What should a Leica M10 look like?

Leica M9

Leica M9

Michael Reichmann at Luminous Landscape has written, IMHO, the first ever honest (and courageous) Leica article [not that other Leica articles are not honest, just too unabashedly and embarassingly gushing in their praises that they overlook major weaknesses in this venerable model] casting a non-judgemental but critical look at how the next version Leica M can be improved in this digital age.

Thank you, Michael, for the courage to say that the rangefinder should probably be laid to rest. That it does not make sense to design a flat camera and then have users buy plastic add-ons for better handling. That one should not have to screw off the base plate to change battery and memory card… In other words, let common sense rule!

Read Michael Reichmann’s article at: Luminous Landscape

There is also quite a reaction, mostly negative, to the article from new converts to the Leica M9. Most of the responses are the classic “fan boy” knee-jerk reaction we see so much of whenever someone criticizes [positively or negatively] “our” camera. Especially so if we have agonized long and have sacrificed much [monetarily] to buy such an expensive — and superb — camera. The mental contortions that we put ourselves through to justify buying this camera [or any other camera or product] make us rise up in outrage to any hint that someone is disparaging “our” camera. [Read more reactions here and here.]

How do we know we are over-reacting? Simple. When we review a camera, we always list the good points and the bad points. No camera, including the Leica M9, is perfect. So if we get angry when someone points out the bad points in our camera, we need to take a step back to get a more objective perspective.

The addition of a plastic thumb rest is a perfect example of common sense thrown out the window. On any other camera, we would be laughed out of the room if we added a plastic thumb rest to our camera, never mind that camera costs an arm and a leg. Yet, those shouting the loudest to leave the M design alone are also the first to purchase and add the cheapo plastic thumb atachment. If the Leica M camera needs a handgrip and a thumb rest, why not let the famed Leica designers do their job and give us a knock-out design? Have to screw off the base plate to change memory card? Guess at what we are taking with a long focal length lens? Match two images to focus [try doing this in low light]? Rangefinder focusing is quaint but passé. Just like film is passé. And Polaroid is passé.

A few responses are well thought out arguments and basically say, “Leave the M design alone. We like it as it is. It has endured through the ages and is legendary.

Let’s get one thing clear: The Leica M9 is a collector’s item so its value will never diminish, but will probably increase with time. It is also a superb camera. For those who desire the legendary M design, the Leica M9 will always be available for purchase.

But what does Leica, as a brand, stand for?

Leica introduced the first practical 35mm camera, the Leica I, in 1925. It used standard 35mm cinema film but extended it to 24x36mm instead of the standard 18x24mm used by cinema cameras. The rangefinder was added to the Leica II in 1932; it was separate from the viewfinder. The Leica M3 combined the rangefinder and the viewfinder in 1954.

In 1964 and onward, Leica introduced a number of SLR cameras, but they never quite caught on as the M series did. The SLR line was discontinued in 2009, but a promising larger format S2 introduced in a SLR body.

Asking Leica to add an electronic viewfinder to the M is not a far-fetched idea. Leica is fully aware of the limitations of the rangefinder in their M cameras. In 1960, it introduced the Visoflex system which was a mirror-reflex attachment that allowed longer focal-length lenses to be used on the M.

[ Historical source: Wikipedia ]

The Leica brand has always stood for innovation and its cameras always included the best of what’s available in technology. That Leica chose to introduce its own digital X1 instead of branding a Panasonic G camera says a lot. It knows the future belongs to the high resolution electronic viewfinder, fast focusing contrast-detect AF, and high performance cameras, and has chosen to come to grasp with it instead of simply rebranding someone else’s cameras. Future M cameras, if there are any more [can the “9” be the end of a series?], will [eventually have to] “modernize” with electronic viewfinders, autofocus, even [gasp!] HD movie. It’s only natural, because Leica has always stood for innovation and the best of the best. The next Leica digital M cannot be anything else.


  • i love my leica m7 but its lagging a bit and ive been looking at the M9’s but theyre so expensive, anyways whilst i was looking for some 8’s and 9’s i found this M10 concept, definitely worth a poke…

  • Leica should not become a producer of museum or nostalgia pieces. It was always considered modern/advanced/amazing. Reichmann’s letter is great. He is not arguing for dumbing down the photographic technique or turning the M line into something resembling a normal consumer camera.

    His basic premise: make it better to hold, give the photographer advanced focus feedback while maintaining manual control, and weather tight battery and SD doors. I’d like to add: and a modern shutter mechanism. Could we please get away from the wind-up noise? A click is great. The Whhiirrrrr makes everyone want to know “what was that weird noise?” Anti-stealth shutter mechanism should be done away with.

  • However!! This does not mean I agree the M10, 11, … should simply keep adding features simply to puff up the spec sheet. It should keep honing the basic tools of photography. So Movie mode is OUT unless it is an obscure menu item for infrequent or specialist use, i.e. utterly ignorable by those of us who actually specialize in STILL photography. When I see Movie Mode or a little movie camera icon on the surface of an Mn is the day I say goodbye, and stick to my Mn-1 model.

