Scary Faces – Pushing the Monochrom Further by Jason Howe


Scary Faces – Pushing the Monochrom Further

by Jason Howe – Website | Flickr | Twitter | Facebook


From Steve: I know, I know…many of you are tired of these Monochrom articles! At the same time, many of you are NOT. This will be the last one for a while because I feel we have PLENTY of information on this camera now on this website, let alone the entire internet. I could not resist posting these as it really shows what the camera can do better than any previous post on the MM. I am dubbing Jason  Howe the “MM Master” as these are masterful shots and he certainly has learned the camera better than I have! Enjoy and THANK YOU JASON!


In the short period of time that I have owned the Monochrom it has already established itself as my “go to” camera, in part this is due to its incredible performance but also because my subject matter of late has been dark, in every sense……this camera along with the 35mm Summilux f/1.4 Asph FLE make a formidable team, one I’m finding difficult to break up despite the other lenses available to me.

In the last week I took the opportunity to visit the theatre once more, this time with a view to having a closer look at the higher ISO’s on the Leica M Monochrom. With nothing specific planned we decided to do some impromptu “Scary portraits” by utilising the fixed stage lighting and a borrowed LED torch which on occasion I managed to hold in my teeth whist shooting. Clearly, this is far from ideal but it did actually work out reasonably well and I’ll be adding a torch to my bag for those occasions where you just need a some additional light.

Even though this show is very dark I still found myself not needing to push the camera beyond ISO 3200, even then it was artificially so and I could probably have shot at 1600, but as I wanted to see a little more from the Monochrom I went ahead. I also continue to deliberately underexpose by 1/3 of a stop to as much as 1 stop on occasion, I feel I’m really getting to grips with this particular Monochrom idiosyncrasy and as there really is so much detail in the shadows of these MM files that there is absolutely no point in risking blown highlights. I also wanted to take a closer look at what I would describe as being the Monochrom’s digital grain.

These images were all shot as JPEG’s, this was something I’d not yet tried on the MM and I was very curious to see the results, I always found the B&W JPEG’s from the M9 to be very pleasing, as you’d expect the MM files were even richer.

Please remember to click on the image to see a better quality rendition.


Scary Faces – No 1 – Leica M Monochrom – 35mm Summilux f/1.4 Asph FLE – ISO 800 – 1/180 Sec

Scary Faces - No 1

Scary Faces – No 1 – 100% Crop at ISO 800 – YOU MUST CLICK IT TO SEE FULL 100%

ISO 800 Crop

I’m absolutely loving the sharpness and detail from the Monochrom and 35mm Summilux f/1.4 Asph FLE, traces of what I would describe as the Monochrom’s distinctive “digital grain” are just apparent at ISO 800, this shot was taken in total darkness and illuminated by the LED torch only.


Scary Faces – No 2 – Leica M Monochrom – 35mm Summilux f/1.4 Asph FLE – ISO 1250 – 1/125 Sec

Scary Faces - No 2– 

Scary Faces – No 3 – Leica M Monochrom – 35mm Summilux f/1.4 Asph FLE – ISO 1250 – 1/125 Sec

 Scary Faces - No 3

Scary Faces – No 4 – Leica M Monochrom – 35mm Summilux f/1.4 Asph FLE – ISO 1250 – 1/125 Sec

 Scary Faces - No 4

The image above will be a favorite of mine for a long time to come, I’d say these are some of the richest blacks I’ve achieved so far with the Monochrom, there is still plenty to learn and a lot more experimenting to be done but the progress has been satisfying so far. Despite being shot in JPEG the images still exhibit a huge tonal range and whilst I don’t think I’d ever use them straight out of the camera the PP certainly only took 1-2 minutes each to process.


