The Leica M11 Mirrorless Camera Review
Leica delivers quality excellence for professional photographers. Read more for a deep dive perspective on the M11 after several months of use.
The Leica M11 camera ushers in the next generation of digital imaging customers for Leica. The M-series of rangefinders offers a clear window to the world with access to a massive suite of lenses in a compact form factor that stays true to a proven user experience. So, when you see a significant jump in resolution and a departure from some iconic design elements, it'll raise a few eyebrows. As a working photographer and owner of the Leica M6, I've always been curious about how the shooting experience of a digital M could elevate my workflow. Being a long-time Fujifilm user and experiencing some hiccups with a particular camera in my kit — the M11 seemed like an interesting, albeit extravagant, opportunity to find out if this camera is entirely worth it.
The M11 is a brand new, full-frame sensor that can capture images up to 60 megapixels. We're seeing a large camera brand employing creative technology to allow the sensor to change dynamic resolution without cropping your photo for the first time. You're able to shoot at 36 or 18 megapixels and, in theory, offer better buffer space, dynamic range, and low light performance when needed. The sensor employs back-side illumination and a super-thin, dual UV/Infrared layer, which collectively translates to better image fidelity despite the resolution jump.
What We Love:
Full-Frame BSI CMOS Color Sensor
Make your images true to life with the help of triple resolution technology for incredible file output versatility and unmatched image quality with M-lenses.
High Dynamic Range
With a native ISO of 64 and up to 15 stops of dynamic range, you can be confident in getting that shot even in difficult lighting conditions.
Make It Your Own
The best button layout is the one you create. With three customizable function buttons, you'll have quick access to almost any menu setting in the camera.
Product Type: Mirrorless Rangefinder
Best For: Professional photographers with a refined taste for an analog-inspired touch, high-quality slower-shooting methods, and a bigger wallet.
M11 Rangefinder Camera
Wanting the best of the best? A legend has been reinvented with the Leica M11, a digital rangefinder with no compromises just superior image qualityBuy for $8,995.00
A Heap of Technological Magic
While there's a new processor to manage the robust sensor data, you also have 64GB of built-in storage for additional capture on the go. A suite of professionals swears by dual-card systems, which effectively solves that problem. It was refreshing to write to a card and have a backup on the camera simultaneously. I typically shoot in RAW and JPG, so I have four files of each image with each shutter. When I took the card out to offload, I could still review the pictures on my camera, and if I forgot to put the SD card back into the camera — it turns out I'm not entirely out of luck. These features are valuable additions more cameras should adopt.
The departure from a removable baseplate is something that a user like myself would appreciate. Let's get rid of these archaic oddities and make something more useable! This change brings the addition of a water-resistant USB-C port for charging and offloading files. More importantly, there's a move to a larger battery that is much more accessible than most cameras' traditional battery door method. This change is either my first or second favorite upgrade to the M series, where I could shoot for days without any power anxiety. The combination of a larger battery capacity and processor efficiencies make this a more useable tool, and that's worth twice as much as any upgrade in megapixels.
There's a leap in the electronic shutter, fantastic integration with the Leica Fotos app, more control of the function buttons, and a stabilized live view for trickier compositions with longer lenses. Everything we've covered so far culminates in what I believe is improving the user experience for the Leica M-series.
The User Experience
This camera feels familiar and formidable where it takes the years of muscle memory from my M6 and throws behind a monstrous new engine. The 20% reduction in weight on the black model significantly contributes to improved handling without changing the script. One of the core reasons you invest in a rangefinder is for that zero-lag experience in composing your images, and you get to do that with more ease and greater accuracy. On the other hand, the camera build feels dense and well constructed. The meticulously placed groove feels like a natural home for your thumb. Buttons are easy to reach, and you have complete control over your exposure through only the necessary dials.
Photography purists will appreciate the dedication to minimalism. The menu system is straightforward to navigate, though there's a lot less to triage when you have no video features. The screen on the back has an improved pixel density to review your work better, and the touchscreen is very responsive. The experience of using this kind of camera is marrying an incredibly manual set of interactions with rich image quality. With no form of autofocus, this camera style is not for most people, not by a long shot.
The Leica Q2 Monochrom Hands-On Review
Although niche and unique, this camera holds a lot of soul packed with features that matter. View the world through black and white under Leica's classic name.
Leica M11 Sensor & Image Quality
Can we be honest here? If Leica produced terrible or even mediocre image files, they would not be the aspirational brand today. These cameras are what they are in the imaging space in that it's a luxury item that also produces fantastic files. There's a lot to love about the files you'd get from a camera like Fujifilm or Canon, where you can have a good starting point, but Leica offers the most true-to-life color of any image profile. While color is subjective, and you can spend time to make any picture graded to look like another, the simple takeaway is Leica's excellent colorful starting points. They're so great to work with, and you truly appreciate this when you're working with melanin-rich skin or punchy reds.
What makes this M11 even more impressive is the improvements to the dynamic range. I did my best to shoot at ISO 64 wherever I could, which resulted in files boasting remarkable details in the highlights of an image. Imagine thinking you've blown out a picture only to be able to recover all that detail with ease.
The M series of cameras isn't precisely a studio solution, but I threw it into his environment to better learn how it optimally performs. One big surprise was that I didn't see an improvement in dynamic range or noise performance when moving to 36 or 18 megapixels. The complete 60-megapixel files seemed to have better clarity to them.
