Leica’s latest camera encrypts verification info into every photo

The compact and discreet nature of Leica M rangefinder cameras once made them a popular choice for photojournalists, long before autofocus became pretty much a prerequisite. But while M cameras these days are more likely to be in the hands of an amateur or enthusiast than a conflict photographer shooting for Reuters or The Associated Press, Leica’s new M11-P has a novel approach to verifying the authenticity of photos.

The $9,195 M11-P follows mostly the same playbook as Leica’s prior “P” variants. At its core, it’s mostly the same as the 60-megapixel manual focus M11 rangefinder it’s based on, but it eschews the red dot badge in favor of an old-fashioned engraving, upgrades the LCD cover from Gorilla Glass to sapphire crystal, and, like the M11 Monochrom, has 256GB of internal storage instead of the M11’s 64GB. It’s even launching alongside a new $5,295 Summicron-M 28mm f/2 ASPH. lens, which is another by-the-book Leica lens update that focuses closer than the previous version.

But the big addition here for the M11-P is a new internal security chip that generates a signed certificate (Content Credentials) in the metadata of each image, allowing photos to be verified through Adobe’s open-source Content Authenticity Initiative (CAI).

The M11-P shows a Content Credentials logo in image playback for any pictures taken with encrypted metadata. Image: Adobe

Content Credentials are an opt-in feature of the M11-P, which can be turned on in the camera’s settings. When activated, the M11-P will embed an encrypted signature into the DNG raw and JPG files containing the artist’s name, the camera make and model, and the photo EXIF data. Images with embedded Content Credentials can be verified by anyone on Adobe’s verification page, and changes or manipulations to the file can be tracked via the standards set by the Coalition for Content Provenance and Authenticity (C2PA). The credentials are not tamper-proof, but they can show if a bad actor messes with it. “We’re not trying to catch every bad actor out there. It’s about recognizing the good actors and giving them tools to protect and verify the integrity of work,” said Santiago Lyon, head of advocacy and education for the Content Authenticity Initiative at Adobe.

So what does all this mean to the average M11-P user? Well, since there are no extra sidecar files to contend with, those who choose to opt in can likely set it and forget it if they actually care about proving the veracity of their images. It may come in handy one day if an artist needs to prove that their work was not doctored or verify their ownership of an image. However, the M11-P does take a slight hit in the speed department when it has to spend some of its processing power cryptographically signing each image. According to Leica, this should only be noticeable when shooting very quickly or using the camera’s fastest continuous burst modes — which are not exactly an M camera’s forte anyway.

An M11-P image uploaded to Adobe’s verification page. The embedded Content Credentials show the author, the app used, and if AI-generated elements were incorporated. Image: Adobe

Outside of all the Content Credential stuff, the M11-P is exactly what you’d expect since Leica already laid out its playbook with the very similar M11 Monochrom released earlier this year. I think you’d have to be slightly paranoid about the state of photography and generative AI to spend nearly $10,000 to ensure your photos are verifiable through the CAI — especially since Leica is not offering any means to add the new encryption function to the M11 or M11 Monochrom. (Leica once offered an upgrade program that allowed owners of the old M9 to pay to have their cameras converted to a fancier M9-P, but it hasn’t offered a similar service since.) However, this feature definitely sounds appealing if it trickles down to lower-cost Leicas and, more importantly, the wider-adopted pro brands like Canon, Sony, and Nikon (of which all three are also members of the CAI or C2PA).

You can compare the original shot to the uploaded version with heavy edits made in Photoshop — including a sky replacement. Image: Adobe

I asked Leica Camera USA’s product communication specialist, Nathan Kellum, if we can expect to see Content Credentials in all forthcoming Leica cameras, but I was only told, “I can’t speak to that at the moment.” Though, if this feature is as important to photographers and photojournalists as Leica is hyping it up to be, then it seems like it must. We’ll just have to see if Leica deems Content Credentials as part of its fanciful “Das Wesentliche” (the essentials) that it often romances.

Update October 26th, 9:34AM ET: Added further context about Content Credentials not being tamper-proof, including a quote from an Adobe rep.

Correction October 26th, 2:36PM ET: This article previously attributed an emailed quote to Madeleine Burr, senior communications manager for Adobe. Burr later emailed to say that the quote should have been attributed to Lyon. We have updated the attribution.



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