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First Impression of the LEICA M MONOCHROM (Pre-production Model) PART 1

O was able to get the Leica M Monochrom preproduction model loaner for a couple of days, thanks to Ebehard “Ebby” Kuehne (Leica District Manager) and the notorious Tibor Szilagyi (Samy’s Camera, Los Angeles). The minute we got it, we went out to play. And wow, did we have fun.

We have many images to show with varying degrees of success (It’s not all art.), so I have decided to do a two-part post. The second part will be primarily images while this first part will be my ‘report’.

ISO 400, F16, 1/350 sec, 35mm Summilux

DISCLAIMER!!!: My review is only based on the images I take and how user friendly the camera is. Some images will be post processed with slight crops (to straighten the shot) and pushing or pulling on the contrast, darks, and brightness. That is about the only post work I do. And, my bias is based on if the camera helps me capture the image I envisioned. I am not knowledgeable about equipment from any technical point of view. So if any one expects to read detailed specifications or any tech reviews, there are other sites that have the expertise. You can go to L-Camera Forum here to find out a list of all the reviews of the Monochrom. You can check out all the specifications at the Leica site here.

ISO 400, F16, 1/250 sec, 35mm Summilux

“The virtue of the camera is not the power it has to transform the photographer into an artist, but the impulse it gives him to keep on looking. – Brooks Atkinson (Pulitzer Prize Theater Critic for New York Times) – 1951, from his book- Once Around the Sun

ISO 400, F 16, 1/180 sec, 35mm Summilux

One of the greatest feeling one can ever experience when you have a new camera in your hand, is the intense desire to be a great artist or photographer or both.  Somehow, the camera will give you the power to create amazing photographs. Why buy a new camera if it can’t empower you, right? Well, the Monochrom didn’t disappoint. Not that our photos are amazing, but it gave both O and I that warm and fuzzy feeling we wanted.

Monochrom ISO 400, 1/180 sec, 35mm Summilux

M9 Converted ISO 400, F6.7, 1/750 Sec, 50mm Summilux

The last four times I went out shooting, I came back with nothing worth looking at. O and my fellow street photographers had better luck than me. I was rather depressed, wondering when was I going to get out of this horrible slump? Then O told me about getting a Monochrome loaner. You can imagine how ecstatic I was. This was the camera that could take me out of the slump.

ISO 400, F16, 1/250 sec, 35mm Summilux

Once we had the camera in our hands, all we could think of was making the shot. But the pressure was huge to get something worth the privilege. We had limited time – two half days (we still had our day jobs to contend with and the availability of the camera was spur of the moment). So don’t expect major testing in this post although we did do a few.

ISO 400, F16, 1/125 sec, 35mm Summilux

O and I both shot with aperture priority ranging from F8 to F16 for exteriors and F1.4 to 5.6 for interiors. Unfortunately, when I loaded the images into Lightroom 4, the exposure information only registered the shutter speed but not the aperture (darn!). I hope this will be fixed with the updated firmware when the production models come out. I noted the F-stop when ever we were able to recall. The ISO’s vary and is noted with each photo. And generally, we zone focused every time.

ISO 160, F 8, 1/60 sec, 18 mm Super Elmar M

THE BASIC PHYSICAL

Let’s start with the physical characteristics: It’s effectively the M9-P. But the finish is a little different. The vulcanite on the M9 is replaced with a finer textured leather that’s nice to the touch. The metal is matte. There’s no logo or dot except for the tiny “Leica Camera Made in Germany” engraving on the back.
 The weight with battery is 600g (21 oz).
 The same as the  M9-P. I will talk about LCD screen, Menu, Frame Buffer, etc. as separate items below.

ISO 5000, F 5.6, 1/250 sec, 21mm Summilux

ISO BUMP

One of the newest and much awaited attributes of the Monochrome is the increase of the ISO range from M9’s highest of 2500 to Monochrom’s highest of 10,000. Leica didn’t change the 18 Megapixel M9 sensor made by Truesense (ex-Kodak), but it did change the parameters on what the sensor senses. Since color is no longer a concern, there is no need for the color filters that was added in front of the M9 sensor to help it recognize and record the color in light. I understand that other things like color value interpolators and artifacts no longer are of concern to black and white images. It’s really like taking away all the various layers from the sensor, allowing it to be its original naked self. So it shines when it is able to deliver full and high resolution without compromising for color.

