First Impressions: Leica M Monochrom Black-and-White Digital Rangefinder

Does a digital camera without color images make sense here in the 21st century? I asked some Leica executives and shot a few pictures with it along the way

Leica M Monochrom Article

Leica M Monochrom Article

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I spent just a few hours walking around Berlin with Leica's new M Monochrom, but it was the perfect environment to really get a feel for it. The following images were captured in the Monochrom's uncompressed DNG format using a Leica 50mm F/2 lens. This is actually the very first image I shot with the M Monochrom. It's suffering from a tiny bit of motion blur, but as you can see the aperture priorty mode did a very good job with the exposure right out of the gate. Tech specs: ISO 320. F/5.6 at 1/125 second. DOWNLOAD FULL-RES IMAGE
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This uncropped shot of a street sandwich has a crumpled sheet of tinfoil that does well to demonstrate the Monochrom's ability to translate fine differences in complex surfaces. You can also look at the full-size image to see the intense amount of detail it captured on the internal elements of the sandwich (it's a falafel). No adjustments or sharpening have been made, so it could use a bit of contrast to my eye, but that's common with unadjusted files like this one. Tech specs: ISO 1000. F/2.8 at 1/180 sec. DOWNLOAD FULL-RES IMAGE HERE
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This image was rotated slightly to straighten out the lines in the frame. If I was going to take this frame again, I'd like give it a little less exposure keeping in mind how the histograms work with the Monochrom. There's still plenty of detail, though. Tech Specs: ISO 1600. F/5.6 at 1/2000th sec. DOWNLOAD THE FULL-RES IMAGE HERE
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I purposely chose this setting because it had both intense shade and very bright sun. In a setting like this, you can really see the dynamic range stretch its legs. This is especially true at the camera's native ISO setting of 320 at which this was shot. I brought the exposure down half a stop in Lightroom 4. It's otherwise unedited. **Tech specs: **ISO 320. F/8 at 1/350th sec. DOWNLOAD THE FULL-RES IMAGE HERE
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Another shot with areas of very high contrast. I dropped the exposure by half a stop in post here as well. It's a nice, neutral image as it is, but adding a bit of contrast makes it much more effective. Note the incredible detail visible in the text in the photo. **Tech specs: **ISO 320. F/5.6 at 1/2000th sec. DOWNLOAD THE FULL-RES IMAGE HERE
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This is a direct export from DNG to JPEG. No changes have been made. Again, it's a bit flat, but all the detail lets you crank up the blacks in Lightroom without losing much. **Tech specs: **ISO 1000. F/2.8 at 1/500th sec. DOWNLOAD THE FULL-RES IMAGE HERE
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I shot this frame extremely wide in order to get a lot of details in the frame, but the concentration was on the mannequin in the center. Shiny black mannequin with mostly beige clothing is a challenging subject for sure. Check the next slide for a very substantial crop. **Tech specs: **ISO 1000. F/5.6 at 1/180th sec. DOWNLOAD THE FULL-RES IMAGE HERE
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This is the same shot as the previous slide cropped to focus on the mannequin. As you can see, even with the extreme crop, you still get a lot more detail than you'd expect out of an 18-megapixel sensor. Both white and black areas stay well within the dynamic range. DOWNLOAD THE FULL-RES IMAGE HERE
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Compositionally a boring shot, but a shiny silver car is another good challenge. The Monochrom handles it excellently, even in intricate areas like the crumpled silver housings for the headlights. Also notice that there are flat fields of color in an ISO 1600 image and they still like nice and smooth. **Tech specs: **ISO 1600. F/5.6 at 1/1000th sec. DOWNLOAD THE FULL-RES IMAGE HERE
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Lots of intricate little spaces to explore on this bike. **Tech Specs: **ISO 1600. F/8 at 1/750th sec. DOWNLOAD THE FULL-RES IMAGE HERE
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I've obviously lost the bright sky to white, but the building is well represented. The flare is coming from a strong reflection off an adjacent glass building. Tech specs: ISO 800. F/8 at 1/350th sec. DOWNLOAD THE FULL-RES IMAGE HERE
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This is a pretty good example of a shot I would have really liked had I not flubbed the focus. The grain at 1600 looks very nice, even in the dark areas while keeping the super-bright background in check. Tech specs: ISO 1600. F/8 at 1/350th sec. DOWNLOAD THE FULL-RES IMAGE HERE
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The F/8 and be there technique does work and the nearly silent shutter does help for street photography. Take notice of the main subjects white jeans and the subtle variations in tone that are visible. Tech specs: ISO 1600. F8 at 1/750th sec. DOWNLOAD THE FULL-RES IMAGE HERE
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The histogram for this image looks excellent, but looking at it, it could definitely use a bit of contrast. Also, the softness of the woman's face is actually just smoke coming off of the grill from the wursts. By this point, I had started to get a feel for the metering, though, and this complex street scene panned out nicely. Tech specs: ISO 800. F/5.6 at 1/350th sec. DOWNLOAD THE FULL-RES IMAGE HERE
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A pale man in a dark suit in front of a wall of very reflective windows. **Tech specs: **ISO 1000. F/5.6 at 1/350th sec. DOWNLOAD THE FULL-RES IMAGE HERE
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This is a much tighter crop on the same man, but as you can see it still preserved a lot of the detail. The resulting file is still plenty big. Tech specs are identical to the frame before it. DOWNLOAD THE FULL-RES IMAGE HERE
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The following photos are a full ISO run starting at 400 and going to the maximum. It's worth noting that the native resolution of this camera is 320, but you can expand it down to 160, though, you'll be losing image data that way. I didn't have a tripod so the images aren't exactly the same, but they were shot within two minutes of each other and the light stayed exactly the same. The focus is on the front sneaker, which was cream colored in order to see how well it was able to navigate subtle differences in shade. We highly recommend you make it to the ISO 10,000 example at the end so you can see what the Monochrom can really do. ISO 400 DOWNLOAD THE FULL-RES IMAGE HERE
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ISO 800 DOWNLOAD THE FULL-RES IMAGE HERE
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ISO 1600 DOWNLOAD THE FULL-RES IMAGE HERE
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ISO 3200 DOWNLOAD THE FULL-RES IMAGE HERE
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ISO 6400 DOWNLOAD THE FULL-RES IMAGE HERE
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ISO 10,000 As you can see, even at its top ISO, the Monochrom does an excellent job preserving fine details. You can even make out a tiny string sticking off the lace of the cream-colored sneaker. You'll also notice that the grain looks much more acceptable than it would with most color DSLRs at this level. It really does almost look like film. DOWNLOAD THE FULL-RES IMAGE HERE