Leica has a long-lasting tradition of symbolizing top imaging quality. But when it comes to measuring it, is the M series which rules them all. First introduced in 1954 as the M3 (yeah, another correlative conundrum), the M series has reached 10 versions so far. And in between each Mark, there have been some interesting releases, especially within the M10 series range. And today, we'll describe in depth what the latest announced Leica M10-R is all about!
Historic note: The M3 was announced in 1954, the M2 in 1957 and finally the M1 in 1959. Prior to the M3 there were some other Leicas simply labeled as I, II, and III. After the M3 was succeeded by the M4, the numbers gained more sense, and we are now in the M10 era.
What's the R About?
So far we've seen Leica releasing the E, D, P and now R versions of the aforementioned M10 series. But what exactly does that R is trying to tell us? It is just a marketing tool or is it really something revolutionary?
In short, the R is all about "Resolution".
Curious Note: M stands for Messsucher, the German term for a combined system of rangefinder inside a viewfinder, which allows the user to see the action outside the frame. This allows photographers to both be more in touch with the situation thanks to a never-ending seeing experience. In other words, when shooting with a rangefinder camera, you won't get any visual obstruction similar to the one you experience when shooting with a DSLR camera.
Some easy to spot specs are both the 40 Megapixels sensor and the wide ISO range (100 - 50,000). According to Leica, the all-new sensor promises to deliver impressive levels of image quality, allowing us as photographers (both amateur and professionals) to capture the finest details and textures with accurate rendition.
Since the introduction of the M9 in 2009, this series of digital rangefinder cameras have been built with full-frame 24x36 mm sensors; and the M10-R is no exception to that tradition. As an M10, it comes with a Leica Maestro II image processor, and of course the sensor lacks a low-pass filter in order to ensure high resolution results.
Another interesting feature we noticed is the expanded shutter speed on the camera, which is sort of flirting with people interested in fine art and even casual landscape photography. Now, if we have the camera (of course), we'll be able to shoot shutter speeds as far as 16 minutes slow. This is intended for more creative freedom when comparing it to previous models which only had 4 minutes long option for slow shutter speeds (which is quite long when compared to other cameras*). Therefore, star trails and dreamlike motion blurs will be possible without any trouble with the new M10-R.
* Here we are not considering Bulb mode shooting of course, don't bash us for that.
Be aware that photographs taken with shutter speeds of 16 minutes long with noise reduction enabled will take 2x to render. Therefore, a "regular" 16 minutes shutter speed will become visible after an extra 16 minutes. Meaning that your beautiful star trail will take 32 minutes long to be taken. Many photographers know this of course, but sometimes they forget to remember that sometimes there are people with them that could get impatient.
Away from the Standards
If you are all about the latest and greatest in technological advances, then you must not find this camera to be that quite interesting. The reason why is because it lacks some market expected capabilities like Bluetooth connection and video recording. Something totally fine with us since it does have built-in WiFi for mobile control and file transfer, and we simply aren't expecting Leica to record video. It is just not their style.
Despite its weight and large sensor, the camera remains compact as an M series should be. With the battery included, The M10-R body weighs a bit more than half a kilogram (660 grams to be precise), and has the following dimensions: 139x38.5x80mm. Fortunately for us, and several other non-purist users**, the camera comes with a touch 3" screen, and a very much appreciated Gorilla Glass fabrication.
** Not so long ago, Leica made a screen-less camera better known as the "M-D Typ 262". And don't you think it was cheaper just for that slight detail.
Using a Leica is odd. You know that you have unbeatable image quality in your hands thanks to their optical and image engineering, but at the same time you feel like traveling back in time. It isn't a swift experience; and it requires a very well trained eye for both focusing and framing with them. Beyond their unreachable prices (for the general public), those nostalgic oddities are the ones that make Leica cameras to be heavily distanced from the trends and the standards.
Why R rather than 11?
Despite the improvement, we don't think this camera is able to par with the expectations of a new milestone. And the main reason why is because earlier this year, Leica released another 40Mp camera, the M10 Monochrom. An amazing camera which as you might recall or guess, shoots only in black and white. But not in a desaturated and simplistic way. No, it is actually a true monochromatic sensor which behaves just as any high quality panchromatic film you might think of. Therefore, the 40Mp isn't enough justification for making this camera a new milestone on the M lineup, but a nicely improved offspring of it.
If you are already familiar with Leica's M series, you won't find it surprising to know that the M10-R is fully compatible with all the M related accessories. Meaning that the physical dimensions and overall buttons layout remains exactly the same. Same Visoflex 020 electronic viewfinder, same BP-SCL5 Lithium Ion battery, even the same hand grip and thumb support. Everything is consistent with the original M10 design.
