The Leica M Monochrom introduced in 2012 was the solution provided by Leica for anyone who wanted to shoot true black and white photos with a digital camera. Being a Digital Rangefinder, the optical viewfinder doesn't show the image through the lens, instead a small central window is used to focus the camera.
The Leica M Monochrom features a full frame black and white 18 megapixel CCD sensor, and costs around £5500-£6000 body only. Alternatively a colour Leica M-E
(with 18 megapixel colour sensor) costs £4000 body only, and images can be converted to black and white, or the Leica M (Typ 240)
is around £5100 body only, and features a 24 megapixel colour sensor, with live view and full HD video recording.
Being the only true black and white digital camera since the Kodak DCS Pro SLR/n m monochrome (2004), the only other options available today are the Phase One IQ260 Achromatic a 60 megapixel medium format digital back, and the Phase One Achromatic+, a 39 megapixel version, which is slightly more expensive than the Leica M Monochrom at $45,000.
Leica M Monochrom Features
The Leica M Monochrom Digital Rangefinder follows the traditional rangefinder design of previous Leica M models, dating all the way back to the Leica M3, introduced in 1954, which introduced the Leica M Mount, of which the Leica M Monochrom is fully compatible with. The Leica lenses are designed for excellent performance "shooting wide open" (according to Luminous Landscape
) allowing the most amount of light possible, enabling a quicker shutter speed, and for many the ability to capture the moment.
The Leica M Monochrom, like other digital rangefinders from Leica, does not offer auto-focus, or even auto-aperture, with manual focus and aperture required. Auto shutter speed and ISO is possible.
With the colour filter array removed, the sensor is said to be more sensitive to light, and captures sharper images, much like the Sigma Foveon sensor, each pixel is just that, an individual pixel, rather than being made up from information from surrounding pixels (as would be the case with standard Bayer sensor cameras).
18 megapixel monochrome full-frame CCD sensor
Infrared blocking filter for wavelengths longer than 700 nm, no low-pass filter.
Leica M bayonet with sensor for six-bit coding
Adobe DNG raw recording
2.5inch monitor (colour TFT-LCD) with 230,000 pixels
Sapphire glass protective cover for the monitor screen
Viewfinder with automatic parallax compensation
2fps continuous shooting
Die-cast magnesium alloy with synthetic leather trim
Brass top deck and base plate, black chrome finish
ISO320 - ISO10000, ISO160 (Pull-function)
Leica M Monochrom Handling
The Leica M Monochrom, like other rangefinders from Leica, feels extremely well built, with a solid body and design. With minimal external controls, the top features a shutter speed dial, and the on/off switch doubles as the control for the drive mode, letting you choose from single, continuous and self-timer shooting. The shutter release also has a screw thread for screw-thread release cables, another "old school" way of shooting. The camera has a noticeable weight feeling heavier than it looks. The bottom of the camera has a rather old fashioned bottom plate that needs to be removed to gain access to the memory and battery compartments, although this does provide good protection for these.
The camera is manual focus only, with just the centre of the frame being the focus area. You can focus through the optical viewfinder, then re-compose if your subject is off-frame. Or if you become familiar with your camera through practise you can get good at estimating the focus distance, set the focus on the subject and have the camera focused before you hold the camera up to your eye, so that when it is held up to your eye you can take the photo straight away, capturing the instant moment.
The frame lines in the viewfinder can be altered using the front switch, and can be quite difficult to use for people wearing glasses. There is also a metal surround around the optical viewfinder, which again will not be ideal for people wearing glasses.
The back controls give you access to play, delete, ISO, info, set and menu, along with a four way controller and scroll wheel. By default the cameras rear screen is off, leaving you to take photos using the viewfinder. There is no live view available with this camera.
The menus are rather basic (and have been updated on subsequent models such as the M Typ 240), consisting of a long list of options, but once you are familiar with them you shouldn't need to use them very often, instead using the rear ISO button and set button to change the most regularly changed options.
- Battery life is rated at 350 shots according to Leica / CIPA test results, which is reasonable, although you might expect more shots from a digital SLR style camera.
