Oct 132012
 

The Leica Monochrom Review Part 2: Low Light, High ISO and Filters

This part of my ongoing Leica Monochrom review will go over Low Light and High ISO shooting as well as using filters on the lens and off the lens. The images here were all shot by me at high ISO or in low light. I will have many more great samples in parts 3 & 4. For now, Enjoy part 2 and feel free to leave your comments about the Leica Monochrom!

Read Part 1 Here which goes over what the camera is all about as well as a quick comparison with 35mm film. I also added some supplemental photos HERE. Part 2.5 is now up as well! Thank you!

katiebabycrop

My Monochrom Journey Continues…

After reading part one of my continuing Leica Monochrom Review (you can read it here) you now realize what the Leica Monochrom is all about as well as who it is for and NOT for. You also know it is an $8,000 B&W only camera that does not shoot color. I have been shooting continuously every day with this camera and I have to say that after two weeks I am really connecting with the Monochrom on a level even more so than I did with the M9, which was my camera “soulmate”..or at least I thought. The more I shoot the Mono, the more I think that this one may be “the one” that sticks by my side for as long as it can. I shot the M9 for 3 years and only gave it up to get the Monochrom and I am not in any way disappointed with this decision. In fact, I feel 100% happy with this choice that I made and after daily shooting with this I can say it is a camera that is VERY capable of creating some fine photographs and in the right hands, works of art. Low light, high ISO..yep, the Monochrom is the real deal my friends.

The Leica Monochrom is a serious tool even at night on the street at ISO 2000. I shot this in San Francisco while taking a street walk and was very happy with the results. Please click the image for a larger 1800 pixel wide version.

BTW, I edited this to have the darker gritty feel. I like this high contrast deep black look when shooting late night street and the Mono gave it to me. I could have easily taken the flat grey low contrast look as well. Many Monochrom haters initially said the camera was incapable of producing blacks yet when I compare this to my high contrast film shots on my HD this looks much better to my eyes. 

and one more with a less harsh look

musicman

Vision

With the Leica M9 we all had (or still have) a tool that can deliver mind-blowing results with the right lens and of course the right vision of the person behind the camera. There  are indeed limitations though because the M9 is limited with high ISO. Even shooting the street at night with an M9 and 35 1.4 was a little tough at times because the max ISO is 2500 and at that level it is pretty damn noisy. I have used ISO 2500 on the M9 in B&W to great effect but it was still grainy and noisy and that was it… The ceiling was hit with nowhere else to go in regards to low light. Well, that is not true actually. You could always grab a Noctilux f/0.95 for a cool $11k. :)

When Leica announced the Monochrom they touted it as a camera that will put an end to B&W film. After using it for a while and getting the hang of the processing I almost believe that statement. I still feel B&W film like Tri-X will never fully die due to the film die hards who will refuse to ever give it up and admit that anything digital can beat it but here we are in 2012 and more and more B&W films are fading away and being discontinued. Neopan 1600, T-Max…it’s a sad time for those who love shooting silver B&W. Many faves are dying away and there is nothing to replace them with. They each had their own look and feel and even smell. Can the Leica Monochrom deliver the goods for those who love those films that are now gone?

I think so..if you have the vision to create what your mind sees and wants.

ISO 1600 – I slightly back focused my 35 1.4 but the result is still gorgeous. While other guys were using strobes and flash I went “au natural” with whatever light was in the room and I like the result much better than the deer in the headlights look. Again, I processed this to have more contrast and deeper blacks. I could have went with a lower contrast look. Remember no lighting was used here so the shadow on her face is due to this. 

It Delivers the Goods

The really nice thing about the Monochrom is that it delivers the goods *if you know how to use it and process the files from it*. Many shots from the Monochrom, even from a couple of well-respected shooters and reviewers look a but flat because the files need a little bit of work to make them go from great to WOW. I am not saying that my shots are “WOW” but I have come a long way from my 1st samples in Berlin which showed the flat grey look that many are getting with this camera. I am speaking of the look of the files, the tones..the pop..the beauty. In my opinion, the Leica Monochrom is a box full of hidden potential and it may take me a year to really get the most from it. The one thing I know is that it certainly CAN deliver, and it is the real deal if you take the time to get to learn it and become one with it.

Here is an example I shot on the streets at night at ISO 8000. Yes, 8000. I processed it to give it a high contrast pop and as you can see, it has it. Gone are the dull greys you saw in earlier samples. LIke I said, this camera is VERY versatile and can get any look you desire once you learn how to work with the files. 

When I say it “delivers the goods” what I mean is that it can do just about anything you need it to do in the B&W world. Do you like flat grey shots? No problem. Do you like gritty high contrast? No problem! Do you like a Tri-X look? The Mono can do it all but to help it along it is quite simple. I always shoot RAW for the best quality file and then during RAW processing I tweak the exposure, black level and contrast to where I want it. I then process the RAW and use either an Alien Skin Exposure filter or bring it in to Silver Efex Pro (which comes with the Monochrom) to finish it up.

Using Software Filters with the Monochrom

You do not have to use any kind of filters with the Monochrom but they can add the look of your old fave film and get pretty damn close to it. You can go for rich blacks, high contrast, low contrast, grit and noise, or anything you desire just by running an image through Silver Efex Pro or Alien Skin Exposure. I love Alien Skin Exposure 4 and have put a sample below as to what it can do for a photo from the Monochrom.

This 1st image is direct from the camera with no adjustments at all. As you can see it is a bit flat and dark…

I took that image and ran it through Alien Skin Exposure using a simple preset (but I did it without adding grain). This example now pops more and has more contrast. This is just a generic example of a 3 second filter added. You can get as complex as you wish and you can also choose different looks for your photos. The arsenal of film stock filters and customization of these software packages are a must for any Monochrom owner. 

So if you are buying a Monochrom or already own one I highly recommend at least playing with some of these software filters. The camera actually comes with Silver Efex Pro which is the standard by which all others are measured. Alien Skin Exposure 4 can be downloaded here with a 30 day trial.  I highly recommend it not only for the Monochrom files but also for any digital files. Mess with it and get creative..step outside of  the box and see what you like. You may be surprised. I am happy that the Monochrom puts out flat files. Remember, this is a GOOD thing! This gives us the room to process the files to our liking. If the files came out all contrasty and slick then we would have less freedom to create our vision.

The Monochrom is just right and does what it does for a reason. It is not a camera for beginners.

The software filters also allow you to get as creative as you want by adding frames and more noise..ISO 2500 – I cropped this one and it shows the effects of the filter I applied. 

Using Actual Filters on your Lenses. Red, Yellow, IR and ND. Old School B&W.

With the Monochrom you are shooting just like your Father or Grandfather (or even you do today) did back in the day. Many B&W film shooters use filters on their lenses to enhance their skies or skin tones and you can also do this with the Monochrom. When shooting just imagine that you are shooting film because what worked when shooting with B&W film will work with the Monochrom. I feel Leica should have included a set of nice filters with the camera for those who want to take it all the way old school and get back to the ultimate B&W frame of mind.

They didn’t include any so I went out and bought a few. I picked up a B+W Red, Yellow and IR filter as well as an ND filter for those bright sunny days when I want to shoot with a wide aperture. With the minimum ISO of the Monochrom being 320 it is impossible to shoot at f/1.4 in full sun or mild sun. Adding an ND filter solves the problem. I bought this one for my 35 Lux FLE.

IR filters

I bought one of these out of curiosity. Here is the description of what it should do:

The B+W 46mm IR Dark Red (092) Filter is used for infrared photography with digital cameras and specialized infrared films. This nearly opaque filter blocks all visible light up to 650nm, lets 50% of radiation pass between 650 and 700nm, and more than 90% of radiation pass between 730 and 2000nm. Infrared film sensitivity is rarely greater than 1000nm, so this filter essentially allows most perceivable infrared radiation to be transmitted. Due to the nature of infrared photography, the filter factor for this filter is highly variable and depends largely on your film sensitivity and lighting conditions.

This was shot with a B+W IR-695 filter. I wanted to expiriment a bit with one. This one was at f/1.4 with the 35 Summilux FLE. 

Red Filter Usage and Example

The Red Filter when used on the Monochrom or with B&W film will add massive contrast. If you use this to shoot clouds in the sky you will get very dramatic results with borderline “Thunderstorm” effects. Unfortunately I live in Phoenix where there is rarely a cloud in the sun filled sky so all I have for this section is a shot that shows an OOC JPEG from the Mono with a red 25A Red filter. In most cases you would not want to use this filter – only for dramatic effects in skies IMO. When I get a nice sky shot using this filter I will post it here. I bought a cheaper red filter as I will rarely use it. 

