A Hands on Review of The Much Anticipated Leica M11
After much rumor and speculation, the Leica M11 is finally here. It is the fifth generation of the digital rangefinder (M8, M9, M240, M10), and comes sixty-eight years after the M3, Leica’s first “M.” Since that time, not only is the form of the camera very similar, but the lens “bayonet” mount has not changed, so compatibility with vintage lenses is always an option. With the release of this new camera, it shows that Leica continues to stay true to its heritage, while also bringing ready to shine far into the future with many design and performance upgrades.
The reasons I appreciate the M system so much is its minimalist design, ease of use, compact size, and the incredible array of vintage and current lenses to choose from. Sure, there are learning curves for those who have never used a rangefinder, but like anything else, with practice, one can master the techniques that fit one’s style and approach to photography.
Leica M11 Design and Ergonomics
I have been using Leica cameras and lenses for nearly eight years, and have witnessed the introduction of two digital rangefinder models, the latest being the M11. For Leica, there is no compromise when it comes to design and performance and it shows when you look at each release and notice that the generational gap between systems are spaced out by at least several years - a testament to their longevity.
Prior to the release of the M11, I asked myself, and some friends, “What can Leica do to make the next camera stand out, beyond the assumed jump in megapixels, low light capabilities, and dynamic range?” I feel that Leica’s focus on this system is not only the aforementioned improvements but a lot of unassuming changes that make the experience of using the M, a much more seamless and engaging experience. Much to my liking, several ideas on my wish list were included in the new camera.
While the M11’s physical form is nearly identical to its predecessor, there are some cosmetic changes, and technical upgrades that make the camera feel far advanced on all fronts including resolution, processing speed, battery life, and the UX design. I feel like Leica has put a great effort into the way the software and hardware communicate to one another; compared to the M10. I say this because I noticed firsthand that navigating through the menus or using finger gestures to navigate on the rear LCD was streamlined and, similar to the SL2 and Q2 systems, I wasn’t bothered by any lag time. When using live view, there is now digital stabilization when magnified, which comes in handy when using the focus peaking feature. Additionally, long exposure noise reduction can now be disabled when doing night photography.
It’s not until you take a closer look at the camera that you notice that Leica removed the controversial baseplate that has been a part of the M since its inception in 1954. No more fumbling with or dropping it when you need to switch a battery or SD card. Some of the finer details become more noticeable in the hand, such as the ISO dial now has the number “64” which is the native base ISO for the new sensor. One might consider this a nod to Kodachrome, the ever-popular transparency film, that delivered rich saturated colors. As I take that into consideration, I think of Leica’s M9, the first full-frame digital rangefinder that was introduced in 2009, and is still quite popular and referenced as having the same deep rich colors as a Kodachrome type film.
Finish & Materials
Leica has adopted two major features of other camera systems into the new M11. First, like the M262, based on the M240, which was lighter weight, the M11 is now available as a black version which has an aluminum top plate, scratch-resistant paint finish and is 20% lighter than the silver chrome version that is made with the traditional brass top plate. In the hand, the black M11 is noticeably lighter with a standard M lens, and will certainly be sought after by many for that reason. For the traditionalists out there who like the look, feel, and dense weight of the classic M, silver is a great alternative.
Base Plate & Battery/SD Card Slot
Another major change to the camera stems from the omission of the removable bottom plate to access the battery and memory card. While the M11 battery is a different model compared to the SL and Q systems, it is similar in that once you push a lever to release the battery, and with a light tap, both it and the SD card can be removed. Additionally, the M11 now features a USB-C port on the base which allows for file transfer and charging options without using a dedicated battery charger. During my time with the camera, I was able to charge the camera using a battery bank while having lunch, which spared me a little stress that I might run out of battery into the evening. The battery is made to last for 1,700 exposures if live view isn’t used for making photographs.
Buttons & Ergonomics
Leica refined the already streamlined three buttons on the back of the camera, removed a function button on the front that was used during live view, and added a fully programmable function button on the top plate near the shutter button. The same button also functions as a digital zoom/crop feature when the camera is in live view mode, and with the new sensor in the M11, there is plenty of resolution to work with. The two-step zoom allows you to crop into your image at 1.3x magnification and 1.8x magnification, turning a 35mm lens into a 43mm and 63mm. When engaging the crop mode, the DNG file can be reversed, to the full-frame, but the JPEG cannot. On the subject of magnification, a specification that hasn’t changed from the M10 is the rangefinder magnification of x0.73, which works for all focal lengths between 28mm and 135mm.
