#1164. Leica M11: Salvatory catch-up or modernized gestalt brilliance?

By philberphoto | Opinion

Jan 13

Leica’s much anticipated and much leaked M11 should be released today. It combines a traditional shape and build with innovative tech and high-resolution. Philippe and Pascal ask: Why?

(c) Leica (I’m guessing)
 

Philippe says …

The Leica M 11 : continuity, renewal or batrayal ?

No camera in the history of photography is more iconic -some say more important- than the Leica M series. So when Leica see fit to release a new version, it matters. For it to be released just one week after the chairman of Canon announced that the company would no longer develop DSLRs, even though it leads the world in this camera category, speaks volumes.

Glowing luxury
 

This leads me to a question:

  • Japanese camera companies have taken their new models down the specification-race road. Which is a road where DSLRs cannot compete with mirrorless. So, bye-bye DSLR. Does this mean that Leica Ms are not performance cameras ? Well, some generations ago, the answer would have been a clear « yes ». The M lagged in just about everything, resolution, LiveView, frames per second, high ISOs, etc. Now the forthcoming M 11 is announced -or at least leaked- with massive resolution, innovative stabilisation, rangefinder cum EVF, clever touchscreen. Lots of performance goodies. So, have Leica conceded the game and sold their soul ? Definitely not. In one word, the M 11 is every bit as un-DSLR, and/or un-mirrorless as ever. Same form factor, same -mostly delightful- lenses, same rangefinder, same tactile experience, same -very high- price level, same red dot.
  • Japanese camera companies have managed -in part- to weather the disastrous fall in camera sales by adding always more video features and performance to their cameras, to the point when they sell many more bodies for video operation than for stills. Does the Leica M aim for the same segment to augment its sales ? Nope. They don’t like the clutter of functions and features that full-on video requires, and choose a master-of-one-trade-only approach over a jack-of-all-trades-and master-of-none.
  • Does this mean that there is more to the photographic experience than « just » features and benefits ? Well, Leica owners obviously enjoy the recognition, the exclusivity, the luxury their favorite brand brings them. But there is more to shooting a M than just gloating. It is slow photography, a process and a craft, and not just the glorified « point-and-shoot » that high-performance mirrorless are more and more, with AI taking over where talent or the lack of it, leaves off.
Design purity
 

The Leica M11 is therefore very much the photographic version of the Porsche 911. Lasting well beyond its years. Always new and always the same. Extolling virtues that are more than skin deep. Exhilarating beyond what lap times indicate. Succeeding despite its flying in the face of fashion. Appealing to a narrow, wealthy segment of people that value difference over conformance, and for whom the passage of time is merely an inconvenience.

For all these reasons, it is sooo good that there is a new-and-bright M. That camera, at least, has a soul. Or, in proper German, a Gestalt !

 

Pascal adds …

It feels strangely good to be talking about gear again. Jumping off the systematic-review wagon allows me to focus on momentous events and products that speak to me. The M11 launch appears to be one such occasion.

Philippe broke the news of it to me only yesterday as we discussed the future of my ageing X1D.

There aren’t that many potential successors to what I personally consider to be the best camera ever to stay with me. In fact, the start of the discussion was that I could see none at all.

So many Red Dots
 

Philippe then dropped the L word, which I’d considered, but rejected because of a pesky medieval torture instrument called a rangefinder. Philippe then dropped two words: Visoflex bolt-on EVF and large rear-screen live view. Okay, impressive, but I’d like a little bit more res than 24Mp. Philippe then dropped 60 000 000 words: pixel. The ping-pong game continued for some time: fiddly base plate (sorry, fans)? Gone. More digital, so more buttons? Nope, possibly the opposite. Silent shutter? Yup.

Dang! What stirs in Wetzlar?

On top of great colour science, native DNG (worthy of a Peace Nobel Prize), confidence-inspiring build quality, and drool-pool glass collections, all of this might go some way towards hiding the mind-bending asking price. Thinking cap on.

Turning point?
 

