Hands on with Leica’s M10 Monochrom, plus sample images

Don’t call it a gimmick, there is beauty in being restricted to black-and-white.

Leica M10 Monochrom
Leica's new M10 Monochrom is built around a 40-megapixel sensor that only shoots black-and-white images.Jeanette D. Moses

This morning Leica announced the M10 Monochrom, a 40-megapixel digital rangefinder that only shoots black-and-white photos. While it is certainly tempting to write the camera off as an overpriced gimmick (the body alone costs $8,295) doing so misses the point. Leica’s M10 Monochrom isn’t going to be for everyone, but for a certain type of photographer it will be everything they’re ever going to need.

Prior to the camera’s announcement we had a chance to spend some time shooting with it in New York City. These are our first impressions of this unique camera.

Top view of the Leica M10 Monochrom.
Top view of the Leica M10 Monochrom. The red accents typically found on M10 cameras have been swapped for subtle gray tones.Jeanette D. Moses

Design and feel:

The M10 Monochrom is both a tool and a luxury item and the aesthetics of its build reflect that. It looks good, it feels good, and the moment we picked it up and popped in a memory card we, couldn’t wait to start shooting.

The camera has a die cast magnesium body wrapped in synthetic leather. The top and base plates are made of brass with a black chrome plated finish. The red accent colors that typically appear on Leica cameras have been replaced with subtle gray. The iconic dot has been totally removed and the Leica M10 Monochom logo on the camera’s top plate is rendered in black. Everything about the camera is designed to be discreet.

Leica M10 Monochrom
The Leica M10 Monochrom looks good and feels good. We couldn't wait to start shooting with it.Jeanette D. Moses

In addition to looking very good it also feels good. It has a solid build, but a very slim body which makes it comfortable to spend an afternoon shooting with. The camera has a dedicated ISO dial on the right hand, a screen with touch-screen functionality, an expanded ISO range and WiFi functionality.

Shooting experience:

Shooting with a digital rangefinder camera takes some getting used to because of the manual focus lenses and the way in which you actually focus the camera. When shooting with a rangefinder you are actually measuring the distance the subject is from your camera, looking through the viewfinder you see two images of the same subject, as you move the camera’s lens one of the images will move, when the two images match up you have an in-focus image and you can read the distance on the lens barrel. Even if you regularly work with manual focus lenses, getting ready to make a picture with the Leica M10 Monochrom may require some adjustments in your go-to way of shooting. Especially when it’s coupled with the fact that the camera only shoots in black and white. Luckily, it’s a bit like riding a bike. If you’ve done it before, it will all come back to you.

Leica M10 Monochrom sample of woman in hat
The Leica M10 Monochrom camera has a specially designed sensor that only shoots in black and white. The technology inside makes the experience of shooting with the M10 a unique experience.Jeanette D. Moses

Only having the ability to shoot in black-and-white changes the way you approach photography. In many ways, it takes you back to the roots of photography, when black-and-white film was the only game in town. Although it might seem limiting for a digital camera to only shoot monochromatic images, the limited color palette that the camera produces actually makes shooting with it a joy. It makes you think about picture making in a very different way: as a shooter you’re brain starts gravitating towards patterns, textures, light quality and intriguing moments of interaction.

Shooting with the Leica M10 Monochrom also allows you to let go of some elements of perfection. As digital photography has advanced our idea of what makes a “good” picture has changed. If it isn’t tack sharp or perfectly framed we consider it a throwaway. This is unfortunate considering that some of the most famous and iconic pictures ever made aren’t technically perfect. In many cases it’s the imperfections—the soft focus, the off-kilter framing, the fleeting moments—that make them so interesting. Shooting with the Leica M10 Monochrom was a nice reminder that “sharpness is a bourgeois concept.” In other words, it’s okay to get a little bit loose when shooting, let some of the rules fall to the wayside.

Woman in a florist shop
When shooting with the M10 Monochrom you are forced to look for patterns, light and shadow quaility and interesting moments.Jeanette D. Moses

The Leica M10 Monochrom isn’t going to be for everyone. But it isn’t meant to be. It’s certainly not the most versatile camera, but it does occupy a unique and important space in the industry. We loved the experience of shooting with it and loved the images that we were able to make in our short time with it. It’s a joyful experience, and for us, that is what photography should be about.

A man prepares fancy hot dogs in Chelsea Market
A man prepares fancy hot dogs in Chelsea Market. The vibe of this photo would be totally different if it had been shot in color.Jeanette D. Moses
kissing couple
The kissing couple is slightly obscured in this frame, if I had been shooting with another digital camera I might have trashed this one, but the offness makes it more appealing than if it had been perfect.Jeanette D. Moses
Shot inside Chelsea Market
Shot inside Chelsea Market at 1/125 sec, f/2.4 and ISO 800.Jeanette D. Moses
Grand Central Station
Sample image from the Leica M10 Monochrom shot at 1/250 sec at f/4.8 and ISO 16000. The new black-and-white sensor makes it so that images shot at high ISO's have less digital noise.Jeanette D. Moses
outdoor shops in Chelsea Market
Sample image from the Leica M10 Monochrom. This frame was shot at 1/250 sec, f/2 and ISO 6400.Jeanette D. Moses
dog and owner running
Shooting with the M10 Monochrom was a nice reminder that an aesthetically pleasing image doesn't have to be tack sharp.Jeanette D. Moses
Crossing the street in Chelsea
Crossing the street in Chelsea.Jeanette D. Moses
Tourists taking pictures
Shot at 1/250 sec, at f/2.8 and ISO 160. The large sensor size inside the camera is what gives it such a wide range of ISO sensitivity.Jeanette D. Moses
Empire State Building captured from the High Line with the Leica M10 Monochrom
The Empire State Building captured from the High Line with the Leica M10 Monochrom.Jeanette D. Moses
Sample image from the Leica M10 Monochrom
Sample image from the Leica M10 Monochrom. This frame was shot at 1/250 sec, f/3.4 and ISO 160.Jeanette D. Moses
Sitting on a bench
The camera has a discreet design and a very quiet shutter, making it great for capturing eyeday life on the streets.Jeanette D. Moses
busses in busy traffic
Sample image from the Leica M10 Monochom.Jeanette D. Moses
Rooftop terrace
Having the ability to shoot only in black and white forces you to look for patterns and textures within a frame.Jeanette D. Moses
Pigeons in flight near the High Line in Chelse
Pigeons in flight near the High Line in Chelsea.Jeanette D. Moses
Sample image of pigeon captured at 1/250 sec. f/4.8 and ISO 400.
Sample image captured at 1/250 sec. f/4.8 and ISO 400.Jeanette D. Moses
The Vessel
Heavily photographed structures like The Vessel become a bit more intruguing when you can't shoot in color.Jeanette D. Moses
Lone commuter heads toward the 7 train
Lone commuter heads toward the 7 train. Shot at 1/125 sec at f/2.0 and ISO 400.Jeanette D. Moses
Grand Central Station right before rush hour
Grand Central Station right before rush hour. Sample image shot at 1/125 sec, f/5.6 and ISO 16000.Jeanette D. Moses
ADVERTISEMENT