Now that the dust has settled after the big announcement from Wetzlar, here are my thoughts on the M11.
Using an M is a gratifying, soul-enriching process. True-to-life viewing, manual focus, and the satisfaction of seizing a moment that takes on heartfelt meaning because it represents the photographer’s unique way of seeing, make it unlike any other camera. Leica M rangefinders have captured the visual record of an era and the ethos of generations. The M11 is Leica’s effort to reassert that position moving into the future.
It’s both sobering and appealing to consider that in my lifetime, I’ve witnessed the development and progress of the M system. From the launch of the M3 to the arrival of the M11, this singular rangefinder design has remained relevant and true to purpose; adept at integrating advances in technology while not relinquishing the simplicity that has endeared it to many of the world’s leading photographers.
Does this latest offering surpass the digital Ms that preceded it? In some features and technological developments,YES; but when it comes to the core design and construction quality, it does not! What it is, is a modern approach to manufacturing and production. Here’s what comes to mind: the fact the M7 came out 15 years after the M6, and the MP came out a further 3 years later, does not make either the M7 or the MP superior to the (truly iconic) M6.
60 - 36 - 18: Winning the Trifecta?
With its back-illuminated, 60 MP sensor and new, Maestro III processor, the M11 is a powerful photographic tool to augment a studied, methodical and precise way of seeing and capturing. While the 3.7 MP Visoflex 2 electronic external viewfinder is optional, in fact, it is NECESSARY to accurately focus and take full advantage of the maximum resolution available in this sensor. By pixel binning – a not insignificant decision made by Leica engineers – this M is also able to offer 36 and 18 MP full-frame coverage.
Contemporary photographs can have sharpness and clarity that are breathtaking, but to achieve this requires technique, equipment and discipline that may run at odds with spontaneously capturing images on the go. As megapixel counts climb, motion blur and focus inaccuracy that a lower-resolution sensor will forgive, begin to work against the original concept of Leica M cameras.
36 MP (or 40 in the case of the M10-R) is just about right, being the limit to accurately focus using the built-in rangefinder. For me, that’s the key part of a Leica M’s raison d’être! If more megapixels are what you want, I think the SL system with its superior EVF viewing and autofocus will deliver more consistent results than a rangefinder.
While the back-lit sensor will produce more detail in the shadows that many people will appreciate, I find this look a bit too clinical. The M9, with its CCD sensor, is still sought after because it produces files that are film-like. I can certify that the M10-R produces even better files for that reason. (I still believe the M10-R to be the most desirable digital M. Laser-focussed on what a rangefinder camera is supposed to be excels at. It holds true to the purpose and spirit of the M series.)
A Whole To Like
- Not surprisingly, size wise, the M11 feels great in the hands, similar to the M10-R.
- The 64 native ISO in the M11 is a welcome addition over the M10’s 160 ISO.
- Multifield metering is new for the M, but it comes with a slight delay in the startup time.
- There’s 64 gigabytes of internal memory to go along with that SD card you probably left at home!
- A function button near the shutter release can be set to access any menu item without lowering the camera from your eye.
- The battery (BP-SCL7) has 64% more capacity than the one in the M10.
- The new menu interface is similar to what you’ll find in your Leica Q. That’s a very good thing.
- In-camera digital cropping (1.3x or 1.8x): you might as well crop more precisely in post.
- Live-view stabilization: don’t confuse this with image stabilization. It’s not!
- There is an obvious difference in weight between the black and silver bodies. The silver is heftier (640g) because of the brass used, while the black (520g) uses an aluminum top plate.
We have been told by Leica that they are on their way, and look forward to showing you this remarkable camera at the boutique soon. Of-course, we are also taking orders, with the promise to deliver your new M11 with the shortest delay possible. Please call or email us.