Leica M11 Review: Is It Worth $9K?
That’s why I got one in the hands of my brother, Sam Hurly, a professional photographer who specializes in cars and portraits. I knew he’d be the guy to tell me two things: What makes this Leica so great compared to past models? And why would a layperson like me spend that much dough on a camera in 2022?
Sam, who typically works with Canon bodies but often shoots film on a Leica M6, came out of his experience as a likely convert. Here’s what he had to say after a two-week test drive with the Leica M11.
Courtesy ImageWhat Makes the Leica M11 Stand Out?
First of all, this is no new price tag in terms of Leica models. Leica steadily releases a new M model every few years, like Apple with its iPads and iPhones. The new features outpace the past models, while always running in more or less the same price range.
“Next to the M10, the M11’s megapixel increase from 24 to 60 is extremely significant,” Hurly says. “Even compared to the later M10-R and M10 Monochrome at 40 megapixels, you get 33 percent larger native images from the M11. That’s a major statement. You could print a billboard with that kind of quality. What people will really appreciate is it allows you to crop an image however you like—and however small you need—while still getting the tiniest details in high definition.”
Here’s a shot Hurly took of his cat, Sox, with a crop in on the nose for proof of these details: Yeah, Sam needs to wash his window, but you can see the individual hairs, and the tufts on the nose.
Here’s a Mercedes grill—cropped in on that lattice detail—and black on black, no less.
Note that the camera allows for smaller-res images to be taken—36 or 18 megapixels. Hurly says, typically, as a camera’s ability to capture larger images increases, its ability to shoot in low light decreases. But he found this wasn’t the case with the M11, which beautifully “pixel bins” the shots. Translation: It creates a composite pixel from a few surrounding pixels and does so uniformly across the image, in order to create a smaller yet still sharply defined result.
Speaking of low light, another big benefit of this upgrade can be found in shooting contests. He likes the M11’s dynamic range and how easy it is to adjust shadows and highlights to produce something profoundly realistic—the exact way the eye sees it. He showed me this next image as a great example. Normally, a camera would drown out either the blue sky or the contents of a shadowed garage, even though our eye can see inside the garage and out simultaneously. But Sam was able to capture the details of both in a single image, as opposed to parsing together two different photos—which would have each focused on the oppositely lit subjects
A simple adjustment in post-production—no photo editing skills needed—allows for the above image with stark contrasts, in a single click. “The detail and color retention on this one is so good, it feels like cheating,” Sam says. You can easily do this with smartphone apps like Photoshop or Afterlight, even by connecting the camera to your phone using the included USB-C lightning cable.
Sam also points out the 64GB of internal storage. That’s a terrific addition to one’s own memory cards, and prevents having to transfer images all day—even for large files like this one.
Ditto for the battery that lasts up to 64 percent longer than previous models. Rarely was there a concern to stop shooting and seek a recharge or a photo download/card clearing, though you can do the latter over Wi-Fi.
Flying over the Great Plains—with the Leica M11. Sam Hurly
Hurly also loved the expanded ISO range—i.e. the camera’s ability to let in light. This one’s ISO most notably sinks as low as 64 (most stop at 100), which makes the camera more sensitive—in a good way—when there’s too much light. That means a lot more attention is given to shutter speed, which is a “pro” for people who don’t want a simple click-and-shoot camera. Regarding shutter speed and F-stops, this is the M model with the broadest range of them: 15 stops in all.
Why Buy a Leica?
When you can get similar features—and enough to impress most hobbyists—for well under half the cost, why Leica? That’s a question independent of any specific model, because there will surely be an M12 down the line that bests this one for at least as much money.
Hurly says this isn’t comparable to buying, say, the latest laptop or smartphone and swapping them out constantly. Instead, it’s primarily about user experience. “These manual controls demand attention, precision, and thoughtfulness,” he says. “We often think of film as the ‘manual’ version of driving cars, but that’s not true,” he says. “Understanding the camera’s functions, and adjusting those things to create a smoother, more dynamic result, all under your own control—that’s the manual experience.”
“Yes, in the car world, they’ve built automatics that outpace the manuals,” he continues. “But if it weren’t for the true enthusiasts—people who like to feel the change in gears between their fingers, just as the rubber grips the road, they’d stop making manuals altogether. This is like the manual Porsche of cameras. No matter how much it ages, its value will persevere because of the controls and user experience it gives—while managing to improve on its predecessors.”
I think I’m beginning to understand.
“If you’re going to take the time to become a master in photography, even if as a hobby,” Hurly says, “then Leica’s your brand.”