From CL to M6 to M9 to Leica Monochrom by Alexander Getty
As you know, I have been an avid follower of your brilliant blog for a couple of years now and I have to say, your “real-world” approach to equipment and techniques resonates better with me than highly technical reviews.
I’m a long time Leica shooter was taught to shoot and develop by my mother who was an amateur and very talented photographer when I was a teenager. Leica’s have always been my favorite cameras and in late 2010 after a 5 year gap, I decided to pursue photography seriously again, I bought myself a Leica CL and a 50mm Zeiss ZM and began rediscovering what I love to do most.
Well, it’s now nearing the end of 2012 and I’m still mostly shooting on film. Your recent three-part review on the Monochrom spurred me to pull the trigger and I am glad to say, I’m so happy I did.
I did own an M9-P for a short period of time but found myself defaulting back to my M6 more as the end result was normally better. I am primarily a black and white photographer and find that there are just too many steps to convert a color image into a decent B+W one. White balance is now a thing of the past! In my mind, metering is far easier as my mind works in B+W (I’m severely colorblind). And finally grain, yes, real native grain, what a relief.
Cutting to the chase, I am a Giants fan and when they won the world series, I had just received my Monochrom, the timing was perfect. San Francisco was having a huge parade for the victory at the Civic Center. For the first time ever, I left my film camera at home and just brought the Monochrom with a 90mm Summicron-APO ASPH and a VC 35mm 1.2 v2 both with medium yellow filters.
The combination worked a treat and the results speak for themselves. You were right, the Monochrom is as good as B+W film and in many ways, even better.
Sounds good to me…I’d remove that television off the back as well, I mean who wants to watch East-Enders when your out taking photos.
Who wants to watch East Enders….!! Only if you are a die hard fan!
Did you choose your b+w film based on how the grain looked? Nik simply lets you choose the characteristics after you press the shutter release.
While they’re at it maybe Leica should have created special sd cards that take only 36 images, and erase themselves if you open the storage door with the camera on. That would really replicate the film experience!
A lot of film photographers ,including me,were waiting for this camera,…we wanted it to give reasonable results that were believable more or less straight out of camera,..not to make things easier,but to show off digital as a great medium in its own right.
The first clue that this was not going to happen was leica’s inclusion of silver efex pro in the box,
Even leica think that the digital files are not pleasant to look at without adding some pretend grain.I want the file to have its own reality ,one that I enjoy looking at in its own right,as I do with a tri-x negative at whatever magnification.Film grain is beautiful to look at,the squares of digital file are not,…..I do wonder if there is a subconcious recognition of the “building blocks “used to construct an image.
However this camera is fascinating and with the gradual encouragment of some beautiful images Im still hopeful and would like to try one for myself.I’m a little envious of those who’ve been able to hire one.
This is a really nice article about your “journey” from CL to M9 to MM. I have seen a lot of photos now from the MM and I do agree that they are impressive, and yours are some of the most impressive. That camera can probably do a lot of what you can do with BnW film with one really big exception. It will never produce a strip of BnW negatives like you get when you develop a roll of film. Like Jason Howe pointed out in his recent piece here on Steve’s site, there is something special about film and its ability to withstand and transcend time.
I shoot digital and film. Film is unfortunately becoming less practical, but I think it is more enjoyable. When I review images I took on film it is gratifying and I feel like I earned the shots. Whereas when I review digital it feels less significant.
Thanks again for the great post and images. I do agree with the sentiments above: we need to stop comparing this digital camera to film. It will never be the same thing.
I don’ think Leica ever implied that the Mono was a replacement for film. They had an opportunity to create a digital camera using a very unique sensor that can create stunning black and white pictures with a true rangefinder platform. Film does not need anyone to come to it’s rescue every time the film crowd feels it’s being disrespected. It has stood the test of time and we all know it. If you still like shooting film by all means enjoy it and let the rest of us enjoy what we do. As was implied before, we could post film images shot with a Nikon point and shoot that were converted to jpeg and say they were shot with a Mono and a lot of people would be convinced that they did not look as good as film.
