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Leica Camera is excited to introduce the newest milestone of the company’s legendary rangefinder camera: The Leica M11. Combining the experience of traditional rangefinder photography with contemporary camera technology, delivering maximum flexibility to every photographer. Featuring an exclusive triple resolution sensor, expanded ISO range, dual memory options, extended battery life, and a streamlined and intuitive menu system; the Leica M11 represents a new benchmark in digital photography as the most versatile, customizable, and powerful M camera Leica has ever built.
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When we think of legendary design, some products or companies that stand for exclusive design come to mind: a Levis 501, the perfume Chanel No.5 or a Rolex have long since become timeless design classics, as has an iPhone. When Steve Jobs unveiled the iPhone 4 in 2010, he indulged his well-known penchant for superlatives: “This is, beyond a doubt, the most precise thing, and one of the most beautiful we’ve ever made. Glass on the front and back, and steel around the sides. It’s like a beautiful old Leica camera.” In the course of its more than a century-long history, Leica Camera AG (formerly Leitz) has produced many different Leica models. However, the general, colloquial term of “a Leica” usually refers to a Leica M …
A distinctive, timeless design
The very first Leica M – the M3 – was released in 1954. A side-by-side comparison between the M3 and the recently launched Leica M11 instantly reveals a striking family resemblance. The two models are separated by 68 years and countless technological changes – including, of course, the shift from analogue to digital. And yet, the M3 and the M11 look almost like identical twins; even their size only differs by a few millimetres. This can hardly be a coincidence.
Invention of 35mm photography
At the time before and after World War I, the Leitz company employed a precision engineer with the name of Oskar Barnack, who was a passionate amateur photographer. At that time, this meant working with exceedingly heavy plate cameras. However, as an asthma sufferer, Barnack found the unwieldy equipment increasingly difficult to carry. And so, he set out to develop a ‘small film camera’ that would be able to produce large prints from small negatives. The aim was for the camera to be simple to operate and, most importantly, fit into a coat pocket. Having decided to work with cine film (comprising 24 x 36 mm negatives), Barnack used his outstretched arms to measure a length of film from a big reel - and thereby determined the 36 negatives that would fit into the film cartridge of his camera. To this day, 36 exposures remains the standard film length in analogue photography.
Compact and discrete
As we can see, two key elements of the design philosophy for Leica cameras were established right from the beginning: a compact size, and a focus on the essential. Leica’s M models exemplify this particularly well. Their bodies are so compact that, on two occasions in the M-System’s evolution, their size had to be temporarily compromised in order to implement major technological leaps: once, when electronic elements were introduced into analogue M cameras; and again during the transition from analogue to digital. Both times, the camera bodies had to be made (minimally) larger – but in both cases, technological advances made it possible to return to the original size a few years later.
Designers love the M
As well as being held in high esteem among professional and ambitious amateur photographers, the Leica M has frequently captured the imagination of accomplished designers, like Dr. Andrea Zagato, the owner of the car brand of the same name or former Apple Chief Design Officer Jonathan Ive. Time and again, Leica Camera has collaborated with leading personalities from the world of product design – including Walter de Silva, the man behind numerous Audi and VW designs. When he conceptualised the Leica M9 Titan (released in 2010), de Silva was given free rein, but chose to retain the Leica M’s traditional design language: “It would have been very easy, perhaps even easier, to completely revolutionise the product,” he explained. “But our revolution lies in the fact that we did not start a revolution.”
Famous passionate Leica Fans
Musicians with a passion for photography – such as The Police guitarist Andy Summers, or multi-instrumentalist Lenny Kravitz – have also designed special-edition M models. Kravitz, in fact, has already done so twice. His second contribution was an extraordinary design variant of a very special M: the “Drifter” edition – distinguished by a striking, faux python-skin leatherette – was based on the serially produced M Monochrom, which records exclusively in black and white. Leica is the only manufacturer to offer a camera of this kind, whose advantages include superior-quality renditions due to the purely monochrome sensor. In 2012, Jonathan Ive and his freelance colleague, Marc Newson, created a camera that was, quite literally, unique: the Leica M (Red). In 2013, the one-off model sold at a charity auction for 1.8 million US-Dollars. While the result was, of course, a great success for the charity campaign (initiated by Bono of U2), it seems a shame that this beautiful camera will most likely spend its days inside a safe. Imagine, by comparison, the adventures of the standard Leica M3 owned by Henri Cartier-Bresson, one of the most important photographers of the twentieth century. The legendary artist, who was also a co-founder of the famous Magnum Photos agency, likened his camera to “a sketchbook, a psychoanalyst’s couch, a machine gun, a big, hot kiss.”
