Aug 102012
 

Leica M10

Potential Hits & Misses

[ SOLMS ]

The rumors are already flying

around the internet.  With whispers

that Leica is releasing a follow up

to the M9.  Will Leica cave to 

market pressure or serve their 

faithful client base when they

release the follow up to their 

most successful camera ever. 

 

What Could Leica Fix

The Leica M9 was an advancement in rangefinder photography.  If you read the forums from the mid 2000’s you will see hundreds of people saying a full frame digital rangefinder is impossible.  These conversations saw everyone pull out their college degrees, doctoral qualifications and resumes.  Statements like “As a physicist…or As a market expert…or Holding a PHD in…”  Everyone was trying to say that because they were so qualified in one field, they had the definitive proof that the M9 was an impossibility.

Well I wonder where all of those degrees are now?  The M9 was a perfectly adequate working solution for anyone who wanted to shoot a full frame digital rangefinder and use their lenses at their given MM.  (35mm where no longer 45mm, like on the M8)

The impossible was possible, but that does not mean there were not some draw backs.  As soon as the M9 came out, so did to came the Leica hate mail:

  • Failing High ISO
  • Horrendous write speed
  • An antiquated removable base plate
  • Poor battery life
  • No film rewind lever
  • A high price tag
  • and a slew of other complaints from the purists and the new users alike.

 

Leica is not so much a camera/lens company, but a topic of argument on the internet.  For those of us who did not want to take Canon 5D’s or Nikon D700’s into the world, the M9 was a solution to shooting M6’s and MP’s.  Leica provided, what I would call, a perfectly adequate solution to the digital rangefinder problem.  It eliminated the problem of flying with 100+ rolls of film, scanning, removing dust, and processing costs.  All of which easily add up to the M9’s sticker price.

The purist camera, well worn.

With the opportunity to improve upon the M9, it looks as if Leica is headed in a new direction.  And my prediction, as it may be read in a few years as woefully incorrect is as follows:

The M10 will be the equivalent of the transition from the M6 to the M7.  Those waiting for purist solution, like we saw in the MP, will need to wait until the next round.

The MP is the closest thing to a perfect film camera that has ever existed.

What will they fix

This article is written as an expression of what I would like in a digital Leica.  I am not reading into an BS proverbial crystal ball, Leica has not told me anything, and I am not part of a secret M10 task force designed to rile up internet traffic.  My personal preferences fit into a small percentage of a niche market.  I probably represent something like 4% of Leica demographic.  For this reason, I don’t expect Leica to ever make the “perfect” camera for me, nor do I share the same sentiment with many of the Leica buyers.  Though the MP is pretty damn close to perfect for a film camera.  My needs are not everyone else’s needs.

Leica has known for a long time that the problem with their cameras is that they are very good.  Once you buy a few, you no longer need Leica for anything other than repairs.  Thus it is difficult to keep people buying because professionals are not gear heads.

Yikes. The anti-camera.

But the professional is only a single digit percentage of the consumer market.  The enthusiast has much more power and is why many of the DSLRs exist in their current version.  And it is probably why the M10 came about in the first place.  Personally I find that the “mass solution” is a problem.  See Time Square as an example.  It was built for tourists, not New Yorkers.  And while it provides something like 40% of the cities revenue it is the equivalent of a DSLR with 200,000 ISO and a 12,000mm lens.  Its a money generating novelty that everyone actually hates.

The Expected Fixes

[ LIVE VIEW ]

For anyone excited to hold their camera at arms length, the M10 will probably have live view, compliments of a CMOS sensor.  It will turn a 10K camera, which should be glued to your face when you take a picture, into a really expensive point and shoot.

It might help wide angle users get away with not using an external finder, but my comment to that will show up down below.  In general, Live View is not important to photography, it is however critical to videography, which brings me to point two.

[ VIDEO CAPABILITIES ]

The M10 will finally have video.  As if the M9 did not open up the web to more pictures of cats, babies, plants, random loved ones and details of rust, NOW with the M10 we are going to get videos of these mundane subjects too.  Who will this be good for?  Video capabilities will be very good for Flickr, 500px, and other posting sites.  Because now there will be Leica Video and people will want to show it off.  It will result in a marketing opportunity for higher premium memberships because video takes up way more memory than photography.

