For over a year I had been contemplating plunking down money for a digital body one last time and committing to shooting that camera for 5-10 years. In the film days I had the same camera for six or more years at a time and there are real benefits of knowing a camera in that way. After shooting Sony’s for almost three years and changing bodies frequently, I was now eyeing a Leica. Why? Well, like Hamish’s gear journey that is 35mmc, that answer cannot be said in short order.
I asked Hamish some questions last year about rangefinders and he graciously shared his insights. Soon after I tested an α9 for a couple weeks, and since then have owned the M10 for almost three months. When I shared my observations he asked me to write them up for 35mmc.
Things I miss on the M10 that the α9 does
Higher ISO without artifacts: The α9 easily does ISO 25,600 and is decent even beyond, whereas the M10 waffles around throwing artifacts sometimes as low as ISO 8,000, and at other times I have nice images at ISO 40,000. The Leica camera manual even says at high ISO values “noise as well as vertical and horizontal stripes may become visible, especially in large, uniformly bright areas. . .” The lower ISO stripes so far have been in the blacks and can be hidden. When I tested the M10 at Tamarkin Camera in Chicago against my Sony a7R II it did very well, just the Leica so far does not feel predictable. I don’t mind noise, and others have said they see the M10 as being as good as a Sony α7S up to ISO 10,000. Praying for a firmware update helping in this area.
Matrix meeting: Only available in Live View on the M10. In this day and age really think Leica could figure out a way to give us modern metering without delay in shutter release due to it switching in and out of Live View.
Electronic Viewfinder (EVF) shooting: I really like shooting auto ISO and setting shutter speed and aperture to what I want, keeping an eye on the ISO, and adjusting the EV bias on the fly based on what I see in the EVF. This was one main reason I originally sold off my Canon gear and switched to mirrorless. I found a used external EVF for my M10, but it is not as responsive and I don’t enjoy shooting with it tacked on top, but it will work for adapted glass, super-wides and longer telephotos.
EVF for reviewing images: I need reading glasses to really see the LCD screen, but not for a viewfinder, so the EVF is really nice to review images with, and to just see them in sunny conditions. But less chimping might be a good thing.
Shows ISO in viewfinder: M10 has Auto ISO, but have to turn on the LCD screen info panel or chimp to see what value it picked.
Eyeball AF-C: For portraits it is amazing! One reason I kept my Sony α6300 and a few lenses. The α9 can even nail eyeball focus with wide-angle lenses, and in general when the AF hits it is very good, even at f/1.8. My Leica is mostly for reportage, and not portraits, however I do plan to get an M-adapter for my Sony 135mm STF – there’s a turn of events, adapting a Sony lens to someone else’s body!
SD card door: Never thought I’d be mucking about the bottom of a full frame camera to get the SD card out. Add a grip, and even more to fiddle with each time want to retrieve the card, so α9 way ahead here.
EV bias at a glance: Ironically, Sony usually does not get kudos for straightforward body design, but here is a second item. Use the Sony’s EV dial and at a glance can see what EV bias is set, as well as in the viewfinder. On the M10 only with a tap of the shutter button and looking through the viewfinder, or tap the button on the back to turn on the LCD screen, can see if it is +/- or zero.
Full EXIF data: Do we really need it? I try to examine and learn from my successes and failures so I do miss seeing what aperture an image was shot at, but I went many years shooting film not having automatic recording of my shutter speed, let alone my aperture. I have started a Shoot Notes file on my phone. **June, 2018 firmware update added aperture estimate to the M10’s EXIF – early reports are it works pretty well. So this probably can now be crossed off the list.
Leica tax: While the lenses generally hold value, current Leica bodies have an extra “made in Germany” cost, and will tumble in value like all digital bodies when the next generation arrives. If not needing higher ISO’s consider a previous generation Leica body. Accessories are not cheap either: Sony’s battery USD$78 which is ridiculous, while Leica’s USD$175!
Things I find the M10 does better than the α9
Smaller lenses: M-mount rangefinder lenses were a big part of why I ended up here. Not because of some Bavarian-fairy-dust-mystical lens renderings, but I feel the smaller lens opening facing the subject is less intimidating and less noticeable, which I have written about before on 35mmc. I also wanted a smaller kit and less weight; well, one out of two is not bad. These little brass lenses can weigh more than small DSLR primes. Of course, have to give up closer focus compared to big camera primes. While these lenses can be adapted onto the Sony, I did not find it a good experience due to the wide angles smearing in the corners and . . .
MF: While the Sony’s have focus peaking and can electronically zoom-in, the rangefinder system is so good, and just native, without all the fiddly button pushing and such. Also, I find peaking not useful with wide angles.
Rangefinder shape: Like the lenses, I feel the rangefinder shape is less intimidating, less of a visual statement when in use or hanging at my side, and dang it, I just like it. Leicas are the only full frame option at this time.
Quiet: I love the silent shooting on the Sony’s, but when indoors in odd lighting banding shows up. It’s better with the α9, but when in mechanical shutter mode the α9 is loud and the M10 is hardly noticed. Also, I liked the shutter release better on the M10 as it feels almost instantaneous, even though the α9’s is very quick too.
Skin and wood tones: I do not enjoy spending lots of time at the computer and so far I’m finding the Leica DNG files quicker to get to a pleasing image than I did with Sony’s files. And I’m not the only one, several shooters I contacted when doing my research found the same thing. And with this Lightroom Camera Calibration tweak I found on a Leica Forum I have default settings I’m very happy with now.
B&W jpgs: I always shoot RAW, but really liking the B&W jpgs generated by the M10.
Menus: At least Sony has added a favorites page to their notorious menus, and the M10 has an easy to access favorites menu too, but like most things on it, the Leica’s menus are just straightforward and intuitive to use.
No Lock buttons: I really dislike having to push buttons on the α9 to change either of the top dials.
Fast meter switching: While the Live View based Matrix or Spot Meter is not usually a plus, it does allow for quickly switching from the Center Weighted to one of them by just tapping the LV button on the back. Granted, it means the shutter release is slower.
Great feel: I was warned, once I played with a Leica everything else feels like it’s just not built the same. I’m surprised I noticed as much as I did, as usually I don’t care. I don’t value a lens more because it weighs like a brick – looking at you Sigma Art. However, after trying the Leicas the α9 felt so plasticy.
Fast to reconfigure: While there is something to be said for all the nuanced set-ups possible with the α9, when I have had to go from one shooting situation to a drastically different one with my Sonys I’m always finding I forget one or two settings buried in some sub-menu I didn’t get changed. With the M10, it’s all very straight forward.
Simplicity is key
35mmc is a lot about the appreciation of the uncomplicated camera. It still catches me, I turn on the M10 and nothing happens. No screens light up; it’s just there to work. And so far that has made it a very good place to be within when creating images.
You can follow this new part of my journey on my Instagram. I hope this post will help someone tell if one of these cameras will be a good fit for them…
A quick note on the picture at the top: I’ve bought wood grips from J.B. Camera Designs for my last five Sony bodies, and now trying out his M10 grip. So far really like how it has improved my grasp on the camera, especially after shooting for a while. And it gives a place for my lower fingers to rest. If I had bought the α9 I would have also purchased one of his grips as the Sony Grip Extension takes up the tripod socket and is double the price. The Artisan Obscura Ebony soft release button has been a great M10 addition too.