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Introducing Leica’s M Monochrom Camera

Today Leica have announced a range of cameras as well as a lens at an event in Berlin Germany – one of which is causing quite the stir.

It is the new Leica M-Monochrom camera – worth a cool $7990 USD (body only).

leica-m-monochrom.jpeg

The discussion already rages around the web – largely centred upon two areas:

  • the price (a debate that happens every time Leica cameras are mentioned)
  • the fact that this is a Black and White camera – there’s nothing colour here!

I might skip over the debate on price as it’s an old one and ultimately people will pay for this camera (in face of late Leica seems to be having a resurgence dispute the hefty price of their cameras and lenses (disclosure: I shoot with a Leica M9P).

But lets take a quick look at the idea of a camera designed with the sole purpose of shooting black and white images. Why is there a need for a camera like this when you can convert colour images so easily in post processing and when Leica’s other M range of digital cameras can also shoot in black and white.

There’s actually some sense behind what might seem like a crazy idea.

The Leica M-Monochrom camera has no filter array in front of its sensor to allow it to collect any colour information when it shoots an image. The benefits of removing this filter array are tangible.

Without going into the technical details the resolution of images captured with this approach should be quite a bit better. Noise will also be reduced and as a result this camera’s maximum ISO has increased from 2,500 in the M9P to 10,000 – allowing for shooting in much lower light.

So – in theory this camera should produce some remarkably sharp images, particularly when you couple it with one of Leica’s remarkably sharp lenses!

The other aspect of this is that many many Leica rangefinder photographers shoot almost exclusively in black and white. Look through most Leica forums and communities and you’ll see just how many Leica shooters will be attracted to a camera like this.

Also word emerging from Berlin from those who have had opportunity to shoot with this camera is that it is producing amazing results. Time will tell though as models hit the market in August.

As a Leica shooter myself I don’t really see myself in the market for this camera. It’s out of my league in terms of price at this point and if I did have that kind of cash to splash I’d be adding another lens before I was in the market for a Black and White camera – however I suspect there will be some who are already placing their orders.

B&H Photo and Video already Have it Listed for Pre-Ordering Here.

What do you think about the idea of a Black and White camera?

Read more from our Cameras & Equipment category.

Darren Rowse is the editor and founder of Digital Photography School and SnapnDeals. He lives in Melbourne Australia and is also the editor of the ProBlogger Blog Tips. Follow him on Instagram, on Twitter at @digitalPS or on Google+.

  • Craig

    I can see a lot of journalistic type, documentary, and street photographers probably going for this. I personally, would be buying a Canon 5D MkII with a couple of good lenses or a MkIII body, with the sort of cash needed for this.

    I reckon these cameras are more of a fashion statement for celebs rather than a serious considered purchase for most enthusiasts. Nevertheless, Leica’s do shoot remarkably superb photographs, and I’m sure the lucky enthusiasts and amateurs who get there hands on one will put this latest creation to its best possible use.
    Gotta say though…they are a lovely looking retro-like camera.

  • http://constantphotographer.blogspot.com/ Gustavo J. Mata

    I’m old enough to remember the pleasure of shooting on Tri-X at 400 ASA. Were I affluent I would buy this camera and go out into the new night it will open to us.

    Gustavo J. Mata

  • http://disney-photography-blog.com/ Alexx

    Yes I love it! I was looking at a MP-9, but I think I might hold off for this one.

    http://disney-photography-blog.com/

  • http://flickr.com/serzhanja sergejs babikovs

    I WOULD like to try it out. I do TONS of street photo and documentary and usually convert them to harsh black and white. But there’s that PRICE aspect….

    _____________
    Subscribe on instagram – serzhanja

  • Average Joe

    Although a black and white only camera wouldn’t prove to be extremely useful most of the time, this does seem like a great idea in terms of quality. …but yeah, the price seems pretty…pricy.

  • Average Joe

    Although a black and white only camera wouldn’t prove to be extremely useful most of the time, this does seem like a great idea in terms of quality. …but yeah, the price seems pretty…pricey.

  • Derek L

    Well, I’m hoping this inspires other camera manufacturers… (A G1 XMono anyone?) But, as this generally hasn’t happened with rangefinders, this goes on the “when I hit the lottery” list.

  • http://www.nikonbaby.com Nikon Baby

    $7990 USD amm… better buy Nikon D800 ^^

  • Peely22

    $7999 translates to £6999 in the $:£ Camera Ratio. Not sure why they don’t use the normal exchange rates for us over here.

    For that budget I could pretty much buy everything I could possible want.
    One camera? seems nuts.

