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There's Something Magical About Leica: M10-R vs Fuji X-T3 and Sony a7R III

The M10 Monochrom was the first high-resolution M series camera that Leica had produced. As the name would suggest, this camera only produced images in black and white. Leica recently released the M10-R, which is now the highest resolution M series camera that shoots in color. 

As a company, Leica tends not to push the boat out too far, especially with its M series of cameras. Feature sets tend to be limited, and this seems to work extremely well for its specific market. For example, the biggest changes between the M10 and the M10-P were the additions of a touchscreen and a redesigned shutter. Updates between each new camera tend to more about refining what has already been produced, as opposed to trying to update every feature on the spec sheet. 

The M10-R might be somewhat of an exception to the rule, because the new high-resolution sensor in this camera puts it notably ahead of many other M series cameras. The only other update that I could find was that this new camera is capable of shooting long exposures up to 960 seconds without needing aperture priority mode. Other than that, this is a very familiar Leica camera with very typical features, which I have already covered in a previous article

On this occasion, I decided to see how images from a Leica camera compare against some more typical mirrorless cameras like the Sony a7R III and the Fujifilm X-T3. In the video linked above, we perform a relatively unfair and unscientific comparison. It's mostly done for fun, although there are some aspects of the Leica that really stand out. 

The lenses we used for this comparison were the 35mm f/2.0 ASPH lens for the M10-R, the 23mm f/2.0 for the Fuji, and the 28mm f/2.0 for the Sony. The 35mm lens from Leica is the most unassumingly expensive lens I have ever shot with. The lens is tiny and relatively lightweight, although it does feel rather dense in the hand. I had no idea such a small lens could cost more than $3,500, but then again, we are talking about Leica here, so I shouldn't have been surprised. 

Sharpness and Detail

In my experience with Leica, the lenses they produce tend not to be the sharpest I've ever used. In fact, a good number of them tend not to be sharper than some of the more "standard" lenses I use from various manufacturers. For example, the 35mm lens that we shot with was pretty soft wide open. Even compared to the Fuji 23mm, which isn't known for its sharpness, the Leica lens was noticeably softer. 

In the video linked above, a number of comments were certain the Leica lens couldn't have been softer than the Fuji. Many thought there may have been something wrong with the lens I had received. I forwarded these concerns to Leica, who performed a quality check on the lens I shot with, and they confirmed the lens focus was "spot on". 

Based on that, we can safely assume that the results are typical for this particular lens. 

Fujifilm image upscaled in Photoshop to match the resolution

The difference isn't huge between the two; however, it's noticeable, and the Fuji lens is sharper. For people who care about detail above everything, this may be a point to consider if you're looking at purchasing the Leica. Having said that, this didn't bother me at all.

These conventional methods we use to test and compare lenses don't really work when it comes to Leica M series cameras. This is because M series cameras aren't about producing the sharpest and most detailed results. What they do instead is produce beautiful results. 

The Leica Magic

On every previous occasion I shot with a Leica M series camera, there was just something wonderful about the images it was producing; I just couldn't put my finger on it. It definitely wasn't the sharpness and detail, but whenever I showed images from the camera to other colleagues and friends, they too responded positively to them. After having done this comparison, I think I can specifically describe what it is. 

As you may imagine, it's difficult to compose an image exactly the same when photographing a person. For this reason, we're going to try and focus on what I think is the biggest and most objective difference between all three images, which is color. The hair and skin tones are a perfect way to compare all three cameras, and Leica not only does a much better job in terms of accuracy, it actually looks more pleasing. 

Both the Fuji and Sony have managed to get the hair color wrong quite drastically. Anetes' hair looks ginger in the pictures from those two cameras. 

For all three cameras, the best and most accurate native profiles were used, and white balance was determined by the camera itself. I tried a number of different profiles for Fuji and Sony, and both cameras struggled with getting hair color and skin tones relatively correct. Leica seems to do an incredible job with colors, and every image it produces looks vibrant and rich while also being more accurate. The lens also adds a great deal to the image too with its almost dreamlike look it. The way it renders the background is simply beautiful and both the Sony and Fuji lenses don't have anywhere near as much character. 