Why is it a bad idea to put video in the M10?  For starters Leica will have to develop a fairly complicated image stabilizing mechanism because none of the M lenses have image stabilization.  Unlike Nikon and Canon, who builds stabilization into the lenses, Leica will have to re-do their M lenses to make that possible.  This seems unlikely, when you consider how many new lenses they have released in the last three years.  Video on the X3 is a great idea.  Video on the  M10 is a terrible idea.

Leica customer feedback?

And if the practical considerations of video did not use up enough of Leica’s engineers skills, there is the photographers question of “Why would you want to make a video?”  Personally I am not a videographer.  I have a tremendous amount of respect for editing, sound, and motion picture.  They are all skill sets that I do not want to mess with because they should all take at least as long as it took to understand photography.  I only have one lifetime.  For the Wedding photographer who wants to have an second assistant shoot video, the M10 could work, but are you really going to buy an M10 of 10K versus a Canon?  I doubt it.  The video feature sounds like a response to a public obsessed with features.  Why else would a DSLR have 25 buttons on the body?  Does anyone remember the Simpson’s episode when Homer is asked to design a car?  I am not saying they should not do it, but competing with Nikon, Canon, and Sony in terms of options will be tough.

All the bells and whistles might make a happy Homer, but will it make a better camera experience?

[ MORE MEGAPIXELS ]

I have not heard any photographer, who makes prints complain about the Leica file size.  More megapixels seems unneeded.  I would rather have 18 better megapixels that 24 which were the same.  18MP allows for  4-5 foot print.  It will certainly handle a 1000px web picture, which is sadly where most M9 pictures die.  What is the extra 6MP for?  Maybe an 8 foot print would be nice, but if that is the territory I would get a Phase One IQ 80 and make a wall size image and forget the rangefinder altogether.

[ HIGH ISO ]

The high ISO can be fixed, this I welcome.  Actually the bigger problem to the high ISO is the M9’s screen.  The camera has no preview noise suppression.  Images on the camera look worse than that actual image.  The screen is like a bad opening argument.  Everything that follows is tainted by that horrible preview.  Leica could probably improve the screen and leave the ISO and people would say, “Wow my pictures look much better.”

But as the Monochrom showed, the sensor has greater resolving power and it stands to be improved.

Some have compared the M9 screen to a silk screen. Here is a picture compliments of artist Shepard Fairey.

[ REAR SCREEN ]

Websites have compared the M9 screen to a 5 or 6 year old DSLR screen, and its true.  There is no defending Leica here.  They should install a better screen.  A sapphire screen is not nearly as use as higher resolution screen.  How good should it be?  Pick up your iPhone.  It should be at least that good.

[ EVF: Electronic View Finder ]

I am not interested in EVF at all.  I want to see the world as it is.  Night vision is great for Navy Seals.  It will not make any improvements to the image, its another battery drain and it will have an inevitable lag.  Hybrid? yes maybe.  EVF, no way.

The added plug on the “leaked M10” pics with the EVF jack are going to make a huge problem for thumbs up users.  The M9 failed to solve the ergonomics problem of a film rewind.  Thank god for the thumbs up.  But if the EVF is going to come on and off of the camera it is going to be trouble.  Thumbs up are not easy to take out and it adds to the list of loose parts, like the removable base plate.

Unfortunately I think many of the new features do not add actual value to the camera (high iso and screen being the only exceptions).  Tech specs and numbers are not important.  The DxO ratings are equally worthless.  Getting a great picture on an M9 is possible.  Paying a massive premium for a larger file is debatable.

Leica finder options would be greatly appreciated, especially for wide angle users.

The Wants versus Needs

So what would I like to see on the a new Leica that would have me lined up at the nearest dealer?  My major frustrations are not with the high iso or the lack of video.  There are areas where the next M could be better at seeing, feel smaller in the pocket, and be more weather resistant.

These are the things that would be useful for me:

[ ADJUSTABLE VIEW FINDER ]

Wouldn’t it be nice if you could get rid of external view finders?  I miss the .58 finder of my M6.  The 28mm lenses are not usable on the M9 without a finder.  And the 35mm could benefit from some extra breathing room.  The whole “Leica argument” about seeing outside of the framelines does not happen at all in 28mm and barely happens in 35mm.  50mm is the perfect frame line to total view proportion.

