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Leica M10-R and Leica M10 Monochrom: 40-Megapixel Sensor, but Nil New Design Thinking —  with essay by Roy P

See also: Reader Comments: Leica M10 monochrome.

Leica now has a unique solution on the market: a pair of cameras of the same 40-megapixel resolution, one a conventional Bayer matrix sensor (Leica M10-R), and one a monochrome sensor (Leica M10 Monochrom). There is serious appeal in having a pair of such cameras, but at $9000 each with the optional EVF, that’s $18K before any lenses, which would buy a very nice Fujifilm GFX100 system with lenses.

Still, if you’re a Leica M shooter with a fat wallet, what’s not to like?

Yet it’s clear that Leica has made a strong effort to do nothing significant other than add a higher-res sensor—nil new design thinking, (still a half-decade-old design). Diehard Leica M fans might dismiss these concerns, but they are significant design disappointments unworthy of a $9000 camera.

  • Mechanical shutter has long been seriously bad for vibration, with shutter vibration ruining every image I ever took with the Leica 280mm f/4 APO-Telyt-R (using the Leica R-Adapter M). There is still no electronic shutter option. WTF?
  • No built-in EVF is a bad joke for high-res digital—why wasn’t this a Leica Q style design? What mental prison is at work at Leica? The low-res 2.4MP Leica Visoflex (Typ 020) Electronic Viewfinder costs an additional $635 (but at least it adds GPS), so this is really a $9000 camera.
  • The rangefinder design is dubious at best given the severe accuracy issues that crop up. You can send in all your lenses in and have them all calibrated to the camera (be patient this can take months)—and it’s still dubious. Good luck with that—and I say that from considerable experience over years. Yeah, blind squirrels do find acorns and you’ll find some too. The workaround is using the EVF in magnified Live View, but that’s the point: the rangefinder is for slipshod sharpness—problematic on a 24MP sensor, let alone 40MP. But Instagram size images will look fine and stopping down to f/8 can mask a lot of technical errors to avoid cognitive dissonance at the foregoing claims—good luck at f/1.4!
  • At 1.04 megadots, the Leica M10r rear LCD has to be the crappiest one on the market today.
  • You get built-in WIFi, but no built-in EVF?
  • Self-timer is still limited to either 2 seconds or 12 seconds. That's actually a BFD at times.
  • No GPS.
  • Sync speed only 1/180 second.
Leica M10-R
Leica M10-R

Daryl O writes:

So critical of the M. Leica is decidedly bent on keeping the M a rangefinder with traditional values. The SL is the camera they make to compete with traditional mirrorless. Leica has decided the SL is their tech camera with innovation, the M is stuck in it's ways. So, if you want a small camera that will shoot amazing pictures, not high tech, take your APO 50 place it on a M10 and shoot. Thanks for the kind wishes of luck with my f1.4 lenses on the M, but seriously I don't need it, I can shoot a f1 or f0.95 Noctilux and get sharp images from the rangefinder/viewfinder, if I need to frame perfectly I can do this also with the rangefinder except in certain situations, so then I use the EVF. Except for battery life I really like the M system and don't want it to change. There's a dozen good systems competing on a best-tech level including the SL, one camera doesn't follow, so should it be judged as lacking or judged for what it's intended for? Of course you may disagree but I'll be willing to guess you love shooting an M, set the shutter, aperture, iso, very simple. Hope you and your family are well,

DIGLLOYD: not a rebuttal but proof of my points? It’s not even on topic.

Roy P captures many of my sentiments below, and what follows next is relevant to what I am saying, whereas the email above is in some other bailiwick.

I have done careful work for 12 years evaluating focusing with hundreds of lenses. I've proven my findings many times for well over a decade. Maybe a handful of people in the world can approach anything near my knowledge base? Heck, Zeiss made at least one new test for new lens designs based on my reports.

Few photographers (even pros) are even aware of all the factors involved in sharpness, let alone understand them in any practical working sense. Stop down and mask the error is the most practical solution, but it has strict limits, particularly at 40MP.

I have shot the Leica M9, Leica M240, Leica M10, Leica M Monochrom and I still own the M240. Invariably the rangefinder accuracy is a major concern. Invariably I find focus accuracy issues with the rangefinder when multiple lenses are considered. And with less than 20/20 vision (which includes fatigued eyes)... yikes. Indeed, this is the #1 issue I’ve heard over the years from those with aging eyes.