M11 should go way beyond these specs to cope with the market's expectations. After all, at $8,295.00 body only, this isn't a regular price-friendly camera.
Beyond the Migapixel Count
We do believe that such a serious investment should go above and beyond a mere Megapixel mark, and Leica is on the same mindset as us on this matter. It also comes with a very special component, the extremely silent mechanical shutter that will allow you more candid frames than ever. If the mechanical shutter on the M10 was pretty much quiet, this one promises to be considerably more stealthy.
Silent shooting capabilities is a very well known request in the fields of photojournalism, social documentary and street photography. But what about social events and weddings? Any genre can benefit from the wonders of the inconspicuous approach!
Such power comes with a big responsibility, so we highly encourage you folks to use this feature with caution and ethics in your mind. Privacy is a delicate subject, and we won't give you a lecture on whether you should or shouldn't take photographs of strangers in the streets without them noticing it. We are only asking you to stay within the limits of what you would tolerate when being at the other side of the lens. That's all.
About the touchscreen, when can only say that it offers an elegant and intuitive fast image reviewing experience. Also important, the camera also comes with a very precise horizon level, which is a must tool when shooting with the camera mounted in a tripod, like the regular landscape and even architecture photography.
Curious Fact: Due to the lack of color filter array, the M10 Monochrom was available earlier this year than the M10-R (which shoots in color of course). It could have been cool to have both cameras released at the same time though, but hey, marketing!
How One Could Expect it to Feel?
It would feel like any other of the late M series cameras for sure since it has the same overall design. Alright, yeah, but how would that feel for someone who has never ever shot with a Leica M? In short, it is an aesthetic experience for sure!
The basic things that you'll notice is the built quality of the camera. It is a beautiful metallic tool that transmits the German tradition of combining utility with design. At the very top of the camera, we find the classic hollowed shutter release with power ring to the right, next to the shutter speed dial. At the left, the ISO dial. Simple as that. And the aperture, of course, as a mechanical ring in each of the prime M lenses.
There is something odd about having such a nice grip from a symmetrical design that has no prominent area for holding it better. It simply feels quite illogical and strange, but very much great at the same time.
The camera body is made out of magnesium die-cast, which is an expensive but extremely noble material. It is both strong and lightweight at the same time, and it feels nice in hand thanks to the synthetic leather covering.
Who Should and Shouldn't get this Camera?
Well, thanks to their luxurious prices, pretty much no one NEEDS a Leica M camera. But if you are able to invest in a healthy way in one of them, and you are certain that it will make you more passionate about photography, then who are we to tell you otherwise? The M10-R camera is something anyone truly in love with photography will find fulfilling to have.
We'll like to make a distinction here, because there are several artifacts branded with the Leica name. But there is only one true iconic camera that we all think of when hearing the red dot brand's name, and that is of course the M series. And just as we said before, if you are all about the latest and greatest in technology and gadgets, then this camera might not feel good in your hands. Everything here is manual, and it feels mechanical too! We mean, it feels handcrafted, and that gives the camera a certain aura that we simply can't describe.
This, or any other M model, could be seen as a lifetime investment that will be by your side for the rest of your life if you take good care of it. We wouldn't dare carrying that expensive camera without a proper strap that guarantees us the safety of the camera. Also a nice leather messenger bag could combine perfectly with that astonishing piece of equipment. And last but not least, a nice screen protector isn't a bad idea either, even when having that strong Gorilla Glass in it.
Also important for you to remember if your income depends on fast burst rates, you shouldn't go for this camera, but this one instead. Oh, and it doesn't record video, don't you forget about that.
Wrapping it Up
Either coming with some exotic oddities like the $50K Hermès M9, the dark and handsome M Monochrom Stealth Edition and many other optical curiosities, Leica never fails to surprise us. And in our humble over-viewers opinion, we think that the M10-R is the sweet spot between any of those highly limited edition cameras, and the M series spirit and tradition.
After all, several of the iconic photographs that surrounded the globe prior to the Internet era were shot with Leicas. And even back then, they were still seen as symbols of high quality imagery, but not as the luxurious artifacts we all know now. Therefore, despite the expected high price, this camera pays an honorable tribute to the early M series cameras. And even those simply branded I, II, III.This has been a strange year indeed, and having a recent announcement by Leica feels like a hopeful sign that things will get back on track. We don't know what to expect in the future coming M11, but we know that it will definitely be another general milestone in photography.