As sharp as the Fuji and Sony lenses are, for most people, when they see the images, the character in the image stands out far more than a little extra detail, and that, in some sense, is the magic of Leica digital cameras. 

White Balance Doesn't Fix Color Science

One of the common arguments against color science is white balance. Many people say that if you correct the white balance, then any perceived differences will be nullified. This isn't true at all, and to demonstrate why it isn't true, I took a number of images in a controlled environment. All the cameras were shot on a tripod with controlled lighting. The images were then white balanced based on the ColorChecker Digital SG using the same color patch. 

In the video, I zoom in on the higher-resolution files to show the differences more effectively, but even looking at the images here, you can see how they differ. Both the Sony and Fuji have a magenta cast on the wooden background, and the Leica is more accurate. The other difference you may notice is that colors from the Leica have a certain richness to them when compared to the Sony and Fuji. Both of these points can't be fixed simply by changing white balance, so the argument doesn't really hold merit. 

Final Thoughts

I've shot with a number of Leica cameras now, and the M series really does have something quite wonderful about them. The way you shoot with the camera is an experience that I haven't found with any other system. The lenses produce beautiful results that aren't about sharpness or detail; instead, they're about the feel. This isn't simply a matter of overspending photographers trying to justify their purchase, because it's visible in side-by-side comparisons. 

Despite this, Leica cameras come at a hefty price, and for many people, it's simply not worth it. If you're planning on shooting professionally, then an M series is probably the wrong camera to pick. These types of cameras sit in a completely different category, and it's a little odd trying to compare luxury items to workhorse equipment. On the other hand, if you have the money to spare, the M10-R is an incredibly enjoyable camera that produces wonderful photos. 

Check out the full video if you'd like to see more of the comparison. 

Usman Dawood's picture

Usman Dawood is a professional architectural photographer based in the UK.

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That Fujifilm XF23 F2.0 is notorious for being soft when shooting at close distances. This really makes me wonder how bad the Leica is if it makes the XF23 look so good. Perhaps, like the Fuji, it improves when focused farther out. Either way it kind of wastes the M10-R's high res sensor.

In my experience I find that even with some distance, both lenses were pretty soft although the Fuji was still a bit sharper.

I don’t get it. The lighting on the hair in the Leica shot is different, and the Leica is set up a bit less saturated than the other two cameras. Those things could easily be changed. What is this supposed to be showing?

That’s why I also performed some controlled tests. It’s difficult trying to produce exactly the same image when photographing a person.

It’s not really possible to judge what real images would look like from a picture of a color chart. Do you have more extensive real world comparisons? Trying to get the cameras to give the color you want and seeing which is best after making adjustments?

I know you didn’t ask for a critique but I would like to see if this comparison can be improved. I don’t think that what you have here really makes a case. Not having been there and not knowing the model, on my screen the middle photo looks the worst of the three and the other two are neck and neck.

In the video we take a number of images both in flat lighting and bright back lit conditions and in ever case the Leica images looked better. I left the cameras to determine white balance for those files though.

The controlled tests demonstrate three things,

Color science isn't negated by white balance

The Leica produces more accurate results even with all native and adobe profiles are accounted for

Finally, Leica images have produce richer colours especially when you look at areas which represent the skin tones, the reds, greens and purples.

I'm not trying to argue with you. I understand what you're saying now and I've watched the video, and now I've seen everything on my calibrated display. I just don't think you've made your case, because you're evaluating the images based on criteria the viewer can't relate to. You show images and say which is more accurate, but the viewer doesn't know the person in the shot and hasn't been to your house so we can't judge the reproduction of her hair color or of the color of the wall material. All we have to go by is the video, where her hair does look a bit ginger. (Again, to my eye the Leica looks the worst of the three, though I'll dock the Sony points for the yellowish color cast in one shot, though that's an easy correction.) Unless the viewer owns the same color checker and a calibrated display, we can't judge which camera did a more accurate reproduction - and it's not clear that accurate reproduction of a color chart is a way to evaluate a camera anyway, when you're using Lightroom profiles and not using a workflow that's intended to accurately reproduce color.

