Onward and Upward Six Months with the Leica M Monochrom by Ashwin Rao


Onward and Upward

Six Months with the Leica M Monochrom

By Ashwin Rao

Hi, my friends! It’s been quite a while since my last post here. I have actually been quite busy photographing the world around me. Much of the buzz over this time has centered about the Leica M, but I wanted to take a break from all of that to share some further images and brief thoughts on the Leica M Monochrom, which has been a near constant companion for this past 6 months in my photographic journey of discovery. As a disclaimer, the report that follows is entirely subjective and “real world”, as Steve would describe it. For more technical reviews, many others do a far better job, and I prefer not to re-tread their efforts).

Leica MM and Nikkor S.C. 5 cm f/1.4 LTM


Leica MM and Leitz Rigid Summicron 50 mm f/2


So what have I found? Well, for one, I really enjoy seeing the world in monochrome, and this camera has served as moth my muse and the tool by which to find new ways to engage that muse. This camera has prompted me to refocus my vision away from color and towards capturing light and dark, brightness and shadow, and finding hidden details in this simplified, yet complex view of the world in front of me. For this purpose, the Leica M Monochrom is unparalleled, in my opinion. Much Internet debate and discussion has centered about this camera’s strengths and limitations (BW only, blows out highlights, carries on the M9’s twitchy behaviors in practice). I can only provide my own take on the camera, born out of extensive personal experience. I can tell you, firmly, that the Monochrom is my favorite M to date, and should you consider Black and White imagery to be a focus for your efforts, and you have the funds available to pay for this expensive beast, it’s truly worth owning. It’s inspired me over and over again, day in and day out, While I loved my Leica M3 for its incredible build quality and amazing viewfinder, it cannot compare. While I loved my Leica M2 for its clean lines and mechanistic and operational simplicity, it doesn’t compare. The MP, for its sheer beauty, build quality, and classic and elemental utilization, it cannot compare. The, M8, for its clarity of vision (and its many faults), cannot compare. And the M9, for its brilliant CCD sensor and lovely color rendition, cannot compare…Leica M, well, I haven’t had the privilege, but I doubt that it will compare for my type of imagery? Why, you may ask, do none of these cameras, hold a dime to the M Monochrom, for me? Read on…


Leica MM and Nikkor 10.5 cm f/2.5 LTM



Versatility in files:

Well, the M Monochrom provides incredible versatility and file malleability within the spectrum of black and white photography. When working within the mid-tones, in capturing scenes on the street, where such dynamic range come into play, the camera performs admirably. Through ISO 5000, with reasonable light, it’s fantastic, and noise/”grain” is not objectionable. When the light is poorer, noise does become more objectionable, and files do start to suffer. Occasional banding creeps in with poorly exposed scenes at ISO 6400 and beyond. Yet, for some many moments when asking to see in the dark, the MM has come through for me in spades. I am honestly shocked that simply removing the Bayer Color array from the M9’s sensor has resulted in a camera that is much more sensitivity and responsive to light, but it is truly the case that the MM represents one’s best choice for black and white imagery in the 35 mm RF world.


Leica MM and Leitz Elmar-C 90 mm f/4


Leica MM and Canon 85 mm f/1.8 LTM



It’s not film.

What this camera IS Not, is a replacement for film shooters. It has its own look. Grain detail is fine and pleasing through much of its ISO range, but the structure and pattern to that grain remains digital, when I pixel peep. While there appears to be more depth and tonality to the grain that I see from my MM files, the depth of film emulsions and grain isn’t the same or even comparable.

While the camera cannot quite reproduce the film look (yes, all of you film photographers out there are safe, but you knew that already, right?), it provides a level of flexibility that has allowed my creative vision to flourish. While pixel peeping leads to the conclusion above, I am easily able to reproduce various film looks for standard prints up to 17-22 inches, thanks to the camera’s incredible resolution and tonal depth, coupled with careful post-processing though LR4 and Silver Efex. In fact, I have been able to fool some experienced friends in the photo world with prints that looked “like film”…the files are good enough….


Leica MM and Canon 35 mm f/2.8 LTM


Oh, those lovely older lenses…

One unexpected turn for me has been a return to using classic M mount and LTM lenses on the M monochrome. I have found that modern aspherical glass, while rendering incredible detail, poses challenges for me. I find the look of lenses such as the Leica 35 mm f/1.4 FLE to be nearly too sharp and “modern/clinical” for the MM’s sensor. I found this difficult to believe at first, since some of these lenses are my favorites to use on the M9. On the MM, however, I find images to be “perfect to a fault”, causing images to lose character. I was very surprised by this experience, and have found that returning to a set of older lenses has tamed the camera and its sensor, providing with more creative flexibility than I would have otherwise imagined.

What is it about older glass and the MM, you may ask? Well, I have my theories? For one, it may simply be personal preference. I am used to seeing a certain aesthetic in black and white images, which comes from years of experience in viewing monographs of famous photos, Life Magazine exposes, and classic prints, and I was not seeing that same aesthetic in using aspherical lenses on the MM. By using older glasses, with lower macro-contrast, I have been able to achieve that look, be it vintage or classic, that I felt that I needed to fulfill my vision for this camera.

Classic lenses tend to exhibit both lower macro- and microcontrast, for a variety of reasons. Partly, older glass doesn’t resolve detail quite like modern glass, but the truth of the matter, is that for the most part, many of these older lenses render detail just fine. Further, the coatings employed in years gone by, may well be more suited to black and white imagery that the coatings present on modern lenses, which are geared more towards optimal color correction (i.e. APO-chromatic lenses)…and such color correct isn’t important in BW. Those same older coating seem to provide more range within the mid-tones, that provides even more flexibility when pushing, pulling, dodging, and burning MM files.

Leica MM and Canon 50 mm f/1.8 LTM


Leica MM and Canon 100 mm f/2 LTM


For me, using old glass is the way to go, but for others, they will find that modern glass is appealing for their own work. It’s a personal preference, but one towards which I have seen many monochrome shooters gravitate.

