USER REPORT: Two months with the Leica Monochrom by Andrew Gemmell

USER REPORT: Two months with the Leica Monochrom

by Andrew Gemmell

Hi Steve

I am writing to share my experiences to date with what would be one of the most controversial cameras ever released! The M Monochrome. I must admit, when it was first released I had never shot with a range finder camera and knew very little about Leica and the lenses.

I too thought it was absurdly priced for a black and white camera with an older CCD sensor. I still do!!

So how did I end up owning this camera? I have to pinch myself every now and then that I do. It all started with wanting a smaller camera to take out and use more often. No more DSLR. Firstly the x100 (great camera albeit a little frustrating, but aren’t they all at some point) and the OMD (great camera, great lenses and punches well above its sensor size). During this time I had started to read more about rangefinders and their attributes (and idiosyncrasies/drawbacks). The price for these cameras was/is mind blowing.

Lets just say curiosity got the better of me (don’t die wondering) AND I wanted to learn more about other types of cameras and systems (rangefinders in this case).

So when I was contacted by a friend that one was coming available I took the plunge. Am I a Leica fanboy?…..Not at all. I chose the Leica Monochrome for two reasons:

Leica really is the only genuine digital rangefinder game in town

It was an opportunity to see what my thought process would be using a black and white only camera and find out what all the fuss was about.

I have used the camera now for 2 months, all the while keeping my OMD in the event that we did not find a bond! In that 2 months I’ve picked up the OMD a handful of times to come back to it and see where my mind sits with colour (and camera enjoyment).

So where does my heart lie when it comes to which tool I prefer……?

The Monochrome.

Why?

Well it’s providing what I want in terms of the process of photography (a new challenge) and also one other key point ….SIMPLICITY. Compared to most digital cameras, there is minimal menu options and features to digest. There are no color aspects to consider. Just subject matter and composition. The color present in the world will deliver the tones that may just enhance the image.

On the topic of tones, it has been really interesting thinking in terms of tones vs. color. I do miss color, no doubt. But for now I will continue committing myself to seeing the world this way. There is beauty in all the tones from black, through the various grays.

Do I find it “liberating.” No.

But I do find it’s easier on my brain in this day and age, to move away from our feature/technology driven world, and use something which is a simple set up. This at the same time being able to retain the current high ISO capability and for the first time in my life try a full frame camera, which does have the ability to take on some incredible glass across a range of brands. For the record I use a 50mm 1.4 Summilux ASPH (80%), a 35mm 2.5 Color Skopar (Voigtlander) and a 15mm 4.5 Super Wide Heliar (Voigtlander).

All have different purposes for me –

The 50mm is the favorite…by a long way! It’s the lens I use to practice focusing to try an achieve those wonderful shallow depth of field images. Do this at 1.4 AND being on the move I marvel at the masters of this, e.g. Peter Prosophos (he’s partly to blame for this stage I find myself in, in the photographic journey :-)). I’ll keep practicing.

Sophie & Bailee

butterfly-2

The 35mm at 2.5 was intentional. This lens is not about DoF, but composition. I know when I go out with this lens it’s about this first and foremost (subject matter should always be present in my opinion) and not DoF. I find this lens a good tool to move in a different direction and help train my brain.

the moon

dogs

Finally the 15mm is yet again another way I can challenge myself to see the world from a different perspective. It’s a fun lens, and a focal length I am learning to respect. Choose your subject wisely to get the best out of this lens!

convention centre

opera house4

So come tomorrow the OMD will be sold, I’ll shoot some color on a film camera and continue my journey with the Monochrome. I do think about just how much it costs, but when I achieve the result I want….it’s the furtherest thing from my mind!

Above all else to anyone who reads this…..it’s not about the camera. It’s about being happy, learning and improving. It’s ok to try different cameras given there is so much choice now. If you have the three points I raised present in your photographic life, then go for it…try them all if you want to!

Andrew Gemmell

37 Comments

  1. I have been intrigued by the Monochrom and to get the same frame of mind I began to take b&w photos with my X100 set to monochrome,
    It requires a commitment to take a b&w photo and throw away the colour information instead of changing a colour photo to b&w in Pbotoshop.
    I’m not real big on post processing so I won’t do it anyway
    Some people are connoisseurs but I don’t know if I can tell the difference between a photo taken with a b&w camera and a photoshopped one.