And the 90mm/135mm are small.  While I don’t use a 135mm myself, its a useful lens for portraits.  Fashion photographers regularly use 150, 180mm, and 210mm in medium format.  It would be nice to have it as an option without the frame lines looking like a parenthesis around the focusing patch.

35mm frame lines on a .58 finder.

[ ACCURATE FRAME LINES ]

There is so much confusion to new Leica users caused by the frame lines.  At .7 meters the image capture is inside of the frame lines while at infinity the capture maybe 2 or 3 times the outside the frame lines.  Optically the phenomenon is unavoidable.  It explains why a 1.4 lens will make a smaller capture than an f2.0.  But why cant the frame lines expand and contract to reflect the actual capture.

After years of using Leica’s you can estimate the capture and step forward or back depending on the subject, but that could be fixed with LED frame lines that move.

I wish 50mm view looked like this.

[ ONE LENS/ONE LINE ]

Who likes looking at the 75mm frame lines inside of the 50mm?  And who has started with a 75mm and made the mistake of using the 50mm lines?  Raise your hand…I know I have done it.

If the frame lines were LED, like in the M9 Titanium, Leica should be able to give you one frame line at a time.  This would be amazing.  Less is more in this case and the reduced distraction would be a delight.

Leica M9 Titanium LED frame lines.

While we are at it, if the lines are dedicated for each lens and they expand and contract based on the focus, we could go the final mile and add corners.  No more of each lens having an idiosyncratic frame line.  35/50/75/90/135, they are all different.  Last I checked the edges of a negative were a solid rectangle.  The addition of the corners would also help photographer work on their corner to corner relationships.  It might be one of the few improvements that would actually raise the bar of photography itself.  Because right now, the corners are left to the imagination.

So here I am three items into my list and I have not left the view finder.  Seeing is critically important to me.  It is more important than everything else.

The frame windows of the M3 keep greasy fingers off the the viewfinder.

[ RECESSED VIEW FINDER ]

The M3 and MP-3 had an antiquated frame around the front of the viewfinder.  It looked like a tiny picture frame around the glass.  In the later cameras this disappeared.  The frame, which looks like a silly decoration is useful.  It keeps fingers off of the viewfinder.  Its the rare case where a design detail is actually functional.  It is not like an alligator wrap that just looks different, it would be useful.

While we are at the front of the viewfinder, could we ask Leica to make it out of glass?  Why is a company known for their glass putting a plastic lens on the viewfinder?  They don’t put plastic on the front lens element.

If you have never checked out Martin Hartley, its worth a look. He is a Polar Photography expert. And he loves his Leica MP for ultra cold conditions.

[ WEATHER SEALING ]

Even though the lenses are not water sealed its about time the M cameras got gaskets.  This is useful because working conditions are not always dry.  Photography in the Antarctic presents a different set of temperature problems for the M9, but it is not -50 everywhere in the world.  It does, however, rain in every major city in the world.  It does not need to be a waterproof as a Blancpain Fifty Fathoms or a Rolex Deep Sea, but it should be able to take a surprise rainstorm.

[ BODY SIZE ]

The MP is one of the greatest cameras produced in the history of photography by any company.  But the Leica alternatives keep getting incrementally bigger.  The M6 grew into the M6TTL and then grew into the M7 and then the M8.  The difference was small at each step. but every new camera has been either taller or fatter.  When you hold an MP and an M9 the difference is immediately recognizable.  The M10 or M11 should be the same exact dimensions of the MP.

If you are looking for a portable way to use a medium format back and mare some seriously large images, have a look at ALPA.