Yellow Filter Usage and Example

Using a yellow filter will help bring out some contrast and can help skin tones a little as well. It’s a mild filter that can help bring more pop out of the camera to your files from the Monochrom. Using a yellow filter for B&W is pretty standard and is usually the goto filter as it will help your skies from being too bright as well. If you get one filter for your Monochrom, get a yellow. I use a B&W  Medium yellow which is a very high quality filter. The image below was shot with the yellow filter on the camera. Click it for a larger view.

Using filters can be part of the fun and creativity with the Leica Monochrom and will bring you back a bit. Pick a filter for your specific use and go with it. You can also buy other filters but these were the ones I bought for my Mono as they are the most used in B&W film.

Really High ISO & the Monochrom

With the Leica Monochrom you no longer have to be limited to ISO 2500 because you can shoot up to 10,000 ISO with this camera and get usable results. I have already shown an ISO 8000 shot earlier in this review but below you can see more from ISO 3200 and up. What amazes me about the Monochrom is the detail that is kept even when there is noise and grain. Even when shooting at night which is a torture test for ANY digital camera and high ISO the Monochrom keeps its cool and delivers stunning results in detail, tonality and overall wow factor.

Click the image below to see a larger version. BTW, this was ISO 8000 on a DARK street. The detail that is here is quite amazing. The tones are rich. IMO, this beats film because I was not stuck with one film in my camera. With the Monochrom I have ALL B&W films available at all times. 

Another ISO 8000 with crop – click it to see full crop embedded

ISO 6400 with a little more light shining in…and none of these shots have had ANY Noise Reduction of any kind. What you see is what you get.

Real world ISO 6400 on the street at night…not the best shot but you can get a feel for the noise level when there is no light around..This is direct from camera with no filter applied at all..

ISO 2500

The bottom line on the high ISO and low light is that this camera is SUPER FANTASTIC! This camera is really  a treat and so nice to shoot at night and in low light because it just does what it should and that is to have every kind of B&W film loaded up and ready at your command. Dial in ISO 320 to 10,000 at any given moment and be surprised by the results you will get. The Mono keeps the detail and sharpness and the noise is like a nice grained film. I was very happy with the results and when combined with a fast Leica lens like a Summilux or even Noctilux you can be king of the nightime B&W world. There is no color camera that can do what this one does with the tones nor the experience. The Monochrom is a different camera than anything on the market right now and many scoff at the idea of a B&W only camera but at the same time many are drooling over the thought of owning one.

Shooting in B&W requires passion and a love of the art of photography. You will get out what you put in and the camera can either reward you with beautiful files or disappoint you with flatness. For all of you getting this camera be sure to work with the files using lightroom or Photoshop as well as filter plug-ins and physical filters. This is when you will start to really appreciate what the Monochrom can do for you. I feel that this camera also inspires and when you tale it out to shoot you know you have something special in your hands. I may not agree with Leica’s pricing on this camera but I have to tell it like it is and the fact is that I adore this camera. End of story.

BTW, I am loving the combo of the 35 Summilux FLE with the camera and is my favorite Leica lens ever. My perfect kit would be a 28 Elmarit, 35 Summilux, 50 cron APO and a 75 of some kind. No way I can ever afford the 50 APO but it is a killer lens on the Monochrom.

For those that want to replace B&W film with a camera that can do it all in the B&W world but were worried about high ISO..well, don’t be. The Monochrom delivers :)

Part 2.5 is up HERE.

To buy the Monochrom you need to get on a list or pre-order. Mine came from Ken Hansen ([email protected]) but you can also buy from Dale Photo, PopFlash, B&H Photo or Amazon!

Look for part three of this ongoing review  in 7-12 days where I will have side by side comparisons (full size samples) with cameras like the M9, Fuji X, OM-D and others :) I also plan to do prints with the files as well so bookmark and check back often!

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Oct 082012
 

Leica M Duochrome? – Split Tone in Venice

David Nash, September 2012

www.davidnashphotos.co.uk

Leica M9, 28 mm Elmarit

Recently I’ve been playing around with split-tone processing in Lightroom as an alternative to black & white, and also reading the publicity around the Leica M Monochrome. That inspired me to write this short article on my “Duochrome” take on Leica M photography – split-tone Venice images all taken with an M9. I’ve also included tips on optimising images for split tone conversion and customizing Lightroom split tone presets to give you full control over the look of the final image.

For those not familiar with split tone images, think of them simply as black and white images with highlights tinted one colour and shadows tinted another colour. Split tone technique dates back to the days of film – but now of course can be simulated quickly and easily in the Lightroom Develop module. (Or by using Photoshop etc.)

I’ve been taking photos in Venice on and off for decades. I love the quality of the light, the reflections and the endlessly varied – and mostly crumbling – architecture. And a huge plus for photography – no cars!! The downside of course is that it’s really hard to take photos that are not hackneyed. Using black & white is one way of avoiding the obvious travel shots, but for Venice I do find that black & white images can often lose a bit of atmosphere – particularly with daylight shots. I’ve tried sepia presets in Lightroom but to my taste the results often look a bit too nostalgic. Enter split tone. To me, split tone images combine the attractions of black and white (emphasis on composition, tone, textures etc.) with a wider expressive range. This seems to better suit the atmosphere of Venice, particularly when using cold (bluish) tints for the shadows contrasting with warm (orangeish) tones for the highlights.

M9, 50mm Summicron

As ever, a computer screen will never have the look and tonal subtlety of a good print. I find these shots print particularly well on A3+ Harmann Matt Baryta paper – preferably using a printer that has extra grey tones like the Epson 3800.

M9, Zeiss 35mm Biogon 2.8

 

Lightroom Split Tone tips and techniques: Key steps (further detail below)

• Choose a suitable image: split tone doesn’t work well for everything

• Optimise the image (particularly its tone range) before conversion

• Choose one of the split tone presets as starting point (you’ll find them towards the bottom of the “Presets” list on the left pane of the Develop Module)

• Customise the preset using Lightroom’s Split Toning sliders (located below the Colour/B&W mixer panel on the right pane)

• Fine tune the result by revisiting the other tools – particularly tone (highlights, shadows, curves etc. and/or grad filter effects) and local contrast (clarity)

M9, Zeiss Biogon 35mm 2.8

Choosing a suitable image/optimisation

M9, 28mm Elmarit 2.8

Photos that work in black & white are good candidates split tone, with the one qualification that for split tone you need a full tonal range to start with – otherwise you will lose much of one of the 2 tint colours. Areas of smooth tonal transitions from lighter to darker look great – particularly if they change from one tint to the other (see detailed example below). For the shot above I increased highlights and darkened the sky (using the blue luminance slider) before converting. This increased the overall tonal range and made the right of centre sunlit building and its reflection stand out more.

Split Tone Conversion

Which 2 colours?

Your first decision is which colour to use for the highlight tint and which to use for the shadow tint. These can be any two colours, but the general view is that “opposite” colours work best – e.g. red and green, blue and orange, yellow and purple. Generally I prefer the cold bluish shadows setting off warm highlights that are the basis of the Lightroom Split Tone 1 preset. This is the preset I used as a starting point for all the images in this article

Cannaregio Canal, M9, Zeiss 35mm Biogon 2.8

Customizing presets: color and/or saturation

Split toning adjustments start with separately optimising colour and/or saturation for Highlights and Shadows. Colour optimisation uses the Hue sliders – personally I tend to leave them where they are for Split Tone 1 preset. Saturation controls how blue the shadows are and how warm the highlights are. Subtlety is the best approach. For some images you might wish to leave the blue shadows but set the highlights nearer white by reducing the highlight saturation.

A key difference between the 2 shots above is the highlight saturation slider settings. The left hand example uses the saturation preset – for the right I’ve considerably reduced the highlight saturation and also darkened the sky so it picks up more of the colder shadow tone

Balance Slider

In many ways the key control is the balance slider. In simple terms this sets the crossover point in the tone range from darkest to lightest for the transition from the shadow tone to the highlight tone. Experiment a lot with this slider – some images will look better with bluish midtones – others better with warmer midtones. I particularly love the smooth transitions from warm to cold over broad areas that the balance slider allows you to control. In the image at the top of the article you’ll see this transition from dark cold to warm mid in the skies. With a different balance setting this effect would have been lost:

There is little transition from cold to warm in the sky in the left example – the balance slider is set towards blue keeping the midtones bluish. On the right (the final version) the balance has been set towards the warm highlight tone, so the sky tint ranges from blue at its darkest to warm mids

Finishing touches

I often find that even with these adjustments I still haven’t got quite the look I want for a particular image. So it’s back to the general Lightroom tools – particularly tone adjustments (highlights, shadows, grad filters) and local contrast again (clarity – sometimes combined with a grad filter as in the example below).

Burano Washing Line, M9, 50mm Summicron. After conversion to split tone, I added a grad filter from the top to darken sky and building top half. But this subdued the highlights in the washing so I used the brush on the washing highlights to locally increase the exposure. I then used a grad filter over the foreground paving and significantly increased clarity. Lastly, I added a slight “post-crop” vignette.