ISO 10,000, F5.6, 1/2000 sec, 18mm Super Elmar M

It was a pleasure to take this camera around at night or in low light situations and be confident that we could shoot some photographs without bringing a flash or having to switch to our Ricoh GXR or Fuji X100. We had so much fun with the Monochrom, including having a few drinks so we could admire the design stripped of the decorations that the M9 or M9-P has. :-)

ISO 10,000, F 5.6, 1/125 sec, 50mm Summilux

THE BEAUTY OF GRAIN

The most unique thing about this camera is the grain. The grain is just simply exquisite. The grain is not the digital hard edged type you get with the M9. It’s a soft film-like grain. I noticed noise starts to creep in after around 7-8000 ISO. Some reviews mention the optimal ISO is 5000. You can see below, at ISO 10,000, the grain does get a little muddy but I think still acceptable. I think the grain rendition alone is a reason for the Monochrome camera to exist.

ISO 10,000, 1/125 sec, 50mm Summilux

TONES

The other most unique thing is the tonal value of the images. The blacks and grays are complex in range compared to the more contrasty M9. With the help of the new raw image data histogram, you can fine tune your exposure. The tones remind me of the way film responds.

ISO 5000, 1/180 sec, 50mm Summilux

FRAME BUFFER

At the beginning, Ebby warned us that the firmware was not ready so the preproduction model would be a little slow. He was right. The frame buffer still filled fast, slowing the computer down. After shooting continuous for 3 frames, the red light at the bottom of the LCD screen flashed for several seconds.

ISO 3200, 1/45 sec, 50mm Summilux 

While I could shoot a few additional frames, after about 6 to 8 shots the camera would not shoot anymore and I had to wait before I could resume. I am assuming Leica will have this part resolved by the time they deliver the production model.

ISO 3200, 1/60 sec, 50mm Summilux

ISO 3200, F 1.4, 1/125 sec, 50mm Summilux

EXPOSURE

If you like to shoot with perfect exposure on the subject and allow the brights to blow out and over expose, then you’ll have to adjust the way you shoot. In the photo above, I center metered on Caitlin, the bartender and thought the shiny object on the left would not blow out. And the photo below, I center metered on the bread and not the light in this photo and both were mistakes.

ISO 3200, F 1.4, 1/180sec, 50mm Summilux

Had I anticipated this problem, I would have brought along my M9 or any color camera, film or digital. But, one always learn from hindsight. :-)

This camera is best used with exact or under exposed shots. Over exposed shots do not have enough information for recovery in Lightroom. Believe me, I pushed every lever in Lightroom hoping to dig some detail out of the blown out areas and never found any, unlike images shot with the M9.

ISO 10,000, F 8, 1/1000, 18mm Super Elmar M

LCD SCREEN

The 2.5″ TFT LCD with sapphire-crystal Display screen is still the same ridiculously cheap one as the M9-P. I always struggle with focus in low lighting as you can see here despite the ‘bright-line frame viewfinder. I had hoped that since there is more data information from the Monochrom sensor, the screen would also show more detail for when I proof my focus. Unfortunately, that is not the case.

Monochrom ISO 400, 1/45 sec, 35mm Summilux

M9 Converted ISO 400, F 2.4, 1/60 sec, 50mm Summilux (see how the sensor is struggling with low light at the same ISO)

THE MENU
The Menu is basically the same as the M9 and M9-P except for:
1) The added the high ISO range.
2) The elimination of white balance used only with color.
3) A new histogram display to show the raw data combined with a clipping display. You can fine tune and optimize your exposures.  I really didn’t have time to play with this feature.

ISO 400, 1/60 sec, 35mm Summilux

RETHINK HOW YOU ‘SEE’ 

What I realize about this camera is that you have to think differently. You have to think black and white. I was frustrated several times because I saw a scene in color and when I shot it, the image did not have the meaning or punch that color would have given me. And I didn’t always have O beside me to shoot the color version. And nor did he have me all the time to shoot the color version when he was shooting the Monochrom.

Monochrom ISO 2500, 1/45 sec, 35mm Summilux (I didn’t meter this properly so you can see, the horizon is blown out and details of the distant mountain seen in the color is lost)

Since we see in color, you have to train yourself to see in black and white.  And when I use my M9, I never shoot in monochrome or view the jpeg in monochrome. I always view in color first.

M9 ISO 1250, F13 , 1/125 sec 50mm Summilux

The other thing is you have to know the camera inside and out. You can’t be cavalier about your exposure like you would with normal color digital cameras, M9 included. The camera demands you to be more precise about what you capture in-camera as that is how it appears to be designed. Treat it like a film camera where post options are limited compared to the typical color digital camera. But you have the luxury of not having to wait for the development time of film.

