One way or another, 2023 has become quite the year for monochrome cameras. Leica, however, is no stranger to the format and the M11 Monochrom is just the latest in a series of great additions to the space.
In 2020, I praised the M11 Monochrom’s predecessor as a camera that was great not despite its weaknesses, but because of them. What I meant by that is that rangefinders are, at least compared to the modern cameras we’ve seen for several years, extremely slow, awkward, but thoughtful devices. You shoot with a rangefinder not necessarily to capture a decisive moment, but to enjoy the process of creating art. That’s not to say you can’t capture that decisive moment, it’s just not a system that facilitates that process.
Losing the ability to photograph color can also be considered a “weakness”, but it simultaneously offers the photographer the unique ability to focus on shapes and light.
I thoroughly enjoyed every second I spent with monochrome cameras, and the M11 Monochrom is no different. This camera is just fun to use. I feel like I see the world differently when I photograph it (because I legitimately am) and I can certainly understand why Leica keeps making new black and white cameras. There is definitely a unique appeal.
But that said, I really liked the M10 Monochrom, so I wasn’t really sure what the M11 might bring to the table that would look like a needed upgrade. After using it for several weeks, I can point out a few particularly different things that may be worth considering compared to the predecessor.
Design and build quality
As before, and with virtually every Leica product I’ve used over the past decade, the M11 Monochrom is fantastic to use. It’s got weight without being heavy, feels like it’s built like a tank, and every moving part seems tuned for the perfect amount of manual feedback, with a few minor exceptions.
First, I want to mention that the new bottom plate design is fantastic. It makes battery changes easy and the USB-C port is very easy to access. Some people, like PetaPixel‘s Chris Niccolls, appreciate the design of the M11 more than the M10, and those folks are going to feel right at home with the Monochrom that shares that same body.
I also like that you can control the ISO from the dedicated dial on the left side of the camera, you can also program the camera to make it easier for you to change it from the dial control to the right where your thumb rests, which is much faster than trying to fiddle with it which is admittedly a bit finicky. This is basically the only “minor exception” worth mentioning and if there was no way around the usage it would be a real annoyance. But as stated, there is a workaround which is great.
Leica’s monochrome cameras are also fantastic. It’s a very understated design that doesn’t draw much attention. Aesthetically, the black shutter button and greyed-out dial not only suit the monochromatic nature of the camera, but the clean, nondescript faceplate is really nice for stealth feeling.
It doesn’t stand out or look very valuable, so it doesn’t seem like a stretch to say that it really works like a working photographer’s camera.
The M11 Monochrom doesn’t look much different to me than shooting with the M10 Monochrom, at least from an imaging perspective. It’s still a rangefinder, it still holds the same way, and it still takes some getting used to if you’re coming from a modern mirrorless camera or DSLR.
Earlier I mentioned easily changing the ISO and while that’s always important, it’s actually particularly the case with the M11 Monochrom because of how high you can push it: it can go up to 20,000 and still produce usable images.
The M11 Monochrom has such a high maximum ISO that it doesn’t really impact the quality of images no matter how hard you push it. The sensor’s lack of color filter promised to bring improved capabilities for working with shadows, highlights and ISO noise and it definitely does. The Leica M11 Monochrom has a very natural “analogue” look no matter what you’re shooting. It’s very forgiving.
The camera again has built-in memory, but this time it’s been increased to 256GB. I’m not one to shoot the internal memory because I’m not the biggest fan of plugging in my camera on my computer (personal preference) so I’ll shoot the only SD card slot, but I can definitely see the appeal. I’d use the internal memory as a backup to my SD card, though, and it’s reassuring that there’s storage available if I fill up my memory card or forget it when I leave the house.
We’ll definitely read more about image quality in our full review, but the photos I’ve taken so far are really, really good. Black and white is kind of a cheat, because basically everything looks better in black and white, but I really enjoyed playing with light and shapes more than when I had a color camera.
Beyond black and white, the M11 Monochrom produces really sharp, crisp images when you’re focusing, but you can opt for a softer look if you choose to miss a bit. The camera really can be whatever you want it to be, and I can appreciate that.
A unique and enjoyable experience
The M11 Monochrom is truly the most perfect example of a camera for making art. It’s not fast by design, and the black and white photos it produces are just begging to be printed and framed. Even if a subject isn’t inherently interesting, there’s something about the process of shooting and capturing images that can turn bland into exciting.
We’ll definitely go into more detail in our full review, but I basically had a big goofy smile on my face the whole time I spent with the M11 Monochrom. There is certainly value in this fact alone.
#Handson #Leica #M11 #Monochrom #artists #camera