A Leica employee said it before I could: One very specific feature on the new M10-D is divisive. On the top right of the camera, there’s a lever you would use to advance the film on a film camera. But the M10-D is digital.
That lever is a thumb grip. You keep it closed when you’re not using the camera. When you want to take photos, you open it, and lodge your thumb against it so you can grip it with one hand.
It’s a digital camera dressed up in analog clothing, thinking about photography before technology. It makes the M10-D incredible for experienced photographers and potentially frustrating for everyone else.
That Familiar Feeling
Skeuomorphism is the design term for a visual or audio indicator or control that is, often unnecessarily, made to look similar to something analog and familiar. As in, the iPhone’s legal pad-looking Notes app, email (both the name and app logos), and the shutter sound when you take a selfie.
Sometimes these familiar cues can be a good thing. The still-excellent Nest thermostat didn’t need to look and adjust like the classic Honeywell thermostat from the 1930s. But when you walk up to a Nest, you know instinctively to turn it clockwise for hot, counterclockwise for cold.
The M10-D uses skeuomorphism for good. Besides being fun to flick, that grip/lever helps you hold the camera still with one hand. And you’ll need that other hand free because the M10 has no autofocus, so your left hand will be employed in some old-school lens adjusting.
Another notable missing piece is a digital display, so there’s no way for an enthusiastic but unskilled amateur to check the settings or even see your results immediately on the camera. You can, however, pair with the camera over Wi-Fi with Leica’s Android or iPhone companion app, which has a live view option. The app also has a remote shutter, and sliders for ISO, shutter speed, aperture, and exposure compensation. Adjusting any of those settings on the phone will override the physical buttons on the camera until you disconnect the app.
Embracing the Old Ways
But digital displays and autofocus are not reasons why the M10-D costs $8,000—you’re paying for the camera’s relationship between its viewfinder and the lens. M10s are rangefinders, where the viewfinder has a wider field of view than the actual camera, so you can watch for cool stuff entering frame.
I shot photos with my phone tucked away, using the M10-D like a film camera. Turn the ISO and shutter-speed dials to numbers you think are right for the scene. Wind the lens’ aperture control to the focal distance you want, then focus it. Turn the dial on the back for exposure compensation. In an era of machine-learning camera phones, the uncertainty of taking a photo using only the viewfinder is almost thrilling. Checking the app later brought out that old feeling of anticipation and discovery, like cracking open a packet of newly developed photos.