Classic but Innovative: Introducing the Leica M11

Innovating without losing sight of its timeless heritage, Leica has just announced the newest M rangefinder camera: the M11. On the outside, the M11 looks familiar; its classic rangefinder form seems nearly identical to the original M3 from 1954. On the inside, though, the M11 is all about evolution, with a newly designed 60MP sensor, refreshed interface, and improved photo capabilities that remain true to the minimalist appeal of M cameras.

Leica M11
Leica M11

So, how does one improve enough on a timeless camera to warrant a new generation? In Leica’s case, the key improvements revolve around the sensor. Now at 60MP, the full-frame CMOS sensor is also back-illuminated—a first for a Leica M—which reduces the appearance of noise. Along with the BSI configuration, the high-resolution sensor also has a lower native sensitivity than the M10 generation, at ISO 64, and can reach up to ISO 50000 for working in low-light conditions.

The real excitement of this sensor, though, is with the new Triple Resolution Technology—essentially a pixel-binning process―that allows you to record 60MP, 36MP, or 18MP stills using the full sensor area and all resolutions with 14-bit color. This is a unique solution for the often-heard argument “I just don’t need 60MP” or the “I wish this camera had more than 18MP” plea. In either case, Triple Resolution Technology lets you pick the resolution you need without the drawbacks of cropping or shooting at reduced quality. In fact, each resolution has unique benefits: The 60MP setting obviously has the highest resolution, perfect for fine-detail shooting, and features a 14-stop dynamic range; the 36MP setting is a Goldilocks choice, offering an improved 15 stops of dynamic range and well-controlled noise; and the 18MP setting excels in low-light, with the best noise performance and 15 stops of dynamic range.

Besides the new sensor, Leica, of course, also added the newest Maestro III processor to the camera, which helps with the Triple Resolution Technology, as well as makes general shooting and navigation faster. The M11 isn’t a sports or action camera in a conventional sense, but faster processing does allow for up to 4.5 fps continuous shooting, and file saving is quicker. Going back to the sensor one more time, the M11 is the first M camera to also have an electronic shutter function and supports shutter speeds up to 1/16,000 second for working with faster lenses, like the Noctilux series, in bright conditions without the need for ND filters.

Among some other improvements of the M11, it’s Leica’s first rangefinder to feature multifield metering as an option alongside center- and spot-metering options. It’s also the first time in-camera digital cropping is available, which takes advantage of the 60MP resolution and crops into the image at 1.3x (39MP) and 1.8x (18MP) times to simulate working with longer focal length lenses. A surprisingly welcome feature is live view stabilization; this isn’t image stabilization for the camera itself, but this function stabilizes the image when using live view on the rear 2.95" 2.3MP touchscreen LCD, or optional Visoflex 2, for easier shooting with longer focal length lenses that are tricky to focus with the viewfinder.

Optical Viewfinder
Optical Viewfinder

Regarding the camera’s physical aspects, it’s true the M11 does have the familiar and traditional body Leica fans know and love, but it’s also one of the more dramatically different body updates over the past few generations. Before getting into the differences, the holdovers include the bright 0.73x-magnification optical viewfinder, rangefinder-aided manual focusing, the frame line switching lever, and the same top profile with shutter speed and ISO dials for easy control. The camera’s lines already look classic, and it retains the same svelte thickness of the M10, which was designed to match the thickness of film-era cameras.

However, the M11 is the first M camera not to feature a removable base plate. Instead, the M11 is inheriting design elements from the SL and Q cameras and now has a removable battery that slots right into the base of the camera with a two-stage lock to keep it secure. This innovation, and the corresponding BP-SCL7 battery, offer 64% more battery capacity compared to the M10’s battery, meaning you can record more than 700 frames per charge. Another small tweak to the body is the addition of an Fn button on the top plate near the shutter release button, which can be set to access nearly any menu setting in the camera, like toggling focus peaking (or the screen itself) on or off. Also, the M11 has an updated menu interface that’s in line with the Q and SL cameras for even simpler operation and consistency across the brand.  

A single UHS-II SD memory card slot is tucked into the battery compartment, too, and a surprising addition to the M platform―the M11 also has 64GB of internal memory. This storage space is great for saving files sans memory card or in addition to the single card for splitting file types or saving overflow. Since the M11 is still a photo-only camera, 64GB can go a long way for storage. It frees you from memory cards if you wish, and can serve as a unique workaround for not having dual memory card slots.

