Lessons Learned – Using Classic Lenses on the Leica M Monochrom by Ashwin Rao

Lessons Learned – Using Classic Lenses on the Leica M Monochrom

By Ashwin Rao – See his blog HERE or his Facebook Page HERE

As a caveat, the article that I am presenting below is entirely subjective, and my opinions are subject to change. My thoughts represent my current state of thinking. I have found that the Leica M Monochrom is a flexible tool capable of pushing the photographer in new and different ways. It happens to be that the MM has pushed me in the direction discussed below, as of 11/2012, and we’ll see where the journey takes me in the months and years to come….

Hi fellow photographers, gearheads, and friends, today I am writing the first of my “lessons learned” articles regarding the use and function of the Leica M Monochrom (MM). The MM is unlike any camera that I have used in my time behind the viewfinder. Sure, one can approach its use similarly to how he or she would use a M9. In practical use, it’s a rangefinder and nothing more. However, shooting in black and white may necessitate a change in approaching the subject of the photo. For me, this has meant focusing on light and dark, highlight and contrast, and composition over color.

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Of equal importance is the difference in the files produced by the camera, when compared to the M9 or any other camera currently in production. As I processed my first set of images, shot entirely with modern aspherical lenses on the MM, I started to notice a few “issues” with my files As many have discussed, images looked flat and grey, yet with occasionally overexposed highlights. To compensate for loss of highlight detail, I decided to under-expose by 1/3 to 2/3 stops. In some instances, using this method with modern glass, shadows were so deep that it became more difficult to recover details in the underexposed portions of the frame.

One other issue some images had a decidedly “digital” look to them. A fair number of commenters made mention that the files had a look that didn’t appear film-like. This is no fault of the MM, which after all is a digital camera, but rather with our expectation that files coming directly from the camera should look entirely “film-like” (whatever that means….there are many types of film)…What could be behind this? After all, the Leica M system is replete with some of the best glass ever made, capable of fantastic clarity and tonal rendition. The MM’s sensor is capable of resolving incredible detail, in some cases more than presently capable of the lenses in Leica’s collection. Shouldn’t fantastic glass coupled with a fantastic sensor produce…well…fantastic results? I haven’t always found this to be the case, within the confines of my own limitations as a photographer….let me explain why I think this (IMHO, as always).

Leica MM with 90 mm f/2 Summicron v2

QUANDRY # 1- Lens choice: Modern vs Classic.

When shooting with modern lenses, as I did in the MM-NYC article that Steve posted a few months back, I only used aspheric lenses, specifically the 35 mm Summilux FLE and 50 mm Summilux Asph lenses. On looking at these files again today, I find that the coupling of modern lenses with the MM creates files that are bursting with clarity and contrast. To me, it may be that the files offer too much clarity and contrast for my brand of black and white photography. For those willing to experiment with modern glass on the MM’s sensor, they may well be allowed to explore territory that has yet to be explored in BW photography. So when some offer criticism that MM files have an overly digital look, I’d respond that MM files have a unique look as offered by the combination of sensor and lens. The creative possibilities of exploring these combinations is both exciting and daunting, but offers up a type of black and white imagery that we may not be used to. Just as HDR images became popular and controversial several years back, the MM files offer something different from bread-and-butter CMOS and CCD sensor rendering. Images shot via the MM when using modern glass seem to have a “hyper-real”, almost surreal look to them. This is not a familiar look to many of us, and thus invites criticism or concern in some instances. Some of us, such as Kristian Dowling, have assumed this challenge, and are making the MM sing with modern glass. I went in a different direction….

Leica MM with 90 mm f/2 Summicron v2

I debated whether or not to stick with the “MM-Modern look”, as I have taken to calling it, and decided to put it on hold. I am not sure that I am quite yet ready to delve into that look without being met with significant challenge and criticism. Rather, I purchased the MM to progress as a black and white photographer, along the lines of the images that I have explored from the film era. With this in mind, I began to explore the possibility of how the MM behaves with vintage lenses from prior eras.

Over the past few months, I dusted the cobwebs off some of my classic lenses,that haven’t gotten much use in recent times. In particular, I have extensively used the Leica 50 mm f/2 version II Summicron, also dubbed the “Rigid Summicron”, as it was the first Summicron lens to have no collapsible elements. This lens was very popular in the late 1950’s through mid-1960’s, and it was highly regarded for its clarity (for the era), tonal rendition, and smooth out-of-focus rendition (i.e. bokeh). To this, I added a 90 mm f/2 Summicron II (E 49 filter thread, collapsible hood) which was manufactured in 1970. I also pulled out my old Leica Tele-Elmar 135 mm f/4, which I reviewed here several years back, and picked up a 35 mm f/2.5 Summarit, which to my eyes has a smoother tonal rendition than its aspherical cousins (35 FLE and 35 cron asph) and stands nicely side-by-side with older glass. Needless to say, I have been very pleased and excited with the results of these lenses on the MM.

