It doesn’t happen too often that Leica announces a new camera. May 10, 2012, was an über-day in Leica terms. The German “boutique” camera maker announced a digital M rangefinder true to its very essence and stripped down to photography’s bare essentials: the Leica M Monochrom (specs), an 18MP camera with a unique black-and-white sensor and no red dot and no engraving. Read our definitive, continuously updated Leica M Monochrom Reference File further below bringing you all the relevant hands-on reviews and field reports that matter (latest update on top). Just scroll down for the latest entries.
+++ You can order the Leica M Monochrom from Amazon, B&H or Adorama. Or why not preorder the new 50mm APO Summicron, $7,195 only — hey that includes shipping! — over at B&H and Adorama. Feel dizzy? Then get the newly announced compact Leica X2 (Amazon, B&H, Adorama).
The M Monochrom is an über-Leica, it stands for everything Leica is about: minimalism and simplicity, Rolls Royce build quality — and price tag. Priced at “don’t ask,” the sibling of the M9 and M9-P with black matt finish is more than just a niche rangefinder. Note that the M Monochrom has a maximum ISO of flat out amazing 10,000 — that’s a whole new world in Leica M digital terms. Makes you long for the M10… not least because we learn Leica hints at video features in the upcoming M10, reports BJP. But then again a “somewhat less warm response when asked about the highly anticipated compact system camera,” says Amateur Photographer.
Leica’s presumptuous Monochrom promise: With a full native resolution of 18MP, the Leica M Monochrom delivers 100% sharper images than with color sensors. As its sensor does not “see” colors, every pixel records true luminance values – as a result, it delivers a “true” black-and-white image.
To speak with Forbes: “People who buy Leica fit that bill (once you subtract certain hipsters, midlife-crisers and trophy wives who buy Leicas as expensive necklaces). Leica photographers are more likely to shoot in black-and-white, or at night. They are also obsessive about sharpness. Now consider that a black-and-white sensor can deliver 100% sharper images and minimal image noise up to ISO 10,000, and you have the perfect camera for exactly these purposes.”
Bold move Leica. World’s first black-and-white digital cam. Theoretically the advantage is very significant. But if I may: Leica says the new Cron, announced on the very same day, is a “new milestone in the history of lens construction,” “redefining the limits of what is technically possible.” The price tag leaves even diehard Leica aficionados in utter borderline disbelief. Leica obviously never really cared much about what the outside world thinks, which works to their advantage. The Cron’s price tag — and we’re not talking Noctilux and not even Summilux — is a message that the days of cheap Leicas are over.
We see the direction Leica is heading. The iconic brand becomes more and more an niche luxury brand primarily aimed at the wealthy, a.k.a. not specifically photographers.
More of it is in the pipeline, Dr. Andreas Kaufmann, chairman of Leica’s supervisory board, told Photo District News:
“What you will definitely see is we’re working on our lens line,” noting that the new Summicron-M 50mm F2 is part of “an architecture” for Leica that photographers will see more of. “There will definitely be some improvements (to our products) and this (lens architecture) is in the pipeline.”
Also, the M Monochrom’s post processing will be demanding, you still need to edit to get the slightly better dynamic range. At first glance Leica’s official performance proof JPEG samples look not much different than black-and-white shots from any better camera. They look sterile. As if over-sharpened. Maybe it’s my MacBook Air. I see no true blacks, no grays with punch, no rich tones. I bet most people can’t tell the difference between a M Monochrom and a properly executed and converted M9 black-and-white shot. But we have to see prints. Samples from real world photographers are coming in and seem to live up to the Monochrom’s bold promises and high expectations.
So here’s what others have to say about the M Monochrom:
Digital Camera Info calls the $8,000 optical machine a nod to the heyday of black-and-white film — even though the question is whether the M Monochrom is worth the price:
Shooting with the Leica Monochrom is challenging. That’s certainly true, but it’s a challenge that is eminently rewarding when you succeed. For years, photography students have been directed to start with film cameras. The idea is that they should learn how to shoot properly, without relying on the camera or Photoshop to compensate for bad technique. There’s wisdom in that advice, since the obstacles you face with most film cameras — an inability to review your photos on the fly, imperfect focus and exposure systems, and a limited amount of time to get your shot right — force you to become a better photographer. Many of those same challenges are present in the Monochrom, and the result is the same. It’s not the easiest camera to learn or to shoot with, but it forces you to know your craft inside and out.
The question remains, though: Is the Monochrom worth the price? For most people, the answer is clearly no, as there are cameras that are simply cheaper and perform better. Even for Leica enthusiasts, the Monochrom is more expensive than the M9, M9-P, and even the new M Type 240. It may produce slightly higher resolution, but not enough to justify the difference in price and flexibility. It’s a collector’s item, a camera lovers of black-and-white photography will adore, but not something you’ll find on most people’s shelves any time soon.
Forbes‘ Jack Foster presents a beautiful M Monochrom review. You have to read the whole thing. Here’s the finale:
Elliott Erwitt once said: “The problem with digital photography is that it’s too easy, and when things get too easy, people get sloppy, and sloppiness is not a good thing in photography. Even though photography’s fairly simple stuff… when it was non-digital, it still took a little bit of effort, a little bit of thought, but now I think a chimpanzee with a digital camera could get pretty good results as well… and that’s the problem. Too easy, too much, and not too much thinking behind it.” (…)
If Elliott Erwitt’s assertions are true, they’re true because in taking the man out of the loop, mmost digital cameras reduce us to careless, passive drones, pointing cameras at whatever catches our eye, for whatever reason, and hoping for the best. The biggest benefit of the M Monochrom isn’t so much the (astonishing) level of detail it captures, but how it reconnects you as a photographer to the world around you.
