Leica M11 Review – A Mesmerising Rangefinder Camera
Leica M11 Review - A Mesmerising Rangefinder Camera
Leica M11 Review – A Mesmerising Rangefinder Camera
Background - Leica M11
Before I flew to Singapore, I got a message from my friend asking me to try his Leica M11 rangefinder camera when I got there. I was excited and curious about this new Leica M11 because I wanted to know how different the colour would be compared to my Leica M10-P. I didn’t follow much about the new Leica M11 because I knew this was just another digital camera inside me. When he passed me the camera body, I looked at him and said, “this thing is light!”.
Leica Camera Experiences
Leica M8 was my first digital rangefinder camera, and I purchased this pre-owned camera in 2010. It was an excellent CCD sensor camera that offered me fantastic colour and images like positive slide film. But, it takes UV/IR cut filters to correct the colour; otherwise, black will be purple, which is troublesome, meaning every single lens you have has UV/IR cut filters. Leica M9 or M9-P are both cameras that I upgraded from M8. I owned it multiple times because of the MP-style lettering and full-frame sensor. I still think the Leica M9-P is the most beautiful digital Leica camera ever made, and it’s black paint!
Leica M10 was my new hope for Leica cameras after trying M240-P. I spent more of my time using it on my Cuba trip. It was my primary camera until I upgraded it to M10-P. It has a touch screen and silent shutters. Overall it is already an excellent camera for its impressive resolution and ISO performance. However, using vintage Leica glasses such as Summicron 35mm f/2 8 elements is not appealing. It is just too sharp to show their characters. When Leica M9 has a lower MP sensor, these vintage lenses offer its best and most authentic persona. The images are simply more natural and genuine than what I see.
In January 2022, Leica M11 marked another milestone for Leica by improving its electronics, including LiveView, battery life and camera processing. I think it outperformed Leica M10 in various terms. It has a 60MP BSI (BackSide Illuminated) CMOS Sensor and a specially developed dual-layer UV/IR cut-off filter. The main features of the M11 include an expanded sensitivity range of ISO 64-50,000, the latest-generation Maestro III image processor, extended battery life, USB-C connectivity, 64Gb internal storage, a 2.3 million pixel touchscreen LCD, and a more streamlined and intuitive menu system. I think it is an upgraded M10-P camera, but I still don’t have a huge desire to upgrade mine. After trying it for a while, it is enjoyable to use a Leica M11 with vintage lenses.
In terms of the shutter curtain, the M11 is the first ever M rangefinder camera to equip an electronic shutter other than its traditional mechanical shutter. You can use up to the shutter speed of 1/16000th second. It is much faster than the 1/4000th second speed when using the mechanical shutter. This allows you to shoot wide open if you have an f/0.95 or f/1.0 lens without needing an ND (neutral density) filter.
I am giving my honest opinion from a long-term Leica user point of view. If you are new to Leica rangefinder cameras, you may be lucky to look at the best or most mature digital rangefinder camera Leica currently offers you.
One Week with Leica M11 Camera
I have only gotten a week to try this camera alongside a Leica M9 Monochrom. Despite owning a handful of Leica M9 and M9-P before, it is my first time trying a Monochrom camera. On the first day, Leica M9M almost stole the limelight because I enjoyed that camera. Simple without too many features. Leica M11 finally gained my attention in the evening at Gardens by the bay in Singapore because I needed high ISO to shoot in low-light environments. M11 caught me by surprise by preserving the colour better than Leica M10, and I don’t need to do much editing.
This is not a technical review of what the Leica M11 offers and how it differs from all other rangefinder cameras. I will pick some highlights and lowlights of this camera and further explain why I like and don’t like it.
Highlights (1/3) - Colour and DNG selection
What I find remarkable about Leica M11 is the ability to shoot with different DNG sizes. It has a range of extra megapixels. 60MP, 36MP and 18MP, labelled as L-DNG, M-DNG and S-DNG, respectively. Most of the time, I shoot with 18MP because I don’t need a huge file, and I don’t need that resolution for work. This is excellent. I did try to shoot with Medium and Large DNG files. They look more contrasty to me, and the resolution is incredible. You need to handle it with a faster shutter speed; otherwise, you will get some motion blur at your focus point. It does have extra clarity and a 3D rendition at 60MP.