Next steps: Fuji X100 Duochrome?

 

Golden Horse, Alpe di Siusi, Dolomites. Fuji X100.

Thanks for reading!

 

Oct 052012
 

The Leica M Monochrom Review Part 1. Understanding the Camera and VS film. 

After reading this, Part 2 is now up HERE.

Part 2.5 is up HERE – Part 3 is up HERE

The Monochrom and Zeiss Sonnar 1.5 – Some slight PP to enhance the contrast

slepp

 

After posting about the arrival of my Leica Monochrom I have had quite a few e-mails asking me to do a “rolling review”. Well I thought about it and even though I have only had the camera at this point for two full days I decided “why not”? The 1st installment will be about the Monochrom, my thoughts as well as some 100% crop comparisons with Tri-X and HP-5. Nothing technical, just real world and the thoughts from a guy who has shot ALL Leica cameras extensively. Over the coarse of this 4 part review I will cover just about EVERYTHING that can be covered from comparisons, to filters on your lenses to filters in Lightroom or Photoshop. I will go over real world high ISO shooting as well as show off some cool accessories that will complete your monochrom if you choose to buy one for yourself. So here we go….

Again, this review will be done in at least FOUR parts. Part one is presented here “Understanding the Camera”. Part 2 will follow next week and so on. With a camera as special as this I figured I would make it as thorough as I can without getting all boring and technical. There will be MANY samples with this camera and various lenses and as each new part is posted I will post links to each page so you can easily find all of the parts. I hope you enjoy this as much as I have enjoyed writing it.

As for the Leica haters who will be posting nasty comments let me remind you to that you must keep comments relevant and keep the nasty attacks to yourself. They are not warranted or welcome here. Of course I know you can shoot B&W with ANY digital camera made so this is why I am going to be testing this camera for a long term review. To see exactly what it can and can not do.

The Unboxing of my new Monochrom 

So far so good…and yes, it can replace B&W  film for most of us. Didn’t take much time for me to figure that one out.

I have only had this (production) camera for TWO days and let me state right up front that it is indeed my own personal camera. Not a loaner or rental but MINE. Why did I decided to ditch my M9-P and pick up the Monochrom knowing damn well you can shoot the M9-P and convert to B&W using Silver Efex or Alien Skin? Well, after shooting this camera in Berlin for an hour at the launch event…yes, just an hour..I was already hooked. I knew that the files coming out were a tad flat and grey but I also knew this camera had serious potential. Much more so than the Leica M9 being converted to B&W.

100% crop – To see the intense detail click the image below which is a 100% crop shot at f/1.5 with a 50 sonar Zeiss lens. This is what comes out of the Monochrom at ISO 4000 and is a crop of the image at the top of this page. Some my say it is too smooth but think of the possibilities here..any ISO for any situation. If you want grain, set it to 8000 and shoot away, or add it in post.

iso4000crop

No a 100% crop from a film scan – Leica M7 – 50 Cron – Tri-X – Coolscan V – Makes the shot from the MM look like Medium Format and keep in mind that he crop above was shit as ISO 4000..below is an ISO 400 film and it has more grain than the Monochrom.  You need to crank the MM to ISO-8000 to get this kind of grain. 

Leica M7 and 50 cron with Ilford HP5 – Nikon Coolscan V

Now I know my  statement here of “yes, it can replace film” is going to piss many hardcore film shooters off and have some hate slung at me but I say what I feel and what I feel is that this is a definitive B&W camera for those who are passionate about the “art” of photography, the “emotion” of photography and the “beauty” of black & white photography. Black & White Film has always been the heart and soul of photography, especially for those who have shot with Leica cameras but these days shooting film for many is a pain in the ass. The cost, the processing, the chemicals, the darkroom, etc. Let us not forget that If you scan your film you are digitizing it anyway and when printing on a printer at home you lose the true qualities of that film. I have scanned thousands of B&W frames in my day and I am saying with 1000% conviction that the files I am seeing from the Monochrom are the closest I have ever seen any digital come to film but not 35mm film because they look more like rich medium format files. 

But how can it replace film when you will not have the full experience of the darkroom? Some crave that experience..I know this. Well in that area it CAN NOT replace film. When I say it can kick some film to the curb I am speaking from my experience with film (shooting an M7 only for a year and processing film, scanning film, working with film, etc).  The fact of the matter is that the Leica Monochrom is the only digital camera I have used to date that I feel can finally meet and yes even exceed the qualities of 35mm B&W film. Like I said the Monochrom needs to be compared to medium format more than anything..or even a Sigma DP2m :)

How can you say this Steve?? You must be stricken with some sort of Leica MM fanboy disease!!!

Lol, well after shooting with the Monochrom I have found that the files coming out of the camera can be flat and very very grey (just like a film scan actually). But work on them just a little and you are rewarded with absolutely insane detail and resolution that kicks not only 35mm film to the curb but also kicks the the M9 along with it. Again, I am speaking about B&W film and the detail and resolution and even DR.

CLICK the image for full 100% crop. All I did here was adjust the contrast – 35 Lux FLE

Looks like a nice quality film to me but with even more detail. Click it for larger view which will look much better :)

The Monochrom means busine$$.

For starters this camera has some serious Medium Format quality resolution and you would think it was a 36MP sensor instead of an 18MP sensor. Yes, it is that good and literally does things that even an M9 can not do. Then again, the M9 does color as well and it is cheaper so the Leica Monochrom is ONLY for those who seriously want to get into black & white photography. Doing this means changing your whole brain and how it functions for going out and shooting. Shooting in B&W means “seeing” in B&W and that is much different than seeing in color.

I added some grain to this one to give it a teeny bit of grit.

When shooting color it is easy to see a shot and think “this will look amazing”. When shooting B&W you have to know what will look good, what lighting will work good and what kind of tones are in the shot. If you thought shooting an M9 made you think then this Monochrom makes you think even more. But this is a good thing.

L1003316

L1002857

Just after two days with this beautiful machine I am adoring it. Loving it and even though the price of admission is sky high it is 100% unique. There is NOTHING like it. NOTHING. This is part of the reason why Leica had the balls to price it where they did. They know there are some who would give even more than $8000 for a camera such as this. They are not shooting for volume here as this is a STATEMENT piece from Leica. It brought them loads of press (free advertising) and they are delivering it in teeny tiny quantities and selling all that they can make.

Sure the new M is coming at $6995, $1000 less than the Mono and it will shoot color, have higher MegaPixels and even do video. A jack of all trades. But in my opinion if you are a black & white person even the new M will not match the Monochrom. It can come close but can’t match it.

A great case for the Monochrom is the hand made and hand stitched M case from classiccases.co.uk. I keep the back flap up so I avoid the urge to chimp :) (preview files on the LCD) I am not usually a case guy but this one feels great and is not so bulky like some of the popular M cases. The fit is also superb.

UPDATE: My case broke after a couple of weeks as a snap fell off for no reason. Never had that happen with any case in my life so just a heads up.

To Understand the Monochrom…

The Monochrom is a camera much like the Leica MP. A lifetime camera. Of course many will say a digital camera can not be a lifetime camera but I beg to differ. If you are 12 then maybe not, but if you are like me, in your 40’s or older then this is a camera that could easily last our lifetime as long as Leica stays in business and supplies service and batteries. Even their Digilux 2 is still in service and they still repair them and it is well over 12 years old. The Monochrom is not one of those cameras you buy and sell a year later for something new..unless you bought it for the wrong reasons like style and flash or curiosity. For those who live, breath, eat and sleep B&W this is YOUR camera. Period. No film stock to buy. No chemicals to inhale. No time consuming scanning film for hours. No ISO restrictions. This is about as good as it will ever get for B&W only cameras. It simply can not get any better than this when we are talking 35mm format and compact.

If you are thinking of this camera then you have to ask yourself these questions BEFORE pulling the trigger:

  1. Do I live and breathe to shoot in Black & White and do I want just about the best B&W results I can get digitally without the cost of film?
  2. Am I ok shooting ONLY B&W, even if it means missing shots that scream for color?
  3. Can I afford a Monochrom and an M9? Or a Monochrom and something else that shoots color?
  4. Am I 100% sure I do NOT want to shoot B&W film (you can do this much cheaper with an M6 and Tri-X but with restriction and not the same qualities)
  5. Do I enjoy shooting with a Rangefinder/Leica M? 
  6. Do I already own Leica M mount glass?
  7. Am I ok with a low res crappy LCD on the back of my camera?
  8. Do I want to shoot my M at ISO 3200 or 6400 or even ISO 10,000 and get great results?
If you answered yes to the majority of these then you will most likely love the Monochrom. End of story :)

Check out the Dynamic Range and subtle tones..the way the Monochrom handled the highlights here is beautiful. Not blown out or underexposed – just right. 

debbybwconv1

About the Leica Monochrom Sensor. Why is it so special?

