Leica Monochrom – Flat or not? Plus side by side with the X2

Leica Monochrom – Flat or not? Plus side by side with the X2

OK, this will be my last post on the Monochrom until my review in July but after my last post where I showed some quick images from the Monochrom that were processed using Snapseed on my iPad I noticed some have commented on how the images looked “flat”.  To be honest, I noticed this as well with the files from the Monochrom. Compared to the M9, the files coming out of the new Mono are indeed very low contrast and flat but remember than you can enhance them with PP just like any other camera file. The images do look a bit different from what you see coming out of the M9 and you can see a GREAT comparison here at the red dot forum between the M9 and Monochrom. The Mono clearly wins in the ISO dept. but also has a different rendering of the tones as well.

I have found that the files from the Monochrom are a bit tricky to edit as they do not react to the same PP tricks as the M9 files do. I had to return the Monochrom back  to Leica today but I had fun with the pre-production camera regardless. Still not sure if it is for me though. Again, full review in July sometime.

I am posting the samples below as they all have had some quick editing (contrast, brightness, exposure, etc) unlike previous samples that were pretty much out of camera. I also added a quick comparison with the Leica X2 at the bottom. Enjoy and Thanks!


Now a quick comparison between the Monochrom and the Leica X2

1st the Monochrom, from RAW with some contrast enhancements – image is full size so click it for the full file

and now a shot from the new Leica X2 which was converted to B&W using Alien Skin Exposure (Neopan Preset, no grain). Again, click it for full size.

I did not have the M9 with me for this walk so did not shoot one with the M9 though I do plan on showing some side by sides with the M9 when I do my final review of the Monochrom. What do you think on the comparison above? It is NOT to show DOF or sharpness. I only shot these to see how the X2 would fare with a conversion against this pre-production Monochrom. The 24mm lens of the X2 is not going to be the same in any way as the 35 1.4 on the Monochrom, so again, this is a B&W only comparison…I guess a “tonality” comparison.

Do you see any advantage to the Monochrom when it comes to B&W performance? I can tell you that the high ISO capability from the Mono kills the X2 and the M9, that is without question.


  1. I have ND filters I use with my M8 and Noctilux and do not find that a problem at all. Given the superior image quality of the monochrome, ISO 320 is fine with me. SO what if I need ND filters. The only thing preventing me to per order is to see what the M10 has to offer!

  2. After reading that 160asa (pull) is in fact poorer quality than the base Asa of 320 where the camera best performs is a reason I won’t like this camera. There seems to be chase for higher and higher Asa quality and Leica have forgotten the mass of people who like low Asa for bright days. I am not impressed with the idea of messing about with nd filters. I like the 80asa on my M9 and use it for wide apertures. Why have Leica MM noy offered the same?

  3. Hi Steve, tks for the photos and comparison. Honestly, I think they can’t stand out being pictures taken from $8000 camera+$4000 lens. If u hadnt mentioned they from Leica mono, I doubt many would wow on the texture/tonality. Let’s be true to ourselves, r we more and more brand conscious now and looking at photos with a pre-defined mind that Leica is the best and lets try worship it in everyway.

    We are all reading your blog looking for advice. though u r Leica fan, not only for us, but also even for Leica, true feedback is what we all need.

  4. Steve, I love your site. Thanks a lot for sharing your valuable experiences!

    I chose to look at the X2 shot first and thought: “Wow, nice details!” My 5D Mk II along with the 35L could do better, but not THAT better.
    Then I looked at the MM file and almost started crying. That’s not just better, it’s another thing. It’s Dante’s Inferno of Resolution. It seems almost as if the MM “adds” information to reality.
    I love the night-shot of the street. It’s just full of tones.
    In my opinion some MM files just look flat because there’s just a totally different amount of different tones that need “film-like” treatment not only in terms of metering the light and using filters, but also in terms of developing. The MM’s RAW files seem to be demanding like film.
    To my eye, all of the shots in this post are wonderful. I never saw digital bw so close to film.
    That in fact IS the product I want.
    Let’s see… I sell all my Canon gear, my wonderful Zeiss Ikon ZM, even my lovely Ricoh GRD III, my wife’s IXUS ;o) … – Damn. Still missing two grands. Hm. Do I really need a car..?