The Phoblographer‘s final verdict is in:
This is clearly not a camera for the everyman, but no Leica really is. Like all Leica cameras, it’s quirky: don’t except much more than 350 shots on a charge, and prepare yourself for occasional firmware lockups. But it feels like a true icon of German engineering. That feel and the breathtaking image quality is what we all love about the Leica M, and the legend lives on with the M Monochrom. It’s just as much of an M as any of the others, and while clearly a very specialized camera, it is capable of producing the most beautiful images coming from an M yet. It may only shoot in black and white, but I found it to actually be slightly more versatile than a standard M9 because of its much extended ISO range and less concerns about high ISO detail smudging. When paired with fast Leica glass, this is the first M that you can comfortably shoot in very low light, and still come out with reasonably usable results. That’s pretty exciting, and possibly my favorite part about the camera.
It’s hard for me to come up with anything poor to say about a camera that consistently “wow’ed” me. I had a bigger grin on my face after shooting with this than I have in a long time, and that certainly has to stand for something. The Leica M has stood the test of time, and they have delivered yet again with another truly stunning achievement: the Leica M Monochrom. At $8,000 for the body alone, you have to be truly in love with the idea of shooting in black and white to be able to justify this camera, but if you are, there’s nothing else in the world like it and you certainly won’t be disappointed.
Pop Photo tests the M Monochrom:
If you enjoy shooting black-and-white film with a rangefinder, and if you have the means to purchase the M Monochrom, it certainly deserves your consideration.
Leica sometimes conducts events where curious shooters can give its cameras a try. If you’re on the fence, it would be a good idea to avail yourself of such an opportunity. Just be sure that your bank account can handle the cost of this camera, because you might just fall in love with the M Monochrom the way we did. We wouldn’t want you to wind up as heartbroken as we felt the day we had to send our borrowed test sample back.
Kristian Dowling takes the M Monochrom to Bangkok (nice samples, BTW!):
While I’m not overly technical, I know a great file when I see one, and the sharpness this camera delivers is on par with my Nikon D800E, which is an amazing achievement from an 18MP sensor. The files up to ISO 800 look very much like medium format black and white and never cease to bring a smile to my face. Most importantly, owning such a camera really forces me to think more carefully about my work and concentrate on making every shot count, adopting the same attitude I once had when I was running low on film. With the M Monohcrom and recording images straight to digital, that is now something I’ll never have to worry about, while still achieving the same sense of gratification of shooting a great black and white film.
From Gregory Simpson‘s “Fetishists Guide to the Monochrom”:
Some people actually acquire Leica products because of their luxury status. Leica, itself, feeds this market with special edition versions of their products — versions that will sit in display cases as objects d’art rather than in the hands of hardworking documentary photographers. From my vantage point in a completely different universe, I simply can’t imagine the Monochrom having much (if any) appeal to the luxury crowd. It’s not covered in ostrich skin. It doesn’t gleam in the showcase. Shine a light on it, and it’ll suck it dark like a black hole. In fact, I’ll go so far as to say the Monochrom is, perhaps, the most austere, unadorned and restrained camera I’ve ever used. I quite like this about the Monochrom — but I suspect Luxury Fetishists will feel just the opposite.
The camera is flat black with nary a Leica logo in sight. The model name is barely discernible atop the right edge of the hot shoe, and there’s no engraving anywhere except on the back — save for a small serial number stamped atop the body, which makes the camera resemble a piece of bog-standard government issue more than an item of luxury.
Plain, unprepossessing and perhaps a touch “homely,” the Monochrom is designed to draw absolutely no attention to itself — making it essentially the opposite of a luxury camera. Save for the conceit of a leather strap, it is, pure and simple, a shooter’s camera.
Steve Huff‘s second part of his M Monochrom is up. Closing words:
Shooting in black and white requires passion and a love of the art of photography. You will get out what you put in and the camera can either reward you with beautiful files or disappoint you with flatness. For all of you getting this camera be sure to work with the files using Lightroom or Photoshop as well as filter plugins and physical filters. This is when you will start to really appreciate what the Monochrom can do for you. I feel that this camera also inspires and when you tale it out to shoot you know you have something special in your hands. I may not agree with Leica’s pricing on this camera but I have to tell it like it is and the fact is that I adore this camera. End of story.
Børge Indergaard’s review is based on his real-life experience with the camera. The M Monochrom is his first Leica ever:
My experience with the M Monochrom has been very good. I have never shot only black and white before. I have never owned a Leica before. But I am already feeling more inspired to keep shooting, and I have quickly started to look at things differently and compose accordingly. I have also started shooting during the evening/night when it is pitch dark outside. At ISO 10,000 this camera delivers images that are — if exposed correctly — very usable without much noise reduction. The camera simply let’s me do what I want to do without getting in my way. And that, for me, is worth a whole lot.