Scary Faces – No 5 – Leica M Monochrom – 35mm Summilux f/1.4 Asph FLE – ISO 1250 – 1/180 Sec 

Scary Faces - No 5

Scary Faces – No 6 – Leica M Monochrom – 35mm Summilux f/1.4 Asph FLE – ISO 1250 – 1/250 Sec

 Scary Faces - No 6

Scary Faces – No 7 – Leica M Monochrom – 35mm Summilux f/1.4 Asph FLE – ISO 1250 – 1/180 Sec

 Scary Faces - No 7

Scary Faces – No 8 – Leica M Monochrom – 35mm Summilux f/1.4 Asph FLE – ISO 1250 – 1/180 Sec

Scary Faces - No 8– 

Scary Faces – No 9 – Leica M Monochrom – 35mm Summilux f/1.4 Asph FLE – ISO 1250 – 1/250 Sec

 Scary Faces - No 9

Scary Faces – No 9 – 100% Crop at ISO 1250 (click it)

ISO 1250 Crop


To me this crop at ISO 1250 is indistinguishable from the ISO 800 crop in terms of “digital grain”. In fact, I’d actually say it’s superior to the ISO 800 image, I don’t have enough insight in to this camera yet to give a categorical reason for that and I’ll definitely be looking closely at future images. Once again the detail is quite staggering.


Scary Faces – No 10 – Leica M Monochrom – 35mm Summilux f/1.4 Asph FLE – ISO 1250 – 1/90 Sec

Scary Faces - No 10 –

Scary Faces – No 11 – Leica M Monochrom – 35mm Summilux f/1.4 Asph FLE – ISO 1250 – 1/250 Sec

Scary Faces - No 11

This particular image brings a smile to my face, it’s most definitely enhanced by the third face in the background!!


Scary Faces – No 12 – Leica M Monochrom – 35mm Summilux f/1.4 Asph FLE – ISO 3200 – 1/180 Sec 

Scary Faces - No 12

Scary Faces – No 12 – 100% Crop at ISO 3200

ISO 3200 Crop

Usually we’d be referring to digital noise when looking at images shot in these lighting conditions and ISO’s but whilst that may be technically correct it does not seem fair to use this term when analysing the Monochrom images. I prefer to refer to this as digital grain, it’s certainly a more accurate description, whilst it is not directly comparable to film grain it is certainly closer to that than digital noise in my opinion. I’m sure plenty would disagree with this statement…..


Scary Faces – No 13 – Leica M Monochrom – 35mm Summilux f/1.4 Asph FLE – ISO 2500 – 1/750 Sec

Scary Faces - No 13– 

Scary Faces – No 13 – Leica M Monochrom – 35mm Summilux f/1.4 Asph FLE – ISO 1600 – 1/125 Sec

Scary Faces - No 14

Scary Faces – No 15 – Leica M Monochrom – 35mm Summilux f/1.4 Asph FLE – ISO 1250 – 1/350 Sec

Scary Faces - No 15

With each passing week I grow more competent and excited in equal measure with the MM, I can’t tell you how pleased I am that I talked myself in to this purchase. I’m sure there are many more out there going through the same thought processes I did when considering this camera, all I can say to those people is go for it, you will not regret it.

As I initially mentioned I’ve been finding it difficult to break the MM partnership with the 35 Lux but in order to further my learning and enjoyment of this camera I am going to need to, I’ve got lots of vintage glass to try and there are photographers out there already getting excellent results. I’ve also got some exciting new lenses in the pipeline, certainly one of these has the ability to force me to ditch the 35 Lux for a while……..

Once more I’d like to thank the cast, crew and all those associated with the Tauranga Musical Theatre, your enthusiasm and willingness to participate in the making of these images is really evident in the photographs and most certainly appreciated. I’ve made no secret about my own feelings for this wonderful place, I look forward to capturing more moments and memories in the future.

Cheers, Jason.

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


  1. I have very limited knowledge of photography. I just wanted to say that some of these remind me of stills from Carnival of Souls. Nice!

  2. Jason, these are pretty incredible. I think the MM really does have something special going for it. It’s strange, as I looked at these, my brain stopped registering that they were black and white images, and simply saw them as images. …that probably makes absolutely no sense, but that’s as best as I can explain it. …another way of putting it is that if I were colorblind, this is how I’d imagine Id see the world.

  3. Hi Jason,

    You’ve been on a very productive run, my friend! Congratulations on another excellent set of images.