Ease of use and broad compositional possibilities
The design of the new Leica M 11 is radically reduced to the essentials, form follows function. On the camera, the four main shooting parameters can be set directly on the camera or lens, without having to bring up a menu: sensor sensitivity (ISO), shutter speed, focus and aperture. All other settings (of which there are many) are accessed via the three keys on the rear of the camera. The Leica M11 is one of the most sophisticated cameras currently on the market – from a mechanical, electronic as well as optical-engineering point of view. And yet, anyone who is fairly familiar with the above-mentioned parameters, will find its manual operation barely more challenging than taking pictures with a smartphone – all while having access to an infinitely broader scope of compositional possibilities. The only aspect that may need some getting used to, is the rangefinder viewfinder (‘Messsucher’ in German, hence the ‘M’), which means there is no autofocus. It requires the photographer to align two images of the scene until they overlap with complete precision, in order to ensure the shot is in focus. This may take a little practice, but at the same time it turns every picture into an emotional experience: once you have mastered this technique, you are immersed in the magical world of the Leica M.
For Leica, designing high-end photographic tools goes far beyond implementing the technologically feasible. In the early twentieth century, the first Leica laid the foundations for photography as we know it today: compact, simple, high-performing, and, most of all, ever-present. Oskar Barnack’s portable ‘small film camera’ gave rise to the profession of photojournalism, whose impact on our collective visual memory can hardly be overstated. Throughout the decades, Leica M cameras have documented pivotal moments in history. In many ways, masterpieces made in Wetzlar have become synonymous with 35mm photography.
People are taking more pictures than ever before. While mobile devices account for a large portion of today’s images, nothing comes close to the creative process of photographing with a Leica rangefinder camera. Ever since the introduction of the M3 almost 70 years ago, the Leica M-System has always been both future-proof and widely compatible. The bayonet mount that connects the camera and lens has stood the test of time – and has become as much of a hallmark of Leica M photography as the ‘made in Germany’ quality seal, and the enduring value of the system’s cameras and lenses. Special models that have turned into rarities over time, or were produced in small numbers in the first place, frequently achieve record-breaking auction results that exceed even the wildest expectations. Consequently, a Leica camera not only serves as a reliable working tool, but can also represent a viable investment. In 2013, for example, an M Leica by designer Jony Ive achieved a record price of 1.8 million US dollars at the renowned auction house Sotheby's in New York. During Leitz Photographica Auction in 2018, a Leica 0-Series even changed hands for a whopping 2.4 million euros.
The manual craftsmanship involved in the production of Leica M cameras and lenses is an inherent part of the company’s DNA. Instead of merely focusing on what is technologically feasible at a given point in time, the developers’ primary concern is what the photographer will find most beneficial, first and foremost, intuitive operation and top picture quality. This focus on the essential, „das Wesentliche“, ensure the quality and durability that characterise the Leica brand. At the centre of this approach is the timeless essence of photography: the ability to control the exposure time, aperture and focus as simply and precisely as possible. People are currently witnessing a notable renaissance of technologically advanced cameras whose operating concepts are termed as ‘classic’ – but have, in fact, simply been inspired by Leica.
Lift the camera to your eye, look through the viewfinder, carefully rotate the focus ring. Whether you are shooting with the Leica M3 launched in 1954, the legendary M6, one of the MP models aimed at press photographers, or any current digital M: working with Leica’s rangefinder system is as straightforward and precise as ever. The experience and image quality will always be outstanding.
When it comes to the production process, Leica combines extraordinary feats of engineering with exceptional craftsmanship. The construction of a modern rangefinder camera involves the manual assembly of around 1,100 individual components, spanning more than 14 working hours. The lenses are distinguished by high-quality glass types that allow large amounts of light to pass.
Leica M photographers look at a scene directly through the viewfinder. Illuminated frame lines indicate the final composition. Of course, owners of a modern, digital M model also have the option of composing their shots through the lens – either via the camera’s LCD screen, or an external electronic viewfinder. This is a prime example of Leica’s ongoing ability to combine a classic photography experience with the conveniences and viewing habits of the present day.
Another advantage of Leica’s rangefinder system is the compact and discreet nature of its cameras and lenses – which is why the M has always been a popular choice for reportage photography. The camera captures events in an unaltered and authentic manner. This is exemplified by countless documentary works by famous photographers such as Alfred Eisenstaedt, Robert Capa, Henri Cartier-Bresson, Nik Út and Elliott Erwitt, all of whom are closely affiliated with the Leica brand.
The M11 delivers a resolution of up to 60 megapixels, along with the M-System’s fastest burst mode at 36 megapixels, and an outstanding noise performance at 18 megapixels. And yet, regardless of their technical specifications, the core philosophy behind Leica’s M models always remains the same: the Leica M embodies an almost symbiotic connection between the photographer’s eye, hand, and the camera itself. The design is purist and timeless, the operation purposeful and clear.
In the inaugural issue of the M Magazine (marking the 60th anniversary of the Leica M), Leica Chairman Dr. Andreas Kaufmann described the camera’s design as “archetypal”, and its recording principles as both simple and, at the same time, utterly ingenious.
Throughout its long history, this remarkable instrument has enabled great masters of photography to elicit unique, touching and pivotal moments from the unstoppable passage of time.