You don't make the adjustments that any of us would make, so we don't know which camera would do the best job under normal conditions. The Leica shots looked better to you after choosing a profile but doing no other adjustments - but is that useful information? Does it demonstrate that Leica has better color than Fuji and Sony, If I wanted one of those shots for publication, I would at least do a bit of highlight and shadow adjustment and adjust white balance.

You're pointing at full images and background blur and saying the Leica is better, but not why you think so, so it's subjective. Personally I don't agree.

Anyway, that's my feedback. Take it as you wish, it's not my web site.

Oh, I didn't think we were arguing, I mean I guess lack of tone of voice does make things a bit tricky but I just thought we were having a discussion.

Thabk you for doing this article. It’s an interesting comparison to make - but in the article at least I find the Fuji image much pleasing to look at. The model appears dead in both Sony/Leica output. So I really don’t get why you say Leica is more pleasing.

You’d hope so for $8000 but I can’t say it looks like it is

Great video - interesting to see the differences in colour. Have always thought Leica based their colour science on Kodak chrome films and Fuji on theirs, between which the differences seem about the same.
I'm curious if you've tried opening the files in Capture One? I noticed a very noticeable difference in colour management between LR and C1, especially with Fuji files, and especially at high ISO (not an issue here).

I'll take a look in C1 when I get a chance, thank you for the suggestion.

There is no comparison for Fuji. But even with all others. C1 is also superior for highlight details to LR.

the very first thing what came into my mind with the wood and colorchart even without seeing which one is which was "oh ugly adobe colors on the first one"

That's weird about the 35mm lens. I don't own that particular lens but I do own the leica sl 35/2 on my sl2 system and its incredible wide open. I'd have thought the m version would be similar even though smaller physically.

They're very different lenses in terms of design and optics. The Leica L mount lenses are produced with far more modern methods.

Leica is magical, all right. Not only does it make your money disappear, it causes other photographers' critical faculties to vanish into thin air. I'd have been more convinced by a double-blind test.

I think the controlled tests negate the need for a blind test. The money disappearing is apparently a very real issue lol.

For me, just based off the jpg samples from the OneDrive link:

Backlit images:

-- Leica (image 4 of 7) is similar to Sony (image 2 of 5) when you compare with similar pose and exposure.

-- Fuji has more saturated reds.

Brick area images:

-- Fuji is slightly overexposed. Looks flat (washed out) even after exp adj.

-- Sony is slightly underexposed. Looks “normal” after exp adj.

-- Leica has a cream color feel to it.

-- Leica and Sony looks to have similar dynamic range.

Color Checker (from above):

-- Weird, on the video, the color palette for the Leica looked way way more vibrant than the other two. However, with the actual jpgs from above, Fuji is slightly more vibrant than Leica. Sony the least vibrant but nowhere near behind as in the video. Not to mention there’s that brighter spot top middle/right that no doubt would have washed out the colors on the right side.

-- Also, you mention how yellow the wood is on the Sony. Sony actually looks magenta to me, then Fuji (probably slightly on the red side), then Lecia more on the yellow, probably more natural.

-- I’m viewing on my Macbook (using Apple’s default color profile) and PC (color calibrated). They both are showing similar results.

whenever people say "there is something magical" about something it points out that its only in there head :) or they talk about lenses.colors are very subjective, its all fixable, than its all changeable with raw and what engine you use to work. i cant imagine any pro who does not tweak colors to their taste.
leica lenses are no doubt great. there is definemagic in hand crafted things... but if a picture is great, who cares what lense you took it with?

You seem to agree about the way Leica lenses render a scene. If an image is good a Leica lens could make it look better then lol.

Also colours aren’t as easy to fix as you make it sound. It’s almost never an easy fix.

colors are never a easy fix, if youre an amateur. thats why you learn your craft lol. study it, become a pro and its not so hard. its just something you do.

and no, i dont think a leica lens can make something better just because its leica. its prestine, sometimes clinical... it works for some things, makes other thing look too real. matter of taste and how you use it. a 50$ konica lens at 1.2 make look even more magical than leica.
some magic happens with open apertures on some lenses, but i am pretty sure only people who care about boke balls would see the difference with other less expensive solutions.
so again, its just in your head.

