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Leica stifles the M10-P's shutter sound for stealth

The quietest you can get without resorting to electronic shutter.

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Leica continues to refine its M series of manual mirrorless cameras, slightly streamlining 2017's M10 to create a sibling model, the M10-P. The company calls it "the stealthiest M camera ever made," with its quietest-ever shutter mechanism and design tweaks intended to make it slightly less conspicuous. Plus, Leica tosses in a couple concessions to 2018, a touchscreen display and Bluetooth support to supplement Wi-Fi connections. 

Those updates earn it a $700 price premium over the M10, for an $8,000 price tag. (Directly converted, about £6,250 and AU$10,900.)

The almost silent shutter is probably worth the money if you photograph in typically hushed environments: wedding ceremonies, libraries and houses of worship are a few obvious ones. 

Most mirrorless cameras these days use electronic shutter for their quiet modes, which is completely silent; I find eshutter a little disorienting, though. There's no physical or auditory feedback at all. That's in addition to some of the other drawbacks of eshutter, which vary in importance depending upon what you're photographing.

Leica says the new mechanism incorporates materials that dampen sound and vibrations. It doesn't feel much different, and in fact you may expect something much louder based on the decisive physical thunk you feel. 

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Leica also added a touchscreen with support for selected operations, though not menu navigation.

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However, removing the red-dot logo from over the lens really doesn't seem to make it any more covert or less intimidating for portrait and street photography -- you're still standing there with a big black or black-and-silver slab in front of your face and people still notice. So "stealthy" and "inconspicuous" aren't words I'd use to describe it.

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No red Leica logo to give you away.

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It does save you from the compulsion to slap black tape on the front of your very expensive camera, whether you do it because you're worried about theft, trying to prevent it from appearing in reflections or simply don't want to attract unwanted attention (as I did while shooting with the M10-P, proving the red dot is not the defining design distinction of the M10). There's really no way to make most Leicas fade into the background.

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Though the company removed the small red-dot logo, it put a larger, but equally distinctive one on top. So you may still end up wanting to tape over it.

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Otherwise, the M10-P is almost identical to the M10. Photographing with it proved equal parts frustrating and rewarding. I love the look of Leica's full-frame images, especially the natural sharpness characteristics, the on-target color rendering and the tonal range. The precision of the lenses adds to the experience.

I don't get to shoot with Leicas that often -- just a week here and there on occasions like this -- and while it doesn't take long to get back into the swing of using the rangefinder and manual focus, this is the first time I've used one since my eyes started to act their age. The focusing screen in the center of the viewfinder seemed tinier than ever, and I found it very difficult to focus on highly detailed scenes.

I was using this as a warm-up for reacquainting myself with the controls and focus, and discovered that the focus area in the viewfinder was just too small to isolate any particular spot long enough to focus. However, a lot of shots that I thought were out of focus turned out to be okay. (The purple flowers in the center are sharp, but you may not be able to tell thanks to the image scaling and compression on the site.)

Lori Grunin/CNET

I had the optional electronic viewfinder when I last used the M10, as well, which made a difference. The M10 and M10-P don't have built in diopter controls, which might have helped quite a bit. You'll want to buy a viewfinder magnifier for another $350 if you'll be shooting densely detailed subjects at 50mm or more.

Street photography with the M10-P feels different than with any other camera; better in some ways, worse in others. Being forced to use manual focus allows you to grab shots you might have missed with autofocus because AF may change the focus area when you're shooting from the hip, while manual focus is fixed. But more often, you may miss shots because you don't have the luxury of focusing. I end up snapping without focusing so as to not lose the moment, then praying it lasts long enough to manually focus and try again. 

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