Writes Steve Huff after getting his very own M Monochrom on “Understanding the Camera and vs. Film” (makes good reading, as always from Steve):
The Monochrom is a camera much like the Leica MP. A lifetime camera. Of course many will say a digital camera can not be a lifetime camera but I beg to differ. If you are 12 then maybe not but if you are like me, in your 40s or older then this is a camera that could easily last our lifetime as long as Leica stays in business and supplies service and batteries. Even their Digilux 2 is still in service and they still repair them and it is well over 12 years old. The Monochrom is not one of those cameras you buy and sell a year later for something new… unless you bought it for the wrong reasons like style and flash. For those who live, breath, eat and sleep black and white, this is YOUR camera. Period. No film stock to buy. No chemicals to inhale. No time consuming scanning film for hours. No ISO restrictions. This is about as good as it will ever get for B&W only cameras. It simply can not get any better than this when we are talking 35mm format and compact (…)
To understand the Monochrom you have to know what it is all about. I have explained it in this post which is part one of five in my ongoing Monochrom review. This camera is not for everyone and yes you can get great B&W conversions from many cameras. Leica M8, M9, Nikon D800 and others but the Monochrom is not only about shooting in black and white, it is about shooting in a style that some of us love so much. It is a true rangefinder which is not an experience you can get from a Nikon D800. It is compact and you can not get this from a D800. It has a jewel like build (also not with the D800). The lenses are the best in the world and SMALL. Shooting a rangefinder puts you in a different mindset. I have spoken about this many times but it is true and to those who are the Leica haters, that is OK. Everyone is entitled to their opinion just as I am to mine. Not everyone likes shooting with a rangefinder.
Finally, Lloyd Chambers gets his hands on an M Monochrom. How he misses color!
I am grateful to have rented the Leica M Monochrom (and not bought one). Why? Because I miss color! Such beautiful blues and yellows today (got those colors on the Sigma DP1 Merrill instead, and it makes lovely monochrome results too). But also because the Leica M Monochrom is insanely expensive for a tool that I would use only as an adjunct to other things. It is every bit as challenging as the Leica M9/M9-P, except more so in several ways.
That said, monochrome fans used to shooting in black and white will find that the M Monochrom delivers lovely files that should suffice for most any purpose. Diligence and effort will surely pay off. But with the aspen turning bright yellow and the sky a rich azure, I’m not enthusiastic about throwing away all the color — to my point which is this: monochrome images when skillfully done can be beautiful but also quite boring under many outdoor conditions. The skill is in learning to see in black and white (at which I do not consider myself skilled) and to pick the right situations.
Here’s Ashwin Rao on Steve Huff:
To me, the challenges of the Leica M Monochrom represent its strengths. It forced me, in my brief five days with it, to see in new and creative ways. It forced more attention to detail in how I chose to compose or perceive a particular shot. In post processing, I learned much about the camera, its flexibilities, and its eccentricities, and I have found the images produced by the camera to be full of hidden treasures.
To boot, the Leica M Monochrom is a remarkable image-making machine. It captures detail in a way that I could only have dreamed previously. The detail is preserved through much of its ISO range, though personally, I’d avoid ISO’s about 6,400 unless you wish a very grainy look. At base ISO through ISO 1,600, the images render very cleanly and are quite flexible to post-processing and extensive pushing and pulling. At ISO 3,200, the details of the images remain preserved, though noise becomes a factor, particularly if the image isn’t perfectly exposed and requires a bit of processing. At IS0 6,400, the images remain useable, but noise starts to overwhelm detail. Beyond ISO 6,400, I generally found the camera’s results to be unacceptable… Still, to have a camera capable of producing sharp, detailed images at up to ISO 6,400, has to this point, been a dream for Leica shooters… Kudos to Leica for making this dream a reality.
All in all, I found the Leica M Monochrom to be a fascinating experience. Will I still be getting one? You bet. I found that the camera has much to teach me yet, about how to visualize an image and focus on the core elements of the image without necessarily getting “distracted” by color. I once thought that converting a file to Black and White was an easy cheat to making an unremarkable image suddenly pleasing. This is no longer the case, as the MM is a far more challenging camera to use for the average rangefinder shooter compared to the M9. I accept that challenge and hope to learn more.
Complex interviews Leica’s Roland Wolff and Justin Stailey. They talk yout the M Monochrom and black-and-white photography. Excerpts:
Leica is very attuned with the craft of photography. It’s got art and it’s got science. It’s the blending of those two things that make it interesting (…)
The Monochrom is really a camera (where) the image feels like film (…)
I think some of the romance comes back with this. The romance of black and white comes back with it. We have the control. Where you as the artist, make the decisions and decide how you want the image to be printed.
Longing for more M Monochrom samples? Check out Thorsten Overgaard dedicated webpage. Lots of monochrome work to read and discover. Here a sample — but guess what, shot with an M9!
Jacob Aue Sobol Talks the M Monochrom and art of photography in this worthwhile interview. Can’t give you an excerpt, you really have to read the whole thing.
Lensrentals‘ Roger Cicala gets hold of an “MM MM Good” M Monochrom:
Please don’t consider this a review; it’s not. Reviewers spend days carefully evaluating a camera looking for all its strengths and weakness. I spend a few hours with it, run some tests, get bored, and move on to the next thing. I don’t do reviews, I do first impressions.
In this case, it’s the first impression of a guy who shoots with an M9 occasionally, loves the great shots it makes, and hates that I still can’t focus it and miss 80% of the shots I take (…)
There’s a rule that whenever you write about anything Leica, you have to work in the words “it has that Leica look” somewhere. This camera has a unique look, seriously. I don’t have the black and white film background to say it looks like this or that. I’d call it Black and White meets HDR. It’s very attractive, whatever it is. I do a lot of black and white conversions and I can’t say I’ve ever achieved exactly this look. If I had I’d have been bragging about it.
Over at Leica Blog, Jono Slack publishes “Capturing China With the Leica M Monochrom.” Nice images with an interesting Q&A. Excerpt:
For me, shooting with the Monochrom is a real experience. With digital, I’ve long since come to terms with the fact that colour (or not) is something I can decide about later. Of course, I’ll always have an idea about an image, but the option to change one’s mind after the event becomes ingrained.
With the Monochrom you simply must concentrate on the composition and content – there isn’t a safety net of colour. It takes a little while to get used to it, but in the end it’s definitely liberating.