- We took a number of shots to test the camera's responsiveness, from switch on to first photo, shot to shot, focusing speed etc. We take a number of shots and then use the average to ensure accurate and consistent tests, making it easy to compare with other cameras.
Leica M Monochrom
Switch on Time to Taking a Photo
Shot to Shot without Flash
Continuous Shooting - JPEG
(shots before slow down)
2fps (7 shots)
Continuous Shooting - RAW
2fps (7 shots)
Shutter response is quick, and shot to shot time is reasonably good. Continuous shooting is average at just 2fps, letting you shoot 7 shots, and write times are quite slow while you wait for the camera to write to the memory card, particularly if you shoot JPEG and raw.
Leica M Monochrom Performance
Additional sample photos and product shots are available in the Equipment Database
, where you can add your own review, photos and product ratings.
Leica M Monochrom Sample Photos
- Due to the black and white design of the sensor it is important to avoid over-exposing images as lost highlights can not be recovered from raw images. To aid exposure the Leica M Monochrom has highlight and shadow clipping warnings that can be adjusted. The camera does not feature image stabilisation or lenses with image stabilisation. There is quite noticeable vignetting when shooting wide open, at f/2, however this lessens as the aperture is closed down. Exposure is generally reliable, however, is most likely to underexpose images, and shadow detail can easily be recovered with the provided photo editing software.
Leica M Monochrom Other sample images
Leica M Monochrom ISO test images
ISO Noise Performance
- The ISO Range goes from ISO320 to ISO10,000 with a low (extended) ISO setting of ISO160, although this does show lower dynamic range.
Cropped | 1/45 sec | f/2.8 | 28.0 mm | ISO 160
Cropped | 1/90 sec | f/2.8 | 28.0 mm | ISO 320
Cropped | 1/90 sec | f/2.8 | 28.0 mm | ISO 400
Cropped | 1/180 sec | f/2.8 | 28.0 mm | ISO 800
Cropped | 1/350 sec | f/2.8 | 28.0 mm | ISO 1600
Cropped | 1/750 sec | f/2.8 | 28.0 mm | ISO 3200
Cropped | 1/1500 sec | f/2.8 | 28.0 mm | ISO 6400
Cropped | 1/2000 sec | f/2.8 | 28.0 mm | ISO 8000
Cropped | 1/2000 sec | f/2.8 | 28.0 mm | ISO 10000
The camera shows very low noise levels at ISO800 or below, and detail is photos is excellent up to ISO3200, and then at ISO6400 there is a slight drop in the levels of detail captured as noise increases. At ISO6400 and above noise is quite noticeable, however it isn't the usual colour noise you find, and instead is very much like film grain, giving the photos taken at these higher ISO settings an appealing look, which means you can happily use the highest ISO settings on this camera.
Leica M Monochrom White-balance test images
White Balance Performance
- Auto White Balance (AWB) there are no white balance settings, so we've taken these photos to show the detail captured and response of the camera under tungsten and fluorescent lighting rather than colour information.
Leica M Monochrom Digital filters
There are a small number of processing effects available in the camera: sepia, cool and selenium which can be set to weak or strong, and needs to be chosen before shooting. There are also sharpening and contrast settings, which have the following options: off, low, standard, medium high, and high.
Above we've shown the majority of presets available using Silver Efex Pro 2. Although in order to apply colour filters you will need to actually buy and fit a filter to the front of the lens, for example if you wanted darker skies you would need a red filter, whereas with colour photos you can use Silver Efex Pro 2, and other software, to convert to black and white
and play with the colours and emulate filters quite effectively.
Value For Money
The Leica M Monochrom is available for around £5750 - £6000 body only, which makes it more expensive than other Leica M digital rangefinders, available from £4000 body only for the M-E, or £5100 for the M with 24 megapixel colour sensor.
The only other true black and white digital camera, is the 39 megapixel Phase One Achromatic+ digital back, which costs around $45,000 for the back only (assuming people are willing to actually tell you the price).