  • John Cundiff

    At that price it should sell because I was looking at resurrecting my film camera to do some B&W shooting, but the cost of developing, and battery, and film (which I could not find what I wanted), were almost the same price s this new camera.

  • Tom Stallard

    I really don’t understand this camera at all, other than the potential for an improvement in low-light performance. For that kind of price, it would have to be a huge bump. All colour cameras are effectively also black and white cameras, it just they simultaneously take monochromatic images at three different wavelengths, giving you far more options in tone or style when you produce the final image. Most ‘expensive’ point and shoot cameras ($300+) have the option to switch to Black and White, so it isn’t convenience either. I can’t understand why they didn’t just coat it in diamonds, since that’s the market they seem to be aiming for here…

  • http://photos.rickscheibner.net Rick

    The huge advantage to converting a digital RAW file to monochrome is the ability to push/pull color channels until you get the right balance and contrast that you’re looking for. Unless I’m missing something, that feature seems to be missing from this camera. However, given that it’s a Leica, and at that price point, it should be no surprise that it’s producing some amazing images. In fact, I would expect it to. For my money, though, a 50mm f/1.4 on my 5DmkII and Lightroom/Silver Efex Pro 2 work just fine.

  • http://www.hertha.com Bill

    It’s very tempting, but I expect the M10 will be announced at Photokina so I’d like to see what that’s like.

  • http://www.shoottokyo.com Dave

    Darren – I got to shoot this last night at the launch party in Ginza. This camera is incredible in my opinion. I was sort of dismissing it but once I got it in my hand and saw the images I really liked it. As you know Leica is notoriously bad with high ISO. I typically don’t shoot above 640 on mine. I did some test shots at 10,000 ISO and was very impressed with how clean they were. I posted a bunch of shots up on http://www.shoottokyo.com from the event.

  • http://www.alohabug.com AlohaBug

    Looks really nice and I’m sure it’s worth it…but I agree with Craig. Lucky for those who will have it in their possession!

  • Kev

    Got a general email from a magazine that mentioned this and it went straight on my “If I won the lottery…” list.
    Not at the top, but at the top of the camera gear. I love B&W, and it’s great fun to tweak and convert colour, but with one of these in your hand you’ll have the best of both worlds: Instant feedback of digital and the undeniable soul of B&W – at least if you’re a better photographer than me (and rich).

  • Dan Johnson

    Sure it’s expensive but, well, it’s a Leica M and it uses the best lenses in the world and it takes superb photographs. As a serious photographer I am very excited about this camera, even if I cannot afford one.

  • http://www.artberry.net Amanda Berry

    There is of course the aspect one would have to use colour filters on the lens (as with BW film) if one wanted to change the tonalities of some elements of a scene. E.g tone and detail in sky areas, foliage etc Because with no colour data in RAW files you couldn’t achieve this in post processing. Whereas cameras with colour sensors particularly DSLRs offer both methods of colour/tonal control. Of course adding filters to lenses necessitates increases exposure usually by 1 to 2 stops which to some extent would negate the ISO/noise advantages of a monochrome only sensor, not to mention potentially degrade optical performance through adding more glass to the lens.

    I suppose the extent this might be an issue might depend on the individual and the type of BW photography one does. But even so it does paradoxically mean this camera would in practice be less ideally suited to producing black and white photography than a DSLR or quality system camera with a normal colour sensor.

    Personally I don’t think that makes a lot of sense. I suppose it makes even less sense when one considers these cameras have no Live View so it wouldn’t be that easy to preview the effect of any colour filter used over the lens. That being the case I don’t think these cameras are really a photographer’s camera, assuming most photographers would view a camera as a means to an end and not an end in itself i.e. an expensive fashion accessory. I suppose there might be a market for them if they were a lot cheaper e.g. there is a certain novelty in using vintage film cameras and film has it’s own particular qualities and a kind of historical integrity as a medium. Whereas this just seems like a somewhat pointless gimmick, particularly at the price, given one could buy a quality up to date DSLR system for the same price.

  • Robin

    Going back to the price, it all depends on the reliability of this camera. An old adage says ‘Buy cheap, buy twice’ and although I wouldn’t say my Canon EOS 5D MKII was cheap, it was a lot cheaper than this Leica. However, my current digital Canon and my previous 2 digital Canons (EOS 5D and EOS 300D) have all experienced problems that have set me back a small fortune in repairs. (The MKII failed to switch on at all, 2 weeks after the guarantee ran out!). And before anyone accuses me of rough handling, let me add that I have had two EOS film cameras (600 & 620) for nearly 20 years without a single problem. Now if the Leica goes for that long or even longer without a problem, then I’d say you had got good value for money. Only time will tell however.

