AT THE END OF THE DAY
Leica’s M11 digital rangefinder camera improves on its predecessor in terms of ergonomics and features a 60MP sensor while remaining faithful to its manual focus roots.
- The optical viewfinder is bright.
- Full-frame sensor with 60 megapixels
- Industrial design that is iconic
- Mechanical shutter that is quiet
- M lens compatibility is extensive.
- Internal storage of 64 GB
- EVF Visoflex is now available.
- Wi-Fi and USB-C file transfers are supported.
- Pricing for high-end goods
- Video support isn’t included.
- Appeal to a specific market
LEICA M11 SPECS
|Dimensions||3.2 by 5.5 by 1.2 inches|
|Sensor Resolution||60 MP|
|Sensor Type||BSI CMOS|
|Lens Mount||Leica M|
|Memory Card Slots||1|
|Memory Card Format||SDXC (UHS-II)|
|Battery Type||Leica BP-SCL7|
|Display Size||3 inches|
|Display Resolution||2.3 million dots|
|Connectivity||Bluetooth, USB-C, Wi-Fi|
|Maximum Waterproof Depth||0 feet|
For decades, Leica has resisted major changes to its M line of rangefinder cameras, preferring to focus on little tweaks from generation to generation. Leica continues this technique with the M11 ($8,995, body only). The current M entry has the same iconic appearance as its predecessors, but with a few handling and imaging enhancements. The camera’s high-resolution imaging engine is as current as it gets, even if other components of it feel a little out of date (it requires manual focus and can’t capture video). Furthermore, photographers who have used Leicas for years will appreciate the consistency in style and philosophy, while newer shutterbugs who are scrambling to get their first M will appreciate the glimpse into the past. For most budgets, the M11 is an aspirational purchase, but if you enjoy using a rangefinder and can justify the expense, you’ll be rewarded with a camera that’s as beautiful as the photographs it takes.
A M10 that has been fine-tuned
The Leica M10 caused a stir by shaving a few millimeters off the depth of prior digital attempts to match the lines of analog versions, including the most current M-A. The M10 even had a clever ISO control that corresponded to the position of the film rewind button. However, because the M10 platform is now five years old, Leica updated the design once more.
The M11 is the same size as the M10, with dimensions of 3.2 by 5.5 by 1.2 inches (HWD). The exterior is based on the original M3, which was released in 1954, and should appeal to long-time M fans. Some of the first digital rangefinders, such as the M8, M9, and M (Typ 240), are slightly thicker than the film bodies, which was a cause of contention for some rangefinder shooters. The weight varies depending on the color you choose. The silver chrome model includes a brass top plate and weighs roughly 1.4 pounds, similar to an M10. Instead of using anodized metal, the black model employs anodized aluminum, which makes it 20 percent lighter at 1.2 pounds. I’ve tested both models, and the chrome version is noticeably heavier, especially when paired with the heavier brass-barreled silver chrome lenses. It could be a reflection of my changing tastes over time—the two digital Ms I’ve had were both black—but the silver M11 just has a little more charm. I can’t get over how beautiful it is, and the thicker frame makes it feel in the hand a little more like my previous M3 (1.3 pounds). The rest of the modifications may be found at the bottom. The M11 (finally) does away with the odd removable baseplate design that dates back to the days of bottom-loading film cameras. It’s now simple to replace the battery; merely remove the metal latch to gain access to it as well as the UHS-II SD card slot. The M11 sports 64GB of internal storage and a USB-C connection on the bottom for charging and wired transfers. In addition to the camera, Leica includes an external wall charger in the box.
The M11 maintains the same amount of dust and splash protection as the M10 despite having the port on the bottom. Although the camera isn’t IP-certified and shouldn’t be used in a deluge, it should be able to withstand mild moisture. If you’re looking for a more dust- and water-resistant Leica, the SL2 and SL2-S have an IP54 rating.
