It ticks all the rational boxes, then slaps on a healthy layer of dream sauce. But not for everyone.
How you feel about the new Leica M11 seems to depend on two factors.
One – predictably – is what type of photographer you are, why and how you photograph. Let’s consider that first.
But, just as interesting is your past relationship with Leica, something I wasn’t expecting. So that will be our second port of call.
If humans were rational beings, it would be possible to map a direct camera – photographer correspondance based on actual needs. As it happens, we’re far more interesting and emotion-driven than that. All marketers know we buy on emotional impulse and intensely seek rational justification for our purchases, not the other way around 😉 And I think three main resulting pillars of our photography buying psyche are below.
Before this, let’s get the “it’s too expensive” crowd out of the way. The M11 isn’t too expensive. “Too expensive” says more about you than it does about the camera. Maybe you can’t afford it, which is very different. I sure can’t afford it, but I still think the M11 is worth every single penny, and will explain why at the bottom of this page.
The M11 certainly is for a passionate crowd. Noone else will find it worth the asking price, I’ll give you that. But even inside this population of photographers which don’t discard cameras based on price, there are still families which I think hinge on whether their members are gear oriented, goal oriented or process oriented.
Gear oriented photographers enjoy cameras and gear above photography itself. And that’s fine. The same can be said of car enthusiasts, for example. They own cars far beyond their needs. An Über driver or Amazon delivery person would scratch their heads, but it’s thanks to car enthusiasts that we still can see superb vintage vehicles in mint condition on the street (not hidden in vaults). It’s because there aren’t enough of these people about these days that today’s car lineup (at least in France) is duller than a broken sandwich.
Gear oriented photographers still make photographs and can be excellent at it. They just place the joy of ownership at the center of their purchasing process. The photography market would be dead and we’d all be using smartphones, if not for these people.
Goal oriented photographers have a specific requirement set in mind for an actual or perceived job. Professionals are mostly goal oriented and, for decades, amateurs were inspired by the tools and results of professionals that were far out of reach of amateur oriented cameras. Paparazzis (boooh) need long lenses and fast AF and high FPS. Resolution is secondary. Ditto sports photographers. Wedding photographers will be somewhat similar, as getting the shot at the right moment is vital to get paid, rather than skewered with left-over apetizers (death by a thousand toothpics), while adding more than a hint of personal look to their production (enter Fuji).
But amateurs can be goal oriented too. Any astrophotographer will have a clear idea of which is suitable or not, for example, in ways that manufacturer specifications totally fail to convey. And even photographing a child’s birthday party follows the same logic of “getting the shot” and the resulting set of acceptable operational parameters, with it.
Process oriented photographers are nutjobs like me who enjoy the experience of crafting photographs (the shoot and the post processing) as much as they value the result. There’s an almost spiritual quest associated with making images out of what surrounds us and we value flow above frames per second, intangibles over facts.
Of course, that is quite closely linked to being gear oriented, but ergonomic design will be more important here than outright luxury, collector desirability or great build quality.
Now, pros aside, we could all make do with more standard gear than we purchase. Pros have to pay for the gear and make more money from it than it costs them. We crazy amateurs sink the leftovers of our pro-life profits on gear that’s totally over-specced and pointless, but it gives us great pleasure. The direction we over-spend toward is entirely based on where we imagine our needs to lie, and depends on our specific blend of the above three pillars.
Now, in my mind, I’m the Indiana Jones of photography. My reality, as illustrated above, is Disneyland Paris 😉 Who cares? My dream camera has superb file quality, fosters Zen-like flow and is even more dependable than death and, harder still, French taxes. It can be slow, it can be flawed, so long as the subtlety of tones in that epic b&w rendering of Mickey’s ears, is top notch. FPS??? I won’t take 2 photographs if one will do. 30 in a second? Please, let’s remain civil … AF speed? Anything will do so long as that tree doesn’t grow faster than the lens can focus. I’d rate myself as 50% process oriented (I love the Pixii’s fantastic sense of flow), 35% gear oriented (large sensors, smooth tonal range, good build quality) and 15% goal oriented (AF matters to me).