You may ask : what older lenses do you favor on the M Monochrom? I have enjoyed Sonnar, Planar, and Double Gaussian lenses on the MM, and all have their looks, plus sides, and down sides. Well, for me, here’s a preferred list of lenses to consider for your M Monochrom:


28 mm

1. Avenon/Kobalux 28 mm f/3.5 LTM

2. Leica 28 mm f/2.0 Summicron Asph (renders very well on the MM, with a rich files that’s not overly contrasty)


35 mm

1. Leitz Summicron 35 mm f/2 8-element (1st version summicron)

2. Leitz Summaron 35 mm f/2.8 lens

3. Canon 35 mm f/2.0 LTM

4. Canon 35 mm f/2.8 LTM

5. Leica 35 mm f/1.4 asph pre-FLE (one lens that I find works very well despite its more modern heritage)


50 mm

1. Jupiter 3/Zeiss 5 cm f/1.5 LTM

2. Nikkor S.C 5 cm f/1.4 LTM

3. Nikkor S.C. 5 cm f/2 LTM

4. Canon 50 mm f/1.8 LTM or 50 mm f/1.4 LTM

5. Leitz Rigid Summicron 50 mm f/2 (M Mount, version 2 Summicron)- MY Favorite lens on the M Monochrom


90 mm and beyond

1. Leitz Summicron 90 mm f/2 (2nd version) Rich and robust files

2. Canon 85 mm f/1.8 LTM and/or Canon 100 mm f/2 LTM (amazing on the MM, rendering of greyscales has blown my mind).

3. Nikkor 10.5 cm f/2.5 LTM

4. Leitz 90 mm f/4 Elmar-C or original Elmar. The Elmar-C has really surprised me as a tiny and terrific performer capable of matching the MM’s resolution.


The nice thing is that many of these lenses are reasonably affordable, so if you’ve just blown your savings on the camera body, lenses should not hurt you too much in your wallet, purse, or the like 😉


Leica MM and Leica 28 mm f/2 Asph



Leica MM and Leitz Rigid Summicron 50 mm f/2



Practice makes “perfect”

The M monochrome has taught me much about how to see in new ways, and much of this process has come through trial and error. When I first posted my images from the camera, many complained that the files were muddy and grey. Others loved the files. For me, I have learned to stretch my processing to get a look that’s more familiar for me and comfortable, that involves more contrast and less grey. I have had to practice, learn to use filters (at times, but not all of the time), and find comfortable lenses (see above) to create my vision. I have had to throw out assumptions about black and white films born out of BW conversions made from M8 and M9 files.

Ultimately, I now find that M9 files are hard to go back to for B&W conversions. They just don’t have the flexibility and range of Monochrom files, and seem to break apart more readily. It’s funny, that at this time, I find B&W conversions harder to perform on M9 and M8 files…go figure…

Leica MM and Nikkor S.C. 5 cm f/1.4 LTM



I feel that for me, there are no limits when it comes to BW imagery when using the Leica M Monochrom. It produces beautiful and useable files through most of its ISO range (I avoid pushing beyond ISO 6400 personally). It works great with classic rangefinder lenses to produce a rich look. It plays differently with modern glass, in ways that I don’t always enjoy, but that I am sure others may well love. For the black and white shooter looking to expand his or her range, this is a great option, albeit at a steep financial cost. Yet for me, it’s been worth it.

My journey continues….


Leica MM and Jupiter-3 50 mm f/1.5 LTM lens



Leica MM and Leitz Summicron 90 mm f/2 (version 2)



Leica MM and Canon 50 mm f/1.4 LTM



Leica MM and Leitz Rigid Summicron 50 mm f/2



Leica MM and Avenon 28 mm f/3.5 LTM




  1. Dear Ashwin, thank you so much for the helpful comments on your favorite lenses for the MM. Also thanks for the great pictures. Did you try the 35 Summicron and the 28 Elmarit (both latest versions). I’m thinking about trading in my 35 Lux (FLE) to achieve a more classic look. Would also be interested in the performance of the 90 Elmarit (11807).
    Munich, Germany

  2. Amazing pictures, Ashwin. You make spectacular pictures look easy – you are truly an artist, my friend. Thanks for sharing your work and your candid thoughts.

  3. Great photos! I just love the vintage lens rendering.

    I am new to digital Leica and just got a M8 with an old 5cm Summitar, the B&W result is stunning.
    My first m-mount was a Ricoh GXR but the file was very different.

  4. Great photos! I just love the vintage lens rendering 🙂
    I am new to digital Leica and just owned a M8 with an old 5cm Summitar and the B&W result is stunning. My first m-mount was a Ricoh GXR but very diffident!

  5. Ashwin,

    Nice pictures. returning to B&W is something I may do with a used MM a few years down the line.

    Keep up the good work.

    • Good call, Calvin. Yes, the MM is incredible….and will continue to be incredible. It’s a camera worth having for the BW shooter.

    • Yeah, those guys are always there :), usually by the Starbucks, so the location was unique, closer to the fish tossers.

  6. “While I loved my Leica M3 for its incredible build quality and amazing viewfinder, it cannot compare.”
    Ashwin, would you mind explaining that statement?
    I would contend that the Monochrom, while an interesting and unique product, simply cannot be compared to the build quality and versatility of the M3.
    Just to give you some examples, the M3 can also shoot color pictures! And infrared too! and paired with a 50mm Summicron, it is extremely hard to beat it in black and white, if you stay below 1600 ISO. And it leaves you with very a convenient memory support called a negative that, if you so feel inclined, you might be able to scan a thousand times with increasing quality, year after year.

    But seriously, I see here some nice images, interesting photography, nothing really amazing and nothing that would convince me that this camera is anything special. Unfortunately, I wanted to believe in it.

    • No worries. The M digitals are actually built to much more tight specs than the M3, from what I have read, but the M3 is entirely mechanical, and you are right, can accomodate color and IR film. I think that the MM can’t really compare to the M3, if you catch my drift, nor can the M3 compare with the MM. Different animals. I find that for me, as a primarily digital photog who has no film or developing equipment/darkroom set up, the convenience of the MM, coupled with the file quality and the ability to convert to B&W and make images that most would be hard pressed to distinguish from film at moderate print sizes (13 in x 19 in, or even 17-22 in), with incredible DR and an ISO of 320 that is incredibly clean (think PanF or Efke 25), it’s a unique beast and cannot be compared to film cameras.