The Leica Monochrom looks like, smells like, feel like, and shoots JUST like a Leica M9 or M9-P or even new M-E. It is the same M9 body that we all know and love (and some hate) with the same LCD, same rangefinder system and same limitations that all rangefinders have (at least until the new M arrives). The only difference with the Monochrom is that it has a very special sensor that records your photos in MONO. I can sit here for an hour and write up how and why this is but I will keep it simple as other sites have went into the technical qualities of the sensor. In basic terms this sensor, because of the lack of color filter array the Monochrom sensor can capture more light but not capture the color. There is also no need for demosaicing (combining color info) so this sensor is capable of capturing insane amounts of detail. It is in fact a hot rodded M9 18MP sensor but you will get more detail than the M9. Like I said, out of the camera the files are smooth as silk up to ISO 2500 and after that you get some nice grain (I will go over this in future installments) so you choose how you want your files to look.

Just know that the files from this camera and sensor are very “tweakable” to get whatever look you want from it. I am excited to see what others can do with this as I expect we will see some flat out astounding shots from the Monochrom in the near future as everyone gets their own personal processing prefs down. As for me, I much prefer this camera to shooting B&W film. I even shoot it with the LCD covered using my classiccases.co.uk case and it is similar to shooting film (without the advance lever of course). I like having no restrictions and that is what this camera is about. NO RESTRICTIONS.

Want to shoot in bright light? No problem though an ND filter will help as the ISO low spot is 320, high for full sun and fast lenses. Still better than being stuck with 400 or 1600 film in your camera in sunlight. Want to shoot in dark? Slap on a 1.4 lens and crank the ISO. Results will be there with some gorgeous film like grain.

Same shot – 1st one right from camera with a little sharpening…

Next shot is with an Alien Skin Tri-X 400 filter added – contrast boosted, whites are whiter and looks a little more rough

I have read a few comments from Leica haters who are saying that it is ridiculous that you need to process files from this camera because it cost $8000. Well, every digital camera in existence, even film cameras, will give you files you can use right from camera. If you want to take that extra step and give more life to your photo you may want to process. I know people who spend HOURS in the darkroom dodging and burning their prints from film. With digital it is no difference and to suggest we shouldnt need to do work to photos is sort of ridiculous. Even $30k medium format cameras could use their files tweaked. It’s actually what makes part of being a photographer fun. Working on your files. Unless you are one of those who go out to shoot 1000 frames a day, then I could understand it. But if that is the case then you should just forget about processing photos. Hire someone to do it :)

To understand the Monochrom you have to know what it is all about. I have explained it in this post which is part 1 of 5 in my ongoing Monochrom review. This camera is not for everyone and yes you can get great B&W conversions from many cameras. Leica M8, M9, Nikon D800 and others but the Monochrom is not only about shooting in B&W, it is about shooting in a style that some of us love so much. It is a true rangefinder which is not an experience you can get from a Nikon D800. It is compact and you can not get this from a D800. It has a jewel like build (also not with the D800). The lenses are the best in the world and SMALL. Shooting a rangefinder puts you in a different mindset. I have spoken about this many times but it is true and to those who are the Leica haters, that is OK. Everyone is entitled to their opinion just as I am to mine. Not everyone likes shooting with an RF.

As for the pricing I feel Leica overdid it. I wish this camera came in at $5500 but I also understand what Leica is doing with this camera. Like I said it is a niche specialist statement piece to show everyone that it can be done in 35mm and by Leica, the one company who SHOULD be doing it.

*Just know that the Monochrom is just like an M9 though it does have the Sapphire glass cover over the low res antique LCD. 

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I feel Leica will be on another roll here soon with the new M-E already in stock and the new M coming soon with it’s all new features there are interesting times ahead indeed.

Part TWO of this review is coming in about 7-12 days. I will go over high ISO and have a load of sample images. I am hoping that for parts 3-5 I can do some comparisons with other cameras such as the OM-D, D800 and Leica M9 and M. Stay tuned :) As soon as part two is completed it will be linked from THIS at the top and bottom.

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I want to give a shout out and THANK YOU to Leica dealer Ken Hansen ([email protected]) with whom I was #1 on his list for this camera. I am happy to finally have it in hand :) I think Ken has the new M-E in stock right now as well. He also has some great lenses in stock so give him an e-mail if you are looking for something special. PopFlash.com is also getting stock of lenses and M-E’s as they sold out of their 1st batch in one day. These are my sponsors so treat them well!

Until next time!

Steve

Part 2 is now up HERE

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Remember, anytime you follow my links here and buy from B&H or AMAZON, this helps to keep my site going. If it was not for these links, there would be no way to fund this site, so I thank you in advance if you visit these links. I thank you more if you make a purchase! I have nifty search bars at the upper right of each page so you easily search for something at either store! I currently spend 10-14 hours a day working on this site and the only way that I can pay for it is with your help, so thank you! Currently my traffic has been increasing but my funds to pay for the site has been decreasing, so any help would be GREATLY appreciated!

Even if  you buy baby food, napkins or toothpicks at amazon it helps this site, and you do not pay anything extra by using the links here. Again, you pay nothing extra by using my links, it is just a way to help support this site, so again, I thank you in advance :)

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Oct 032012
 

My Leica Monochrom Arrives! Unboxing Video with review up in 3 weeks…

So finally…after months and months of waiting and being #1 on the waiting list of Ken Hansen my Leica Monochrom has come in. Ken only received ONE this week and this is it. Leica has been super slow in getting this camera out for some reason. Not sure if they are trying to keep the stock low to make the demand look high or if they are just restricting the numbers made for other reasons but it has finally arrived, so I am happy.

The Monochrom is one of those cameras that NO ONE else has even dared to take on. No one else besides Leica would even dream of making a B&W only camera so why did Leica do it when it could have spelled disaster for them due to cost and the basic fact that you can not shoot color with this oh so basic old school rangefinder camera? $8000..black & white only. This is not for everyone.

The video below shows an unboxing of a production and final Monochrom

The release of this camera has caused quite the controversy because mostly all of the samples (besides the official Leica samples they showed off at the Berlin event) that have been shown to date on various websites (including this one) has shown results that are mixed. The fact is that the files from the Monochrom appear flat right out of the camera with loads of grey tones. They look very “UN”…un-exciting, un-dramatic and un-soulful. MOst of the time. If you have that perfect lighting you will get amazingly detailed rich files right from a JPG but most of the times these files need some work to spruce them up.

There is a reason this camera ships with codes for Lightroom 4 and Silver Efex Pro. I feel to get the most out of the Mono you must use plug-ins like Silver Efex Pro or Alien Skin Exposure. With that said..why would or should we have to do this with a camera such as this? If we wanted to convert why wouldn’t we just keep our M9 and convert? Is there REALLY a difference?

I feel the B&W images from the Mono do have a different look than a converted M9 file and it is going to take me some time to get it all figured out which is why I will be taking this camera out for the next few weeks and taking my time with the review. I feel once we learn how to properly process these files that the results could be stunning. At this point I am still experimenting.

All I did today was fire off a few snaps with a 35 Lux to test the focus and I can happily say it is amazingly spot on :) What I have noticed so far is the Monochrom has gobs of detail, much more dynamic range than an M9 and high ISO up to 10,000 will be nice to have. So right there it is an improvement over an M9 (though again, no color here). If you have the bucks this camera and the new M should make an unbeatable combo. Even this mono and an M9 or new M-E would be sweet. Again, if you have the bucks and enjoy the Leica experience (such as I do).

Yes indeed this camera will cost you big time but if you have the passion for B&W photography and you have the cash then it really wont get much better than this. Of course I am speaking of 35mm full frame/compact size. After just a full day with it I am really loving this camera, and no, I am not even close to being rich. You do not have to be rich to buy a Leica. I just live a simple life in all other areas. Small cheap house, cheap car, no other expensive hobbies. This is now my only M camera. My M9-P was sold  to fund the new M. So it is B&W only for me for the next few weeks as I dig into this new MM. Full Review in a few weeks.

BTW, the case I have on the Monochrom comes from classiccases.co.uk and I will review this case with the Monochrom :) But so far it is a PERFECT companion for the MM because it has a back flap that covers the LCD..no chimping allowed!

Now some snapshots I grabbed right after the camera arrived to make sure all was good…click them to see them the right way.

Here I am with the Mono at 1.4 – click all images to see them the right way and just how detailed they are!

The 35 Lux out of my office window at 2.8 – had some fun with a Alien Skin filter but click it to see the tones!

An old antique 1940’s doll – added an Alien Skin filter

The detail is insane. This is at 1.4 with the 35 – click the image for larger size and 100% crop. ISO 640. Look at the detail on the crop of the hand.

The 35 wide open..cant get any sharper

Detail Detail and this is an OOC JPEG! The 35 at f/2 – click it to see full crop!