  • http://www.courier-spain.com Edmund

    “Going back to the price, it all depends on the reliability of this camera.” Well Robin, this was the case with film cameras but now technology moves so quickly that your 300D is basically worthless. My OM4Ti died and I “regressed” to another OM2 which costs today roughly what I paid for it then. It obviously depends what you need it for but for me the investment is in lenses and I regard the camera body as almost disposable.

  • Robin

    Having had more time to think about it Edmund, I have to agree with Tom Stallard and yourself. Tom said he couldn’t understand (the release of) this camera at all. Any camera that can shoot in Raw can turn out very good B&W results. And as for longevity, I used to work in an industry that produced a product for which the salesman used to opine, ‘And it is built to last 20 years!’ Of course, that manufacturer is now no more simply because people got used to the new mantra of changing something at least every five years and sometimes sooner. So,like Tom said, why not encrust it with diamonds (or gold plate it) when it’s worth would remain over time. No doubt it will take on some antiquity value eventually, but that won’t be for a long time yet!

  • http://www.artberry.net Amanda Berry

    Well Yes I was going to say the fact they are well made and should last a long time might be a moot point given with no TTL viewfinder, Live View, or autofocus, it’s debatable whether the Leica M9 is ideally suited as a practical tool to any type of actual photography. That’s not to say one couldn’t overcome it’s limitiations and take amazing pictures with it. After all they are full-frame and have excellent lenses and so they should for the price. But I think if one views a camera as a tool it stands to reason the most useful and practical tool is going to wear out before a tool which is a lot less practical and useful for everyday use.

    That said in all fairness to cheaper mass produced digital cameras, touch wood I’ve never had any problems I couldn’t fix myself and by far the main problem is they become obsolete before they wear out. Of course the wonderous thing about the Leica M9 is as an anachronism it can never be obsolete for as long as there are Luddites with money lol

  • http://www.artberry.net Amanda Berry

    Actually I wonder myself whether a black and white only sensor has any significant quality advantages over shooting in raw mode with a color sensor. Because generally in my experience apart from the fact one has a lot more control over tonalities with colour data present, de-saturating images tends to reduce chromatic noise in any case. In fact having used point and shoot campacts in the past I’ve often found one can produce remarkable black and white images even with fairly modest digital cameras, particularly if one is going for artistic effect rather than faithful technical perfection.

    Ironically it was people like Cartier Bresson who helped create the Leica myth, but they were popular back then because they were the best tool available for documentary and street photography at that time and not because they were some kind of over-priced anachronistic dinoseur basking in the ethos of past artistic glories. I think at this point in time something like a Canon EOS 600D or Panasonic G series would make more sense as an artistic tool and such cameras possess more of the true artistic spirit of the original Leicas than anything Leica actually make today apart from maybe their lenses :)

  • Arnab

    Perhaps its the pain and passion that goes with Leica. There are so many people in favour and critics of Leica, but Leica is pain. In the hands of a just an operator it has no value. For them a Canon. Nikon, Olympus is just equally good. For a person who wants the pain of it, really wants to paint a picture this is a great one.

Some older comments

  • Arnab

    June 8, 2012 04:07 pm

    Perhaps its the pain and passion that goes with Leica. There are so many people in favour and critics of Leica, but Leica is pain. In the hands of a just an operator it has no value. For them a Canon. Nikon, Olympus is just equally good. For a person who wants the pain of it, really wants to paint a picture this is a great one.

  • Amanda Berry

    May 24, 2012 01:36 am

    Actually I wonder myself whether a black and white only sensor has any significant quality advantages over shooting in raw mode with a color sensor. Because generally in my experience apart from the fact one has a lot more control over tonalities with colour data present, de-saturating images tends to reduce chromatic noise in any case. In fact having used point and shoot campacts in the past I've often found one can produce remarkable black and white images even with fairly modest digital cameras, particularly if one is going for artistic effect rather than faithful technical perfection.

