A night with the Leica Monochrom at ISO 10,000


A night with the Monochrom at ISO 10,000

So yesterday you saw where I wrote about the new Leica M-P and the silver Monochrom. Last night Debby and I decided to take a drive down to a cool hangout here in Phoenix called “The Lost Leaf’. We have been there a few times now and it always offers a great atmosphere, a huge selection of beers and drinks and every single night, live music. The last time I was there I brought along the Sony A7s and tested it in the torturous low light conditions of the Lost Leaf, which at times borders on near darkness. The A7s did well, even when pushed to over 80,000 ISO and seeing that I was going that high in ISO with the A7s, I did not think the Monochrom would be able to handle it, especially with the 50 f/2 lens I had on the camera. But I gave it a shot. I cranked the Monochrom to ISO 10,000, which is the max ISO for this camera, and I snapped a few frames.

Before heading in I set the MM to ISO 6400 and snapped a shot of this mural on the wall across the street. Click on it to see  the tones, graduations and sharpness. It was shot at 50mm and f/2, wide open.


At ISO 10,000 the Monochrom puts out files that look like Tri-X 400 film.  All images below were shot at ISO 10,000


People hanging out on the patio waiting for the nights musical act, Copper & Congress. 


As the band started to play I took a test shot from my table to test the lighting and to see if ISO 10k and f/2 was enough. I managed to get 1/60th second.


I feel the Monochrom puts out convincing B&W that does remind me of my M6 ad M7 film days..


I moved in closer to get some shots of the band..


By far my fave shot of the night, and this one is a JPEG from camera. ISO 10,000, f/2 – click it for much better viewing experience.






The Sony A7s was also with me…

I also brought the Sony A7s with me along with the 35 2.8 and 55 1.8 Zeiss. It focused so accurate and fast for me using auto focus, even in these dim conditions..it was amazing. With that said, I had to crank the ISO higher on the Sony as I was using an f/2.8 lens so I used ISO 16,000 and 32,000. Only problem was I had the camera (by accident) set to JPEG only, and was shooting in the gimmicky “high contrast B&W mode” which killed the tonality of the image. None of them looked good, but it was my mistake for using the HC B&W option. Here is one example below of what that setting will do when used at high ISO and low light:

The next two shots were taken with the Sony A7s at ISO 16,000 and 32,000 using the 55 1.8 and 35 2.8. Problem is I had the camera set to JPEG only and used the High Contrast B&W mode which destroyed the tones. Lesson learned.



As you can see, using high contrast B&W on the A7s destroyed the details, the tones and the overall look of the image (IMO). From now on, no more gimmick modes for me! If it were set to standard B&W it would have looked great. I can also see the NR at work from the camera even though it was set to low. Still, the A7s performed like a beast. Fast AF, quick and easy shooting, no issues. If I had it set to RAW and JPEG I could have saved my photos so user error on that one.

At the end of the day though I soooo loved shooting the Monochrom last night. It has been a while since I shot anything like this with a Leica and with the insanely low light here (It’s literally lit up by one red light bulb) I did not think the Leica would cut it, especially with a 50 f/2. While the Noct would have been amazing here, the little Zeiss 50 Planar f/2 did well. For me the Mono images have a teeny something about them that is beautiful and now I know that I can go up to ISO 10k in the dark without issue. It’s all about the exposure and if you nail it then you will have minimal noise.

I will be back to the Lost Leaf soon I am sure because it is great fun to see and shoot these live acts in such a cool inmate environment.

You can check out the Lost Leaf here and if you are ever in Phoenix I highly recommend stopping in. You can check out Copper & Congress at their website HERE. 


      • Well, my X Vario is definitely ok at 3200, and 6400 can be usable…especially for BW.
        It’s not as nice as my MM, but it could work…especially considering that the T can mount a Noctilux or other such very fast lens.

  1. I’ve been warming up to getting the Mono… this turns the burner up a notch more. Thanks for showing how terrific the Mono can be as a low-light tool. And shooting in true b&w is so much better than converting color to b&w.

  2. Steve, some photographer prefer film camera today, do you think that MM and A7s could be better in tonality and overall look of the images?

    • I would go MM over film camera anyday as it is like having a B&W camera loaded with film that ranges from low ISO to crazy ISO. ISO 10K lookalike 400 to me and ISO 320 looks like ISO 50. After using the MM again after a long break I can 100% see the advantages of it over other cameras for B&W work. It has something about the tonality..a richness and huge pallets of grey and gentle tones that the color cameras lack when doing conversions.