Coz there’s lots to think about.

In a less quantitative culture, Hasselblad wouldn’t be in financial danger. More photographers would recognize what an extraordinary bargain the pocket view camera X1-D really is compared to barely cheaper mainstream stuff you replace every 18 months, and I wouldn’t be worrying about the long-term security of my heavy 5-lens 1-body investment in the brand.

But in this social-media fed, one-dimensional quanti world(*) where more is synonymous with better, the thought that you must wait 4 seconds for it to boot up (gosh, what if that mountain runs away or my babies grow old before it’s done), and put up with its lowly realistic max ISO of 3200 and 50M pixels largely overpowers the fact that, in real life, I can hand hold the beast to 5/f speeds (or better on sober days) then blow the file to 60 inches with colours and tone subtlety that all but a carpenter’s handful of models can even dream of matching.

(*) Want an illustration of this? My SEO tool just had a hissy fit because the above sentence is too long. Ugh 😉 😉 😉

So Hassy is surviving on chinese phone camera lenses like Voldemort on unicorn blood and I’m worrying about what happens when beloved steed finally boots the scuttle. Vorsprung roter punkt to the rescue? Oh Dang again!

Fallen and offsprings
 

There’s no chance whatsoever Leica will send us one for review. Partly because I’m too lazy to ask, partly because, in this quanti world, DS is but a fly on their PR’s windscreen. Shame, I can’t help feelling I’d honour it far more than most. It would not be flavour of the week for me.

A leaked promotional video gives fascinating clues about the strategy set out to conquer new users (sorry old timers) and shooting situations without losing the Leica soul. Very exciting.

Whatever the reviews find out about this potentially epoch-making camera (quanti abundance, with no quali compromise!!), I am super pumped that it’s arriving on the market (that’s me practicing my youtuber lingo, super pumped.) While eleven is a tough word to say without laughing, ya coo, I can tell you with a straight face that the M11 is a camera I am seriously looking forward to.

Yihaaa
 

There are three ways of dealing with modernity, its benefits and its shortcomings : (1) ignore (2) follow blindly (3) let your DNA direct your evolution, in order to bring something noteworthy with you. The M11 gives me the distinct feeling Leica is jumping from 1 to 3 without getting remotely close to 2. Kudos Wetzlar.

 

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  • Vlad. says:

    I like Leica, had an M 240 sold it and got a SL sold it and for the last 3-month using SL2-S with M mount lenses (24-90mm zoom does not get much use due to its weight). I have seen lots of leaked stuff of M11 photos as well as specs. I like number 11, my house street number is 11 so what is problem? I just do not like that rangefinder stuff, it is so nice to focus 1.4/50 Summilux on the SL2-S, its IBIS and as I call it artificial horizontal green line. So no M11 for me, thanks Leica.

    • pascaljappy says:

      Hi Vlad, apparently, the Visoflex bolt-on EVF is very good and it also swivels (I think) to let you access difficult angles or frame while looking downwards to avoid being seen. There will be no IBIS, but the rumours claim that live view will be stabilised, for framing purposes. My experience with cameras like that is that they are quite stable, like my X1D, but it’s true that doesn’t replace a good IBIS.

      There’s nothing wrong with the numbber 11 😉 😉 The link goes to a funny video that’s about the way Scottish people say eleven, that’s all. It’s just a joke.

      Enjoy your SL2, it’s a great camera.
      Cheers

  • jean pierre (pete) guaron says:

    Pascal, I really should take you to task – “. . . my ageing X1D. . . . .” indeed! It cannot POSSIBLY be more than 6 years old! And my Zeiss Contarex served me well for nearly half a century – in fact, the only reason I disposed of it was because I want to switch from B&W to colour, since digital at last gave me a practical way to process my own colour photography.

    I have two problems with Leica (apart from lack of the money it would require to make the change). One is that red dot – it flashes a signal to pickpockets and other vermin, across the parade ground, across the street. But of course a patch of gaffer tape could soon dispose of that.