Leica MM with 90 mm f/2 Summicron v2

While modern glass can be nearly jarring on the MM, due to lens sharpness and abrupt focus-fall off coupled with the MM’s resolving capabilities, these vintage lenses provide a different, less-clinical signature, which to my eyes, provides a dare-I-say “more pleasant” look…Here again, is where I feel that I am being entirely subjective. To my eyes, at the very least, vintage Leica lenses do very well with the MM. While they resolve slightly less detail than their modern counterparts, their lower contrast and more gentle focus fall off seems to allow and gentler tonal rendition and better preservation of shadow and highlight details. Further, color is taken out of the equation, and while many old lenses don’t always render color accurately, they tend to offer a very appealing greyscale rendition. I feel that the MM’s greyscale capacities take great advantage of lenses with lower macrocontrast. In general, I find that I am able to achieve a more “film-like” black and white look, at least one that more closely represents what’s developed in my thoughts as to how a BW image should look.

In particular, I was stunned by the performance of 2 lenses on the Leica MM: the Rigid 50 mm Summicron and the 90 mm Summicron II. Let me talk a bit more about these lenses


Leica MM/50 mm f/2 Rigid Summicron

 At this time, the 50 mm f/2 Rigid Summicron wins my award for “Best overall lens for the Leica M Monochrom”. I know that this is a very bold (and entirely subjective) statement to make, but I have my reasons. The Rigid ‘Cron was one of the best lenses, if not the best lens, in its era, combining high resolution with fantastic performance from wide open through f/11. It’s bitingly sharp if stopped down to f/4 and fully acceptable when shot wide open. Out-of-focus rendition is beautifully classic, and it has a tad of that “Leica glow” thanks to some of its aberrations, none of which goes overboard. If you are willing to live with a minimal focus distance of 1 meter, and if you can find one in good to excellent optical condition, you should buy one in a heartbeat. It’s simply a no-brainer, given that this lens is one of the most affordable 50 mm Summicron lenses on today’s market can be had for 1/10 of the price of the current 50 mm f/2 APO-Summicron.


Leica MM/50 mm f/2 Rigid Summicron

The 90 mm f/2 Summicron II has long been regarded as a fantastic performer for portraiture and people photography. It was first released in the 1960’s, and it is one of the only Leica M lenses with a built in tripod mount. It’s a big beast of a lens, though it’s not terribly heavy. It has a telescoping hood, which is a nice feature. But it’s nicest feature is its AMAZING rendering. This lens has become my “go to” portrait lens on the Leica MM, supplanting the 75 mm an 90 mm APO-Summicron lenses. I find the focus fall off of the version II 90 ‘Cron to be beautiful and the lens does an amazing job with OOF rendition and preservation of highlights. It’s one of Walter Mandler’s designs, and it shoes. In many ways, I am reminded of the Leica 75 mm f/1.4 Summilux when viewing images taken with this lens. However, it’s a much more economic offering than the 75 ‘lux, whose prices have entered the stratosphere in recent years. The 90 Summicron II wins 2 awards for me:

1. Best portrait lens on the Leica M Monochrom

2. Most underappreciated lens for Leica M (previous award had gone to the 135 Tele-Elmar)

If you are willing to put up with the 90 Summicron II’s size, which is its only drawback, you’ll be greatly rewarded, particularly if you use a Leica M Monochrom. It has that Leica Magic!!!


Leica MM with 90 mm f/2 Summicron v2

Finally, I wanted to put in a brief word on the Leica Summarit 35 mm f/2.5 lens on the MM. As you know, I think very highly of the diminutive Summarit, finding it to have the most pleasant bokeh of any of Leica’s lenses. In some ways, I’d call the 35 mm Summarit to be the “King of Smooth”…it’s very well controlled, renders sharply, and provides and image with moderate contrast and smooth tonal transitions.


Leica MM with Leica Summarit 35 mm f/2.5

In summary, at this time, I find that vintage lenses have a very appealing look on the MM’ sensor, and one can re-discover many old lenses using this camera. This does not, in any way, invalidate the use of modern glass on the MM. I simply feel that these lenses offer 2 different sets of solutions for the black and white shooter. The choice ultimately is upon the photographer to determine what better suits him or her.


QUANDRY # 2 – Greyscale

When first acquiring the Monochrom, I became enamored with the details and tonal magnitude of MM files. There is a wealth of detail in those greys, and I first attempted to capture and present those greys in a meaningful way. What resulted were files that had a lot of “grey”, which, on some monitors, projects out as flat or washed out. On my NEC High Gamut 27 inch display and on high quality archival prints, the images do have quite a bit of depth in those greys. Yet, there was a certain “pop” that may be missing in having images rendered with whiter whites and darker darks, so to speak, or at least a sharper fall off between darks and whites. In some cases, it actually is much easier to take an M9, convert the file to BW, and obtain a fantastic, more readily approachable image. Why then even bother with the MM?

