Highly anticipated by the photographic community, Leica‘s all-new M11 rangefinder camera launches today. The flagship body has guts that are totally reinvented and a form that’s entirely classic. Most remarkable is the ability to record 60, 36 or 18 megapixel images (RAW or JPG) always using the entire surface of its full-frame sensor. An expanded ISO range, USB-C tethering and charging, massively better battery life and an improved user interface round out the major improvements the M11 offers over its M10 predecessor. We spent some time with a pre-production (and nearly perfect) version of the camera and took it on a recent studio visit with Elin Lundman at Super Happy Ghost Co in Beacon, NY.
Having spent years shooting Leica M cameras, getting oriented with the M11 was effortless—all critical controls are exactly where they’ve always been. There are now fewer buttons alongside the screen and an increased number of conveniently placed, programmable shortcut buttons situated near the grip. The biggest and most welcome change to the camera’s body is actually on the bottom: no more removable baseplate. The new, larger battery slots directly into the camera and forms a weatherproof seal. The battery also hides and protects the SD card slot. Speaking of file space, there’s 64GB of storage built in that can be used just like a second card slot for overflow, back-ups or JPG pairs.
On a bright morning last month, when we visited Swedish-born painter Elin Lundman at her Beacon, NY studio we learned more about Super Happy Ghost Co—her art and fashion line of upcycled goods adorned with original, hand-painted characters. Lundman finds jackets, bags and other items that are ready for a second life. The practice started years ago when she found a trench coat at a thrift store in Woodstock, NY and painted it freestyle with monsters from her imagination. We watched “Abby” come to life on a black leather motorcycle jacket while Yubaba, Lundman’s pup, quietly kept us company.
When shooting this studio visit, unlike past ones, it was seamless moving between the live view on the camera’s back and the optical range finder. Having a real-time read of exposure, depth and white balance without a concern for draining battery is a novelty among M cameras—and a game-changer. The focus assistants in the live view are also very helpful, though we prefer composing and focusing the final shot through the range finder. Having a sensitivity range of ISO 64 to 50,000 and an optional electronic shutter up to 1/16,000 of a second means we don’t need our usual neutral density filter to cut enough light to shoot wide open. Plus the incredible dynamic range of the back-side illuminated CMOS sensor means fewer compromises concerning which element of the image to expose for.
The resulting images shown below are unmodified to best convey the camera’s performance. Click on the thumbnails to see full-size versions, and please note the caveat at Leica’s request: “All images were shot using a pre-production camera, so may not fully represent final image quality.”
While reviewing images on the camera’s rear screen is sufficient, transferring them to a larger iPhone or iPad screen is helpful. The M11 does have WiFi, but with 60 megapixel files it’s best to directly connect to the camera’s USB-C port with the provided Lightning to USB-C cable which can also be used for tethered studio shooting. Also noteworthy is that while the battery can be charged externally it’s also possible to charge through the USB-C port.
The Leica M11 is available today for $8,995 in a lighter weight all-black version with an aluminum top cover or in silver and black with the traditional brass top cover.
You can see the latest from Super Happy Ghost Co on Instagram where pieces are available for purchase and Lundman is happy to discuss commissions.
M11 images courtesy of Leica, sample photographs by Josh Rubin