The Leica M11 is the most beautiful camera I will ever buy

Andrew Hoyle/CNET

The Leica M11 is the latest full-frame digital rangefinder camera from the iconic photography company, packing a 60-megapixel image sensor into an all-metal body, along with a range of improvements over the previous M10. It will also cost $8,995 (without lens), but typical for Leica, when it goes on sale later this month, but it avoids features such as image stabilization, video recording and even focus. auto focus. And that’s kind of the point. Leica fans won’t buy this camera if it ticks enough boxes on a spec list.

The M11 is gorgeous and so many of me love it. Part of my brain gets excited just by picking up a Leica, let alone taking a picture of it. If I received it as a gift, I’d release it in Edinburgh as often as possible, and when I part with my test model, I’ll look enviously at anyone I see wearing one.

But after spending a few weeks with a preview model, I have to admit that it’s not for me. There are a lot of things I like about it. The build quality is superb, for starters. Its all-metal build is incredibly sturdy, not to mention of enough quality to more than justify the price. It is slightly thinner and lighter than the previous M10 ($4,995 on Amazon), but it still has a satisfying weight when you hold it. You can access the SD card slot from the battery compartment, rather than having to unscrew and remove the entire base plate as was the case on the M10, a definite improvement.

There’s an optical viewfinder and a bright, crisp 3.0-inch LCD screen on the rear for accessing menus and using live view (yes, it has live view). There are also menus which I found easy and intuitive to navigate, even when shooting quickly on location. Battery life is superb; even after a full day of shooting, often live, I had more than a quarter of the battery left. You can then recharge it in an external cradle (supplied) or in the camera via a USB-C cable connected to the port located under the camera.

All about the picture

Leica sent the M11 coupled with its 35mm f/2 M-mount lens ($3,795), which was great for a day in Edinburgh, and I’m really happy with a lot of my shots. Pictures maybe very sharp, with nice bokeh behind your subject when shooting with the aperture wide open.

A cool new feature is the ability to select different image resolutions even when shooting raw DNG. You can choose to shoot at 60 MP for the largest image size, lower it to medium (36 MP) for a smaller and more manageable file size, or small (18 MP).

But rather than just taking all the pixels from the sensor and scaling them to the size you want, as most cameras do, for small sizes, the M11 combines multiple pixels into one “superpixel”, increasing how much light it can gather. As a result, the camera can achieve a wider dynamic range (up to 15 stops) for better performance in low to medium and small light than it can when shooting at its maximum resolution. I didn’t find the difference particularly noticeable in my shots, but in high contrast conditions it might be more apparent.

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Image taken on the Leica M11 in DNG raw and processed in Adobe Lightroom.

Andrew Hoyle/CNET

To get sharp photos, you need to master manual focus. That was my biggest challenge and one of the main reasons it’s not for me. I found it took a good few seconds to focus, sometimes longer, and sometimes I still couldn’t get it right. The lack of image stabilization, which on other cameras allows you to get sharper handheld images at slower shutter speeds without resorting to a tripod, means living with camera shake photo or compromise the desired settings.

It meant missed opportunities for shots I would have nailed and, if I was shooting professionally – say, a press event or someone’s wedding, when every second counts – when missing a shot n it’s just not an option.

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Image taken on the Leica M11 in DNG raw and processed in Adobe Lightroom.

Andrew Hoyle/CNET

Like any high-end camera, it takes time to get used to its quirks. Auto white balance tended to be cold and metering offered unexpectedly underexposed shots, especially when shooting landscapes with brighter skies (in aperture priority with mode multi and letting the camera automatically adjust the ISO and shutter speed). Both problems are easily solved with some trial and error to find your optimal settings or to adjust in software like Adobe Lightroom.

It’s a Leica

Some Leica owners and photography purists might say that becoming a better photographer includes taking pictures with inaccurate focus, unexpected exposures and white balance, visible shake, etc., partly because it makes you helps to learn from mistakes, find your limits, and get used to personality and quirks. from your camera.

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Image taken on the Leica M11 in DNG raw and processed in Adobe Lightroom.

Andrew Hoyle/CNET

There’s something to be said for slowing down and taking your time with your images, something I practice frequently with my landscapes and macro photography. But I couldn’t part with nearly $13,000 (with lens) for a camera that lacks modern features that I rely on in both my professional and personal work. Autofocus that can lock onto a subject in milliseconds so I know I won’t miss that crucial moment. This can shoot 4K video. This delivers the slow shutter speeds I can get with in-body stabilization, super-fast continuous shooting and and — pardon me — a flip-up screen for shooting at tricky angles. For the same reasons, I would be hesitant to recommend it to many photographers, even if they have the money.

In the same way that an enthusiast will pay hundreds of thousands of dollars for the pleasure of driving a classic sports car devoid of traction control, power steering, integrated telemetry, cruise control or even airbags, the Leica are for photographers for whom the experience is as important as getting shot. It’s for that special subset of photographers who want Leica brand image quality and due to its lacking in these modern features. Who will appreciate the M11 exactly for what it is.

Main features of the Leica M11

  • 60.3-megapixel full-frame image sensor
  • UHS-II SDXC cards up to 2TB supported
  • 64 GB internal memory
  • USB-C battery charging and data transfer
  • Leica M mount lens compatibility
  • Weight 540g (black model, with battery)
  • Optical rangefinder
  • 2.95 inch LCD screen
  • ISO speeds from 64 to 50,000
  • 1 hour shutter speed at 1/16000 (with electronic shutter)
  • 4.5 frames per second in burst mode
  • 1800mAh battery

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