  • Frequent out-of-the-box major errors. See for example Leica 28mm f/2.8 Elmarit-M ASPH Examples: Focusing Error Case Study. There have been NUMEROUS other issues like this, too many to bother document. Try getting rangerfinder focusing spot-on for half a dozen lenses, particularly new ones out of the box—or just try getting Leica to get the calibration right without more than one expensive shipping and long wait to get it done (personal experience). Hell, the loaner lenses I’ve had have been a focusing bad joke.
  • Talking about 18MP and 24MP resolution along and non-static subjects is rather silly, as is claiming sharpness with the Noctilux wide open, which has a very deep smeared zone of focus.
  • Cherry picked “evidence” to support your claims of "sharp" are no substitute for, say, refocusing and shooting 20 frames of a resolution target or other target that allows critical evaluation. The variance is high.
  • That some photographers are so skilled as to be able to exceed the tolerances of the mechanical rangerfinder focusing (even assuming it is perfectly calibrated to the lens)... well judge that for yourself. Even Leica acknowledges that a 75mm f/2 is about the limit of what the rangefinder can handle assuming perfect lens/body calibration, and I doubt that their metrics are for critically sharp focus at 24MP, let alone 40MP. And f/2 at 75mm is akin to f/1.4 at 35mm.
  • Accounting for focus shift is impossible to deal with using rangefinder focusing (in any practical sense), and it is a major problem with some lenses; see for example Leica 35mm f/2 vs Leica 35/1.4, ZM 35/1.4, 35/2, 35/2.8, Voigtlander 35/1.2 (Wyman Cabin)
  • Accounting for field curvature is impossible to deal with using rangefinder focusing (in any practical sense). Since the M rangefinder can focus only in the center, you’re hosed.
  • Focusing in the center (only) with rangerfinder focusing and then recomposing (focus lock and recompose) changes the plane of focus. Pile that onto field curvature and focus shift and anyone who claims they can make sharp images is prima facie clueless.Claims of “my images are sharp” are not proof of anything. In my years of experience, 90% of the time I am send unsharp images that the send claims are sharp.
  • Evan at only 24MP, it takes f/8 (yes, f/8) to make an image that is sharp across the frame at Leica 35/1.4, due to field curvature.

Focusing in magnified Live View addresses all these issues. The conclusions in my work would far less defensible were I so inept as to use rangefinder focusing when magnified Live View is available.

Claiming that rangefinder focusing is accurate shows a lack of knowledge or willful evasion of all these issues. Rather, what I observe repeatedly is cognitive dissonance (the 'tell' being the evasion of all or most of these issues) along lack of objective critical assessment. My understanding of “sharp” as stated by those making this error is “sharp enough for my purposes”—and that is just fine with me. But it lacks objective credibility.

Leica M10-R
Leica M10-R

Roy P writes:

Emphasis added.

As you know, I have been following the Leica M10-R on the rumor sites for a few weeks, mostly with a yawn. So when the actual announcement came, it was easy for me to bite my tongue and not go on one of my usual rants about yet another ill-conceived product intro from Leica, signifying yet another wasted opportunity. I wasn’t planning on saying anything, but saw a response to your commentary, and thought I’d submit some thoughts and invite others to respond to my comments, if you think that’s appropriate.

As a quick backgrounder for people who don’t know me, I used to own an extensive M system with sixteen(!) M lenses. I was very adept at using the RF, but I just got tired of the endless roadblocks the RF kept placing in my path, and eventually, sold my M9, M240 and all but four of my M lenses, which I use with my Sony A7x cameras. (The Sony A7R IV is physically smaller than the Leica M10, not to mention infinitely more competent).

The major limitation of the RF for me was the fundamental inability to C1F2 (Compose 1st, Focus 2nd), my preferred approach to photography with a manual focus lens. The RF forced me to F1C2, which frequently lost me the best focus (e.g., eye in a portrait). The RF was also hard to focus in low light, which made it very frustrating to use with fast lenses wide open. What’s the point paying for expensive f/0.95, f/1.25 and f/1.4 lenses if you can’t shoot in low available light?

Then there were all the secondary annoyances – lack of perfect alignment in the RF coupling (you cannot get the RF precisely aligned with a multitude lenses!), blockage of a big part of the viewfinder by lenses like the Noctilux, inability to use wide angle lenses without a goofy looking hot-shoe mounted viewer, unavoidable parallax at close range, the need to add on things like a thumb support and hand grip to simply hold the camera well, the need to take off the bottom camera plate to replace the battery, inability to achieve critical focus without an add on EVF, crappy LCD back, etc. And over time, I also discovered Leica’s poor product reliability and terrible service, only further underscored by their outrageous prices for value delivered.