ALL I ASK! HELP ME TO KEEP THIS SITE GOING AND GROWING!! IT’S EASY TO HELP OUT & I CAN USE ALL THE HELP I CAN GET!

Remember, anytime you follow my links here and buy from B&H or AMAZON, this helps to keep my site going. If it was not for these links, there would be no way to fund this site, so I thank you in advance if you visit these links. I thank you more if you make a purchase! I have nifty search bars at the upper right of each page so you easily search for something at either store! I currently spend 10-14 hours a day working on this site and the only way that I can pay for it is with your help, so thank you! Currently my traffic has been increasing but my funds to pay for the site has been decreasing, so any help would be GREATLY appreciated!

Even if  you buy baby food, napkins or toothpicks at amazon it helps this site, and you do not pay anything extra by using the links here. Again, you pay nothing extra by using my links, it is just a way to help support this site, so again, I thank you in advance :)

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Oct 032012
 

Leica Consumer Behaviour 101

By Louis Stevenson

Hi Steve,

These must be exciting times for you and a lot of us out there are waiting with bated breath on your upcoming reviews. Amidst all the hype from Leica’s new products, I’ve developed some thoughts on the responses by most people and I thought it would be interesting to look at the general feelings towards the release of Leica’s new products. In my observation, the new Leica Monochrom, M and ME have caused much joy and disappointment all at the same time, depending on what type of user you belong to. Here is an attempt to list a few groups:

1. The Conservatives. These are very experienced users who believe that film can never be replicated digitally and hence no amount of new technology can ever put the digital M on par with film. So anything new that Leica introduces to the Digital M would never impress them one bit, in fact, it goes directly against their philosophy of the M. Film is timeless, au natural and soulful. Digital is clinical, impatient and artificial. To them, the Leica Monochrome makes absolutely no sense and anyone who tries to artificially replicate digital files to look film-like gets shot down instantly. In fact there were several Monochrom shots that I find simply amazing, yet they were so quickly dismissed to be “plasticky”.

My very 1st time pressing the shutter release of a film camera, only to realise that I did not advance the film after loading. Leica M6TTL/ 35mm Lux Asph/ Kodak Tri-X 400

 

Shot in Film or Digital?

2. The Pragmatics. These consumers look for the best price/quality balance in a camera. They often compare specifications head-to-head, dollar-to-dollar and choose the camera base on their price-quality preference. Comparing across the market is common. It does not matter to them that Leica produced the first digital RF that is capable of shooting video, but it matters that Leica is the last to have video function in the industry. Hence, again Leica is seen as a failure for being the last. Leica will never meet their expectations in price vs quality terms. It’s common to hear them commenting that such an image shot by a Leica could have been easily shot with a cheaper camera or lens.

I ended up liking the iPhone shot more.

Iphone 4S shot (edited with Tadaa App) vs Leica M9/ 35mm Lux.

 

3. The Minimalists. They like the fact that Leica has kept to the essentials… Up until now. To them, each new upgrade should focus on image quality and functionality, that’s it! No more, no less! Hence, better sensors, ISO performance, weather sealing, LCD are very important to them. To introduce video into Leica M baffles them since more effort could’ve been focused towards improving image quality rather than wasting time on the video function. To repackage the M9 into the ME is almost insulting their intelligence. Leica fooled none of them with cosmetic updates for the ME/ M9P and should have introduced a M9.2 instead. I share their disappointment with the ME too. However, there are those who celebrate the marketing gimmick of the ME that would inadvertently drive down prices of used M9. Those who were waiting for the chance to upgrade would find this excellent news, and I’m happy for them!

4. The Enthusiasts. The RF experience is highly regarded by these users. They appreciate the characteristics of film and digital and are open-minded enough to make the next jump that Leica M has to offer. As long as the additional bells and whistles do not hinder the RF experience, then its good. These users are also open to new ways of using the RF. Using the new M to shoot videos RF style is a welcome addition but remains to be seen. Leica has got these bunch excited, but now Leica has to deliver. I hope for the best!

I have to say that this categorization is somewhat extreme. You may be one of them, caught in between, or you may have your own category! So what purpose does this article serve you may ask? Well, nothing, if you are looking for a review. Whats interesting here are the dynamics between these groups that result in diversified views that can be very informative and enlightening. Sometimes, disagreement may arise when different groups argue from a different perspective and that’s where the fun begins, until it gets ugly. But there is one thing that we all have in common, that is our love for capturing moments, and sharing them to people who matter.

End of the day, it’s the memories I’m after. A fellow pilot trainee who just cleared his 1st solo flight with a splash! A tradition practised by many.

Leica M9/ 35mm Summicron Asph

Thanks Steve for this website.

Sincerely,

Louis Stevenson

 

Here’s my Flickr as well as my other article contributions:

http://www.flickr.com/photos/tanlouis/

http://www.stevehuffphoto.com/2012/03/26/taking-the-leica-m9-off-the-streets-and-into-the-wild-by-louis-stevenson/

http://www.stevehuffphoto.com/2012/02/24/tasmania-overland-track-with-the-leica-m9-by-louis-stevenson/

 

Oct 022012
 

My first month with the Leica Monochrom

by Gage Caudell

From Steve: MORE Monochrom coverage! This site has had the most coverage of the Monochrom since the camera was announced. To get up to date you can see the 1st article HERE, the second HERE, the 3rd HERE, the 4th HERE, 5th HERE, 6th HERE7th HERE and just last week THIS ONE . Now, enjoy the article below by Gage Caudell.  My thoughts and full review of the Monochrom will be up soon as my own personal Monochrom arrives TOMORROW thanks to Leica dealer Ken Hansen – BTW I was 1st on his list for this and it JUST NOW came in as Leica has been slow as MOLASSES with this release. I will continue to cover this camera as well as have upcoming reviews of the Leica D-Lux 6  and of course as soon as I get the “new M” the RV Road Trip Review with 4 of the readers of this site will get under way! Enjoy!

Steve,

I read Ashwin’s post the other day and enjoyed his thoughts and pictures. I was fortunate to get a Leica M Monochrom the second week they were released in the United States. I’ve been shooting with it almost exclusively and have been amazed by the amount of detail and quality of the images. As Ashwin mentioned, the pictures right out of the camera are flat but because they hold so much information in the midtones, shadows, and even highlights (the ones that are not blown out), once processed the pictures are quite good.

Most of the pictures below were processed in Lightroom 4 and a few in Silver Efex Pro 2. I’ve always been an Apple Aperture guy but they currently don’t support the M Monochrom. Also, I converted a few of the “dng” files in Ligthroom to “tiff” files and imported to Aperture and was not happy at all with the processing. I’m unsure if this is because Aperture software is not as good as Lightroom or because I’m not processing the same image type and therefore loosing some date when exporting to a “tiff” file. Nonetheless, I’m extremely impressed with how Lightroom processes these images and found my self using Silver Efex Pro 2 less.

I agree that it is important to under expose your images and I typically shoot at -1/3 to -2/3 exposure. Blown out highlights can easily occur and must be considered each time you shoot in well-lit places. I routinely focus on my subject and then point the camera to areas of increase light or to area in my scene that I believe will give me the best exposure and lock my exposure by pressing the shutter button halfway (you have to hold it there) and then compose and take my picture.

Last, this camera obviously is not for everyone. The price point alone and or the ability to only shoot black and white will make most uninterested. I have a strong interest in black and white photography, and I felt this camera would suit me well. I enjoy shooting people, especially family and friends. I’m unsure how much I’ll use it for landscape but I did provide a few landscape shots.

P.S. Thanks for providing such a terrific website. I always enjoy reading your post and the many guest that post. I also find the comments very useful, especially when they are positive (most are). (Thanks Gage!

Gage Caudell

My website: www.rangetraveler.com

iso 320 1/90 sec f1.4 35mm summilux

iso 320 1/90 sec f2 35mm summilux (made Leica “M” Master shots)

iso 8000 1/45 sec f1.4 35mm summilux

 –

iso 4000 1/60 sec f.95 50mm noctilux

iso 2500 1/250 sec f4 50mm noctilux

iso 320 1/750 sec f1.4 35mm summilux

iso 320 1/60 sec f1.4 35mm summilux

iso 320 1/4000 sec f8 35mm summilux

iso 500 1/250 sec f2 50mm noctilux

Sep 292012
 

It seems Willoughbys who posted they had the new Leica APO Summicron in stock yesterday were not being truthful. They do NOT have the lens in stock. I did see Kurland listed two in stock and supposedly Amazon is getting them in the next week. But Willoughby’s DO NOT have this lens in stock as they said. I spoke with Ken Hansen and he does not have any as of yet so it seems Willoughby’s was using slimy tactics by showing an IN STOCK status when they were NOT in stock.