    As I’ve written elsewhere, you and Hugues and Ashwin (and Steve of course) have produced wonderful work with the Monochrom.

    Keep it up!



    • Thanks Peter

      The subject matter has been an issue for some….I’m happy to challenge myself and go with the flow.

      Appreciate your words.

      Cheers, Jason.

  4. Wonderful shots Jason, you’re clearly loving the experience of using this camera and it’s showing in the results.

    It’s great to see portraits taken on the fly with an improvised lighting setup, this just goes to show what can be achieved when the right tool is in skilled hands.

    There are some really interesting articles on your site/blog too. Your discover if this world of the theatre on your doorstep being one. It’s great that your hobby has led to new experiences and no doubt friendships too.

    I’ve been on the slippery slope to becoming bewitched by Leica gear for a while now, thanks to articles such as your own and a friend who has an M9. A year or two ago I had no idea what a rangefinder was, but have since bought a used M7 which is a wonderful camera, and can’t wait to have that same experience with digital. Using all kinds of weird and wonderful lenses is fascinating and yields unique results – from the lo-fi to the very finest optics around, there’s always a wow moment.

    As for the subject matter, nice to see people expressing themselves without inhibition or self-consciousness and sharing a collective interest! They make for some cracking images.

    Keep up the good work and keep sharing!

    – James

    • Thanks James

      And, thank you for taking the time to visit my site, you’ve really grasped what this is all about for me.

      Two years ago I had never used a rangefinder either, I have to admit to being a fan of many cameras but this is really where I feel at home.

      Cheers, Jason.

      • > I have to admit to being a fan of many cameras but this is really where I feel at home.

        – Wholeheartedly agree Jason. I think mixing up your toolkit keeps things fresh and interesting, makes you look at things differently and helps continue to develop skills.

        I love switching between using Lomo, Holga and Olympus Trip film cameras back to digital and more refined, predictable equipment. Happy accidents and shots you forgot you took are all part of the fun!

  5. @Jason: not a big fan of scary images either; they scare me. I’ve looked at these from a b&w digital image point of view, and I think they’re, again, very good. Jason knows his light and how to expose for it, and he doesn’t tire us with descriptions of endless pp, apparently needed to create an acceptable image.

    If a base RAW requires so much sliding to and fro of contrast, exposure, etc etc, there’s something wrong with that base image (as I find in many of my own b&w film scans).

    Looking forward to more theatre stuff Jason!

  6. Hi Steve
    I enjoyed your pictures very much, by saying “your” i mean you-the MM-and the 35LUX FLE
    When i looked at the jeans pic i felt it was taken with a macro lense , WOW !!

  7. To Jason: Great, great work mate!

    To Steve: OK, don’t post another MM post (even though I am not tired), unless you keep your “monochrom” section updated with pictures from time to time.

  8. Hi again Jason,

    Regarding Your comment in the post: “ISO 1250 is indistinguishable from the ISO 800 crop in terms of “digital grain” – Could the reason simply be that exposure was nailed perfectly in the higher ISO-shot? I mean it would at least explain it from a tech perspective. Again, the more I look at the shots the more little funky details pop up here and there and I thoroughly enjoyed them.

    Also I certainly dont think there’s to many B/W-shots here at Steves site… In fact perhaps its even quite balanced?


  9. Great shots.

    While I understand the concept of underexposing deliberately in order to not blow the highlights, it seems that that automatically creates a dull raw image which then requires a lot of PP to make it acceptable.

    How about going the other way, and exposing for the highlights (or even just exposing the scene ‘normally’) and demonstrate the differences in the end results?
    For example, take a controlled shot of the same scene three times – ‘correct’ exposure, under exposed, and over exposed. Then show the final PP’d result for each with the steps taken so we can see how much effort was required to get to the final result, as well as being able to judge which initial exposure gave the ‘best’ final result.

    Maybe take photos of three separate scenes – low contrast, regular contrast, high contrast – for a total of nine images to try to encompass the range of subjects encountered.

    • Hi jkwang

      I don’t see it as “Monochrom Fever”, certainly there are some that appreciate it and are very excited by what it has to offer and there are those that view it with disdain. We’re all different and that’s what makes photography such a joy.