Simple to Use Controls
The M series’ basic design hasn’t altered much throughout the years. A shutter release and an on/off toggle reside alongside independent dial settings for shutter and ISO on the M11’s top plate. The top function button is back, as it was on the Typ 240. By default, the button enables a live view focus magnification assistance, but you can simply remap its function with a long press. A mechanical release cable or a soft release button can be used with the threaded shutter button.
The shutter speed is a relic of film cameras. The mechanical shutter of the M11 is extremely silent and can fire as quickly as 1/4,000 second; it can also sync with an external flash at speeds up to 1/180 second. A fully electronic shutter is also included in the body. It can fire at a rate of 1/166,000th of a second, which is great news for Noctilux lovers who don’t want to deal with neutral density filters for F0.95 imaging.
The electronic shutter is completely silent, which is ideal for use in concert halls, film sets, and other environments where noise is prohibited. However, because the sensor readout isn’t lightning fast, you’ll likely see some rolling shutter distortion when taking images of people moving across the frame or while panning the camera to follow activity during an exposure. For portraiture and shallow depth of field imaging in bright illumination, use the electronic shutter, while for photographs of moving people, use the mechanical shutter.
In bright light, a lower base ISO is also advantageous for operating at wider apertures. ISO 64 is the default setting on the M11. On analog M bodies, the ISO dial is located on the left side of the top plate, next to the film rewind button. It has ISO 6400 fast settings, a “M” position for setting higher values via the camera menu, and a “A” position for Auto ISO images. You can also specify a minimum shutter speed. Because the M11 lacks sensor stabilization, Leica defaults to a 1/4x minimum focal length to avoid shake-induced blur—the default value is customizable, so you may change it to 1/1, 1/2, or a preset minimum shutter speed if you want.
For the M11, Leica keeps the same three-button back arrangement as the M10 series. To the left of the fixed touch LCD are the Play, Fn, and Menu buttons. However, the menu system has been updated to match those of the SL2 and Q2. According to a business representative, photographers who utilize more than one model of Leica will benefit from the update. The Fn button can be customized; by default, it toggles live view, but you can change that with a long press.
A single-screen menu and a more verbose multi-page text system make up the menu system. The single-screen menu displays exposure settings and has a fixed 12-slot control bank with the most frequent options, including as color, JPG and Raw capture options, metering and drive modes, and memory card formatting. Surprisingly, the M11’s internal memory or SD card can only be formatted through the single screen interface.
Touch or the four-way controller on the back can be used to navigate the menu. To open the five-page text menu, press the menu button twice or tap the three-bar symbol in the bottom right corner of the screen; to navigate through it, use the d-pad.
The rear control dial is still in place, but it now has a new push-in function. On a digital M, I always set the dial to regulate EV compensation, but I like having the option to push the dial in at any point for a fast visual signal of the EV compensation amount selected. A long press on the dial changes the function.
It’s distinguished by its rangefinder focus.
In today’s digital market, Leica’s rangefinder focus technology is unique. The optical viewfinder of the M11 displays a fixed view of the world with a wide-angle 0.72x magnification, which is somewhat wider than a 28mm lens. For focus, you utilize a bright patch in the center. To adjust the lens to the right distance, simply line up the two halves of its double image. The lines also demonstrate how the associated lens should be framed. Rangefinder focus may appear intimidating on paper, but it’s actually pretty simple in reality. Manually setting focus on a Leica M is often faster and more precise than using an SLR focusing screen with split and micro-prism aid.
The viewfinder is frequently cited by proponents of rangefinder photography as the reason for their preference. Because the viewfinder displays more of the world than the lens sees, it’s especially suitable for candid and documentary shooting with a 35mm or 50mm lens. As a result, you’ll have an easier time locating, framing, and anticipating the dynamic motion that makes for compelling photographs.
The M11’s frame lines are illuminated by an internal LED, a design feature that dates back to the limited-edition M9 Titanium Edition. Pairs for 28mm and 90mm, 35mm and 135mm, and 50mm and 75mm views are shown on the camera. They change automatically with the lens, and the frame line picker on the front of the camera allows you to rapidly sample what a different lens will look like.
