USER REPORT: The Leica Monochom – Scarily Good. By Jason Howe

USER REPORT: The Leica Monochom – Scarily Good. By Jason Howe

Another submission, this time my first images from the M Monochrom and some thoughts on my first 3 weeks with the camera.

Big thanks for all the quality information you put up on the camera, it all helped make my decision to purchase it a lot easier.

As a rule I like my posts to be considered and well thought out so it many respects this is rather an impromtu update on my first three weeks with the Leica M Monochrom.

I say three weeks but really in terms of actual usage it’s been more like a 7-8 hours. Having experienced the initial sense of euphoria that always accompanies the arrival of any new camera I found myself quite unexpectedly feeling a little deflated after firing off the first few frames. Was this a case of “buyers remorse”? No, it wasn’t that I regretted the purchase, not at all. This was about seeing that many of my initial shots contained blown highlights, it has to be said this really dampened my enthusiasm quite rapidly . Yes, despite what I’d read elsewhere I still anticipated picking up this camera and being fully conversant with it in minutes……naive and perhaps a little arrogant on my part.

I quite literally put the camera back in the box and left it for 10 days or so while I got on with some other more pressing matters……if I’m going to be processing images in LR4 and subsequently having two library’s (MM files not yet supported by Aperture 3) I should really tidy out my Aperture 3 library before it all turns in to one big horrible mess!! I had been guilty of some very lazy practices, ones I won’t repeat in a hurry! Looking back, at least subconsciously I must have been thinking that I would have some decent images out of the Monochrom to process at some point!

Back to the Monochrom, it’s now clear that my two biggest challenges with this camera will be –

Exposure – despite the histogram showing a correct exposure there is still clipping, maddening to say the least.

Processing in LR4 – I used LR 3 a little but the look of my B&W’s plus all my file structure was born out of Aperture 3

Add to this the harshly lit skies of a Kiwi summer and opportunities to use this camera were eluding me. Thankfully I have what is becoming an ongoing association with Tauranga Musical Theatre and was able to get a couple of rehearsals in this week and at the same time hone my skills with the Monochrom. Their current production – A Very Scary Xmas 2 is dark, these are conditions outside the realm of the M9 at ISO 640 even with the Summilux’s. Yes, I personally choose not the use the M9 above ISO 640, maybe 800 on rare occasions.

So, belatedly I have decided to put up my first images from the Monochrom.

These images were taken during the rehearsal, the action is live and fast-moving, the light is without a doubt the most challenging I have worked in, often dark yet interspersed with bursts of light my shutter speeds could vary between 1/30 and 1/2000 in an instant. Throw the idiosyncrasies of the Monochrom meter in to the mix and you get my drift. Whilst I would be the first to admit there is always room for improvement I am really quite pleased with these.

I can’t underline how incredible the image quality is from this camera, all the shots here are taken at ISO 1250 – 2000, there is no noise reduction required. I’m yet to see how the camera performs at even higher ISO because quite simply I haven’t had to go there, it’s difficult to imagine circumstances where I would need to…..

All these images were shot with the 35mm Summilux f/1.4 Asph FLE and the 50mm Summilux f/1.4 Asph FLE. I have done some experimentation with vintage Leica glass and coloured filters, I continue to work on this and will hopefully collect some images that will allow me to put together a future post on the subject.

As I mentioned, processing images from the Monochrom was one of my concerns, B&W is my comfort zone, but my initial impressions of the Monochrom files was that it may be more difficult to get my B&W look than it was using the M9, how ironic would that be……however, my LR4 fears have proved unfounded, I believe I’m on top of the processing and now I have what I would describe as my look. I’m never critical of the images of others, we each see things differently and I firmly believe that, I am pleased that I have managed to avoid the silver/grey looking MM files that I have seen online though.

So, what about exposure then? Well it’s a work in progress but I’ve found that underexposing by 1/3 to as much as 1 stop in some cases will do the job. These files contain so much detail in the shadows that there is almost limitless opportunity to recover them. So, in essence one should shoot cautiously.

I’ll continue to post my thoughts and images on the Leica M Monochrom, but after a shaky start I have to say it really is “scarily good”



Aperture Priority – Photography by Jason Howe 
find me online: Website | Flickr | Twitter | Facebook


  1. Jason,first let me say that your shots are VERY beautiful. You have a keen eye and you surely know how touse the Monochrome.
    But, regarding the title of your post, we are talking about a 8000$ camera.
    It has to be AT LEAST scarily good…

    • Thanks Andrea

      I appreciate you very kind sentiments.

      Regarding the title of the post and the value of the camera I totally agree. I’m certain there is going to be a lot more to come though, and if its scarily good after a few weeks then it will only get better 🙂

      Thanks, Jason

  2. Fabulous images Jason, some of the best I’ve seen so far from the Monochrom! I had the chance to use one for a couple of hours thanks to the Leica Akademie in Mayfair, London. Loved it and if I could afford one would buy one with no hesitation. As it is I’ve just bought a M8 and happy just to finally get on the Leica ladder. My only question ire your photos, do you have one leg longer than the other? 🙂 Personally I don’t like images shot or cropped at an angle. But as I say that’s just my taste.