  3. Love the mm shots very organic quality but that a7s man it’s really nice amazing in low light I really think it’s fabulous also great contrast and amazing quality for high ISO what a tool hard decision but almost 6k difference hmmmm

    • No argument from me regarding the Monochrome’s amazing ability to shoot in just about any lighting situation with virtually no noise.
      I use mine for classic car shows as well.
      Love mine to tears.

  4. will be soon getting an a7s for its mad ISO skills, but…

    the Monochrome kills the Sony for detail and pop. Look at the top on the singer/guitar lady or the detail in the inlays of the fiddle. It’s not even close. So the Sony may indeed go far higher in ISO setting, it doesn’t get the most of the image at these levels.

    No amount of post-processing will fi that.

    Why do you torture me? Isn’t an M240 and “T” enough…? Now I must get an MM too…???

  5. I thoroughly enjoyed looking at your mono pics Steve well done! I am seriously considering going for a Leica mono.Need to count my pennies now!

  6. you are right steve the mm at 10k is very tri-x looking from my m6 the grain or noise in the pics works perfect if you want that film look to the pictures.

  7. very interesting …. quality is still excellent even at 10,000 ISO …. nice images …

  8. I have to admit that a lot of the posts about the M Monochrom have left me feeling flat when it comes to the photos themselves. There’s just something about overcooking images in post-processing that destroys the black and white mood for me.

    That is *definitely* not the case here: I really like how these photos look. I don’t know how much post-work you’ve put into them, but I like them, and it doesn’t look to me like you’ve done too too much. Bravo!

  9. Love your photos ! shot of girl with guitar is really beautiful – used to shoot jazz bands on my M6 using an old 135mm Elmarit f2.8 with goggles -exposure would be 1/30 @ f 2.8 using Fuji Neopan pro ISO 1600 -insane focus and you felt like you needed to super glue your joints to avoid camera shake.
    Wow could I have done with a nice Monochrom then and even now !

    Best Wishes

  10. Steve, very cool. Can you borrow/ buy/ rent a CV nokton 1.1 to see how it would do on the Monochrom at ISO 10000 in this same setting?
    It seems that is what it is meant for.

    Best regards

      • The MM is a great nighttime performer. I walked around a French city recently at 10pm and took wonderful shots at 1200 to 5000 iso. You can go up to 10000 easily and create great very large prints. I suggest always shooting DNG and exploring the options in Silver Efex, although just working with Lightroom lights, darks and shadows is often enough.
        I used a 50mm 2.0 in France, but the 35 Summilux is amazing.

    • You have no excuse then, the Monochrom at 18mp produces 100Mb files. The difference however is in the resolution compared with a 24mp or a 36mp file. For instance 24mp M240 image needs sharpening, something that can be seen in a 100% enlargement of the RAW file. On the other hand a Monochrom file can be enlarged to 200% and still see detail and not mush, and it barely needs sharpening at all.

      • 100mb files from the 18MP MM? That’s hard to believe because my D800 36MP 14-bit uncompressed raw files are around 75mb

    • Well my M8.2 is 10 megapixel’s and my prints look good, so with the Monochrom being 18 I don’t think you will lack for image size.

    • Sure not. Photography means paint with light and this mean light ist essential.
      Here we paint just with unsharp shadows and we need expensive gear to to that.

      It would be really easier if the band had used real stage lightning and no garbage dim light.

      • I understand what you mean.In my reality the circumstances are often quit diffirent and that’s why it would make my life much easier compared to the Fuji x100s which i use now.

      • Lol, sometimes there is no light available and if you want a shot, you do what you can do to get one. My shots were a test of the MM but I really liked how they came out (as did the artist). Blame the bar for the lights, not the band but in reality, I much prefer these kind of moody shots sometimes to the typical bug stage lighting shots we see over and over and over and over again. No need to be so bitter Honk, take a chill pill my friend.

        • Hi Steve no problem with your point of view – on the other side
          I use gear because it´s necessary to get the picture too.
          If I see an interresting picture I try to find out why I like it.

          The summ of the motive, the composition, sharpness, well-lit.
          If I dont find even one of the parts I just sit down and go for a beer.


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