My choice for Gear of the Year is a pricey camera with niche appeal. The Leica M10 is not a camera that many people are likely to buy, when compared to other major DSLRs and mirrorless products released in 2017. Leica knows that, and trust me Leica is fine with it. The M10 probably isn't a camera that will suit the majority of photographers, either even those with the funds required to purchase one.
The M10 is a curious beast: a highly evolved throwback, which combines some very old technology with a modern 24MP full-frame sensor to offer a unique user experience with some unique quirks. It's awkward, tricky to master, and lacks a lot of the bells and whistles common even in much cheaper competitors, but I love it all the same.
I could have taken this picture with pretty well any camera. But I took it with the Leica M10, because that's what I had with me. (I didn't promise you an exciting story).
There is a certain magic to Leica rangefinders, which is hard to properly explain. A lot of their appeal comes down to the quality of construction, which is obvious the moment you pick one up. While other brands have thrown their efforts behind high-tech mass-production (with admittedly impressive results), Leica has never aspired to market saturation and still makes its M-series cameras in much the same way as it always has done; relying heavily on manual processes, and the accumulated years of experience of its small workforce in Wetzlar, Germany (with a little help from electronics suppliers in Asia and a facility in Portugal).
A lot of Leica rangefinders' appeal comes down to the quality of construction
I've been pretty cynical about some of Leica's digital imaging products in the past (I still can't get excited about the TL-series, for instance, despite the considerable improvements that have been made to that system since its introduction) and I make no secret of it. In the days of hybrid autofocus and 4K video, the M10 is clearly an anachronism.
But...
The M10 and current 35mm F1.4 Asph., makes a powerful and unobtrusive combination. Many DSLRs and ILCs are technically more versatile, but few are as discreet while still offering a full-frame sensor.
Ironically, the M10 has won a place in my heart (and my camera bag) precisely because it isn't trying too hard to be something that it isn't. In contrast to the slightly bloated Typ. 240, the stills-only M10 is stripped back to the essentials. Presenting almost the same form-factor as the M6 TTL and M7, and an identical footprint to the original M3, the M10 is noticeably slimmer than previous digital M-series rangefinders while offering a simpler digital interface and tweaked image quality. In fact, with the M10 I can comfortably shoot at ISO 12,800 and higher without worrying about banding, or any particular image quality gremlins. The sensor isn't quite up there with the best 24MP sensors on the market, but it's more than good enough.
It's been a long, strange year but as 2017 draws to a close, the M10 is probably the camera I've used most. While undoubtedly not as versatile as (say) a Nikon D850, the M10 does have the advantage of being considerably more convenient to travel with.
I still get a bit uncomfortable carrying what amounts to almost a year's rent around my neck
I've done a lot of traveling this year, and the M10 has been with me almost everywhere I've gone. I love that I can fit a full-frame camera and lens outfit covering 28-90mm into a small Domke F6 shoulder bag without feeling like I'm going to pull my arm out of its socket. I still get a bit uncomfortable carrying what amounts to almost a year's rent around my neck, but touch wood (or rather, hand-laquered wood soft shutter release) nothing bad has happened yet.
This started out as an attempt to quickly 'de-bling' a chrome M10 for my recent trip to the jungles of central Mexico. I might have got a bit carried away. Watch out for the 'Britton Special Edition Jungle M10' and remember you saw it here first.
Partly that's because I'm careful about who I point my camera at (and where I do it) but partly it's because a black M10 in a black half-case, accessorized with some carefully applied black electrical tape, doesn't actually draw much attention. The eye-catching chrome version looks absolutely beautiful by comparison, but it's the kind of beautiful that makes me nervous.
The whole process of taking someone's picture is less confrontational than it might be with a larger and louder camera
I'm not a huge proponent of candid portraiture, but the subtle click of the M10's shutter means that even for casual snapshots of friends and family, the whole process of taking someone's picture is less confrontational than it might be with a larger and louder camera.
The flip-side is that it's also harder to use. For all of the smug chin-stroking of whiskery old salts who cut their teeth on M3s and M2s back in the Good Old Days, the suggestion that M-series rangefinders are as functional or as practical as SLRs "just as long as you know what you're doing" is nonsense. I still shoot film occasionally and I love it, but compared to a 24MP full-frame sensor, even the finest-grained film is a pretty low-resolution medium. I'm much more prepared to let minor focus errors or even camera-shake slide when I'm flipping through scans from my film cameras than I am when examining digital files at 100% in Lightroom.
One of my favorite lenses on the M10 is actually one of the oldest that I own: the tiny 1950s-vintage Nikkor 2.8cm F3.5, attached via an LTM-M adapter. At F4, the center is sharp enough for this kind of (slightly) off-center composition, with just enough out of focus blur fore and aft for some subject separation. Newer Leica and 3rd party 28mm lenses are unequivocally sharper, but they're also much bigger. This portrait was taken using Live View to ensure off-center sharpness using this vintage lens.
The M10 can turn out excellent results, but truly accurate focusing and composition can be extremely challenging even for those with long experience of shooting with rangefinders. Yes, there's always Live View, but on this point I tend to agree with the whiskery old salts: you don't buy a rangefinder to use Live View (which doesn't mean that I never do, because like every good whiskery old salt, I am also a hypocrite).
Perversely though, its inherent trickiness is one of the reasons I enjoy shooting with the M10 so much. Compared to an auto-everything DSLR or mirrorless camera, it's very challenging. When I capture an image that I really like, I appreciate it more because I feel like I've worked harder to get there.
Leica M10 real-world samples

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