Leica has announced an 18-megapixel Leica M camera body with a monochrome sensor, the Leica M Monochrom (spelled “Monochrom” as this is the German spelling of the word).
I plan on covering the Leica M Monochrom as part of my Guide to Leica just as soon as I can get one to test. It’s due out in July, and it’s unclear as yet whether Leica will offer me anything to test prior to then, or even in July.
The Leica M Monochrom is a groundbreaking camera. While there have been a few ill-fated monochrome cameras made (e.g. by Kodak), this is the first time that a high resolution monochrome sensor will be available as a mainstream product. Yes, there are monochrome (and expensive) medium format cameras, but those are hugely costly and not readily available.
The image quality of a black and white sensor should be incredible. With no Bayer matrix and no anti-aliasing filter, the 18MP resolution should be considered roughly equivalent to the very best 24-36 megapixel color sensor. But no color, no color aliasing, no digital artifacts from the demosaicing process, etc.
One might reasonably wonder if a Nikon D800E image were downsampled to 18 megapixels and converted to black and white— would it be comparable to the Leica M Monochrom? That’s hard to say, but downsampling that much does tend to eliminate nearly all digital artifacts, and a color camera is much more versatile for choosing a tonal approach in black and white after shooting, whereas a monochrome sensor demands careful choice of filtration when making the image.
The main disappointment I see with the Leica M Monochrom is its ultra-low-resolution 230K pixel color screen. This hardly seems fitting for a groundbreaking camera.
LEICA M MONOCHROME: THE FUTURE OF BLACK-AND-WHITE PHOTOGRAPHY
Solms Germany (May 10, 2012) - Leica Camera AG presents the Leica M Monochrome, the world’s first digital camera exclusively for full-frame, 35 mm black-and-white photography. Featuring a sensor designed specifically for this purpose, the new addition to the Leica portfolio enables photographers to capture images in outstanding black-and-white quality, setting entirely new standards. The latest camera in the flagship Leica M-System, the Leica M Monochrom continues the successful story of the Leica rangefinder system, which has written numerous chapters in the history of innovative photography.
“Black-and-white photography is more popular than ever before. Even today, it has lost none of its fascination as an expressive medium, not even for younger generations of photographers. This is confirmed by the numerous monochrome images shown by members of the M-Community, who we are in constant contact with,” said Jesko von Oeynhausen, Product Manager for the M-System at Leica Camera AG. “For the first time ever, we are offering an opportunity to consistently and authentically explore black-and-white photography with the M Monochrom, a tool that is unique in the digital world. The camera’s exclusively black-and-white sensor brings an enormous technical benefit that is reflected in the amazing imaging quality it delivers.”
The 18 MP image sensor of the M Monochrom is perfectly matched to the unique properties of the Leica M-System and the superior performance of Leica M-Lenses. As the sensor does not ‘see’ colors, every pixel records true luminance values – as a result, it delivers ‘true’ black-and-white images that are significantly sharper than comparable exposures from a camera with a color-sensitive sensor.
To allow precise control of tonal values, the Leica M Monochrom offers a raw data histogram display to exhibit original, unprocessed and unmodified raw data. This, combined with a configurable clipping display, allows precise correction or optimization of exposures.
At the touch of a button, images captured by the M Monochrom can be converted with characteristic toning effects from black-and-white film photography (sepia, cold or selenium toning). All users need to do is save the image in JPEG format and select the desired toning effect – simply and conveniently, with no need for post-processing.
The classic, iconic design of the Leica M-cameras is carried forward by the Leica M Monochrom. The matte-black finish of the chromed top deck allows the camera to be an unobtrusive tool. Only an engraved script on the accessory shoe reveals the product name. The camera features particularly soft leather trim with ideal grip that perfectly complements the camera’s discreet character. The camera package also includes a genuine leather carrying strap in premium full-grain cowhide.
The M Monochrom is supplied complete with Adobe Photoshop Lightroom, a professional digital workflow solution. The software is available to customers as an online download after product registration. Adobe Photoshop Lightroom offers a wide range of functions for the management, processing and presentation of digital images. For example, this software allows for the creation of simple print layouts, slide shows and photo books.
A full-version of Silver Efex Pro 2, the world’s leading black-and-white image processing software, is also included in the package. Silver Efex Pro 2 offers an impressive collection of unique and powerful, darkroom-inspired tools for the creation of high quality black-and-white images. Silver Efex Pro 2 emulates over 20 different types of black-and-white film to recreate the glory of classical black-and-white film photography. The emulation of each film type is based on the analysis of many rolls of the respective type and guarantees perfect reproduction of the characteristic look of many popular films from ISO 32 to ISO 3200.
For the production of high-quality black-and-white prints, Leica Camera AG also offers a unique service in collaboration with Whitewall. After registering their Leica M Monochrom on the Leica website, customers can have their digital images from the M Monochrom printed on premium-quality baryte paper. These prints can be ordered from Whitewall through a personal link.
From photojournalism and available light photography to discreet, artistically aesthetic, creative compositions – the Leica M Monochrom adapts flexibly to every application and enables the expression of personal photographic style and consciously creative composition. The enormous potential performance of the current M-Lens portfolio, with focal lengths from 16 to 135 mm, is also fully accessible. In line with Leica’s renowned commitment to extreme system compatibility, almost all lenses of the Leica M range built since 1954 can still be used on the M Monochrom.
All characteristic properties of the Leica rangefinder system are also present in the new Leica M Monochrom. This, for instance, also includes the system’s intuitive and discreet handling. Its manual focusing based on the combined viewfinder and rangefinder concept and aperture priority exposure mode is an aid to photographers rather than placing undesired limitations on their creative freedom. In combination with the monitor display on the back of the camera, the simple menu navigation needs only a few control elements to enable rapid access to the entire range of camera functions. Together with its compact construction, the camera’s almost silent shutter benefits discreet and unobtrusive photography. Photographers can even select the appropriate moment for re-cocking the shutter. When longer exposure times requiring an extremely steady camera stance are essential, a slight pressure on the shutter release button in ‘soft release’ mode is sufficient.
All functions of the Leica M Monochrom are constructed with extreme robustness and a long working life in mind. Its one-piece, full-metal housing, made from a high-strength magnesium alloy, and the top deck and bottom plate, machined from solid brass blanks, provide perfect protection for its precious inner mechanisms. The digital components and shutter assembly of the M Monochrom are similarly constructed with a view to a lifetime of endurance. For photographers, this provides absolute reliability over decades of use. The experienced hands of Leica technicians at the factory in Solms are responsible for the assembly and calibration of M Monochrom bodies and the precise testing of all mechanical and electrical components. Leica Customer Care has decades of experience in repairs and maintenance and therefore creates a solid foundation for long life and enduring value. Even today, the service department maintains and repairs all M-Cameras built since 1954.
The Leica M-System has played a significant role in the development of the company’s performance in recent years. The annual figures have been correspondingly positive since the launch of the Leica M9 in September 2009 and are now registering record revenues.
The Leica M Monochrom in black chrome will be available from Leica dealers including the Leica Store Washington DC beginning in late July 2012.