    Ironically it was people like Cartier Bresson who helped create the Leica myth, but they were popular back then because they were the best tool available for documentary and street photography at that time and not because they were some kind of over-priced anachronistic dinoseur basking in the ethos of past artistic glories. I think at this point in time something like a Canon EOS 600D or Panasonic G series would make more sense as an artistic tool and such cameras possess more of the true artistic spirit of the original Leicas than anything Leica actually make today apart from maybe their lenses :)

  • Amanda Berry

    May 23, 2012 11:41 pm

    Well Yes I was going to say the fact they are well made and should last a long time might be a moot point given with no TTL viewfinder, Live View, or autofocus, it's debatable whether the Leica M9 is ideally suited as a practical tool to any type of actual photography. That's not to say one couldn't overcome it's limitiations and take amazing pictures with it. After all they are full-frame and have excellent lenses and so they should for the price. But I think if one views a camera as a tool it stands to reason the most useful and practical tool is going to wear out before a tool which is a lot less practical and useful for everyday use.

    That said in all fairness to cheaper mass produced digital cameras, touch wood I've never had any problems I couldn't fix myself and by far the main problem is they become obsolete before they wear out. Of course the wonderous thing about the Leica M9 is as an anachronism it can never be obsolete for as long as there are Luddites with money lol

  • Robin

    May 23, 2012 05:59 pm

    Having had more time to think about it Edmund, I have to agree with Tom Stallard and yourself. Tom said he couldn't understand (the release of) this camera at all. Any camera that can shoot in Raw can turn out very good B&W results. And as for longevity, I used to work in an industry that produced a product for which the salesman used to opine, 'And it is built to last 20 years!' Of course, that manufacturer is now no more simply because people got used to the new mantra of changing something at least every five years and sometimes sooner. So,like Tom said, why not encrust it with diamonds (or gold plate it) when it's worth would remain over time. No doubt it will take on some antiquity value eventually, but that won't be for a long time yet!

  • Edmund

    May 22, 2012 06:39 pm

    "Going back to the price, it all depends on the reliability of this camera." Well Robin, this was the case with film cameras but now technology moves so quickly that your 300D is basically worthless. My OM4Ti died and I "regressed" to another OM2 which costs today roughly what I paid for it then. It obviously depends what you need it for but for me the investment is in lenses and I regard the camera body as almost disposable.

  • Robin

    May 18, 2012 05:55 am

    Going back to the price, it all depends on the reliability of this camera. An old adage says 'Buy cheap, buy twice' and although I wouldn't say my Canon EOS 5D MKII was cheap, it was a lot cheaper than this Leica. However, my current digital Canon and my previous 2 digital Canons (EOS 5D and EOS 300D) have all experienced problems that have set me back a small fortune in repairs. (The MKII failed to switch on at all, 2 weeks after the guarantee ran out!). And before anyone accuses me of rough handling, let me add that I have had two EOS film cameras (600 & 620) for nearly 20 years without a single problem. Now if the Leica goes for that long or even longer without a problem, then I'd say you had got good value for money. Only time will tell however.

  • Amanda Berry

    May 18, 2012 03:06 am

    There is of course the aspect one would have to use colour filters on the lens (as with BW film) if one wanted to change the tonalities of some elements of a scene. E.g tone and detail in sky areas, foliage etc Because with no colour data in RAW files you couldn't achieve this in post processing. Whereas cameras with colour sensors particularly DSLRs offer both methods of colour/tonal control. Of course adding filters to lenses necessitates increases exposure usually by 1 to 2 stops which to some extent would negate the ISO/noise advantages of a monochrome only sensor, not to mention potentially degrade optical performance through adding more glass to the lens.

    I suppose the extent this might be an issue might depend on the individual and the type of BW photography one does. But even so it does paradoxically mean this camera would in practice be less ideally suited to producing black and white photography than a DSLR or quality system camera with a normal colour sensor.

    Personally I don't think that makes a lot of sense. I suppose it makes even less sense when one considers these cameras have no Live View so it wouldn't be that easy to preview the effect of any colour filter used over the lens. That being the case I don't think these cameras are really a photographer's camera, assuming most photographers would view a camera as a means to an end and not an end in itself i.e. an expensive fashion accessory. I suppose there might be a market for them if they were a lot cheaper e.g. there is a certain novelty in using vintage film cameras and film has it's own particular qualities and a kind of historical integrity as a medium. Whereas this just seems like a somewhat pointless gimmick, particularly at the price, given one could buy a quality up to date DSLR system for the same price.

  • Dan Johnson

    May 18, 2012 02:32 am

    Sure it's expensive but, well, it's a Leica M and it uses the best lenses in the world and it takes superb photographs. As a serious photographer I am very excited about this camera, even if I cannot afford one.

  • Kev

    May 17, 2012 11:00 pm

    Got a general email from a magazine that mentioned this and it went straight on my "If I won the lottery..." list.
    Not at the top, but at the top of the camera gear. I love B&W, and it's great fun to tweak and convert colour, but with one of these in your hand you'll have the best of both worlds: Instant feedback of digital and the undeniable soul of B&W - at least if you're a better photographer than me (and rich).