  5. The debates and micro-analyses on umpteen subtleties and various points are well underway I see….

    As for me, I’m quietly confident that this camera will produce great results in the hands of those who use it and create great photos with it. There’s no doubt that it’s capable of doing so. One of my favourite quotes is the one about Modern Art = “I could have done that” + “yeah, but you didn’t”. I put a lot of internet banter and complaints and wishes about camera design and megapixel measuring contests etc. in that category. “A Canon costs $$ less and could do the same thing”. Yeah, but in this case – it didn’t. I’m not comparing Canon or Nikon or features of any of them in relation to Leica….or even between Leica. The M-M is…what it is. I think it’s super cool, very distinctive, and will appeal to specific photographers. It makes no apologies for that, nor should it. The images don’t have to be better or worse than the M9, or any other camera, for it to qualify as a good product – that’s the point so many miss. They feel that every new product has to better the previous one by a certain margin. It’s iPad syndrome….the latest iPad is seen as leagues ahead of the previous one yet it has benefits a lot of people don’t care about but have been sucked into believing are important….if you want a minimalist, precision camera with beautiful lenses at a high price, get the MM. If not, don’t buy it….but more importantly, don’t waste your time complaining that it’s not the product you wanted.

  6. Well, I am sure the iso and effective resolution will be better on a camera which doesn’t record colour.
    The interesting part with B&W for me is the creativity/possibilities left to the developer (with film or LR) to easily modify the picture to help portrait an emotion.
    For instance, with a colour digital camera it’s easy to modify the blue/orange to make a sky more dramatic if it was the idea the photographer is after. With the MM the photographer will need to use filter which will inevitably reduce the quality of the image, and also provide a less fine adjustment than digitally, and also you need to have the adjustment right at the time of exposure.
    Interesting to see that Leica is going in the direction of iso and resolution and a little more away from creativity.

  7. Also I love the subtle dynamic gradations of the MM.
    Much closer to reality than the artificial pop that is often initially impressive but can be fatiguing to look at sometimes.

  8. Hey ThumbMeister / HuffMeister [delete as appropriate] 😉
    Looking forward to reading your thoughts on the X2.
    Not sure if it will sell as well as the X1 did over here due to the significant price rise [you listening Leica…] and the stellar alternatives.
    But I do like the idea of a simple to use,almost affordable real Leica.
    Will probably have to wait for one of their promo offers or a s/h one but I may cave in at some point.Also considering a used X1,despite it’s foibles.Will be interesting to read your thoughts on how they compare.
    Was hoping for a D Lux-esque short zoom for added flexibility.That would have been a neat package.

    Keep up the good work Steve – thumbs up!

  9. Damn. There’s not as much difference in terms of resolution as I was expecting. Look at the spider web filaments either side of the oval plate. I thought the MM would be a million miles ahead (or rather, that the X2 would be a million miles behind) but I’m kind of stunned that the X2 has that kind of resolution. Hmmm

  10. The MM far exceeds the capabilities of the X2 at B&W photography in this comparison, IMHO.

    B&W Photoography is like Jazz.
    Either you dig the smokey textures or you don’t. No need to put others down if it ain’t your thing (not as much of that on this site as some others).

    I can easily afford the MM but don’t plan to get one because I don’t deserve one. I can work on my technique just fine with an X2 or DSLR. I have much to master and a more expensive camera won’t hasten that journey (and I’m not looking for any sort cuts).

  11. Maybe a but OT, but I’ve found that Silver Efex Pro 2, although it’s an awesome tool, it’s not able to really change a digital file into looking like a film one with their film presets. Having shot a few of the films and compared side by side film scans vs digital files with Silver Efex film emulation applied, it’s really not even close to looking alike. The Portra one for example is a charatacture and nothing like the real deal.

