One Year of Family Photojournalism with the Leica Monochrom by Chuck Anerino

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One Year of Family Photojournalism with the Leica Monochrom

by Chuck Anerino

I picked up my first camera in 2005 (Canon Rebel 300D) and cut my teeth on digital. The process of learning was slow and steady and at times bordered somewhere between obsessive and passionate. My primary purpose of picking up a camera was to provide a shoebox of photographs for my growing family. My photography was awful, but I loved it like few things I had ever done. I like “gear”, so naturally like just about every other photographer I know, I bought better cameras…Canon 20D, Canon 5D, 1d2, 1d3, 1ds2, 5D2, 5D3 as well as Canon L prime lenses. Over the past two years, I transitioned from Canon to Nikon and have also owned an Olympus OMD, Fuji x100, Sony RX1. My skill grew slowly and several friends asked me to photograph their families. That experience lead me to second shoot some weddings. But my passion remained with documenting my family.

Professional site: www.merklephotography.com. Personal site: www.growingupanerino.tumblr.com

During that gear journey, I bought a Leica M6 in 2008…because remember, I like gear! Loved Leica but film just never fit into my busy schedule and it became costly to have outsourced and developed. But during my brief stint, I shot my all time favorite image of my oldest son and wife. I was hooked on Leica, but just could not afford a Leica Digital camera (no matter how much lust I had).

As time moved on, my intrigue of Leica seemed to strengthen. I monitored the release of the M8 and then the M9. I was processing many of my images in black and white and then Leica announced the Leica Monochrom. At first and probably like many, I laughed. “What the hell is Leica thinking!?” I even questioned this in some forums of which I am a member. And then intrigue set in as my friends Jeff Moiser and Doug Treiber purchased their Monochroms. They know my style and how I like to shoot and swore that the Leica Monochrom was for me. Then lust set in. But again, it didn’t matter, as I could not afford a digital Leica!

I never took my eye off the prize and found myself in a position to buy a Leica Monochrom this month last summer.

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Below are my thoughts after one year and some images from the camera.

In short, this has been the one camera I have owned that I enjoy more each time I use it. The new gear feeling that I’ve experienced with every other camera has not worn off with the Leica. As I have aged, I have more of an appreciation for “well made” items, and the Leica Monochrom fits right in.

Documenting my family (wife and three boys, 11, 8, 5) is where I use the Monochrom. I use it 4-7 times a week, often times in short sessions. It has not been 100% reliable as many of my DSLRs have been as I have experienced some file corruption (on different Sandisk Pro Extreme cards), although I was able to recover the files. But in general, the camera has been very reliable…just not 100%. I have also used the camera on a few occasions at weddings. I enjoy the camera so much that I do not touch my DLSRs unless I am shooting a wedding or other hired work.

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During the past year, I owned two Voigtlander lenses, the 28mm f/2 Ultron and the 50mm f/1.5 Nokton ASPH. I found both to be fantastic performers. My only criticism (and this is minor and perhaps snobbish) is that in operation the Voigtlanders were not smooth focusing. I have since sold those lenses and now own the Leica 35mm f/2 Summicron ASPH and the Leica Summicron 50mm f/2 v5. Both are stellar in operation and performance.

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The ‘why black and white only’ question. If you look at my work prior to Leica Monochrom ownership, you will find a VERY heavy BW portfolio. I was fighting to like my color work quite often. Shooting color has never (or since) come natural to me. What I have found is that I relish the limitation of an all black and white camera. It narrows my roadmap when I’m shooting. Color isnt even an option…so I shoot accordingly. It allows me to zero in on elements that I believe make strong imagry: emotion, form, composition, relationships of subjects in the frame. Color never enters the equation as a distraction (for me).

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“Couldn’t these images have been captured with a DSLR?” Probably. There are so many amazing cameras on the market today. It seems like companies like Sony and Fuji are really pushing the boundaries of what cameras can do. In many ways, they take a bit of the challenge out of photography. The Leica really inspires me to pick it up like no other camera I have used before in large part because the camera is stripped down and requires me to challenge myself to make an interesting image. Chances are I would not have lugged a DSLR to make many of the images you see below. Or I would have tired of the other mirrorless options I have owned.

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One thing that I feel is VERY overplayed is how discreet the Leica is. Yes, it is smaller and quieter than most cameras out there. But it also has a very cool appearance that draws the interest of people! I have had more people talk to me about the Leica Monochrom in the past year than all previous years combined using all other cameras. So while its small, it is certainly not discreet (in my experiences).

