My first serious try with the Leica M Monochrome By Chris

My first serious try with the Leica M Monochrome

By Chris

This is my very first photography blog ever. I hope to share with you all my passion in photography and photographic gear.

It’s been a year or so since I first purchased the Leica M Monochrom. There’s no shred of doubt of its image quality while able to understand what Leica has done to the sensor. On paper there’s nothing special about its specs. Some might even question if there’s a need for a camera that only produces Black and White images. We all know there is some decent film simulator software like SilverFlex Pro, DXO Film Pack, VSCO cam….etc or even some fairly good LR presets out there will do the job for converting color images into black and white with great detail. So, is there a need? If you are a massive black and white photography fan, often make large prints for appreciation and are a LTM lens user then this is the camera for you. I am not going to go through any A&B tests or spec comparisons because they are widely available on the web. What I am going to do is walk you through my first serious try with the Leica M Monochrom.

On the evening of the14th of February 2014, I started to pack my gear for my trip to Paris, this being the second time visiting (family trip the first time, couldn’t get any good shots at all) my intent was to focus heavily on photography. I struggled with choosing what gear would accompany me when you know they can all produce incredible image quality. The Monochrom has been sitting in my drybox for at least a year, I blame myself very much for that but greed is the nature of humans when you get to choose from colour and have the ability to convert to black and white later on versus to strictly black and white from a colour blind sensor; of course the choice will be colour (M9-P). However, my love for black and white photography has always been strong and constantly growing. Finally I had enough courage to take the M Monochrom and left my M9-P behind for this trip. What lenses then? This was an even harder task than choosing which camera to take. From what I heard the Leica M Monochrom works very well with vintage Leica screw mount lenses. Not long before this trip I managed to purchase the Leica 28 f/5.6 Summaron from a collector. Wide angle? Check., What about a standard lens? Leica 50 F/2 Summicron Collapsible Radioactive. Right. I am good to go!

First day, Eiffel Tower. Pre-booked to skip the line – Eiffel Tower package from easypasstours.com* which was very useful. The queue was scary and learned a lot more about the history of the Eiffel Tower (tour guide was being very informative). I spent the whole afternoon there until the sun went down and the view from the Summit was incredible and weather that day was in full cooperation! Seeing the sun setting with amazing colour I once again felt if I had brought the wrong camera but after taking a few shots and being able to see how amazing the light falls on Paris without the disturbance of colour was just incredible! The Leica 28 F/5.6 Summaron did an awesome job for capturing every bit of detail.
*A warm reminder regarding the Summit, it has a metal net surrounding it for safety reasons, therefore large lenses cannot be used effectively.

This has been mentioned many times but I had to repeat – there are a lot of people complaining about how flat the M Monochrom files look, but being flat is a positive thing because those RAWs give you massive freedom to do postproduction! However, please remember not to overexpose too much for the highlight as I found the recovery of the highlights wasn’t on par with most of the top CMOS sensors out in the market, like the Sony A7R. So is this bad? Not at all. You just have to go with the character of this sensor, treat it like a slide and try to expose accurately for every frame. There are so many details / information you can recover from the shadows. Sometimes the shadowed areas can get a bit grainy but hell, I love the grain; it looks nothing like Digital Noise (disgusting). Just unbelievable!

The Leica 50 F/2 Summicron Collapsible Radioactive batch I owned has average glass with hairline scratches and cleaning marks in the middle but surprisingly none of those factors affect the images. Images are very solid. This particular combo is my current favourite due to its compactness. I would agree more sharpness / detail / resolution can be achieved with modern lenses like 50 F/1.4 Asph or 50 F/2 Asph APO but the resolve power which the The Leica 50 F/2 Summicron Collapsible Radioactive batch is more than enough (this comment also applies to the Leica 28 F/5.6 Summaron) and to be honest, I prefer the optical characteristics from vintage lenses. I have the Leica 50 F/2 Asph APO on order. When it arrives I will share a few samples and possibly AB tests.

I am no stranger to black and white photography but the M Monochrom has allowed me once again to focus and explore even deeper without the distraction of colour. You can never get enough from this camera. Some say Monochrom is the new colour and I very much agree with this theory because there is so much to see in monochrom!