    • Yes. The emulations are useful and interesting, but as far as actually looking like the films they are named after, not so much.

      Looks to me like the twenty-something programmers were trying to learn a language that’s foreign to them.

  12. Both cameras look absolutely amazing and I have to admit I’m really impressed by that X2 shot . I think what people are seeing is the camera pumping out an evenly exposed image therefore more shades of grey then black and white. The MM gives such a great starting point though and I think the images are so smooth and clean.

  13. The tonality in both samples looks very good to me and also very similar. Based solely on this, I would expect a side-by-side with the M9 to produce similar results. But I would expect the Monochrom to excel in pixel peeping comparisons in terms of resolution. It should also shine in high ISO tests. As to whether this all adds up to a camera that will be the go-to solution for B&W aficionados remains an open question. I have my doubts that the Monochrom will supplant the M9, or any current high end body that can take a Leica lens with an adapter, for B&W shooting.

  14. They DO look a little flat. Let’s put this down to:

    a/ Pre-production camera/firmware


    b/ Not enough time spent learning how to tweak the files

    These images remind me of what I use to get out of my Zenit SLR – when my Dad only allowed me to shoot B&W. It was my first SLR and nobody taught me anything about light, exposure or even how to use the damn thing. I worked it out eventually though. Was even allowed to have color film eventually!

  15. The spider web around the “PAGE FENCE” symbol, M9 Monochrome looks silkier detail. If your M9 can produce the same why bother to have M9M? It can’t take color pictures.

    The X2’s mono looks very nice. Can it take video? From DPREVIEW.com:

    Videography features Microphone None
    Speaker None


  16. Wow, what a difference. Just a little contrast and the photos look great to me. I love the smooth grain detail. I’m a pretty big B&W fan so could see getting into a camera like this (if I had the money).

  17. I actually much preferred the original photos you posted. Dunno what it is, but they really spoke to me.

  18. the first sample images I saw from the M-M did appear flat but the ones I’ve seen that you’ve taken look far from flat, great images

  19. “Still not sure if it is for me though”
    If you’re unsure this far, it’s not your camera.
    A spanish poet said: “No dar el alma sino a quien te la roba” (sorry it’s in spanish)

  20. “Still not sure if it is for me though”
    If you’re unsure this far, it’s not your camera.
    Sorry it’s in spanish: no se da el alma sino a quien te la roba.

  21. Whatever camera they are taken on the same old problem prevails, maybe it always will? Digital BW files just look far too clean & clinical when compared to a well exposed film BW shot, no matter how little or how much PP after the event.

    I will grant though that the M9 Monochrom files look very good indeed for a digital camera and are probably as good a BW rendering that has been produced thus far from a digi cam. I’m sure that in time it will get even better but will they EVER match a BW film shot or a print from it? Doubt it very much. 😉

  22. I don’t think the X2 has more contrast, per se. Rather I think its whites are whiter and it’s transitions more abrupt. Perhaps zone 8 for the X and zone 7 for the M. On the other end, however, the M digs deeper, registering detail well into the Zone 2 range while the X2 starts no better than zone 3. Look at the range of grayscale and smoothness of the M transitions either in the fence railing or the dappled portion of the wall right of center. I think it’s registering multiple subtle grayscale value changes in each zone where the X2 is not, hence making smoother transitions between top and bottom.

    The other thing is that the M Mono registers only luminence values. That will require its users, unless they are coming from B&W film, to retrain their eye to look for luminence range and ignore color contrasts, which by using the color channels in post processing we can now make luminence separation where, in fact, there is none. Several early testers of the prototypes have noted that until they got enough practice time doing this, their early M mono images all looked quite flat.

    Leaving aside the X2/M comparo, look at the beautiful rendering of the night street scene and the positively glowing young lady. It is the smoothness of the transitions I find so seductive in every well taken M mono shot so far. Now, perhaps a second mortgage on my house ….

