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Thoughts on Leica M Monochrom

What I am hearing is that the Leica M Monochrom is a very limited production run, which means get in line now.

Pre-order the Leica M Monochrom at B&H Photo.


Leica M Monochrom

See my previous notes on the Leica M Monochrom and notes on the Leica 50mm f/2 APO-Summicron-M ASPH as well as my thoughts on the Nikon D800 in monochrome.

I’ve had the chance to review some DNG files from the Leica M Monochrom, some publicly available and others shared with me privately.

The Leica M Monochrom quality is stunning on a per-pixel basis; the tonality is gorgeous in both highlights and shadows, and the sharpness is unbelievably good right down to the pixel level.

While it’s “only” 18 megapixels, it will easily beat out cameras in the 20-24 megapixel range in making high quality black and white prints, with the super-fine detail, exquisite tonality and freedom from most types of digital artifacts. Whether it will beat out a 36-megapixel Nikon D800 or D800E is less clear, but I suspect there will be tradeoffs for each on balance. The D800/D800E can be downsampled to 18MP which I believe will produce even a bit better detail than the Leica M Monochrome, but optimal black and white results from the D800 might require tinkering and might never achieve quite the same look. Which is neither good nor bad per se.

The image sharpness with the Leica M Monochrom is so impressive (on a per pixel basis) that one has to wonder just what might be possible with a 36 or 50 or 60 megapixel monochrome sensor. I hope Leica gets there eventually, and I admit to being disappointed that a 28-megapixel sensor was not used.

As for the cost, well, it is very expensive, but it is also a limited production run of something unique and special. I would rather that such things were made, even if I cannot personally afford the vast majority of such things (I don’t limit my admiration for excellence to cameras or lenses). That such things can and are produced from the genius of the human mind is an affirmation of life.

Which does not mean that all is well with the Leica M Monochrom design. It deserves a 1-2 million pixel grayscale LCD, not a vintage low-res blurry color LCD. How inappropriate.

Reader comments

Herb C writes:

Regarding your comments on the Leica monochrome and filters. If my D800E is used for monochrome, the camera has some provisions for filters. What are your thoughts about that?

DIGLLOYD: A color sensor has 1/4 red, 1/4 blue and 1/2 green photosites. Applying a color filter would blind it to the other colors, e.g., applying a red filter would blind the blue photosites and partially blind the green ones (there is some overlap). The result would be a massive increase in digital noise. When shooting for black and white output with a color camera, the big plus is the ability to “filter” AFTER the image is taken, by mixing the color channels as desired.

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