Leica M10-D: A pain in the eye or what?
Doctor, doctor, I get a pain in my eye every time I drink a cup of tea.
Well, try taking the spoon out of the cup first…
At the age of six, I thought this was hugely amusing. And so did my fellow tots at the primary school. It doesn’t age well. I was, however, reminded of the old chestnut when I contemplated the new Leica M10-D.
A reader, who is a left-eye shooter, raised the reasonable fear that using the M10-D with its new-fangled “advance lever” grip could damage his right eye. “What if that lever pokes into my eye as I’m taking a picture,” he moaned.
I hadn’t thought about this. But I am also a left-eye shooter, and could well be in line for a dose of optical damage if our reader is right in his fears. That would be a pity since I wouldn't wish to emulate Wackford Squeers, headmaster of Dotheboys Hall, who "had but one eye, and the popular prejudice runs in favour of two".
This week I finally laid hands on the M10-D — at Red Dot Cameras where it had arrived as a demonstrator. Production models, expected on the day of launch are delayed in Germany, and we don’t know when they will reach our shores.
I was at Red Dot to join Ivor cooper in our video overview of the new camera. More on that later.
My first impressions, though, were entirely positive. That lever was my main focus. How does it work? Is it effective? Does it prod my eye? Is it a faux frippery that detracts from the ethos of the iconic M?
First, it doesn’t hit my eye, even when fully extended. I put my thumb against the lever, as I would a regular thumb rest, and the camera was a delight to hold in the shooting position. It feels solid and natural. I should, however, make the caveat that I wear glasses, so I’m protected in any case.
I know many people have complained that the functionless lever is a betrayal of all that Leica stands for. It is an affront, I’ve heard some people say, because it pretends to be something it isn’t. But I like it. It does a better job of stabilising the camera than a standard hot-shoe-mounted rest. It is more secure and feels more natural. If advance levers had never existed, this idea would have been hailed as the perfect thumb grip.
Above all, when you don’t need it, you fold it away. Regular thumb grips (especially, it has to be said, the monster grip of the Leica SL) tend to dig into your chest when the camera is slung around the neck.
Apart from doing its job well, the new-fangled advance-lever grip has the big advantage (over other thumb rests) of leaving the hot-shoe vacant for possession — in particular by the Visoflex EVF. Having to remove the Leica thumb rest on the M10 every time I wanted to use the viewfinder was a pain. This was a positive disincentive to using the Visoflex. And, when mounting the Visoflex, there was always the danger that the expensive thumb grip would go AWOL.
Overall, I am enthusiastic about the thumb grip lever. My only observation is that it is slightly too easy to move. A tad more resistance would be a good thing, I believe. The other changes to the M10-D over the M-D are also welcome.
The back exposure compensation dial works well. It is solid and perfectly weighted, and it is slightly easier to move than the ISO dial on the back of the original M-D. It is great to have a physical compensation dial for the first time on an M, and I applaud Leica for the concept. The rear control is probably slightly less convenient to use than a physical dial on the top plate but, on the positive side, it is less liable to be moved in error. And how often do you change compensation anyway?
The on/off/wifi switch on the back of the camera is similarly well engineered and works smoothly. I appreciate having a clear on/off position. I was never thrilled with the red-dot graphic on the switch of the M10 and CL. Even now, after nearly two years, I can never remember whether the visible red dot means the camera is on or off. (Red dot showing means the camera is off, on checking, but I constantly forget.)
I like the M10 ISO dial. I’ve heard one or two owners of the original M-D criticising the decision to use the same control as the M10 when they prefer to have a manual (without auto) ISO dial on the back of the camera. I cannot agree with this view. For starters, it would have been too expensive to come up with a top plate design without the ISO dial and, second, the use of the backplate for a physical compensation dial is genius. I like it.
While most buyers of the M-D were content to have no menu, no auto ISO and were happy to work with the basic settings of a film camera, the M10-D does bring some extras if you want them. The Fotos app allows access to basic menu features, including exposure method, white balance, jpeg parameters (yes, the M10-D does do jpegs) and ISO setup — minimum speed, maximum ISO (for auto) and the ability to choose specific ISO settings between the 6400 maximum on the physical dial up to 50000. You can even format the SD card in the camera from the Fotos app.
Quite apart from the ergonomics, this camera is gorgeous, the distillation of the M rangefinder concept. Many people, I know, think it is madness to even want a digital camera without a screen, without menus and without loads of options. They feel it is ridiculous for Leica even to consider making it. Instead, though, Leica should be given full credit for having the confidence to produce such a niche product. Buying it isn't compulsory, and there are plenty of alternatives, even from Leica. You can buy a lovely M10-P for the same money, for instance. The M10-D will sell well, as did the M-D, and I think we will be surprised how many buyers choose it over the -P model.
If you, like me, delight in the physical perfection of a film camera but want the convenience of digital photography, then the M10-D is as good as it gets.