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Leica M10 Review - Part 2 - Low Light + M240 and M9 Comparison

Leica M10 Review - Part 2 - Low Light + M240 and M9 Comparison

One reason why I still shoot with a Canon 5D Mark IV is because the low light capability of the Leica M240 is unexceptional. Admittedly, I could use a flash to resolve my low light woes, but that would just be too much of a bother. Besides, in my opinion, the only time anyone should use a flash in a non-studio situation is when the foreground light is darker than the background light. A flash in that situation makes sense, since you're equalizing the light. 

But what if it's dark all over? Wouldn't it make sense to use a flash then? You would think so, but that isn't the case. In a darkened area, all a fill-flash accomplishes is make the foreground objects bright enough to capture. However, the background will still remain dark. And let us not forget the harsh contrast in highlights and shadows fill-flashes cause when fired in the dark.

The only solution when it's dark all over is to shoot at high ISO and without a flash. Only then could you insure the light in the foreground and background are equalized - even if the light is low. The only problem with that is the pixelation you get at high ISO - especially with the Leica M240 - which is unusable at ISO above 3200. 

But that was sooo last year. Times have changed, and so have the latest Leica M rangefinder.

I'm not going to beat around the bush anymore. The Leica M10 is amazing in low light - period. The high ISO is astonishing. It goes all the way to ISO 50,000 in manual ISO mode - and it's usable too. In fact, even if pushed up a stop at that speed, the image files are still usable. Simply breathtaking.

In fact, what is the point of shooting with the Leica M246 Mono, with low light capability this good on the Leica M10. Who needs ISO 12,500 in monochrome when you can get usable color files at ISO 25,000. And if the M10 is this good in low light, could you imagine what the M10 Mono would do? You could probably zone focus stopped down in pitch darkness!

To heck with fill-flash. Who does that anyway on a Leica rangefinder. Finally at long last, the Leica M10 has fulfilled the wildest dream of all documentary photographers from Henri Cartier Bresson to the present. You can shoot at any light stopped down. In fact, you could probably zone focus in a dark alley with the M10.

Clearly, both the M9 and the M240 are history. The low light capability of the M10 is so revolutionary that it no longer makes sense to clutch onto obsolete technology that only permits you to shoot during the daylight hours. Even so, there are those who still find the rendering of the M10 lacking, and are therefore unwilling to accept the advances in technology the M10 brings.

Unfathomable, isn't it?

 

M10 - LOW LIGHT HIGH ISO, FIRST ATTEMPT - TOO MUCH LIGHT

M10 - ISO 50,000, +2 stops, highlights +30, shadows +30, white +20, and blacks +30. There were too much indirect light flowing into this space from the outside, so I had to find a darker place.

M10 - LOW LIGHT HIGH ISO, SECOND ATTEMPT - OVER EXPOSED

Accidentally overexposed in the dark. M10 - ISO 6400, -2 stops, highlights +20, shadows +40, whites +30, black -5

Accidentally overexposed again? M10 - ISO 12,500, -2 stops highlights +20, shadows +40, whites +30, black -5,

Accidentally overexposed again! M10 - ISO 25,000, -2 stops, highlights +20, shadows +40, whites +30, black -5

And this one also overexposed! M10 - ISO 50,000, -3 stops, highlights +20, shadows +40, whites +30, black -5

Deliberately under exposed at low ISO to test dynamic range. M10 - ISO 100, +3 stops, highlights +20, shadows +40, whites +30, black -5 - The original out of camera image was completely black

M10 - LOW LIGHT HIGH ISO, THIRD ATTEMPT - UNDER EXPOSED

M10 - ISO 12,500, +1 stop, highlight +30, shadows -20, whites +30, blacks 30

M10 - ISO 25,000, +1 stop, highlight +30, shadows -20, whites +30, blacks 30

M10 - ISO 50,000, +1 stop, highlights +50, shadows +30, white +40, black -20% 

Deliberately under exposed at low ISO to test dynamic range. M10 - ISO 100, +5 stops, no edit in light or dark values - The original out of camera image was completely black, except for the backlit region (which was also somewhat dark)

Just for good measure, I also did a side low light comparison with the M9 and the M240 - and my conclusion? How is the M9 and M240 still a thing if they can't perform in low light? The high ISO of the M9 only reaches 2500 with usable files at 1600, while the high ISO of the M240 only reaches 6400 with usable files at 3200. 

I didn't see a point of doing a low light test at ISO 3200 for the M240. As such, I only compared the three generations of full frame digital Leica rangefinders at ISO 1600. For the test, I also shot at f/2.8 with the 28mm Elmarit on the M9, the 28mm Summicron on the M240, and the 28mm Summilux on the M10. And because at 1/30s, there wasn't enough light for perfect exposure, I had to underexpose and push in post.

In evaluating the sample images, the M10 is significantly better in low light than the M9 and M240.  At ISO 1600, pixelated artifact were present in both the M9 and M240. With the M10, there weren't any evidence of it. As for the dynamic range, the M10 is better than the M9 and M240. With the M10, it was easier to recover details in the shadow.

Nonetheless, I can understand why there are still hold outs who adore the rendering of the M9. But the thing is this - Leica will never make a M9 replacement with better low light and dynamic range. I'll explain that at a later date.

With that said, it really doesn't make a whole lot of sense not to upgrade to the M10 - at least in my opinion. From my perspective, the primary purpose of a Leica M rangefinder is documentary photography. Given that, wouldn't it make sense to get a M rangefinder that offers the greatest flexibility in image capture, regardless of lighting condition? From my perspective, flexibility in image capture supersedes all other considerations, including image rendering of the sensor.

I mean, I would kill myself if I missed a photo opportunity with an M9, only because I didn't get the M10 for not liking the way it rendered.

 

COMPARISON OF M10, M240 + M9 AT 28mm, ISO 1600, f/2.8, 1/125s

M10 - Anna's shirt has no obvious pixelated artifact. +1.5 stops. 

M240 - Anna's shirt has some pixelated artifact. +1 stop

M9 - Anna's shirt has many pixelated artifact. +1 stop

M10 - Recovery of detail is obvious on the whiskers of Anna's jeans. +2 stops

M240 - Recovery of detail is evident on the whiskers of Anna's jeans.  +2 stops

M9 - Recovery of detail is not evident on the whiskers of Anna's jeans. +2 stops

M10 - Since Anna is closer to the camera on this shot, the difference in focusing distance invalidates this set. But still, a nice parting shot. +1 stop and some other edits. 

M240 - The silver M10 photographs better than the black body M9. +1 stop

M9 - The titanium M240 photographs better than the black M9, but not as well as the silver M10. +1 stop

After doing this low light review, I must say that the high ISO of the M10 is more than just exceptional. Fact is, I am even more convinced of the Leica M10's place in history, because of it. It will make image capture possible that was previously impossible with a Leica M rangefinder. That is revolutionary! 

So, I guess I won't be lugging around a Canon 5D Mark IV for low light photography anymore.

All images in this writeup were shot on the 28mm focal length at f/2.8. All images have been optimize in Lightroom. Images were not cropped.

Last, I want to thank Brian for inspiring me - and no, the inspiration wasn't written here. Like I said above, I will write about it on a later date - hint hint.

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

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

Leica M10 Review - Part 1 - First Impressions

Leica M10 Review - Part 1 - First Impressions