The X100V and X-Pro3 from Fujifilm have similar optical viewfinders, but neither gives the same focus experience—they have manual focus modes that mimic a rangefinder, but they are autofocus-only cameras. The M11 is designed to work with M-mount manual focus lenses with rangefinder-coupled focus. It works with M lenses from the 1950s, as well as Leica Thread Mount glass from the 1930s and 1940s.
An optical scanner in the lens mount reads current 6-bit coded Leica M lenses. It’s not necessary to use a coded lens, but if you do, you’ll obtain focal length EXIF data in your images, which is useful for remembering which lens you used. You can also manually enter codes, which is useful if you’re using vintage lenses. This approach works for most lenses, but Leica has never offered it for the 40mm Summicron-C from the 1970s. I’d love to have it as an option because it’s one of my favorite antique lenses.
I like the M11’s LED frame lines since they’re always visible, even in low light, which is a drawback with older Ms that rely on ambient light to show the lines. However, the frame lines are always white. With the M (Typ 240), Leica introduced a red frame line option, but it was removed from later models. That’s a shame, because in low light, the red frame lines are easier to see and easier on my eyes. The shutter speed and exposure indicators in the M11’s finder are still red, as they are on metered film bodies.
EVF with Rear Display for Visoflex 2
Simply click the rear Fn button to change live view when you wish to focus through the lens. The Visoflex 2 is an add-on viewfinder that is also available. The $740 upgrade attaches to the M11’s hot shoe. It’s a colossal piece of industrial design that rests atop your camera, a brutalist black box. The viewfinder looks a lot like the infamous “Frankenfinder” optical add-on for the Wide-Angle Tri-Elmar 16-18-21mm step zoom lens, although it’s not nearly as big.
Apart from its aesthetics, the Visoflex 2 is a highly practical device. It has a 3.7-million-dot display and gives the impression of a big view. When you pan to follow a moving topic, it refreshes fairly smoothly, exhibiting motion without any significant lag, but you can definitely perceive the rolling shutter effect. The Visoflex doesn’t have a magnification rating or a refresh rate, but neither is inadequate for the types of photographs you’re likely to make with a rangefinder camera.
The Visoflex 2 can also be used with the M10, although it only has a resolution of 2.4 million dots and requires you to change your M10’s firmware, which is coming soon.
The information from the rear display is mirrored in the EVF. Focus peaking is offered as a full-time manual focus assist, and when you adjust focus with most lenses, the frame punches in to a magnified view automatically. For lenses without a rangefinder coupling or thread mount lenses that require certain vintage Leitz LTM adapters, you must punch in manually. The latter is more of an anomaly than a problem, and it’s simple enough to replace the optical code reader with a new adaptor.
One of the M11’s ergonomic flaws is its fixed rear display, which is addressed with the viewfinder. You can work from low-to-the-ground angles without laying down on the ground since the viewfinder tilts up and clicks into place at 45-degree and 90-degree angles.
Rangefinder purists may certainly do without the Visoflex; after all, the M11’s optical viewfinder sets it apart from the competition. However, it makes the M11 a more versatile mirrorless package, allowing you to use it with Leica R and other manual SLR lenses (with the appropriate adapter) as well as shallow depth of field specialist lenses like the Noctilux-M 75mm F1.25 ASPH to get perfect focus.
The M11’s rear display is an upgrade over the M10’s, and it’s capable of displaying images from the M11’s 60MP sensor. The 2.3-million-dot display (vs. 1.04 million dots on the M10) is bright enough to use outside on a sunny day and enables touch input. It’s made of Gorilla Glass, which makes it as tough as most smartphone screens but not shatterproof. The greatest Sapphire Glass screens are reserved for Leica’s premium P series models, such as the M10-P.
Connectivity and Power
The M11 makes use of a new battery, the BP-SCL7, which is rated for 700 shots (per CIPA standards). This is comparable to class leaders in terms of longevity, such as the Sony a7 III (710 shots). If you use the rangefinder entirely and take use of the power-saving capabilities, the M11 can last up to 1,700 shots. Image inspection and playback, as well as Wi-Fi file transfers and a variety of other factors, all take their toll. Even so, you won’t have to worry about running out of battery juice if you use the camera for a long day of photography.