    • Hey Gaz

      Thanks, I appreciate that.

      Congrats on your M8 its in very good hands. I guess I just don’t feel the need to conform to those traditional compositions, certainly not in this environment and funnily enough I was similar shooting street. I realize its not for everyone though. 🙂 I have just found that shooting instinctively works better in theatre conditions, there is often a great deal to think about in a short amount of time so I just do what comes naturally rather than over think it.

      Take it easy, Jason.

  3. i have tried not to like the MM, because of it’s “lacks” and price and all… but I can’t do it anymore! This camera DOES have an unique potential to my eyes, in right hands at least.

    Beautiful images, thank you for sharing! You seem to be “the right hands”.

    • Thanks very much, I tried not to like the MM to a degree, then I tried to ignore it, it’s ultimately about what you shoot, in my case it suits my style and so I gave in…..

      That said I’m fortunate enough to still have my M9 for the times when colour is needed.

      Cheers, Jason.

    • Hi Mark

      I’m not sure if you left this comment for me or if it should have been on the previous MM post by Danny Bar.

      I have indicated above that due to the amount of emails I have had about processing that I will be doing a post at some point on my website –

      I have only been using LR4 for a short time, whilst I’m happy with my progress I believe I still have a lot to learn.



      • Jason, they look like digital b&w should. Disclose your secrets, so humble D700 users like me can benefit! Don’t hide and refer us to some obscure NZ website!

        I would be particularly interested in the contrast treatment you applied, and the possible noise reduction vs sharpness, all vs the LR4 Monochrom preset.

        Thanks! 🙂 🙂

  4. Hi Jason,
    As much as I like your pics (congrats for your work), I am yet to be impressed (technically) by a picture taken with the monochrome M. I feel that any picture taken with my M6 + b&w film and digitalized looks better, with blacks that look black and not dark grey and a subtle balance of light and shadows.
    I’m a big Leica fan but really, I don’t see the point in the monochrome…

    • Hi Alain

      Thanks for the kind words, whilst I love both my M6 and the look of film I couldn’t agree with this but respect your opinion all the same.

      The beauty of photography is how we all see things differently, many of us see rich blacks in these files where others like yourself see dark grey. I see a subtle balance of light and shadow, whereas you don’t.

      Neither of us is right or wrong, we just see what we see.

      What can’t be disputed is that these files shot on the M6 with ISO 1600 film would contain a considerable amount of grain, not a look I wanted for these images. That is the true strength and point of the Monochrom for me.

      Thanks again, Jason.

  5. Beautiful. I love the higher contrast and saturated black look instead of the gray look for black and white. Actually, I also like it for color. Too much shadow detail can detract from a punchy look.

  6. I remember longing for the day when photographs would become smooth and grainless. Now that we have arrived, everyone is turning their heads backwards and wanting grain again. Not me, I will continue facing forward. Nice photos.

    • Thanks David.


      I love grain (noise) but I really longed for it to be a creative choice in the most extreme lighting conditions, now with the MM I have that.

      Cheers, Jason.

    • Hi Doug

      Current 35 & 50 Lux which is arguably some of the trickiest glass to use on the MM. No filters on these shots.

      I have ordered various filters for these lenses though so i will be having a play around.

      Cheers, Jason.

  7. Great work Jason, you know I like these. Expose to the left instead of to the right eh? You’re really mastering this machine!

  8. A great read Jason combined with some beautiful subtle images…..Now a probably stupid question,..if there is so much detail in the shadows is it possible ,in normal lighting,to expose for the highlights and ,to put it crudely,dig out the shadows later?I realise that this isnt the way to extract the maximum quality from this camera but possibly by “roughing up”the sensor a little an inherrent “quality”may be discovered from this digital sensor without the need for silver “efex”…….sorry for all the inverted commas.

  9. Brilliant and inspiring work Jason, and yes the best Leica MM photos I have seen, if I was Mr Leica I’d snap up the copyright to those images and stick them in my advertising.

    • Hey Summo Lux

      High praise, I’m not so sure though. I know that last week I looked at Ashwin’s images on here and felt exactly the same, that they were the best processing of MM files I had seen.

      I guess we often prefer what others are doing, either way there is always room for improvement, the importance with the MM files is really to get the blacks in place, in that respect I am very happy.

      As for processing tips….the real secret to the MM files is that you actually need do very little to them, certainly each of these files took 2-3 mins to process once I had gotten my head around LR4. The same applies to B&W conversions from the M9 in Aperture 3.