ISO 400, 1/180 sec, 35mm Summilux

Professionals and amateur who normally shoot in black and white will find it easy to use. However for us, the two days O and I had the camera was not enough to wrap our heads around it. So please excuse the quality of the photography.

ISO 400, 1/60 sec, 35mm Summilux (This image is completely unprocessed-raw except that it’s a jpeg-raw)

THE PRICE TAG

At a cool US$7,970 +/- for just the body, not including taxes, the price hits you where it hurts. That’s US$1,000 more than the M9 or the same as the M9-P and you don’t have the flexibility of shooting both color and black & white. If you want the option, you’ll have to bring another camera, defeating the concept of traveling light. I wish it was at least the same cost as the M9 and not the M9-P.

ISO 400, 1/45 sec, 35mm Summilux

CONCLUSION

So what do I think about this camera? It’s funny how things take left turns in life. When Leica announced the Monochrom back in May, I was very skeptical. I thought: who would want to shoot with a dedicated camera when you have the ability to shoot color and then convert it? I also thought: who would spend so much money on a dedicated camera?

Monochrom ISO 400, F11, 1/125 sec, 35mm Summilux

The more I read about it, the more interested I became in this camera. Now that I have played with it, I can honestly say, I want to spend more quality time with it because I love it. I agree with the concept that it is the photographer’s eye and not the camera that makes the images. But we all pore over countless photobooks for inspiration, right? And now, the images that the great masters shot on black and white  film no longer seem so unattainable. I don’t mean to be presumptuous, but the desire to try to shoot amazing photos using the masters as a standard to aim for, is exponentially intensified when I use the Monochrom.

M9 Converted ISO 400, F8, 1/750 sec, 50mm Summilux

O is completely sold on this camera. He says he is already imagining the cool shots he can make with it. While we shoot with our M9 or Ricoh or whatever, O and I talk about shots that we could make with the Monochrom. Isn’t that the beginning of aiming to shoot better photography?

ISO 400, F16, 1/60 sec, 35mm Summilux

As the Monochrom is pricey, we have already sold various things,  just to make room for this little baby. And we can’t wait to get it and go out shooting with it. :-)

I like to think that the Monochrom is much like the Levitated Mass by artist Michael Heizer  you see below. It’s something bold and ‘out-of-the-box’ to look at in wonderment. In the case of the Monochrom, you’re in luck. You can also use it with wonderment. :-)

ISO 160, 1/125 sec 18mm Super Elmar M

I’ll be posting part two with a variety of images- architecture, landscape, and of course, street within the next two weeks. So keep a look out for it!!

UPDATE: AUGUST 17, 2012, I posted Part 2 here.

# 8 MARTIN MOLINERO, Barcelona Street Photographer

Leica Liker is honored to have Martin Molinero, a Barcelona (Spain) Street Photographer as our #8 guest.

When I saw Martin’s photographs in a small Flickr group called the ‘Small Growers Street Association’, my first reaction was,’ wow,  so beautiful’.  I immediately had to find out more about this photographer and his work. I didn’t know I was in for a treat when I saw his other photographs. They overwhelmed me by their deep reverence for each moment of life he captured.

Martin’s photos are contemplative and temporal in nature.  Although the street moments are fleeting, you get the sense that many have been thoughtfully and carefully captured because he’s looking for something deeper.

Martin talks about reading between the lines of life: A kind of subtext behind the unfolding action. The result is often small but fragile and vulnerable moments of people’s lives that somehow touch you.

Through his eyes, people’s loneliness, fragility, surprise, concerns and whatever feeling they are experiencing at the moment, no longer disappear into oblivion. Instead, they are the protagonist in a play about them. Maybe it’s because Martin has experienced the ups and downs of life himself – giving him the great advantage to recognize people’s vulnerablilities without ever thinking about it.

What I admire most of all is how Martin quietly and eloquently shares that moment with his subjects. His empathy for others comes through, making the images indelible.

Here’s my interview with MARTIN MOLINERO:

Nick Name: Enantiodromos.

Does Enantiodromos mean “many contradicting characteristics”? Yes, sort of. “Enantiodromia” (from Greek: ἐνάντιος, enantios, opposite + δρόμος, dromos, running course) is a psychological principle introduced by psychiatrist Carl Gustav Jung (who took it from Heraclitus’ philosophy). It’s a sort of compensation between the conscious life and the unconscious life. It’s like an homeostasis: any excess is compensated by the system in order to restore balance. I like to think that, at a certain point, chaos becomes order and vice versa! In some way, when you want too much of something, you will get the contrary. I like this concept for photography.

Currently living in: A small town outside of Barcelona, Spain.
Motto: I don¹t have one.

