Leica today on May 10th announced the LEICA M MONOCHROM:

The world’s first digital camera for full-frame, 35 mm black-and-white photography

We had the opportunity to test a LEICA M MONOCHROM prototype prior to the launch. In this article we’ll try to find out if such a camera makes sense and who might be the target group.

LEICA M MONOCHROM At First Glance

If you know the Leica M product range, you’ll immediately notice that this camera is close to a LEICA M9-P:

  • The LEICA M MONOCHROM also has the Vulcanite leather
  • On the camera front the red dot and the product name are missing
  • It has the sapphire glass cover

On the back of the LEICA M MONOCHROM nothing new – all controls are at the same place as the Leica M9 and M9-P.

MONOCHROM hot shoe engraving

Here are the differences:

  • The LEICA M MONOCHROM is available only in black chrome while the M9-P comes in black finish and silver chrome.
  • The camera top has absolutely no engraving, only the flash shoe has “MONOCHROM” engraved in black.

Delivery Scope

The delivery scope is the same as with the LEICA M9-P, Adobe Lightroom comes as standard software package. Additionally Leica puts a real-leather carrying strap in the box and a NIK SilverEfex 2 licence, a software for black-and-white image processing.

Baryte Prints For MONOCHROM Customers

In cooperation with Whitewall Leica offers a special service for LEICA M MONOCHROM owner. After the registration via the Leica website they’ll receive a personal link providing access a service where digital images from the M Monochrom are printed on premium-quality baryte paper.

Camera Menu

The first real differences compared to the LEICA M9-P can be found in the camera menu:

Toning Instead Of White Balance

Some menu items – like White Balance and Color Space – are removed because color is not relevant. Dedicated for black & white images some new menu items are added, for example toning: In the camera you can give JPEG images a cold, selenium or sepia toning.

ISO Range

The complete ISO range has moved upwards: The maximum is now ISO 10,000 (M9: ISO 2,500). The range starts at ISO160 – this is the “Pull” setting with a reduced range of contrast. Leica recommends ISO 320 as optimal setting.

RAW Histogram And Clipping

If you want to use the full contrast range of the LEICA M MONOCHROM sensor, you can use the histogram to display the raw data, unaltered by camera intern processes. The configurable clipping display allows precise correction or optimisation of exposures.

Sensor

The most important difference of the LEICA M MONOCHROM is of course the pure black and white sensor. Like the M9 Sensor its made by Truesense, the former Kodak sensor branch.

A little bit background information: Color image sensors need a lot of tricks and compromises to provide a full resolution color image

  • Color sensors have to use a Bayer pattern of color filters in front of all sensor elements, assigning each element to red, green or blue
  • In order to get all three color values for all pixels interpolation of color values with adjacent pixels is necessary.
  • Finally the camera’s image processor tries to  avoid the resulting artefacts

All these steps reduce the detail resolution of the sensor, the sensitivity and thus increases noise.

The LEICA M MONOCHROM Sensor

The Leica MONOCHROM Sensor has a different structure: As it doesn’t need to deliver color information, it delivers the full resolution of the sensor without any artefacts. The MONOCHROM Sensor has the same official resolution of 18 Megapixels as the Leica M9. But it should create a much better image quality:

  • A much higher detail resolution – as no interpolation with adjacent pixels is needed
  • Higher sensitivity and thus less noise – as no color filter elements absorb light

If this is pure theory or if it results in better image quality – this is what we’ll find out in our field test.

LEICA M MONOCHROM Field Test

In order to find out how good the pure black & white sensor of the LEICA M MONOCHROM really is, we looked for some critical subjects in Bonn.

Disclaimer:

  • All images are JPEGs out of camera or DNGs developed by Adobe Photoshop CS5 without sharpening.
  • The camera used is a LEICA M MONOCHROM prototype, the firmware is version 0.009 – an early beta version
  • All images are scaled down to 1024px width, the cut-outs are screenshots made at 600%

Test Detail Resolution

Here are two images to show the detail resolution of the LEICA M MONOCHROM

This detail of the Kunstmuseum Bonn is our favourite location to test the resolution of digital cameras.Click image for higher resolution
Without any sharpening we have images with pixel perfect results as you can see at this detail of the blind. Click image for higher resolution
Here’s another detail of this image, again:
Resolution down to single pixels Click image for higher resolution

 

Another subject from the green house – which looks a little bit like from a electron microscope.
Click image for higher resolution
Here we have point-shaped structures in the plants, which are rendered pixel by pixel.Click image for higher resolution
Click image for higher resolution

After looking at some images: This sensor definitely has an fantastic detail resolution.

