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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. 

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Les Sucettes's picture

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...

Les Sucettes's picture

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

Erpillar Bendy's picture

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.

Usman Dawood's picture

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

Les Sucettes's picture

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.

Usman Dawood's picture

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.

Les Sucettes's picture

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

Usman Dawood's picture

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

Les Sucettes's picture

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.

Usman Dawood's picture

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.

Les Sucettes's picture

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.

Usman Dawood's picture

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.

Les Sucettes's picture

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 ...

Usman Dawood's picture

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.

Remco Zwinkels's picture

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!

Jan Holler's picture

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.

Remco Zwinkels's picture

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.

Jan Holler's picture

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).

Les Sucettes's picture

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