[ MODULAR ]

This is my biggest pipe dream of all.  I would like a camera that was modular and could have upgradable parts.  I know all the marketers will jump in and say that is never going to happen…I know.  But since Leica lenses and bayonet mounts are not changing anytime soon, it would be great if Leica made an upgradable camera because unlike DSLR’s the Leica body and the lenses are more or less a fixed dimension.  For $1000 I would upgrade my screen.  For $2000 I would upgrade the viewfinder and for the cost of a Nikon I would upgrade a sensor.  I think a lot of people would actually trick out and tweak their cameras if there were some options.  Planned obsolescence is avoidable.  I do not go to bed hoping for this one, but it would be great.  When you look at a camera company like ALPA, where the camera is more modular the customers are happy to mix and match options because lets face it.  The only reason cars and camera are not upgradable is because companies believe it is more profitable to sell you something new.  Its not a photographic decision but a marketing one.  When anyone other than an artist or photographer starts thinking about solutions to your image making, they make rotten decisions.

Is it worth it

Overall I don’t see more specifications, more buttons, and higher numbers as a solution to the next Leica M.  Specification sheets are only good for one thing.  P-O-R-N-O-GRAPHY and P-H-O-T-O-GRAPHY should not be confused with one another.

The M10 might be the next great innovation in rangefinder image making and I could be eating my words in September when Leica makes their announcement.  To which I will be happy to say “I was wrong.”  But the chances of a CMOS, Live view, video camera blowing me away are slim to none.  The Monochrom is a much more appealing option in my book and I would gladly stand behind the group that says make a digital version of the MP on the next round.

What do you think will happen in September?

 

Best,

Adam Marelli 

 

 

 

  37 Responses to “Leica M10”

  1. Funny, the VF changes are almost exactly the ones I said Leica should be doing, but probably won’t. I was a bit sad that most people on the mailing list didn’t see my points…

    • BTW, if only the Alpa has some sort of usable focusing mechanism. Ground glass, or laser rangefinder then hand adjusting the focus mount are just not conducive to non-tripod work and hyperfocusing is not always the right answer for street / documentary.

      • Hey Richard,
        The ALPA can be fitted with a focusing ring and a ground glass depending on your preferences. For street documentary its not the best camera, but it has a ton of useful applications.
        Best-Adam

    • Alas, some words never reach the microphone.
      By the way I saw your photo up at the gallery. Looked great, they gave you some good real estate.

  2. I would agree with most of what you say Adam except I would look for usable ISO to be tweaked marginally to 3600. Combine this with Summilux glass and you would be covered for most situations where you don’t need to use a tripod. If the M10 comes with video and the bolt on EVF then I’ll pass.

    • Hey Darell,
      In the film days you could run up to about 8000ASA, which is a dark room with a candle. As a threshold of light, I can see a camera that is as sensitive as the eye as a good tool. The second the camera is beyond the eye it becomes difficult to “see” a shot that you cant really “see.” The Monochrom is sounding very tempting these days.

      And EVF is like night vision goggles. Not interested at all.

      Best-Adam

  3. Faster, lighter, small as an MP, grippy cover like the Nikon F6, better battery life, OLED screen, return of the top LCD, lose the removable baseplate, quieter, and weather sealed– that would be awesome.

    • Indeed Gary,

      It would be ideal! The newer wrap for the monochrom is a vast improvement over the M9. I just had mine swapped out and I really like it during the summer months.

      Once the colder months hit, my Luigi case will go back on.

      Best-Adam

  4. I really hope they don’t come with a M10 with the same size of my MP… I would not resist… it would be the cause to sell M9 for its successor…

  5. Adam,
    I like very much your analyse.
    I agree, MODULAR !
    I would like to upgrade the sensor (high ISO), the View Finder, longer exposure (this is firmware), and PLEASE quitter !!! at least like my M6.
    And finaly a dream : a system to adjust the view finder and elimate the calibration problem and focus issues.

    • Hey Steindid,

      An adjustable viewfinder to fix calibration? I wish. Great idea though.

      All of your other points are sound.

      Just like the M6 or MP. We fall into that purist camp that will probably wait for the camera after the M10.

      Best-Adam

  6. The main thing I want is Focus Confirmation because the older I get the worst my eyes get. I find it very hard to get focus accuracy at 1.4 or 2 f-stop.

    • Hey Mark,

      That is an interesting point you bring up. I think a lot of people would agree with you. Not sure how I would feel about that in the viewfinder, but there is a large population of people who have difficulty with the focus.