      As for my photos, I appreciate your feedback. Only you can convince yourself of the merits of such a camera. I’m just another voice whispering in your ear, but it sounds like BW film is perfect for you. No need to think further than that…

      • That was a great reply Ashwin, thanks!
        I think I’ll keep on using the M3 until you folks get tired of your Monochroms and I can buy one for peanuts… 🙂

        • Lol. Good call. I am doubtful that I’ll get tired of this camera, but we all know how that goes 😉

      • But my comment was aimed at the logics of your presentation. You named a few cameras that cannot be compared to the Monochrom (M3, M2, MP, M8, M9). It seemed to me that you implied that the comparison was impossible due to the Monochrom being superior, better, out of the other camera’s range. Your explanation says that you just cannot find common parameters for a comparison. That’s a different stance alltogether.
        One last remark: the images on this page would never be mistaken as film (not by me, at least): they all just have that digital perfect look that can be obtained from any modern camera with decent lenses and a good BW conversion.

        • Sorry, I was surprised that you were the first to comment on that. Occasionally, I have a flare for the dramatic. To me, the MM is my favorite digital M to date, and it really can’t compare to the other cameras listed for any number of reasons. I disagree that the MM results and files created can be reproduced by any modern camera, but that’s the whole point of my article….sorry to disagree on that last point, but I very much do disagree. The MM’s files are different, more adjustability and different editing workflow, and I find the files more robust to adustment and tweaking. The end result may not look dramatically different on a monitor at websized prints, but on paper, printed, there’s a certain impact there, and I don’t think it’s all placebo effect….

  7. Hi Ashwin,
    great images and interpretations!

    With so many LTM-lensens in the arsenal, any suggestion for LTM-to-M adapter to use? Do you equip each lens with an adapter, or do you unscrew in field?

    Thanks for your time and effort – much appreciated!

    • Hi Helged,
      I would recommend getting LTM adapters for most of your lenses, rather than swapping out. Kipon makes some decent M adapters with 6 bit coding wells, as do metabones…both good options. Voigtlander also makes nice LTM-M adapters.

  8. WOnderful images Ashwin.
    I really admire the fact that you follow and stick with your love and belief with B & W photography
    All the best

    • Max, that is almost frighteningly good, particularly viewed in original size.

      It’s the 3; how do you find it works, especially in portrait work, without a viewfinder? Was this a studio and a tripod?

      • Image was taken by Thomas Marthinsen, not me. Thought I’d put it here since it’s a example of stellar B&W work. I came across it in reading reviews of DP3 Merrill.

        I’m thinking of getting one and trying out for myself.

        • The DP3 Merrill looks cool. I am not a fan of the camera’s operational set up and low ISO limitation (it’s solid through ISO 200 basically, and 400 is okay), and wish that sigma files would play with LR4)…but yes, despite its faults, it is probably well worth the investment for a certain type work…

  9. Hi Ashwin,
    Your collection of photos using various legacy glass make me want to buy more old lenses for my NEX-6 with M adapter. Enjoy seeing your progress with the MM and keep having fun! I like the old man and the bird. Headed off to Japan in two weeks and hope to get some good shots (I’ve been fighting with myself to figure out which lenses from the arsenal for my travel bag). Maybe some day I’ll post two or three photo on here – if Steve allows 🙂

    • Thanks so much, Donald. I have found that focusing on BW has really brought a new focus for me, and I am glad that it appears to be translating to solid images. Thank, Donald, and you, my friend, ROCK as well !!!

  10. Ashwin,

    Great work. You have such a classic eye and, over your trials with this camera, have achieved a fine, classic rendering, one that’s “not too digital” IMHO.

    Thank you for sharing your work and thoughts,


    • Hey buddy, great as always to hear from you. I am secretly trying to get people to snag MM’s LOL, but seriously, it’s always good to share and have old friends comment. All the best, R!

  11. Thanks for this, Ashwin.

    A couple of comments, if I may.

    I have never understood the comparison people make with film, or the need to comment on it. B&W Monochrom images are digital. They are not film, and they really don’t need to aspire to be film or film-like. The assumption is that film is in some way perfect or better. It is neither – it is just different.

    I agree with your comment about “muddy” images. A lot of early Monochrom images were just that. Then people discovered the contrast slider, and a whole new world opened up. The thing that I have discovered with my Monochrom is how much detail is in the files, and how fine the resolution is – it’s fantastic. I have seen no point in doing a B&W conversion of my M9 files since my Monochrom arrived.

    Some of the images you post look to me like they might have been better in colour – particularly the swimming pool shot. It’s a nice image, but in colour, with only the pool blue, the tiles and the swimmer, I suspect it might have had more impact … I am, of course, guessing.


    • Hi John, thanks for the comments. The color vs BW thing is always a challenge. For me, I just try to be happy with the tool in hand, and at the moment, I most often pick up the MM. I do love my M9, and do use it regularly, though, truth be told, it needs more work, for being such a fantastic camera.

      However, I am learning so much from the MM, that I am happy to pursue BW for a while. Regarding the swimmer shot, I got several posts stating the exact opposite of your sentiment, that color would have been a net subtraction for that image, so I think it may be one of personal preference, and I can see how you may envision a better color solution.

      THe biggest challenge of the MM is not being allowed the option of color…In some ways, that’s restricting, but most of the time, it’s liberating. Thanks so much for your considered throughts. They help!

    • I totally agree John. With a digital camera one should aim for what that camera is capable of in b&w, not try to duplicate a “film” look, either through the application of “filters” or otherwise.

      Apparently the Monochrom is a difficult machine to master, but as photographers gain more experience the images, as these, keep getting better.

      The use of old lenses shows how much we try to achieve a particular rendering, almost in total contrast to how these lenses would measure up. Sharper is not necessarily better, nor is higher contrast, or the almost total absence of aberrations in the lens design.

      Interesting stuff!



  12. Ashwin,
    Great work! The B&W “look” of the clown girl’s hair is fantastic!
    I am waiting for ” Onward and upward 12 months with Leica MM”…
    Thank you for sharing your work!

  13. It was great to see the look of older lenses. I am a great fan of Canon RF lens and find they have a unique character. My favorite is still the 50mm F1.4 and the tiny but beautiful 100mm F3.5, but after seeing your images using the 85mm and faster 100mm, I am going to keep my eyes open. This is a lovely set of images…!