 

The new Leica 50 Summicron 50 APO is IN STOCK NOW at Amazon and sold by Willoughby’s who have a 4.9 star rating (which is SUPERB). They have 19 lenses IN STOCK at the time if this posting. MAN OH MAN if I only had the cash. I have seen many unpublished images form this lens and they were beautiful. A mix of the classic cron and 50 ASPH with a little but “extra”. If i had the cash I would buy one but sadly I do not so maybe some of you out there have been waiting…get it at the link below:

 

Sep 272012
 

Sony RX1, NEX-6, NEX-5R and A99 Previews and samples the week of the 8th!

Hello everyone! Happy Thursday! I hope everyone is having a great day wherever you may be at this moment..work, home, school, travel, hotel..wherever! I am EXCITED and the reason why is that the week the 8th-12th I will be posting LIVE updates from San Francisco and Carmel, CA at the Sony Media Event where I will be shooting with a Sony RX1, NEX-5, NEX-5R and A99. Even the new Action Cam and other new Sony products will be there for me to shoot all week. Upon checking into my hotel on Monday the 8th I will be handed a camera bag full of cameras and goodies so THIS is a big deal for me. I am thrilled to be shooting the RX1 especially..to see how it is in real use. Of course I will be posting updates and samples here from all of the cameras as I shoot them.

We will be going to some amazing scenic locations that week to put these new products through their paces and you guys get to read about all of it HERE. I will not be the only web guy there so I am sure there will be floods of samples available that week from many of the other photo bloggers and websites.

Sony seems to be on top of their game this year because if I was running things at ANY camera company I would do the same thing they are doing. Getting these new products in the hands of some of the top websites so they can report on them show they not only have confidence in what they are putting out but that they know how to promote these products as well. They have had media events before but this one is going to be HUGE and pretty special. Race cars, helicopter rides, Big Sur…I can not wait!

So stay tuned here the week of the 8th-12th and you will see all of my updates on the new Sony gear. 

Oh…The Leica M RV Tour and Review

BTW, I have been toying with an idea to rent an RV that will hold up to 4-5 people to trek across route 66 testing the new Leica M and Monochrom. Would be myself and 3-4 others who would want to join in and share costs involved with the main goal of shooting the hell out of the new cameras along the Route for a week or two. At the end of the trip we would all combine our words and photos in to a massive review to be posted here. If this happens I would like to find 3-4 others who have experience with Leica and know how to use them. Having some great lenses would also help :)

This would be great press for Leica so now let us see if they agree to send me a camera or two for 2 weeks to see if it can happen. If not I will wait until my orders come in which would be sometime in 2013. Either way it will most likely happen..but stay tuned for details :)

Sep 272012
 

Year long wait list no more..Leica Noctilux in stock at B&H Photo & Ken Hansen

UPDATE: B&H Sold Out

What was once a year-long wait list for this lens has now dwindled as last week popflash.com had them in stock and this morning B&H Photo has some in stock and Ken Hansen does as well. You can check out the B&H Photo page for it HERE and if you want to contact Ken you can email him at [email protected]. Earlier this week when I posted about three lenses available at popflash (including the ever hard to find 35 lux FLE) they all sold within minutes so I know there are many of you out there looking for these lenses. My review on the Noctilux can be seen HERE. To really see what it can do check out THIS article or check out these photos.

Sep 252012
 

MANY are waiting for this camera, including ME. Ive been on  my dealers list in the #1 spot for a while and nothing to date. Leica has been slow slow slow in getting this one to dealers but what do you know? Amazon has one listed by K&M Cameras who has a 4.9 out of 5 review rating.

Leica Monochrom IN STOCK at Amazon NOW – CLICK HERE TO GET IT

DISCLAIMER: As always I post these announcements as a service to my readers on hot items that are hard to find. I do the work and when I spot them IN STOCK I let YOU know. When you use my links to buy I get a small commission so you win, I win and the site wins.

Sep 242012
 

New York City seen through the Leica M Monochrom

By Ashwin Rao – See his blog HERE

Hello, all of my photo friends. Photokina 2012 has come and gone, and it’s been a whirlwind of news from a gear front. Huge announcements have come from Sony (RX-1, A99), Canon and Nikon (with full frame entry level cameras), Fuji (XE-1), and of course Leica (with the M and M-E). In this day and age, gear gets discussed as much as the photos that it takes, and today’s glorious gear rapidly becomes yesterday’s news. So here I am, hoping that you’ll pay attention to an article about a piece of gear AND the photos that it took in my hands.

It’s easy to forget that just a short few months ago, Leica announced the much ballyhooed M Monochrom to the public, a camera of many firsts for Leica: It was the first digital black and white-only rangefinder camera. It was the first Leica digital RF camera with impressive ISO capacity expending well beyond previous ISO tolerances of digital M bodies. And with the release of this camera, public debate opened up and opinions were volleyed back and forth regarding the merits and necessities of such a device…a black and white only digital monstrosity…Why create such a camera when the Leica M9 and M8 before it are capable of wonderful B&W, further augmented by the fact that one can selectively adjust color channels to get a plentitude of B&W looks. Why lock oneself into one way of seeing? I too had many such questions as I hesitantly put in a pre-order of my MM.

Sadly, Leica has been slow to release the camera to the public. I have yet to get my own MM, due to shortages of supply here in the U.S. Thankfully, a very good friend here in Seattle was one of the first to receive a copy of this camera, and he was generous enough to lend it to me for a trip to NYC. Wow, what a friend, huh?

As a quick aside, I wanted to thank the community here of enthusiasts for truly brightening my world with their knowledge, expertise, skills as photographers, and generosities. As I have mentioned before, one of my favorite parts of the enthusiast community is meeting so many wonderful people in the real world, and making virtual relationships on Facebook and various forums into lasting friendships in the real world. I can count so many good people as just such friends, including Steve Huff himself and so many others. It was just such a friend, whom I once knew only virtually on the forums, who has become a great friend and photo buddy in the real world, who was gracious enough to insist on lending me his $8K MM to take and shoot. So thank you, Matt D, for your generosity. You rock, my friend!

 

Okay, back to the essay at hand…that is, how did I find the MM in practice? In a word, “fascinating”. Exhilarating may be another word. “Challenging” may be a third…ultimately, I would suggested that the camera was thoroughly satisfying.

The MM, for those of you who don’t know, possesses a black-and-white only sensor with substantial dynamic range, particularly in the mid-tones….It forgoes the Bayer color filter array and receives its inputs directly onto it’s sensor without ever “seeing color”. In doing so, the sensor becomes more sensitive to light, and the MM has a minimum native ISO of 320 and a maximum ISO of 10,000 (higher than even the maximum ISO of 6400 with the coming Leica M)…One issue that was reported widely is that it’s quite easy for the MM to blow out highlights, which then cannot be rescued, due to lack of color channels to do so. Areas of pure highlight that show up as clipped on the MM’s histogram are truly lost, so one must care to exposure (or should I say, underexpose) to save those highlights. Beyond these subtleties, the MM’s imaging sensor is essentially the same 18 MP CCD sensor that can be found in the M9, without an AA filter. Body, build, and finish echo the M9-P, though the matte black paint job and blackened lettering lend an aura of stealth to the camera. The MM is a niche camera within a niche rangefinder market, but this niche is capable of amazing results…but if you guys are reading this, you know all of that. So how did I find the MM in practice? Much like the M9, I found it to be a thoroughly enjoyable camera to use in the real world.

First up, the challenges? Given that the MM produces a B&W representation of the captured image, it can be said to be comparable to film in the way one may consider conceiving the image or subject matter prior to even taking the image. In a sense, with the MM, color filters, famous and long used in B&W photography for the looks that they generate by selectively filtering out certain parts of the visible spectrum, become instantly relevant on the MM. This was a challenge to me, as someone who’s done most of my photography in the digital age. With the MM, I had to familiarize myself with filter choice and appropriateness. For example, Red filters often add drama to an image by darkening a blue sky and enhancing contrast, but don’t necessarily make for the best people photography. On the other hand, green and yellow filters are very nice for capturing people, but their effects on the MM’s image is much more subtle.

The second challenge to the MM comes in its sensitivity to light. The MM’s base ISO is 320, though images can be pulled digitally to ISO 160 in camera (this is a software fix, from what I have heard, similar to the ISO 80 on the M9). In broad daylight, shooting lenses such as the 35 mm or 50 mm f/1.4 Summilux Asph becomes challenging, and one must stop down. Thankfully, using color filters lessens the transmission of light through the lens, and shooting wide open may be enabled in some circumstances. Ultimately, if one chooses to work wide open with their lenses in broad daylight with the MM, a neutral density (ND) filter would be a reasonable investment. I didn’t have a ND filter for my trip, so I simply stopped down a bit when shooting…in a sense, yet another challenge, in seeing the world a different way and focusing and learning about the elements of each composition rather than simply blurring them away by shooting wide open.

