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Leica M10 vs Leica SL - Part I - Under Normal Use

Leica M10 vs Leica SL - Part I - Under Normal Use

It's funny how sometimes life turns out. Who would have thought my life could change so much in the span of half a year? It's something I would never have expected from such a chance encounter. And it wasn't something I had planned on doing. But now, I wouldn't be able to imagine my life in any other way. How could I, given the joy and beauty brought into my life? I have after all found my soulmate, which I'm reminded every time I look at the images on this blog.  

Of course, I'm talking about the Leica SL.

It makes me wonder how Leica M cameras are still a thing, given the inferiority of rangefinder technology. But then Leica goes out and does the unexpected and releases the much improved Leica M10. Oh, how conflicted I feel. Rangefinders are in fact still a thing! The mental anguish I'm suffering is immeasurable. What am I to do now. My previous state of ergonomic equilibrium has now been shattered by a disturbance in the force. The M10 is that good! It's a foregone conclusion that my two Leica SL setup is now history. So what am I to do now? Do I abandon my much beloved Leica SL for a pair of M10s or do I carry one of each?

A little melodramatic? Admittedly, not your usual dilemma.

So it was during a New York winter's day that I found myself deep in reflection. Much has changed in my life since that fateful day, when I switched to the Leica SL. It was after all the day I met Anna for the first time. I had worked with other models before. But Anna was special. Ironically, I hadn't intended to work with her, since she was taller than my usual preferred specifications. However, a goof up had occurred, leading to what I can only best describe as a chance encounter. And six months later, as my #bff, I'm showing her around New York. Who would have guessed?

Serendipitous, how life unfolds.

If I weren't in New York, I would have likely proceeded to conduct a more controlled comparison of the Leica SL and the Leica M10. But circumstances doesn't always warrant the clinical approach, being what it is. I am after all with Anna in a different city surrounded by different landmarks and reference points. It would make more sense to make the most of her visit than spend countless hours laboring on side by side comparison shots. Besides, I might never get a second chance to photograph her in New York again.

In other words, this comparison will be based on normal use. This means proper exposure under conventional light conditions.

To optimize image capture for the sake of Anna's first trip, I decided to shoot wide if not wider. The point of travel photography is environmental portraiture, as proof of pilgrimage. So on the Leica M10, I paired it with my go-to 28mm f/1.4 Summilux. And on the Leica SL, I paired it with my 21mm f/1.4 Summilux - in case if I needed to go even wider without stepping back.

Not exactly what one would have in mind in a comparison between the Leica M10 and Leica SL. Still, a good excuse to post sample images comparing the two cameras under normal use.

Leica M10 + Leica 28mm f/1.4 Summilux - Looking away from Picasso's La Demoiselle d'Avignon at the Museum of Modern Art

Leica M10 + Leica 28mm f/1.4 Summilux - Cropped - Looking at Matisse's La Danse at the Museum of Modern Art

Leica M10 + Leica 28mm f/1.4 Summilux - Wollman's Rink at Central Park

Leica M10 + Leica 28mm f/1.4 Summilux - The Sea Lion Pool at the Central Park Zoo

Leica M10 + Leica 28mm f/1.4 Summilux - The Penguin Habitat at the Central Park Zoo

Leica SL + Leica 21mm f/1.4 Summilux - The Mall in Central Park

Leica SL + Leica 21mm f/1.4 Summilux - The Mall in Central Park

Leica SL + Leica 21mm f/1.4 Summilux - Bethesda Fountain in Central Park

Leica SL + Leica 21mm f/1.4 Summilux - On Madison Avenue across the street from the flagship Ralph Lauren store.

Leica M10 + Leica 28mm f/1.4 Summilux - Doing her best impression of Bolshevik Chic at the Russian Tea Room

Leica M10 + Leica 28mm f/1.4 Summilux - Across the street from Carnegie Hall on 57th Street.

Leica M10 + Leica 28mm f/1.4 Summilux - Coney Island on the beach

Leica M10 + Leica 28mm f/1.4 Summilux - Going Live on Facebook, atop a jetty at Coney Island

Leica SL + 21mm f/1.4 Summilux - Outside Coney Island Amusement Park

Leica SL + 21mm f/1.4 Summilux - Nathan's Famous at Coney Island

As a starting point of comparison, immediately coming to mind is the difference in size of the two cameras. The M10 is such a joy to use. It's light and meters with reasonable accuracy under typical light conditions. All the manual controls are easily within reach. As for the SL... well... not as nice. It's heavier, and adjusting exposure wasn't as convenient. Changing the ISO and exposure compensation required a long press on your selected shortcut buttons, followed by scrolling for selection and visual verification on either the LCD or inside the EVF display. 

What is better about the SL is the focusing and composition experience. With the SL, the EVF shows you the actual field of vision, and allows you to focus without the need to recompose. With the M10, like all rangefinder, parallax is an issue. Therefore, reliance on live view for the sake of increased accuracy in composition is a necessary crutch. With that said, I tried not to rely too heavily on live view, given that I didn't want to drain my M10 battery unnecessarily. It is not as if I had a spare battery with me, given that Leica hasn't started selling spare batteries and chargers. Besides, as a rangefinder purist, I am relatively adverse to using live view.

Not exactly a revelation in comparison, I'm afraid.