    • Geoff, I am with you. Canon RF lenses are great, and keep up with Leitz/Leica glass of the same era, in some cases exceeding performance…The 50 mm f/1.4 is great, as is the 100 mm f/3.5….I would think that the 85 mm f/1.8 and 100 mm f/2 would be lovely additions to your 50 mm f/1.4, in terms of speed, rendering, and reach. Thanks so much!

  14. hi ashwin , wonderful article …i am yet to acquire the used m9 ….the MM and M ( intentional CAPITAL letters are for those ifs and ifs of affordability ;)….but whenever whenever i get my hands on ,your and steves articles will be of great help …keep it up 🙂

  15. I would love to see you put together a cohesive portfolio because very few if any of these images demonstrate good composition or artistic vision. The technical specifications of the images taken do not redeem the images themselves.

    • Thanks for your insights. You are entitled to your own opinion. I am always working to improve, but it seems that most others appreciate my efforts. I would appreciate some specific constructive feedback, if you’d be willing, about what exactly you see in my images that lack composition or artistic vision.

    • I do like the first two images posted here. But in general, one sees so many insipid, vapid images these days posted on photo blogs (not pointing to this website in particular) that just focus on the technicals, that its easy to lose sight of the bigger picture. Lately, it all seems to be about Sharpness and resolution of your camera and I’m caught up in it as well.

      But it easy to criticise. In my photography, I’m struggling myself with figuring out my artistic vision and putting together a cohesive portfolio. I find, it takes some good clear thinking to get an image that I would look at again and again.

      I’m trying to learn by looking at the work of well known photographers and painters. It’s quite tough.

      • It’s best to study the masters, and maybe take a class, and find a way to develop your own style. My goal is not to please everyone, but to enjoy the process and get the most out of myself. Finding your own vision is often a struggle, as you have said, and finding cohesion within a portfolio is even moreso challenging. I wish you the best in your journey, Karm

  16. I just wanted to add, funny how different people see differently..
    I only use the 35 LUX ASPH FLE and i love its contrasty crispy results
    I too love my MM , i think it is my favorite camera ever,

    • Nice to know. I’d love to try both on the MM. I have had my eyes on a 50 mm f/2.8 elmar (original) as I like the lower contrast look, though the modern elmar 50 is also quite nice on the MM

  17. Superb Article and photographs Ashwin I really like your approach to picture taking. It would be interesting to see how the “classic” modern lenses like ZM, VM and Leica Summarit perform on the MM but I have to say your lens choices certainly render brilliantly. Keep up the great work!

    • Thanks, Peter! I have posted before on the 35 summaric and ZM C Sonnar, both which I love on the MM. I also adore the look for the pre FLE 35 lux asph, though the FLE is slightly less to my liking. It’s a matter of taste, but I enjoy the lower contrast and smoother rendition

    • Thanks so much, Tony!

      I have purchased many a time from Popflash, and have always been thrilled. If I were to get a second MM, it’d be from them or Robert J 😉

  18. Whatever you are doing, keep doing it. These are the easily the best yet of the many great photos you have posted on Steve’s site.

    Common wisdom says ‘the gear does not matter’. But often the gear inspires something in the photographer, which is not about its inherent technical capability but about the whole gestalt including the mind and heart of the person holding the camera.

    Thanks for posting!

    • Thanks, Robert. I agree wholeheartedly, while Gear doesn’t really matter, it does service to enhance creative vision in its own way….for example, I feel much more inspired, having full manual controls available in my M’s, where there’s really no other option….great point.

  19. Hi Ashwin. Great article. Congrats on the great photos. I am curious if you have ever used the Whitewall.com B&W print service that for some time came exclusively for M buyers only. I think now it is open to everybody but I am curious about the M files printed digitally on Ilford B&W paper. Any experience with that? Thanks D!RK

    • Hi Dirk,
      I have not yet used the Whitewall.com service….I mainly print at home on my Epson 3880…and I am more thna happy. I typically use Hannemuhle Fine Arty Baryta 325 g paper. THat compliments the tonality and textures the files well, in my mind…

  20. Amazing set of shots, and an interesting insight into older lenses.

    I am just beginning to explore the ones I have for my D600, and today was a great day, as I brought both the famous Nikkor 80-200/4.0 (in mint condition, if well used), and the Nikkor 400/5.6 (which unfortantely has its anti-reflex coating on the front lens damaged, by some unknown previous owner) while visiting my favorite photo shop. To this I added new stuff: an new 28/1.8G and a Kenko 1.4X, but in total, a really nice mix.

  21. Hi Ashwin,
    Great write-up and great shots!
    Can’t believe 1/2 year has already passed in the company of MM – but then again so many Fuji’s and Leitz lenses inbetween has probably diverted me somewhat from dedicating myself fully to this wonderfull camera… Thats a true luxury-‘problem’ I realize;o)
    I’ve said it in an earlier post of Yours and I say it again; it’s almost uncanny how Your selections/preferences on the MM is similar to mine – even down to the lenses You praise the highest…. for me its the 21/3.4 SA – 28 ‘cron ASPH – 35/2.8 Summaron – 50/2 Rigid ‘cron Type1, Version2 – 90/2 ‘cron VIII (not II though;o)
    Give me a buzz if and when You’re ‘springcleaning’ and deciding to ‘ditch’ the Canon 100/2 LTM or even the 85/1.8 LTM;o)) – the last picture of the little girl is simply lovely and the ‘geisha’ as well….
    Best regards

    • Thanks, klehmann…you are right, we do have the same taste. I’d love to have a 21 SA, but it’s a pricey bugger. I need to find a beater with great optics, and then I’ll give it a try…I’ll keep you posted if I ever ditch the Canon LTM longs, but right now, they are firmly in my kit. All the best!

      • Hi Ashwin,
        Don’t forget on Your future 21SA hunt to go for a late series black version (post s/n 2473251) for the improved coating but also compatibility with lightmeter-arm on M5/CL. You can have it modified but these serial-versions had a small cutout in the inner part of the 21SA from the factory to fit nicely and not interfere…. Offcourse there’s no TTL-metering but then again; who really cares;o) Ooops – and thanks for any future headups on the Canons (think I noticed You snatched the 85/1.8 up over at RF not to long ago;o)). Looking forward to any future postings, both here & ‘there’, as well!

