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Thoughts and Reviews on Photography

Rick has decades of photography experience. He has used many DSLR cameras but now shoots almost exclusively with Leica M. Check out his reviews and thoughts on photography. 

If there are specific items you wish to cover, shoot him an email at contact@travelisbeautiful.com

A Comparison of Leica M10 and M240

M10

My First Camera Review

I want to begin this review with a disclaimer. This my first camera review. Therefore, this review won't be like ones from Ken Rockwell,  Steve Huff, Thorston OvergaardDan Bar or any number of other reviews you can read on the web.  They are great reviews, so I thought it would be silly to try and compete or copy them.

This review is about what I think of the M10 and how I think it compares to the M240 that I have loved for the past 3 years. The Leica M system is the perfect travel camera for me because it is small and light and produces great photos.

Before we get started, let me tell you about my photography style. There is a saying that to understand history you first need to know the historian. I think the same is probably true with camera reviews.

My Photography History

I have been a photographer for much of my life. I first was bitten by the photo bug in 1973 when our high school class went to Washington DC for the inauguration of President Nixon. My dad let me bring his SLR to capture the experience. It was a Konica film camera. I shot 15 rolls of film in about a week. I remember my favorite image was of the White House at night. The way the White House was lit was impressive. 

Exposure was not easy with that camera, especially for a White House night shot. With no tripod to hold the camera steady, I put the camera through the metal rod fence surrounding the White House grounds. Somehow, I held the camera steady with the help of the fence for a long exposure. I didn't understand f-stop but I did understand that there was a control of the aperture and a wide open aperture was probably better at night. I took several shots with different shutter speeds hoping that one would be properly exposed. It turns out that one of these images looked really good. I was hooked.

In High School I continued to shoot. I developed my own film as the photography club's dark room. When I left home for college, I also left photography behind. 

I kept thinking of getting back into it but I wanted to wait for digital photography. It seemed like digital photography was the future plus I could save money on film and developing. I had a couple small Canon digital ELF cameras. They were ok for snapshots but not real photography. Finally in 2006, I felt the quality of Digital SLR's was good enough to make an investment. 

A friend helped me with the purchase and explained that a digital camera is basically a computer and will become obsolete like laptops within a couple years. But optics never really change. Invest in great glass to take exceptional photos. Sound advice. I bought a Canon 20D with 24-70 f2.8 and 70-200 f2.8. The lenses were more expensive than the camera. It seemed like a lot of money and I guess it was. But I wanted to get back into photography so I made the investment.

 Learning to shoot equestrian sports

Learning to shoot equestrian sports

I immediately loved it. The split-second visual feedback of my the photos was incredible. Film was always a mystery. Was the image properly exposed? My ability to instantly assess allowed for necessary camera adjustments while I was shooting. The wide aperture of my f2.8 lenses produced a wonderful bokeh. They sucked in enough light to allow for a short shutter speed to stop the world. I loved taking photos of our dog catching a frisbee in mid air. They are some of my favorite images. At this time my daughter was very involved with competitive equestrian sports. My photography allowed me to enjoy her activities but not be in her sport. Learning how to shoot horses jumping over logs helped me be a better photographer. 

I continued to buy more gear for my Canon system. More lenses. Upgrades of the camera. Over the 9 years from 2006 to 2015 I had purchased 5 DLSR cameras, 6 lenses, 2 flash units, 2 tripods, 4 bags. I had LOTS of gear. One of my cameras was the Canon 1Dx which was big and fast. It could take 14 frames per second while continuously focusing on moving subjects. The camera was great for sports but it was doing all of the work. I didn't even have to think. I started to miss the time when I was taking the shot, not the camera.

A good friend purchased a Leica M9 and my first impression was "WOW!" This is a small camera and the range finder seemed antique. It had been years since I needed to focus a camera. I was surprised that there was no auto-focus. But I did like the small size. My friend also used to shoot with a big DSLR camera and explained that he now leaves the behemoth at home and just goes for a stroll with his Leica. He let me take a few shots. I loved the quiet precision of the Leica. I looked into a purchase and was shocked at the sticker price. WOW, $7000 for a range finder with no auto-focus. I waited.

I started selling my photos as stock photography on istockphoto. It turns out that people liked my photography and my photo sales started to grow. I now had an income stream to offset my camera expenses. Maybe spending my photo income on a Leica wasn't such a crazy idea!

My First Leica

The M240 came out in late 2013. I decided use my photo sales income and purchase an M240 with a 35mm Summilux lens. I was giddy. I couldn't wait to go for a stroll.

My first walk about with the camera provided one real nice shot, a couple mediocre images and a couple more that were totally black. It turns out that when you look through the range finder with the lens cap on, you don't see it like you do with a DSLR. Hence the black images. And, with an f1.4 wide open you really need to think about what you are focusing on, otherwise your images are mediocre. But that one shot, that one beautiful shot, that was really great.