    The other is that my one remaining sibling has been a lifelong devotee of Leica. And anything he does, I won’t – we don’t even speak to each other – haven’t, in half a lifetime. Which of course has nothing to do with Leica. It’s purely personal.

    I’ve never owned one – never will. But I do appreciate quality. And like Carl Zeiss’s lenses, Leica IS “quality”. One of their M series cameras was designed purely for B&W. A guy I knew had one. I’ve never seen better quality B&W.

    I agree with Leica on another issue – either you’re making a camera for photography, or you’re making one for cine. For me, they’re an “oil & water mix” – I think it’s utter nonsense to try to do both with the same gear. Cine cameras need to be cine cameras – still cameras don’t need all those “growths” and associated clutter. The lenses are different, too. If you want to cross the Sahara, you use a camel – not a horse. If you want to win the Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe, you get a horse. Simple.

    All that hybrids have proven for the car industry is that being two different things at once costs more, and there’s twice as much to go wrong.

    What Leica are doing with this guy is listening to customers (gee – that’s a change! – I wish a few other makers would, too). Giving a loyal and dedicated following even better reasons to stay loyal and dedicated.

    Philippe – if you must you must – be careful though, because your wife might use it as an excuse to ask for something like a pink argyle diamond necklace!

    And Pascal – you don’t HAVE to have every toy – stick with your beloved Hassy – and stop calling her “old” – women don’t like it!

    • pascaljappy says:

      My X1D knows how much I love her. It’s her mum I have problems with. Or rather her money issues 😉 If Hassy was communicating left right and center about the future of the X1D system, things would be more reassuring. As it is, they are not and I fear being locked into a dead system. But there is no rush.

  • PaulB says:

    Pascal, Phillip

    I think I will agree with Pete, at least in the short term. Keep your Hassy and pass on the new Leica M11 for at least a year. And I am saying this as a “Leica Guy”; between film and digital bodies I have six (6).

    Leica may make quality lenses. But as far as cameras go, they are a trailing edge company. And sometimes when they “innovate” they make poor choices and don’t push the envelope when they should, or take the time to work out the bugs.

    An example of this is the original SL. They innovated by including the highest resolution EVF for the day, but would not install a 36+ MP sensor. So when you zoomed the view to focus, the EVF was using 5 MP to show you 2-3 MP worth of sensor area, making manual focus more difficult. Also, look at how long it took Leica to decide that the lack of a sensor with more than 24MP was costing them potential sales.

    So based on the above, I suggest treating the M11 like a new “updated” American car, and waiting a year to let them work the bugs out.

    One bug I have read about is, the M11 is having compatibility issues with legacy (uncoded) lenses. Which is making me appreciate my SL2 a little more.

    PaulB

    • pascaljappy says:

      Thanks Paul, your words will keep me in check, do not worry. I’ll definitely try to test one for myself and either confirm my desire or rein it in 😉

      The reference to updated american cars is funny 😉 You’ve probably made enemies, by now, but it’s still funny 😉

      All of my M-mount lenses are either old Leica (3 of them) or Zeiss (2 of them). That compatibility issue could be a problem …

      Cheers

  • jean pierre (pete) guaron says:

    Well here’s something that’s just come in from “left field”:

    https://www.dpreview.com/articles/5518803612/hands-on-with-the-new-leica-m11

    I was puzzled by the intro (p.1 ) – which sort of implies this beast is a cine camera. Never heard of Leica cine cams! My ignorance!

    Amuse yourselves – flick through to p. 6 – someone’s made an “edit”, which I found rather funny.

    Overall, the article confirms that this Leica is yet another giant leap forward for mankind. Whether or not you want one, you can scarcely argue that it’s not ultra high quality!

    • pascaljappy says:

      Sorry Pete, can’t find the reference to it bbeing a cine camera. Leica do make excellent cine lenses, mind you, as well as very competent video cameras. But not the M11, I don’t think.

      Yes, that edit is funny 😉

      I don’t know whether I personally want one, but I want to test (and review one) to be sure!! It looks great.