      Best-Adam

  7. Nice info. I agree with all wxcept the rsolution and print size comment. Even resizing to say 180dpi you still are far short of a 5′ print. I would have liked/bought:
    a ccd vs. cmos sensor don’t need video
    Better high ISO
    24-39mp
    Loose the bottom plate and add some amount of weather ptotection
    Better write speed with CF memory

    • Hey Mark,

      Not sure I understand your printing comment. When you say “you are still far short?” what do you mean? And why would you print at 180 DPI.
      The new inkjets can do 330dpi.

      I agree with all of you other comments and imagine most people would welcome those added improvements.

      Best-Adam

  8. I am toying with the idea of a Canon 5d Mk3 and some nice L glass or waiting for an M10 and a 50mm cron or lux.
    From what I read, the only improvement required on the M9 is a better rear screen and improved ISO noise.
    That would satisfy any M9 owners (imho) and would justify a small price hike.
    If you want a video camera, go and buy one! Please don’t kill the “M” spirit Mr Leica.
    Leica cameras (and lenses) are all about the way that they convey the “mood” of the shot. Something that I won’t get from a Canon.
    Please give us the definitive photo taking camera, not a marketing toy.
    If so, I might buy one.
    Sound fair enough guys?

    • Totally true, If I need video I take a videocam! Isn’t it stupid pay more dan 1500 $ for a better screen and better iso than the leica M-E?

      • Hey Filip,
        We will see how it all turns out. So far I have only had a chance to take a few test shots. Nothing too extensive though.
        More to come.
        Best-Adam

  9. I use a Phase One P45+ and nice Schneider digital lens and the largest I can print without worry is 48″ wide. At 39mp that 48″ print is about 150dpi which is as low as I would go even with good technique and nice glass. At 330 dpi my print size would be about 16×20

  10. If I were Leica, instead of taking the M10 to the risky area of adding all the modern functions and break the heart of many Leica lovers, I would just do the simple improvement such as better low light, better battery life and better write speed. And to catch up with the modern world I would introduce a new line of modern range finder that packs everything in it. I would leave the M legend of simplicity untouched. I’m sure everyone of us shooting with a Leica can easily afford any 1Dx, 5D3 or D800. Why would we bother shooting video with the M which will definitely have very limited compatible options. Leica is know for doing one thing best and very best, I don’t quite see that crossing into the video area will keep that edge valid.

  11. Ahoy Adam,

    A great write up. If the M10 has live view, video etc then I certainly won’t be buying one. As you say a better ISO would help but frankly the best pictures are taken when there is light so I’m not really bothered about this. Nor do I care about the screen, you could remove it for all I care. I too believe Leica should spend their time refining the M9. I would like to see it the same size as an M3. I also liked your point about the protective edges around the view finder. I’m for a pure version of the M9 with a manual winder so we can get rid of the noisy motorised shutter arming. What makes the M work so well is that it is simple with all adjustments visual and logical. They can be operated without taking your eyes from the finder. How many other modern cameras can say the same?

    Quite taken by the modular idea. It would be excellent if you could send your body back to Leica to have a choice of viewfinder for example. Why not?

    One thing that I actually like is the bottom plate. I don’t know why everyone hates it so much. With no film and the ability to take 800 compressed DNGs how often do you need to remove the bottom plate anyway? I like the way it keeps the camera clean looking and dust out. It also means that if you drop the camera and damage the base plate you can replace it.

    Thanks for a very thought provoking and well written article.

    • Hey Benjy,

      Yes, I feel as if we see eye to eye on a number of points. I have had a few discussions about the film rewind option with Leica. They are firm in never putting it on a digital model. And while I miss the ergonomics of it, I find it useful sometimes to be discreet about the rewind option. I wish they would just leave the thud of the shutter. The re-cocking could definitely be more quite.

      And video yuck!

      The finder window would be welcome and the bottom plate is not a deal breaker for me. I dont really mind it much. Some people have trouble with it, but i find that anyone who shot the film cameras, does not think twice about it. The M-camera is a perpetual riddle of options versus purism.

      Glad you enjoyed it!