The files out of the Leica Monochrom are really fantastic. I may draw some fire from some Leica fanatics, but there are better file options on the market today. The Nikon and Sony sensors are nothing short of amazing…to the point of being almost unreal! These sensors really allow for photographers to push and pull all sorts of data around. And while very good, the Leica Monochrom files just to not have that range…especially in the highlights. With all of that said, these limitations seldom limit me to make a file that yields an acceptable print.

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I can see myself owning this camera for a very long time. I all but stopped my gear lust as each quarter a new camera is released from Sony/Canon/Nikon/Fuji. This has been BY FAR the most enjoyable camera for me to shoot.”

Talk soon!

Chuck Anerino

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57 thoughts on “One Year of Family Photojournalism with the Leica Monochrom by Chuck Anerino

  1. I’m not entirely clear about something. These were all shot with the first generation Monochrom with the CCD sensor, not the Type 246 Monochrom with the CMOS sensor, am I right? I ask because the two links to the Monochrom in your article both point to the Type 246 on Amazon.

    It’s important because the two cameras are very different in the way they render scenes. I own the 1st gen MM and I think it’s a brilliant camera, despite having the notable shortcomings which you have touched upon. Your photographs are wonderful and they exhibit the characteristic tonal punch of the 1st gen MM’s CCD sensor. But if I’m wrong and you in fact shot them all with a Type 246, then you’ve managed to squeeze a lot more snappiness from it than I thought would be possible with that camera.

    1. Hi Doug! Thank you for the kind words!

      Yes, these were shot with the original Leica M Monochrom with CCD. I don’t think it is available for purchase new anymore, which is why Steve likely linked the M246.

  2. Chuck,

    Really, just a killer post on the essence of loving photography and capturing some incredible moments with family. I put all of my digital gear away 8 months ago and decided to shoot exclusively with a Canon 7sZ rangefinder and B&W film and I haven’t regretted it one bit.

    Keep doing what your doing, great work!

  3. Amazing pictures! When i first heard of the Monochrome I laughed too, but it turns out to be quite a good idea. And i absolutely agree with you about the limitations of black and white and why it can be good.
    Personally, I have never owned Leica because money, but the closest I could get was my Huawei P9 with dual lense Leica camera, which uses the same idea of a separate b&w only sensor.

    1. Thank you Ivan! I’m not keen on their prices, therefore, I buy used. Used prices on M9s and original M Monochrom (like the one I use) are more available for more ‘affordable’ prices. Check it out! You might be able to get into one for cheaper than you realize!

  4. The M Monochrom is a great camera for family, as is the M9.

    The strength of the M Monochrom raw image is being able to pull detail out of the shadows. If you are having problems with Highlights- try underexposing ~1/3 stop and using curves to boost the low end of the histogram. The DNG file-format itself is well-documented, to the point that I wrote my own raw processor to “see how low you could go” into the shadows.

    https://www.flickr.com/photos/[email protected]/albums/72157653270743238

    I have a Nikon Df- does great at High ISO, as does the M Monochrom. I’ve shot both side-by-side at the same ISO. The M Monochrom does a better job preserving the shadows, the Df- less blown highlights. Some of this is a function of the color mosaic filter preserving detail on one band as another is blown out. The M9 preserves the highlights better than the M Monochrom, always shoot uncompressed DNG with it.

    I own a lot of lenses for the Leica, many Leica lenses and Voigtlander lenses. The latter have never given me cause to complain.

    1. Just to add- the M Monochrom (and most higher-end cameras) stores 14-bit values into the DNG file. Most processing software leaves the values as 14-bit, so when you change intensity, contrast, etc- different intensity values in the original file get “thrown together”, so you lose a little resolution. I wanted to see what happened when the image was scaled to 16-bit values in the DNG file. Lightroom and Silver-Efex2 was able to process the 16-bit values in the new DNG file.

  5. These are some fantastic and enviable shots Chuck. The B&W toning is beautiful. The two kids jumping into the pool with hands held and the one with the american flag in the foreground are my favorites.

  6. IF I had one choice for a Leica it would be the MM hands down for workmanship build and work out-put the works like a glove and the BW is outstanding. Still co$t is a factor but if I Have to sell my babies the film bodies to fund this in the future…The M3-4-6 along with the M6 well…I’ll be lamenting the loss..Love the pictures as well very inspiring glad this body is still in use.
    I have beLIEved that BW looks more real then colour simular to classic cinema high contrast have a fuji x pro 1 to have a slight leica taste but willing to staop driving and go for broke.
    Auto insurance her in ontario is a rip off!…As allways steve many blessings for your site and tip of the hat to all those who Gladly suffer with GAS…Leica fan.
    Paul
    Circle

    1. I can understand that, Ben. Have you tried shooting a Leica? There is truly nothing like it…at least for how I like to shoot. I’d encourage you to spend a week with one and give it a whirl. I don’t get all touchy feely on gear, but the Leica definitely does it for me.