      • PaulB says:

        Pascal, Pete

        Here is a link to all things Leica and Cinema.

        https://www.leitz-cine.com/

        PaulB

      • jean pierre (pete) guaron says:

        Page 1 – ” In terms of general design, the M11 can trace its lineage back to the M3 of the mid 1950s, but offers technology that 20th Century film photographers could never have imagined.”
        I must have misunderstood what that meant

        • pascaljappy says:

          Well, I suppose a lot of the tech in the M11 will be found in the SL3, which is a very good video camera. So, it’s only by choice that Leica have separated the two worlds. And I agree with them 🙂

    • PaulB says:

      Pete

      Leica uses their Sonderoptic subsidiary, which has been renamed Leitz-Cine, to market their cinema products. The SL cameras were originally designed for cinema, which is why some of the ergonomics don’t work that well for stills.

      One thing Leica did well was, they separated the video menus from the stills menus. So a user can work in one world with out being confused by the other

      PaulB

  • Read your article on using the Sony Nex-5N
    or Nex 7 with various manual lens.
    Thank you for the interesting comparison.

  • Ian Varkevisser says:

    I just love the fact that I can enjoy a superior simplicity and tactile experience with any fuji mirrorless camera and can afford 10 different specialist fuji’s for the price of 1 Leica, even though in reality only 1 fuji is really necessary 😉

    • PaulB says:

      Ian

      Several months ago I bought a used Fuji XT-3 to try as a platform for adapting Leica M lenses. While the experiment was not a great success for me, I did decide there is a lot to like about the Fuji APSC bodies.

      PaulB

  • jean pierre (pete) guaron says:

    I am finding this post very amusing, as it unfolds, Pascal.

    A prefers Leica, B prefers Hassy, C prefers Zeiss (good heavens! – do they still exist?), D loves Fuji – is there a Sony addict in the house? – where are the reps from Canon & Nikon? – or Olympus? – who else have i dropped off the list?

    Hmm – à chacun son goût, perhaps – each to his own taste.

    When you buy a Leica, you know what it is that you’re buying. High quality – and, for the rest, the specs that come with your choice of model.

    Rangefinder vs EVF vs SLR (digital or otherwise) vs mirrorless – they’re all different and, with that difference, I find that none of them are perfect. Beyond that, I think it would be hard to prove “someone else” takes better images than a Leica – they haven’t come this far by short changing their devoted following.

    Personally my”goût” is and always has been Zeiss – far & away the largest portion of my total “spend” on gear has been on Zeiss 4 out of my first 7 cameras were Zeiss – my favourite lens is a Zeiss Optus 55mm – even my various pairs of spectacles are Zeiss lenses!

    Heavily supplemented with Nikon, these days – although there have been plenty of others – Linhof, Bronica, Pentax to name a few. Because it is and always has been a voyage of exploration – a desire to try something different, to do something new. Which perhaps explains why Pascal is “interested”, though at this point still committed to his Hassy – and why would he not be, while it is taking such brilliant photos?

    So in my entire lifetime, how far have we travelled? German cameras were “simply the best” when I came into this world. And – at least for many of us – they still are.

    Now I can sit back and watch, waiting to see what sort of response that produces/provokes! LOL

    • pascaljappy says:

      Rangefinder vs EVF vs SLR (digital or otherwise) vs mirrorless – they’re all different and, with that difference, I find that none of them are perfect.

      My thoughts exactly. What’s exciting with the M11 (and all others compatible with the Visoflex) is the ability to combine EVF with rangefinder. A good rangefinder has its uses, when framing accuracy and focus accuracy aren’t paramount. It sure is nice to get the EVF for those moments when you get closer and wide open, though 🙂

  • Steve says:

    Pascal, I think you should jump and buy the M11 ASAP. That would leave you needing fast funds and hence needing to sell your Hassy at below market value. I could be persuaded to take it off your hands! And then I could forget about the M11 for a while…

    I’m with Pete G and love a bit of exploration.

    Steve

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