We’re going to have to disagree on this. You’re severely underplaying the value and skill required to manage colour.

Also, it’s literally not in my head because I’m actually demonstrating it lol.

My theory is that the processing in leica cameras pushes clarity up a bit by default. A few years playing with some fuji and leica shots of the same scene adding clarity to the fuji shots made the difference between the photos just about nil.

I’ll try clarity and let you know.

Great, I just picked up a x100V so I can push the clarity and test my theory in camera

Real world great article, it cuts right to the point. I’ve shot tens of thousands of images on Fuji and Leica never cared for Sony as of yet so I really understand the differences between the two. Leica images when you get the right light angle, exposure and focus have a glow to them. Fuji gets that same or comparable glow to the image but it’s not as frequent.
After switching to Fuji because I just was not able to get high hit rates with my Leica M I was depressed at the image quality vs Leica then I began to understand capture limits and more importantly PP Fuji files. How to push them how to expose for the best image quality and still I could not satisfy my desired look. Fast forward to C1 and finished image processing w PS and all that changed. Yes the look is not the same but I like it. What is the biggest difference in my images is focus and lack of flare. I still prefer Leica ergonomics but until they make a camera w AF like Fuji or better yet Sony’s sticking ability’s I’m not in!
Some camera recover the shadows better than highlights so you can shoot for the way to get that out of PP like we used to do w neg or positive emulsions, some cameras are better at certain ISO just like film rating it’s not always what’s advertised but that’s a whole different discussion.
As good as all three files are none of them come close to the files from my H6D-100c but that camera will take a toll on you physically.

Keep up the good articles!

Thank you for the kind words, much appreciated :).

For an amateur like me, I don't get it. What does it mean when you say "I just couldn't put my finger on it. It definitely wasn't the sharpness and detail, but whenever I showed images from the camera to other colleagues and friends, they too responded positively to them". Is it we paid an arm and leg? And that somehow blinds us? This a photography magazine and you are supposed to be experts. You cannot say "I don't know why but it is better".

It's then answered further on in the article and also in the video. That was a point about how previously, before I actually explored this point, I couldn't put my finger on it. I can now, because I have properly explored the issue.

Also, I didn't pay for the camera, I receive units to review and test which means I'm not biased because of how much I spent on some equipment.

I bought an adapter for retro lenses for my Fuji, in the past.
I think that came close to Leica in terms of flaring.

Can you watermark/say which image is which camera?

It’s quite frustrating because I can’t tell for sure

PS okay so if you click on the image you see a caption...

I now found out which one is which.

I’m sorry but Fujifilm blows them both out of the water when it comes to colour.

Leica and Sony have this green tint that makes the model look like she is half dead

I don't think it's possible to pick a worse lens for the Sony. The 28mm is one of Sony's earliest and cheapest. Its heavy optical distortion depends on software correction. And to make this comparison worse, 28mm is the wrong focal length when the others have 35mm and 35mm-equivalent. Sony makes three 35mm lenses that are much better. No idea which color profile is being used with the Sony. Then the Fuji camera gets handicapped with the Astia film sim, which is not about accuracy.

The other Fuji profiles were worse in comparison for this particular comparison. Astia did the best job.

Well, here is a misunderstanding. If you want Apples to Apples you need to use RAW.

The Fuji film profiles is the development of a RAW “negative” to a JPG “film print” ... the profiles are there to get you what a film would do - and not to get you colour accuracy.

The notion of colour accuracy is just something that digital cameras were calibrated to because they didn’t know better. Digital does off you this as a tool set but if you want true colour accuracy (for example because you are doing a product shoot) you should always shoot RAW use flash lights, and work with a RAW converter.

If you are shooting JPG you are using a automated conversion not dissimilar to bringing your negatives to a development studio.

Fuji uses JPG like in film days opting for memory colour rather than trying to reflect true colours. It is a superior philosophy because “true colour” is impossible to replicate unless you use flash and modifyers and a RAW converter etc. even then you probably will never achieve “true” colours.