Test High ISO

Here are some test shot made late in the evening with high ISO settings.

This old wall was shot with ISO 8,000.Click image for higher resolution
A detail from the dark area of ivy leaves on the right side. Even small details of the plants are visible.Click image for higher resolution

 

This shot was made with ISO 3,200.Click image for higher resolution
In this homogeneous area in the water surface no noise is visible.Click image for higher resolution

Our opinion about the Leica M Monochrom sensitivity.
Up to ISO 3,200 almost no noise is visible, even at ISO 8,000 the results are still very good.

Test Contrast Range

How big the contrast range is provided by the LEICA M MONOCHROM DNGs, we can show with this image from the greenhouse

The JPEG file out of camera is much too dark for my taste – may be it’s a bug of the early beta firmware. It looks as if the dark parts of the file don’t have any detail. In two steps we created two more JPEG versions from the original DNG file.Click image for higher resolution
Version 1 shows how the image should be in my opinion.Click image for higher resolution
Version 2 shows how much detail is still available in the shadows.
Click image for higher resolution

Black & Whits Only Has Its Price Too

Given the quality of the image results it’s understandable that Leica is not going to sell this camera for less – far from it! The LEICA M MONOCHROM will be more expensive than a Leica M9-P, the price tag in Germany is 6.800 €.

Different Way Of Taking Images With The LEICA M MONOCHROM

So far the specs and results with this new camera – one question remains:
How does the LEICA M MONOCHROM change the way a photographer works?
With film cameras I had to make decisions for at least 36 shots. Nowadays with digital cameras anything goes: Memory cards have an almost endless capacity and you always have in mind: „I can edit all images later“.

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 of 6,800 € the buyer gets a technical highlight: In black & white the LEICA M MONOCHROM provides fantastic results in sharpness, contrast range and minimal noise.

Who Will Buy This Camera?

Where is the target group for the Leica MONOCHROM? If you can afford it, if you shoot in Black & White and if you are looking for image quality without compromise – this might be the right camera for you.

Your opinion?

So far my first review of the LEICA M MONOCHROM! I’m pretty sure that this camera will polarize – many of you will have a completely different view on it.

What is your opinion? I’m really looking forward to your comments and discussions in the Leica Forum – and to new Leica Masterpieces, shot with a Leica MONOCHROM!

New Leica Products available for pre-order

About the Author

Andreas is Photo Enginer and lives in Bonn, Germany. He runs the international Leica Forum, the Systemkamera Forum (about CSC cameras) and the Fuji X Forum. Google+

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33 Responses to “Leica M Monochrom Review”

  1. Image Ace says:

    Still looking for a Leica upgrade for the R series DMR. Does anyone know if a custom mod for the DMR is available? Seems like a no-brainer – great lenses and a nice R8/R9 body. They might sell more 18MP DMRs than 6,800 euro B&W Mono bodies?

  2. Pete says:

    Dumb…just dumb! Dumb if you by one.This is nothing more than an M9 with the color sensor filter removed which technically will give more dynamic range. Given that there is outstanding software out there (e.g. NIK Efex and others) why in the hell would you want to spend $8-$9K on this machine? They blew on the M8, recovered with the M9 and so the story goes on.

    From a business perspective this makes all the sense in the world. Not much by way of technical retooling or engineering and the get more milk money for stretching the M9 out a bit longer. I suspect at least another 3 years, maybe more. There are several reasons why the Leica cost more:

    1. The dollar gets its ass kicked by the Euro; go figure when Europe (Greece, France, Spain, Merkel, et al) is collapsing by the minute.
    2. The cost of German employee beneifits with steep vacation times and operating costs.
    3. Everything is taxed to death in Germany.
    4. High import taxes!
    5. Money needed to rebuild the east.
    6. Other systemic issues.

    What the hell…this is a free society and if you have the dough and a Leicaite, you are more than not thinking about the next purchase! I will not judge you for this, after all, it is a free world! All this hype in my opinion was for not. I hope If you and others feel at least a bit invigorated by the star struck hype. Iwas stationed in Germany many moons ago. I can at least say the German people are awesome and that schnitzel and beer are not in short supply.

    I like my M8 and M4 just fine!

    Pete

    • Jan W. Tromp says:

      Why so bitter? There are still many (like me) not using color. For us it’s like the vinyl record comes back.(it is!) The prices of Leica are absurd high when you cannot afford it. Then say so but judge the camera on the quality and I’m impressed with what I’ve seen sofar.