        • Great great advise. I’ll keep my eyes out for a late SN black 21 SA…my next dream lens for the MM.

          And you are right, that was the 85 1.8 that I snagged a couple of months back….

  22. Really nice piece that Ashwin & pics. 🙂

    What I most enjoyed was seeing a whole bunch of lenses being used on the MM which is great. A few there have been on my most wanted Leica lens list for a while like the Canon 50mm f/1.8 & the Rigid Summicron. The rigid Sumi really is something special as shown here, definitely next on my “must have” list.

    • Thanks, Cidereye! I have accumulated a bit of gear, dang GAS, but the great thing is most classic lenses remain affordable on the open market… I agree that for me, the Rigid Summicron is a must have!

  23. Ashwin,

    I always enjoy your intelligent and considered posts, backed up as usual with beautiful images.

    I was fortunate a while back to borrow a MM for an hour: the images it produced are simply stunning.

    Right now raiding the piggy bank is out the question, but if and when the time comes, I’d drop the dosh on it in a heartbeat.

    Thanks for another great post.

    • That is a huge question, Brian. Raiding the piggy bank for a such a specialized tool is a huge querstion for many…For me, it’s become the camera that I am bonded to, and I use it all of th etime. For others, it won’t feel right. Having the chance to shoot it and edit images should tell you at least part of the story, and then it becomes the challenge….To $7995 or not to $7995 😉

      • I’m sure, somewhere ‘out there’ there’s a MM waiting for me when the time is right… to join my M6TTL black paint and 35f2ASPH black paint, which is my ‘go-to’ camera and always in my bag loaded with B&W.

        B&W film is in my DNA, so being fortunate to borrow and use the MM for a hour or two with my own card, was wonderful – as I said, the images that popped up on my monitor are just stunning.

        I always enjoy your posts, Ashwin. This one is no exception. Thanks a bunch!

  24. If M then MM is said the other day, well this proves the validity of the bold Leica move….I which more camera brands would have the balls and do a dedicated black and white version of their camera’s. Nikon, Canon, Olympus and all you others, shame on you…..Leica is leading the field with this camera, and believe me I would gladly part with 5000 dollars (if I had them) to own such a magnificent machine. Indeed old or new Summicron on it and fire away.

    Greets, Ed.

    • Absolutely. I think many folks would enjoy affordable BW digital options. I wouldn’t be suprised if others (like Fuji) offer it up…but I am thrilled that Leica blazed this path…

  25. Hey Ashwin

    Awesome post, I can relate to so much of it. I’m trying not to buy any more lenses but this has certainly got me thinking about at least two more!!!

    Great images and an articulate write up, thanks.

    All the best, Jason.

    • You got me…….I just added the Nikkor S.C 50/1.4 to my kit!! The second lens you’ve convinced me on I will look to pick up in Tokyo in July 🙂

      • Awersome, Jason. I think you’ll love the Nikikor SC 50 1.4….it’s so different than the modern lenses. Be wary of OOF areas. Bokeh can be glorious or horrible LOL….I am curious about that second lens that interests you 😉

  26. i just realize , the lenses u use ..

    I also use Canon LTM 35 1.8, 35 2.0, 50 1.5 , 50 1,4 and 50 1.8
    nikkor 50 1.4 , cron 50 2 ver 2, summitar 50

    so I guess the old lenses really suits the MM
    now I am torn …
    saving for MM (already have the naked Nex 5N) or the M (or could be just M9)..

    The portrait u make are beautiful
    William Jusuf

    • SOunds like you have a great kit…I would personally choose an MM over an M, but I am more of a BW guy than a color guy, so it’s a personal preference. Thank you fo your kind wods, WIlliam. I greatly appreciate. I am curious about your Nex 5N without an AA, UV/IR filter…sounds very cool!

      • Likewise Ashwin
        Since my work is all in grayscale as Radiologist, I kind a see everything in BW

        but most of my family just cant take all the family photos in BW..
        so I use 2 cam,
        1 for color and 1 dedicated to BW 🙂

        I ll be exploring the Nex5N without filter with vintage lenses and if everything ready, I ll be glad to share the results and opinion , as it .. in Steve Website

        William Jusuf

  27. Thanks for sharing so many beautiful pictures, Ashwin 🙂

    you make my day in the morning…. still having lack of sleep due to many CITO

    Since I cant afford MM yet..
    I play around with Nex 5N without the AA filter, UV and IR filter, along with many Canon LTM, Zeiss LM and MS Optical Sonnetar, also some vintage leica lenses…

    but the MM is out of this world
    now I am doubt to send Steve my review hahahaha

    Kudo Ashwin, its always a pleasure to see your works

    William Jusuf

  28. Seeing such Beautiful photographs in my city you have motivated me to pull out my m6 and hit the streets.

    Thanks for the wonderful write up, the MM looks like an amazing tool! Now if I can just hit the lotto! 😉

    • Thanks, Michael….The M6 will do great. I am thrilled that these photos have acted as motivation. That’s all that I could ask for…..all the best!

  29. Fantastic writing, very well redacted and I greatly enjoyed it. Good set of photos to boot.
    I am glad you are enjoying it, and please share more as you can!

  30. “I am easily able to reproduce various film looks for standard prints up to 17-22 inches, thanks to the camera’s incredible resolution and tonal depth, coupled with careful post-processing though LR4 and Silver Efex.”
    Why not just shoot film? It surprises me people are willing to spend so much for a digital camera and then having to process the files to obtain the look of….wait for it…. film.

    • Simple. I like the convenience of the digital workflow….it’s much easier for me, and I haven’t learned or invested in a darkroom setup or the like…

      Like I said, the MM is not a replacement for film….