      1. No I haven’t shot a Leica. Because I fear it is a Pandora’s box!! I daren’t try one because I’m just not in a position to buy one and I fear if I try one I’ll be hooked… I definitely appreciate the image quality though, and again your work is outstanding!

    1. I can understand that, Ben. Have you tried shooting a Leica? There is truly nothing like it…at least for how I like to shoot. I’d encourage you to spend a week with one and give it a whirl. I don’t get all touchy feely on gear, but the Leica definitely does it for me.

  7. Really great set of pictures! Thank you very much for sharing!
    It inspired me to use my MM again. It has been awhile since last time I used it, but and I was even considering selling it, but mainly because I stopped shooting Raw lately…. Too little time to develop the files and thus, no picture to share with family and friends.

    1. Very kind words, Carlos! My rapidly growing sons are a constant reminder of how fleeting this all is. I very much enjoy making images of them and printing them. Not sure where it will all end up, but at a bare minimum I am having a great time with it!

    1. Allen! You are the man! I know a lot of photographers, but you are right up there at the top! Your use of the MM definitely pushed me in the right direction! I’d love to borrow your wit, sense of humor, and insight on the streets!

      1. Thanks for the kind words Chuck. I’m glad I pushed you because I really enjoy the work you have created with the MM.

  8. Superb shots capturing the moments so well and showing us just how good the monocrome can be when a good photographer gets his hands on one. You are going to have one heck of a great family album. Well done!

  9. I’d object if these were labelled as ‘photojournalism’. But ‘family photojournalism’ is an accurate representation of the style of images here. They’re not merely snapshots.

  10. Some of those photos are seriously good. Thanks for sharing! I love the cover image as well as the one of the three kids running. If you were to do my (hypothetical) wedding, I’d have to insist that you use the Monochrom for that. 😉

    I agree with almost everything that you said. I don’t currently own a Leica but I have owned my fair share. You would not be surprised to know that I should never have sold them. But regrets are for fools – you just have to learn from your mistakes!

    The Monochrom should be underexposed at all times – it’s sensitive enough to keep shadow detail in the same way that it’s sensitive enough to lose highlights. Even the original MM had a useful ISO rating of 6400, as you may know.

    What I find interesting about the RF cameras is that they are better general purpose cameras than SLRs. We’re just not used to them, which is why so many people see them as ‘niche’ products.

    There is a need for monochrome sensors if you really want to do b&w. Yes, it means you will need filters like G, Y, O, R, but you will get a super sharp image, even with unusual lighting conditions. The original Monochrom resolves the same amount of detail as the D800E. The bonus: smaller RAW files.

    An under-appreciated advantage of a mono sensor: you can do tri-shot colour images of still objects which will resolve probably the same detail as a Sony A7rII. Perhaps not a universally useful function, but no different to the 40Mpx mode on the Olympus OM-D.

    BTW I would suggest using slower memory cards than the ones you’re using. I don’t know if you’ve already tried that, but it’s worth mentioning.

      1. Faster cards cause problems with the M8 and M9. The solution is to simply use slower cards (which reduce noise, but only in CCD cameras). Slower cards could prevent the rare issues that you described.

        1. This is my experience also: I use 4x SD memory cards in the M8, M9, and M Monochrom. The CCD outputs an Analog Signal which gets digitized off-sensor. Fast cards tend to by “Bursty” with regard to storing data. Slower cards- more uniform in operation. This can cause extra power draw and induce noise in the system. I had some banding problems with the M Monochrom at ISO10,000 with fast cards which disappeared when used with the slower 4x Sandisk and PNY SD cards.

  11. That’s the best part about the Monochrom – you just want to pick it up and shoot, just to see the photos. They are that unique. Hanks for the nice post.

    1. Thank you, Sandy! My friends tried to convince me for over a year. It is one of those things that if you have the means or are close, do it today. It has been the most fun photographic purchase in my 12 years with cameras.

  12. I would have thought that understanding colour would be ‘more’ important when shooting on a black and white only sensor?

    1. It’s a bit of both in my opinion Steve having owned this camera for 2 years and only shooting black and white.

      In the case “for” – understanding how the colours come out as tones when making an image does present at times and can be important, though

      In the case “against” – if the subject and composition are compelling then using a monochrom takes away certain distractions that colour can present and you have a clear focus.

      Chuck certainly falls into the later of those two.

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