 My first Leica M photo made me love this camera

My first Leica M photo made me love this camera

For me, using the Leica M was like learning how to take photos all over again. I needed to think about focus. I needed to think about depth of field. I needed to think about exposure. Hell, I even needed to think about taking off the lens cap. When I did think, things sometimes really worked well. I enjoyed the challenge of relearning what I had known and forgotten. I loved getting back to the basics of being a photographer.

Over the years my photo instincts returned. I see what the camera sees and my intuition is often correct regarding underexposing or overexposing a scene in order to get the feel I'm after. I no longer leave the lens cap on! With the silent and smooth shutter I usually hold the camera by hand rather than depend on a tripod. I love the small, quiet and unobtrusive nature of the Leica. So do my wife and friends which means I take more pictures of family and friends.

Do I need a Leica M10?

I had my M240 for about 3 years. I loved this camera. It was a constant companion. A friend. I took thousands of photos. Some really, really great photos. I launched a website with my wife using the M240.  But there was a new Leica M. The new M10. I tried to convince myself I needed one. But that's silly. Nobody really needs one. But I did want one and that was enough for me.

I put my name on a waiting list. And then another list. And finally a third. After a few months I got a call from the Leica Store in Bellevue, Washington. They had one and I bought it. New camera excitement filled my body and soul. I felt like a 5 year old boy with a new puppy. 

Unboxing the Leica M10

 The M10 box

The M10 box

The M10 comes in the same type of box as the M240.

The reveal of the Leica M is an experience of beauty and quality. The box is elegant, functional and minimal as you expect from Leica. The outer box is silver with an inner black box which safely cradles the mechanical jewelry. As you disconnect the tab of the silver box, the sides drop away. There is emotion in this, like the clothes dropping off your lover. The black box has subtle magnets to hold it securely closed while allowing easy access.

There are 2 drawers holding the manuals and the accessories - like the leather strap, battery and charger. The care and thought that went in to the design of the box is appropriate for a $7000 camera.

I immediately read the quick start guide. I charged the battery. I put on the leather strap. I continued to read the manual while the battery charged. After about an hour, the camera was ready to go.

 

What I like about the Leica M10

Thinner and lighter

 The M10 battery on the left, the M240 battery on the right. The M10 is much thinner.

The M10 battery on the left, the M240 battery on the right. The M10 is much thinner.

My first impression - it is thinner than I thought.

Thin and light is one of the main things that attracted me to the Leica M in the first place. Traveling around the world, we take only carry-on luggage. Having an extra large bag to carry the camera and lenses of a DSLR simply would not work for us. The Leica M camera is smaller than a comparable DSLR and the lenses are A LOT smaller. I usually carry a shoulder bag with my camera and 3 lenses. This same setup with a DSLR would be 2-3x the size and weight.

After reading a few online reviews, I knew the M10 was thinner than the M240. But it was thinner than I expected. The difference in the batteries of the two cameras is noticeable. The thickness of the camera is balanced with the thickness of the battery. They fit together like hand and glove.

In addition to being thinner, the M10 is noticeably lighter. I really like the way the M10 feels in my hand. It's easier to hold so I feel more nimble. Now is my brain justifying the lightness of this new purchase? Or, do I really notice the smaller size and weight that much. I stopped thinking about it.

Simplification

Next, I noticed the simplification of camera controls.

 Leica M240 on the left with the thinner and simpler M10 on the right. 

Leica M240 on the left with the thinner and simpler M10 on the right. 

Leica is known for simple elegance. It always amazes me how Leica can eliminate features and often charge more for the camera. The Leica Monochrome M has no color capability but is $500-$1000 more than the color version of the same camera. Leica also came out with a version of the Leica M that has no screen for viewing the images, the Leica M-D. The philosophy behind taking away the screen is to eliminate distractions for the photographer. To keep it simple. Now this is a level of simplification beyond my goals. I like  checking the exposure of the image and modifying my settings if necessary. The M10 has a screen and color. But it does have fewer controls and features than the M240.

The M240 has video capability, the M10 does not. There was a button on the top of the M240 that would activate video. This button is missing from the M10. The on/off control on the M240 has 4 positions (off/single/continuous/timed shutter). The M10 has 2 (off/on). There is a new dial for ISO on the top of the M10 and is a nice addition since changing ISO is fairly common. It is easier with the addition of this dial on the Leica M10.

The back of the camera is also a little neater. The M240 has 6 buttons (LV, Play, Delete, ISO, Menu, Set) and the M10 has 3 (LV, Play, Menu). The ISO button was removed from the back with the addition of the ISO dial on top of the camera. The Set and Delete buttons are functions that are accessed in the menu. I rarely used the Delete button on the M240 and the Set button was always a bit confusing to use. The elimination of these extra buttons allows for the 3 buttons to be noticeably larger and easier to use and navigate. These 3 buttons are the ones I use on the M240. So, to me, keeping these 3 is logical.