All film manufacturers would know this , Kodak, Agfa included. It’s just that Fuji is the only left that can apply this to digital.

I do appreciate what the film profiles are really meant for and all of the images were shot in raw. The points I'm making are specific to this particular comparison.

Well, in that case... how is a green face superior to a lively skin coloured face?

I’m not sure false reds can be considered “lively.”

True ... if this was the case. I don’t see any false reds.

The left image looks pretty natural to me. I don’t know the person. Maybe she does look like a ghost in real life but to me the picture on the left looks like a healthy woman while the other too images look like she’s just been through a long winter; especially the one in the middle.

They're definitely false reds. Her hair colour is wrong too and not anywhere near as red as Fuji has presented it. That's why they're false reds.

Welcome to memory colour

I bet, under scrutiny, the other two are pretty false as well. They may mimic the real more closely in the hair or have a more average real colour. But in reality she isn’t actually GREEN skinned either - even if the hair colour may be more correct. You chose whether you care more for a real looking skin or the real looking hair. I’ll take the skin and I’ll bet you $1000 she has never had a green tint in her face ... unless she may be dead or really sick or from Mars.

But I’ll leave you with that thought.

Strange, because when I look at what you posted above vs what I see on the article and on the images on my computer, there is no green tint.

Are you seeing the green tint in this image too?

Or maybe it appears relatively green, hmm.

I’m looking at it on my iPhone so I’m not sure about calibration. But I assume it’s fine... and when I say it’s green I don’t mean like the button that reads “ post” below ... but more like someone who looks like she is about to throw up. A subtle green.

So IDK, but the Fuji looks like someone who maybe had a bit of sun, maybe in early spring but nothing that I’d classify as fake ...

To me the Fuji looks like Anete has sunburn haha.

Ah well, I enjoyed speaking to you about this. Thank you for sharing your thoughts.

I made a comparison a while ago and noticed that there is a big difference in color temperature as wel. Leica in my opinion about a 200 k difference when set to the same value. I was however able to match a gfx a xt2 and a m10 pretty closely by tweaking. But the m10 files needed no work!

That comparison is not working. Here is why:

To white balance is not enough at all to calibrate the colours. You need to profile your camera with an IT 8.7 calibration target (RAW files only). Once done the differences will mostly be vanished. But I guess this comparison is about JPGs only, isn't it?
So you do compare the JPG-engines of the cameras instead of the camera itself.

Lenses: Different brands mostly have different glass and coatings, resulting in a different colour cast. (Again you would have to profile with IT 8.7). The Nikon AI-S 50mm f/1.4 or its AF counterpart have also this creamy effect on the bokeh just because they are soft as well. Another lens with this "flaw" is e.g. the Nikkor AI 35mm f/2. (I do like this "flaw".)
So you do compare more the lenses instead of the camera.

Different focal lengths and therefore different elements in the image make it almost impossible to compare the cameras. Look at 5:30 in the video. The image ot the leica has one stop lower exposure and much less bright parts in the image.

The point was to see if I could get images looking just as nice from my camera’s as the m10 because I love the way they look strait out of camera and I was.

Fair enough. If you'd use a RAW processor, e.g. darktable or lightroom you could use a "Leica like" base curve (so called in darktable). That makes the images already look very Leica like. This base curve is much flatter than the one for Nikon or Canon e.g.. And if you'd want it close to perfect, just use your IT 8.7 generated profile for the Leica.
You could add the softness and vignetting of the lens with a filter, lower the contrast and even add some flare. That would be a way to go and to compare.

(Edit, added) Once profiled, and a style for the lens generated , it's only a few clicks to get a Leica like image out of almost any camera (that provides raw files). But there will be still missing a bit of the magic, as mentioned in the article. But it is getting closer.

(I built custom profiles for my Nikons with an IT 8.7 card (for different light temperatures and ISOs) so that the raw-processed jpgs look just like the Nikon in-cam generated ones. The reds out of the included Nikon profiles were just a little bit too much into orange and the deep blues were blown out at high ISOs).

Well, based on the images I consistently find the magic (conversion to JPG) is with Fuji... not Sony, not Leica