I hope you all enjoy the images. Please be sure to leave any comments and feedback by either emailing me or leaving me a message on my Facebook page! Thank you!

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55 Comments

  1. Hi Chris, great pictures. I am a regular on this site, didn’t know this is you until your dad sent me the link.
    Nice to see that Leica did not abandon the B&W.
    Uncle Wilson

  2. Great article Chris, very informative and I was especially interested on your experience with the vintage Leica glass compared to the latest optics. Excellent images too, soo detailed too!

  3. WOW! i was blown away by your photos. i shoot with an M9, 24mm 3.8 lens is my only lens and your photos have inspired me to shoot more in B&W. right now i am about 50/50 color vs BW. thanks. loved your photos.

  4. I love my MM and like you I use older glass. MM v any other camera is not a worthwhile argument because if the aesthetics of the MM are not understood the various comparisons are lost. I agree that on a screen all monochrome looks very similar but then make some large prints on a high end printer and they will amaze.

  5. I go to Paris quite often to shoot fashion and advertising, I love wondering around shooting black and white paris is such a photographed city with its cafés and bridges which can be a bit of a cliche.Nice to see someone go to Paris and ignore all of the usual trappings. Nice architectural images, lovely tones. There are rumors that leica might bring out a new monochrom with a CMOS sensor soon

  6. Nice photos. Can’t help but wonder what would have happened with a more recent Leica lens. A lot of what those MM images turn out to look like depend on post processing. You may want to side-step the b&w or color issue (how can you not like color too?) by doing what finally did to get past it: shoot both at the same time. Buy a Ricoh GR for $600 (the lens value alone), and keep it in your pocket while you’re shooting b&w with your MM. When color become too tempting, just pull it out and go for it. The GR also converts well to b&w, so you’re not completely shifting to color. That said, I just returned from the land of color, Hawaii, where Ansel Adams could find nothing worth photographing but a cemetery. I was equipped with the MM and two color cameras, and a first trial with the GR as a “crutch” for b&w. Naturally, I came back with gorgeous color photographs, and yet my favorite photos from the trip were some of the MM b&w images in fantastic light and shadows, of course. So, it’s not an either or these days. There are great color companions that cost 10% of a MM, or the price of an inexpensive high quality lens.

    Where are all your Paris street and people images?

  7. I still don’t get the Monocrom I am afraid. All these daylight pics look like they were taken of a night… they just look artificial and dare I say it “digital” and always end up wondering how good they would have looked had you shot with film.

    • I don’t think film or digital makes a difference; it’s what you do with the image in post. Scan a transparency and you can get the same effect. Some of these images look purposely underexposed, which are fine given his aesthetic interpretations of the scene he was capturing.

    • I’ve seen a lot of images from the Monochrome and I haven’t seen any real advantages to the system(excluding ISO) as many of the images suffer the same fate that most digital b/w photography face without careful post processing. A lot of the images also come off having a very clinical look with modern lens which I hate in a lot of b/w photography(not all but most) .

      At the end of the day it I’ve seen much better examples of b/w photography from a Mark D II for example than I’ve seen from a Monochrome. I do understand why people would like the Monochrome and I happen to like the photos posted in this blog entry as well.

  8. The MM is the only camera in the world I would like to acquire and yes like you I would have to get my hands on an odd vintage lens that I know would work well with the camera. Thanks for your post. Your photos are excellent. I hope Leica continue to develop the Monochrom camera idea into the future. As Steve said there is no possibility of it becoming obsolete as it is already obsolete -so to speak!
    Keep shooting black and white as I’m convinced that the more you shoot Mono only, the better you will become. That is a point the film shooters always say and I think they are right.
    Just a quick question ?-I was always under the impression that you cannot use collapsible Leica lenses on the digital Leicas -thought it interfered with the Meter or something like that?
    Perhaps somebody can clarify-thanks in advance.
    Best Wishes

    • Fergus wrote:
      “Just a quick question ?-I was always under the impression that you cannot use collapsible Leica lenses on the digital Leicas -thought it interfered with the Meter or something like that?
      Perhaps somebody can clarify-thanks in advance.”

      Fergus, there may be an issue if you collapse the lenses – but this will depend on each lens. Expanded/uncollapsed/ready to shoot there is no issue. I use a 90mm Elmar and 50 Summicron (collapsible) with no issues on my Leica M-E.

