#1172. Of linear functions and step change… in other words, is the Leica M 11 a M 10+1?

By philberphoto | Opinion

Feb 16

Pascal has graced us with his usual brilliance in his post “more Leica M11”, in which he dissects why some potential buyers will succumb to the charm of the new machine, and others not. There is one key factor I would like to add.

Are they praying to be given an M 11?

Most gear reviews treat features, attributes, strong or weak points, on a scale, explicitly or implicitly, that ranges from “miserable” to “admirable”. And again, most summarize their reviews with a list of pros and cons, each with a degreee of intensity as per the previous scale.

Would an M 11 do better, it being understood that it can’t accomdate the Laowa macro 100?

This is absolutely not how it works for me, or, I surmise, for most buyers. If a camera, for example, has no tilt screen, I cannot shoot from the waist, and not through the LCD. That is 80%+ of my shooting. So, for me, no tilt screen means no go. It is not a gradual scale, and it cannot be offset by other positive features and benefits. This just one issue on which I operate on a binary, go/no-go scale, and not a linear one.

One must live with the times, even if one is an old codger. So here is the obligatory selfie

It also applies to positive features. I will not buy a camera, unless my present one dies on me, if it does not generate better IQ than my present one. Though how much better and across what percentage of my production can be quantified on a linear scale.

The epitomy of this “cumulative score based on linear functions” is the DXO camera score, where all adds up to a given score. Would I buy a camera based on that score? Hardly.

Would an M 11 help ET go home?

Therefore, I posit that “progress” in cameras -and in other desirable goods and services- are much more governed by step functions, like “go/no-go” and “deal-breakers” and “game-changers” than by evolutionary change. Evolutionary change, which can easily be charted along the cumulative linear functions discussed above, is fine if one needs a certain piece of kit, and they are good at letting you know which one to buy. But step functions are the ones that matter for non-forced replacement. For example, think of cars. For years, only evolutionary change. Then came new formats: minivans, SUVs…. and massive change ensued, essentially killing off the sedans that had reigned unchallenged for decades. And now electric vehicles. Massive step function.


Are you going to turn away from buying an EV because you don’t like the ergonomics? or the colour of the interior? Hardly.

So I assign part of the epic fall in camera sales to the lack of step function progress. There has been some. for example, for certain types of shooting (wedding, sports, b.i.f.), recent AF and frames per second releases by Sony and Canon have been major step functions. But resolution? Climbing from 42Mp (A7RII) to 50Mp (A1), or even 60MP (A7RIV)? Hardly. Others are trying for such step-function change, and should be commended for it, like Pixii. Of course, for professionals, it doesn’t work like that. Anything that increases their probability of getting the “money shot” matters big time. So they dig increments, as long as they help them along.


Interestingly, the same can apply to our images. Are we interested in making images that are “just a little bit better” than the previous iteration, or are we looking for step functions? In this respect, there seems to me that there is no “right” and no “wrong” answer. Some of us will ceaselessly and tirelessly burrow the same furrow. Thus they are given to incremental change. Lest anyone thinks that this is, somehow, inferior, let us remember that Leonardo brought incremental improvements to the Mona Lisa for years, until his death. Others will seek step changes, by trying “new things”, and that is fine too.

Flower DNA, anyone?

But, when considering a potential gear purchase, give some thought to what you are after, step change, or incremental change(s). And try to visualize how much improvement it would bring to your images and your shooting experience. There is however a last point that combines incremental and step change. There are times when we are in a time of funk, in a rut. The been there, done that, got the mug and the T-shirt” syndrome, and shooting isn’t fun any more. A new camera would then force us to be in learning more once again, to be attentive, open to -hopefully- good vibes and pleasant surprises from our new toy. And it may well be that a camera that is only increntally better than its predecessor can kick start your enthusiasm again, which would be a step function of progress.


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  • Frank Field says:

    Well stated, Philippe. We are clearly on the upper-end of the development curve for digital interchangeable lens cameras. Thus, incremental improvements are small. What you refer to as step function changes I believe can also be referred to as disruptive changes – changes that shift the entire market into new directions. Are mirrorless cameras step changes? I don’t think so. I think they are more akin to the introduction of automatic transmissions in automobiles — basically line extensions that may expand the addressable market and keep an older technology growing, albeit at a lower rate than previously achieved. Smartphones have brought disruptive changes by enabling multiple functions in one compact, easy to carry package. Has the M11 brought disruptive change?