Well, there are a few reasons, actually, for those who are willing to be patient and make adjustments in post processing. Buried in all of those greys is a wealth of information that allows MM files to be pushed and pulled in many different directions, without a dramatic loss in image fidelity. In other words, by processing carefully, one can adjust the look of their MM images so that they don’t look so…grey.

Leica MM with Canon 50 mm f/1.4 LTM (“Japanese Summilux”)


Leica MM with Konica Hexanon 60 mm f/1.2 LTM

Once again, you may ask, “Why bother? My M9 does it well and does it easier…” I would suggest that for the dedicated BW shooter or the photographer interested in getting different looks for their BW imagery, the Leica MM is unparalleled in its ability to produce files capable of being manipulated to achieve many looks in BW without loss of image fidelity. I am a Lightroom user, and I find that using the “Black” and “White” sliders, coupled with the “Shadow” and “Highlight” sliders (available in LR4 and beyond), followed by a dose of contrast/clarity tweaks, allows me to achieve any number of looks. Add to that a bit of dodging and burning, and suddenly one begins to appreciate that files from the MM are very flexible, and the greyscale depth, if I may call it that, is profound. Thus, if you like the Tri-X look, it can be achieved. HP-5, Neopan 1600, TMax 3200? No problem…. How about slow film, like PanX or Agfa 25 film? Yes, the MM can do those “looks” well too ….The one limitation that I see to the MM is that it’s native ISO is 320, which is relatively fast compared to slow film stock. In order to use fast glass at base ISO on the MM, one must either stop down or buy an image degrading ND filter to do so.

I enjoy being permitted many options on how to make my BW files look. The MM allows this in plentitude. MM files are incredibly flexible, and I have found the challenge of processing MM files to be ongoing. I suspect that in the years to come, I’ll come back to my old files, with new eyes and new processing techniques, and see them again for the first time. Here’s an example 2 files taken from the same photo session, where in-camera settings were the same but processing was a bit different:

Early processing – MM and 50 mm f/1.4 Summilux Asph


More recent processing – MM and 50 mm f/1.4 Summilux Asph


Looking at both files, I wouldn’t necessarily say that either version is “correct” per say, or represents the events as I “saw” them. They are both different truths to the same story, and this, to me, is where the MM excels. It allows one to tell many different stories, and provides files that are more flexibile than the M9 to do this, in some regards, despite losing out on R/G/B channels and selective channel tweaking…



The use of filters on the Leica MM has been well documented and discussed. In summary, it appears that the MM’s sensor takes well to the use of color filters, and one familiar with the use of such filters on their film bodies will feel at home using these same filters on the Monochrom. I have found that for ease of look, it’s best to use a yellow or medium orange filter to increase contrast straight out of camera. This can save time in processing, particularly for those of you whom are not enamored by overly grey images. Additionally, for shooting people, green, yellow, and in some cases organe filters brighten up complexion enough to provide a more “natural look”.

For many of us, using filters can be cumbersome. One has to take heed when using them, making sure to match the filter to the intended look or shooting circumstance. At times, I bring my filters, and at times, I leave them home. In either case, I find that the MM provides acceptable results. As I have lenses of many differing filter threads, I decided that I can’t own R/G/Y/O filters in every thread, so I elected to snag filters for 39 mm and 46 mm thread size. One could alternatively get several step up rings and purchase 60-72 mm filter size, and use the same filters on a variety of glass. The problem with the latter option is that it’s a bit clunky to use a 60 mm filter on a e39 lens. Filters still cost a fair chunk of cash, but keeping your filter collection reasonable is probably the way to go. If I had to choose 1-2 filters, I’d probably chose a yellow and orange filter, since the other filters tend to be a bit more specialized to more extreme looks.


Leica MM and 50 mm Summilux II (pre-asph) E43 lens


QUANDRY # 4- Too much resolution!

With the MM’s files, I marveled at the resolution capable of being displayed by the MM’s sensor, partricularly when paired with modern glass. It was definitely new territory, in terms of the camera’s capacity to resolve small details extraordinarily well, and in some cases too well. This is commonly a criticism of Leica’s current aspherical lens lineup (if there could be such a thing as that), who some state may be too “clinical” or can render details with the harsh clarity of reality, making the system’s new lens a bit controversial for portraits (see all of the internet fodder regarding the 90 mm f/2 APO-Summicron, a brilliant lens for which the devil may be in the “details” (that it renders), so to speak.

I myself have never found modern Leica glass to be too clinical when using my M8 and M9. I have seen brilliant work from many MM shooters using modern glass, by my own journey, has lead me to use older glass with slightly lower resolving capacity. Using these older lenses seems to “tame” the MM’s sensor a bit, but the results remain fantastic, and the images taken with older glass maintains adequate to superior resolution, albeit with less bite than modern glass…which I think is a good thing.