The problem Leica has had for 10+ years now is a lack of vision for the M line. It is a mishmash of things today, a little bit of this and a little bit of that, with no coherent thesis to the line. Leica is confused and continues to make the marketing and strategic mistakes that reduced it from a once premier camera manufacturer to a boutique shop with a sub-1% market share these days.

If you see the classic RF images from the past, one thing becomes very clear: very few of them were particularly sharp, and they were not images known for their technical excellence. I don’t think you could find a single photo taken by Henri Cartier-Bresson that is really sharp. Cartier-Bresson in fact, had only one lens, a 50mm, and he almost always shot at f/5.6. He rarely focused precisely, using distance for setting focus, and he looked through the viewfinder only to frame. The whole point of the M line was to capture the moment, epitomized by Cartier-Bresson, who never cared to crop any of his images or do any kind of special processing. For him, the decisive moment was either captured or it was not.

There is a charm to that approach to photography. And the RF lends itself to that kind of photography. But that approach is inconsistent with everything Leica has been doing to the M line. For the “decisive moment” reportage or street photography, you don’t need focal lengths like 18mm or 135mm that you can’t even use properly with a RF. You don’t need the optical performance of lenses like the 50mm APO Summicron-M, the 75mm Noctilux-M, the 28mm Summilux-M or the 90mm Summilux-M, arguably the four best M lenses today in terms of their resolving power and MTF.

Why is it consistent with the M philosophy to have a lens like the 75mm Noctilux with an impressive, near-flat line MTF, for a whopping $14,000+, if the lens blocks out 25% of the viewfinder and you can’t focus worth a damn with the RF? Why do you need 40 MP of resolution, if most of the time, you’re not able to focus to anything better than a 12-16 MP quality?

For the reportage-happy RF afficionados, a far better direction for the M line would have been maybe four primes (28, 35, 50, 75mm) in 3 speeds (f/1.4, f/2, f/2.8), with medium optical performance, good enough to resolve 24MP by f/5.6. You need all these high-performance lenses only if you’re shooting landscapes, cityscapes, portraits, etc. that will be made into big prints.

Instead of pouring so much money into these ultra performance lenses, Leica would be better off to improve the RF camera with a few better amenities, like a retina-grade LCD back, integration with smart phones, and instant uploads to Instagram, which is where these crappy images (technically speaking) with presumably some story to tell, would be uploaded and consumed. The vast majority of the Leica M photos uploaded on Flickr are badly focused images that are barely 6-8 MP quality, many not even 2 MP. Why squander money on developing a 40 MP sensor and an expensive micro lens array needed to support such resolution?

On the other hand, if it’s Leica’s goal to showcase its optical engineering prowess and make all these high performance lenses at stratospheric prices, they by golly, provide some competent cameras with high res sensors and importantly, tools that enable a photographer to get the most out of those expensive lenses that cost more than used cars, and collectively, would buy a house in most places in the world.

The answer to this has been obvious for a decade:

For the RF afficionados, improve the M240 to make it far more usable (e.g., better LCD back, Instagram integration, etc.), and leave it alone at 24 MP.

For the rest of us who have moved on from the RF paradigm, make cameras with no RF but with an integrated high-res and fast EVF, oversized and retina-grade articulating LCD backs, IBIS, multi-shot high-res mode a la Panasonic S1 / S1R, automated frame averaging a la Phase One IQ4, a loupe look in the EVF or LCD for localized live view with focus peaking inside it for precise focusing while maintaining the composition, etc. This is the camera I have been waiting for almost a decade now.

Instead, Leica continues to live in this neither-here-nor-there world of expensive lenses that actually do work, and expensive cameras that make no sense at all. The cameras and the lenses have been and continue to be strategically misaligned.

Your reader Daryl O mentioned “what it’s intended for” – I don’t know if he knows the answer to it, but I certainly don’t think Leica does.

DIGLLOYD: I have nothing of significance to add to this superb essay.

Leica M10-R
Leica M10-R

Leica M10-R description

Putting the 'R' in resolution, the Leica M10-R is a digital rangefinder camera with a high-resolution take on the traditional, stills-only design of the acclaimed M10-series. Revolving around an impressive 40MP full-frame CMOS sensor and Maestro II image processor, the M10-R is distinguished by its image quality, dynamic range, and sensitivity, with an ISO 100-50000 range and low noise. Complementing the applications suited to a higher resolution design, the M10-R also features an extended shutter speed range for making long exposures up to 16 minutes-long for nighttime and low-light shooting. The increased resolution and redesigned sensor structure also highlight the unique optical qualities of Leica's extensive lens lineup.

