Leica just introduced the M11, a full-frame digital rangefinder with the ability to capture images in three resolutions using the full sensor area: 60, 36 or 18 megapixels. Leica supplied Digital Photo Pro with a pre-production version of the M11 to try prior to this morning’s launch and what follows is info about the new camera and our thoughts on testing it for an early review.
The Leica M11 is the successor to the 24MP M10 from 2017, which I reviewed for another photography website, and the new model is much like its predecessor, i.e., a classic rangefinder exterior with powerful digital imaging technology inside. The M11 comes in two configurations, the silver chrome version I tested featuring a brass top plate and weighing approximately 22.5 ounces (640 grams); and a black-finish version with a scratch-resistant aluminum top plate, which is about 3.5 ounces (100 grams) lighter.
Does this camera and lens combo live up to its lofty price tag? Well, like most Leica products that’s a difficult question to answer. Leica M rangefinders are just, well, different. Read on to find out if you think the new Leica M11 is worth a serious investment.
Leica M11 Specifications and Features
As mentioned, the M11 is the first camera in Leica’s venerable M line to offer multi resolution options from its full-frame backside illuminated CMOS sensor with 14-bit color depth. Leica calls this Triple Resolution Technology. In 60MP mode you’ll be able to shoot L-DNG (RAW) files of approximately 70-120MBs. In 36MP mode you can shoot M-DNG (RAW) files at 40MB in size. And in 18MP mode, you can shoot 20MB S-DNG (RAW) files. The M11 captures JPEGs as well.
Of course, at 60MB you’ll get the most detail in your images but when shooting at the M11’s top speed of 4.5 frames per second (fps), the buffer will fill at around 13 frames. At 36MP, the buffer will max out at around 30fps and at 18MP, the buffer is endless. The 18MP mode also promises the lowest noise level in your images and considering the M11 can shoot at a broad range of ISO 64 to 50,000 that could come in handy. Leica credits this speed and versatility to the M11’s new Maestro III processor.
To improve color reproduction in images, the camera has a new IR + UV cut filter made of two thin, cemented layers of glass. The filter is designed to correct even oblique rays of incidental light to produce more natural-looking color.
Built-In Memory and Bigger Battery
Other new features on the Leica M11 include 64GB of built-in memory in addition to an SD card slot, allowing you to save your photos to both storage options for added security. You can transfer pictures from the internal memory to your SD card slot. This dual memory option is for photos-only because the M11, like its predecessor, does not shoot video. (Previous digital M models did shoot video but Leica did away with the feature to slim down the camera and because M users weren’t particularly interested in video.)
The Leica M11 also has a larger battery with 64% more capacity than its predecessor and there’s now USB-C data transfer and charging. Both new options contribute to a major change to the M11’s design, which is sure to divide users. There is no longer a screw-on traditional base plate, which was a carry-over design quirk from the M-series’ analog days.
RIP Base Plate
Leica’s deliberate omission of the base plate on the M11 gives you more direct access to the battery and the SD card slot and, personally, I appreciated this change. I always found the base plate to be a fiddly, extra step that seemed just a bow to nostalgia. We’ll see how more traditional-minded Leica users react to the death of the base plate on the M11.
There’s also intelligent multi-field exposure metering on the M11 and an electronic shutter option that allows you to shoot at shutter speeds of up to 1/16,000th of a second so you can use wider open apertures in bright light without ND filters.
Apple-certified connectivity has been added to the M11 for either a wired connection to an iPhone or iPad or wirelessly through the Leica FOTOS app. The 2.3-million-pixel rear touchscreen also seems improved from the previous camera, and I found it easy to read menus, check settings and review images on the display.
Hands-On Impressions of the Leica M11
As mentioned previously, there’s nothing quite like shooting with a Leica M rangefinder. There are some who will enjoy the experience of the Leica M11’s unique manual focus system, its classic feel, impressive image quality and the precision of Leica’s vaunted lenses. There are others, however, who will not.
It took me a few days to get comfortable with shooting with a rangefinder again (it’s a distinct photographic experience that’s not for everyone) but I eventually rediscovered its charms through the M11, which is Leica’s most user-friendly M-series camera yet.
I felt a touch slower with the M11 than, for instance, any of the autofocusing mirrorless cameras and DSLRs I’ve tested in recent years, but it was also a quieter, more meditative experience that I enjoyed. As you’ll notice from my test images included in this story, my time shooting with the camera was in the dead of winter and most of my subjects were snowy scenery in the Catskills in New York, which is not really what the M11 is designed for.
The Leica M11 is most suited for street photography where the process of composing, focusing, and quietly clicking the rangefinder’s shutter eventually becomes second nature (when you get the hang of it). But Leica digital rangefinders, as elegantly as they are designed, are still large and heavy affairs even with the few ounces they were able to shave off these latest models.
Leica has introduced several optional accessories to make the Leica M11 easier to handle and carry including a slide-on metal thumb rest and a new handgrip that doubles as a tripod mount. The M11 is also compatible with the new Visoflex 2 ($740) external EVF (electronic viewfinder) that clips on to the hot shoe on top of the camera. The metal Visoflex 2 has a 3.7-megapixel OLED display and a 90-degree tilt function so you can see the M11’s Live View mode from a variety of angles.
The M11, thanks to the upgraded Maestro III, felt faster all around than previous M models and the camera did a good job of tamping down noise at higher ISOs, which had been a bugaboo of older digital rangefinders from Leica. I liked being able to easily switch between three different megapixel settings – 60MP, 36MP, and 18MP – thanks to Leica’s Triple Resolution Technology in the M11. While increasing the buffer and lowering the noise at 18MP wasn’t really necessary for my outdoor scenery shots, I could see street photographers really appreciating this option.
Even though I was shooting with a pre-production M11 camera, I thought the image quality was excellent. The Leica M11 did a great job handling the somewhat tricky winter light and high contrast scenes I shot while tromping around in the snow. One pleasant surprise was how easy the M11 was to use with gloves on thanks to the solid, metal body and simple dials and shutter button.
If the Leica M11 isn’t the first camera I’d consider for my photography – I am admittedly an autofocus addict and prefer more hand-friendly ergonomics in my cameras – I can certainly see its appeal. After having reviewed the Leica M9 and M10 previously, the M11 is clearly the best digital rangefinder Leica has ever made and it’s safe to call this camera “a new classic.”
Editor’s note: All Leica M11 test images were shot using a pre-production camera, so may not fully represent final image quality.