Five years isn’t long in the land of Leica, but the world of photography has been turned upside down since the arrival of the Leica M10 in January 2017. Since then, digital photography and AI editing have transformed photography enthusiast – and that is why the new Leica M11 now stands out as a relic of a bygone era.
Yet the fact that the Leica M11 is a complete anachronism – a steam train in a world of Virgin Hyperloops – only adds to its appeal. It’s a camera with no autofocus, not to mention busy little algorithms that bring together the best bits from your burst of photos. But its manual-only shooting and rangefinder focus preserve a photo-taking style that’s the polar opposite of, say, Google’s Magic Eraser.
Some would say that Leica’s M-series cameras are overpriced trophies for nostalgics or badges of honor for wealthy camera snobs. But while it’s hard not to agree that the Leica M11 is overpriced at $8,995 / £7,500, it’s also possible to appreciate that it exists. I’ll probably only own quartz watches, but that doesn’t mean I can’t dream of buying a hand-wound Tag Heuer Carrera.
The difference between the Leica M11 and many other vintage technologies is that its nostalgic appeal is not just superficial. It’s a perfectly evolved tool that adds modern conveniences in the right places and offers something truly different from anything out there. And with a direct lineage that dates back to the Leica M3 in 1954, it’s also quite unique in the world of consumer technology.
A connected experience
So what makes the Leica M11 so special? Full disclaimer: We haven’t fully tested one yet, so can’t comment on the performance of its new 61MP full-frame sensor yet. But the appeal of the M-series concept is its size, rangefinder focus and simplicity, and all of that is still intact on Leica’s new model.
Like its predecessors, the M11 offers a classic rangefinder experience with an optical viewfinder. Rather than using an autofocus system to lock onto your subject, its viewfinder features a central window that brings together two ghost images. Turn the focus ring to bring these two images closer together, and when they line up perfectly, you’re in focus.
It sounds complicated, but it quickly becomes second nature – and it brings some benefits. First, the optical viewfinder lets you see around the edges of your frame, which can make you feel more connected to a scene compared to looking down the barrel of an EVF. Plus, thanks to the lens’ depth-of-field scale, you can use “area focus” to help you take pictures quickly without needing to focus.
It’s a more complex point-and-shoot experience than a phone, but it prompted legendary street photographer Henri Cartier-Bresson to call his Leica rangefinder “the extension of my eye.” The M-Series removes buttons, settings, distractions and automations, while keeping you connected to the traditional photo-taking process – good to see it survives in a world of computational photography, despite the prohibitive price of the M11 .
And the M11 is more than just a throwback; after all, you can just buy a used Canon AE-1 film camera for a truly vintage experience. For the first time in an M-series camera, the M11 comes with 64GB of internal storage – a feature that continues to be strangely lacking on most mirrorless cameras – which helps make up for its lack of functionality. a second card slot. Its new 61MP sensor also gives it very high resolution for a camera of this size, and gives you the option of taking 36MP or 18MP shots using the full sensor area (albeit with pixel binning).
The other advantage of the Leica M11’s manual approach is its size. Because Leica’s rangefinder lenses don’t have autofocus motors, and because the camera itself doesn’t have features like in-body image stabilization, it’s very compact for a full frame camera. The size difference isn’t as noticeable compared to today’s mirrorless cameras as it was in the days of SLRs, but the M11 is still half the thickness of a Sony A7 IV, with much smaller goals.
That makes it about the same size as the Nikon Z fc, another retro camera with a more reasonable price tag, but which has a smaller APS-C sensor and inferior lenses. A big part of the Leica M11’s appeal is undoubtedly its stunning, yet rugged design, but that again serves a practical purpose: it’s ideal for street and reportage photography.
While the Leica M11 is undoubtedly an indulgence, that price can at least partly be rationalized knowing that this is a camera that was built to last a lifetime. The only odd thing is that the case of the black version is partly aluminum, unlike the classic brass and magnesium construction of the silver mode, but both models cost the same.
Despite this quirk, the legacy of the M11 makes it quite unique in the consumer tech world. There are very few current lines that trace their lineage directly back to the 1950s – a quick poll by the TechToSee team lifted the Braun LE01 wireless speaker (a resurrection of its 50s LE speakers), the B&O Beolit 20 (based on 1930s Beolit radios), and Klipsch Legacy Heresy IV (a successor to the 1957 speaker) as similar examples. Yet none of these are as iconic as the Leica M series.
Keep manual flag flying
Does this mean that we recommend buying a Leica M11? No – that would be ridiculous considering its price, and as mentioned, we haven’t put it through its paces on the streets yet. Realistically, the solid choice for anyone who wants the rangefinder experience with modern conveniences is the Fujifilm X-Pro3 – you can buy five of these for the price of an M11, and the X-series has some nice lenses to fixed focal length.
But that doesn’t mean that, in a world of declining camera sales and increasingly seamless shooting experiences, we can’t celebrate the existence of the Leica M11. Sure, he can only justify his existence by exploiting his luxury brand and heritage, but that’s no cynical cashing in either. It’s a subtly evolved photographic tool that still has merit in 2022, nearly 70 years after its arrival.
In many ways, this all makes the M11 the anti-Google Pixel. Starting with the Google Pixel 4 in 2019, Google pioneered a form of computational photography, with features like Night Mode, which completely automates the capture experience.
Today’s camera phones are brilliant tools for most people, but that doesn’t have to come at the expense of niche classics that are much harder to master and far more satisfying. Despite its somewhat ridiculous price tag, it’s good to see that the Leica M11 remains a torchbearer for this kind of shooting experience.