      Best-Adam

  12. I appreciate your view and share it mostly.
    I definitely think a slimer body would be great, with an ajustable viewfinder as for the titanium.
    I rather preferer a more silent shooter than a faster CF writing. SD is smaller and fit into my imac without additional device.
    Higher ISO would be a plus, but the improvment in post processing noise reduction make it less critical. I never had the opportnity to read a review comparing a – post-processing optimized – 2500 ISO of an M9 vs other bodies. But 2500 ISO @ 1.4 allowed me to make very nice night shoots with a reasonable “grainy” noise, free of color noise (in Lightroom 4.1)

    Since a don’t believe the M10 will be slimer, I will keep keep my M9-P and may be buy a Fuji x1 pro as second body … for higher ISO and rare tricky photographic scenes where evf and a better screen could make the difference.

    Even if (we can dream) Leica provides an upgrade to the M9 sensor …. It would probably be more expensive than a second Fuji X1 pro body !

    This is why i decided to buy my M9-P one month ago and not waiting for the M10 since the M9 has the features which matter to me : a real M camera, full frame with almost 20 MP and 3 years improvents since its first release. It has been a tricky choice though … Marketing Marketing when you hold us ! but my 2012 summer trip to Chile and Bolivia could not wait for the M10 ….

  13. Great. Your ideas are right on. What you’ve described is certainly what I’d have them do to the Leica M. And, in addition, I’d increase the camera’s ISO capability and return to designing smaller, slower lenses to complement the smaller camera body.

    • Hey Richard,
      In just a few days we will see what Leica has in store for everyone. I think it would be a great laugh if they let the internet carry on with their “video” predictions of the M10 and then release a camera with live view only and no video. We shall see how their sense of humor is this year.
      Best-Adam

  14. The Leica viewfinder is well past its sell-by date. It really only works with 35 and 50mm lenses and you need to purchase a variety of expensive add-ons if you want to go wider or longer or if your eye-sight is not perfect – aux finders, magnifiers, the eye-comfort is poor too because of the small diameter eyepiece compared to a big Nikon or even Leica’s own “Frankenfinder”. The existing design is more than 50 years old and Leica has done next to nothing to improve it over time. I find it hard to believe that with modern optical design and electronics, Leica couldn’t produce a better finder.

    The camera is thicker because there needs to be much more behind the focal plane than there used to be – the sensor, at least one circuit board – Leica has two, the LCD pack and the cover glass. They meet the requirement of about 12-15mm extra depth by 1) making the body thicker, 2) making the display protrude from the back, 3) making the lens mount protrude from the front of the camera. I think it would be possible to repackage everything into a body the thickness of a film M but it would require the likes of Sony who are masters of miniaturisation to do it. You would see the lens mount sitting a few more mm proud of the front of the camera body. You’d also need to lose the motor wind which for many would be a good thing.

    • Hey Mark,

      Well now we can see if the Epson EVF solution will be a bonus for Leica.

      And it would be great if the masters of optics and the masters of miniaturization got together!

      Best-Adam

  15. Agreed 100% Adam. Leica should just improve what is not working very well. And forget about having more bullshit options. If they put a live view mode on the camera with a electronic view finder I will lose a lot of respect for the company. It will be a big mistake. The whole point of a Leica is that it works with no interruptions or distractions why would any real Leica user appreciate any of those unnecessary options. Just get a better screen like a retina display, have a faster processor for write speed and wether seal the mother fucker so we don’t have to worry about an expensive camera when we’re shooting out doors. Who shoots Leica in the studio? And how fucking long do I have to wait to get a digital version of the MP? The monochrome is awesome! My dream is for Mamiya to make a D7II medium format range finder 6×7 format full frame of course. They could charge 20 grand and I’ll buy one.

    • Mike, you have such a way with words. Two uses of the f-word in one paragraph. Awesome!

      • Doesn’t it feel good, when we can just let it all out!

      • I hope you never stop! This is one of the best blogs I have ever read. You have got some mad skill here, man. I just hope that you do not lose your style because youre dtilnieefy one of the coolest bloggers out there. Please keep it up because the internet needs someone like you spreading the word.

        • Hey Sibongile,

          Happy to hear you like the blog. I hope I dont loose my style either, haha.

          And please do spread the word. Its always great to get a recommendation from a friend.

          Best-Adam

    • Hey Mike,

      I think you are my first “sailor mouth” on here in a while.

      Ah well F*** it! : )

      THanks for the enthusiasm.

      Best-Adam

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