How do you make one of the most refined camera systems even better? Up the resolution, of course. For a camera system maker that thrives on minimalism, the launch of the M10-R is exactly what you'd expect from Leica: one strong and meaningful update without touching anything else. While I can argue that this is exactly the reason why Leica does camera updates right, I also wonder, is it enough? Does just bumping up the M10's resolution to 40MP validate an entire new camera?
Yes. Yes, it does. With some caveats, I suppose. It's hard to argue that your perfectly fine 24MP rangefinder is suddenly irrelevant now that there is a 40MP M10-R. Or it's hard to argue you need the matching color model if you're just a monochrom(e) photographer. But if you're someone who's been eyeing a Leica for a while, lusting for a Leica for a while, but just can't totally justify it for one reason or another, the M10-R is going to throw a wrench in your rationalization. At least it did for me.
I was lucky enough to have a few days with the new M10-R before launch and really enjoyed getting to bring it along on a couple adventures around New York City. Just as summer is starting to feel like more of an actual "thing," despite social distancing still being a major concern, it's given me the impetus to do some more solo exploration by bicycle. A Leica was a perfect companion for full-day-long cycling trips around a large chunk of New York City, getting to see some of the popular places of respite and corners of the city that feel distinctly non-urban. The reason the Leica is perfect for this is because of its size, because of its inconspicuousness.
Before getting too deep into the ethos of Leica in general, I need to talk about the M10-R specifically. It's a new camera, sure, but really, it's just a new sensor. Or maybe it's that the sum is greater than its parts, because the M10-R felt like a new experience for me. I've shot with my fair share of Leicas over the years—most recently with the screenless M10-D—and after getting a bit of time with this new one, my first major takeaway was how different the whole experience felt. Maybe I psyched myself out, but knowing I had more resolution to work with made me want to shoot a bit differently. I knew I could pull out smaller details in the shots, either by cropping or by printing larger, and I felt good knowing that the files would hold up to this manipulation.
The 40.89MP full-frame CMOS sensor is essentially the same sensor that is in the M10 Monochrom, but the M10-R features a color filter array. For most photographers, this is a necessity, as a black-and-white-only camera can feel a bit too niche. Whereas a color camera has the opportunity to dial it back to black and white, albeit a not-as-striking black and white, it's much more difficult to make the transition the other way. Besides adding a color filter array to the sensor, the other consequence of this is a slight change to the sensitivity; the M10-R goes from ISO 100 to 50000 while the Monochrom goes from ISO 160 to 100000. It's a 2/3-to-1-stop difference, but pretty moot all things considered since the real difference is, of course, color versus black-and-white.
A more realistic comparison in all likelihood is between something like the M10-P and the M10-R, or color 24MP versus color 40MP. What is this extra resolution really getting you? It's not exactly a new concept when you look outside the world of Leica, but within Leica, it's a boundary that is finally being crossed. And the M10-R is probably the best example of Leica going high-res to great effect. In terms of full-frame cameras, it broke the 24MP barrier with the Q2, then the SL2, then, surprisingly, with the M10 Monochrom. But each of these three cameras is a more specialized model, whereas the M10-R is the Leica camera. It's their bread and butter and is the type of camera you expect and want from Leica.
When I was first given this camera, even before thinking about making larger prints or being able to crop into files, my first thought was more about the famed Leica lenses. They have quite the reputation but seem to not be nearly as scrutinized as, say, any lens with autofocus. Part of it is certainly due to the manual focus design and lack of competition in the rangefinder lens game, part of it is heritage and legacy, and part has to be the actual quality of the lenses, right? I think so, and seeing the images come to life just that little bit more with the upped resolution has made me pine that much more for the ability to work with these lenses more often. For this review, I was working with the Summilux-M 35mm f/1.4 ASPH., which isn't a lens I'd naturally gravitate toward. I've never been much of a 35mm lens person, favoring the 75mm, 50mm, and 90mm options much more, but I tried to keep an open mind going into working with this lens. I think knowing I had the resolution to back me up for any compositional changes I might need made it a bit easier to just shoot naturally, and subsequently the need to crop images seemed to vanish as confidence and comfort improved.
Trying to deviate from the sensor for a moment, I need to bring up the other update brought with the M10-R, which was an expanded shutter speed range, which now goes up to 16 minutes. The reason for this change, like many things that Leica does, seems to be more philosophical rather than purely technical. It's not a hugely impressive update, but the implications of having higher resolution and longer timed shutter speeds point toward this camera being designed more for landscape use. It's something that plays more into my wheelhouse as I'm much more interested in getting away from the city to photograph rather than staying on the streets to shoot, but at the same time I love the advantages of a rangefinder system. Faster and more accurate manual focusing and a small, portable form factor are just as valuable when you are backpacking or hiking (or cycling, in my case), as they are when you're beating the streets all day looking for the decisive moment.
And beyond updates, the M10-R is essentially the same M10 you know and love. It's got the same 0.73x-magnification optical viewfinder, 3.0" 1.04m-dot touchscreen LCD, and Wi-Fi to connect with the Leica FOTOS app. It has brass top and bottom plates, the thinner body design of a film camera, manual ISO dial, and Gorilla Glass on the LCD, and it's a stills-only camera (i.e., no video). It can also accept the auxiliary Visoflex (Typ 020) electronic viewfinder if you want to, say, adapt an R-mount lens to the camera or get more accurate compositions and focus when shooting close up or far away, or if it's just too bright to use the rear LCD. I was given a Visoflex with the M10-R and tried it on a few shots, but ended up defaulting back to the stripped-down camera and relying on the rangefinder—after all, that's why you're using this camera in the first place. If I wanted to use an electronic viewfinder, I wouldn't be looking at getting an M camera.
So, returning to my original point about whether or not a simple increase in resolution is worthy of a whole new camera. I'll stick with my "yes" answer and reëmphasize that it really depends on where you're coming from. Leica has never really been a brand that seemingly cares about trying to get you to update from model to model with each iterative update; their cameras do have a bit more lasting value to them as they're never really cutting edge even at their release. As insignificant as the update from 24MP to 40MP may seem, I think its repercussions and implications are what the update is all about. The new sensor has more pixels, but it also has more dynamic range, can "get more" from the cherished lenses, and gives you a bit more freedom for shooting. I think it's a solid update and is the rangefinder I'd been looking forward to for a while. It's crossing off that lack of resolution excuse on my list of reasons why I shouldn't give in to the allure of the rangefinder, but I'm okay with that. The M10 has always been an enticing camera system, and this update is just making it that much more appealing.
What are your thoughts on the Leica M10-R? Do you think a new sensor is a worthy upgrade? What else would you like to see in a Leica rangefinder? Let us know your thoughts on this new high-resolution model in the Comments, below.