Beyond the updated sensor, the M10-R takes on a familiar form with a slim body profile that is reminiscent of M film cameras, and a large 0.73x-magnification optical viewfinder for notable composition and focusing accuracy. The body design also incorporates a dedicated ISO dial for quick adjustment, even when the camera is turned off, and the rear 3.0" 1.04m-dot touchscreen LCD features a Gorilla Glass cover to guard against scratching and light impacts. Also contributing to durability, the top and bottom plates are constructed from brass and the chassis is built from magnesium alloy to realize a robust physical construction for long-lasting use. Additionally, the M10-R also sports an integrated Wi-Fi module for wireless sharing and remote camera control from a linked mobile device.

10-R for Resolution

Revolving around a unique 40MP full-frame CMOS sensor, the M-10R distinguishes itself within the M10 family of cameras by its high resolution and longer exposure capabilities. Beyond traditional Leica applications of street and reportage shooting, these capabilities lend themselves to landscape and nature shooters, as well, and also enable photographers to make full use of the exceptional Leica lens lineup. Aside from the revised sensor design, the M10-R retains its slim form factor, ultra quiet operation, and svelte design, which includes a characteristic red dot on the front of the camera, a plain top plate, and an elegant black chrome finish.

40MP Full-Frame CMOS Sensor and Maestro II Processor

A redeveloped full-frame color 40.89MP CMOS sensor pairs with the Maestro II image processor to deliver an impressively wide dynamic range with notable color saturation and contrast, as well as enhanced sensitivity from ISO 100-50000 to suit working in a variety of lighting conditions. The sensor's design also omits an optical low-pass filter in order to achieve greater sharpness and resolution.

Optical Viewfinder and Rangefinder

The optical viewfinder is a large, bright-line 0.73x-magnification rangefinder with automatic parallax compensation and bright-line frame lines, which are set to match the image sensor size at a focusing distance of 6.6'. On the front of the camera, a viewfinder frame selector can also be used to manually change the apparent image field to help visualize the scene with varying focal lengths; options are available in 35mm/135mm, 28mm/90mm, and 50mm/75mm focal length pairs. The rangefinder mechanism displays split or superimposed bright field images within the center of the viewfinder to benefit accurate manual focusing control. The effective rangefinder metering basis is 50.6mm (mechanical metering basis 69.31mm x viewfinder magnification of 0.73x). Body

Body Design and Built-In Wi-Fi

  • Slim body profile is reminiscent of Leica's film cameras for easier handling and manipulation
  • Integrated ISO dial is featured on the top plate to permit simple and direct adjustment of sensitivity values, even when the camera is turned off.
  • The rear of the camera features just three buttons—live view, playback, and menu—for more simplified and intuitive navigation of the camera's control-set.
  • A programmable Favorites menu can be used, which allows you to define your most oft-used settings and select them for easy, one-touch access.
  • 3.0" 1.04m-dot touchscreen LCD provides an intuitive, bright, and large means for image playback as well as live view shooting.
  • Rear LCD monitor has a Corning Gorilla Glass cover to protect it against scratching and impacts.
  • Top and bottom plates are machined from solid blocks of brass and the chassis is built from magnesium alloy for a truly durable, hard-wearing physical construction.
  • Rubber seals are used to prevent the entrance of light rain and dust to enable working in inclement conditions.
  • Built-in Wi-Fi permits sharing imagery directly to a linked smartphone and also enables remote control over the camera to adjust select shooting parameters or to release the shutter via the Leica FOTOS app.

Other Camera Features

  • Near-silent mechanical shutter for inconspicuous shooting.
  • Integrated 2GB buffer to for recording 4.5 fps bursts of up to 10 consecutive frames.
  • Images can be recorded in either the 14-bit DNG or 8-bit JPEG file format.
  • A top hot shoe permits working with an external flash and the top sync speed is 1/180 sec.
  • When working in live view, focus peaking is available to highlight edges of contrast for easier, more precise manual focus adjustment.
  • Designed to accept all M-mount lenses, Leica R-mount lenses are also compatible through the use of an optional R to M adapter.
  • Compatible with the optional Visoflex accessory electronic viewfinder for manually focusing adapted lenses.
  • Language support: German, English, French, Spanish, Italian, Portuguese, Japanese, Traditional Chinese, Simplified Chinese, Russian, and Korean.
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