In assembling the very first Leica camera in 1913 and 1914, Oskar Barnack created the archetypal small, solid-bodied roll-film camera, an archetype that has influenced cameramakers to this day. The first Leica, often referred to as the Ur-Leica, helped introduce the concept of exposing small negatives then enlarging them to finished size.
This breakthrough came at a time when professional photographers were required to own a range of sheet film cameras or at least sheet film holders in the various sizes required for the final print which was made by contact.
Leica’s cameras, using short lengths of 35mm movie film, were an economical and versatile alternative, though their contemporary pricing places them out of the reach of all except the wealthy or those most dedicated to the Leica brand, quality and experience.
Leica cameras and lenses do, however, last for decades, easily repaying their initial purchase price over their working lifetime.
While Leica cameras were popular with enthusiasts, or amateurs as they were referred to in those days, they were viewed with suspicion by many if not most professional photographers in the brand’s early days. However, they were especially favoured by the growing legion of picture magazine photographers, many of whom contributed to the growth and establishment of photojournalism.
The Golden Age of Photojournalism is commonly reckoned to have existed between the 1930s and 1950s, only starting its decline with the ascendancy of television broadcasting and television news reporting.
That golden age was partially attributable to the arrival on the scene of the first commercial Leica camera in 1925, the Leica 1.
By way of background, most magazine and newspaper photographers of that time and for some decades to come relied on sheet film and large roll film press not unlike the Graflex Century Graphic 4″x5″ sheet film camera depicted below, in an extract from a camera manual.
I owned and frequently used a Graflex Crown Graphic 4″x5″ sheet film camera for magazine photography assignments, often for editorial portraits, when I could cart about the camera, tripod and flash units in a van or hire car but I always carried one or two Leica M-System rangefinder cameras as well.
Each type of camera gave rise to its own unique aesthetic, the product of its design, size, film requirements, and most of the all the linked experiences of photographer and subject.
I could produce not dissimilar styles of photographs with my Crown Graphic and my Leicas – note the presence of a rangefinder on the side of the camera above – but the experiences both sides of each camera were very different, leading to different interpretations of the same type of subject matter.
And so to the Leica M10, after that long but useful history lesson.
The Leica M10
This event being a launch and not a hands-on tryout, there was no time for getting an in-depth feel for the Leica M10. However I have been kindly offered an hour with an M10 and several lenses in the city and will be taking up that offer soon.
Meantime, I can say without a doubt, even having only had the Leica M10 with Leica Summilux-M 35mm f/1.4 Aspheric lens in my hand for a very short time that this is the very first digital Leica that has me tempted.
It is solid, really solid, and gives the impression it is machined out of one big chunk of brass. I sometimes found myself in difficult circumstances when I relied on my pair of Leica M analog rangefinder cameras, and their solidity meant I could rely on them to withstand any conditions, above ground in a celebrity’s living room or deep down below in the mines of Western Australia.
The Summilux-M 35mm f/1.4 lens felt equally solid and sure in my hand, focusing dead fast and accurately. Lens and rangefinder of this manual focussing only masterpiece of hand-built precision felt far better than my former cameras and lenses.
The M10’s hardware interface is elegant, well engineered and beautifully made. The ISO selection dial is intuitive and fast to use. The limited set of buttons felt equally intuitive in use though I did not have the chance to do any deep diving. That may well come later.
If my invitation to try a Leica M10 comes off then I will have more thoughts and information to share here at ‘Untitled’.
To summarize, though, the Leica M10 felt like my Leica analog cameras and lenses reborn into the digital world, their ghosts hovering around me while their newborn descendant almost guided me into operating without thinking.
It was an uncanny experience and a good one.
The Perfect Lens Set
The Leica M10 Launch Event, by Carmel D. Morris:
The Leica M10 Launch Event, by Karin Gottschalk:
- Leica Camera AG – Leica M-System, Closer to the moment
- Leica Camera AG – The Legend Lives On, 100 years of Leica photography
- Peter Lausch – Oskar Barnack und seine Leica
- Thorsten Overgaard – The Leica History, The Grandfather of 35mm Photography
Header image concept and production by Carmel D. Morris. Product photographs and historical photographs kindly supplied by Leica. Images from camera manuals available at OrphanCameras.com/Butkus.us Camera Manual Library.
Event photographs made with Fujifilm X-Pro2 and X-T2 cameras with Fujinon XF 23mm f1.4 R and Fujinon XF 56mm f/1.2 R lenses then processed in ON1 Photo Raw 2017 with Bogart Warm or Bogart Cool presets.