Low Light Photography

One of the improvements with the M10 over the M240 is the ISO performance. This low light performance is one of the main features of the Leica M10 that initially caught my interest. I love shooting at night and I never use a flash. The lighting in the photos is so much more interesting and natural without a flash. In order to take a nice image using available light in a low light environment you need to have the camera steady while the shutter is open and using a tripod. Sometimes I use a tripod but I prefer to shoot sans tripod. Without one, you need a fast lens and high enough ISO to avoid camera shake while holding the camera by hand. So the higher ISO of the M10 is an attractive feature for my photographic needs.

 The M240 tops out at 6400 ISO and the M10 top out at 50,000 ISO. That is 8x greater sensitivity to light at the maximum setting. Said another way, at a given aperture at maximum ISO you can have 8x faster shutter to achieve proper exposure.

The higher ISO is achieved with a new improved sensor and the MAESTRO II processor. These improvements also bring lower noise at any ISO. One evening I tried the mid and high level ISO on both cameras. What really surprised me the clarity of the M10 at 800 ISO. To my eye, it is about as clear as the M240 at 200 ISO. The noise is so low I do not need to do any noise reduction in Lightroom. 

 800 ISO, 1/350 sec, 35mm f 1.4. No noise reduction. handheld camera

800 ISO, 1/350 sec, 35mm f 1.4. No noise reduction. handheld camera

I wanted to see how the M10 performed at ISO above what the M240 is capable of. So I set the M10 at ISO 12500 (2x higher than the M240). There is noticeable noise but not horrible. This level of noise is easily corrected in Lightroom. It is clear that the M10 greatly improves capability for low light photography. 

 12,500 ISO, 1/3000 sec, 35 mm f1.4, no noise correction, handheld camera

12,500 ISO, 1/3000 sec, 35 mm f1.4, no noise correction, handheld camera

 12,500 ISO, 1/3000 sec, 35 mm f1.4, with Lightroom noise correction, handheld camera

12,500 ISO, 1/3000 sec, 35 mm f1.4, with Lightroom noise correction, handheld camera

Image Quality

The image quality of the Leica M240 is outstanding. As is the image quality of the M10. I am including these 2 images taken from the same spot focusing on the same scene. Both were taken at 3200 ISO to try and exaggerate any image quality issues. They were taken about a minute apart as I only had one tripod and needed to put the same lens on both cameras. So the one minute difference will change the quality of the light a little since both photos were taken at the end of the day. On my inspection I don't detect much difference between the two images. The subtle colors of the sage, scrub and grass come through in both images. You may detect slight noise in both images in the dark shadows of the forest but not too much. I was surprised to see the image quality of these 2 photos so close, almost indistinguishable. I suppose this makes me feel great about buying my first Leica M 3 years ago. 

 Leica M10 at 3200 ISO. No noise reduction. 1/30 sec @ f8.0  DNG imaged converted to JPG in Lightroom

Leica M10 at 3200 ISO. No noise reduction. 1/30 sec @ f8.0

DNG imaged converted to JPG in Lightroom

 Leica M240 image at 3200 ISO.  No noise reduction. 1/30 sec @f 8.0   DNG image converted to JPG in Lightroom

Leica M240 image at 3200 ISO.  No noise reduction. 1/30 sec @f 8.0

DNG image converted to JPG in Lightroom

WiFi Connectivity

The one new feature bringing new capability to the Leica M10 over the Leica M240 is the addition of WiFi connectivity. This WiFi connection is possible with an iPhone IOS Leica M app. You can set up the camera as a hot spot or connect over another wifi network. I recommend setting the camera up as a hot spot for better security. 

The iPhone is connected to the camera and acts as a remote control. You can easily use the iPhone to remotely trigger the shutter on the M10. This capability makes it easy to set up a self portrait or take any kind of photo remotely. The Leica M app also allows for easy access to the camera's menus. From the iPhone you can view and modify the camera's settings. This is a little easier than using the thumb dial on the back of the camera.

WiFi also allows you to share photos directly from the camera through the iPhone's internet connection. This is a useful feature if you enjoy sharing photos on Facebook or Instagram. You can also email or text photos from your camera as if the photos were taken with the internal iPhone camera. I find myself using this feature more frequently than I initially expected. It is nice to not have to remove the memory card and load the photos on a computer before sharing them.

Summary

I do not have buyers remorse. I loved my M240 and I love my M10 as well. The key improvements that I appreciate are:

  • Thinner and lighter
  • Higher ISO and lower noise
  • Great image quality
  • The Leica M10 uses all my existing Leica M lenses
  • WiFi connectivity allows for remote control of the camera from an iPhone 
  • Simplified and improved user interface and user experience 

The Leica M is an expensive camera. The Leica lenses are also expensive. There is no autofocus. The operation of a Leica M is much more human intensive than many modern cameras. The Leica M is NOT for everyone. But if you enjoy the responsibility of operating the camera and desire superb images with a fairly small and unobtrusive camera, the Leica M10 is a great choice.

I'f you have questions or comments on this review, I would love to hear from you. Send me an email at contact@travelisbeautiful.com .