Another key update to the body is the inclusion of a USB Type-C port on the base, next to the battery. The M11 is setting a new precedent for the series in terms of sharing files and, along with the internal storage, this port is a fast way of getting files from the camera to your computer or mobile device. The M11 ships with the Leica FOTOS Cable, which is an Apple-approved USB Type-C to Lightning cable that lets you transfer from the camera to an iPhone using the Leica FOTOS app for file management. Wireless sharing is permitted, too, using Bluetooth and Wi-Fi along with the FOTOS app.

Leica FOTOS Cable
Leica FOTOS Cable

One final distinction to point out is the two finish choices of the M11: Black and Silver-Chrome. Besides the obvious tonal differences, Leica has also decided to make the black version with an aluminum top plate and scratch-resistant coating, which offers 20% weight savings compared to the silver-chrome version, which is made from brass for a more traditional appearance. The black camera weighs 1.2 lb (530g) with the battery installed and the silver camera weighs 1.4 lb (640g) with the battery installed.

M11 in Black and Silver-Chrome
M11 in Black and Silver-Chrome

While the M11 is certainly the star of today’s announcement, Leica is also introducing a refresh of one of the most valuable M accessories: the Visoflex 2. Improving upon the first generation EVF, this new finder has a much higher 3.7MP resolution for clearer viewing. Its aluminum exterior is a perfect match for the M11, it tilts upward 90° for low-angle shooting, and it has an adjustable -4 to +3 diopter. Also, it will be compatible with M10-generation cameras with a future firmware update. The Visoflex 2 is a key accessory for the M system when working at the extremes of the system, such as when using ultra-wide, telephoto, and macro lenses.

Rounding out the M11 launch, Leica naturally is also releasing a variety of functional and stylish accessories for the camera, including the M11 Handgrip, which has a built-in Arca-style mount; an M11 Thumb Support for a more secure grip; M11 Protector Cases, in Black, Cognac, and Olive Green; matching Straps in Black, Cognac, and Olive Green; and a new LCD Screen Protector for the updated screen size.

M11 Protector Case in Cognac.
M11 Protector Case in Cognac

The M11 straddles the historic and forward-thinking lines with class. The camera has the timeless design by which an M camera is recognized, and Leica isn’t giving up the handling traits and manual operation for which their flagships are known. On the other hand, the M11 does contain meaningful technological improvements, such as the unique sensor with Triple Resolution Technology, an electronic shutter function, built-in storage, and more intuitive connectivity. It’s a camera that’s simultaneously familiar and pleasantly surprising.

What are your thoughts on the new Leica M11? Do you think rangefinders still have a place in the digital camera world? What is your favorite feature of the new camera? Let us know, in the Comments section, below.

31 Comments

I borrowed a Leica M rangefinder at Photoville a couple of years ago, and I finally understood what people mean when they talk about the different shooting experience.  Slower (in a good way), more deliberate, more connected to what I was doing.  I'll still use my A7R3 for fast-moving and more distant subjects (sports, wildlife), but (sigh) I may have to break down and buy this camera.  OK, I should probably start with a 35mm lens - so how important is the APO on the new, more expensive version?  I usually prefer the faster aperture (1.4 v. 2), but can you advise as to the difference in practice?

I think you'll be thrilled with a Leica, especially having used one, you know the excitement of working with such a camera. If you already like the 35mm focal length, then that's definitely a classic place to start with rangefinders. The importance of APO lenses is really a personal thing and will depend on the quality and character you want your images to have; APO (apochromatic) means the lens will correct for virtually all chromatic aberrations and color fringing, so images will appear super clear, clean, and color accurate. Non-APO lenses will have a bit more "character" for lack of a better word; they won't be as technically perfect, but in many cases that's desirable. The differences are also pretty small; it's not as if using a non-APO lens, especially one from Leica, is going to be loaded with false colors or other problems- it'll still be an awesome lens with near perfect optics. I think for your first lens, you don't need to jump straight into the APO primes unless you know that you're looking for technical perfection and an almost clinical look. The standard/non-APO Summilux and Summicron ASPH lenses are already brilliant optics, and picking between these two is really a choice in speed and size. The Summicron (f/2) is a smaller lens, so there will be less viewfinder blockage and it's a lighter weight package compared to the more specialized Summilux (f/1.4), which has the extra speed that you might want if you're doing portraits or really need the speed for night shooting. It's hard to go wrong with either, and in the context of shooting with a Leica, I think it's best to go with the lens your gut tells you to- get the lens you think you'll enjoy using the most since part of the appeal of using a Leica is enjoying the shooting process.

Very helpful, thank you.  I will likely go with the Summilux.  When do you expect this camera to be ready to ship?