Do I think Leica is lying? Not yet. I think there's still a possibility that software needs to catch up to handle the lower resolution options better, and we could see a leap in image quality in the months to come. Moving to higher ISOs doesn't seem to be a massive issue, where you can operate at ISO 16,000 and have plenty of useable files that don't have the color noise pattern you'd see in a Sony camera. These files are noticeably better than what I achieve from an X-Pro3, marginally better from the Sony A7R IV and Canon R5, and sit just below the quality of my GFX 100s. All these cameras are phenomenal in their own right, with unique advantages. The biggest takeaway concerning the Leica M11 is that the image quality is worthy of the brand.
When executed properly, high resolutions like 60 megapixels are advantageous for many working photographers. You're able to skew an image in post with plenty of beautiful resolution to work with, leaving room for a world of possibility in the editing room.
Leica M11 Improvements
I wish the ISO dial were a push-release mechanism right off the bat. It's not a major annoyance, but using two digits to prop it up seems like a poor design decision. Part of me also wishes that Leica would use the same battery as the Q2 and SL2, as it would've improved the experience for users working in the Leica ecosystem.
Given the asking price, it would be nice to see these camera bodies have a better weather certification if only to reassure users.
Having the rear LCD being able to tilt up would have been a significant upgrade, and I don't think it would've riled up the Leica purists. Shooting low-angle shots are tough and almost always requires the additional Visoflex. I'm hard-pressed to believe that most M-series customers are angry if this camera had a near-secret tilting LCD like the Fujifilm X100V.
Now, how about some plausible improvements? First off, I'd love to customize the shortcuts on the first menu to most of my access items. Second, while there are more metering options, I want to see a highlight metering option for my street or reportage work. It would also be awesome to see a mass storage mode so that if you plug the camera into your computer, you can see it pop up as a disk to drag and drop files or even rope. And while this isn't a must, having a yellow outline for manual focus peaking is something I prefer over a red line, which isn't as intrusive to the viewing experience.
Leica M11 vs Fujifilm APS-C
While Fujifilm X-series cameras can give you an impression of the rangefinder experience, there's no denying that it doesn't come close to the real thing. What you have with the M11 is an accurate, manual system that you can zone focus and, with practice, capture images with a higher degree of accuracy. However, the more you have on the line with your pictures, and the more you work in a professional environment, the more you will appreciate a camera with accurate tones. There is a wide gap between the APS-C vs. full-frame, especially when discussing dynamic range. Sure, excellent technique can close the gap between cameras, but if you have both options on the table, the M11 is giving you a better file than any X-series camera at this time.
Who Should Buy The Leica M11?
The Leica M series delivers consistency in user experience and brand expectations. This camera currently retails for an incredibly steep $9,000 USD. While this camera has notable differentiators, I would like to see the brand work toward more accessible rangefinder solutions for a broader range of creators.
You might be wondering if I believe this camera is worth it? The simple answer is no but to be honest, and it's not that simple. It's an odd conversation to have, so let me instead emphasize who would be in the market for this type of camera.
- Existing M-series users who are looking for a noticeable upgrade to their current solution where a trade-in can drop the asking price.
- Leica Q and SL users who are finally looking to add an M camera to their kit and want the best the brand has to offer.
- Mirrorless shooters that genuinely want a different shooting experience and, in my case, a zone-focusing system to shoot more instinctively.
- Affluent individuals that carry money to spare want a camera that shoots as good as it looks.
Leica M11 Final Thoughts
The Leica M11 is a luxury camera that captures remarkable images compact and in a specific way. It's unique because no other modern offering does what it does, except for some of its predecessors. You can find plenty of compact cameras. You can find something that creates remarkable image files. You can find things that do it a specific way. Hell, you can even find some other luxury offerings! If you require all of these at once — the Leica M11 arguably sits at the pinnacle of that very short list.
What It Has:
Color depth: DNG™: 14 Bit, JPG: 8 Bit
Color space: sRGB
Viewfinder: Large, bright-line rangefinder with automatic parallax compensation, suitable for -0.5 dpt; optional corrective lenses available: -3 to +3 dpt
Display: Four-digit digital display with items show on the top and bottom, Image field limiter: two lit frames: 35 mm + 135 mm, 28 mm + 90 mm, 50 mm + 75 mm (automatic switchover when lens is attached)
Viewfinder magnification: x0.73 (all lenses
What It Does:
Exposure metering: Spot, Center-Weighted, Multi-Field
Exposure modes: Aperture priority mode (A): Automatic shutter speed control with manual aperture preselection Manual (M): manual setting for shutter speed and aperture
Exposure compensation: ±3 EV in 1⁄3 EV increments
Automatic bracketing: 3 or 5 shots, graduations between shoots up to 3 EV, in 1⁄3 EV increments, additional optional exposure compensation: up to ±3 EV
ISO sensitivity range: Auto ISO: IS0 64 (native) to ISO 50 000, also available in flash mode Manual: ISO 64 to ISO 50,000
White balance: Automatic (Auto), Default (Daylight - 5200 K, Cloudy - 6100 K, Shadow - 6600 K, Tungsten - 2950 K, HMI - 5700 K, Fluorescent (warm) - 3650 K, Fluorescent (cool) - 5800 K, Flash - 6600 K), manual metering (Gray card), manual color temperature setting (Color Temperature, 2000 K to 11,500 K)
Camera type: Digital camera system with rangefinder
Buffer: Memory 3 GB | DNG™: 15 recordings | JPG: > 100 recordings
Storage Medium: UHS-II (recommended), UHS-I, SD/SDHC/SDXC memory card (SDXC cards up to 2 TB), internal memory 64 GB
Material: Black: full-metal housing made of magnesium and aluminum, leatherette cover Silver: full-metal housing made of magnesium and brass, leatherette cover
Lens mount: Leica M bayonet with additional sensor for 6-bit encoding
Operating conditions: +0 to +40°C