Let’s talk more about that new sensor. The M11 is equipped with a new multi-resolution, backside illuminated, CMOS sensor with triple resolution technology, a base ISO of 64, and a max of 50,000. The advantages of this sensor include better noise performance at higher ISO settings, more light reaches to the sensor, faster read rates, and it can provide plenty of resolution for those of you who like to crop into or print your photographs. This new triple resolution technology allows you to record images in large, medium, and small DNG (Digital Negative: Leica’s RAW file naming). L-DNG gives you 14 stops of DNR at 60mp, M-DNG gives you 15 stops of DNR at 36mp, and S-DNG gives you 15 stops of DNR at 18mp. This new sensor paired with the advanced algorithm of the Maestro III processor ensures that all your photos have 14-bit color depth at all resolutions. No matter the resolution, the entire sensor is used for the imaging process. Simply put, the sensor in the new camera is incredibly advanced compared to what we are used to and is a worthwhile upgrade from any digital Leica. Whether you are using the camera indoors, outdoors, day or night, with a Summilux (f/1.4) or Summicron (f/2.0) lens, I am certain that you will get results that are to your liking when it comes to the natural quality of the colors and low noise of the sensor. When using the camera at higher ISO settings in low light, I noticed a more textural eye-pleasing quality that many digital cameras cannot achieve.
The shutter in the new M11 is quiet and sounds different compared to the M10. The mechanical shutter works to 1/4000th of a second, and for those of you who like to use your Summilux or Noctilux lenses during the daytime, wide open, there is now an optional electronic shutter that can be used in aperture priority mode as fast as 1/16,000 of a second, minimizing the need for a neutral density filter. With the Maestro III processor onboard, the camera can now make up to 4.5 frames per second with a 3GB buffer. When it comes to buffer, expect 13-15 DNG large raw files per burst, thirty medium, and endless bursts with DNG small, until your memory card fills up.
Leica advertises the camera as having 64% more battery life compared to the M10. Realistically, the battery is significantly better. There were times throughout the day wherein the back of my mind, I was thinking about running out of battery since I only had one, but after numerous checks on the back screen, it stayed strong throughout the day. After about four hours of photographing, during lunch, I charged the battery through a battery bank I brought with me, and that kept the battery going for an additional five hours. In all, I made roughly nine hundred hundred exposures using a combination of the rangefinder and live view, with only about 45 minutes of charging in between. For those who only have one battery, and want to get the most out of a single charge, the camera includes a “rangefinder photography smart low power mode” that allows for thousands of images on a single charge.
The files sizes that come out of the camera are roughly 100MB’s for the large raw files, 40MB’s for medium raw files, and 20MB for the smallest raw files. For those of you who rushed out of the house and forgot to bring a memory card, Leica has included 64GB of internal storage.
Leica has all new accessories for the M11, including an all-new 3.7-megapixel Visoflex 2 electronic viewfinder, constructed of aluminum, which is also compatible with the previous generation M10. The Visoflex 1 made for the M10 is not compatible with the M11. Leica also offers an all-new thumb rest, leather protector, handgrip, charger, display protection, and a USB-C to Lightning “Leica Fotos” cable.
As someone who has used dozens of different cameras systems over the years, both analog and digital, and even more lenses, I’m excited to say that the M11 is a welcome addition as a photographic tool. While I believe the performance of the M10 and M10-R are great, The M11 brings so many upgrades, that can make one’s photographic experience with M lenses, an absolute joy. I believe with a performance feature such as digital crop, it forces the photographer to engage more with the camera and to think about composition beyond the frame lines within the rangefinder. Ultimately, I believe this creates a new approach to rangefinder photography, leading us on an exciting path for future Leica M systems.
Leica M11 Proofs of Performace
All the photos were made with Leica’s 28mm f/1.4 Summilux, 35mm f/2.0 Summicron, and 50mm f/1.4 Summilux lenses. Most of the photos were made at DNG-L, between the base ISO of 64 and higher, when needed in low light. All of the photos were made using manual mode, and slight adjustments were made to the image files, primarily to the camera’s exposure.
I invite you to visit my website to look at more of my work which was made with Leica cameras and lenses.
If you have any questions about my photographs or Leica cameras and lenses, or just want to say “hi,” feel free to reach out to me directly through my website (www.alexramosphoto.com) or follow me on Instagram @alexramosphoto.
Reserve Your Leica M11
The Leica M11 is handcrafted in Germany. Our stock situation on the Leica M11 is a bit unknown, for this reason, we are not accepting pre-orders with payment as we cannot guaranty an ETA. Instead, we have created a reservation list. Use the link below to reserve the M11 today! You will be notified as soon as we have an M11 available for you.