That’s where the M11’s USP begins to sound like music to my ears.
What I wasn’t expecting to witness this early into the camera’s life is another segmentation of photographers, this time relative to their prior ownership of Leica cameras.
Granted, my sample population is limited to DS readers. But, in this narrow slice of the world, it’s fair to say that those lusting for the M11 have largely never owned a Leica camera before. Those who have don’t seem anywhere near as interested …
What’s that about?
The leaked promotional videos did mention capturing the attention of new photographers. So, the guys at product management and product marketing have done a remarkable job. But why the recoil of current owners, and what is it about a camera that outwardly looks so identical to all M-cameras before it, that is proving so divisive???
Here are some of the objections voiced by those who actually know the brand from prior ownership and use (names have been modified to ensure the security of those witnesses).
Interestingly, people I know who are really interested in the M11 are all using other brands today, and using them very happily. All of them (which is not a lot, in pure numbers 😉 ) want the M11 not because of any limitation of their current system, but because the M11 appears to extend (or at least match) the best qualities of their current gear will adding that magic Leica sauce on top. While the incremental updates that make the M11 step out of line, for current owners, are more of a deterrent than anything else.
Considering the fact that Leica M owners probably don’t change their cameras very often, creating a new body that seduces togs from outside the fold seems quite clever. One of my main motivations for buying the M11 is getting the last body I’ll ever need (which I said 3 years ago about the X1D … 😉 ) We all know that kind of purchase only lasts until a new definitive body comes along. So bringing in new cash, from people who will eventually renew their vows with the brand, feels like a great way of making up for the naturally slow renewal process in the Leica community.
Of course, for this to be true, those ambitious promises need to be kept. A few rave reviews on YouTube can’t outweigh the reality of a tepid adoption by actual owners of M-bodies.
I will keep digging to evaluate how serious those objections might be for me, and will try to get hold of a sample review, after all.
Here’s what I think stands out (as in outstanding) from the reviews, that I would dearly love to check for myself.
That’s a lot. And it is evidence of someone at Leica thinking of shooting scenarios, not just specification numbers. If this is borne out in real life, this could be my camera for the next 20 years. Which actually makes it quite cheap.
How do you top a Hasselblad X1D system? The bigger brothers from the Hassy stable, older CCD Hassies, or the taunting Alpa/Phase/Rodenstock route all provide alternatives with even higher image quality potential and seem like natural answers to the question.
Would you take any of these on a long hike in the mountains, though?
Those pricier systems also better suit more sedate photographers. Where the X1D is the spiritual child of the adventurous Mamiya 7, the other two feel closer to the Fuji GX680 or Linhof folding dream machines. Studio and indoor species. What Leica may have done with the M11 is out Mamiya 7 the X1D by making it lighter, less electricity-thirsty and more versatile. Mind. Suitably. Boggled.
I’ve previously compared the M11 to a Porsche 911. Both started life with what is now considered by most a ‘design flaw’ (rangefinder and rear-mounted engine) and have evolved around this to become exceptionally good at what they do.
But that’s selling the M11 short. For all its beauty and pose, the 911 is only really suited to tarmac. Show it some dirt and its suspension will soon feel as out of place as a toe on your nose. The M11 of my dreams, however, would climb mountains, light weight (as a system), and light on batteries as it is. Whether it can handle the weather and bruises like my X1D remains to be seen. If the X1D is the last of the old Defenders, could the M11 be the Ineos Grenadier? Powerful enough to ditch a regular car at the lights, capable enough to chase goats up a cliff, and simple enough to survive the fall?
Probably not, but that’s what’s got me dreaming. And that’s what I’d love to find out if Leica sends me one. If any of you knows anyone at Leica and wants to read that goat-chasing review, please whisper in their ear 😉
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