Leica MM with Leica Summarit 35 mm f/2.5


QUANDRY #5- ISO capability compared to film stock

I am thoroughly impressed by the MM’s high ISO capacities. Unlike the Leica M9, which I found to be limited in its ISO capacity, there appears to be no such limitation with the MM. When shooting a properly exposed scene, the photographer can easily capture files that look remarkably clean and details at ISO’s upto 5000. To me, this has opened up opportunities to shoot the MM in many new settings, including darkened street scenes. The MM’s high ISO capabilities allow the facile use of slower (smaller) lenses on the MM in more settings, opening up even more creative possibilities. . While much talk has been given to how the MM’s high ISO (3200 and beyond) looks film-like, I tend to disagree. While the camera’s high ISO grain seems fine and tasteful and allows for preservation of details of the image (without any introduction of mushiness into the pixel-peeping equation), it does not take on the look of film grain, to my eyes. The grain, particularly at ISO’s of 3200 and beyond, is decidedly digital, but not objectionable. Occasionally, when adjusting contrast or exposure when shooting at high ISO, banding may be seen. All in all, I am far more comfortable shooting the MM at high ISO’s than I ever was with the Leica M9. I try to keep my ISO cut off at 3200 for this camera, though on occasion, ISO’s beyond this are called for. Further. I find that MM’s capacity to render clean files through ISO 1600 makes it amenable to “adding” film like grain in post processing.

 Leica MM/50 mm f/2 Rigid Summicron

Alright, I have rambled on enough. I am sure that you all have had your fill of Leica M Monochrom reportage. Suffice it to say that it’s a fascinating camera capable of outstanding results for those interested in using it. It’s definitely not a camera for everyone. It is a fantastic option for those who desire superior ISO performance and broad dynamic range within the greyscale realm.

All the best,


Leica MM/50 mm f/2 Rigid Summicron


Leica MM with 90 mm f/2 Summicron v2



  1. Indeed, all my M lenses are from 1970-1974: Summicron 50 and 35 from 1970 and a Elmarit 90mm and 28mm from 1974. I will never buy anything else unless they are lost,stolen or damaged beyond repair. I was recently loaned a MM and a set of brand new 1.4 ASPH M lenses to shoot a project with and after two weeks I went back to my old 70’s lenses. To a frame these lenses delivered far more interesting and pleasing results than the new lenses. The editors all agreed that the old lenses rendered a look of 60’s 70’s reportage…and made a very good combination with the Digital M sensor and technology. I’m not considering buying an MM because of the results I got with my old 70’s lenses.

  2. Hi!
    I know I’m quite late in responding to this post, but I just had to say thank you! Because of you and because of your articles, I fell in love with the Monochrome and I saved money… and saved… and saved… and now, in two weeks time, I am going to buy one! I’m very excited. I love shooting B&W and this looks like the perfect camera for me. So thank you!

  3. Hi Ashton!

    Thanks to this article I was swayed and bought vintage glass to go with my new MM. I’m ridiculously happy with the 50mm Summicron rigid (1957) . My copy is wonderful. I am also loving my 35mm Summicron from 1974. Seems to be the least popular version but I think the images are fantastic. The only one I regret, and will be selling, is that I got talked out of the 90mm Summicron II and into a 90mm Tele-Elmarit from 1968. It’s so soft that it’s unusable to me. I’m really disappointed. I got sold on the size of it, but wow its the softest lens I’ve ever owned for any camera!

    Two out of three ain’t bad though! 🙂 Thanks again for the advice. I should have listened on the 90mm too!

  4. Ashwin,

    A fine article clearly reflecting your enthusiasm for the MM and technical knowledge an excellent marriage and a great review.



  5. Ashwin,

    Many thanks for a fine and encouraging piece. I have been struggling with MM files but think I am getting there.I am currently using PS CS6 and Raw 7.5. The latter has the sliders you mention and learning to “push” those has made a big difference to my processing. Not tried old glass on the MM yet, so I am grateful for the nudge. My favourite lenses on the M8 is a collapsible LTM Summicron and the 35mm f2.5. I am not sure I have mastered filters. At first I left an old yellow filter on my 35mm lens but I am not sure it is optimal in all conditions. At first I was reminded of this old adage: “Sun over your shoulder, 1/125 sec, f11, yellow filter, FP4 ID11” – well something like 🙂 We know MM sensitivity differs from most film and I have not yet got my head around the implications. It’s easy to be lazy with filters as they are fiddly, well I was with the yellow filter. Recently I used a 50mm with a standard UVa filter and I was happy with my “street” shots but not my “landscape” shots. That old adage was aimed at landscape, so I suspect yellow filters still good sense for sunny landscapes and townscapes. You reminded me to think about green for facial tones and that might help with my people focused street shots. All in all, it is beginning to feel like B&W photography I used to know and love. It is easy to forget how hard we worked on our wet prints and the care we took before pressing the shutter. The fact that I have to work on MM files and have to give more thought before shooting should not discourage me. I think it will make me a better photographer – not necessarily a good one though! As I look through the finder I have to keep in mind how I will process the file I take home.

    Thanks again for the article, Chris aka AbbeyFoto

  6. Excellent post. I like your no nonsense appraisals with appropriate comparison remarks. Your lens suggestions are totally worthwhile and make a lot of sense for this camera. Thank you.

