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Leica M Monochrom Digital Rangefinder Review

Leica M Monochrom Digital Rangefinder Review - The Leica M Monochrom is not only unique in the digital camera world as one of only a few digital rangefinders, but also the world's only black and white only digital camera.

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Category : Mirrorless Interchangeable Lens Camera
Product : Leica M Monochrom
Price : £5,750
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Features
Handling
Performance
Verdict
Specification

Leica M Monochrom (3)

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

Leica M Monochrom (4)

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. 

Leica M Monochrome Sensor Diagram - Leica
Image courtesy Leica Camera AG.

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). 

Leica M Monochrom (10)

Key Features

  • 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

Leica M Monochrom (5)

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.

Leica M Monochrom (12)

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. 

Leica M Monochrom (6)

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. 

Leica M Monochrom (9)

Battery life - 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. 

Speed - 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
Shutter Response 0.1s
Switch on Time to Taking a Photo 0.8s
Shot to Shot without Flash 0.8s
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


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 | 1/45 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 320
Cropped | 1/90 sec | f/2.8 | 28.0 mm | ISO 400
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 | 1/180 sec | f/2.8 | 28.0 mm | ISO 800
Cropped | 1/350 sec | f/2.8 | 28.0 mm | ISO 1600
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 | 1/750 sec | f/2.8 | 28.0 mm | ISO 3200
Cropped | 1/1500 sec | f/2.8 | 28.0 mm | ISO 6400
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 8000
Cropped | 1/2000 sec | f/2.8 | 28.0 mm | ISO 10000
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

2.5inch screen
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

FEATURES  
HANDLING  
PERFORMANCE  
VALUE FOR MONEY  
VERDICT  

Leica M Monochrom Specifications

ManufacturerLeica
Image Sensor
CCD pixels18Mp (Megapixels)
Pixels (W)5270
Pixels (H)3516
Sensor TypeCCD
Sensor SizeFull Frame
Sensor Size (width)23.9mm
Sensor Size (height)35.8mm
Aspect Ratio
  • 3:2
LCD Monitor
LCD Monitor2.5in
Screen resolution230k
Touch ScreenNo
Focusing
Focusing modes
  • Manual
Exposure Control
Shutter speeds shortest1/4000sec
Shutter speeds longest32sec
Exp modes
  • Manual
  • Aperture-Priority
Metering
  • Centre-weighted - Average
  • TTL
ISO sensitivity160 - 10000
White balance
  • Auto
  • Manual
Exposure Comp+/-3
Viewfinder
Viewfinder ResolutionNo Data
Shooting Options
Continuous shooting2fps
Video
Movie modeNo
Video Resolution
    Video FPSNo Data
    Stereo SoundNo
    Optical Zoom with VideoNo
    Other Features
    Image StabilisationNo
    Interface
    HDMINo
    USBUSB 2
    Storage
    Card Type
    • SD
    • SDHC
    File Type
    • RAW
    • JPG
    • RAW + JPG
    Power Source
    Battery TypeLithium Ion
    CIPA Rating350
    Box Contents
    Box ContentsCharger 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.
    Dimensions
    Weight585g
    Width139mm
    Height80mm
    Depth37mm

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    Comments


    sasan 1 27
    29 Jan 2014 4:22PM
    5,750.00 !! U can go a tour around the moon without leicaSmile

    Join ePHOTOzine for free and remove these adverts.

    franken e2
    11 3.1k 4 Wales
    31 Jan 2014 12:32PM
    I've used something in the past where the result is just as good and a lot cheaper and it's made by ilford!Smile
    sasan 1 27
    4 Feb 2014 2:25PM
    We're not talking about an ordinary company.We talk about the history of photography. About the authenticity & validity.The Brands likes Leica in photography likes Bentley or Rolls-Royce in cars.Low production but high price .A superb company in high prestige.But here!If we live in 1930 it was accepted a camera without color.But now we are in 2014!Almost a colory world with permission from Leica !
    sasan 1 27
    8 Feb 2014 9:23AM
    Let's see some idea. I've chosen a name for this great piece of work: Color killer Smile

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