However what is worth mentioning is the difference in color reproduction. On first inspection after optimizing the sample images in post, what is immediately clear is how pleasant the colors appear on the Leica M10 compared to the Leica SL. The M10 appears to render colors with noticeably more impact than the SL, which by comparison appears more muted. This is very surprising, since I hadn't originally noticed how conservatively the Leica SL rendered colors.

This is especially noticeable on sample images where I shot both the Leica M10 and Leica SL, under the same light conditions. Using the same or similar Lightroom presets, you could see how color rendered on the M10 appeared bolder than on the SL. It's almost as if the pixels on the M10 image sensor were more densely packed or tighter, as if to produce the effect of greater precision in both color reproduction and tonal gradation. As a result, the colors of the M10 has more of an enhanced 3D pop, whereas the SL appears flatter by comparison.

This is most evident on the sample images I took in Central Park and also in Coney Island. The images rendered on the Leica SL appears a touch duller than the M10. It is almost as if a thin veil of gray has been lightly cast over the image, washing out a degree in color intensity - creating an overall matte look in appearance. 

Mind you, this is not to say that the Leica SL renders color poorly. On the contrary. For months I've been shooting the SL almost exclusively, and not once have I complained. The only problem now is knowing how much more satisfying the color reproduction is on the M10 compared to the SL.

It kind of puts a damper on the Leica SL. Letting go of the M10's rosier bias may prove difficult. Although I can see benefits of the SL's relatively more neutral color handling. 

Leica M10 + Leica 28mm f/1.4 Summilux - Going up the stairs to the High Line.

Leica SL + 21mm f/1.4 Summilux - On the High Line

Leica SL + 21mm f/1.4 Summilux - Looking out of the High Line

Leica SL + Leica 21mm f/1.4 Summilux - The Arch at Washington Square Park

Leica M10 + Leica 28mm f/1.4 Summilux - The Farmer's Market at Union Square Park

Leica SL + Leica 21mm f/1.4 Summilux - Outside the Flat Iron Building

Leica M10 + Leica 28mm f/1.4 Summilux - Seated outside Murray's Bagels in Chelsea 

Leica M10 + Leica 28mm f/1.4 Summilux - Storm clouds brewing outside Pier 59

Leica M10 + Leica 28mm f/1.4 Summilux - Getting into the driver's seat

Leica SL + Leica 21mm f/1.4 Summilux - at the top of the steps outside the Metropolitan Museum of Art 

Leica SL + Leica 21mm f/1.4 Summilux - At the bottom of the steps outside the Metropolitan Museum of Art.

Leica SL + Leica 21mm f/1.4 Summilux - Inside a Yellow Cab

Leica SL + Leica 21mm f/1.4 Summilux - Seated by the edge of the fountain at Lincoln Center.

Leica M10 + Leica 28mm f/1.4 Summilux - Blind composition - Zone focused wide open on the balcony at the New York City Ballet.

Leica SL + Leica 21mm f/1.4 Summilux -  Optically cropped to 28mm equivalent in post - Blind composition - Zone focused wide open on the balcony at the New York City Ballet.

Beyond color reproduction, there isn't any further observation under normal use worth noting, without having to get into a comparison of dynamic range and high ISO between the Leica M10 and Leica SL. For that discussion, I will likely post next week. But for now, I will leave you with a small preview below of what's to come. Yes, I did at first attempt to conduct a proper review with side by side sample image comparisons. But, it just didn't make sense to do something like that while Anna was visiting New York. Both the time constraint and the constant moving from one site to another made it impractical.

Besides, to conduct a more comprehensive review to fully test the M10 against the SL, I would've had to evaluate beyond normal use. That meant I would've had to deliberately botch the exposure of my sample shots, in order to blow out highlights and crush shadows for the sake of testing dynamic range at high ISO in post. As much as I would have wanted to do that, it just didn't seem right, given it would likely ruin the documentation of Anna's visit. It would have been horrible if all her pictures looked like the proverbial hatchet job. Given that, you could understand why I didn't do that then.

So yes, you could blame Anna for the delay once again. Sorry Anna, someone had to take the fall. But I hoped you had fun in New York. I for one had much fun being your tour guide.

Leica M10 at ISO 1600 wide open

Leica SL at ISO 1600 wide open

Leica M10 at ISO 6400 wide open

Leica SL at ISO 6400 wide open

Leica M10 + Leica 50mm f/0.95 Noctilux shot wide open at ISO 50,000. Out of camera RAW image file. The cabin was close to pitch black.

Leica SL + Leica 50mm f/0.95 Noctilux shot wide open at ISO 50,000. Out of camera RAW image file.

In any event, what a difference half a year makes. I guess for now, my ergonomic equilibrium will have to settle for imbalance. The force has been disturbed. So, I will be carrying both a Leica M10 and a Leica SL, until I can better resolve my mental anguish. The thing is, I still love the Leica SL's EVF and manual focus aids. But frankly, the Leica M10 is beginning to look like my new soulmate. It would seem that way, given the results of this initial comparison under normal use.

Who would have guessed!

If nothing else, the Leica M10 is a wonderful travel camera. So forgiving and a joy to use. But with that said, I still have a place in my heart for the Leica SL. It is still the better camera at the 21mm focal length.

All images have been optimize in Lightroom. Images have not been cropped unless stated otherwise.

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An Investigation into why the Leica SL isn't an M Camera

An Investigation into why the Leica SL isn't an M Camera

Anna in New York with the M10 + 28mm f/1.4 Summilux

Anna in New York with the M10 + 28mm f/1.4 Summilux