Erwin Puts puts on the M Monochrom. Highly technical. Excerpt from part I:
My first impression of the Monochrom is of a camera that combines digital convenience with silver-halide emotion, a very tempting combination. The assumptions and claims (technical and psychological) have to be verified or refuted by prolonged use and detailed testing.
Classical film tests have a standard layout: one discusses the resolution/definition of the emulsion, the tonal scale and contrast bandwidth and the granularity or grain impression. In addition the actual exposure index and the characteristic curve are established. This sequence I will follow (…)
In current technical discourse only superlatives count. In practical situations common sense may prevail. Numerous studies have shown that normal scenes have a scene brightness range of 6.5 stops, almost identical to what the Monochrom can capture with the added advantage that the deep shadows and diffuse highlights show detail. If we accept that deep black areas and specular highlights do not show tonal detail, then the Monochrom is capable of capturing a scene with 8 stops, possible more.
The Camera Store tests a pre-release M Monochrom:
Chris Niccolls parting thoughts:
It’s the only camera on the market that shoots digital and yet lets us feel like we’re shooting a film camera, and all the fun that went along with shooting a film camera: getting to see grain structure, getting to have different contrasts based on the choices you made at the time of shooting.
This is really bringing back an age-old nostalgic kind of photography into the modern age.
Macfilos reminds the world that the M Monochrom is outdated before it arrives but… but quoting Steve Huff:
The Leica Monochrome is already outdated, therefore it will never be obsolete.
Read the whole thing.
The Leica Liker played extensively with a pre-production M Monochrom. “Rethink how you see,” he says. His conclusion:
It’s funny how things take left turns in life. When Leica announced the Monochrom back in May, I was very skeptical. I thought: who would want to shoot with a dedicated camera when you have the ability to shoot color and then convert it? I also thought: who would spend so much money on a dedicated camera?
The more I read about it, the more interested I became in this camera. Now that I have played with it, I can honestly say, I want to spend more quality time with it because I love it. I agree with the concept that it is the photographer’s eye and not the camera that makes the images. But we all pore over countless photobooks for inspiration, right? And now, the images that the great masters shot on black and white film no longer seem so unattainable. I don’t mean to be presumptuous, but the desire to try to shoot amazing photos using the masters as a standard to aim for, is exponentially intensified when I use the Monochrom.
O is completely sold on this camera. He says he is already imagining the cool shots he can make with it. While we shoot with our M9 or Ricoh or whatever, O and I talk about shots that we could make with the Monochrom. Isn’t that the beginning of aiming to shoot better photography?
As the Monochrom is pricey, we have already sold various things, just to make room for this little baby. And we can’t wait to get it and go out shooting with it.
I like to think that the Monochrom is much like the Levitated Mass by artist Michael Heizer you see below. It’s something bold and “out-of-the-box” to look at in wonderment. In the case of the Monochrom, you’re in luck. You can also use it with wonderment.
The M Monochrom shoots the Montreux Jazz Festival. Nice portfolio by Michael Agel:
Eric Kim posts a great review of the M Monochrom for street photography. His thoughts are mine:
If you still haven’t plunged on a Leica M9, are interested in doing so, yet only shoot black and white — I would highly recommend getting the M Monochrom. The black-and-white performance is unparalleled to anything digital I have ever shot with, in terms of dynamic range, tonality and high ISO performance (compared to M9).
Why? In my personal experience, 90% or more of Leica M9 shooters shoot in black and white anyways, so they might as well try to get the best damn black and white camera you can afford (…)
Also I honestly doubt that if you are just shooting street photography and uploading black-and-white images to the Web, nobody will be able to tell the difference between what camera you shot it with. You could only tell the difference if you blow up the images 100%, but honestly how often do you do that? So be happy with the camera you already have right now!
But at the end of the day if you have the money, love black and white, want spectacular performance at high ISOs and the best dynamic range in a digital camera, the Leica M Monochrom is for you.
Take this, even Red Bull’s action photography site Red Bull Illume reckons the M Monochrom is worth a mention by quoting Leica Product Manager Jesko von Oeynhausen:
Black-and-white photography is more popular than ever before. Even today, it has lost none of its fascination as an expressive medium, not even for younger generations of photographers. For the first time ever, we are offering an opportunity to consistently and authentically explore black-and-white photography with the M Monochrom, a tool that is unique in the digital world. The camera’s exclusively black-and-white sensor brings an enormous technical benefit that is reflected in the amazing imaging quality it delivers.
In case you’ve missed it, enjoy Jacob Aue Sobol‘s journeying with the M Monochrom. The multiple-award-winning Magnum photographer made a journey for Leica Camera on the Trans-Siberian and Trans-Mongolian railways. In his baggage: the new Leica M Monochrom. From the journey titled “Arrivals and Departures”:
Here’s another essential piece on the M Monochrom, “Unscrambling the Egg” by Light Squared, shedding some light on something that black-and-white film photographers take for granted — read the whole interview with a company that has been converting cameras to black and white and other spectrums for some years now. Here’s the intro:
If you’ve seen the test shots from the Leica Monocrom, you can see that this camera shoots digital that looks more and more like film. It has grain instead of noise. The idea of a black and white only digital camera, to me, is a great thing if I can get shots that are the best things I like about film, with the advantages of digital. But I don’t have $8,000 to spend on such a thing and I don’t think Leica will send me a camera to play with anytime soon. So, I guess anyone like me is out of luck if they wanted to play in the black and white only digital land.
Luckily Leica isn’t the only maker of black and white only cameras today.
