If Leica rangefinders are throwbacks to a bygone era, there’s no better example of just how far back they can go than the M10 Monochrom ($8,295, body only). Like others in the M10 family, its basic design is the same as models dating back to the 1950s. But instead of housing a sensor capable of capturing the world in color, the Monochrom lives up to its name with an imager dedicated entirely to black and white. It’s the best Monochrom camera that Leica has made to date, and worthy of being called our Editors’ Choice.
A 21st Century Rangefinder
As with others in the family, the M10 Monochrom’s basic design dates back to the Leica M3, a 35mm camera first sold in 1954. Film canisters have been swapped out for memory cards, and there’s a touch screen on the back, but the general look and feel is the same.
Leica Summilux-M 50mm f/1.4 ASPH, 1/750-second, ISO 160
The body measures 3.2 by 5.5 by 1.5 inches (HWD) and weighs 1.5 pounds. The camera is slimmer than more modern mirrorless designs, and omits a handgrip. Add-on grips are available if you’d like.
Some Leica owners opt for a leather half-case to add some additional protection; some, like those from Arte di Mano, include a modest grip in their design. I used the M10 Monochrom without a case or grip, but would likely go the half-case route if I was buying one. I’ve used the M (Typ 240) in a di Mano case for years with great success.
Leica Elmar 5cm f/3.5, 1/125-second, ISO 160
Construction quality is exemplary. The top plate is brass, finished in black chrome, and the body is magnesium alloy, wrapped in a leatherette. You can get the standard edition of the camera with an unadorned top plate, or opt for a limited edition Leitz Wetzlar version with an engraved top plate.
The body is dust and splash resistant, but not waterproof. I’d feel comfortable using it in moderate rain, but not a downpour.
An optical viewfinder sets the M10 apart from most other mirrorless cameras. It’s a fixed viewfinder with a 0.73x magnification rating. A bright patch in the center is used to focus—it shows a double image when the subject is out of focus, and a single one when you’ve got the lens set properly.
Leica Summicron-C 40mm f/2, 1/2,000-second, ISO 160
Because you’re not seeing through the lens, but rather a fixed optical finder, it doesn’t get dimmer if you attach an f/2.8 lens instead of an f/1.4, like an SLR. But you do lose precise framing. The M10 projects frame lines in the viewfinder, roughly matching the angle of view of the attached lens. They’re shown in pairs—28mm and 90mm, 35mm and 135mm, and 50mm and 75mm.
M lenses aren’t made in longer focal lengths, but if you want to go wide-angle you’ll need to use the rear LCD for precise framing, or invest in an add-on EVF or optical finder to match your lens. The M10 Monochrom can work with pretty much any manual SLR lens via a simple mechanical adapter too, though you’ll need to use the EVF or rear display for framing and focus.
As with the premium M10-P, the LCD is a 3-inch panel with touch support. The M doesn’t have any sort of autofocus capability, but you can double tap the display to punch in and magnify your frame to aid manual focus, or to get a closer look at a photo in playback mode.
Controls Cover the Basics
The M10 has a few more control switches and dials than the old film cameras that it mimics, but not by much. You’ll still set the f-stop on the lens itself, and the shutter speed via a dial on the top of the camera. The shutter supports automatic operation, and can be set manually from eight seconds all the way down to 1/4,000-second in half-stop increments via the dial; exposures of up to 16 minutes are available via the bulb setting.
There’s also an ISO control dial on top, in the same spot you’ll find the film rewind on a 35mm camera like the still-in-production M-A. It offers an automatic option, a manual option (set via the camera menu), or set marks for ISO 160, 400, 800, 1600, 3200, 6400, and 12500. The camera’s 40MP monochrome sensor can be set as high as ISO 10000.
There’s a function button on the front—a single press activates frame magnification when using live view, and you can hold it in and spin the rear command dial to set EV compensation. You’re also able to set the rear dial to set EV directly, without the button press, via the menu.
Leica Elmar 5cm f/3.5, 1/180-second, ISO 160
Other rear controls include the Live View, Play, and Menu buttons, as well as a four-way controller with a central button for menu navigation.
Connectivity and Power
The M10 Monochrom includes Wi-Fi. It works with the Leica Fotos app, available for Android and iOS, to transfer photos to your handheld device, or to use as a remote control. The remote function works well, with just a slight lag in the live feed, and the transfer function works for both JPG and Raw DNG images.
Leica Summitar 50mm f/2, 1/250-second, ISO 160
Raw files can take a long time to copy, though, about 30 seconds per photo to my iPhone 8 Plus. Still, you’re then able to edit them with phone-based tools. JPGs go faster, about 10 seconds for a full-resolution file.
The battery is the same BP-SCL5 cell that powers the other M10 models. It’s rated for about 600 shots based on optical viewfinder use. Using the EVF and Wi-Fi will drain it more quickly. If you’re setting out for a full day of photography, I’d recommend carrying a fully charged spare, as the M10 doesn’t have any sort of USB connection for on-the-go charging. Batteries are priced at $195.
Leica Summicron-C 40mm f/2, 1/4,000-second, ISO 160
You do need to remove the base plate to change the battery or access the UHS-I SDXC memory card slot. It can be a pain if you keep a tripod plate on it, as you’ll need to first remove it to swap out the battery.