  7. Your article really made me think about what is different about the pictures I am producing today with a digital camera compared to 20 years ago with film. For better or worse.

    I like the look you are getting with these older lenses on a very modern camera, but I’m curious whether you see a difference in how your processing of these files affects the results.

    Do you have any post image capture suggestions for how to get a “classic” look without the change in lenses?

    Thanks for the excellent post!

    In hopes to add to the conversation with examples, here is an attempt to come to grips with modern vs. classic looking B&W images from a much smaller sensor:

  8. This is such a fine piece of writing, Ashwin, that I wonder if the Monochrom or seeing in black and white has prompted a leap in your talents not just in photography but in expressiveness more generally. The power of this story appears have made 50mm Rigids to completely sell out of US vendors on eBay! Would like to see more stories by you on using vintage glass, and on how you make the choice of lenses to use.

    • Thank you so much. I hadn’t known that the 50 Rigids have suddenly become popular on ebay. THe 50 rigid cron is really a amazing lens…It simply nails the image and provides a rich rendering with high levels of detail.

      As for my talent level, you are far too kind. I am really enjoying the world in BW. I find that I focus on different elements of the compositon, and hopefully I am growing as a photographer.

  9. I have been using an MM for about three months now and enjoy the camera immensely. I have an 50 Cron and have also found that it works very well on the MM. All versions of the non -ASPH 50 Cron are essentially the same Mandler design.
    I have taken to using a yellow filter for most daytime use. Read the Puts article on use of filters with the MM where his graphs point out that the yellow filter causes more separation of red and blue. Similar to film. I also have used a red filter to good effect on daylight architectural images. Filters are easy. Put one on the lens and carry another in your pocket. Just like we did with film.
    The article does not mention use of Silver Efex in post processing. It is a very flexible tool ( it comes with the MM ) which I have used occasionally for the specific purpose of eliminating a flat or digital look. One particular image of the California coastline (taken with the 35 Lux fle) appeared quite flat and digital when I printed it. Nice but uninspiring. I ran it through Silver Efex, selected the “wet rocks” option, and then played with lights and darks a bit, and it turned into a stunning image with more life and interest. When printed it has a very “film-like” appearance, a fairly vague term, I find, that means something a bit different to everyone. In any event, it is a much better picture and more interesting to my eye and to my professional friends.
    While I like the 50 Cron, I also use and like the 50 Lux and the 35Lux fle. Both are exceptional performers on the MM.
    Another point, I recently used the MM at 10,000 ISO for night time shots of Disney Hall in LA and I am very pleased with the printed results.
    By the way, I suggest to everyone that you reserve judgment on this camera ( and every camera, frankly ) until you have seen PRINTED results, preferably hanging on a wall. In my opinion you really can tell very little viewing images from internet articles on computer screens.

  10. Loving all this monochrome work.
    I was out shooting recently and suddenly realized I was composing in b&w in my minds eye.
    I thought on this for a bit, then went about setting up my nex5n to b&w and threw on my Jupiter 8.
    It has stayed that way for over a month now. Haha
    I have always loved old glass on high fidelity digital sensors, but there is something about sonar glass, especially for b&w.
    You just reminded me I have my leitz 90mm f4 sitting there ashwin. I think that may have to come out for a play. 🙂
    Thank you again.

    • Thanks, Josh. The Nex5N and Jup * would provide a lovely point of few, with nice compactness… You are right that Sonnar designs seem to do very well with BW photography!

  11. Ashwin,

    Great stuff. I always find your posts to be erudite, impassioned, and very helpful. I really like your recent processing of the MM files, including those on your flickr site. Hey, I didn’t know you had Konica Hexanon 60mm f/1.2. What a fine–and rare–lens!


    • Hi R,
      Great to hear from you! I wish I owned that 60 mm Hexanon, but alas, it belongs to a good friend. Thankfully, that friend has let me borrow this wonderful lens on a few occasions, and it works well on the M bodies…

      Hope all is well down south!

  12. Great article Ashwin, thanks for taking the time to share it. I am the first to appreciate that pretty much ALL digital cameras need their files tweaked to get the most from them…with that said I will definitely be skipping the MM. My personal preference is for the B&W images coming from the M8/M9…and still have the ability to output colour.

    I’m sure the MM is great for some, but for me the super high ISO capabilities and increased detail over an M9 are not worth the loss of colour and amount of work to get the most out of the MM images.

    A used M9 is definitely in my future…..

    • Hi Clint, totally understool. The M8 and M9 produce fantastic BW images, and in some ways, the MM’s lack of an IR blocking filter can work in its benefit in BW imagery. Many people seem to have rediscovered the M8 for BW work since the MM came out. Prices will continue to drop as tons of used M9’s become available as people ready themselves to purchase the M. I find that the M9 is an exceptional camera in its own right for BW, and I have no hesitations moving forward with an M9….

  13. Ashwin, I must say, best results I have seen to date from the MM. I think the MM coupled with classic glass gives absolutely beautiful rendering. Very well written article that provides great information!