It’s simple to change the battery. Because there is no need to remove the baseplate, it’s simply a matter of pulling a lever and gently pushing the battery to release its safety lock. However, because the lever is close to the tripod socket, most quick-release plates will prevent access. The M11 Handgrip ($430) is a good alternative to a release plate if you’re a regular tripod user. Its dovetail cut makes it compatible with Arca-Swiss tripod heads.
SDXC cards run at the fastest UHS-II rates in the single memory card slot. You can program the M11 to write to both the card and the internal memory (64GB onboard), or to use the card just when the internal storage is full (or vice versa). If you choose, you can use the camera without a memory card at all.
Leica Fotos, a companion app, is available for Android and iOS smartphones. The M11 has dual-band Wi-Fi for wireless connections and may be plugged in for faster wired transfers. To connect the camera to an iPhone, Leica offers a USB-C-to-Lightning cable, and to connect it to an iPad Pro, you may use any USB-C-to-USB-C cable.
You can have as many pixels as you want.
The M11’s new full-frame image sensor is the major news. Refinements to the body are pleasant, but the big news with the M11 is its new full-frame image sensor. The M10-R‘s 40MP BSI CMOS sensor has been replaced by a 60MP BSI CMOS sensor, which is a considerable increase for photographers who are currently using a 24MP M10 or Typ 240. The sensor also has a thinner cover glass than most mirrorless cameras, which is crucial for M lenses to operate well.
The M11 saves photographs in 14-bit Raw DNG or 8-bit JPG format, with a dynamic range of up to 14 stops for DNGs at 60MP. In DNG format, lower resolutions—36MP and 18MP—are also available. At higher ISO settings, images at each of those lesser resolutions benefit from a bit wider dynamic range (15 stops) and lower noise, but still cover a full-frame view.
To capture lower-resolution Raw photos, Leica uses a pixel-binning technology. For a reduced effective resolution, the camera clusters numerous pixels together into groups. This approach is used by the M11 to net its 36MP and 18MP outputs, allowing for the aforementioned gains in dynamic range and noise.
In the lab, I put the M11 through its paces, capturing our ISO test scene at 18, 36, and 60MP at ISO 64, ISO 50000, and ISO 100000. At full resolution, the results are comparable to the Sony a7R IV and Sigma fp L, two other 60MP BSI sensor cameras on the market. At ISO 64 or higher, photos have excellent quality and very little noise. From ISO 400 to ISO 1600, the grain pattern is tight and fine, and as you approach ISO 12500, the grain becomes a little rougher.
At ISO 25000, some detail is lost in the noise, but I wouldn’t hesitate to use it for photographs that require a touch of moodiness. The highest ISO, 50000, comes with more compromises: some color noise evades Lightroom’s suppression efforts, and a tiny magenta tinge detracts from the otherwise excellent color accuracy. The results are remarkably similar to the two most recent M sensors, the 24MP chip in the M10 and the 40MP chip in the M10-R, with the exception that the M10-R has a larger pixel count.
The 18MP and 36MP capture modes have less noise, but the cleaner look is more noticeable at the low and moderate ISO settings, at least in Raw photos. The pixel-binned settings of JPG capture do a better job of preventing splotchy false color at the high end of the ISO range than the full-resolution output. In its DNG+JPG capture mode, the M11 allows you to mix 60MP DNG with any size JPG, giving you the benefits of pixel binned JPGs without sacrificing the ability to edit them later.
In terms of dynamic range, I used Adobe Lightroom to edit with 60MP DNG photographs and had plenty of room to open up shadows, reduce highlights, and tweak color to liking. I was unafraid to picture scenes with harsh lighting. Take a look at the JPG (left) and processed Raw version (right) of the same scene—the Raw image has enough area to trim the slightly hot exposure on the sunlit building and recover shadow detail.