  31. Thanks for sharing your experience, I’m absolutely agree about using old lenses, my work is mainly in B&W and even in film days (I’m still shooting film), I’ve used old lenses to get the shapes you say. Now I’m mainly using the M8, I own a palette of old glasses including the lovely Summicron Rigid, Cooke … and others, the mid tones are more smooth with the old lenses. I’m quite happy with my conversions to B&W with Silver Efex from the M8. In my opinion the sensor rendition of the M8 is better for B&W than the M9, I’ve tested it, here are some examples: http://gallery.leica-users.org/v/luisrq/M9Test/, please compare the B&W with my other albums with the M8. I have also tested the MM and it is stunning :http://gallery.leica-users.org/v/luisrq/Test/, I’m considering trade my MP. How the old lenses are rendering in the M8 in B&W, one example is this one with the old Zeis Sonnar Opton 50mm 1.5 wide open: .
    I would like know more opinions about the B&W from M8/M9.

    • Wow, Lluis, great glass! I have never tried any Cooke designs….Like you, I love the rich and smooth midtones that I see with older, lower contrast lenses, particularly the rigid summicron….I will head over and atke a look at your sites.

      I would keep your MP, should you desire shooting film. I think that you’d miss it…I think that tha M8 is a fantastic BW camera, and the M9 isn’t far behind, but has the added benefit of full frame. For most people, either camera of the M240 would be far and away enough for BW photography when necessary.

      • Thank you Ashwin for your quick response, if one day you go to Barcelona you can test my older lenses. Sorry, but if I trade the MP I still have an M6, M3 and IIIF….

        What I like of the M8 B&W conversions is the certain “imperfection” giving a look more closer to the film, what made me hesitate the MM is that it is “too” perfect… but wonderful!.

        BTW, I’ve forgot to say you congratulations for all these great pictures, I love them all!


  32. Great shots as always!
    I’m loving the retro look you are cultivating with ease now 🙂

    I almost jumped on a MM twice now, but the poor LCD, poor card write speed with uncompressed files and the camera freezing made me keep waiting in line for my new M.

    I love a lot about the MM – the fact that it takes colored lens filters etc, could even aid in teaching better B&W photography more quickly with a Leica film camera, especially a meter-less M3, where using hyperfocal focus can be tough in differing light conditions.

    I’d like to hope that Leica with make a CMOS version of the MM in the near future.
    At which point I’ll sell all my remaining Canon L glass and 5D MK3 and make the move to Leica complete.

    Now if only the wait lists weren’t so ridiculous 🙁

    • I am sure that Leica will eventually release a CMOS MM, if the current MM is successful. You are right that the MM is basically an M9 re-dressed, so it has the same issues that the M9 does in operation. Mine rarely has freezed, thankfully….

    • I will try to do that in a separate post…Much has to do with adjusting brightness and shadow, white, and dark sliders in LR4, and adding a bit of grain to my taste…I have a principally LR workflow…and rarely use SilverEfex, though it does produce spectacular results…

  33. As always, I enjoy your photos and writing. It’s wonderful to see the results of a great camera in excellent hands.

  34. Once again you have displayed your art.
    Love it and I agree the older lenses render to my eyes more classically as well.
    Always enjoy your posts we detailed and written as well.
    Ross in Oz

    • thanks so much Ross! Great to hear from you! I do love the classic lenses on the MM…I hope that one day, I can make modern lenses sing more as well, but that’s for later ;). I am having too much fun with the older lenses.

  35. Excellent, I watch this site sometimes and I think this is the 1st time I post a comment, but I have to. The 2nd (Leica MM and Nikkor S.C. 5 cm f/1.4 LTM) and 3rd image (Leica MM and Leitz Rigid Summicron 50 mm f/2) are so good.

  36. Hi,
    I’m glad to hear another real world review for this camera. It certainly is one of my sought after body. But you said you prefer the older lenses compared to the Leica ones because it’s too modern and perfect to a fault. Would you care to expound? I always thought Leica lenses are superb especially when matched with any of the M bodies.
    Thank you.

    • Hi Joe, it’s just a matter of rendering, along with contrast. I find using older lenses easier to adjust, and love the more active OOF (though there is a limit to that as well)…It’s really just a matter of personal preference, but I must say that I think classic lenses work so well on the MM.

    • Thanks so much, William. Your images have been some of my inspiration. I am always excited by what you are doing, and enjoy that M240. Can’t wait to see more!

  37. Absolutely remarkable images. Very inspiring.

    I’ve only had my MM for a week or so and I’m still learning how to process the files. So far so good though and I’m confident once I get over the learning curve I will love it even more than I already do. I have far more experience with film than I do with digital so this is new for me.

    • Thanks, Andrew and congrats on the MM….It took me about 2 months to get my legs with the camera, so stick with it, and you’ll be greatly rewarded.

  38. I was one who criticized the rendition of your first B&W MM photographs. They seemed to me grayish, clinical, and with lots of burned highlights. In the same way, I say now that these last pictures are just great in all senses. IQ is fantastic, and you managed to get the best out of this camera. I like the delicate and classic quality of the final pics, a product of the camera, your choice of lenses, your process and your eye for composition. Great work, congrats and thanks for sharing.

    • Thanks Turvyjj. I appreciate your feedback. The early criticism really made me reflect on re-envisioning how I processed….Some of it is the lenses, some me, and some my choices for editing.

  39. Fantastic work this time Aswin!! earlier your MM article snaps were some what boring..Black & white photos with colored flavour… i like ur treatment…

    • Thanks, Babu. I am trying to come around and gain some understanding. the MM has taught me a lot about how to get things together more cohesively for BW photos…

  40. Great article and photos; thanks! I’ve had my M9-P for a few weeks now and love it, but for black and white…..the MM is wow!!

    • Thanks, PEter. The M9P is awesome, and enjoy it….that camera is perfectly solid for BW. the MM is a game changer, but limited in that it’s only BW…but I dig it for that purpose. thanks so much!

  41. Hey Ashwin, firstly thanks for answering my reply so quickly, very much appreciated. Do you think in colaboration with Steve that you could post a “post production” article ?. ie:- showing a before and after pic an explaining how you process using LR4 and Silverefex. It would be extremely helpful for us contemplating getting an MM. Thanks in advance.

  42. Ashwin,
    Congratulations on depicting the intimate, human qualities of the subjects featured in this set of photographs so well. Beautiful.
    I wonder if you have any thoughts on the use of modern variants of older symmetrical lens designs on the MM, such as the 50mm ZM Sonnar, as a kind of compromise between the drawing of classic lenses and more modern signatures?