    • Completely agree with this Greg. Opened up the images in full on my iPad and zoomed in on the MM image so they were the same size name plate and the MM is definitely shades of grey whilst the X2 Neopan conversion is most definitely black and white. The thing is that I like the Neopan look and I have to say I’m impressed by the X2 file.

  23. The raw/unprocessed image is just that. No point in arguing about whether they look flat. Who publishes or prints raw/unprocessed images? Right, nobody. The files look pretty incredible and there is no doubt that the MM blows everything away when it comes to detail. These look great, Steve. BTW, Sean Reid just published a very technical and controlled comparison between files of the M9, MM and X100/Xpro. For b&w, the MM just trumps them all, and especially at higher ISO. This camera, in the right hands, and especially with some of Leica’s older, lower contrasts lenses, will absolutely shine.

    • The only images that dont look flat are the ones you look at through your own EYES. Come on people, its a photgraph, its 2 d to begin with, nothing will jump out of the page, nothing with ever look “3d.” It’ is a 2d medium and will always be a 2d medium, get your heads out of your asses and stop spreading the Leica myth. The “glow” should comefrom the works themselves, not the lenses.Worry about what you can do with your lens, not what your lens can do for you.

  24. Hi Steve,
    what exactly are those “tricks” in PP for editing files from the M9? Did you write anything about this on your site already? If so, I can’t find it.
    I would really apriciate to get some more information about these tricks.

    Thank you

  25. The images look fine, but to my eye don’t seem so remarkable that I’d rush out for a Monochrom. I’d love to see a blind comparison between X2, M9, Monochrom, same shot, same light and see if we can tell them apart!

  26. I am just wondering whether the ‘flat’ thing comes from the fact that most of todays BW photos are digital conversions what allows the users with different programs to use the color information for filtering. Once the camera is BW only one needs to think maybe a bit ahead and actually use a real filter (yellow, orange, red ..) to change the toning and contrast of a scene. Back to the roots 🙂

    BTW – the file from X2 – while not looking as micro-detaild as the one from MM looks great. Looking forward for a full review!

    • You took the words out of my mouth – monochrome sensor means no colour adjustment on converting to b & w. So yeah, more like shooting film if you need filters. I’ll stick to my film Leica for now though, not because I dislike digital, purely because I love the film process from start to wet print 🙂

  27. In related news, Sony has just announced a new $4,000 dollar 50″ monochrome HD/3D TV that shows all of your favorite shows and movies … only in black and white! No color, but the images are SHARP!

    Ahhhh … humans. We’re a strange lot.

  28. But honestly Steve, what is it about B/W photos that attracts people to take? As technology advances and time goes on we progress from B/W to Colour to 3D and whatever is next. So in your opinion, why to we go back to the past instead look forward into the future?

    • Photography tells stories. If B&W is better for telling the story you want to tell, then go for it. I convert to B&W when color distracts from the subject.

      Some writers still use pencil and paper though computers are available.

        • Oh sure, but once digitized, it matters little how it was created. It’s important only to the creator.

          Black and white might be old school, but it still remains an important tool for the creative photographer.

    • It’s a matter of aesthetics, not technology.

      If you can’t see the beauty inherent in a well executed B&W shot, then obviously, B&W is not for you and will never make sense to you.

    • When I took my first B&W photography class the instructor stated the are four elements required for a good B&W print. These are (in no particular order); texture, tone, contrast, and sharpness. When we look at a B&W image, we look at these elements (sub-conciously) and evaluate the image overall using them. When color is introduced to an image the the eye can be seduced by the color and the four elements can be over looked. Which is why some people can look at a very colorful image and say, “Isn’t this beautiful.” When in fact it can be quite terrible.


    • Roland: You seriously think that black and white is situated purely in a scheme of technological progress, and that using it is a step backwards? Certainly at one point, long ago, it was the only choice. But filmmakers and photographers realized that there was something they (and their viewers) liked about black and white. Not all the time. But a lot of the time. It’s an artistic choice…and photography is about expression…not about toys. It’s the same type of artistic choice that leads some people to paint with brushes as opposed to using an iPad drawing program, or watercolours vs. oils, or Keith Richards taking the sixth string off of his guitar “because that’s what bass players are for”.