  • Scott,

    Agree that Leica should take a leading role.

    However it is not the same company of old fame and I wonder if it has the resources to do so.

    And even if it does, we may be limiting it when we ask it to advance only so much, as defined by Reichmann, you or I. Our ideas of the “perfect” camera may be a limiting factor — for technology and innovation will certainly morph the camera as we know it into a new product we may not like.

    Today’s digital camera is changing into a new product with movie mode and other “gimmicks” which seriously look like they are here to stay. Some of us like it, some don’t, and many are finding good use for them. Should Leica then lead and build the BEST of such camera? Or build the best 35mm camera, except that it uses an image sensor instead of film? The latter is all I really need and want. But if that is all Leica builds, it will have missed the train filled with customers going to the next station in the development of the camera.

    Just my 2 cents.

    Kind regards,

  • I think some time you have to make technical choices that are compromises.

    For example:

    1) One of the nice think about the optical range-finder is that it does not use any battery power. So it would be nice to have the option to use one or the other on demand, depending on the conditions. For example, EVF in low light, optic viewfinder whenever you need to save battery.

    2) A thumb rest or a handgrip are useful, but incrrese the overall room accupied by the camera. One of the nice thing about the M9 is the fact that it is very small, occupying as little space as possible. If you need an handgrip it is better to add it on demand and only if you really need it. Of course, it would be much better to have a nice, robust and resilient alloy thumb rest rather than a cheap, plastic toy.

    3) The screw on plate: someone like sit, someone else does not …. but it is certainly much more solid that a plast door, whether sliding or on hinges. I personally miss the solid metal screw on plate of my Contax, and no amount of ergonomic on flimsy plastic door gives you that “solid confidence” feeling.

    4) I think M10 should look to fix other issue, for example:

    high iso performance
    shooting speed (fps)
    reduce the size / weight even further
    add telephoto lenses support (in analogy to what is happening in the 4/3 segment)

    Also, we should start discussing whether using a Kodak sensor still makes sense …. there alternatives around that sounds much more interesting, unless Kodak decides to step up to the game, and produce a sensor that is competitive with D3 sensor. The M9 sensor whilst extremely good at very low iso had already some issues when compared to other sensors existing at the time.

    Finally, I would very much like to see a camera with an “energy saving mode” (or an alternative version of the camera), where all energy consuming belles and whistles are switched off, with the exclusion of the sensor, so that you can use in mechanical / manual mode.

    What do you think?

  • Very interesting, the article and the vewing towards future.
    Electronic viewfinder: yes, and why not an electronic shutter instead of a mechanical one?

  • I’ll never forget using an M6 for the first time after having used an M3 for many years. Wow! Just line up the arrows in the finder and get a good exposure, LOL! Now THAT was innovation for a Leica. I think we forget how hard it is to do anything with this basic design. Even the addition of the internal meter precluded the use of certain lenses etc. The fact there is a digital M9 is a miracle. Don’t forget that.

    Personally – I like what one of the posters here said regarding the “mechanical” aspects. I would prefer an M9 that has the ability to go all mechanical as much as possible while retaining the innovation and technology of a high resolution sensor and updated viewfinder. Why can’t we just crank a mechanical shutter? Do we really need a motor in there to do that for us? I mean really.

    Give me the mechanical shutter, the manual focus, the optical viewfinder with the OPTION of using a EVF (preferably within the existing finder) and an internal motor drive if I want to use it. Otherwise – let’s have that nice quiet shutter we’re all used to. Live view should definitely be available for extreme wide shots or macro. I don’t care if they want to include video – as long as it is not in the way – but I wouldn’t probably use it much unless it was super great or something.

    And for sure let’s get the ISO up to speed here. A D3 kills a Leica in the dark – even with a fast lens on the Leica. Granted – technology such as noise reduction makes this less of an issue – but a little more would be better! I don’t need 12,800 ISO. 3200 should be there though.

  • The M10 ? let me say first that I bought my first M leica, a used M2 back in 1968… I had then tne MP (#302) sold it when it started to gain astronomic value. Got a M4-2 and M4-P- I now have a M3 DS and just bought a used M8. why ? I can`t deny it is very easy to shoot good B&W with the M8, ( I use the hasselblad with CFV back for professional Color). So, the M10?

    I hope leica would look to CFV , as it has all the bells & whistles in the Phocus, that you load from internet. Just basic stuff in the body. The ESSENCE on M camera is the finder. That is to say, you cannot touch it. On the contrary it could be both optical AND electronic, just a flick of a switch, then the problem with long lenses would dissapear, You could crop the optical finder, open it for wides, zoom it for longer.

    The other is the problem with the sensor, why can`t it be easily replaceable, in case of problem, the local repairman could just repair it, clean it and re-install. Also the new up-to -date would be a simple one. The software to it would be loadable from the net. All the others, such as the grip, the “thumbie”, bottom opening etc are trivial. If you regard the M camera as an investment, you don`t want these to clutter your pride. That`s what the “User M bodies” are not, after a few street sessions…