    • pascaljappy says:

      Hi Frank, I don’t think the M11 has brought disruptive change. However Leica has brought disruptive change to the M line with the bolt-on EVF. And that might be the sort of step function Philippe refers to, that might get non Leica users into the fold. And for current Leica users I personally know, it doesn’t seem like the incremental changes (added res, ect) is enough to provoke change. Interesting topic.

    • philberphoto says:

      Thanaks, Frank! You and I are definitely on the same page on this!

  • jean pierre (pete) guaron says:

    Interesting that this skips around the Leica M11.

    Heaps of gear heads want “the latest and greatest”, and I often wonder if it improves their photography or merely massages their egos. Sometimes it strikes me as being like seeing someone my age suddenly buy a Lamborghini Countach [good God! – I just checked! – I spelled it correctly without even looking it up!] Or worse – one guy in Sydney got a McLaren because he’d always idolised them – but being middle aged and morbidly obese from over-eating, he couldn’t fit between the steering wheel and the back on the driver’s seat, so he never had a chance to drive it.

    Why an M11? Good question. For gear heads like the ones in the previous paragraph, what on earth would it mean? Leica owners are a small species. Nobody else would know the difference between any two models of a Leica. The lenses are likely going to remain the same – I just saw one of their 50mm lenses advertised at something like $7,500! I cannot imagine what on earth it could achieve, but never mind me, I’ll never end up with a Leica anyway.

    One hundred per cent with you, on screens that won’t wiggle and waggle when you want them to, Philippe – since my recent operation on my spine, I am now under medical orders NOT to bend over, and I really don’t enjoy getting down on my knees any more, anyway. So some of my cameras spend most of their time – as DSLRs are meant to anyway – at eye level. My latest toy – to my vast amusement! – is Nikon’s retro Zfc, and its screen wiggles and waggles wherever I could possibly want it to. Shame they never did that on flagship cams like the D850!

    Screams from one of my camera shops – “you should have got the Z6 – or even the Z7II”. Whatever for? At my age, I’ll never live long enough to buy a complete range of Z lenses and I couldn’t afford them even if I did. The Zfc is fun – it’s practical – a couple of lenses and I can do whatever I want to with it. The instruction manual is only available online, it runs to 624, and to print it will be absolute agony. So I’ll probably never discover whether it makes toast, or cups of cappuccino. But it WILL do what I want it for – macro stuff on the fly, in the garden – and candid pet photography. It might even give me the opportunity to retire my Canon Power Shot – which makes sense, because then I’ll be shooting solely Nikon, and I won’t have to wrestle with the different controls of a Canon any longer.

    And praise the Lord – that screen! – when I want the camera at knee level, knee level it goes – if I want it overhead, ditto – or around a corner, even, perhaps. Wiggle, waggle. It’ll do fine, for me – why should I care if somebody else thinks some other make or model of camera is more interesting? – that could ONLY be because that “other make or model” is THEIR preference. Everyone has the right to choose – just as they do, so do I.

    And when someone taps you on the shoulder and says “hey, I saw you using that camera the other day – why don’t you trade it in, and get a [fill in the blank], instead?” – smile sweetly and say “I no spikka da ingliss/frog/greek/martian/whatever”.

  • pascaljappy says:

    Thanks Philippe. To me this evokes Blue Ocean strategies. While mature and heavily competitive market segments tend to crystalize into boring range strategies (as most car manufacturers and camera manufacturers offer today), Blue Ocean thinking typically generates products that don’t do as well in some incremental aspects, but introduce a step-function novelty that draws in a new, fresh, crowd.

    The EV market seems to have freed design and product management in this way, as did mirrorless some years ago, mainly in the hands of Sony. It was typical of Elon Musk’s strategy when he was producing cars with shoddy workmanship while developping software and infrastructure. And Pixii initially seemed onto something with their lower resolution, but deep connection with the smartphone.

  • Dallas Thomas says:

    Philippe, after carefully reading this article twice. I’m afraid for your longevity as if camera companies get hold of this article your demise will be quickly contracted out. You are so right, what will a new camera do for me (forget ego) that my current 3 year old Z7 can’t do; given my shooting style, in a word nothing. IMHO that would be the case for about 98% of us TOGS.

