Why The Leica M11 Might Have a Touchscreen-Only Interface

Why The Leica M11 Might Have a Touchscreen-Only Interface

Leica has always tried to maintain a balance between their reverence for the past and their willingness to embrace the future through innovative camera releases that shoot black and white only or cameras that don’t have a rear LCD. I believe their next flagship release, expected to be unveiled on January 13, 2022, will take the bold step of removing all buttons, dials, and switches from the back of the camera in favor of a touchscreen-only interface.

The latest rumor regarding the upcoming Leica M11, courtesy of Leica Rumors, is that the camera will have a rear LCD screen that is larger than that of the M10 and larger even than the SL2. This rumor, coupled with a different rumor that the camera will have 64 GB of internal storage leads me to believe that the M11 will follow the form factor the TL and eliminate all buttons from the back of the camera in favor of a touchscreen-only interface. I believe this is will be a groundbreaking innovation for a professional camera, but one that is consistent with the Leica design aesthetic and consistent with how Leica sees the relationship between a photographer and their camera.

Model Victoria Gomez in New York City photographed by John Ricard. Note slight missed focus on the model's right eye. This is not uncommon when using a manual focus camera. Leica M240.

One of the most noteworthy features of a Leica M is how few buttons, dials and knobs it has when compared to a Sony a7 or Nikon Z 7. One could argue that there are in fact only two or three settings that actually need to be controlled when taking photographs. Two of these would be shutter speed and aperture. You could make a good case for ISO being a crucial setting that you need to control regularly, but for much of my photography, the camera is set to auto ISO, and I make no adjustments to the actual ISO setting. Control over how and where the camera focuses is another element that is necessary to take good photographs. For each of these settings, a Leica M has a dedicated control that does not serve to adjust anything but that single setting. It should be noted that two of the aforementioned four settings are adjusted on the lens itself, which further reduces the need for buttons and dials on a Leica M body. Depending on your shooting style, you may be able to make permanent settings for drive mode, metering mode, and image quality and then pretty much ignore the menu entirely in the course of your shooting. For Leica to remove the three buttons that are currently on back of the M10 in favor of creating a sleeker, more minimalist design for the M11 would not have any negative impact on creating images with the camera.

Brazilian Jiu Jitsu world champion Gianni Grippo demonstrating a technique, photographed by John Ricard. Leica M240.

While the next Nikon, Canon, or Sony camera is pretty much guaranteed to have at least one additional button than its predecessor, Leica embraces a minimalist aesthetic and actively strives to remove buttons and dials wherever possible. In 2013, Nikon released the Df, which had a design that Nikon stated was inspired by their older film cameras. The press released touted the “dial operation that offers tactile pleasure of shooting with precision mechanics, a body design that delights owners," but the camera had more buttons, dials, and switches than contemporary Nikon DSLR offerings. A digital M actually has fewer dials and buttons than a film M. In similar fashion, the M10 has fewer buttons than its predecessor, the M240. No other company has made an effort to reduce clutter the way Leica has on its M cameras.

Fashion stylist Carmen Lily, photographed in New York City by John Ricard. Leica M240 with Profoto B2 lighting.

Some will undoubtedly complain that swiping the touchscreen to review hundreds of images is inefficient and cumbersome when compared to using a button interface. The M10 Monochrom allows for image review by swiping the touchscreen or by using pushing a button. The button is the superior method, as it is both more reliable and faster. The touchscreen requires a somewhat precise finger placement and swiping speed to scroll through images. The design of a Leica M has always encouraged the photographer to ignore the camera and concentrate on the subject in front of that camera. If the M11 touchscreen-only design makes it slightly more difficult to review the images in favor of making it even easier to actually capture new images, I don’t think many Leica shooters will object.

Would you embrace a camera that didn’t have dedicated push-button access to settings like image quality, drive mode, focus setting, white balance, and aspect ratio in favor of a clean, touchscreen-only interface?

John Ricard's picture

John Ricard is a NYC based portrait photographer. You can find more of Ricard’s work on his Instagram. accounts, www.instagram.com/JohnRicard and www.instagram.com/RicInAction

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I'm all for big screens, but Leica fans will burn everything if this is true. This would be like Porsche making the next-generation 911 front-engine.

Spot on. Isn't half the point of owning a Leica the tactile feedback you get with the shooting experience?

I think it might be more than half.

I am also skeptical but I am curious how Leica will do it. They seem like Apple in that they really think about usability when they do something new.

Great idea from Leica. I want the option for a half-dozen or so preset operations with easily identifiable names chosen from a high resolution LCD. If you have dials then presets are nullified by the dial settings. With some screen swipe functions we could easily access on the lcd the common focus and exposure settings that are now served by dials.

Well, Porsche is a good example here: no one ever expected them putting diesel engines in their cars (Panamera, Macan, Cayenne) or a even building a flat four! (Model 718 Boxster and Cayman).

I love my M240, the way in feels in the hands is a vital part of the experience.