According to the lofty words of many a great photographer, ‘It is the eye that takes the picture, not the camera’. Among them, German-French photographer Gisèle Freund knew what she was talking about; at the same time, she also knew exactly which camera she could count on: a Leica. After all, it is only when all the technology lines up that the photographer can fully concentrate on the task at hand. Freund is but one example, taken from the pantheon of legendary photographers, whose body of work is indivisibly linked to Leica cameras. Thanks to the interplay between outstanding individual image performance and the precision of the tool, Leica has been able to grow as a brand over the decades, and reach its status as a legend – a legend that remains very much alive today, and is constantly developing new facets.
As to the history of photography, the ingenious design produced by Oskar Barnack in the year 1914 represented a first milestone. The next one came forty years later, in 1954, when Leica’s camera technology had been perfected to produce the first Leica M. Indeed, right from the moment of its launch, the Leica M has been more than just the most excellent tool available to photographers working in the photo-journalistic and documentary fields; it has also been an instrument for artistic freedom, and for supporting individual visions. We have long since distanced ourselves from the belief that photography only serves as a means to authentically reproduce reality; it has also prevailed as a confident, top-class medium for artistic creativity. The history of Leica is rich with examples where these two apparently contradictory aspects have achieved a perfect symbiosis. This is why so many pictures that originated in the photo-journalistic field have become an iconic part of our collective, pictorial memory. A perfect example of this can be observed in Leica's The World Deserves Witnesses campaign.
Leica has transformed visual communications in a decisive manner. It was the handy, 35mm format that first gave rise to a new and dynamic type of photography. Accordingly, following the blossoming of photojournalism in the twenties, it is evident that another chapter in the history of the medium was written with the appearance of the Leica M in the fifties. Many photojournalists have, of course, worked with a Leica; so it is hardly surprising that, to this day, many outstanding members of the Magnum Photos agency – founded in 1947 by Robert Capa, David Seymour and Henri Cartier-Bresson, among others – are Leica photographers. It is impossible to imagine many ‘decisive moments’ being recorded without a Leica. René Burri, Werner Bischof, Martine Franck, Ara Güler and Thomas Hoepker – to mention just a few of the agency’s members – have all captured unforgettable Leica moments. Consider Nick Út’s shocking image of Kim Phúc – the seriously injured nine-year-old victim of the Vietnam War; or Alberto Korda’s famous portrait of Che Guevara, where the heroic guerilla fighter’s gaze is lost in the distance; these and many other iconic pictures share the same photographic tool in common. However, the Leica M is not only legendary as a reportage camera. It has long conquered all other areas of photography, as well: whether travel or landscape, portraiture or nudes, fashion or sports, still lifes or artistic creations; nothing seems to be impossible or unattainable for a Leica. The camera has captured magic moments, unforgettable memories, events both dramatic and curious; sights and insights of both a visual or a philosophical nature; black and white compositions or progressive studies in colour; fascinating fashion images or classic urban portraits. The best examples for each kind of subject can be found amid the work of Leica photographers, such as Frank Horvat, Ernst Haas and René Groebli. Last but not least, astounding results in the street photography genre, by the likes of Joel Meyerowitz, Garry Winogrand and Bruce Gilden, can be attributed to the discreet, handy and dynamic camera. Without Leica photographers, what would our images of Paris or New York City, São Paulo or Shanghai, or the younger metropolises of the world, look like?
Leica Hall of Fame
It is not only the technology and the design of Leica cameras that have constantly evolved and improved over the last decades; the spectrum of renowned Leica photographers has also grown, consistently. New names and innovative pictures complement the gallery of classics. Since 2011, outstanding photographers whose views of the world have moved something, or have changed something, have been inducted into the Leica Hall of Fame by Leica Camera AG. The honourees include Steve McCurry, Joel Meyerowitz, Jürgen Schadeberg and, just recently, Ralph Gibson, whose life’s work received the distinction in November, 2021. Moving effortlessly from analogue to digital, Gibson’s imagery is incomparably timeless: whether still lifes or nudes, enchanting studies of objects or vital street scenes, his photographs have made history. Throughout his work, it is easy to observe his constant brand loyalty.
And so, of course, the youngest generation of Leica photographers, the “digital natives”, continue to present exciting positions. As representative examples, we can name Gonçalo Fonseca, winner of the 2020 Leica Oskar Barnack Newcomer Award; and Graciela Magnoni, who was on the shortlist for the Leica Oskar Barnack Award in 2021. They, too, have mastered all the technical possibilities. Even so, without the creative potential within the individual eye of each photographer, the best camera would be nothing more than a senseless object. It is only when it is put to use that the camera acquires its soul, and its precise reliability becomes immortal.
Passion and Desire
Whether professional photographers, beginners, or Leica lovers: they all belong to the Leica family. In these times of the often-referenced flood of images, the importance of this anchoring cannot be overrated. Leica cameras are not mass products; they thrive, thanks to their distinction and extra class. Therefore, not surprisingly, the brand has acquired increasing numbers of younger fans, who want to become part of Leica’s tradition and family history. Taking photographs with a Leica is much more than a handicraft, a profession or a hobby: it is also about passion and desire. The emotional value should not be underestimated because, in the midst of fleeting fashions and trends, it is this emotional value that defines and perpetuates the status of a true legend.
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