Leica did in fact state it, well Dr. Kauffman said this at the Berlin event during his speech. He stated they are wiping out film with this camera, putting an end to it. I thought that was a bold statement as no one will ever put an end to film for good. It is a dying medium but there will always be some B&W film around and a camera to shoot it on.
But I agree, I could post shots taken on an MP using any film and state they came from a Mono and I would get comments stating how they are not as good as film. 🙂
Why allways compare to film? Film is great, digital is great as well.
I am convinced that one can get great images from the MM, and for me the simplicity of the MM is a lot of fun to use.
Apart from being just great pictures on their own, these are the best looking shots I’ve seen from the Monochrom so far. I think you’ve nailed it. You’ve showed us that the Monochrom really can kick ass. Time to start saving my pennies.
Nice work. It seems that the 35/1.2 Nokton and MM are a great combo.
Shame we can’t email the prints around. Making an opinion on any modern digital camera (even an X100 etc) on the basis of 70kb jpeg seems a lttle limited. I would love to see a well produced fine art print from an M-Mono. I have always been impressed at the tonality the master printers could get from even 35mm film, when I go an visit an exhibition.
Alexander, What are your thoughts on that 35 Nokton 1.2 V2? I have an M8, so my 50 summicron is now a 65mm (and 28 summicron a 35), and I have taken a few long looks at that Nokton as a possible “50” and low light lens for the M8.
I would not recommend the 35 Nokton for the Monochrom, It goes soft when you go below 2.8.
It was however adequate for the M6 TTL as film can’t resolve the same amount of detail and to be honest sometimes i like film to be a little softer.
Save your money and spend it on something sharper or “slower”.
It’s great to see the Monchrom inspires people to go out and shoot like Alexander, whether you like the results or not or what’s better (film or digital…… sigh!). I like them btw 🙂
I’m so glad you love your monochrom, I was a photojournalist at university in CA, love shooting pure black and white again. It’s given me the urge to shoot again!
the tones are much better here than in the pics posted last week in my opinion (everything is subjective of course). you can see the potential of this camera for sure
However every MM review seems to finish with the statement ‘MM is as good as film (maybe even a bit better)”. Is it just me or $8000 seems like a lot of money for just a slight improvement at best, or parity at worst, versus film?
anyway, very positive to see that MM results are improving as better photographers get their hands on it
Have a look at Kristian Dowling’s work, he seems ti have cracked the film/digital look.
It terms of price, I agree, $8000 is very steep. I would suggest trying the camera to satisfy your curiosity.
Nice images, and the tonality sure looks a lot better than what we’ve seen before. The unnatural looking edge sharpness is quite another thing though (quite unfilmlike; not that “filmlike” is something to be strived for). I wonder whether that is just digital or oversharpening?
More likely my over sharpening.
Nice shots! They have a certain timeless or iconic quality don’t they?
While I agree that the Monochrome can produce results that are as good as film the price is just too much. You can get a nice Leica CL (or Minolta CLE) for $600-$800, a used M6 goes for about $1200 and a Zeiss Ikon ZM can be found used for about $1000. Developing B/W at home is relatively cheap and easy. I can’t justify (or afford) a Monochrome.
Rob, while i agree with you, there are a few factors that need to be taken into account.
Convenience, availability of film is quickly dwindling, the ability to resolve so much detail pushes this camera past the capabilities of a 35mm piece of film.
On the other hand, I have sitting on my desk my M6 TTL, Olympus XA, Minox EL all which are used daily and give me as much if not more joy than the Monochrom at the moment.
Hey Neil, you’re looking at these images on a computer screen, right? My problem with a lot of people showing me images that are supposed to be so much better than mine because they were taken with Leica is that, no matter how “gorgeous” they look, what I see is dependent on my side of the business: my own computer screen. I want to see these Leica images that have this “Leica look” printed…and printed well.
This said, I don’t own a Leica, but I’ve used Leicas and I do believe there is a unique signature to the images that they yield (and I happen to appreciate and like). But, we are all seeing these images a bit differently on our screens. I use a calibrated Mac and still don’t think I’m seeing these as they can best be produced.
