A Tail of Two Cameras – Sony a7R and Leica M

Long-time readers know that I started blogging about photography at Leicarumors where I did reviews and attended meetings with Leica before diving into Fujifilm, Sony, and 43. At that time the Sony a7RII was a very hot camera and the Leica M9 was very popular too, but it had very limited useful high ISO and only 18MP. The Leica M240 attempted to address the shortcomings of the Leica M9 but got a little fat in the process which worried many Leica M fans. The amazing performance of the Sony a7RII didn’t help with many photographers’ disappointment, but Leica later addressed the form factor concerns with the Leica M10.

The Leica M10 shrunk the M back down into a more traditional form factor while going back to Leica’s roots in many ways, but by that point, Fujifilm had the Fujifilm GFX on the market and Sony had the Sony a7RIII, which was more impressive than the a7RII. Sony also came out with real-time AF on the Sony a7RIII and the Sony a7RIV launched around this time while Leica worked on getting the Leica M10R out.

Leica M10R was Leica’s first high-resolution M and it did a good job of showing off what Leica glass can deliver, but many bought into 24MP being enough among other arguments to downplay the advancement. It’s hard to tell how well this camera sold, but Leica prices haven’t been what they once were. During the M9 days used glass often sold for significantly more than new glass due to shortages. We really haven’t seen that in the Leica world since outside of a few new announcements, but we might if Leica M11 can deliver.

Now we have resolution parity with the announcement of the Leica M11. Sure the Sony a7IV has been out for a while now, but the 60MP sensor in the M11 is going to lead to some interesting comparisons in the months and years to come. Sony cameras arguably deliver the best full-frame image quality on the market when paired with good glass and it will be interesting to see if Leica can surpass them by objective measurements in addition to subjective measurements where Leica has always dominated. They are even providing unique features that allow the Leica M11 to stand out like a base ISO of 64 and the ability to capture 36MP files with 15-stops of dynamic range on their 60MP sensor that by default provides 14-stops of dynamic range.

Needless to say, I am impressed that Leica has finally seen the wisdom in maintaining resolution parity with Sony after all these years. ISO has become less of an issue in recent years with BSI technology and I personally don’t have a need for anything beyond 3200-6400 ISO today, which most cameras handle easily even at high megapixel counts. It’s hard to justify an $8,995 experience, especially if a $3,498 camera body can objectively beat its image quality in every other way or if size/weight does not matter a $5,999 medium format camera.

The Leica experience is one you simply have to have to appreciate. If you have never shot an M you should rent or borrow one, but don’t rush the experience because shooting traditionally takes time if you’re not used to a manual camera. Further designers at Sony should spend time with Leica cameras to understand how to layout their cameras better. The Sony a9 was the first camera that Sony got pretty much right in my experience and I still appreciate it today, but if I am ranking shooting experience Leica is still on top with Fujifilm falling further behind every year and Sony is pretty much dead last with everyone else between Sony and Fuji. I know many just want to get their work done, but getting all the algorithms and multifunction programable buttons out of the way does wonders for creativity and focus.

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