    • Ryan, great to hear from you? Do you still have that lovely 85 mm f/1.8? That’s a lens that would shine on the MM, I suspect, and I am kicking myself for not buying your copy. How’s life overseas?

  14. By far the best and most informative read on the Monochrom yet, and I’ve only skimmed it due to time pressures, not even really looking at the images. Thanks Ashwin!

  15. Fantastic post and images.
    Question: Would it not be possible to use a moden aspherical lens and selectively soften in post processing eg using Dfine, then tweaking in CEP such as using a subtle skin softener, glow or whatever… How would this compare to using your older lenses?
    I can’t wait to see some images of the APO 50mm on film, Fujichrome Provia or whatever… I suppose that using this glass on the Monochrome would be overkill as you say?

    • Hi Paul, Yes this can be done. Alternatively, a soft focus filter like a Zeiss Softar II could be used to add glow….I haven’t quite gone there yet, but still, the lens rendering would be different (how OOF and highlights are rendered doesn’t change with softening options in Dfine, as far as I know). The APo 50 should be really cool, but I am certain that it’ll have a more modern rendering…Leica would have us believe that using the APO-50 will maximize resolving capacity on the MM, and I don’t disagree. However, I am not convinced that I need all of that resolution to acheive the look that I seek with BW files. For some, it’ll be the tool of choice, and I’d be happy to test one out and report back, if Leica were to send me a test copy 😉 (you reading this, Leica ? ;)….

  16. Aswhin, great post! You’re one of my favorites!
    I just bought my M-E and you makes us wanting to spend more money… lol

    The first image of rigid summicron f/2 is simply perfect (portrait of a woman).

  17. Stunning work!I’m really curious about what you feel when you’re holding and shooting a MM, and if that you could only see a B&W world when looking through the viewfinder of an MM.

    • Hi Carsia, WHen I shoot with an MM, I really do feel like I get in the BW state of mind, and this is how I start to see the world…I feel like this is an acquired skill, that I am working on…

  18. Ashwin,
    Your article is a bold one, I really enjoyed reading it.
    But aside from that, here you present some awesome images! Well done and keep up that good work!

  19. Thank you for sharing Ashwin!
    I love your PP on the MM files. It does remind me a lot on film.

    Each lens has its specific soul. Sometimes hard to switch lenses without losing the shot, or knowing in advance what you’re going to shoot.

    Keep on clicking!

    Respect and regards, Jeffrey

  20. Excellent article, Ashwin. For those who like to experiment with different looks and final output, the MM looks to offer one the opportunity to present quite a variety of options depending on lenses, post-processing techniques … and ultimately, mood. Such an interesting palette is a rare opportunity for those who are willing to invest the time and creativity necessary to push their results in different directions.

    • Thanks, Kurt. I am in complete agreement with you, and you have put it very concisely and eloquently. Now, the question is: when does an MM find its way back into your kit?


  21. Hi Ashwin, you did it again: Making a compelling case for the MM. Out of the many great shots I love that Konica Hexanon rendering, In 2008 this lens could be bought for below USD 2k……(;

    • Thanks, retow! The Hexanon is a special lens (that I was lucky enough to borrow from a friend)…I wish I had a time machine to get back to 2008. Current copies seem to exceed $5-7K on the bay…

    • Hi Ashwin, great shots, and I couldn’t agree more with retow – I know I’m only looking at this post on my work screen (quick coffee break, in case any of the “powers that be” are reading this too) but the quality of that Konica lense has just blown me away – it’s (IMHO) quality does give that “film like quality” everyone seems to yearn for these days. Can’t wait to get home this evening and have a closer look on my calibrated screen. Don’t think my opinion will change though! Great stuff – always love your posts.

      • Thank you, Si. The Konica Hexanon is a special lens, and I really wish Konica had made more M mount RF lenses, given that they have very unique rendering properties. Prices of these lenses have gone way up, as a result, putting them out of reach of many of us. Thankfully, I have a good friend who will let me borrow this lens on occasion, and it works very well on the MM as well as the M9…

        Thanks for the kind words!

  22. Allot of people have been saying the MOno is a learning curve it doesn’t seem to work with modern glass
    It has fully optimized blacks and grays for god sakes this is a 8000 dollar camera and it doesn’t work with the FLE wide open if this was a car it would be recalled a friend of mine just returned his because of all these problems send it in for calibration it’s brand new it should work out of the box sorry to rant but I just don’t get the hype about something that really isn’t working properly

    • There’s nothing wrong with the MM. In fact, there’s much right with it. One just must learn to coax the best out of it, and for those not interested, it’s not worth the bother. For those who are willing to work wiht the files, the results can be outstanding and really mind blowing at times…it’s a perspective thing….