    • Tomas says:

      We live in a world where luxury brands thrive – whether Hermes, Rolls-Royce, and Leica. Believe me, there are lots of people who can afford all of these and there are waiting lists. Of course, there are equally good alternatives, In cameras, we have Canon, Nikon, Olympus, Panasonic, Fuji, etc. If you’re into cars, Ferrari is the pinnacle for many. But Nissan offers the GTR at a much less than half the price – and it’s performance is just as good on most counts. Let’s remember that Leica is not targeted at the average consumer and should not be judged or rationalized on that basis.

      • Amanda Berry says:

        Of course if one is self emplyed and making enough profits one could put it down as a capital investment and buy one out of money one would have otherwise paid in tax. In which case a free Leica M9 could be one of the reasons self-emplyment beats the dole lol :)

  3. [...] I’m no native speaker, so please forgive me my not so perfect English More information:LEICA M MONOCHROM review articleLEICA M MONOCHROM press release and technical dataSurvey and discussion in the Leica Forum About the [...]

  4. Again Leica is making a non event event .
    It is really just a marketing move , recooking old staff , trying to make new with old .
    At this price you can buy three or four Nikon it is less “chique” but so much clever .
    Just another point do not erase critical comments from your blog , listening to them might help Leica to do better next time .
    A last thing who cares about the edition Hermes , ridiculus .

    Patrick Mimran

  5. Bruce says:

    This camera might move things on if it brings about improvements in tonality and dynamic range. We’ve had enough resolution in top digital cameras for years so unless you like making giant prints or blowing up small parts of the frame, the jump in megapixels is neither here nor there. It’s the same with sharpness. Beyond a certain level, extra sharpness adds nothing to a photograph: sharp is sharp.

    Is the M-Monochrom worth the money? Of course not, but for well-healed buyers this wont matter: it’s a new Leica so they’ll have to have it. I liked Andreas’s comment that because it offers better image quality then Leica are bound to charge more for it! What about basing the price on the production cost of the camera, Andreas? All the tooling is in place for the M9 and even allowing for the new sensor, there can’t be much difference in the cost per unit to Leica. Leica just likes to charge as much as it can for its products – always has done and always will. German labour costs are unlikely to have much to do with it if the camera is largely made in Portugal, if that’s indeed the case?

  6. [...] had the opportunity to test a prototype of the LEICA M MONOCHROM prior to the official launch. In this article and in this video review we try to find out if this camera makes sense – and who might be [...]

  7. bob hope says:

    Lets face it, if your this passionate about black and white then film is the way foward here. It’s just another wheel reinvented,n as this will cost them nothing to produce.

  8. Mugget says:

    Why all the hating comments? Does no one actually bother to look at the images? They dynamic range is fantastic!!

    I’m still happy with my M8 as well (aside from the fact I cannot afford a new Leica M), but I can also see the benefits of the M Monochrom.

    Some people just seem to be confused about what Leica is. Leica is not a consumer brand! They’re a luxury brand! How many luxury brands do you know that produce goods with a cheap price tag?

  9. Ray says:

    I have no problem with the announcement. In a day when everyone is pushing color Leica comes along and offers B&W only with some improvement. I bought my m9 because I liked how it did B&W. I can afford to buy the new one but really like my M9 as I occasionally am blown away by some color shots. This company seems to strive for perfection. Look around and you won’t see much of that going on in any market place.

    You don’t like the concept, don’t buy into it. It’s just that simple. I find their new concept very interesting but will stay with my M9 and thank them for coughing it up ! :D

  10. [...] Pardo in Camaras, Leica, Noticias 0 En el foro de Leica se ha publicado este vídeo  y un primer analisis : “ Este sensor tiene una resolución de detalles fantástico. Hasta ISO 3200 casi nada de [...]

  11. Amanda Berry says:

    Well in all fairness whilst I can see there being some advantage in terms of resolution and noise reduction to a monochrome sensor. And I dare say they could have some advantages in some specialized areas of photography. E.g. Scientific photography, medium and large format work etc. I don’t see a lot of point in it on a Leica M9.

    Surely the main problem in terms of black and white photography is without the ability to control color tonalities in post production one would be forced to use colour filters over the lens at the picture taking stage as one did with black and white film if one wanted artistic control of certain tonalities in a scene e.g. the tone of the sky or folliage in a landscape scene.