  • AlohaBug

    May 14, 2012 01:16 pm

    Looks really nice and I'm sure it's worth it...but I agree with Craig. Lucky for those who will have it in their possession!

  • Dave

    May 14, 2012 09:26 am

    Darren - I got to shoot this last night at the launch party in Ginza. This camera is incredible in my opinion. I was sort of dismissing it but once I got it in my hand and saw the images I really liked it. As you know Leica is notoriously bad with high ISO. I typically don't shoot above 640 on mine. I did some test shots at 10,000 ISO and was very impressed with how clean they were. I posted a bunch of shots up on www.shoottokyo.com from the event.

  • Bill

    May 13, 2012 10:49 am

    It's very tempting, but I expect the M10 will be announced at Photokina so I'd like to see what that's like.

  • Rick

    May 13, 2012 01:45 am

    The huge advantage to converting a digital RAW file to monochrome is the ability to push/pull color channels until you get the right balance and contrast that you're looking for. Unless I'm missing something, that feature seems to be missing from this camera. However, given that it's a Leica, and at that price point, it should be no surprise that it's producing some amazing images. In fact, I would expect it to. For my money, though, a 50mm f/1.4 on my 5DmkII and Lightroom/Silver Efex Pro 2 work just fine.

  • Tom Stallard

    May 12, 2012 12:30 pm

    I really don't understand this camera at all, other than the potential for an improvement in low-light performance. For that kind of price, it would have to be a huge bump. All colour cameras are effectively also black and white cameras, it just they simultaneously take monochromatic images at three different wavelengths, giving you far more options in tone or style when you produce the final image. Most 'expensive' point and shoot cameras ($300+) have the option to switch to Black and White, so it isn't convenience either. I can't understand why they didn't just coat it in diamonds, since that's the market they seem to be aiming for here...

  • John Cundiff

    May 12, 2012 08:43 am

    At that price it should sell because I was looking at resurrecting my film camera to do some B&W shooting, but the cost of developing, and battery, and film (which I could not find what I wanted), were almost the same price s this new camera.

  • Peely22

    May 12, 2012 08:12 am

    $7999 translates to £6999 in the $:£ Camera Ratio. Not sure why they don't use the normal exchange rates for us over here.

    For that budget I could pretty much buy everything I could possible want.
    One camera? seems nuts.

  • Nikon Baby

    May 12, 2012 07:48 am

    $7990 USD amm... better buy Nikon D800 ^^

  • Derek L

    May 12, 2012 07:44 am

    Well, I'm hoping this inspires other camera manufacturers... (A G1 XMono anyone?) But, as this generally hasn't happened with rangefinders, this goes on the "when I hit the lottery" list.

  • Average Joe

    May 12, 2012 05:03 am

    Although a black and white only camera wouldn't prove to be extremely useful most of the time, this does seem like a great idea in terms of quality. ...but yeah, the price seems pretty...pricey.

  • Average Joe

    May 12, 2012 05:03 am

    Although a black and white only camera wouldn't prove to be extremely useful most of the time, this does seem like a great idea in terms of quality. ...but yeah, the price seems pretty...pricy.

  • sergejs babikovs

    May 12, 2012 04:40 am

    I WOULD like to try it out. I do TONS of street photo and documentary and usually convert them to harsh black and white. But there's that PRICE aspect....

    _____________
    Subscribe on instagram - serzhanja

  • Alexx

    May 12, 2012 04:04 am

    Yes I love it! I was looking at a MP-9, but I think I might hold off for this one.

    http://disney-photography-blog.com/

  • Gustavo J. Mata

    May 12, 2012 03:02 am

    I'm old enough to remember the pleasure of shooting on Tri-X at 400 ASA. Were I affluent I would buy this camera and go out into the new night it will open to us.

    Gustavo J. Mata

  • Craig

    May 12, 2012 12:54 am

    I can see a lot of journalistic type, documentary, and street photographers probably going for this. I personally, would be buying a Canon 5D MkII with a couple of good lenses or a MkIII body, with the sort of cash needed for this.

    I reckon these cameras are more of a fashion statement for celebs rather than a serious considered purchase for most enthusiasts. Nevertheless, Leica's do shoot remarkably superb photographs, and I'm sure the lucky enthusiasts and amateurs who get there hands on one will put this latest creation to its best possible use.
    Gotta say though...they are a lovely looking retro-like camera.

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