Leica M10 Monochrom Review
Launched at the start of 2020, the Leica M10 Monochrom is the latest in a line of limited-run, niche-audience products which Leica has released in recent times.
The M10 Monochrom follows on from the Leica M Monochrom, which was announced in May 2012 and included an 18-megapixel CCD sensor. The M10 Monochrome takes the form factor of the Leica M10-P rangefinder, but installs a black-and-white only 40 megapixel, newly-designed CMOS sensor inside it.
Aimed at sub-section of photographers who prefer to shoot exclusively in monochrome, the design of the 40 megapixel sensor should mean that detail, ISO performance and dynamic range outperforms typical ‘normal’ colour sensors.
Not only does the sensor not feature a colour filter array, it’s also missing an optical low pass filter. By removing both filters, in theory you should end up in images with sharper detail, increased dynamic range and better performance at high ISOs.
As with all products from Leica, this is not a camera for those on a budget. At the time of writing, the Leica M10 Monochrom retails for around £7,250 / $8,295 body only, which makes it more expensive than the Leica M10-P, which you can pick up for around £6,489.
Ease of Use
|Front of the Leica M10 Monochrom|
In terms of the body design, the M10 Monochrom uses the same design as the M10-P, which sees some tweaks when compared to the standard, original M10. It has a brass and magnesium alloy body, which gives it a sturdy and well-constructed feel. It balances best with some of the smaller Leica prime lenses for the M system - for the purposes of this review, we were mainly working with a 28mm lens.
Probably most noticeable from an everyday usage point of view is the “quiet” shutter. While this is not completely silent, it is a lot more discreet than that found on the original M10. This helps for those who want to use the M10 Monochrome for street photography. Another thing you might physically notice is the lack of an iconic red dot on the front of the camera - just like the M10-P, this is also designed to help keep it as “discreet” as possible.
As with other Leica M cameras, the M10 Monochrom is a rangefinder, which means that you only get manual focus. This can feel like a step backwards, or an old-fashioned way of working if you’re somebody who has been otherwise very used to working with autofocus. It can take a bit of time to get used to manual focus, but especially so with a rangefinder, which has a rather unusual way of achieving focus.
|Rear of the Leica M10 Monochrom|
There are in fact a couple of different ways to achieve focus. The traditional way, looking through the viewfinder, will feel quite alien to the uninitiated. Essentially, what you need to do is line up the image you see in a central box with an image superimposed on top of it. You twist a ring around the lens to bring the image into focus - once you see the two images in the viewfinder match up, you’re ready to shoot. As the two images are in the central portion of the viewfinder, it can be quite problematic if you want to focus on something on the edge of the frame. It can also be quite challenging if you’re trying to photograph something with a fairly fussy background.
The alternative method of focusing is to use Live View, via the screen. This is particularly helpful as you can switch on Focus Peaking as well as see an enlarged view of the scene in front of you. A coloured outline will appear where sharp focus has been achieved.
After some practice with a rangefinder, you’ll also likely find that you become intuitively aware as to what will be in focus and what won’t, working with the distance markers printed on the lens.
|Top of the Leica M10 Monochrom|
The viewfinder itself is again the same as found in the M10-P, as well as the original M10. With a magnification factor of 0.73x, it gives a good view of the scene. Its design gives it a widest focal length of 28mm, so if you find yourself working with wider lenses, you won’t be able to see the whole scene. Even with the 28mm lens, it can be quite difficult to see properly into the corners of the frame. Another alternative is to invest in the optional electronic viewfinder - with which you can also use focus peaking and enlarge the view.
If you like your cameras to have a minimalist design, then, just like its predecessors, the M10 Monochrome is likely to appeal. The body is not overwhelmed with a vast array of dials and buttons, but you still have direct access to the most commonly used settings.
On the top plate, there’s a shutter speed dial, which features speeds from 1/4000-8 seconds. You can also use the “Bulb” setting, fi you’re working with a remote release and want to leave the shutter open for long exposures, or you can also use the Auto position to have the camera choose the shutter speed for you based on the aperture and ISO selected.
|The Leica M10 Monochrom In-hand|
Speaking of ISO, there’s a secondary, smaller dial on the left hand side of the top plate for adjusting that. First you’ll need to lift the dial from the housing before you can twist it around, a design which has been included to prevent accidental changes. Here again you can choose to work in automatic and let the camera choose the best setting for you. The dial displays up to “12.5k”, or ISO12500, but you can also set the dial to M if you want to select a higher value. It’s worth noting that the lowest ISO value here on the dial is ISO 160, compared with ISO 100 of the M10-P - but that’s still a lower native resolution available than on the Leica M9 Monochrom (ISO 320 was the lowest there).
To control aperture, you’ll need to turn a dial on the lens itself, which will be marked with the stops. The 28mm lens for example allows you to choose between full and half stops between f/2.8 and f/22.
Flip to the back of the M10 Monochrom, and it’s another minimalist affair. There’s just three buttons, alongside the touch-sensitive screen - the same screen as brought along from the M10-P (the original M10 didn’t have touch-sensitivity). The buttons are “LV” (Live View), “Play” (for playing your images back and “Menu” for accessing more in-depth settings than the dials afford you. When you press the button you’ll be shown a list of “favourites”, which means you’ll need to select the “menu” option if you need to delve into further into a deeper menu. You can also customise exactly which options appear on the favourites list if you find you’re often wanting to change a particular setting.
|Side of the Leica M10 Monochrom|
A four-way navigational dial sits to the right of the M10 Monochrom’s screen. This you can use together with the screen to set the area you want to examine critical focus, as well as using the navigational keys to move around menus and your images in playback.
The final dial to mention here is a small scrolling dial which can be found on the back of the camera where the thumb rest is. By default, this is used to adjust exposure compensation, but it can be registered to operate a different function if you prefer.
Touch-sensitivity was a first for the M series when it came to the M10-P, and it has been kept here for the Monochrome version. With it, you can perform a number of tasks, such as pinching to zoom in on your images in playback, double tapping to quickly zoom in to check critical focus and swiping between shots. When shooting in Live View, the touchscreen can be used to choose a magnification point, or to double tap to quickly jump to the magnified view.
|Battery and Memory Card Compartment|
An electronic level can be displayed on screen, which is useful when shooting with Live View, but it’s not something you’ll be able to see if you’re shooting through the optical viewfinder. If you purchase the optional additional electronic viewfinder, you’ll be able to see it through that, though.
As we’ve seen before with previous M series cameras, a fun quirk which harks back to M series film cameras is that the entire of the bottom plate needs to be removed to uncover the SD card slot and battery slot. It’s something which is quite fun, but also quite unnecessarily faffy if you just need to quickly change a card.