    • Thanks, Steve….The ZM Sonnar C-50 lens is great. The look is very different than Planar designs, which produce a more controlled and tame bokeh, and double Gausian designs, which provide a sharp, yet more sterile (to my eye) bokeh….I would say that the ZM sonnar does a great job, as its coatings are optimized to provide more contrast, yet the drawing is classic. It strikes a great balance, as you said, between classic and modern signature. The other lens that does this well, in my opinion, is the Leica Elmar-M 50 mm f/2.8 (latest version), which is sharp and contrasty, but with a bit of old school “tessar” style bokeh (once again, my opinion here)

      • Ashwin,
        Thanks for taking the time and trouble to reply.
        Time for me to get saving (again!)

  43. Thank you Ashwin for this concise and lively article.

    As much as I felt something was missing in the set of pictures of your first article about the Monochrom on Steve’s site, I truly loved the atmosphere and consistent feel of the pictures you have shared here. Congratulations!


    PS: Thank you, Steve, for allowing such interesting posts on your site.

    • Thanks, Ernesto! I feel that like any tool, it takes time to learn, and I am now more comfortable with the MM, and the results are starting to show. Thanks for taking notice. It’s much appreciated.

  44. Ashwin…nice to see you re-appear in cyber world!! You always never fail to deliver. Very nice photos and informative article.

    Looking forward to the post tomorrow on Peters site…

    • Thanks, Andrew. I too am looking forward to my first post on Peter’s site….it’s an honor to be featured both here and there!

      • A quick question for you Ashwin…..I am thinking of getting the Canon 100mm you have used here, instead of Leica 90mm Summicron (non APO)….

        How do you find it renders on the M9?


        • The Canon 100 works well on the M…color palette is a bid different, more pastels and a bit vintage, from my experience, but so are th older ‘crons. Either would serve you very well…

  45. Thanks for the article Ashwin. Even after the M(240) now, the MM will still hold it’s place as the premier camera for B&W photography. Although there is some learning curve the workflow of not having the color sliders and simplicity of image manipulation is liberating.

    • I agree. For me, the MM files are far more flexible for BW (more data and greyscale depth) than even M240 files,. I find the freedom of manipulation now to be quite liberating for editing! Thanks, Jonny!

  46. Hi Ashwin – I’ve been contemplating the MM and have read your previous articles as well as every blog/review on the web (including Steve’s excellent 3 part review). I have to say that you’ve really grown in your BW photography and have harnessed a lot of the goodness that the MM offers. I look forward to seeing where this journey takes you in the next 6 months and hope that you post a 12 month update. =) Really great stuff!!!

    • Thanks, James. Yes I hope to continue to grow. Much is left to be learned. The camera has taught me quite a bit in 6 months, and I can’t wait to see where it takes me next!

  47. This is another great article, Ashwin. Thank you so much.
    Your pictures are not only very beautifully taken, they really convince in IQ and make me think “if ever I could own a MM…”. But then, one of the essential sentences in your article is (I quote): “…and you have the funds available to pay for this expensive beast…” (end of quote). That says it all.
    What also touches me is the sheer beauty (IMO) of the grain. But I have a question in this regard. Like the files are published here, even enlarged they are pretty limited in size (under 3MP). Still, when looking at full size, the grain is very prominently present. To such extent that I wonder if I wouldn’t find it simply too much on a 18MP file. So I wonder if you didn’t increase the grain artificially, to let us enjoy the beauty of it on a (print) size of a pretty “normal” format…

    • Thanks, Dirk. I always look forward to you comments and positive vibe! The “IF” is a huge “IF” . I suspect that the MM will stay expensive, but copies are already showing up used for nearly 1K under list, so it’s possible that eventually prices will adjust…

      As for grain, I added grain in most instances, and web sized prints alter the aesthetic a bit….but files are much cleaner and sterile. I like to muss things up a bit in post…

      • Exactly what I thought, regarding the grain. And you did a good job! I agree it’s best to treat files differently regarding their final size. And regarding post, personally I don’t see why anybody should have to restrict onesself in whatever way, unless the goal of his work is to stay as close to reality as possible.

  48. Loved the article. Would love to have a Monochrom as well as it really feels like the digital version of what black and white film is, but the cost just keeps me shooting my Bronica ETRSi and 120 film instead.

    LOVE the Jupiter 3 shot. I just might need to get that lens for my Fed 5!

    I, personally, would love to see some examples of the Monochrom and the new Monochrome output of the Sigma DP2M, shot for shot…

    Thanks again for a great article and great images!

    • Thanks so much, Patrick. THe MM has replaced my film bodies, primarily due to the convenience of digital processing, but yes, the cost is nuts….The J-3 is great, but it’s all about getting the right copy. Chances are improved with earlier lens copies (before 1953, from what I have read), as the elements used were typically of zeiss opton sonnar formula…after 1953, more soviet manufacture was produced, and more QC issues arose.

  49. Cool pics Ashwin! There is such richness in them! That one in the stadium looks like it’s from the 30’s. I really like the clown face girl, the circular pool, and the woman standing against the wall looking at the light. I’m saving up to by a Leica, and I can’t wait till I can get one 🙂 Thank u for sharing your work!

    • Thanks, KI. The MM is a camera worth owning, for its potential to expand the photographer’s palette. Enjoy yours once you have it!

  50. Thank you very much for the wonderful understanding that you present in this article and the equally wonderful photos. It is often that we get people sharing B&W photos that suffer from excessive processingitis. This is mainly done by those photographers who have no past experience with B&W film and how a wide tonal range B&W film pic looks.

    As a result we often get yucky , dim, mushy, “HDR look” B&W images shared.

    Your photos however are the product of a knowing experienced eye and are warmly welcomed by me.

    I would say, of what you have shared, the images shot with the Nikkor S.C 5 cm f/1.4 LTM lens are the ones that really make the Monochrom shine.

    This lens and this camera obviously have a synergy that is very pleasing.

    I look forward to more posts of your work.

    • Thanks, Steven. It’s taken a while for me to develop a style and not go overboard. I think that the Nikkor is a unique lens, and works well on the Monochrom, but I’d say that for me, I enjoy various looks and renderings, particularly the Canon glass. It’s a matter of personal taste, and I am glad that you enjoyed some of the work.

