much less buttons than its predecessors, but that didn’t result in any increasing complexity in the menus. Not that I need menus much: once the camera is setup, you have everything you need on the camera body. Working in the field, all I need to access is shutter speed, aperture and ISO; everything else for me is just a one-time setup thing, and the Leica M10 has 4 custom User Profiles to save your settings for different shooting situations if you need them. I love the new implementation of the Favourites menu, which pops up pressing the “Menu” button: you then can access the full menu with a second press of the same button. As an improvement, I wish you could tell the camera in which order you wanted your favourites to appear.
FRAMING / FOCUSSING
Coming from decades using optical viewfinders, I prefer to use the Visoflex rather than Live View. Visoflex allows me to frame perfectly and accurately, and to focus with extreme precision. Its built-in dioptre correction is a major plus for me, and the built-in GPS is a wonderful tool to remember where you have been taking a particular photograph when you are in the middle of nowhere. The actual iteration of the Visoflex, though, is not up to the exceptional EVF on the Leica SL: when the light is getting very low, working with the Leica SL beats working with the Leica M10 by a good margin. Still, it is possible to frame and focus, which – when the light is nearly gone – is more than I can say for many traditional DSLR with mirror and pentaprism.
WORKFLOW AND SPEED IN THE FIELD
The Leica M10 is a very good camera for a fast Landscape Photography workflow. The camera is ready to shoot nearly instantly when you turn it on, framing and focussing is ultra-fast when there is enough light. Admittingly, I am spoiled by the fantastic EVF of the Leica SL and its implementation, which is nearly perfect for Landscape Photography. That said, having the Leica M10 with Visoflex implementing the same “Exposure preview” mode of the Leica SL would be a major step towards usability in very low light or when you have your filters on. As well, I wish Leica implemented the information bar in the Visoflex as they did on the Leica SL: in the M10, the information bar hides a portion of your actual frame, which doesn’t make much sense, while in the Leica SL it does not. Other than that, you have all the controls you need right there on the camera body, easy to reach and to change, making for a very fast and easy workflow.
This will be a very short section: the Leica M10 outputs wonderful DNG files, rich both in colours and in detail. The files are a pleasure to work with, and the results are a joy to look at. Below some samples from wonderful Iceland for you to look at (click on the images to open the gallery):
LEICA M10 OR LEICA SL FOR THE PERFECT LANDSCAPE KIT
I have been using Leica SL for nearly two years now as my main camera for Landscape Photography and I love it. To me, the Leica SL is the perfect tool for landscape photography: it offers unique features that make my work on the filed extremely easier, I love the workflow and the resulting files are amazing. Bar a new Leica SL with more resolution, as per today I find it the best solution on the market for my work (see A LANDSCAPE PHOTOGRAPHER IN-DEPTH LEICA SL REVIEW and ONE YEAR OF LANDSCAPES WITH THE LEICA SL for my detailed thoughts about the Leica SL for landscape photography). When tested against the Leica SL the Leica M10 had a very difficult task and a very strong competitor. So, how did it do?
In a word, great: Leica M10 for Fine Art Landscape Photography does 90% of what the Leica SL does, in a much smaller and lighter package.
Would it completely replace the Leica SL for my particular, and quite demanding, requirements on the field? As it is, for me and my work I’d say not yet. The Leica M10 still lacks some of the features that I really need for my work.
– exposures longer than two minutes: this is fundamental to me, and it’s what makes it a no-go for me to consider the Leica M10 as my only camera;
– a better, Leica SL-like, implementation of the Visoflex: this is very important, because the current implementation makes working with the M10 slightly frustrating, especially in very low light;
– a second SD card slot for backup in the field: not fundamental, but appreciated and useful for a professional tool in general.
However, I fully understand that my requirements are a bit particular and way more demanding than most photographer’s: if two minutes of long exposure are enough for you and if you are OK with the implementation of Visoflex and Live View (or if you prefer to use the rangefinder for framing and focussing altogether), then a Leica M10 with a few Leica M lenses are the perfect Landscape kit for you. More, this is a kit that would double perfectly to cover your trips’ less “formal” shooting, such as street, portrait, trip’s documentation and so on. Let’s not forget that the most fundamental of the changes I would need to make the M10 my sole camera are either completely software-based or would at most require a new Visoflex: so, there is hope for me as well to be able to use the M10 as the only camera I’d bring on a photography trip or Workshop.
If, like me, you still need a Leica SL for the unique features it offers to us landscape guys, the features that make it my to-go camera of choice for my professional work, then the Leica M10 would make for a wonderful second camera and backup solution for your travels, and even more so if you are already using M or R lenses on your Leica SL. Dedicating the Leica SL to more “formal” tripod shooting, you could use your Leica M10 for documenting, street, candid and portrait shooting during your trips, with the added bonus that it can be used on your tripod as well in a pinch either when you are waiting for the Leica SL’s long exposure reduction, or when you need to work with two different lenses in hostile environments where changing lenses is not an option, or to take a different shot, and so on.
RECOMMENDATIONS AND CONCLUSIONS
In conclusion, would I recommend the Leica M10 for Landscape Photography? Yes, definitely.
The Leica M10 and a few Leica M lenses (for me, that would be a 21mm, 28 or 35mm, 50 or 75mm and perhaps a 135mm), maybe with the addition of a couple of Leica R lenses (i.e. the amazing 100mm Macro) and a couple of Voigtlander Ultra-Wide lenses (i.e. the wonderful 15mm and 10mm), would make for the perfect landscape kit: light, small, easy to use in the field and with amazing image quality. As with Leica SL, adding some more lenses such as Leica’s spectacular ultra-fast wide-angles or a 50mm or 75mm Noctilux would allow you to create unique images, impossible to create with any other system outside of Leica.
Thanks for reading this post, I hope you enjoyed this Fine Art Landscape Photography with the Leica M10 review! Why don’t you share it with your friends, or drop me a comment to let me know how you feel about this?
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Technical details: all photographs in this article have been shot with the Leica M10 equipped with the Leica 21mm Super-Elmar-M f/3.4, the Voigtlander 15mm Super-Wide Heliar f/4.5 and Voigtlander 10mm Hyper-Wide Heliar f/5.6. Mesa Arch photo has been taken with a Leica M (Typ 240) and Leica Tri-Elmar-M 16-18-21mm. As always, I used my fundamental kit of Formatt-Hitech Firecrest Ultra filters, including Grad NDs (0.6, 0.9, 1.2 and 1.5 stops) and Solid NDs (3, 6, 10 and 13 stops). For camera support, I used a Gitzo tripod equipped with an Arca-Swiss P0 Classic ballhead. All photographs have been developed and finished in Adobe Photoshop CC.