      Black and white is cool. Always was, always will be.

      • Black-and-white, but also old-style 4×3 format, and old-style mono central-only audio (but – unlike the original silent films – shot and projected at 24 frames per second) ..and, er, yes, George Valentin does say a few words, remember, especially at the end..

        • I wonder what the Summer BlockBuster Movie – THE AVENGERS – would look like in B/W? I guess the only character that would really fit in would be – The Black Widow : )

    • Rowland, please imagine what is next in the advance of technology:

      360 degree, 3 axis, HD, 3D, 60p, full VR simulation of being there at the time and place of image capture… Now let me ask you where is the creativity? the taste? the artistry? the fun? in fact with such technology the “photographer” is little more than a Google street view robot.

      You might as well ask “what is it about STILL photos that attracts people to take?”

      Everything we love about photography comes from selecting, limiting, controlling, shaping, or manipulating what the viewer sees. The reduction of information is the most basic means to create a “vision” to share with others.

      Removing color information is simply one of the most effective ways to allow viewers to see things they wouldn’t see otherwise while still leaving an impression of truth, reality, or authenticity that what is being seen is in fact real and not a product of the imagination.

    • Many times a photo has great potential but suffers due to color, which may not be aesthetically pleasing or distracts in some way from what the photographer sees. As such, some photographers learn to look for such opportunities where line and form and composition are sufficient, in which case black and white can make a powerful statement.

  29. I think the X1 – MM comparison is instructive. The MM consistently has a medium format feel to me – that extra degree of detail and resolution and a smoothness to the tones. As far as contrast and depth – check out the incredible work Jacob Sobol did with his MM (you can see it on the Leica blog) – it’s gorgeous, contrasty, and anything but flat.

  30. Having manipulated Monochrom files in LR extensively, I do feel tha the camera is capable of impressive results that look “sharper” to me than the already exemplary M9. For MOST people the added benefits of the MM will be minimal, but if you work in BW only, the camera provides flat RAW files capable of amazing adjustment. The pop can be acheived, and the clarity of the files really shines. I, for one, am very excited to try this camera as my second M, as I worry that the M10 will outprice me until it hits the used market. The M9 is already a wonderful camera, and MM will add another dimension and challenge….but definitely won’t be for everyone….M9 files are quite flat too prior to processing, FWIW.

    • Ashwin: I agree with your observations of the Mono files. I recently visited the “A Gallery for Fine Photography” in New Orleans, and the files I’ve seen thus far make me think the difference will be most evident in print. It is also possible that I am seeing what I want to see, but I’m thankful we have the luxury of indulgence in thought.

      Best Regards,


    • Hi Ashwin!

      Wow…you “scared” me with the passage: “as I worry that the M10 will outprice me until it hits the used market.”

      So do you expect the pricetag of the M10 in the region of Uncle Scrooge’s (Disney) fortune?


      I expected you as one who already preordered the M10 despite knowing its price…


  31. flat or not, this is more or less personal preferences… as the person who posted his m8 photos from istanbul in inspiration of the day recently… that was overdone pp for my tastes. But the pictures still portrayed a nice message.

    but I will admit that wow, the shots from the monochrome you posted here are… excellent. Thanks Steve.

  32. Shame there was no comparison with M9. Also shame the X2 comparison shot wasnt shot at same distance and ISO and F stop to draw an exact comparison.

    • It’s a shame I was using a pre production camera. I am not going to show any side by side with a Leica M9 until I have a production camera 🙂

      As for the distance, I wasn’t trying to compare sharpness or trying for frame it the same. This is just to show B&W qualities. A 24mm lens is not the same as a 35mm lens, so DOF would not be the same regardless.

      I have said MANY times the M9 comparison will be in the review in July. Thanks.

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