It’s one aspect of the design we’d love to see changed—a battery door would be a lot more practical. If you’re really bothered by it, there are third-party baseplates available that incorporate a hinged door for battery and memory card access.
40MP Black-and-White Sensor
The M10 Monochrom is Leica’s third black-and-white rangefinder, but it’s the first to feature an image sensor built for it specifically. The original M Monochrom and the second-generation Monochrom (Typ 246) use sensors first developed for color cameras, with the Bayer filter removed.
Leica Summitar 50mm f/2, 1/180-second, ISO 160
See How We Test Digital Cameras
Removing the Bayer filter improves resolution—light is gathered at every pixel site, while a color camera filters out different wavelengths in a set pattern, requiring some interpolation to fill in gaps. The result is a drop in detail versus a monochrome sensor, and also a decrease in its effective ISO rating.
Both earlier editions have relatively high sensitivity, ISO 320. The M10 Monochrom’s sensor offers ISO 160 capture, so you’re less likely to add a neutral density filter to your Summilux lens if you want to shoot it at f/1.4 in bright sunlight. That doesn’t mean you can toss out filters—you may want to add a yellow or red filter to your lens to darken skies, just as you would when shooting film.
Leica Elmarit 28mm f/2.8, 1/125-second, ISO 400
The sensor has a very wide sensitivity range—up to ISO 100000—and if you use Raw format you’ll have loads of room to tone photos to taste. I had no issues opening up shadows and reining in highlights. What’s more, the sensor doesn’t show any evidence of banding at its extreme settings ISO, something Monochrom (Typ 246) owners have to live with.
When working in Raw DNG format, detail is excellent and images show very little grain through ISO 1600. A fine, tight grain pattern starts to show at ISO 3200. It gets a little rougher as you increase the sensitivity, but dot patterns in our printed test target are distinctly visible through ISO 12500.
Leica Summitar 50mm f/2, 1/500-second, ISO 160
Grain is rougher and does cut into detail at the extreme settings, ISO 25000 up through ISO 100000, but output is usable and printable, even at the top settings. The noise at the top setting isn’t unlike the Ilford HP5 or Kodak Tri-X pushed a couple of stops.
The JPG output is good too. Grain is a little rougher at top settings, but images are just as usable as the Raw output—you just lose the flexibility to post-process. You can have the M10 apply a sepia, selenium, or blue tone, with a strong or weak effect.
Leica Wide-Angle Tri-Elmar 16/18/21mm f/4 ASPH, 16mm, 1-second, ISO 250
Our tests were made with a Summilux-M 50mm ASPH. lens set to f/5.6, an older, but in-production, lens. Leica rangefinders have used the same mount for six decades, and can use lenses dating back to the ’30s with a simple adapter. I took advantage of this when working with the Monochrom in the field, using some old favorites, including Elmar and Summitar lenses from the 1940s.
To get the absolute most resolution out of the sensor, you’ll want to use more recent glass. Finer optical designs and improved coatings have allowed Leica (and others) to develop lenses with better micro-contrast, improved flare resistance, and less distortion. But for less technical photography, old glass can really sing on the M10 Monochrom.
Leica Summitar 50mm f/2, 1/250-second, ISO 160
Continuous drive shooting is available at up to 4.5fps. Expect the buffer to fill after eight or nine Raw or Raw+JPG shots; JPG photographers can get about 30 at a time. Images write fairly quickly to memory, and you can start making images again as the buffer clears. The shutter is the same extra-quiet version used in the M10-P—it’s not quite silent, but it’s close.
Less Is More
The Leica M10 Monochrom may not have the widest potential audience, and that’s absolutely fine. Photographers who use rangefinders in this day and age are doing so out of intent, devotion, and love. You can get a cutting-edge full-frame camera with world-class autofocus, 4K recording, and loads of other bells and whistles for less.
Leica Summicron-C 40mm f/2, 1/2,000-second, ISO 160
But if you’re shopping for the M10 Monochrom, you’re looking for something else. The Monochrom may do less than others, but that’s the point. It takes everything back to the basics, with manual focus, an optical viewfinder, and images that show the play between light and shadow, without the distraction of color.
It’s a luxury item, so you have to be serious about the craft to think about buying one. There’s a slight premium over the base model M10, but you do get the M10-P’s touch screen and quiet shutter, both missing from the standard M10. That said, it’s still a big purchase to contemplate.
Leica APO-Summicron-M 50mm f/2 ASPH, 1/60-second, ISO 320
But if you’re able to swing it, the M10 Monochrom will reward you. It’s a pleasure to use, with little to distract you from photography. The black-and-white images are sublime, and there’s something to be said about the way working without color changes your approach to making a photo. It’s my favorite M10 to use to date, and our Editors’ Choice.
Leica M10 Monochrom Specs
|Dimensions||3.2 by 5.5 by 1.5 inches|
|Sensor Resolution||40 MP|
|Sensor Size||Full-Frame (24 x 36mm)|
|Lens Mount||Leica M|
|Memory Card Slots||1|
|Memory Card Format||SDXC (UHS-I)|
|Battery Type||Leica BP-SCL5|
|Display Size||3 inches|
|Display Resolution||1.04 million dots|
|Maximum Waterproof Depth||0 feet|
|Video Resolution||Not supported|