      “Now let’s see some beautiful color pictures” – I may be wrong but I can’t help but think you would not have said this if the images were from another camera? Steve’s posts pretty much alternate between colour and B&W so I can’t see any huge bias either way.

      Cheers, Jason.

      • B&W maybe appealing before color film/picture became available. After so many years of improvements, the results keep on getting better and better. It’s more enjoyable to look at the color pictures because it closer to the reality. Besides, I don’t think all these people use charcoal to do their makeups.

        • Click Monochrom pics link, wished it was color.

          The point about reality can be argued, you want color cause life has color , video has color motion and sound, wouldn’t that make you prefer video over photos? There is no shortage of color photos on the net so really I don’t think you been deprived of color photos.

          I take both (mainly cause I have a color sensor) and some photos look better in black and white, some better in color. I find black and white has the ability to portray peoples character much better, by removing color we remove distractions. If you’re taking a picture to show a pretty pink dress or a green leaf then yes color is the best. If you just want to take a picture of a grand parent smiling at their grand child, I’d choose black and white.

          • Tone is basic. Dark, light, dark, light, dark, light…tone is BASIC. Color is an entrire new world.

          • Jason,

            You have good point about grand parent and grand children. Maybe you can make the picture in a hybrid manner.

            As for the pictures you shared here, they look more stealthy (like marines) than scary.

          • I don’t have the first idea why your following this particular post but I thought I would point out to you that Jason H is a different person entirely….

  10. Hi Matthias,
    Also two of my favorite lenses on the Monochrom (assuming you mean the 35mm f2.8 version) from the Mandler-era. In what way does the 50’cron APO impress You? I havent even seen one in the flesh so to speak but have obviously seen samples online as others have too. What do You mean by ‘stunningly different experience’? I would expect it to handle like any other modern 50’cron except offcourse for the added extreme corner-sharpness…

  11. I went the other way and haven’t used one of my modern ASPH lenses on the MM yet, despite having had the opportunity of testing the new APO 50 at some special occasions, which is a stunningly different experience (you’ll just have to believe me on that).
    The last two months I solely used my Summicron 50 Rigid Chrome (v2 from 1962) and now even a Summaron 35 (from 1950). My personal approach normally is to let a certain lens stay on my M for a longer interval to maximize my learning curve. – Excited now to try the lenses of my modern Leica set soon, especially as many seem to find this challenging.

    Thank’s for the many excellent articles here about the subject.

    Matthias, Switzerland

    • Hey Matthias

      I have a que of lenses ready to try out on the MM….I think the process of using one lens for a prolonged period and building up an understanding is certainly much easier for me and I share that view.

      Cheers, Jason.

  12. Great stuff, Jason. I love how you are capturing the detail and rendition, and providing a power to these images through lighting, imagery, and processing.

  13. Great shots with great tonality.
    Given the lack of f-stop information, am I to assume all pictures here were shot wide open?

    Ivo Hula

  14. Thanks for posting these fantastic shots I also took the plunge last Friday and took my M9, 18mm super elmar, and Leica 18mm finder along with a 75mm summarit, to my local Leica dealer Stephens Premier in Manchester. UK for him to sell it on my behalf so that I can get my hands on the new Leica MM and from what I have read and the wonderful photographs like yours I don’t think I will be disappointed.

    Thanks Again

    Paul Jones

    • Thanks Paul

      You will love the MM, I’m not sure what other cameras you have but I see my MM ultimately working alongside and complementing my M9 and film M’s. I realise thats quite a luxury but the point I’m making is that whilst the MM is dominating my time at the moment I think it will settle down. Also I still need colour and nothing beats the beauty of film.

      Cheers, Jason.

      • Hi Jason, after selling the M9 (only took it in last Fri not sold yet) the new Leica Monochrom will be my only camera as not that rich, and I had to sell a couple of Leica lenses as well as the M9 so I could get one, but I hope it will last me many many years and will most probably be my last major camera purchase as 56 years of age now.
        If I ever come into some money again in the future I can always get a second hand Leica ME if I wanted too but find myself drawn more and more to black and white these days anyway.
        The new Leica does not interest me as not into live view and video – like to keep it simple.