  2. Dear Andrew,

    Well, well, well… look what talents you’ve been hiding!

    Congratulations, my good man – these are all superb.

    I am also honoured that you mentioned me… if I’ve influenced you in even a small way, I am absolutely thrilled.

    —Peter.

  3. Hello Andy,

    I enjoyed reading your post. Your story sound similar to mine. I found my dslr to big and heavy for my type of photography. A Leica just seemed ridiculously expensive, no way I could justify it for myself, so I even consider it.
    Then Fuji released the X-pro1. Buying that turned out to be a point of no return. What a delight!

    I am very pleased with my X-pro1 and ever since I bought it, my DSLR has been collecting dust. The x-pro1 works better for me because of the weight, size and stealth factor. I take it everywhere. I only keep my DSLR because it’s more versatile and has better auto focus for moving objects.
    Using an RF-style camera had me looking into the actual RF camera: Leica! Although I get great results and joy from the X-pro1, I find myself hypnotized by Leica. This is partially fuelled by some of the annoying X-Pro1 quirks and the limited possibilities with DOF (I’m a sucker for low DOF and creamy bokeh).
    I’ve been ably to try the Leica M9 on a few occasions and it feels lovely, built like a tank and so “Zen”-simple! Stripped of anything you might need, it only has what you actually need (I frowned upon the the filming option on the M240).

    The other part of attraction is probably the idea of owning something unique. Something exclusive with the highest standard in quality. A Breitling doesn’t tell you the time any better then a Seiko, but still there’s a market for it.

    I’ve had a great deal on a 2nd hand 50 lux asph. So thats sitting here. Now saving for a zeiss ikon zm and ultimately: a M240!
    Will I get significantly (meaning thousands of euros worth) better results with an M240 than my X-pro1? No. I don’t fool myself thinking I will. The question is; will I enjoy owning and shooting a Leica significantly more? Maybe. I won’t know until I’ve owned one.

    • Funny that Bjorn…I bought the X100 initially…..then i purchased a 50mm lux before a camera when considering this move so we have a few things in common there.

      My advice…..just do it! Thing is if you don’t like or prefer another format, you can always sell it.

  4. Very beautiful images and a great experience report. I had the chance to work with a Monochrome on a three day Leica workshop and it’s indeed a wonderful tool. Have fun with it!

  5. Andy, try MF film like Rolleiflei or Hasselblad for colors, i’m using this combo (MM + Hassy) and it’s love everywhere…

    • That’s a honour coming from you Ashwin. Thank you. I look up to your photography, since the day I came across it on this site.

  6. Steve, thanks for posting. Great site and appreciate your time in running this. Hopefully this might just help a few people make some decisions whether it is right for them or not if they are considering buying the MM.

  7. Andrew, great article and photographs. I started my Leica journey in January this year and have really enjoyed it as well, albeit with an M9P. Keep up the good work…….bybthe way, do you have a website?

    • Thank Peter. I very nearly purchased the M9 as a way into RF photography. It was just the curiosity of the MM that swayed me! Awesome colours and images coming out that camera so have no doubt you’ll love it.

      As for website…no I don’t.

  8. Hi Andrew, it’s great to see an owner/user of the M Monochrom doing the camera justice with such great pictures. I think the M Monochrom has the highest purchase/use ratio of any M I’ve ever seen, including film cameras, and glad to see another user creating great work with it. Thanks for sharing Andrew and Steve

    • I possibly wouldn’t have started down this road with out you’re email…(btw Kristian is the friend I refer to in the article who found the MM and notified me). Thank you. Also a big thank you for your help and critque in the past and should be future.

      If any readers are ever in Australia (or Asia at certain times) and want to learn more about photography then Kristian Dowling is your man.