    Surely this would tend to negate much of the advantage of a monochome sensor., given colour filters generally have factors of 1 to 2 stops so would require increased exposure, higher ISOs etc. Also filters over the lens can degrade optical performace through additional refraction, internal light reflection not to mention the added risk of dust and finger makes due to their added impracticality.

    So whilst it would force one to do black and white photography in a more traditional way i.e. similar to using black and white film. To me it seems pointless on a Leica M9. given the major advantage of digital photography particularly with higher end models which shoot in RAW mode is the considerable amount of artistic control one has in post production. Taking that away doesn’t actually make this camera more useful or necessarily even significantly improve image quality because in practice this would largely be negated by the need to use additional color filtration in many situations. So whilst it might appeal to collectors who might buy a Leica M9 more as a work of art, in which case it’s rarity as a luxury item might be more attractive than it’s usefulness. I can’t really see this being particularly popular with photographers.

    There was a time when the Leica range finder was state of the art and had a certain niche. But these days I would argue it’s little more than a very expensive anachronism where people buy into a certain historical ethos. Personally I don’t think this has anything to do with real photography.

  12. Bruce says:

    Amanda’s got a very good point. Given that the M9 is capable of stunning black and white output, any slight advantage the M9M might have has to be weighed against the original’s ability to have its tones altered in the likes of Silver Efex Pro. Having to carry around a few colour filters to achieve the same thing with the M9 M does seem a bit daft.

    I think we have to take a step back and appreciate that, as with many things Leica, the products are better appreciated by well-off camera fondlers than keen photographers.

    • Amanda Berry says:

      Yes agreed and glad you appreciated my point :)

      Of course I suppose the other significant limitation the Leica M9 has particularly if one wanted to use filters on the lens is apart from the lack of a TTL viewfinder, unlike even the most basic point and shoot digital cameras even mobile phones, it has no Live View, so there’s no direct way to preview filter effects apart from using one of those special flash shoe multi-viewfinders or wearing the filter as a monocle, when no offence intended to the Germans one might be tempted to say “Vee haf vays and meens of changing za tonz” lol But it’s not even particularly well featured to effectively use on the lens filters which in a monochrome only version is a significant disadvantage.

      But yes as you put it so well “with many things Leica, the products are better appreciated by well-off camera fondlers than keen photographers”. Well even if one had tens of thousands available to spend on cameras and lenses there’s plenty of excellent quality equipment available offering significantly better value for money and are vastly more practical for actual photography. Of course the fact most DSLRs these days shoot HD video is another factor in their favour.

      • Jan W. Tromp says:

        The Leica M series has always been favored because the small size (military) and the extremely good lenses. That advantage was away (for me) with the ‘not so good’ sensors. I didn’t buy a M9, I bought a Mamiya ZD (S2 too expensive) and got much better “negatives”. Now with this Leica Monochrome I may buy it. I still have an M4 and M6 with three very nice Leica lenses and the lenses do count. I didn’t like your German joke much. I wouldn’t buy a Kodak…and I don’t want Live View as one can look just above the camera:-)

        • Amanda Berry says:

          Well I wouldn’t deny the quality of Leica lenses and the M series rangefinder cameras. I suppose I’m a bit scathing of Leica because they seem to have become more of a “designer brand” and whilst the Leica Rangefinders were once highly innovative and state of the art and in the hands of people like Cartier Bresson and in their day changed the entire nature of photography. Today they seem little more than an anachronism basking in the ethos of past glories. I find that disappointing. I don’t want to enlarge too much on why I find that disappointing in a public forum but suffice it to say it falls short of my expectations of the Leica brand.

      • Bruce says:

        Don’t know if you’ve ever owned Leicas, Amanda, but they are very desirable. I had an M2 and an M3 years ago but, whilst I loved playing with them (probably taking three times as many photos with no film in the camera as with film), I just found them too restrictive. The viewfinder is too imprecise and they’re hopeless with long teles and for close-ups. I much prefer 35mm SLRs. However, if I won the lottery, I’d buy a complete Leica outfit just to fondle whilst watching the TV. :-)

        • Jan W. Tromp says:

          You are right Bruce, in music it ‘s called GAS (GearAcquisitionSyndrome) and most men are suffering from this syndrome (me too) HiFi sets with hundreds of knobs, lights and things etc etc. With Leica I have the same as with Apple. Just holding it gives one pleasure. Typing this on my iPad of course:-)

        • Amanda Berry says:

          Well I’ve never owned a Leica rangefinder, but I’ve certainly used a Russian Zorki in the past and also have a Fed 2 I bought on eBay. Actually I have a small collection of old Film cameras also incuding a variety of 35mm SLRs and a Yashica TLR which these days I mainly display as ornaments or use as book ends. Whilst none of these cameras were the most expensive even in their day. I do appreciate the fact they are made of metal and are nicely engineered and in that sense they are a lot more satisfying than modern cameras which are often made of plastic. So I can certainly appreciate the attraction of Leicas in terms of build quality and classic design.