The third challenge with MM comes in achieving appropriate exposure. The MM’s image carries a dramatic amount of information in the mid tones and shadows, seemingly at the sacrifice of details in the highlights. Thus, in using the camera, I tended to underexpose by 1/3 to 2/3 of a stop to attempt to save highlights. Thankfully, given the detail present in mid-tones and shadows, such adjustments come fairly easy to the MM’s files, and I was satisfied to adjust myself in this manner.

The final substantial challenge to using the M, in my eyes, was the post processing workflow. I had a preview of this challenge by editing the photos made available a few months ago by Jono Slack (for those of you who don’t know Jono or his work, you owe yourself a favor to go to his site, http://www.slack.co.uk/ , or strike up a conversation with him …he is a true gentleman-scholar in the Rangefinder community). Jono’s files showed me the tremendous detail capable of being captured by the MM. His images showed the depth of dynamic range present in the mid-tones, which provide a unique challenge on deciding how to use this information in the post processing workflow to achieve the image that you want. In a sense, the detail and dynamic range in the mid tones made available by the MM’s sensor provides the photographer with far more choice and flexibility on how to render skin tones and mid tone detail in the post-processing process. While this grayscale information yields a base MM file that can be described as flat, I found that the files are quite flexible and don’t break apart (i.e. banding, radically increased noise) that I have seen with color files from various cameras, including the M9. This process of playing with, and push/pulling mid tone details is in reality quite fun, and allows the MM shooter to envision his or her images in novel ways….

So off I was, to the streets of Manhattan, equipped with my friend’s MM. What could I achieve, using my own style of shooting and my own processing? I found, in practice, that the MM was quite fun to use. I’d typically use a yellow or green filter (green seemed to transmit less light and was preferred for broad daylight) to render people, and I’d occasionally grab a red filter to add drama to a scene. To me, it was the use of these color filters that made the biggest difference to using the MM on the streets. I could presumably use the MM without color filters, but part of the fun, for me, was to see the effects of such filters on the rendered image. Otherwise, shooting the MM encouraged me to see the street in new and exciting ways. Instead of trying to see and highlight color, I focused more on light and shadow play as well as composition. I thought more about scenes and depth of field, since the MM’s light sensitivity often necessitated stopping down (and as you all know, I enjoy shooting wide open). I thought quite a bit about preserving highlights and how to properly expose a scene in a meaningful way, so as to focus and preserve details in the areas of my particular interest. All in all, I feel that the MM provided a new challenge, one that I hadn’t experienced in many years, really since the purchase of my first rangefinder, the Leica M8.

To me, the challenges of the Leica M Monochrom represent its strengths. It forced me, in my brief 5 days with it, to see in new and creative ways. It forced more attention to detail in how I chose to compose or perceive a particular shot. In post processing, I learned much about the camera, its flexibilities, and its eccentricities, and I have found the images produced by the camera to be full of hidden treasures.

To boot, the Leica MM is a remarkable image-making machine. It captures detail in a way that I could only have dreamed previously. The detail is preserved through much of its ISO range, though personally, I’d avoid ISO’s about 6400 unless you wish a very grainy look. At base ISO through ISO 1600, the images render very cleanly and are quite flexible to post-processing and extensive pushing and pulling. At ISO 3200, the details of the images remain preserved, though noise becomes a factor, particularly if the image isn’t perfectly exposed and requires a bit of processing. At IS0 6400, the images remain useable, but noise starts to overwhelm detail. Beyond ISO 6400, I generally found the camera’s results to be unacceptable…. still, to have a camera capable of producing sharp, detailed images at up to ISO 6400, has to this point, been a dream for Leica shooters…. Kudos to Leica for making this dream a reality.

So if you wish to check out the entire set of images, including those shown here, just link over to my  flickr site.

All in all, I found the Leica M Monochrom to be a fascinating experience. Will I still be getting one? You bet. I found that the camera has much to teach me yet, about how to visualize an image and focus on the core elements of the image without necessarily getting “distracted” by color. I once thought that converting a file to Black and White was an easy cheat to making an unremarkable image suddenly pleasing. This is no longer the case, as the MM is a far more challenging camera to use for the average RF shooter compared to the M9. I accept that challenge and hope to learn more….Now, if Leica could just deliver one to my dealer soon ;)….

Sep 232012
 

Used Leica Lens Deals at B&H Photo

Was just browsing the used section at B&H Photo and found a TON of Leica glass. While the demand for the glass has slowed I feel it will gain more steam by 2013 due to the new M. Many will happily stay with their M9 but some will buy into the M-E due to the lower price and the new M just for the new features.

Here are some of the better lenses available used at B&H right now and let me tell ya, some of these are INVESTMENTS. Lenses in the Leica stable that will always do better a few years down the road are lenses like the 35 Summilux, 50 Summilux, 90 Summicron, f/1 Noctilux, etc. Leica glass is one thing that you never have to worry about when considering resale value unless you overpay of course.

Leica 90 Summicron f/2 APO with case – 8+ – $2699

Leica 35 Summilux 1.4 PRE-ASPH – The tiny wonder with gobs of character – 9 condition – $2699

The Leica 75 Summarit – 10 condition as new – $1599

Leica 21 2.8 elmarit – 9+ with hood – $2499

Leica 50 1.4 Summilux Pre-Asph – 9+ – chrome – $2999 (Damn, these were $1500 used 3 years ago)

Leica 28 Summicron f/2 – 9 condition – with hood – $3499

Sep 222012
 

Hey Steve,

While you were cruising I visited the Photokina. I live in the Zurich area and Cologne is an easy day trip away.

Here are my thoughts after being able to handle many of the cameras that we both like.

Sony RX1: It was on display but they would not let me touch the camera. They also showed the separate EVF which looks quite ugly on the camera IMO. I asked the rep why they did not include a VF. He responded that all Cybershots would not have VF’s… I told him that this would not make sense to me. The target group that understands a fixed prime lens on a full frame sensor wants a VF, especially for the price. In my eyes, once again Sony marketing rules prevented a product from making complete sense. Making the smallest body apparently was seen more relevant than including a key feature. He responded that they would certainly use customer feedback for future developments.

Steve’s Thoughts: I agree on the VF issue. I would have preferred a built in EVF..no doubt but it is what it is. Sony has managed to create the camera that we have all asked for but they have missed one or two things. One is a built in VF. The good thing is you can buy one for external use..the bad thing is the price and size it adds to the camera. I have no doubt the EVF will be outstanding but it does come at a cost of money and size. If Sony would have included a built in EVF like they did on the NEX-7 it would have been much closer to the camera we have been waiting for. Even so, it is a feat of engineering because the RX1 is indeed SMALL..it is FULL FRAME and has the new A99 sensor. Zeiss glass, f/2 aperture, fast AF, awesome video….it will be a sweet lustworthy camera anyway.

Sony NEX 6: This one handled really well and felt quite mature. However, I probably won’t buy one since I don’t buy into this stupid marketing gag of having the thinnest body which causes all sorts of optical and mechanical issues. The NEX corner of the booth was not busy at all so I got the impression that customer interest in this product family is getting smaller.

Steve’s Thoughts: I disagree here. The NEX-5n was awesome and had literally no optical or mechanical issues. The only body that had issues was the NEX-7 with wider angle Leica M glass, which was not good but only created an issue if you wanted to shoot wide-angle non Sony NEX lenses. The new 6 uses the same sensor design as the 5N but it is updated. It should not cause any issues with wide-angle lenses nor should there be any mechanical issues. I hear from many who are into their NEX system cameras and it is only getting better. The 6 feels really good in the hand and I feel it will be a better camera all the way around over the 7, which kind of sucks really because the 7 is not that old at all.

Leica M: I own a Leica M9 and love it but could use some better high ISO performance some times. I also own a 90 2.8 Elmarit-M which is not spot-on on all focus distances since it was made in the pre-digital era when tolerances were less tight than today. An EVF would solve this problem and I got very excited on Monday when I saw the M announcement. When I handled it on the booth I was not so sure about my level of excitement anymore. All these add-ons not only look ugly they also seem to dilute the simplistic user experience. You have to switch through so many modes and and change VF’s, it’s almost confusing. I asked the rep why they did not implement a hybrid VF and he responded that they wanted to preserve the classic rangefinder. Superimposing information à la X100 apparently was not possible. When I asked if they are working on a pure electronic VF version like the X-E1 (which I would buy in a heart beat) I did not get an answer. I think that would cut out a lot of cost out of manufacturing. The rangefinder mechanics is extremely cost intensive, as it’s almost like a mechanic watch built into a camera. I think a fully digital Leica for 3500€ or less would break a lot of ice with younger photographers that cannot afford the new M and do not care about classic features so much. I think the new M is great for people who still have R lenses. For beginners and pure M photographers it offers little advancements (although, I’m really looking forward to seeing movies shot with a 50 Lux). In that sense I’m a bit disappointed. I probably will skip this version of the camera and buy another lens instead.