  15. Jason,

    Excellent results again! Thanks for posting. I agree with you about the 35/1.4 FLE. I can’t seem to take this lens off the MM. It is a great pair. Another lens that I have really enjoyed is the 21/3.4. Looking forward to seeing more of your work as you explore some other lenses.


    Lee W

    • Thanks Lee,

      I had no idea it would prove so difficult to take off! The experimenting starts in earnest…

      No experience with the 21mm focal length, my first foray in to this will be when the VC 21/1.8 arrives.

      Appreciate your comments.

      Regards, Jason.

  16. Not so much tired of MM articles, just tired of the “freak show” articles with costumes/zombies/tatoos etc. This is a great site for freak show photo shoots of weird people…..

    • Come on Jonny, deep breaths……:-)

      Even if you don’t like the subject matter of a particular set of images I dare say most of us usually find there is something constructive to take from a particular post.

      Your alienating quite a few people in that statement…..anyone with a tattoo is a freak, well that’s me and I dare say quite a lot of others, I found some recent shots of Maori on Steve’s site, also with tattoo’s so I guess indigenous peoples are also freaks….? Those associated with the performing arts are freaks by your definition, the numbers are racking up……..

      Would this have been my first choice of subject, probably not, it did however surprise me and made me realise that in keeping an open mind I’m on the right track. Just something to consider.

        • Be careful making jokes here, Jonny, lest you get the patronising “deep breaths” (complete with emoticon) treatment (as if your comments were way ott), and absurd suggestion that “your (sic) alienating quite a few people..”.

          Now there’s a way to slap down critical comments; not quite raaacism, but its live-in partner, Giving Offence.

          Well Jonny, if you and I and a heap of others can only critique without causing offence to someone or some group, it’s a sad day for freedom of thought and expression.

          Must say I was a little weary of zombies too, but probaby not enough to comment, until I saw the response your observation evoked.

  17. Jason, you are really cooking with the MM mate. Loving those rich tones. The images are beautiful. I have not yet got my teeth into the MM due to work commitments, but like you, the times I have used it, I don’t want to put It down… Want to shoot the he’ll out of it. It is an addictive camera the and what a wonderful way to make b&w images… Form factor, RF, and the amazing lenses.

    Jpegs, hey? Man, that is amazing!

    Thank you again Jason for this wonderful set and for sharing your exploration and MM knowledge with us. One can clearly see the progress you are going through and I will continue to follow your work with this camera on your blog.Thanks Steve for posting yet another great contribution in your wonderful site.

    Be well and good shooting

    • Hey Jorge,

      I’m really flattered by your comments and I have to say I have only recently discovered your work but it is certainly very skilled.

      The MM is a very addictive camera and in my opinion it rewards you handsomely once you start to find your feet with it.

      Be sure to share your images in good time.

      Cheers, Jason.

  18. There is no doubt you have got the hang of this…….!

    Also the detail is incredible given the lighting.

    Can’t believe you Poms rolled the ABs….as a Wallaby supporter happy to say we still got one over England!

    • Cheers Andy.

      There is much more detail in the original files.

      Yes, we can live on that victory for some time to come……roll on the Six Nations 🙂

      Cheers, Jason.

  19. Hi Jason,

    Some nice shots with great light & atmosphere in some if not most!

    I myself never regretted it and didn’t even have to talk myself into it;o) I practically knew this one was for me… In fact I would even stretch it so far as to say that it resembles almost a semi-religious experience every time I pick it up and go out – hahaha – ok, thats pushing it… seriously It’s the camera that makes me remember the last christmas as a kid when I still believed in Santa – some serious experience of awe… It’s a little weird and perhaps it ‘wears off’ although I doubt it – my XPro1 that I also do enjoy never imposed these ‘feelings’ at the day of purchase or in daily use, allthough its a very capable camera? Neither has any of my much to many previous cameras. Including film-dittos – OhOh, here we go;o))

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