You my friend are ABSOLUTELY correct. Your monitor doesnt have the dynamic range of a print and the same picture will look different on each monitor given whether its calibrated, etc.Look at the emotional content of the photos if you want but it is silly to try to judge a camera on a monitor. PRINTS are the judge of a digital cameras qualities.
p.s. Paper has a much lower dynamic range than even the worst screen.
The range is about 100:1 for a print, and 300:1 to 1000:1 for a screen
+ prints could be as badly calibrated as screens (different shops, different prints!)
Best results I’ve seen yet from the mono
Great post or is it the yellow filters?
The yellow filters help but it reality the time spent in Silver Efex is what counts. The flat files are there to give you broadest range of detail in the shadows, mids and highlights so that you have a relitavely forgiving file to edit.
Both a Giants and a Leica fan myself! Great photos!
Why no one can post anything about leica product on this blog with out a personal attack o leica, steve or anything in general.
Neil your profile is fake
I wouldn’t call this a personal attack, simply an opinion, Id have to agree, as nice as the photos are, I personally prefer the look of film. Im sure with post processing many imagery can likely approach the look of analog, but personally I’d prefer to just shoot analog.
There was no personnel attack implied or given and my profile says my name is Neil and that I live in Spain,both of which are true.I criticize and praise where ever I honestly feel they are deserved and will continue to do so,……..thanks for your comments.
I don’t think the post was an attack on Leica or Steve at all. And I don’t think most of the posts do that either. Sometimes you like thinks, sometimes you don’t like them, there is nothing wrong in being vocal about it, provided one follows certain basic rules of courtesy. I don’t see anything in the post above that breaks them.
Correction, unless of course the poster says something false about Leica, than it’s all out war! I really love Leica.
These photos,nice as they are ,show the typical digital trademark of a sudden and violent fall into an inpenatrable black that Im suprised a film photographer is satisfied with.Its what has kept me from digital all these years and it seems difficult to avoid ,or is it that this is desirable and its me thats behind the times?
You HAVE to make a PRINT to judge a cameras quality. YOUR monitor is DIFFERENT than
someone elses, and as such what you see is different than what someone else will see. It could be the contrast on YOUR monitor, or maybe this person just likes the black levels juiced a bit.
Put another way, you can have just about any look you might want, including a very different drop off into blacks, by applying a different contrast curve. that’s easy with the MM’s rich and highly detailed raw file, if you’re comfortable with a linear raw workflow. but an image posted to the net down-sampled to 8 bit can’t be post-processed to boost shadow detail.
To answer your question, i’m not entirely satisfied with the images but i am happy with my first attempt. I do intend to revisit them once i have time. I had a couple printed and i’m picking them up on Monday i’m hoping that they’ll yield better detail in the shadows and highlights.
This camera requires a lot of time spent in LR and NIK to determine the best way to meter your images and so far i’m still in the “dark” when it comes to understanding how to use this incredible piece of equipment.
Good luck Alexander,I wish I was in the same boat,its a fabulous bit of kit that obviously is not easy to use.Im sure your experiments will be rewarded .
First MM pictures I see without burnt highlights and weird grays. Nice contrast. Very good job.
I really love Leica a lot. It’s imperative that we have a relationship with our cameras.
Yes, very rich indeed. These are lovely.
Well, our Monochrom’s may have arrived on the same day but you’ve certainly put yours to more use than I have so far…..better pull my finger out.
All the best,
Gorgeous photos. Rich and velvety. Straight out of camera photos with the Monochrome has seemed to gather less than totally positive opinions but you have managed to tweak this tool to your benefit. The yellow filter and your know-how has put a check in favor of the Monochrome.
Thank you David. This was my first attempt at editing files from the Monochrom and i have to say they were a bit rushed. The learning curve on these files is longer as there is less forgiveness in the highlight area than i’m used to. However you are rewarded with incredible sharpness and very broad range of luminance to play with.