      • Sorry Ashwin your photos are really nice I’m just stating what every reviewer has said so far
        That it is a learning curve with the files and my friend was told by Leica New Jersey he couldn’t use an FLE under F4 on the MM that’s a big investment for nothing just stating what I’ve heard and seen

        • Interesting. What I find is that the new asph glass presents an entirely different look that much of what we are used to with b&w imagery. Because it is unfamiliar, it can be jarring. I suspect that some of us will come along and start using the new glass in powerful ways to create a different, unique vision of BW, but it’ll have a surreal quality, with how the modern glass renders. I can think if a few who are doing a great job. I do know that Kristian Dowling is using the 35 FLE wide open on the MM wiht good/great results, so it’s possible. The main limitation is that using that lens wide open with a base ISO of 320 is challenging, as daylight shooting is limited, and a ND filter must be used. In lower light, it could provide a unique perspect. I did use the 35 FLE extensively in NYC, but I am not yet sure that I love the results…you are right that a lot of investment could go unused, and that’s a loss. I plan to use my asph glass on the M9 and keep trying on the MM. FOr now, though, classic cheaper glass gives me more joy . Thanks for the response…

          • And by the way, Summo lux, no offense taken at all.. Thanks for contributing to the commentary. The MM is definitely a challenge

          • Love that noctilux shot very avedon like his last portraits how did u process and what were that camera settings

  23. Another great article and images Ashwin.
    My favourite portrait lens is the 50 Rigid just love it!
    You certainly have mastered the MM in short time.


    • Thanks, Ross. Very kind of you to say that. I find that the MM is truly a “journey” camera. It will lead me on a few journies as I learn more about it.

  24. Very nice Ashwin. I have an untrained eye compared to most commenting though can see the difference between NYC and these photos. Also for a novice your article is interesting and reads well. I have learnt a lot from this. Thank you.

  25. Hey Ashwin

    Superb write up and images.

    A very insightful post, thanks for sharing your thoughts and experiences. I’ll definitely be reading this again to make sure i haven’t missed anything 🙂

    I’m still at the early stages with the MM but already I can relate to much of what you’ve written here.

    All the best,


    • Jason, I’d love to see your progress with the camera. It really allows the photog to refocus priorities and decide how to see things anew. It’s been and will continue to be an enjoyable journey!

  26. It’s funny and corresponds to my own findings/likings – I’m currently using a 35 f2.8 summaron + 50 f/2.0 ‘cron rigid version1, type2 + 90mm f/2.8 Tele-Elmarit. The only modern lens i shoot is a 28mm f/2.0 ‘cron ASPH that has that slightly odd mix of modern & classic combined quality going for it. Especially the summaron & rigid shines their magic on my MM! All my Zeiss glass actually ‘went out the window’ just recently since i didnt really longer like the look so much on the MM – a contrasty thing perhaps, but there you go;o)

    Actually im on the search for a nice 21 and was kinda hoping perhaps the old super-angulon could fit the bill, so to speak? Know some care with metering has to be takin’ in to consideration with the combination though. Any hands-on experience or preference?

    Thanks for a nice and somewhat ‘reassuring’ (;o) article…


    • THe 35 Summaron is an amazing lens, one that I have owned twice and would love to have bck. THe 90 tele-elmarit is fantatsic as well…I am not sure that the super angulon rear elements clear the MM’s shutter, so take care…Thanks for your insights and comments.

  27. Great shots, Ashwin. Love the ‘look’ of the 50 Cron and 35 Summarit. That little Summarit does seem to be able to defeat or sidestep the too-clincal (?) and maybe even too contrasty issues that give some digital M photography what I call a non-traditional photography look. Not knocking contrast or sharpness but these sensors, I think, (thinking out loud) might make lenses like the Summarit a good choice for making pictures that look more like traditional photography vs. a 2010- super modern digital look. The 50 Cron shots are great also and show that if you photograph subject fairly close the background blur on the 50 Cron is a gorgeous and classic as well. Some Rockwellian opinion (I think) descended from on high a while ago about how the super-high ISO capability of cameras now might render the need for super-fast glass less necessary. I balked at that in the past, because I love the wide open 1.4 look. But I’m starting to rethink this. 1.4 certainly on the M9 is fantastic. But if I had a great high ISO camera like the new M (we hope) or the MM… f2.0 on a 50mm lens… that’s pretty workable. As would be 2.5 on a 35mm lens. And you get lots of classic ooze. I’m with you on the 35 Summarit. That’s a classic, smooth, pure old school Leica look. And any 50 Summicron, in my opinion, delivers THE most classic Leica look you can get. That is THE Leica look, even from the most modern 50 Crons. And I say all this as someone who owns both the 50 Lux ASPH and the 35 Lux ASPH FLE, both amazing with words more low-light capability at current ISOs.

    Still not feeling that MM though. lol. Sorry. Really can’t wait for the ‘M’ to arrive at my door.

    • for me high ISO and fast glass is not always the same or does not solve the same situation. Fast glass helps in low light but decreases DOF – very often a desired effect. If I have the option to stop down a bit for night shots, it gives me more flexibility.
      I recently did some night shots with the 18mm Super-Elmar with up to ISO 6400 and I was impressed 🙂
      Click on my name to find them.