But the shutter button stays, hopefully. And the price should be lower without these expensive mechanical buttons and the according electronics.
Seriously, I would definitely miss the AF button and the exposure compensation button, as well as the button to quickly switch between the different metering modes and the button for the different AF modes. I would never buy a camera without these buttons. I can press them without taking the camera away from my eye.
I love clean and minimalistic design. But form follows function. If you were one of those who shoot in P mode only, you would need just two buttons: the shutter button and one to turn the camera on and off. If you are a Leica fan, you will love this camera, no matter what it can or cannot do.

It seem pretty unlikely. Given such scenario the back screen should be flush with the body which seems not to be the case. At least according to leaked pics on LR. Even so, why not. I would be curious to try it out.

Physical buttons, dials, and switches are easy, quick, and simple to use. Touchscreens are complex and cumbersome to use. Why, then, would Leica force their users to use the most complex and cumbersome method to adjust settings and preferences? That seems to run counter to the entire m.o. of simplicity that they have striven to maintain over the decades.

Perhaps the article doesn’t make it clear enough but, I am predicting that the 4 essential settings (focus, aperture, shutter, ISO) will remain on the lens and body. It is only the things that you don’t really need to adjust or check regularly (drive mode, image review, aspect ratio, etc) that would be moved to a beautiful looking but slightly less efficient, touch screen.

Seemed perfectly clear, in the article, to me. Sounds great. Way too many buttons and dials on most cameras.

that will supercharge the sales of all existing M10r's on the market. the last thing anyone wants is a manual focus touch screen STREET BEATER!

I highly doubt that anything this guy is predicting will be on the M11, except for maybe a slightly larger screen and a touch screen. Three buttons and the d pad to access the different menus is the right amount and the quickest way to get to any settings you might want to change, they could get rid of the exposure comp dial especially since you can’t disable it (at least on the m240) if you want to compensate for exposure change the shutter speed or aperature. This article is so poorly written that I don’t know if he meant just the buttons on the back or all dials and buttons if he means everything short of the shutter release button he’s an fool (but I kinda got that feeling when he said the M10 already had fewer buttons etc than a film M, I’m looking at my M6 it has 7 controlls on it two of them are for film loading, one for frame line preview, the film winder, the iso dial, with the exception of the film winder you never interact with any of those controls while taking pictures, the only other thing is the shutter speed dial, the M10 has 9 controls) first if everything short of the shutter button was gone that would mean that Leica would be releasing all new lenses that only work on the M11 with no aperature dial, that’s never gonna happen, the shutter dial is never going to go away either, having easy access to the iso is helpful so that’s not going either, the other controlls are handy if not essential and the experience would not be improved by shifting those controls to a touch screen only it would make the experience a nightmare. I don’t think this guy knows what M users want or value, hopefully Leica realize this or they are done.

Perhaps my language could have been clearer in the article since you are not the only person who seemed to be unclear as to what I was suggesting. My prediction was that Leica will, "will take the bold step of removing all buttons, dials, and switches from the back of the camera." My belief is that the 4 main controls needed for image making (shutter, ISO, aperture and focus) will remain exactly as they are on the current M10.

I wrote, "a digital M actually has fewer dials and buttons than a film M." This holds true if you look at the front and top of these 2 cameras. My statement may not have been true in a literal sense if you include the backs of both cameras and count each dial, switch and button. But to my eyes, a digital M is streamlined as compared to a film M and I stand by my statement as written.

It's come to this, for camera makers: just try to make it as much like a phone as possible. If the smartphone is an ergonomic disaster, then doggone it, our camera will be one too. Then maybe the cool kids will like us.

The concept of Leica removing buttons from the back of the camera in favor of a touchscreen only is a prediction at this point. And, if Leica does indeed do so, I don't think it has anything with being the company influenced by smartphone design and instead is their attempt to make the M11 more like a film camera. My belief is that Leica will make this change to encourage users to ignore the back of the camera entirely and just focus on shooting. If my guess is correct, the ironic reality will be that the camera with the largest LCD will be the one that actually gets the least use of its rear LCD.

We could interpret it that way, I guess. But I'm imagining some new 30-something marketing guy at Leica pushing his point of view - that anything without a touchscreen today is "boomer gear" and those buttons and dials are sooooo 1990s.

I hate touchscreens. I have to get out my reading glasses every time I want to do something. And I can't even see it in the daylight. Oh wait I'm out shooting in the winter, and I forgot my special touchscreen gloves.

I see some references to a focus button in the comments - err, where would that be on an M? Unless you mean the magnify button when in Live View (or are using the Visoflex).

And the demise of the TL might hint at Leica's attitude towards buttons.

By “focus” button they do mean the small button on the front of the M10 that magnifies the view in Live View. I believe it will be moved to the top of the camera on the M11 and it will look like the movie button on the M240.

I look at the TL as being nothing more than proof of concept for what could work on the M11. Once that was achieved, there was no need to continue the TL.

Camera lines are generally discontinued when the customers vote with their wallets. If customers like them they will be developed further. The CL, with the exact same sensor, is a way easier camera to use than the TL and it has buttons - solely touch-screen was a concept that clearly proved to be much less popular.

