The Leica M11 Reinvents What It Means To Shoot With A Rangefinder
Just when I thought you couldn’t pack any more into a camera, Leica goes and releases the M11. Sometimes more really is more.
Now, I’m no Leica expert by any stretch of the imagination. In fact, I’ve only been using one personally for the last six months. But the difference I’ve experienced photographing with the Leica M11 when compared to my own Leica M-P (Type 240) is monumental.
Subtle refinements in the design language can go a long way when you expect your camera to be an extension of your body like I do. Moreover, new technology can help you stay in the moment and capture what matters most.
Here is a small selection of my favorite features in the new M11 features.
A Window of Opportunity
The M11 features a vivid 2.95” LCD panel on the rear, allowing you to examine your images in fine detail. Capable of producing 800 nits of luminosity, the data on the rear of your M11 will be easily visible in all lighting conditions.
With an ultra-high resolution of 2.3 million dots (that’s two hundred thousand more than my Canon R5), both the operating system and playback will shock you with their sharpness. That, and you can take this camera just about anywhere with the display protected by heavy-duty Gorilla Glass 5.
On The Flip Side
A huge first for M cameras. At the center of the new M11 is a 60-megapixel full-frame backside-illuminated (BSI) complementary-metal-oxide-semiconductor (CMOS) sensor. The inclusion of this type of sensor is a big deal because, until recently, camera manufacturers were presented with constrained options when creating or choosing sensors. You either got high resolution, low light quality, or something in between.
Typically, when you increase the pixel count to gain more resolution without making the sensor physically bigger, you reduce the sensor’s ability to record light effectively. Essentially, it’s a tradeoff between how much light the individual pixels can capture and how large the resolution of the resulting files is.
With a BSI, the standard CMOS design is flipped on its head, literally. The BSI-type CMOS sensor brings the photosensitive diode right up to the top of the pixel stack, where an exponentially higher amount of light can reach the diodes. Why haven’t we seen sensors like this sooner? Well, this is all due to advancements in semiconductor construction in recent years.
Life’s Memories, In Storage
What about a feature I didn’t know I needed, that is, until I needed it? The M11 now features 64GB of onboard solid-state storage.
No longer do you need to stop shooting and miss a moment if you’ve accidentally left your memory card on your desk (like I often do). Put plainly: It is an incredibly handy feature that some other brands would be wise to adopt.
As Quick as A Flash
As I said, I’m still relatively new to shooting on a Leica, so the lack of a removable bottom cover on the M11 seems like a no-brainer to me. But speak to any brand loyalists, and they’ll tell you this is Leica sacrilege.
Let me explain: Modern Leica M cameras have sported a large bottom cover that houses the battery, memory card, and expansion ports. Historically, it was by opening this cover that you replaced the film. So, as a brand steeped in tradition, this change to the M11 may have been too much for some.
Leica seldom changes or modifies the aesthetics of its cameras too drastically between releases. Thus, this is a major break from tradition. That said, it’s in favor of ergonomics and was first implemented in other Leica cameras. For example, the Q and the SL.
To remove the battery and access the memory card slot, you only need to slide the recessed lever a few degrees until it reaches the end. When the battery pops, you depress it a little, and then it can be removed. Sitting alongside the battery compartment is the single SD card slot. This design simplifies replacing the battery and memory card.
Fast On the Draw
Another recently added feature to the M lineup: The new M11 sports an electronic shutter. Something almost all other Leica cameras have had since 2016. While the mechanical shutter still maxes out at 1/4000th of a second, thanks to the electronic shutter, you can now freeze action at 1/16,000th of a second.
The choice between both modes is yours, depending on how you like to shoot. But you can use the hybrid mode to give you the greatest flexibility when capturing a scene.
Personally, the absence of the haptic feedback from the shutter actuating was hard to get used to, so I opted to shoot exclusively with the mechanical shutter. That said, it’s really nice to have the option.
The sensor is now the dedicated light meter for the camera. And this is another huge quality of life feature that’s new to the M system.
With most traditional cameras, the light meter measures light reflected from the shutter blades, but on the M11, the light meter takes measurements directly from the sensor. While this feature doesn’t fundamentally change the way you shoot, it does give you the power to be more in the moment, especially when using “multi-field” (matrix) scene metering.
Essentially, Leica put the complex sensor in control of the metering, taking into account multitudes more data points (i.e., people’s faces, key objects, etc.) to calculate an accurate exposure. For the average user, this means less time metering and composing, more time focused on the action.
Don’t Reinvent the Wheel, Make It Better
Though I was fortunate to have two weeks to experience this beautiful camera, you really need much more time to truly experience all the M11 has to offer. But it was a pleasure to carry around with me to and from work and jaunts around the city.
I’ve always shot with Canon, but not for any particular reason. It’s just what my friends used, so I bought what I know. However, in the last few months, shooting with my own and now experiencing Leica’s new flagship rangefinder, I love how easily this camera integrated into my daily routine. An age-old design that has largely remained unchanged still manages to charm new generations with its vintage good looks, and personality.
Available for $8,995, the M11 is available now. For more information on the M11, visit the Leica website.
(Photography by Liam O'Donnell)