Focus Numérique has a comparison between the Leica M6 with Tri-X film and the Leica Monochrom. Google translation’s verdict:
It’s difficult to conclude on a camera so extraordinary, elitist, probably a bit snobby and definitely expensive. The device suffers from the defects already noted on the M9: slow writing speed, an unworthy 230,000 dots screen… For this new body and at this price (almost 7,000 euros), the minimum would have been to fill the gaps.
For fans of black-and-wwhite and rangefinder, the Monochrom has all you can dream of: it’s compact, well-finished, precise, silent… It delivers images of exceptional quality. Certainly, the dynamics are not yet on top and we wish that Leica is working further on this point, but the sharpness is excellent (no more low-pass filter or Bayer) and noise management flawless up to ISO 3,200.
Benjamin Warde had a day with the M Monochrom. There’s only so much you can love a rangefinder though:
So then, what is the real reason that someone would spend eight thousand dollars on a digital camera that only shoots black and white? The real reason is that it’s an eight thousand dollar digital camera that only shoots black and white. It’s the same reason anyone would shoot with a rangefinder at all these days: it’s obtuse to the point of cool. Or, more charitably, limits breed creativity. Of course historically there were actual advantages to rangefinders, but the advent of digital obviated most of those advantages to one degree or another. DP Review recently tried to articulate the appeal, but basically these days it boils down to, “I am a bomb-ass photographer, and a baller to boot; I like my exposure controls physical, my focus manual, and I’ll be goddamned if I’m going to shoot in color. Check out my sweet Leica man-jewelry. Yeah, they left the “e” off the end of “Monochrom” on purpose. Less is more, man.”
Red Dot Forum has this ISO test, Leica M Monochrom vs. Leica M9. In a nutshell: the M Monochrom is so amazingly much cleaner. Well it tops out at ISO 10,000. Still. M10 hopes, here I come!
Steve Huff has some more first thoughts:
Do I think Leica will put an end and destroy black-and-white film with this camera as they claimed? No. Maybe if it were priced at $2,500 and the masses bought it, but at $8,000 film is not going anywhere as this price is still way to out there for most to afford. But those who are passionate enough, those who are the “real” photographers who live and breath for this, they will want one, and probably find a way to get one. It does appear to have a special appeal, like it or not. Leica had the balls to create it so I do applaud them for that — it is once again, a quality product regardless of cost.
Lloyd Chambers elaborates on filtration for Leica M Monochrom to improve image sharpness and tonal separation:
The Leica M Monochrom is a quite limited production run, which means get in line now. I expect Leica to sell every body they make, quickly (…)
The beauty of shooting in black and white is that appropriate filtration can improve lens performance quite significantly.
Why? Lenses performing with color errors show their limitations in color (lateral chromatic aberration, longitudinal chromatic aberration, secondary longitudinal chromatic aberration, etc.
But in black and white, one can use a yellow or orange or red filter, thus cutting off much of the spectral band. In short, the color divergence can be eliminated by filtering out much of the spectral band, leaving only a narrower band of color (wavelengths) which focus “tightly” without the blur effects of differential color focus. Filtration can also increase tonal separation, almost mandatory for some scenes to avoid a flat low-contrast look.
For example, one can shoot a red or deep red filter, which blocks violet and blue and green light, leaving only red wavelengths — no red and green and blue to each focus a bit differently and cause color halos (longitudinal chromatic aberration) or color fringing (lateral chromatic aberration) or oddball magenta/cyan out of focus areas (secondary longitudinal chromatic aberration).
Read the whole thing.
Pocket-lint has a short hands-on preview:
Specialist? For sure. But it’s clever stuff. Based on the same sensor as the original M9, at least in terms of its full-frame size, the M9 Monochrom doesn’t need the usual colour array found in most, if not all, digital cameras. This means no interpolation — the process of the camera “educatedly guessing” accurate colours at each pixel site — is required, instead a super-accurate greyscale reading is taken for precision tonality.
The honorable Economist calls the M Monochrom simply… “color-blind”:
Image sensors at the heart of digital cameras are naturally colour-blind. Each of their millions of tiny photo-sensitive elements measures only the intensity of incoming light, not its wavelength. In order to record colour information, an array of microscopic filters is placed in front them. A quarter of the elements have a red filter, a quarter have a blue filter and the remaining half, green filters.
This arrangement, first devised by Bryce Bayer of Kodak, reflects the physiology of the human eye, which is more sensitive to light in the green part of the spectrum. Software inside the camera then reconstructs the original scene through a process known as demosaicing. Essentially, it takes a guess at the colour of each pixel based upon that of its neighbours.
This procedure can be problematic, however. Fine details in the original are inevitably lost, especially at shapes’ edges, robbing the final image of sharpness. False colours can pop up, ugly interference patterns emerge, caused by a clash between the repeated structure of the filter and patterns in the scene being captured. Noise (random speckling caused by electronic fluctuations in the sensor’s circuitry) is also accentuated. Crucailly, all this number crunching takes time, causing a delay before the camera is ready to shoot again. It would be preferable, then, if cameras could somehow do without the Bayer filters.
That is just what a new camera from Leica, the M Monochrom, has done. Without a Bayer filter on its 18 megapixel sensor, every photosite records the actual intensity at that point. According to Leica, this creates images that are twice as sharp as those from its siblings in the M series. Noise is less noticeable, too. And because there is no filter obscuring light from reaching the sensor, the camera can shoot in darker conditions, giving photographers two more of what they dub f-stops, and with them more flexibility in selecting exposure settings, says Jesko von Oeynhausen of Leica. The results are stunning.