The price of Leica M digital rangefinders has traditionally been around the £5000 price mark, and the fact that the M Monochrom is currently around £750 more makes the M Monochrom seem reasonably priced, particularly if you are one of those people that has the budget to spend on Leica digital rangefinders. If however, you do not need a true black and white digital camera, or a digital rangefinder, and simply look at the specifications, then you could easily look at something like the colour 20 megapixel Canon EOS 6D
, priced at £1349, and decide that the Leica M Monochrom is not for you.
To add to the value of the Leica M Monochrom, included is Adobe Photoshop Lightroom and Silver Efex Pro, downloadable once the camera is registered, along with 1 year membership of the Leica Passport Scheme that protects against accidental damage, and a 2 year warranty.
You'll also need to buy a memory card
and a case or bag to keep your camera safe and protected - have a look at our complete guide to camera bags
Leica M Monochrom Verdict
For those that are convinced that black and white photography is their preferred medium, then the Leica M Monochrom will be highly desirable. However, for many, even those that are dedicated street photographers, shooting colour gives the option to convert to black and white as well as keep the colour, choosing which is best at a later time. With the Leica M Monochrom you are stuck to pure black and white, and for many that will not be appealing, but for some, this will be exactly what is wanted.
Without doubt, the Leica M Monochrom gives impressive resolution and sharpness, where every pixel is recording detail, unlike the more traditional colour bayer sensor where surrounding pixels are used to generate colour and detail information. The JPEG and raw images straight from the camera are quite flat, and to get the best out of photos, to give the feeling of high contrast black and white images you will benefit from editing your photos, and using the provided software can give impressive results. Adobe Lightroom and Nik Silver Efex Pro software is provided, and is useful to get the best out of the images produced by the camera, letting you produce much more dynamic and punchy black and white images.
The Leica M Monochrom doesn't have all the bells and whistles of a modern Digital SLR or the newer Leica M (Typ 240)
, and in that sense it feels like using a true camera, just one that also happens to record digital images. In addition the subtle all-black design with no red Leica dot makes this a discreet camera in use, one that can easily be ignored, making it ideal for street photography. Personally speaking, I'd rather not draw attention to the fact that I'm carrying around a £6000 camera, so am glad that there isn't a large red Leica logo on the camera, although others may not be as pleased.
With none of the less pleasing colour noise that we most easily notice and complain about, the Leica M Monochrom produces noise similar to film. The lack of anti-aliasing filter, like the Nikon D800E
, Pentax K-3
and other cameras recently released also allows the camera to record sharp images, and with a range of high quality Leica lenses, you really do get sharp images assuming your focus is correct.
The somewhat timeless design, and exceptional build quality of the camera, along with the 2 year warranty are likely to make this a camera that you do not need to replace. If you ever decided to part with the camera, and with a replacement monochrome Leica camera unlikely, it's also possible that the camera could hold its value much better than other cameras that are regularly updated.
Leica M Monochrom Pros
Full frame monochrome sensor
Impressive resolution and sharpness
Unique black and white digital camera
High ISO noise performance - Film like noise
Includes Lightroom and Silver Efex Pro
AdobeDNG raw images
Excellent build quality
2 year warranty
Leica M Monochrom Cons
Slow 2fps continuous shooting
High price - although could be justified
All the other issues associated with a digital rangefinder (manual focus, viewfinder framing, etc)
Updated Leica M (Typ 240) dramatically expands on features
VALUE FOR MONEY
Leica M Monochrom Specifications
|CCD pixels||18Mp (Megapixels)|
|Sensor Size||Full Frame|
|Sensor Size (width)||23.9mm|
|Sensor Size (height)||35.8mm|
|Shutter speeds shortest||1/4000sec|
|Shutter speeds longest||32sec|
- Centre-weighted - Average
|ISO sensitivity||160 - 10000|
|Viewfinder Resolution||No Data|
|Video FPS||No Data|
|Optical Zoom with Video||No|
|Battery Type||Lithium Ion|
|Box Contents||Charger 100-240 V with 2 mains cables (EU, USA, different in some export markets) and 1 car charger, lithium ion battery, USB cable, carrying strap.|
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