  • Pascal O. says:

    Hi Philippe,
    Thought provoking article. Where does evolution stop and revolution take over?
    In my world of photography, should I replace my A7 third of the kind by the fourth model, which has just been launched?
    Does the swivel screen, the better eye tracking software or the extra pixels constitute that much of an increment that I should go for GAS?
    Bottom line, are (any) of my pictures benefit from these “improvements”, is my yield going to go up vis à vis the current one?
    Open question. Just like in many other fields, like mobile phones.
    The main fact remains, that your pics are absolutely superb.
    Your red flower in particular is astounding.
    Thank you for this mind tingling article. Cheers.

  • immodoc says:

    Hi, there are at least two ways of looking at a product, from a meta- (company and product) level, and from a user level.

    Starting with the first; having an iconic product like the Leica M can be a mixed blessing, also experienced by Porsche with the 911.

    Customers pay a high price, expect high quality and innovation – but do not want their favourite product to lose its character.

    Porsche had mixed customer reactions to innovative products with the 914/6, 924, 944, 968 and 928, as we all we know …

    (Perhaps, the 911 is not the proper comparison to the Leica M. The MORGAN +x might be better, offering minimal innovation over the years.)

    Leica being an SMB, cannot deliver more innovation than they do, their customers seem to be unwilling to accept (and pay) for more and the M shape and size are further restrictions.

    So, with the M11 we get a camera offering higher res, high ISO, a new base-plate, a new battery with longer life, a new stick-on view-finder and an additional electronic shutter. – How nice!

    Being an M user, starting with the M6 in 1988, moving to the M9 in 2010, and buying another M9 in 2020, I find the M11 not very tempting.

    (For me, this is not a question of money. The purchasing price is petty cash for me, unfortunately.)

    My ideal M would have IS, a higher shutter speed and a tilt-screen, too, at least.

    With the M11, one needs a least a mono-pod and the Visoflex to obtain functional equivalence to a
    SONY A7R4. And then the elegant handling goes down the drain !

    What do I like about using my Leicas? I like the IQ, the compactness, and the feeling of quality, handling them.

    Their limitations (low shutter speed, low res, low ISO performance) I compensate by using them for special occasions, when the weather is right.

    And I use SONY A7R2s if I need a tilt screen, high ISOs and higher shutter speeds.

    If I need high AF performance I use my NIKON D850.

    With my present set of toys, the M11 offers no major step forward.

    But your mileage (toys and preferences) may vary … —

    • pascaljappy says:

      Interesting Immodoc. I agree about the SMB nature of Leica and the need for the company to make sure they do not ruffle the feathers o existing customers. But I hope for them that the M11 is compelling enough to attract new customers.

      You are a M user and not very interested by the M11. I’ve not seen one exception to this rule so far. Current users aren’t interested. Interested potential buyers all come from other brands. I think it can be tied to Philippe’s recent post. For you, the changes are incremental and for others, access to the M range but with an EVF and higher res if a step function. Without those, we wouldn’t even consider the camera. A bit like a 911 without all the electronics to keep it on the road 😉 Purists preferred the older models, but I’ve driven older 911 and wouldn’t want one, even if it was given to me. Heavy, unpleasant, need to be going fast to enjoy … The new ones, on the other hand … (I’m not a 911 purist, obiously 😉 )

      To me, the hinge between the M line and the SL line is going to become important. The SL should definitely have IBIS, if only for the video users it is trying to seduce. It will be interesting to see what the SL3 is like.

      Yes, if you have tools for every situation, I can see why the M11 brings nothing new for you. There’s a lot to be said for specialised tools, isn’t there? I only have one camera body, currently the X1D, but possibly something different later this year. Still weighing my options. Maybe I’ll get my hands on a M11 for a review before making a decision 🙂

      • immodoc says:

        Hi, the SL2 has IBIS (but no tilt screen). For me, it is simply another mirrorless with big lenses (albeit of extremely high quality). So, not for me.

        Over the years, one gets used to the M ergonomics and other cameras somehow do not feel right …

        And I am a one-lens-at-a-time person. When I go out taking pics, I fit just one lens, carry the M in my hand, and I like to be able to pocket it, when necessary. —

        Of course, I wish Leica many new customers. I am not sure, however, how many are willing to pay the M11 entrance fee to the new world.

        I envy all M users who have all their requirements met by an M.

        Others must make compromises or have a camera patchwork family like me.

        The same goes for cars. My sister has all her requirements covered by a 911.

        Unfortunately, I need more … —

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