February 06


Monochrom Allure

There is just that something  about black and white images I find that just gives a sense of timelessness and classic feel. Somehow stripped of the distraction of colors, the mind concentrates instead on the play between shadow and light that provides the perspective and shapes. When I first started dabbling in photography eons ago – it was with film – black and white films to be exact where many hours was spent in the darkroom with chemicals, dodging and burning the final print. Nowadays of course there are software that can just do the trip converting into monochrome images faster than I can say “Black and White”.

Which brings us to the topic of this post today – the Leica Monochrom – a full frame rangefinder camera that just takes black and white digital images and ONLY black and white images…..wait hold on seriously????? A camera  that only takes black and white images? Manual focus only? No videos? And it cost how much? This is a joke right…why in the world would anyone want such a camera where one could get any color camera and just do a conversion to black and white. I have got to admit that I thought someone in Leica have lost their marbles when they first introduce the Leica Monochrom….and what NO RED logo…..now how are wankers going to walk around and show off their Leica bling?

Actually, that is exactly why I like it because it’s nondescript body that doesn’t yell Leica in your face. But beyond that after using the Monochrom or MM for short, there is a lot to like about it which at least to me it’s one bright spark among the digital offerings from Leica. The MM is essentially a M9 that has the Bayer color filter removed and in so doing, the sensor just sees intensity of light and that somehow really enhances the resolution of the camera. I have used a lot of cameras ranging from DSLRs to Medium Format and have got say that  given the sensor size of the MM, the details it can resolves from an image is really darn amazing. Add to that the digital Raw files from the MM can be pushed up 5 to 6 stops without the image breaking from artifacts and you can pull out all the details from the shadow areas that you wouldn’t think can be captured. So in short, underexposed images can definitely be pushed. Also, at higher ISO the MM goes all the way to ISO10000 and images shot at ISO6400 exhibits a grain structure that at least to me is very pleasing and in some way look film-like unlike my DSLRs at those ISO.  Anyway enuff said, lets see what the MM can do.

First  up is an image of a recent trip to Nepal where I was trying to capture some of the snow peaked mountains in Pokhara. Unfortunately the weather was really hazy and you could hardly see the mountains at all. The first picture was a view of the mountains right across from Fewa Lake straight off from the Monochrom. The second and third picture are processed images from Silver Efex Pro II to rack up the contrast and the last picture is a 100% crop of the snow peaked mountains and the details that the MM can pull from the image despite the horrible haze and this image is being captured from a pretty darn far distance as can be seen from the first image.

First picture – Monochrom with 35FLE Summilux straight from camera

Second Image – Silver Efex Pro2 processed and cropped in an attempt to bring out the details of the mountains

Third image – 100% Crop of second image showing the details that the camera can resolve – you can see the houses in the foreground hills!!!

How’s that for resolving power? Remember this was captured in very poor hazy conditions.  Now for shadow details. The following picture was accidentally underexposed and the man in the center is almost in total darkness. I thought this was a lost shot but still I tried post processing it to see if I can salvage the details. The second shot was pushed almost 6 stops to lift up the shadows and the last shot was a 100% crop of the image. For an image that is pushed so many stops and still carries these amount of details in the image is really quite a feat. My usual DSLRs start to break if I pushed above 3- 4 stops and you get really ugly artifacts showing in the image.

First picture – underexposed straight from MM camera

Second image – Pushed to pull out shadow details

Third picture – 100% Crop showing the details – check out the lower left hand corner – you can make out the wording on the discarded box!!

Final set of MM images shows the grain structure of the image shot at ISO3200

First picture – shot at ISO3200

Second image is a 100% Crop of the statue at ISO3200 – take a look at the details rendered and digital grain at this ISO

In summary, the Leica Monochrom is a camera that only captures black and white images but for what it does, I think it does it very well and I have got to admit that despite my earlier misgivings on the Monochrom being another piece of Leica bling for folks with money to burn, for once I think the Leica elves in Solms got something done right with the MM.