You're welcome, Todd.  At this time, we do not have an ETA on the Leica M11. Any orders placed on it would be filled on a first-come, first-serve basis. Upon the order being shipped, we will send an e-mail to confirm. 

Is there a graph of the dynamic range versus ISO setting for the M11 and the M10-R? Where might one find such a graph?  I believe you stated that the dynamic range was 14 stops at 60 Mpixels and 15 stops at 36 and 18 Mpixels. I assume that is at the base ISO of 64. I tend to shoot late in the day, so unless I am using a tripod, I typically use higher ISOs.

Unfortunately we don't have any graphs relating to that specific figure, Leica may release something similar in the future, but you might also want to check independent testing sites for DR and other metrics. Leica's main claim here with dynamic range is that the M11 improves upon the M10-R and that the new Triple Resolution Technology affords some DR benefits when working at the two reduced resolutions. They do state that the 15 stop range is from ISO 64, but haven't specified exactly how this tapers once you get to the higher ISOs.

Is there anyway B&H can find out the sensor readout speeds at each resolution? I 'm considering buying it but since I work on movie sets, I only use the electronic  shutter, so I would need to know if there is rolling shutter or not. What is the sensor readout speed at 60 Mpix, 36 and 18?

Unfortunately Leica hasn't released this information yet. From a practical standpoint, I'd expect the readout speed to be on the good-to-average side of the spectrum; it is a rolling shutter and the M11 does have their newest processor, but the actual speeds haven't been made available yet. Leica has expressed that the main use for the electronic shutter function in the M11 is for working with faster lenses without the need for ND filters; they haven't pointed to it being a valuable feature for working with moving subjects or in other instances where a mechanical shutter would probably be the preferred option.

I'll pass on that price regardless of its quality. 60mp may be high but 30mp or even 25ish isn't much lower in terms of photo quality unless you are wanting to take a shot of very fine textures on an object and what the camera cant do or messes up, photo editing software will fix for free. $9k is absurd for any camera.

In the case of Leica, the price of their cameras relates to much more than just image quality or resolution. A Leica's value has a lot more to do with the camera as a desirable object and the actual experience of handling and shooting with the camera compared to how it performs in a very technical sense.

This, and the fact that they are made by hand, by real people, making real wages in Germany.

It is undeniable that Leica has a signature "look" in its images. I assume Leica 11 keeps the authentic "look" that has made Leica images so recognizable. I am blown away that Leica has a new sensor that is 60MP - and the triple resolution technology sounds like the solution to One size fits all constraints. We can have too much of a good thing so reducing the MPs intentionally is like a Ferrari that has a passing gear -- but also has over drive to cruise with. I'm cautious about jumping into a newly developed technology until we have some experience -- I recall the M9 had an image cording issue with anything Rayon. I hope this M11 is a game changer. Leica is great for street, family celebrations, classic portraits, nudes and landscapes -- so it hits my interests. We need something that rival the Apple I-Phone13. The M11 seems like it is a medium format in a 35 mm frame. Bravo CHIPS

I agree on all points, I think the M11 is a pretty exciting release and it's great to see them innovating on a sensor design. Pixel binning as a process isn't wholly new, it's a proven technology that's used for video and in smartphones a lot of the time, so I wouldn't be too worried about Leica's implementation of it here. Like you said, it's a "one size fits all" solution to wanting something high-res for some shooting and only needing something low-res at certain times.

what about the lenses?

The M11 still works with all of the M lenses, just like any other M camera from the last 70 years; one of the big pluses of keeping the M a simple and manual camera system is this historic lens compatibility. And the higher resolution of the sensor will really benefit from the latest glass (APO and ASPH designs), but even older lenses will still have their distinct character with the modern sensor design.

I do not shoot video. I might be in a rare 15% who only shoot still photos, so It matters not to me that this fine camera is only for “pictures”.  I do not own any Leica equipment, but I sure am considering a body like the M11 plus two or three prime lenses. Budgeting is the issue, not the “want” nor the source. 

I'm in the same group of people who only shoot photos, so seeing a camera that's dedicated solely for this purpose is exciting to me. Even if you can ignore the video features of most cameras, having something that's so purpose-built is really desirable. Love your idea of this body a couple primes, I think for certain photographers it's more than capable enough for most shooting needs and will bring a lot of fun to the process.

I loved my M6 and wish I could justify the expense of a new one today. But I still wouldn’t dispose of my Sony A7C. The the M11 doesn’t shoot any video is fault today especially for it’s cost. No question but that the Leica is a fine camera but today it is more like the classic Ferrari sitting in a garage and rarely driven except the rare person who will it as intended. 

