Leica M Monochrom Review
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
- 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
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
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.
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!