There is, however, a rub. The M Monochrom is the only digital camera on the market that cannot shoot colour images. Working exclusively in black and white might appeal to Leica’s well-heeled, arty customers. But the M Monochrom is unlikely to make much of an splash with mainstream snappers, especially priced at $7,950 (without a lens).
Here’s detailed review, first part, by Ming Thein, with excellent sample images, an excellent read altogether. Verdict:
I’m going to conclude by saying that the M Monochrom is not the camera for everybody. It’s not easy to see luminance only; if you can’t, you’re honestly going to get better results by shooting a color camera and then mastering the conversion process afterwards (to be the subject of a future article). However, with practice, some amazing things are possible with the MM – the image quality potential of this camera is incredibly high indeed. I’ve never seen pixel acuity at this level before – even Foveon cameras tend to have some degradation due to the multi-layer design of the sensor.
Steve Huff posts a first look video and some niche thoughts:
TechRadar posts a nice compilation of thoughts on the M Monochrom and image samples. Early verdict:
Clearly with a retail price of around £6,000 in the U.K. or $8,000 in the U.S., the Leica M Monochrom isn’t going to sell in huge numbers, but from the reaction to its launch it is obvious that it holds huge appeal to the Leica faithful. It seems to sum up both the history and the future of Leica as a great photographic brand.
It’s about getting the best black and white photo possible, and this means gathering the maximum amount of luminance data in-camera. It comes with Adobe Lightroom and Nik Silver Efex Pro 2, recognising that in the modern age some adjustment is often necessary to get the desired look.
Results may look good straight out of the camera, but there is usually room for improvement. Traditional black and white photographers shoot to produce a negative that has all the information required to create a print, and dodging and burning are just part of the process. It’s just the same with digital photography.
While the Leica M Monochrom can produce JPEGs for that instant result, the DNG RAW files have the most data for manipulation.
It’s early days yet, and we have yet to test a full production sample, but the Leica M Monochrom looks like it could be the ultimate camera for shooting black-and-white images.
We anticipate that many well-heeled and professional Leica users will invest, keeping their existing Leica M9 or Leica M9-P for color work while the Leica M Monochrom is reserved for black-and-white shooting. Nice.
Gizmodo asks rhetorically, “Would you buy Leica’s black-and-white M Monochrom camera?”
Imaging Resource asks if Leica is pricing out its loyal customers with an $8,000 camera:
Leica’s fame was built on the work and celebrity of Henri Cartier-Bresson. However, I cannot imagine it would please HCB to see the “luxe” direction Leica is taking. Bresson believed in the power of photography. Before his death, he created a photographic center in Paris to encourage and exhibit the work of photographers, mostly Leica photographers. If he were alive today, I have to believe he would urge Leica to invest a little more in the future of cameras as “working tools” rather than in the future of cameras as “investments.”
The decision to make the M Monochrom particularly puzzled me for it seemed to target an almost impossibly small number of photographers. After all, how many photographers shoot only in black and white and how many of those can afford this camera? Moreover, the photographers I know who shoot black and white and make big exhibition prints still generally prefer to use black-and-white film and medium or large format cameras. So who was this camera aimed at and what was his or her name?
Ultimately, I really do not care if Leica wants to produce $8,000 cameras and $5,000 lenses for a few wealthy people. Like the 47% of the survey respondents, I can’t afford those prices. And that makes me wish that Leica would pay as much attention to the needs of other photographers, like a generation of young photographers who do not have $20,000 for a camera to take into a ghetto, or a jungle, or a combat zone.
Nevertheless, through it all, Leica is in my blood and part of my being. So as Leica turns away from we who love it, I have to ask, much as Julius Caesar did, “Et tu Leica?”
Pop Photo‘s Stan Horaczek has some insightful first impressions:
Just after announcing the M Monochrom black-and-white only rangefinder in Berlin, Leica CEO Dr. Alfred Schopf looked at me with a subtle, confident smile: “If we had done the proper market research,” he said, “we probably never would’ve made this camera.” And when you consider the Monochrom M, his words aren’t hard to believe. Reactions to the unique new camera, which is incapable of capturing color images, swings wildly (and predictably) on the Web from unadulterated lust to pure vitriol. But the fact of the matter is that very close to zero of those internet commenters have actually spent any time shooting with what is an undeniably interesting camera. I have, and I’m a little bit in love (…)
For now, most black-and-white purists will stick to conversions during post or pushing rolls of Tri-X through their film cameras while they still can. In all honestly, if you have decent post-processing chops and you’re not going to be making really big prints (qualifiers that probably apply to the vast majority of the folks reading this right now), you don’t need a $8,000 camera with a dedicated black-and-white sensor to get great results.
If the M Monochrom sells like some believe it will, price won’t always be an issue. Black and white as a format will certainly endure, but film stocks likely won’t. And if the demand is there, other companies will likely come to the party. They almost always do.
The Online Photographer asks why a digital camera would have a sensor for black and white only. It’s an essay really, take your time for the whole thing — and the comments! Very short excerpt:
From a technical standpoint it’s not necessary to have dedicated black-and-white cameras. From a business standpoint it’s no company’s obligation to provide artists with the tools they might need. From a methodological, aesthetic, and educational standpoint, however — and speaking from a critical and cultural viewpoint — it’s essential that this option remain available to photographers who need it for their work, as well as, perhaps, to students who could use it for their training and education. A year shooting black and white only will make any color photographer a better color photographer.