I ran into my Leica dealer at the show and he told me that he would still order more M’s than M-E’s since his customers tend to go for the most expensive option. This is sad and sending the wrong message to Leica. They are ignoring a lot of their potential marked. He also said that the 4800€ for the M-E are still too much for most photographers and he’s probably right.

What I loved at the Leica booth was their photo exhibition. It was a great break in all that gear tech on the other booths.

Steve’s Thoughts: I think Leica is moving in the right direction though I also feel like a hybrid VF/EVF would have been a MUCH nicer way to go. Adding the EVF to the top of an M is unsightly, bulky and odd but we are in 2012 and instead of adding old optical VF’s we now are adding big plastic EVF’s. I think this new M is more definitive than the M9 in the fact that it even has the live view/EVF option, weather sealing, focus peaking, better LCD (finally), higher ISO capability and options. Options we do not have on the M-E. The M-E is classic Leica digital. The M is forward thinking and it may pay off or may not. I have not even held one yet and have no idea when I will but when I do I will let everyone know my thoughts. I do know that today in 2012 it is a much different time than it was in 2009. There are so many amazing options out today in digital that Leica will not sell as many M’s as they did M9. I think the M9 was the top of the mountain for Leica in the digital world and they may stay at the top for a while but unless they rock a full-fledged 100% “what-we-want” camera (and the M is ALMOST there) then they may have a struggle. 

Still, I applaud them for having a trio of capable M’s – the M-E which we all know and love (the M9), the M with its new bells and whistles (that many will welcome) and the Monochrome, the most unique of all. These are a nice set of cameras for Leica that gives us a CHOICE and lower prices. Much better than releasing the M at $9000 and ditching the M9 all together. 

Fuji X-E1: Felt really great. Usability was even better that with the X-Pro 1 especially when using zoom lenses. With the Pro, the frame lines move around too much for my taste when zooming and focusing. Speed of the X-E1 seemed to be acceptable under mid to low light but not aggressively fast. I am curious to read your review on this one, especially about the kit lens. I also heard rumors about Fuji working on a full frame. Add focus peaking and this could be the camera that I was waiting on coming from Leica. The rep of at the booth said that despite the release of the X-E1 they have not let down the X100. There will be something coming. Could this be an answer to the RX1?

Steve’s Thoughts: I am excited about the X-E1 as it appears to be more likeable than the X-Pro 1 (at least for me). It is slightly smaller, faster, better EVF…I mean, what is not to like? Same sensor, lenses, etc. The X-E1 should be a rip-roaring success for Fuji if it is what it is cracked up to be and that goes for any camera in this list. I should get a hold of one soon so I will keep everyone posted. 

EOS M: Forget this one. Tried it. Very disappointing (speed etc.). I hope that Canon will do their homework for the next iteration.

Steve’s Thoughts: Too little and too late. 

Nikon D600 and Canon 6D: Both looked very interesting. I’m looking for something for my studio projects for which I’m still using the Canon 40D. Looking at the picture quality of the D600 I’m tempting to switch systems… or… what do you think, would an X-E1 already be able to replace a SLR?

Steve’s Thoughts: I like the fact that Nikon and Canon released these mid level full frame DSLR’s. While I am not a DSLR fan I do know there are many out there who love their DSLR systems and many are so invested in Nikon and Canon glass that these camera bodies are a welcome sight to those who shoot these systems. As for Studio, any modern camera will do with a decent sized sensor but full frame or larger will always be king. 

Elinchrom suprised me with a 100Ws studio flash light for enthusiasts. Very cool and affordable. It addresses the biggest problem home studio owners have which is not being able to turn down the power enough. Instead of going for cheap Chinese lights we can now buy a quality light that is fully compatible with the great Elinchrom range of accessories.

There are exciting months in front of us.

Cheers

Ralph

Now…what are YOUR thoughts on the above cameras? Leave a comment below and let us know!

Sep 212012
 

Hello to all and happy Friday! As many of you know I have been on a cruise ship for the past week as part of the 1st ever Steve Huff Photo Cruise! I have survived with absolute minimal internet connection as well. Most of the posts that went up last week were scheduled posts but today I have found a Starbucks in Newport Rhode Island so I can finally give an update!  Whew…what a week!

Those who have joined me on this cruise have been wonderful and from all over the world including France, Belgium, Germany, and  Switzerland! We have seen sights across the east coast and captured many memorable moments in photos. The cruise ends tomorrow morning and tonight we plan to go over photos we all captured along the way. 

Our group in St Martins – shot and processed by Ingo on his X-Pro 1 using a fisheye Rokinon lens (which ROCKS)

From left to right: Ingo, Me, Debby, Autumn, Todd, Jean Francois, Tania, Martine, Jean, Peter

I have been shooting with the Fuji X-pro 1 all week. Using the Fuji 35 1.4 and a Leica mount 60 1.2 Hexanon the image quality, as always with Fuji, can not be denied. The photos I am showing here are all straight from camera pretty much as I do not even have Photoshop on this machine I am using. So what you see is what I got :)

I shot for two days with the last firmware for the X-Pro 1 and the rest of the week with Version 2.0. I wanted to shoot both to see if I noticed a speed difference when it came to AF. There is also another guy on the cruise with me shooting the X-Pro 1 and we both updates the cameras at the same time and then we went out to shoot. We both agreed that the speed increase is not huge at all but minimal. Still, even with minimal increases it is better than no speed increase.

It seems to focus about as fast as my NEX-7 right now but when compared against the very 1st firmware Fuji shipped the camera with it is almost night and day. When I first reviewed the X-Pro 1 I nicknamed it the “X-Slow 1” due to its sluggish AF performance and overall speed. Today when shooting the X-Pro 1 it feels much snappier all the way around. It is still not a camera meant for any kind of action shooting but it is comparable to other cameras on the market. Some are faster, some are slower so the X-pro 1 is right in the middle.

Testing the Voigtlander 15mm on the X-Pro 1 – No red corners, no issues. The X-Pro 1 does well with most wide-angle Leica mount glass. 

So overall I have grown to really like the Fuji X-Pro 1 because with the latest speed enhancements and features (which include better magnification options when Manually focusing and higher ISO when using Auto ISO) it is a great tool and has given me no problems all week besides the occasional missed shot due to low light focusing not being so hot.

As for the cruise, we have been having a great time with nightly dinners together in the main dining room with some fantastic food and desserts. I will make a post soon with photos from everyone who attended as soon as I am able to get some shots from them.

So that is all the time I have right now as we have to go explore Newport! Below are some of my shots from the trip using the X-Pro 1! I will be back home and back to regular updates starting Monday!

Enjoy your weekend!

Peggys Cove – Halifax, Nova Scotia – X-Pro 1 and 35 1.4

At the gravesites of those who died on the Titanic

St Johns

St. Martins  – my favorite stop on this cruise. Beautiful and scenic and FUN! 35 1.4

Todd and Autumn Hatakeyama enjoying some home made Ice Cream! 8mm Fisheye

Hugh Jackman even joined us on the ship :) 35 1.4

Great scenery and I believe that is Ingo in the lighthouse getting some shots – 35 1.4

We all know that Fuji is known for its colors…this one POPS. 35 1.4

Last chance – 35 1.4

Jean Francois getting some shots…

CRACKED! 35 1.4

Bar Harbour Maine – A pooch waiting for his owner – 35 1.4

Boston – A man shooting US with his Fuji X100

Inside Starbucks – 35 1.4

Here I am in an old 1600s cemetery – shot by Todd 

My favorite stops have been St Martins, Boston and Bar Harbour.  Before I sign off for now here are a a few behind the scenes shots…more to come! HAVE A GREAT WEEKEND!!!!

a couple from Ingo!

Sep 192012
 

You can now pre-order the Leica M or M-E from my top recommended dealers! M is set to ship January and the M-E October 1st!

The definitive M is here. NO more numbers..just the M. 2013 Model. $6950 which is the same price as the M9 but with better low light capability, 24 MP full frame sensor, rich color and dynamic range, bitingly sharp yet simple and intuitive. The full frame camera with the technology some have asked for. Live view, 1080 video, improved LCD screen, EVF capability, with sleek and gorgeous lines that keep teh M look alive.

Be first to get one. My pre-order is in.

PRE-ORDER THE LEICA M in CHROME! The new 24MP CMOS definitive M – $6950  – Expected to ship Jan 2013

PRE-ORDER the new Leica M in BLACK – $6950 – Expected to ship January 2013

Check out and preorder the new Leica M-E at $5495  – expected to ship October 1st 2012

PRE-ORDER WITH KEN HANSEN BY E-MAILING HIM AT [email protected]

You can also pre-order at popflash.com 

or

Dale Photo also has the new M and M-E available for pre-order HERE

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