Leica M Monochrom: Pros and Cons by Dierk Topp

Dierk Topp, photography aficionado
By DIERK TOPP

It was a long way until I got my Leica M Monochrom. In 1955, at the age of 13, I took my mother’s Agfa Box 6×9 on a vacation with my school class. Those were my first photographs. Since that time photography has been my main hobby and I used all kinds of cameras, just to mention a few highlights: Edixa Reflex, Pentacon Six 6×6, Minox, Plaubel 9×12, Robot Royal 24×36, Horizon 202 (120°), Gandolfi Variant 4×5″ with serial number 199, Seitz Roundshot (up to 720° panorama), many Nikon Coolpixes (drowned one in the ocean), and then Nikons from the D70 to the D3.

Finally, in 2009, I got my first Leica M9 and some small, light and relatively cheep lenses, the Leica Elmarit 28mm F2.8, Leica Macro-Elmar 90mm F4 and Zeiss C-Biogon 21mm F4.5. At that time I did not know that the Zeiss lens was not recommended for the M9 due to the severe color shift at the edges. About three weeks after the announcement of the M9 in October 2009 I wrote in a Leica forum about my idea of an M with a monochrome sensor for higher resolution. At that time I said I would prefer such a Leica and would buy it. Leica heard my wish, I got my hands on an M Monochrom — and start to use and like the Zeiss C-Biogon with the M Monochrom very much.

This is my long way from the Agfa Box to the Leica M Monochrom squeezed into a few lines. I had a hard time though convincing myself whether the pros or cons warrant an acquisition.

The pros are:

  • Black-and-white out of the box
  • Less post-processing, depending on your imagination of the desired image
  • Gerat piece of engineering

The cons:

  • $$$
  • Only black-and-white (I still need a second body, color remains to be an option)
  • I always tried to avoid filters, now I have to use filters again (that’s more glass and reflections).
  • No colors available for post-prossesing (e.g. for dark skies)
Park | Dierk Topp, Leica M Monochrom, Zeiss C-Biogon 21mm F4.5 (B+W MRC Dark Yellow #023 Filter)

After thinking over all of these pros and cons I found the ideal solution: Completely selfless I asked my wife for a very big special present for my 70th birthday.

And here I am. With the M Monochrom.

It’s maybe important to say that I’m an aficionado, not a professional photographer. This is not a review of the Leica M Monochrom. I can offer only my personal impressions after about 700 shots.

My personal pros:

  • It’s the most aesthetic and puristic camera I’ve ever seen (internally and externally).
  • With the correct exposure (I do bracketing in difficult light) you get good images straight out of the camera.
  • Good high ISO
  • Helpful histogram

And my personal cons?

  • That poor display, in sunlight it’s very dark and almost unusable (except for the histogram).
  • I have to get used to the use of filters for landscape and portraits again; had to buy a whole set of filters as lens diameters differ.
  • Can’t use filters with the 35mm Summilux and lens hood.
  • Have to make up my mind which filters to use before the shoot (like in the analog days).
  • For best results post-processing seems to be demanding (Nik Silver Efex Pro 2 gives me the images I had in mind most of the time).
Madame | Dierk Topp, Leica M Monochrom, Noctilux 50mm F0.95

So what’s the final conclusion, after my long way to the Leica M Monochrom?

  • The Leica M Monochrom does not make “better” pictures, but it is fun to own it and use such a photographic gem!
  • The resolution may be slightly better than the M9’s, but not by much.
  • I still hate filters. I am using them now on the M Monochrom, but it’s always a decision process before taking the shot.
  • As my images are mostly black-and-white anyway it is great fun to get them right out of the camera.
  • Depending on your demands you can get very good results with very little post processing straight out of the camera.
  • The files seem to offer big reserves for high-end post-processing.

Sample images are post-processed in Lightroom 4.1.

(See more of Dierk Topp’s work in his Flickr and Pbase galleries.)

+++ Read our complete, continuously updated The Leica M Monochrom File with all the M Monochrom hands-on reviews and field reports.

Canal | Dierk Topp, Leica M Monochrom, Zeiss C-Biogon 21mm F4.5 (B+W MRC Dark Yellow #023 Filter)
Sky | Dierk Topp, Leica M Monochrom, Zeiss C-Biogon 21mm F4.5 (B+W MRC Dark Yellow #023 Filter)
Band | Dierk Topp, Leica M Monochrom, Summilux 35mm F1.4
Silhouette | Dierk Topp, Leica M Monochrom, Zeiss C-Biogon 21mm F4.5 (B+W MRC Dark Yellow #023 Filter)
Lake | Dierk Topp, Leica M Monochrom, Zeiss C-Biogon 21mm F4.5 (B+W MRC Dark Yellow #023 Filter)
Moustache | Dierk Topp, Leica M Monochrom, Summicron 75mm F2
Portrait | Dierk Topp, Leica M Monochrom, Summicron 75mm F2
Free | Dierk Topp, Leica M Monochrom, Zeiss C-Biogon 21mm F4.5 (B+W MRC Dark Yellow #023 Filter)
  • I have only one word: phantastic.

  • Pan

    You sound as skeptical as enthusiastic Dirk. Money and beauty of the hardware aside, is it worth to spend so much money, especially considering that you depend even more on post processing?! Compared to your M9… or is the MM mainly a marketing gig?

    • dierk

      Pan,
      if I sound skeptical comes from the idea, that the MM is a lot of $$$ and many of us will not take better pictures with such an investment.

      But if you have the chance for such an investment, I would like to quote Thorsten Overgaard:
      “The simplicity of the Leica M Monochrom: It’s fun!”
      and
      “… for the monochromatic existentialist extremist”
      big words… for me is just right: it’s fun

      After all these cameras I used over the years the MM is the way back to the roots!

      Coming from any modern camera with color sensor, 100 programs, 10 fps and 24x zoom the step to a range finder Leica M with f-stop, focus ring and exposure time (o.k. and auto ISO, if you want) is a great step towards thinking and imagining the picture with these basic settings. Without a zoom you have to decide, witch lens to put on the camera or even take with you at all and the use your feet for the right perspective. But you still have the option of color or B&W while you look at your motive and decide later.

      Back to the MM. After saying this, the final step back to the roots for me is, that I am looking B&W again and I know, what I am able to compose out of a scene or motive (using the best filter for that :) )

      I think, the MM will stay with me as long as can see through a finder and even longer.
      thanks for looking
      dierk

      • You read many’s mind Dierk. Back to the roots… Looking back at great photographers, with no modes, no filters, 1fps and the focus on what really matters… photography gear has “improved” dramatically since, but have photos?

      • Pan

        Without sounding condescending, it’s a boutique camera for a few. Would love to be able to afford it, but am at the same time not under the slightest impression to miss out on something.

  • PWL

    Still not enough to make me trade in my M9–or buy the M9M as a complement. May be true that the M9M gives “truer” B&W than the M9, and might be better resolution, but it’s not enough to justify buying another $7K camera.

    Nice thing about the M9 is that I can shoot both color and B&W images (tho’ it takes a little post-processing to get the latter…and I don’t need to clap filters on the lenses…).

  • Excellent images. When using the Zeiss lens do you have to dial in an equivalent Leica lens in lieu of the 6 bit coding or doesn’t it matter with the Monochrom?