Adam Marelli who would have changed three things about the M9-M is not sure what to think. “Leica M Monochrom — Masterpiece or Mistake?” Read the whole thing:
Leica does not need to appeal to everyone. In fact, they hardly have to appeal to any large number of photographers. The majority of the camera buying market does not use rangefinders, can’t imagine life without autofocus, and is busy learning how to edit videos because now their clients expect them to be cinematographers. The audience asked for more features and every other camera company (in the 35mm world) has answered. Now, photo exhibitions around the world are filled with talks on “How to market video to clients.” What a colossal mistake (…)
The M Monochrom is a specialized solution to a certain set of photographic problems. If a tool only has to do two or three things, it gives it a huge advantage over is competition. I expect the experience of using the camera to be very agreeable. It will end the conflict of “should it be a color picture or a black and white?” Problem solved, it’s black and white. One less thing to think about.
At ISO 10,000 you can take a picture in candle light that will easily rival Delta 3,200 film pushed a stop or two. This is a huge bonus. And as a professional, if you sell a single image in a gallery with the camera then it pays for itself.
And all of those black-and-white filters will finally get some digital use again. For anyone who shot film they understand that no amount of post production can equal the use of a filter. I can’t wait to put an orange filter on a Monochrom and see how far the image can be pushed.
David Powell from ShootTokyo shows some images from the Leica Tokyo event “Das Wesentliche,” the essence. Stroll through the series, the camera just looks natural in his hands, says David. Flabbergasted he asks,
The new Leica M9 Monochrom and the amazing Summicron M 50/2 ASPH… Honestly I can’t decide which I love more. Let me see… one for a Father’s Day present… and I don’t think I received my Cinco de Mayo present yet. You are suppose to get gifts for Cinco de Mayo, right?
Bellamy Hunt aka JapanCameraHunter got his hands on a “delightful M9-M” at the Tokyo event held for the Japanese market. He posts some samples and says,
I am honestly floored by this camera. I have tried out a lot of digital cameras, and none of them have really made me feel that they were in any way close to film, but this one gave me a feeling that it could be. OK, so there is no winder, and it makes that funny shutter noise that I cannot stand, but this is the first digital camera that I have ever actually really desired. I feel that it is the first camera that has stepped into the recreation of the film feeling. I think this camera shows a coming of age for digital sensors and is going to really change the landscape. (Leica) hoped that this camera would be something that film shooters would aspire to use, without making sacrifices.
And Steve Huff got his one hour with the M Monochrom. He’s not only excited about the many gorgeous tones of this new classic’s images in his hands, he’s also strangely attracted to the camera despite the price tag:
Black and white has a way of tugging at your soul, your heart, your brain. It’s simple. It’s basic. It’s real. No, it’s not real as in what we see with our eyes but for some reason when I view classic black-and-white images I can see deeper into the image. It has more emotion and soul. I love black and white. The problem has always been that traditional digital cameras usually sucked with Monochrome imaging. Sure we can use plug ins like Silver Efex Pro or Alien Skin but imagine a simple camera we could have that just allowed us to be pure. To be mono. Yep, this new Leica allows us to do that and gives us superb IQ, great sharpness, and the ability to capture that real emotion that so many of us love to see (…)
So after my one hour with this lovely camera I asked myself, ”Would I sell my M9-P to buy an Monochrom?” Well, I wouldn’t want to… but yes I would. Because after viewing my sample images I do see a difference between this output and what comes out of an M9 with conversions. Yes, $8,000 is insane and much too expensive (it really is), but damn Leica, you always have a way to get to my heart and soul, and I feel that the Leica Monochrom, even at $8,000, will eventually become a classic due to its simplicity, design, feel, use and beautiful output. I do not think they will have a problem selling this one though I also do not think they will sell as many as they did the M9.
Long-time Leica user Jonathan Slack provides a beautiful M Monochrom declaration of love, calling the camera “Henri” — you’ll soon learn why. Image quality and high ISO?
I have to say that my wife was not overjoyed that our trip to China was going to be recorded in black and white, but I think she’s reconciled having seen the results (…) Quite simply, it’s a revelation. Quite a new experience — even at 10,000 ISO the small amount of grain is lovely, and reminiscent of fine grained film rather than digital. Of course, digital images never really look like film, but the files from Henri have a very un-processed look about them, which is presumably the result of not having been parsed through a demosaicing program.
High ISO is what most of us have been wanting on an M — well, here it is! I think the toning and contrast are wonderful, and the amount of grain is irrelevant unless you are going to shoot billboard sized prints. The ability to keep the shutter speed safely high when shooting those fleeting moments is really useful, and I found I got a lot of keepers where I would really have been struggling with my M9-P
Steve Huff posts four high resolution, unedited high ISO shots – shots he literally had to grab the camera for. Steve says so much: he had been “floored at the results (…) unlike what you can get with an M9 and conversions.”
The Leica Forum‘s M Monochrom review says they’re sure “this camera will polarize”:
Leica’s motto is different: “Concentration on Essentials.” Leica M cameras force the photographer to think about the final image when pressing the shutter release. The Leica M Monochrom takes this motto to extremes. If you get into this, you’ll get a camera that delivers a fantastical image quality. For the steep price the buyer gets a technical highlight: in black and white the Leica M Monochrom provides fantastic results in sharpness, contrast range and minimal noise.
Who Will Buy This Camera? If you can afford it, if you shoot in black and white and if you are looking for image quality without compromise — this might be the right camera for you.
Luminous Landscape‘s Michel Reichmann is quoting Henri Cartier-Bresson to begin his hands-on review with — “Henri” was the camera’s project name prior to its launch:
Shooting with a Leica is like a long tender kiss, like firing an automatic pistol, like an hour on the analyist’s couch.