      All the best,

  51. Another great article Ashwin, thanks for really showing the capabilities of the MM and of course your skill.
    I take it that now matter how careful you are with exposure etc..that quite a bit of pp is required afterwards. I was always taught to get it “right” in camera however it seems that’s only 50% with the MM. Am I correct ?.
    Thanks again for a very relevant post.

    • Hi Zakk, yes, in this case, I believe that PP is beneficial in getting the “most” out of the camera, unless one prefers the OOC look. One way to get around some of it is to use the appropriate color filter to add a bit of pop by subtracting out specific spectra of light to enhance contrast/effects…

  52. Beautiful images, great camera. I still have 20 or so 50mm lenses yet to try out on the M Monochrom. The single-coated and uncoated lenses are amazing on it. These lenses have lower contrast, which tends to preserve shadow detail and prevent highlights from blowing out. So far, my 1936 uncoated 5cm F1.5 Sonnar converted to Leica mount is the favorite.

  53. Ashwin,

    As usual remarkable great pictures—your contributions rock. Nonetheless, my favorite is the pic with the Leica 28 mm f/2 Asph—de gustibus est disputandum… Since you own most of Peter Karbes recent designs, will you share impressions with those “clinical perfect” designs too, e.g. the AA 2/50 ?

    • Thanks so much, Alex….the 28 mm f/2 is an awesome lense, as it has a smooth rendering that I love for BW tones. I find modern glass to exhibit more macrocontrast, where shadow detail can be drowned out. I also find that foreground/background separation is more dramatic in modern lenses, contributing to their 3D look, but on the monochrom, it’s almost as this is taken a step too far. I have never used the AA 2/50, though I am curious about it. It’s supposed to render very well in terms of tonal transitions, and I think it’s supposed to do well, with a very modern signature. Part of my preference in going back in time with older lenses, is for that classic signature, so I asume that the AA would be different in that way. Thanks so much for your kind words!

  54. Great article Ashwin. Some fabulous pictures to boot.

    I have one question. With the MM, don’t you miss the ability to vary your mixing palette to create the b&w from color images? There could be contrast in color but not in intensity between some subjects and the background. Did this stump you?


    • Hi Mohan,
      I don’t miss the selective color channel editing. Thought that I would, but I find that the monochrom’s files are even more robust for editing. It’s harder do certain things, like create black skies from blue, to give that extreme red filter look…but I just throw on a red filter, if I want to appromate these looks….it’s taken me a while to adjust, as you say, but once one works within the confines of a monochromatic histogram, it becomes a bit closer to second nature, and now I find color files harder to handle for BW work, in terms of getting what I want out of the editing process.

  55. Ashwin…great article and even greater pics. Thanks for sharing! I like the way you are processing your MM files; originally a lot of the samples I saw online were flat and grey…but your shots look great!

    • Thanks, Clint. Yes, when I went back and looked at my original efforts, there was a lot more grey there. With the MM, one just needs to work within those greys and adjust to provide more highlight and shadow separation. Thanks so much for taking notice!

      • Ashwin,

        Love these shots. Has inspired me to persist with my Monochrom which like you I love( will I ever go back to the M7 and that pile of Tmax I have sitting in a draw?). Processing will of course vary from shot to shot but if you could give some general hints that have worked for you that’d be great. I assume its not so simple as just ramping up contrast and/or clarity.

        • Hi Roger, great question. I find the base MM file to be a bit flat. It takes a bit of adjusting the highlight/shadow sliders, followed by a bit of “white/black” slider adjutmsents. I then usually come in with a tad of clarity, using the brush tool, and often add vignetting and grain to taste…all LR4 adjustments…

  56. Thanks for sharing Ashwin’s work with the Monochrom Steve. These images shot with these different lenses gives all of us an excellent idea on what one can do with this camera. Keep up the great work Ashwin!

    • My pleasure! Ashwin is THE MAN and always has a place here to say what he wants, show what he wants and to help us all with what he has to say. Thanks Duane, and thanks Ashwin!

    • Thank you, both. Duane, you are too kind, and I will definitely try to keep it up and show what I can coax out of the camera.

      Steve, it’s an honor and privilege to share on your site. Thank you, my friend!

  57. Great pics Ashwin! I had a feeling that there was a learning curve on processing the MM files when I saw the early images from various users that looked pretty muddy and you’ve clearly figured it out. Did you mean H.C. on the Nikkor 5cm f/2?

    • Hi Rod, yes, H.C. sorry about that….all the old lens coating terminologies are relatively new to me. Thanks for catching that!

    • Thank you, Nex5guy! Much appreciated. It’s a work in progress, and with each day, I learn a bit more…it’s what I love about the MM.

  58. In that photo of the Japanese girl, it looks like a glow around her face. Is that how the Canon lens renders?

    • hi SK, yup, the Canon tele’s render very uniquely, particularly the 85 mm f/1.8 and 100 mm f/2…great lenses for a certain crispness and gently focus and greyscale fall off….

      • Looks great. I’ve only tried the Canon 50 1.2 ltm with nice results although some people don’t like the way the old Canon lenses render. Nice shots!

        • Yeah, there are many “families” of Canon lenses, similar to Leica, with several designers. I like the “Jirou Kuwai” lenses. He was sort of the Mandler of Canon LTM’s…great designs, unique looks, beautifully crafted lenses

  59. Fantastic pics Ashwin – you’ve really got the processing down pat and I absolutely love the picture of the female clown and the close-up of the little girl. So are you the one who encourage Peter to keep the MM?? Look forward to seeing more from you in the future.

    • thanks, Kevin! As for Peter, no he made his own decision on that end, but I am glad that he’s sticking with the MM. It will work well for him in his style!

      • Isn’t the MM lacking the anti-aliasing filter that most other cameras (other than the Fuji X-Trans sensor) have? From my understanding, getting rid of that extra layer really gets the MM sensor to reach a different level in resolution over cameras.

          • Hi guys,the MM has neither an AA filter nor a color Bayer array…The M9 only has the bayer array (For color imaging), but as docphoto stated, no AA filter.

  60. awesome, man i love that dof and all around feel from those beautiful BW shots.
    an awesome camera and great story.
    Sometimes at 1.4 i can feel some shots similar to my carl zeiss lenses at 1.4 bokeh is amazing.


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