The Leica Monochrom – more early 1st thoughts with a pre-production camera – Part 1
So I was told by Leica today that the Monochrom body I have is a Prototype and not ready for a review as they are still working on firmware (this one has .009). They tell me full production models will be ready for review in July. So for now, all I can give you guys are some more of my thoughts and a few samples instead of a thorough review.
YES, more Monochrom madness!
I have been shooting the Leica Monochrom for only 1-2 days and have been trying my hardest to see what it is that draws me to it. A B&W camera for $8000. Doesn’t sound like it makes ANY sense but I personally know 6 guys who already have their pre-orders locked in. I even heard about a guy who traded in his 0.95 Noctilux even up for a Monochrom. But why? Why is this camera luring photographers and even hobbyists in? I think it’s a mix of a few things like mystique, the fact that there is nothing else like it, pure simplicity, and partly because there is just something classic about it. Also, some guys will just buy anything new that Leica releases because once you really shoot Leica you tend to have a hard time really bonding to lesser quality. That is MY experience at least because Leica is and always will be my true love in the photo world.
Even so, I do not think Leica will sell as many Monochrom cameras as they did the M9 but there will be people flocking to this camera due to it’s uniqueness and overall quality. I have heard rumblings about “who needs ultra sharpness”? Well, you really do not need it to make a good photo but it sure does help when you are using those amazingly crisp Leica lenses. It doesn’t make a bad photo a good one but it can help a good photo become great just due to the look and feel, much like medium format film has that rich depth and “big” feel. The Mono feels like you are shooting a medium format camera loaded with B&W film. Rich quality, sharp details, and loads of tones not full of hard contrast. Basically not so “black and white” but more “Monochrome”. Click on the image below to see it in higher quality and you will what I mean.
Of course there will be those die hards who will always complain about digital saying NOTHING can replicate film. Well, they are absolutely right! The Monochrom will not replicate the look and feel of a good B&W film but quite honestly…why should it? I feel the M9 and Monochrom can EXCEED film in many ways and it is not like B&W film doesn’t suffer from blown highlights or the “flat and dull” syndrome, as it can and often does. Film is nice but it is just a different way to record those images. I have tons and tons of film files scanned at crazy high resolution on my hard drives from the years past and I was looking over some of them tonight before writing this so I had a fresh perspective.
Grain Vs Noise. Digital noise will not look like film grain as it is not grain, it is noise. But the future for the masses is digital, plain and simple. Film is slowly fading, slowly getting more sparse and yes, even more expensive. Those who LOVE film will never give it up and an $8000 camera is not the answer for the ones who really love and cherish film for its unique qualities. But for many others it will be. Again, I love to shoot film as it does offer that classic look and feel but I also accept the fact that digital is indeed the future. Still, even though I am really “feeling” this new Monochrom I am having a tough time wrapping my head around the cost..for ME. I have no doubts about its capabilities and if I were loaded with cash I wouldn’t think twice because I happen to love B&W.
As for film, I do not have that illusion that only B&W film can create a great B&W image or print because that is not the case. I have seen gorgeous images from digital cameras in B&W on screen and in print. I shot a whole Seal show in B&W with the M9 (using Silver Efex Pro to convert) and had wonderful results that were printed in a tour book. I even wrote about creating moods with B&W. If you visit that link you will see the B&W results the M9 gave me. They are good but the Monochrom does give you a different feel IMO. Still, the M9 is no slouch nor is the M8 when you take those files and convert them with software. ANY of these will provide you with acceptable results but the Monochrom will give you that little bit more.
Yep, from what I have seen of this Monochrom “prototype” it is the real deal IMO. Both this and the M9 (or any decent digital for that matter) can give you great B&W images but the Monochrom seems to give you a richer, more detailed and more “Monochrome” look. When I get a hold of a production sample in July I will post a full thorough review with the comparison shots as Leica is still working on firmware and tweaking things with the camera. I will also be shooting a bunch this weekend and will post more from it next week, hopefully some portraits and street stuff. The BIG question will be, are those differences worth the price tag (same as an M9-P that gives you color or B&W options)?
The Leica is expensive, but again, it is Leica. We all know how their pricing works. It is not an impulse buy and to even consider it means you have to accept the fact that you can not shoot color with it, that it is $8000 for the body only, that it is manual focus only, using a rangefinder system and that you get a 3 year warranty. That is a ton of cash when you can buy a used M6 for $1300 or even an M9 for $7000 and convert the files to B&W. You can also shoot a little OM-D and convert to B&W as it does quite well itself, though the files are not as rich, detailed, smooth nor do they have the depth of the Leica. I feel many Leica shooters will buy the Monochrom and come July we should start to see many reviews when the production models are available. Me, I really do not need one, but that doesn’t mean I do not WANT one :) It does have that classic charm and lure..the one that speaks to and pulls at your heart :) So far I am not fond that the ISO starts at 320 and the shutter speed tops out at 4000. Using fast glass in daytime situations (yes, many of us DO this regardless of why these fast lenses were designed in the past) so I am finding that during the day we have to stop these lenses down a a bit. Other than that, it’s an M9 with the modified B&W only sensor and crazy sharp output as you can see if you click the image below.
So do I think Leica will put an end and destroy B&W film with this camera as they claimed? No. Maybe if it were priced at $2500 and the masses bought it, but at $8000 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.
I will try to post some more larger samples this week as I updated this from my iPad so the last few images are small as they were out if cam jpegs imported to the iPad. I will also have samples from the Leica X2, which I have to say is really really good in the IQ dept.