“On peut faire n’importe quoi avec le Leica.” said Henri Cartier-Bresson (according to tradition). “You can do anything with the Leica.” With its M11, Leica has come two steps closer to this goal, which is more difficult to achieve in the digital age. I have had plenty of time to try out the camera since the end of August 2021 as part of a beta test. You will find the technical data presented in a varied and comprehensive manner by others.
I aim to describe a feeling for taking pictures with this camera. Here is my report on the Leica M11, which does not get along without technical information. But I’ll limit myself to the essentials. Under the hood, the new rangefinder camera has a lot of innovations. These just work, and I don’t need to go into detail about them. I shot 99% of my photos with the time & ISO automatic. What is essential are the eye-catching and outstanding innovations, which are a real relief when using them.
One gain – at least in the black model – is the use of aluminium instead of magnesium brass in the case lid. The weight saving of around 110g / 4oz is noticeable and welcome. After four months, I don’t see any unusual signs of wear.
The 60MP sensor of the Leica M11
Surprisingly, the improvements are achieved not despite but because of the new sensor with 60MP. I was initially critical of what this increased pixel density means for the older lenses. After all, one of Leica’s strengths is that I can use any lens since the M3 was introduced in 1954.
Anyway, my 75mm Summilux from 1987 still retains the beautiful drawing that owners of this lens love. In addition, it always depends on the image impression you want to achieve with your pictures.
I see the 60MP more as an opportunity to save on a lens and, at the same time to get closer to your viewing habits. This became clear to me when I stood in front of the Elphi in the rising sun. I “only” had my 50s Nocti with me when I saw a woman in one of the hotel’s windows located there. My eye focused on this situation crystal clear. The 50mm, however, the complete Elphi. In post-processing, I could then harmonize my perception with the recording very quickly. This is the power of 60MP.
Even at night, the sensor performs surprisingly well. This is not necessarily the main area of application for a 60MP sensor. That’s why Leica offers the possibility to use RAWs in lower resolution. I could not determine a better noise behaviour or dynamic range. In my experience, it’s best to use the largest resolution possible. In case of doubt, special programs in post-processing get more out than the chip in the camera.
Extension of shutter speeds with electronic shutter
A crystal clear benefit is the new shutter and photography beyond 1/4000s. It finally saved my Nocti from wearing a grey filter all the time. However, it is incredibly irritating when the camera makes no shutter sound at all. I suspected a technical defect in one of the first test shots of the recently sent body. Only when I pressed the play button did I see numerous images. The electronic shutter is a welcome addition to the rangefinder camera.
However, Leica does not allow the viewfinder to display any additional digits. When I use exposure times from 1/10000s, the last digit flashes. So the difference between 1/1000s and 1/10000s is not clear at first glance. This will soon no longer play a role in everyday life.
Incidentally, the reading speed of the new sensor is so fast that even moving objects are exceptionally rarely distorted. This technically related, unsightly side effect of an electronic shutter does not have to hold you back from using the Leica M11 to its full extent.
The shutter allows for so many new exposure times that it’s a bit unusual to operate. If you want complete control over the exposure time used outside of the usual 8s to 1/4000s, you must set the dial on top of the Leica M11 to B. “B” actually stands for Bulb. On the new Leica, this wheel position allows all times between 60 minutes and 1/16000s to be set via the touchscreen.
The touchscreen is new and convenient for M users, but familiar for SL2 users. And that’s good. I love the touchscreen on my SL2 and SL2s because I can quickly change essential settings. Leica really know how to make a good UI. No other camera brand gives me the feeling that photographers designing the menu. Even with the many innovations of the Leica M11, the menu does not appear overloaded. And the functions don’t hide behind cryptic names or abbreviations.
The Leica M11 now has an internal memory. This is useful if you have packed an SD card that is too small or even forgotten it at all. Access to the internal memory has not yet been optimally solved. Over the firmware iterations that I’ve had the privilege of witnessing, the Leica development team has done a great job. I am therefore very certain that this will continue to improve in the near future.
Other innovations bring nice relief. For example the USB-C port, which allows me to charge the camera practically anywhere. Since even my car now has several USB-C ports, I can practically get by with one battery. This allows you to take pictures for a long time without changing the battery. The battery quick-change mechanism, which I have grown to love with my SL2 series cameras and which I have adopted from the Leica M11, is hardly ever used.
I can write positive things about the Leica M11. It is the right step towards a modern rangefinder camera. It maintains the advantages of the rangefinder system and expands them with the latest technology. Unfortunately I have to send the Leica M11 back again…