  9. Always nice to see good photographs when someone is telling their story. Reinforces my desire to buy one as well. I have been going through all the same steps of logic/illogic. And it always the posted images that bring me back. The one and only drawback to the camera for me (besides its price) is the low quality screen on the back. The new Leica M now has the newer, but still last generation, screen but for some reason Leica stuck with the same one that was on the M8 and the M9. It didn’t bother me much on those cameras, but after using the one on my Olympus OMD it’s now very hard to go back down in resolution. Granted, you still have to see on the computer and process the raw image to evaluate each shot well, but still . . . all that money and they couldn’t have upgraded the screen?

    So, I think you made the right choice, to some extent because it’s a choice I would like to make for the same reasons. And again, your images just make it more obvious. What I don’t understand is the rush to sell your OMD. It’s cheap compared to the Leica MM and it does things the rangefinder cannot do. Color if you ever need it, zoom telephoto, and macro, if they ever come up. To me its the perfect backup and companion for my M9. After weeding through all the newer cameras, I still stick to my original assessment: one doesn’t really need any better image maker than the M9. That now applies to the M and
    the M Monochrom. So, if you want to take B&W images, you will not need to worry about getting a better camera for it in the future. So, that stretches the $ 8,000 over many many years. I doubt that I will be using the OMD over the same time period as my M9. A new OMD is coming out, right? So, everyone will dump their “old” cameras and buy the latest upgrade. That is winding down considerably in the computer world. Hardly anyone needs a better computer than the one they have now, so the market is in decline, while everyone chases after the next iPhone, IPad, etc, which will come out every year with improvements. You will not have to worry about this past time with the Monochrom. Thanks for sharing.

    • Thank Larry. Fair point re selling the OMD.

      The reason I am selling it, is the same reason I bought the MM in that I want to learn more about this style of camera. If I own the OMD then that is less time practising using the MM….or my Zeiss Ikon for film.

      The OMD is loads of fun and a great camera. I’ve really enjoyed using it. But I don’t want to hold onto it if not using it enough and I think it should be in the hands of someone who wants to experience this format, like I did with the MM.

    • Thank you Miha…

      No 5 was taken just below the Crowne Plaza Hotel on Spencer St. This looks across at the Melbourne Convention Centre.

      Was having a beer with a work colleague after work and was walking to the train station. Happened to have my camera on me (try taking it out with me, including to work) more now, and not sure why I took this…..just caught my eye i guess.

  10. Nice report on you feelings working only with a monochrom.

    I still believe that working with an M9or nowadays a 240 will give you best of both worlds, B&W and Color
    an more control in Postprocessing with B&W.

    Sure there will be some areas where the Monochrom will shine, but for most of us it’s too much Zen.

    • I agree on best of both worlds comment. Though as I mentioned to John above it’s more about taking the opportunity to try something new…just B&W. With 99% of current cameras you can’t do that in a strict sense. Let’s just say it’s a personal project!

  11. Gorgeous fotos, telling a story about passion for creating something exceptional with a perfect yet simple Instrument – craftsmanship in conjunction with artistry – a recipe to reward oneself with happiness. The one and only argument for Leica M.

  12. Nice post and images. The last panorama is my favorite.

    The X100 was my entry into “the simple life” of a rangefinder-style experience and fixed 35mm FOV. It was liberating, and definitely changed my photographic thinking… enough that I recently sold my OM-D and lenses to fund a Fuji X-E1 + 35mm.

    The one area in which I have to disagree with you, is regarding color images. I love B&W, especially for images of NYC where I currently live, but sometimes I need and want color! You can always take away the color, but you can’t add it back to a B&W image. Also, I find it so much fun to “develop” a color photo into a B&W! I enjoy the whole process and the control I have over the final image.

    • Yeah John it was a big consideration as we actually agree…..I also enjoy colour images and using them to convert to B&W (if it suited the image). I still do miss colour. However this was all about experiencing what it’s like not to have choice (ironic given the world we live in now!), but seeing what my brain thought of living in this space.

      Right now I’m really enjoying it.

      No doubt, one day there will be a colour camera come along again.

  13. Exactly, I agree with your summary – “It’s about being happy”. If you like your camera it is fine and it doesn’t matter what someone else think about it. I like especially your dog photo.

  14. It’s always nice to find a time in this journey that your equipment is leading you where you want to strive to go. Have fun on your journey…

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