Leica released the much anticipated next generation camera to their famous M lineup, with the M11, replacing the M10-P. This is a brand new camera, full of the latest technology, but cut in the same design cloth as the original M3. We attended the Media sessions, and here are our first impressions.
If you are in Singapore, you can also avail yourself to a hands-on session with the M11 and an exhibition of various works and be introduced to this amazing maison. The “A Legend Reinvented” is held at the Leica Gallerie in Raffles Hotel, and will be opent o the public from 17th to 30th Jan 2022 (for the public). Details to register at the bottom of this article.
Leica M11 – first impressions
The Leica M11 retails for SGD 13,130 for the body only, and SGD 14,130 for the body with Visoflex II EVF. Prices inclusive of GST. The now-discontinued M10-R‘s last retail price was also SGD 13,130 (up from the SGD 12,470 when we reviewed it in 2020).
On the surface the M11 looks like the M10. The same design language. The same layout. Well almost, with the exception of just a few buttons. The same ultra high end fit and finish and superb workmanship befitting a high end luxury product. But inside the exterior, the entire camera is new.
The new M11 is available in a black anodized aluminium finish as shown, or a silver finish over a brass body. Both have the same mechanism, and retail price, and because the silver finish is over a brass top plate, it is noticeably heavier. The black M11 is the lightest M camera to date, weighing in at only 530g with battery. The silver edition is about 110g heavier. The M10-R was 660g.
What has also not changed is that the M11 continues to be able to use all Leica M lenses ever made, since 1954 in addition to the current crop of excellent lenses made by Leica. This is an amazing feat that lenses made 70 years ago can be used on the latest top of the line camera with no modifications. But this protection of investment has always been a key feature of Leica cameras.
Other than the weight, what has changed? In our view, the three key areas where the M11 bests the M10-R are as follows:
New 61Mp sensor
The new sensor is full frame, measuring 36mmx24mm, but now features a Back Side Illuminated sensor with 61Mp of resolution. This is nearly the same resolution as the 64Mp sensor found in the medium format Leica S3 which we reviewed recently, and a significant increase over the 40Mp in the Leica M10-R and the 47Mp in the Leica SL2. Leica does not reveal the source of the sensor manufacture, but we speculate, along with many others, that the sensor is sourced from Sony. And thus is the same “ebauche” as the one found in the A7R IV. However, as usual, Leica adds value to the sensor. In this new M11 sensor, Leica adds a dual layer filter – one for IR, which is normal, but also a ground breaking UV filter over the sensor array. This dual layer filter is ultra thin, and is said to not interfere with the image quality. Also, the sensor electronics are the Maestro III, which is designed and manufactured in-house in Wetzlar. The sensor control electronics are equally as important, or some think is even more important in determining the final image quality as is the sensor itself.
Another very interesting aspect of the new sensor and the Maestro III processor in the M11 is that the user can choose from 3 resolution levels. Kind of like a small, medium, large. This is done by a sophisticated mathematical process called pixel bining. Pixel binning combines data from groups of pixels on the sensor to create, in effect, a smaller number of larger, but higher-quality pixels.
To our knowledge, only Phase One sensors have this feature, though they have had it for about 10 years. Note: mobile phone cameras, like the Xiaomi Mi 11, Redmi Note 10, Google Pixel 6 duo, Samsung Galaxy S21 Ultra, OnePlus Nord CE, and Samsung Galaxy A32, also have this feature. However, in phones, the sensor size is very small compared to professional sizes used in full frame and medium format, and thus easier to implement. This is a useful feature. Game changing even. As though the camera resolves a full 61Mp, this very high resolution is not always needed, and smaller files are sufficient for almost all use cases. In this mode, the M11 is able to offer raw recording at 36.5Mp or 18.4Mp in addition to the full 61Mp. The benefits are lower noise, better ISO and cleaner signal to noise ration with pixel bining when implemented correctly. As well as workflow improvements in smaller and more manageable files. Knowing Leica, we are fairly certain that the implementation will be excellent, but we are still keen to explore to confirm this is with the M11.
New bottom plate and battery
One quirk which we grumbled about in our M10-R review is that access to the battery and SD card is only via the removable bottom plate of the camera. This is a carry over from the film days and all M cameras since the M3 have had this feature. With the new M11, this ergonomic quirk is gone! The M11 now comes updated, with a new bottom plate which is not removeable. And the battery compartment is accessed using the same superb design as found in the S Type 007, SL, SL2, SL2S, and S3. The battery is released by pushing a lever, but stays in the body, until a light push releases it completely. The battery compartment is now also weather sealed, though care is to be taken in exposing the M11 to the elements as the M lenses are not weather sealed. The battery is also changed to a Li Polymer instead of LiIon, and has a larger capacity, resulting in longer autonomy.
The single SD card reader is also found within after the battery is released, and thus protected from ingress of moisture and dust. The M11 has only one card slot, but is shipped with 64GB of internal memory. This internal memory is used in lieu of a second card found in many professional cameras.
Beside the battery is a USB C port for powering the camera (also weather sealed), as well as for data connection to Leica FOTOS app on the iPhone or iPad. We are also keen to see how this works when we get a loaner to test.
New EVF with stabilization
A new electronic viewfinder is also available with the M10. This is the Visoflex II, which is attached via the camera’s hotshoe. This device offers a stabilized view to composed the image in addition to the rangefinder. And with it comes focus peaking and a magnified view. The same stabilized view can also be found on Live View of the rear LCD. This is an excellent feature, especially for critical focusing where the magnification becomes an essential tool to ensure sharpness. But often, this can cause nausea as the image can appear to move and shake, due to small movements when hand holding the camera. The stabilization is excellent and works well in the 15 minutes or so we had the camera to try out. The EVF uses an OLED display and is bright and clear, and the image seen within is beautiful.
Note that only the EVF offers this stabilization. The sensor does not feature IBIS (In Body Image Stabilization), as Leica claims the body is too small for this to be implemented.
The Visoflex II also offers a tiltable capability, so image composition on low camera angles is easier, especially when the rear LCD does not offer any tilt. The Visoflex II is also compatible with older M10 bodies at a future date through a firmware upgrade promised by Leica. This will come with some degradation in performance. The original Visoflex (I) EVF is not compatible with the M11 body.
Initial concluding thoughts
The M11 seems to fit comfortably into the Leica M mould. It looks like and feels like its predecessor – the M10-R. This is a good thing, as the Leica M is one of the most recognizable and iconic symbols of photography ever. It is the epitome of a small, compact camera with superb imaging capabilities. But the M11 offers significant new features to make the photographer’s life easier. Again, like all of Leica’s rangefinder cameras, the M11 is not for everybody. The price of the body and lens is one deterrent. But also, the mode of operations using a manual focus lens, on a non-stabilized sensor with 61Mp of resolution, and the rangefinder focusing method is only for those who love using this style of camera. And for these aficionados of rangefinder cameras, there is no substitute. Either the M11 or one of its elder siblings are the only options.
We look forward to a loaner for a week or two to use and test out soon. And will report back when we do. In the meantime, get your own hands on the M11 and try it out. And when you are at the Leica Gallerie in Raffles Hotel, check out the exhibition.
A Legend Reinvented Exhibition Details
Some notable highlights during the exhibition for photography enthusiasts and art lovers:
- Rare visual feast of ancient M cameras such as the very first Leica 1 and lens
- Photos shot by legendary photography Henri Cartier-Bresson
- Light Portrait Photography that one can shoot for keepsake
- A giant Leica Sculpture for that instagrammable moment
- A bespoke coffee in the Leica Cafe