This is where Leica’s default JPG appearance comes into play. The basic profile favors stronger contrast and crisper blacks, but it, along with the other JPG profiles—Vivid, Natural, Monochrome, and Monochrome High Contrast—allows you to tweak the contrast, sharpness, and saturation.
The M11 offers an in-camera crop option, which is exclusive to its 60MP recording mode, in addition to the down-sampled 18MP and 36MP versions. Cropping works differently than pixel binning in that it narrows the field of view of your lenses, which is useful when working with a wider lens but need a narrower view for a photo. For 39MP output, a 1.3x crop is recommended, while for 18MP imaging, a 1.8x crop is recommended. Many lenses may still be used with the optical viewfinder thanks to the crops—a 28mm prime, for example, aligns up with 35mm frame lines in its 1.3x mode and the 50mm in its 1.8x mode.
In comparison to its predecessors, the M11 takes a different approach to light metering. Leica ditched the camera’s independent internal light meter in favor of metering via the image sensor. When you turn on the camera, you’ll hear the shutter open, but the advantages are obvious. One advantage is accuracy. With multi-field analysis, the sensor can more intelligently assess a full scene, so you won’t have to spend as much time fiddling with exposure compensation settings in difficult light. Metering modes such as center-weighted and spot evaluation are also available.
The removal of the dedicated meter also allows the 50mm Summicron Dual Range, a vintage lens that was previously incompatible with digital M cameras, to be used. For close-up shooting, the 1960s-era prime features an expanded focusing helicoid, which physically bumped into the light meter housing on earlier digital bodies. The Summicron DR mounts and functions with the M11 over its entire focus range, with one caveat: you must remove the lens from the camera to set it to close focus and install the close-up goggle accessory. But that’s a minor annoyance compared to being able to use one of your favorite film M lenses on a digital camera.
Although most photographers will not utilize a M for burst shooting, it is an option. At its fastest, the M11 fires at 4.5fps and can maintain that speed for roughly 15 pictures at 60MP or 36MP before dramatically slowing down. If you choose the 18MP option, the camera can shoot DNG photographs at 5 frames per second for as long as you keep the shutter open.
The Evolution of an Icon
On the surface, the Leica M11 doesn’t differ significantly from the M10 in terms of appearance—tough it’s to tell the two different at a glance. With the M10, Leica’s developers worked hard to cut a few millimeters off of previous digital attempts, so a drastic departure in design would be surprising. The only M camera to truly deviate from the norm, the 1970s-era M5, was a disappointment, and all subsequent attempts have focused on making new M cameras appear and feel exactly like an M3.
However, appearances can be deceiving. By removing the replaceable baseplate, the M11 represents the most significant design change in recent memory. I’m not going to miss it—removing the bottom of a camera to get a memory card or replace a battery is inconvenient at best. The new mechanism is more user-friendly, and the addition of a USB-C port for charging and communication is very useful for travelers. Because of its aluminum top plate, the camera in black is slightly lighter than the silver M11, but if you must have brass, the silver M11 is also available.
The M11 holds two-and-a-half times more pixels than 24MP models on the inside, resulting in significantly higher resolution. If you don’t need to work with 60MP files, lower-resolution capture at full Raw quality is also accessible. Aside from the large files, we didn’t notice any significant disadvantages to the extra pixels—the sensor performs similarly to the 24MP M10 and the 40MP M10-R in low-light situations.
A Leica is unquestionably a high-end product, and the $8,995 M11, like the M10-R and M10 Monochrom, is likely out of most people’s price range. It’s a personal judgment whether the M11 is worth the money, especially since it doesn’t do as much as other modern cameras—it doesn’t autofocus, it can’t capture video, and there aren’t many zoom lenses available for rangefinders. Our favorite full-frame cameras are more capable and more inexpensive, while retailing for several thousand dollars without a lens. For some of us, though, the focused photography experience that rangefinder cameras provide is what we value the most. And if you fall into that category, the M11 is as bit as useful as the M10 or any of the previous models.
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