The colour rendition is impressive. I think Leica adjusted all colours to be more vivid and vibrant than my Leica M10. All colour range looks sharp and stands out. I don’t need to bring the hue and luminance up in post-editing. It mesmerised me, and I got hooked because I don’t like post-processing, which saves me time. I shot wide open with my Summicron 35mm f2 v1 (8 elements), which I didn’t use much before. I find it less appealing on Leica M10-P. But, with M11, it looks like it is reborn and has found its purpose again.
The dynamic range is superb. I find it easy to bring back details from underexposure or overexposure. The light meter always messes up my shots. So I am not sure if this is something improved from Leica M10, too but definitely a great thing that the DNG file handling is easy.
Highlights (2/3) - Camera Finishing
First, I switched on the camera, went through the main menu and got myself with all the buttons, dials and settings. I think it is almost the same as my Leica M10, except the three buttons on the left have been rearranged, which took me my whole trip to get used to it. The scrolling reel and the D-pad feels more likeable than their predecessor. Each click feels more solid and more amicable. This subtle improvement put a smile on my face.
The camera finish is excellent. It feels premium. From the Leica website, M11 uses aluminium. It looks like a durable scrub paint or resistance is applied to the camera. It feels like a black chrome camera but with extra textures.
Another thing I like is the base plate. It is great to apply this design, and I don’t think it will be insecure about holding the battery. Whenever I take out the baseplate of my Leica M10 / M10-P, I feel like one day I might drop it, bend the whole piece, and can never put it back in its original place. So with this design, I only need to push the lever, and the battery will pop out. Then press the battery once again then it will release. However, the SD card is stored next to the battery, so you must take the battery out every time before you can take the SD card.
Highlights (3/3) - Battery life, Internal Memory and ISO capability
The most impressive part to me is the battery life. I used the camera for almost a week without charging the camera! However, I couldn’t manage to recharge the battery before returning it to my friend with the USB-C connection to the camera. So I guess I need to turn it on in the camera menu? Not quite sure about this.
You don’t have to worry if you forget to bring your SD card. It has an internal memory of up to 64GB. It is excellent for someone like me who sometimes fails to take my SD card with me.
ISO is impressive, even up to 12800 when I try to shoot some nightscapes in Singapore. But higher than this will create a severe magenta cast.
Lowlights (1/3) - Menu Layout and ISO Dial
I like the Leica M10 menu orientation and setup. Rearranging the whole thing makes it not as great as I think. Sometimes if I want to change DNG, I need to go to the shooting menu like how a Sony A7IV would look like, press the touch screen and swipe to the DNG size I want. My fat finger would easily pick the wrong option. It would go really wrong if I tried to change my choice quickly.
I thought Leica would further improve the ISO dial feature. I like how they started with an ISO dial in Leica M10, but sometimes it is difficult for me to change ISO with one hand. If they can have a mechanism without lifting up the ISO dial and be able to change that, then it would be great!
Lowlights (2/3) - Lightmeter and Shutter Curtain
I am not sure why they changed the metering system. Previous models equipped essential basis centre-weighted metering systems when using the camera in rangefinder mode. The M11 additionally offers multi-field and spot metering in all modes, including rangefinder mode, as it now uses the image sensor for metering rather than the shutter curtain. It slows down the start-up time, and each time you can hear the curtain open before you can actually take a photo. However, what I think is at A mode (Aperture priority), the metering is pretty accurate. It only messes up when I am using a manual shutter speed.
Lowlights (3/3) - White Balance
Leica M11 tends to have a slightly warmer white balance, and sometimes it gets confused. It didn’t give me a consistent look from Leica M10 or M10-P. It also has a noticeable magenta cast.
Leica M11 with New Summilux 35mm f1.4 ASPH FLE II (11726) 2022
I also wish to test things, such as the Visoflex II. I wonder how good it would be even though I wasn’t using version one. Also, if I could have some more time to make DNG comparisons between S, M and L size files and the feature of 1.3x and 1.8x digital zoom. I would be interested in trying the Leica M11-P.
I think it’s identical twins to Leica M10 except for the button orientations. In my entire usage, I didn’t really use the extra button next to the shutter. I would prefer it to be somewhere at the back. Maybe it is helpful for someone who uses a Visoflex? Not sure.
This camera is fast in processing power, has nice vibrant colour and is lighter than Leica M10 or M10-P. It is powerful because it is an improved version of both. I don’t see an urgent need for me to upgrade, but if you have some cash and want to pick your first rangefinder camera, I would highly recommend this M11. If not, I already have my M10-P, and I would no doubt choose this M11 more than my M10-P.
What could Leica offer in the M11-P version? It’s time for me to start saving up for an M11-P. I am curious, but it better be something good. Haha