Anticipation, such a bittersweet sensation. The delicious excitement that gets the juice buds flowing. Will the moment, live up to expectations and linger on the lips forever? Or leave a nasty taste in the mouth? Do you part, never to speak of this again? Let’s find out. Suffice to say, I’ve been looking forward to this for quite a while.
At last, I’ve got my hands on the Leica M11, a 60-megapixel, Digital Rangefinder Camera, and thanks to its impeccable pedigree it’s like a reunion with an old friend. I simply can’t believe it’s twenty years since I reviewed and fell in love with its analogue ancestor, the M7. Since then we’ve both embraced a digital world.
As with all Leicas, the first thing that strikes you is build quality. Oozing excellence, it emits a confidence-inspiring aura of artisan craftsmanship. The next is its styling; its polished design ethos on par with van der Rohe’s “Barcelona Chair” and “that” lemon squeezer by Philippe Starck. Making the M11 not only a sublime camera but a thing of beauty too.
Reassuringly robust, satisfyingly solid and as balanced as any bladesmith’s hammer, it sits in the hand perfectly. Its weight is just about perfect too. Right there in the Goldilocks zone. Not too much, not too little, just right. Now, and I understand this could be a Marmite moment, but perhaps this is an ideal opportunity to tell you what this camera lacks – no video, no image stabilisation and definitely no Autofocus. Manual focus only – I can’t stress that enough.
Focusing is primarily achieved by looking through the camera’s optical viewfinder and using the old-school coincident-image rangefinder system. This functions by overlaying a second faint “ghost” image on a bright spot in the centre of the viewfinder. This “ghost” moves laterally, left or right, relative to the main view, depending on which way the focus ring is rotated. When both are aligned, the lens is correctly focused. Fiddly at first, you’ll soon get the hang of it. Once mastered, it’s swift and accurate.
However, the M11’s traditional styling belies its state-the-art technology, especially its full-frame 35mm 60-megapixel sensor – Leica calls it a ‘triple-resolution’ sensor since you can select the desired resolution. Such as full-sized 60MP pictures, medium 36MP images or smaller 18MP files, all full-width, and in both JPEG and DNG format.
Like its predecessors, the M11 only has two exposure modes, full manual exposure and aperture priority AE. The interface for all key settings is via an agreeable easy-to-use hybrid system where solid analogue controls, select exposure mode, shutter speed, aperture and ISO. Other settings are accessed via the LCD screen on the rear of the camera.
Whilst the LCD display does offer touch control, menu and navigation settings still require physical input on the control pad located on the rear of the camera. Compared to the mind-numbingly complex menus offered by some manufacturers, the Leica M11’s main menu is refreshingly concise, with a minimalist 26 options in total.
The M11’s menu system may seem sparse, but it is beautifully clear and straightforward, with everything needed at your fingertips. Even if you’re only passingly familiar with digital cameras, a quick scan of the quick-start guide and you will have conquered its settings in minutes. The whole system is a symphony of simplicity and control.
Yet, the M11 is not a point-and-shoot – it is the point of shooting. You must actively engage with the M11. You make the decisions, while it imposes an ideology, encouraging a way of thinking, slowing you down, and insisting you take life at its pace. This is a camera crafted for painting with light or fishing for shadows. Yet, like a racer shifting a manual gearbox, it’s only as good as the driver. So, whilst I can’t guarantee it will make you a better photographer, I can guarantee it will make you look at the world differently.
Now to the elephant in the custard – the price – on paper, it doesn’t really make sense, but life shouldn’t be lived to a spreadsheet. Sometimes it’s better to heed the heart than listen to the head – if you can afford to – I’d have one in a heartbeat, but reality means it stays wishful thinking. I simply hope it’s not another twenty years until we meet again.
All you need to know:
- Body only £7,500
- 60MP full-frame BSI-CMOS sensor
- DNG raw at 60MP, 36MP or 18MP
- ISO 64-50,000
- 4.5 fps continuous shooting
- Optical viewfinder, 0.73x magnification
- 2.3m-dot, 3in fixed touchscreen
- Size: 139 x 38.5 x 80mm
- Weight: 530g (battery)
Images taken by me using the M11