          That said I don’t think I’d ever buy a Leica M9 myself I’m more interested in what cameras can do and usually go for the highest spec at a price I can afford and the more I’ve looked into the M9 and become aware of it’s limitations the more I realise it wouldn’t be for me even if I had unlimited funds. Actually I think if I won the lottery or something I’d be more inclined to buy a Hasselblad, of course at nearly six times the price they make a Leica M9 seem quite economical lol :)

  13. [...] reports are circulating in the Internet. We have compiled a list of videos and reviews:ReviewsHere is our complete review of the Leica M Monochrom.Bellamy Hunt aka JapanCameraHunter also had the [...]

  14. Jonathan Reynolds says:

    Talk about trolling, Amanda… If you don’t want an MM, don’t buy one, but don’t tell the rest of us whether we should want one or not. I’m definitely not a gear-head – my approach is to try hard with the best camera I already have (a single second-hand film Leica). You can do ‘real photography’ with anything, but for me everything works best with an M Leica.

    New Leica stuff is unaffordable for me, so I’ll stay where I am. All the same, I follow this company’s fortunes with fondness and interest, glad that it maintains high standards uncompromisingly. If I did have the cash, I would buy an MM tomorrow.

    Your objections about filters are just silly. I only ever shoot B/W, and I very rarely use filters except outdoors in very bright conditions when I’m glad to lose some light. Keeping filters clean is not a problem. Indoors, I would really appreciate 10,000 ISO!

    • Amanda Berry says:

      Well I hope it doesn’t sound like I’m being a troll lol. I don’t think it’s unreasonable to assume most photographers would buy a camera as a means to an end rather than an end in itself. :) The fact is the Leica M9 whilst it may be a work of art isn’t the most versatile of camaras, or even necessarily capable of producing the best quality images. e.g. compared with many DSLRs with more modern CMOS sensors. So I think it’s important not to be totally mesmerised and seduced by the M9′s classic design, build quality, brand label and high price tag. But I suppose it depends what one expects of a camera. Also it’s worth bearing in mind Leica make other things. :)

  15. Emile says:

    I like the fact that Leica is coming out with “New” ideas!
    And so what..if they cost an arm and a leg and your 1st born child too..
    It’s a thing of beauty..
    For those that can afford such..
    But for me..
    I never bought a Leica digital..and never use my M6 or M3 anymore..
    Just use my Leica lenses on my GH1..and thats the cats meow for me..
    If I wanted to do B&W..I would just use my large format cameras..and do contact prints..or the M6..and an old Focomat or Valloy enlarger..
    but..I still think thiis is a good idea..
    Why..because if defies logic…
    And isnt that whatart is about..?

    • deidre says:

      Hey…yes! thanks Emile…..after all the quasi-pompous, anti Leica prognosticating; a ray of light….this beautiful little work of art from Leica does “defy logic” and is a truly eccentric retro-concept….how wonderful! Long live Leica.

  16. John says:

    It isn’t about detail, it is about content. Some of the finest B/W I have ever seen didn’t have all the detail in the world but they had content. Seems never to be content with content is the ambition of some. :^)

  17. I have the M3ds, the M4-P rapidwinder and the M8. with all of these I shoot exclusively BW. ( The M8 is a great “digital polaroid”. hehe ) With news leaking about the M10, I see the M9-M as the last true M rangefinder in the line, starting with the M3 in 1954. The next will be with electronic viewfinder, maybe even HDR video, with a electronic “Visoflex” for the long lenses. So I see the M9-M as a great tool AND a great investment. There were some “Crazy leica specials” like the original MP with leicavit. Look at them now…I want that Monochrom, for many reasons,one of them is to continue B&W shooting at a completely new level of quality.

  18. Mikael says:

    I think this is a great move from Leica, showing its true DNA and setting itself apart from other manufacturers in the 35mm world.

    Considering how Made in Germany Leicas are built the price tags don’t seem so outrageous. We should compare a Leica to a violin or a piano rather than a mass-produced Nikon. It is an instrument for art.

  19. [...] Leica Forum‘s M Monochrom review says they’re sure “this camera will polarize”: [...]

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