My First Digital Leica
Fifteen months ago I finally succumbed to to the allure of a digital Leica M. As a long-term Leica film MP and iiif and, more latterly, an ‘O’ Serie Oskar Barnack replica photographer I’m no stranger to Leica cameras but Leica’s digital M’s have held little appeal to me until they released the M10.
With it’s design similarities to my film MP, the M10 was a welcome step back to the traditional shape and size of Leica M that I’m used to and, for myself, more inline with the ethos of Leica M cameras with it’s baseplate and frame selector lever.
When Leica announced the limited edition 40mp M10-R in black paint, I could not resist any longer. With more than enough resolution for most practical purposes that the Leica M was designed for, a quiet conventional shutter, traditional baseplate, frame selector lever and a black paint finish that complements my Leica MP perfectly, my first digital Leica M finally came home.
Leica M10-R Black Paint
We had travel plans arranged for 2022 and even more in 2023. With the increased use of the new CT-type airport security scanners, the refusal for a hand inspection of film by many security personnel and the recent astronomical rise in the cost of film, I will no longer risk taking film with me on extended, multiple airport itineraries.
So far my M10-R has been to Doha, Sri Lanka, Germany and Namibia in 2022. In 2023 it has already been to Iceland and there is a trek in Nepal, six weeks backpacking tour in India and a cycle tour in Eswartini to come in the next few months.
As well as being used almost daily here in the Outer Hebrides, so far the M10-R has performed perfectly well with no problems to report despite the lack of weather sealing. When travelling, it goes in either Billingham Hadley Small or a Hadley Digital depending on whether I take two or three lenses.
With a new M10-R, my lens combinations are selected from my set of five current summicrons; for a two lens set, it is either a 35mm asph v1 or 28mm asph safari edition with a 75mm apo-summicron, 28mm safari edition with 50mm safari edition, 35mm v1 asph with a 75mm apo-summicron or 90mm apo-summicron. For a three lens set, it is 28mm, 50mm and 90mm safari editions.
The great strength of the Leica M system is in the high quality of manufacture and portability where nothing gets in the way of making images. The compact design of these cameras and most of the lenses in the range makes the system an almost perfect choice for travel photography. There is very little that can’t be done with a Leica M and two or three lenses if ‘travel photography’ as a genre implies a combination of street, street portraiture, documentary and landscapes.
The capital outlay is considerable even for a basic set of a camera body and a couple of summicrons (there are other lens choices from Cosina Voigtlander and Zeiss that are arguably as good as Leica lenses at far less cost) but Leica can be genuinely considered as a long-term investment in your photography. I don’t see any reason, barring future irreparable mechanical failure, loss of my own ability to focus manually becoming impaired, why I would ever need to change my M10-R for a future new camera.
My Leica lenses will outlive me and I’ve reached a point in my photographic equipment wants where I do not need lenses wider than 28mm or longer than 90mm for travel photography.
I’ll leave the future ‘need’ for wider aperture lenses than my summicrons open to re-evaluation, but for now a maximum of f2 is fine for most of my travel photography.
I’ve added a Kamerakraft LM10 v2 grip to my M10-R as I prefer having a grip on my Leicas and I often use a lightweight Gitzo carbon 6X 1550T for night time and long exposures. The Kamerakraft grip is more convenient for working on a tripod than simply using an Arca-Swiss compatible qr plate which needs to be removed from the baseplate before the battery or card in the camera can be accessed.
The Bottom Line
Yes, it’s a significant investment but this is Leica and you don’t buy into the M system without considering carefully your reasons for doing so. I’ve seen many Leica forum members come and go and clearly a percentage of those have discovered that the M system isn’t really compatible with their interest in photography when they have been seduced by faster, more powerful and higher resolution alternatives from other manufacturers. The short-term is where the investment in Leica becomes expensive.
Look upon it as a lifetime investment and then the pill is an easier one to swallow, my personal philosophy is that it takes a degree of maturity as a photographer to know and understand your needs vs wants. Once you’re at that stage of confidence a Leica M and a few lenses will become your photographic fellow travellers for life.