I think the analogy is fair but not sure if I would go as far as to say the lack of video is a fault. I think it's a strong decision and it fits within the ethos of what a Leica M is all about. To go with the car analogy, there's a reason every car in the world isn't an SUV (or maybe something like an AWD hatchback, which is what I'd compare the a7C to); the M11 is definitely that high-end car that isn't meant to drive in the snow or haul luggage, but it's still an extremely capable and enjoyable tool to use for certain applications.

Sony, Canon and Nikon could learn from Leica.

Let's have a selectable choice of resolution vs. effective pixel size, so that when we want smaller files or quieter high ISO we don't need to carry a second camera with larger though fewer pixels.

Building in 64 gb of flash memory would be useful and probably cost no more than does a 64 gb card.  Make it 128 or 250, as we have in our phones.

A high end camera dedicated to still photography could save many of us money and might also reduce size and weight, or leave room for other features.

For the record, I learned to love handling fine cameras shooting a Leica III-f which later became my primary camera when my father bought his first M3.  Currently I use the Sony a7iv, a7Riv and RX10iv.

Agreed; I think the Triple Resolution Technology is a great idea and an elegant solution to the issue of a camera having "too much resolution." It's great to have the 60MP when you need it, but also have the 36MP and 18MP settings for everyday, more casual shooting needs when you're not trying to fill your hard drive with huge files. And the internal memory is great, especially in a camera like this (without video) where 64GB is a very useful amount of onboard storage.

I am scouring the web for M11 sample images of flesh tones. If those are good, I'm all in!

Hopefully more image samples will be released soon; the sensor looks like a really promising concept that should be benefitted by Leica's typical color handling and quality.

Looks great, but that price, wow.

Leicas are very much an investment, but I think after using one, even for a little while, the shooting experience and physical quality of the camera stands out as being worthwhile. It all depends on what you value most in a camera; Leica definitely targets the shooting experience, tactile quality, and image quality over being the fastest or most cutting edge in terms of innovation.

Do you think rangefinders still have a place in the digital camera world?

Forgot to mention...

Rangefinders / small mirrorless cameras are great for street shooting due to their small size. This is important if you like to carry your camera in-hand all day on a wrist strap.  The giant DSLR's seen to be on the way out, but even the medium size mirrorless DSLR replacements are kinda big for hand carrying all day and night. And then there is the stealth factor with size. 

Personally, I like manual cameras with upfront shutter speed, aperture markings with a focus ring marked in feet or m. A trend now is to make camera lenses 'dumbed down' with no focus scales. When the auto focus won't work due to bad light, the rangefinder can be focused or zone focused. But a rangefinder will never beat auto focus for fast focus...as long as the auto focus works.

Leica is not for everyone. I've shot Leica since the early 70's along with the Nikon F. If someone like Fuji or Sony made an all manual Leica-clone, I'd probably go with it. I'm not a camera fondler. I use Leica because I like manual controls, rangefinder and a small package. But those that derive pleasure from owning and using fine things will get great satisfaction from the fit and finish that Leica produces. 

Daniel D. Teoli Jr.

I'm very much on the side of thinking rangefinders have a place in the digital camera world. Maybe not at the top sports events or if photographing wildlife, but for street, landscape, travel, etc., a rangefinder is more than capable enough for these situations. They may be all manual and limited in some aspects, but the benefits they provide in terms of composition and ease of use are quite valuable. It all depends on what you're looking for most in a camera, and how you plan to use it.

Looks great.  Was wondering if my Visoflex 020 will work on the new M11?

Unfortunately it won't work with the older Visoflex; the M11 is only compatible with the new Visoflex 2.

Well, Leica finally came up with a sensor that was not outdated upon arrival. Very Impressive! I'm still shooting the M240 and the original Monochrom Leica MM. From the photos I take it Leica dropped the traditional removable baseplate and now has a trap door. I'm not a fan of touchscreen. When street shooting the touchscreen constantly gets rubbed and changed, so I never use touchscreen.

I keep hoping someone builds a Leica-like M43. Simplified and all manual. Something like the old Olympus Pen half-frame 35mm cameras in size. The M43 is a fantastic little street camera. But it is too hard to manually adjust on the fly. 

The M11 looks like a great package. Good luck with it Leica!

Good points, and I agree on the sensor- it's an impressive bit of tech that really suits the M system well. You're correct that the removable baseplate is gone with the M11; they chose to go with the design of the Q and SL cameras, where the battery is inserted directly into the base of the camera. And, re: the touchscreen, you can deactivate the touch function in the menu or even program it so the screen only turns on when you press the Fn button- both methods help to avoid accidentally changing settings via the screen.

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