  9. Great pics. I especially enjoyed the 8th and 10th pic.

    On the other hand, the sunset and lens flare in the 1st and 2nd pic make the HDR processing (removal) of the town’s shadows very unrealistic. The clouds are lit from the right and have shadow on the left. The buildings seem to be lit up from all sides. You may have more detail, but the feel is very unbalanced.

  10. Gorgeous stuff. I think your older lenses are beautiful with the MM sensor – there is certainly Leica glow. I find that I personally prefer new glass on my film cameras and older glass on my digital. The imperfection adds real character. Thanks for the post.

  11. Nice framing, but the files look digital. For these type of shots, landscapes/cityscapes, I prefer color.

  12. geez those images have so much detail and sharpness to them even with older lenses. not only that the range or tones of the b&w are insane especially in the overall city shots. I love the images this camera puts out.

    I know a skilled film photographer can do the same/nearly same thing with trix or tmax but still guess that is where the skill comes in.

    • Hi Jh, thank you for your comment. Yes most of the vintage glass is still very good for the M Monochrom! Film is awesome I just didn’t have time to experiment and learn dark room yet haha!

  13. Excellent images and I share your enthusiasm for the MM having owned one for the past year.
    It certainly excels with your choice of glass.
    Thank you

    • Thank you for your comment! I recently return from Tokyo, this time I brought with me the MM and 21 1.4 Asph. I kinda love what the modern combo offered as well. 🙂

  14. Very nice images. I hate to ask but are any of these HDR? I know the camera has great dynamic range but had to ask. Great stuff regardless.

    • Hi Micheal, they are all one shot images no bracketing. however post-processing has been done on time to extract the maximum information out of the highlight and shadow areas! Thank you very much for your comment!

  15. Very nice set. There is still only one monochrome camera out there. I’m an old film shooter and bought the M Monochrom when it became available and have loved it. When the M-240 came out I got it also. I have to admit it is very enjoyable to shoot with. It kind of spoiled me and I have been using it mostly. Last week I had a shoot and took both with me. I need to use my Monochrom more. The results just can’t be beat. Happy shooting.

    • Hi Tom, thank you for your comment. May I ask what made you chose the M240 over the M9-P or A7R? I have got the A7R instead because I couldn’t justify buying a CMOS RF at that cost. haha the M Monochrom is my most beloved camera now. I am in love with it. Happy shooting!

  16. I am almost envious when looking at images shot with the monochrome. As stunningly beautiful as most images are when shot with this camera including yours by the way, I could not justify purchasing a black-and-white only Leica.

    I make money shooting with my Leica’s and can count on one hand how many times a client has requested black-and-white, in the last 10 years. There is a higher level of aesthetic sophistication required to use black-and-white photography in the commercial world. Most clients don’t have the balls to attempt that kind of sophistication when selling their product or service. You do nice work 🙂

    • Hello Cd! Thank you for your comment. I understand that from a professional photographer point of view the M Monochrom is probably not that worthy. The M240 makes good B&W from what I heard. Also nowadays rarely commercial work will be done only straightly in black and white. May I ask what sort of commercial work you do? 🙂

      I purchased the M Monochrom because its really one of a kind, yes I know PhaseOne does B&W black as well but those phase lenses are no comparison to Leica M glass. I like the character of the Monochrom sensor, sometimes it can get quite noisy in the shadow areas but them noise looks like film grain! Also clarity it produces, I have a Leaf Credo 60 and the MM almost offers me this medium format look. Haha may be its my nerdness which got me to purchase it. 🙂

      • Hello Chris: Sure, go to chrisduzynski.com On my “Faces” page, all imges but one were shot with either the M9 or M240. On my “Places” page, 2/3 of the images were Leica. The remaining were shot Canon, but I much prefer shooting with the Leica, for numerous reasons.

  17. Some lovely shots amongst these, I liked the tonal range in the 6th shot, an interior shot. Were you using any filtering on these shots, and if so, what?

  18. You are a brave man Chris to go all the way to Paris shooting B&W only. I couldn’t do it. A very nice of images too to prove that you did very well with the MM!

    • Hi Duane, yes it was a hard decision. I had a deep thought. however if I didn’t push myself this one I would never know when it will get used! haha. Thank you.

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