      To my surprise I have had a lot of emails about processing so I will probably share some techniques on my site once I feel I am qualified enough to offer advice….:-)

      Really appreciate your generous comment though.

      All the best, Jason.

  10. Just commenting on the camera IQ. Very sharp and digital looking photographs coming from the MM, as in 99% of cases. I think I prefer a worse IQ for B&W and for non film images in general.

    • Hi there,

      For sure this camera and the files it produces are not to everyones taste. I would add that I can degrade these images in processing though, whereas I can’t make them better. This suits me but I totally accept your view. 😉

      Cheers, Jason.

    • Mmmm, thanks for pointing that out…..

      I’m sure you’d concede that as the last few weeks have been wonderful it feels like summer has begun…..great news for you as I’d suggest you get out more…..:-)

      • Wish I could get out more. At least I could have a nice walk on the beach today. And, yes it’s actually been nice, for a much needed change.

        BTW, I was clarifying Kiwi “summer” for folks, particularly in the US. Kiwis seem to assume everyone starts seasons at they beginning of a month. Not so. In the US seasons start according to astronomical positions – summer starts at the summer solstice, for example. They assume summer here would start at the southern hemisphere summer solstice on 21 December and generally do not know Kiwi’s define summer differently.

        • Actually we seem to speak about only 2 seasons – Summer or Winter as the change between the 2 can seem a bit abrupt. Anyway being a small island in the middle of the roaring forties we can get any kind of weather at any kind of year – well more likely to get cold wether in Summer than vice versa.

          Back on topic I agree with Howard that these do indeed look like images from a $9000 camera.

  11. I wonder why nobody makes a camera that has a setting to simply not allow blown highlights. It must be a pretty simple thing to do.

    Lovely pics too. I do a fair bit of theatre shooting and it’s damned tricky at the best of times especially with changing light, spotlights etc. I’m very jealous of your kit too.

  12. Now these look like photos taken with a $9,000 + camera and great lenses. Thanks for sharing.



  13. Congrats Jason!
    Very nice results indeed and a few really etheric ones inbetween… somehow i dont seem to have as many problems with exposure as expected – I do have a constant exposure compensation of EV-2/3 though and clipping warning set in the highlights to 95% just as a preliminary ‘precaution’…. but when i do actually check (out of insecurity or curiosity perhaps;o)?) mostly everything is just fine… perhaps all the warnings given on beforehand with this camera has ‘paid off’? – Well, in reality i might just have a slight tendency to underexpose overall. Finally, keeping at least a yellow filter on also keeps an extra tiny ‘lid on things’, I guess. Happy Monochrom days!

  14. This is simply beautiful and the photos look so realistic. I have viewed them several and am in awe of the wonderful settings and the light which so fascinated me!

    Thank you for sharing with us!

  15. Stunning work, Jason. You have mastered the “modern” look with your lenses and the MM…great work, really capably showing the range that the MM can produce in terms of IQ!

    • Thanks Ashwin I really appreciate that.

      I followed your previous post on vintage glass and as I’m fortunate to have quite a bit of that it’s definitely on my agenda.

      I don’t have a preference for either the “modern” or “vintage” glass on the MM, I just really love the diversity of looks that can be achieved and the excitement of experimenting! 🙂

      Cheers, Jason.

  16. I used to limit my M9 to around 1250 but more like you 800 even at times. Then, I realized the more I took pics with it at high ISO that even at 2500 the noise is still acceptable to get the shot and like the noise at higher ISO on the MM it gives it sort of a film grain look at times. Now, I just let it go auto-ISO in dark situations and it works great.

    • Hey Jonny,

      I’d like to elaborate a little further on this as it really relates to the output media and size. I concede that M9 images shot at ISO 800 and higher would be more than suitable for JPGs at the size displayed here. I would still maintain that I prefer digital noise to be something I choose as opposed to tolerate.

      Cheers, Jason.

  17. Hey Jason. Good to see a fellow Kiwi (New Zealander for those that don’t know) post.
    I have to say your images here are uniformly excellent. I love the tilt on them too – really works.

    I find almost all digital cameras need at least -1/3 exposure comp to stop highlight blowout. Especially CMOS sensors as they are more sensitive to light. The exception would be Foveon (Sigma) as due to the triple layers they hardly get enough light. My old Fuji S2 Pro with it’s CCD senor was pretty spot on and with lovely tones. I have my X100, 50D and 5D always at -1/3. More (or less? eg -2/3) if it is a bright but cloudy day. And then even more if the scene is dark as the camera is always trying to meter to achieve a balance of 15% grey. The only time to over expose is when there is a lot of white eg snow or a wedding dress and the camera is trying to make it grey. One day the metering on cameras may see the scene as it really is.

    Until then…Thanks for the post.

  18. WOW , The pics are Extremely BEAUTIFUL , its like they are in colors 😉 , Simply amazing , Thumbs UP Mr.Howe , NICE 🙂 😀

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