    • THanks, Donald. I agree that the SUmmarit does find a lovely balance, and I have been very surprised with its performance, in a positive way, on the MM.f/2 lenses do so well on the MM, and forces one to rethink priorities, though fast glass has its place for me…I do find f/2 to be used far more on the MM….. Dierk, I will look for your 18 SE files…it’s a fascinating lens!

  28. thanks, Ashwin, great work and pictures.

    I love the first portrait of the little girl and the focus is just perfect (as on the others).
    Did you use filters?
    I printed MM images on 60×80 and have the impression, that even bigger is possible. I wonder, if PP could help and reduce to sharp pictures and make them a bit softer. To get as much IQ as possible, I prefer to do the rest in PP?
    With the MM I started to use Nik Silver Efex2 with great results and often prefer it over LR4. You should try it!!
    Thanks again and regards

    • Thanks Dierk. I did use filters (typically yellow) on some of the files….WOw, 60×80 is HUGE. I haven’t quite gotten that large with my prints….I will give Silver Efex more of a try, as I really like the results from this program with M9 files….plus I am a huge admirer of your work!

  29. Great stuff thanks!

    I’ts fascinating I had to get a Leica until I started to bother with lenses. And I understand your point of too much sharpness. To me, this is one fascinating aspect of film. That a picture, looked at up close gets all grainy and yet, when you step back has so much character.

    And looking at these pictures, it looks like you get that feel by using older, not that razor sharp lenses.

    • Funny, I am about to test out a 50 c-sonnar on the MM soon…hope it turns out, as this is a lens that I enjoy on the M. Zeiss glass is incredible, but has a different signature (in many cases) than the Leica counterparts.

  30. Ashwin,

    Great article! You’re inspiring me to look into buying more classic lenses. I have notice my processing of MM has improved (at least in my opinion) also. Maybe I can get a few to Steve for him to post.


  31. Thanks a heap Ashwin, your observations are lucid and very well put. I have an M9, modern glass and lots of scanned mono film too, and I feel an empathy with every word you put, especially the ying and yang sides of each argument. I am waiting to see how the forthcoming M will compare with the MM, although with the results you are getting one could say “why wait?”.

    I do a lot of fine-art printing in Mono (mostly) so for me the image quality (luminance, glow, bokeh, grain quality etc) is very important, providing of course the basic image is a good picture. Seeing the result you have produced so far on screen is inspiring and thought provoking. Thank you.

    Keep up the good work and thanks to Steve for publishing this magnificent thread!

    Kind regards


    • THank, JSKG….I do think that you are absolutely correct. For most folks, the M will be a far more practical tool than the MM, but for the dedicated BW shooter, the MM will remain the champion in this realm, in terms of creating flexible BW files….Thanks for the kind words!

    • THanks, David. I am glad that I have a buyer down the road LOL…I hope that you continue to enjoy that fantastic M9…it’s a great camera, and I still miss it….the MM is fantastic, and I am sure that eventually, a few will exhange hands 🙂

  32. You’re really getting the hang of this, Ashwin!

    I agreed with others that your first set of MM pictures looked – sorry to say this – uninspiring, but now that you’re fiddling with the processing more, and using these older lenses, these pictures are getting just better and better!

    If anyone feels a bit limited by the 1 metre closest focusing of the rigid Summicron, use a ‘Dual Range’ version, which focuses closer than any of the other 50mm Leica or Canon 50mm lenses.

    The older 35mm Summarons (f2.8 and f3.5 from the 1950s) also focus close, and give beautiful rendering without the ‘hardness’ of today’s lenses.

    Many thanks for this latest report ..it’s great to see your technique developing (oops!) and really interesting to see how older lenses perform with the MM ..leaving retrievable details in the shadows. (Old Steinheil lenses are great for that, I find.)

    Congratulations – and thanks again!

      • Darn it, you’re right! ..I’d forgotten! ..The DR is OK in ‘close-focus’ mode, but in ordinary mode it only focuses as far as 4 metres on the M9 (and even less on the M8!) but not beyond 4 mtrs to infinity ..Incredible that Solms didn’t spot that when the camera was designed!

        I don’t know if the same problem (the DR lower focusing cam knocking against the light-meter housing inside the lens throat) is still there on the Monochrom. With a bit of sense they’d have moved that obstacle back a millimetre to let the DR lens be used.

        I’d better ring them up and say “Oi! ..Make sure the DR can be used on the new M!”

        (The DR really was the absolute best of all those pre-aspheric Summicrons.)

        • Wonderful article, Ashwin!

          I have a DR, and I actually had the close-focus cam ground down so I could use it on my M8. I don’t regret it. It’s better to have a lens that I can use on the cameras I use today, than a “display model.” The best of the Mandler lenses are “Goldilocks” lenses–just right.

          • Thanks, Peter, and yes, the DR is fantastic. I just wish the modern bodies could accomodate it, without the modification. Even so, the close focus makes it even more ueseful!

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