It is interesting to me that a camera that is made to be streamlined and simple in appearance is, by necessity, overly complex and awkward in usage. Make it look very streamlined and "clean", and it's going to be a complicated nightmare to use.

Conversely, a camera that is optimized for simple and streamlined usage will, by necessity, have many buttons, switches, and dials "cluttering up" the appearance of the camera.

Personally, I couldn't care less at all about what a camera looks like. To care about that would be superficial. A camera is just a tool made to do a job. Does a plumber really care about the appearance of his pliers? Then why the hell would any photographer worth his salt care about the appearance of his camera?

My digital history includes, but is not limited to: Nikon D1, D100, D2x, D3x, D3s, D700, D810, Z6, Fuji XE1, Sony a6000, Leica M9, Leica M240, Leica M10. I assure you, the Leica M bodies are anything but a "complicated nightmare to use." The Leica M bodies are, without question, the easiest cameras to use among all the various cameras I have used. One of the best things about these cameras is that they are always set exactly how you left them the last time you used them. There are so many times that I pick up my GoPro for example and it is in Time Lapse, Photo or some other mode that I have no interest in using. Same goes for my iPhone that I often find has defaulted to HDR or Live Photo mode when these are features that I have never intentionally utilized.

I don't know if you've had the opportunity to try a Leica M for a long (2 hours or so) period of time. You might find that you enjoy shooting with such a simple tool. If you're in the NYC area I will gladly meet up with you and loan you one for a photo walk that we can do together.

As for a photographer caring about how his tools look, truth be told, although the Nikon Z6 is the best all-around camera I have ever used, I don't really care how it looks. But as a photographer, your entire craft or business is built on the principle that how things look, is important. You are the very person who tells that plumber, that no matter how good he might be at fixing a leak, it is important to his business that he has a headshot where the lighting and posing are perfect. So I don't buy the general idea that a photographer should ignore how things look. My guitar heroes like Eddie Van Halen and Ace Frehley always cared about how their guitars looked. Their attitude was never, "as long as the guitar plays good, it doesn't matter what it looks like." They used their tools as a means to create art, but it was obvious that they loved the actual tools as well. And I love my Leica M bodies. I love the way they operate, the way they feel, the way they were designed, and yes, I love the way they look.


Apparently you completely misunderstood me. I mean a complete and total misunderstanding of what I wrote.

I never wrote, said, implied, or even thought that the Leica M bodies are a complicated nightmare to use.

What I did say, or meant to say, is that any camera with only a touchscreen, and no buttons, switches, or dials, would be a complicated nightmare to use.

For me, touchscreens are HORRIBLE. That is why I hate using my phone so much, and prefer a real computer for almost everything. Any camera that would force me to use a touch screen instead of giving me the option to turn dials and move switches would be just as horrible as using my smartphone. An ergonomical snafu - a complicated nightmare!

Gotta agree with regard to touchscreen interfaces. My GoPro is a nightmare to to change the lens focal length or exposure compensation. The touchscreen is slippery and imprecise.

On my phone, because it is touchscreen, I am constantly closing out of windows that I need open - like the GPS when I'm en route somewhere. And I am continually opening things up without meaning to, like all of a sudden my phone starts playing a YouTube video when I was trying to open Messenger or Instagram. Then I call people without knowing it. And I have written and sent senseless texts without even knowing I was doing it.

Touchscreens just freaking suck. I would hate to have something as important as camera settings become vulnerable to all of the mishaps that happen via the touchscreen interface.

I had a special pair of progressive lenses made, the top prescription for "distance" (looking through the viewfinder) and the bottom prescription for a few inches (to read camera menus). Without those glasses, I thoroughly dislike camera touch screens for menu settings. Check the article about this on DPReview.

I have an M8.2 and an M10 (and Nikons and Fujis...). If this rumor is true, I'll never get an M11, even if I can afford it.

" No other company has made an effort to reduce clutter the way Leica has on its M cameras."

I'm not certain that is true, as awesome as the M10-D is.

Zeiss ZX1 and the Hasselblad 907X immediately come to mind.

Disclaimer: I can't afford (read: justify) any of these cameras.

I'll never understand the desire to remove buttons from cameras in favour of a touchscreen LCD. When shooting and concentrating on the scene, we need tactile buttons not fingerprints all over a screen. Mostly what we do with an LCD is use it to set up the camera through the menus and may use it to compose images and that's it really. Leica are pretty much in a tricky position with their M cameras as people love them because they look and feel like vintage film cameras but with the benefits of digital. In that they have succeeded already so am curious to know what they can add to an M11 that will keep the purists happy whilst offering enough of a reason to upgrade.

Personally, I would be happy with the following changes: remove the baseplate in favor of a TL style bottom, include internal storage in addition to SD card slot, give the camera a proper buffer so that it can shoot 20+ images without hesitation. That's basically it. A Leica M is damn near perfect already.

They sound like worthy improvements but Leica will will still have the problem when they're ready to release an M12 in terms of what else they can do to the M line to keep customers buying. M cameras are already pretty much perfect as you say.

This article didn't age well.

My thoughts exactly. And I'm the guy who wrote it ;)