Reichmann was shooting with a pre-production M Monochrom for ten days — read the whole thing. Excerpt:
As appealing as the M Monochrom may be to some, it needs to be borne in mind that the camera only shoots in black and white. So if you’ve walked out the door with just the M Monochrom, and later find yourself faced with a great color image opportunity, well, you’re kind of out of luck. Of course if you’re shooting an M9 you can choose which rendition you prefer. The M9 though doesn’t give you the special image qualities that the M Monochrom does, so that’s the trade off.
Some photographers will find just being able to shoot monochrome creatively invigorating; others aesthetically restrictive. As always in a creative pursuit, it comes down to individual taste and needs.
You can, of course, use color filters on the camera; a yellow, red, green etc, to accentuate color tonal relationships, just like the old days. Except that when I got the M Monochrom I visited a half dozen camera stores in Toronto looking for 49mm color filters and not a single shop had any, and most said that it has been several years since anyone had asked for them. The major online retailers still sell them though.
And, in a final note on tonal rendition, in a discussion with Leica engineers I was told that the M Monochrom is very close to panchromatic in its native response, but that a light yellow filter will bring it even closer to that goal if desired.
DP Review‘s preview notes a few challenges:
There are drawbacks, of course — the “headroom” found in RAW files comes mainly from the fact that bright regions have usually only over-exposed one of the three color channels, with usable data still available for the other two channels. With a true mono sensor, any overexposure is absolute — once the channel has clipped to white, there’s no chance of recovery. Equally, anyone who has got used to producing mono images by converting color images, with all the selective color mixing that brings, will have to get used to pulling the correct color filter out of their camera bag at the point of capture.
And that is a challenge – the best black-and-white images are the result of a tonal response that is perfectly matched to the subject, usually as the result of extensive darkroom or post-processing work. With only five contrast settings to select in the camera, even with perfect exposure, it’ll probably take a bit of RAW processing to get the best out of each image. The M Monochrom shoots 34.7MB DNG files (there’s no compression option), for users willing to make the effort (…)
It may seem odd to think about the M-Monochrom’s sensitivity to different colors, since it can’t distinguish between them. However, as with mono film, the best results from the Monochrom come from adding colored filters in front of the lens. For this to work, the camera needs to be fairly similarly sensitive to light from all across the visible spectrum (it needs to be panchromatic). We asked Leica whether it had needed to add any color filter to the sensor, to balance-out its sensitivity to different wavelengths of visible light, and were told it hadn’t.
They aren’t worried about the naysayers or the mass market who can only dream of affording one. Even with the pressure of Sony, Fuji and Olympus making great cameras that are considered “Leica Killers” they keep doing what they do best. My worry for Leica is that they already have a small (compared to other companies) consumer base and now with a black-and-white only camera that circle of available buyers shrinks a bit more.
I love black and white and how it looks and I do see myself purchasing a camera made for that soul purpose but not for the price. I think you are going to hate the idea of the M Monochrom if you are someone with limited funds or maybe someone who has never held a Leica. I know a lot of photographers but few have the heart that I have for the art of street photography.
In forums online people are talking about how to emulate black-and-white film using this and that slider in lightroom but they are missing the point. Those photos in my opinion are lacking soul. The camera is either for you or its not. The black-and-white camera isn’t simply a camera, its a way of thinking and shooting. Ironically the camera does include a free copy of Nik Silver Efex Pro so you can fine-tune your monochrome images.
Leica’s digital cameras are known to excel in black-and-white photography, despite being digital. With the new Leica M focusing entirely on black and white, there are many technical benefits to eliminating color. sensor sites have colored filters over them, called the color filter array. They do not sense the wavelength of the incoming light, but rather are only exposed to one wavelength.
And to speak with official Leica:
Countless iconic black-and-white photographs have been shot with the legendary cameras of the Leica M-System. So it was time for a camera to continue this tradition and finally make it possible to deliver authentic monochrome photography in digital form: the Leica M Monochrom. It is the first full-frame, 35mm format digital camera to be designed exclusively and without any compromises for black-and-white photography. It delivers “true” black-and-white images in unrivalled sharpness and dynamic range. This makes the M Monochrom the perfect camera for anyone with a passion for black-and-white photography.
The broader tech scene’s M Monochrom opinions are rather tongues-in-cheek.
The actual photographic theory behind the Monochrom is pretty sound: Leica created the camera without a color filter array, which should allow it to to take some excellent black-and-white shots — and it had better, since that’s all it will be taking. Other key specifications include and 18MP full-frame sensor and an ISO range topping out at 10,000. The camera doesn’t come with a lens, but you could add on a brand new Summicron 50/2.0 prime lens for a mere $7,195. I kind of hope this idea catches on — maybe Samsung will release a TV that only displays black-and-white movies. Or better yet, only Humphrey Bogart movies.
Don’t be so quick to dismiss this camera — plenty of deep-pocketed photographers have likely been waiting for something just like it.
Forbes asks laconically, “Did Leica just release a camera that can only take black-and-white photos?”:
Because it is so unique, the Leica M Monochrom will receive a ton of attention from photo buffs and in the photography-related media — advertising not just itself but the entire company. What at first seemed like a hare-brained scheme turns out to be a brilliant new product idea. Sometimes, it pays to zig when others zag.
High Snobiety has a kind of breaking news alert:
UPDATE: The M Monochrom (Monochrom, not Monochrome) is literally a monochrome camera — it ONLY shoots in black and white.
+++ Order the Leica M Monochrom now from Amazon, B&H or Adorama. Or why not preorder the new 50mm Summicron, $7,195 only — hey that includes shipping! — over at B&H and Adorama. Feel dizzy? Then get the newly announced compact Leica X2 (Amazon, B&H, Adorama).