Street Photographer since: Around 1996. Back then I began shooting analog in Buenos Aires, Argentina, not knowing that what I was doing had indeed a name. I just walked a lot with my old rusty Canon AE-1 and a 50mm lens, taking snapshots and enjoying the darkroom process.

Then came the Argentine economic crisis (1999-2002), which wrecked the whole thing. In 2003 I moved to Barcelona, Spain. I abandoned my photographic gear (among other things) in Buenos Aires, where I never returned, and started a new Life in Spain. I always longed to return to photography, but was always too busy struggling to survive to have any time to spare for my economically unproductive photography walks.

In 2010 my wife gave me a Nikon D90 as birthday gift and since then I’ve been back in the game.

Profession/Job: Book editor for publishing company.
Websites: www.enantiodromia.es
Organizations or Group: Calle 35 and Street Photographers

Favorite Street Camera & Lens: Not favorite, it’s just what I have. A Nikon D90; a Tokina AT-X 17 mm 3.5 and a Nikon 18-105 mm lenses.
Back-up Street Camera & Lens:  I don’t have one.
Favorite photography gadget: I don’t have one.
Favorite street food: It’s better to be light. I think there is an English expression: “being light on your feet”. Occasionally I stop to rest a little and take a coffee.

Do you listen to music while shooting? No, it would distract me. Once, I almost got hit by a car while crossing the street to take a picture. I think that listening to music would make my “sightwalks” more dangerous.
Favorite music when shooting and/or editing Photos: Not anymore now. Back in the 1990’s I listened mostly to jazz (Thelonious Monk, Miles Davis, Bill Evans, Keith Jarrett, etc.) and Argentinian musician Luis Alberto Spinetta (sadly died a few months ago) while working in my darkroom.
Favorite photo software: Not my favorite. I currently use Photoshop but I would like to try out Lightroom, which appears to be more useful.


3 Favorite Master Photographers: I could say Garry Winogrand, Joel Meyerowitz and Robert Frank; But why not Lee Friedlander, Henri Cartier-Bresson and Elliott Erwitt or say, Saul Leiter, William Eggleston and Tony Ray-Jones?
3 Favorite Contemporary Photographers: It’s the same thing. Maybe I could say Alex Webb, Trent Parke and Jeff Jacobson, or Georgui Pinkhassov, Cristóbal Hara and Richard Kalvar, or the guys of In-Public. I think I can learn different things from all of them.
Which 3 photographers’ prints do you own? It’s a shame, but none.

Color or Black and White? Lately, I’ve been shooting color. When I use to shoot film I only shot in black and white, because printing color is very tricky, especially controlling temperatures. I wanted to develop all my work then.

When I started to shoot digital I still “saw” everything in black and white. But alas, the sensor gave me color, so I became used to seeing in that way.

Shoot Film or Digital ? Now I shoot digital. Film is very expensive and time consuming. I just can’t afford it. I would love to shoot film again, it’s a completely different experience. Perhaps in the future.
What are the main differences between film and digital? I would prefer to shoot film. I like the tangible, physical aspect of film. But it’s all about time and money.
If Film, what type of negative? Back in the 1990’s I used Ilford HP5 and FP4.
Is there a special time of the day you like to shoot or is any time good? I prefer early in the morning and late in the afternoon. But I don’t have the luxury to determine in advancewhen I will have some spare time to shoot. So, I take what ever opportunity comes my way regardless of the weather.

How do you define street photography? I think it’s best defined by Nick Turpin – “… ‘Street Photography’ is just ‘Photography’ in its simplest form…” For a full explanation check it out here.

Why did you choose Street Photography and not another form of photography or stamp collecting? I think it wasn’t a choice. I was introduced to photography by my uncle when I was 17 years old. He taught me the technical principles and sparkled my interest in photography as a medium for both self expression and self-knowledge. On the other hand, I always loved to walk, and in that time I took long walks in Buenos Aires, I mean really long, like 20 or 30 kilometers. So the combination of photography and walking was very natural.

What motivates you to photograph the streets? Because of my editorial work, I spend many hours sitting at my desk, reading. I guess at some level, walking and watching is a good complement or compensation to sitting and reading. Besides, I live in a very small town, almost a hamlet about 100 km outside of Barcelona. The Llobregat River flows just below my window. There are ducks and swallows, poplars and oaks…To drive occasionally to Barcelona’s chaos is a perfect way to break the “routine” of what I see every day, and to confirm and renew the enjoyment of living in such a beautiful place.

Is Street Photography an obsession? I prefer it not be but maybe yes.

Are you a lone shooter or do you like shooting with friends or a group?  I shoot alone.
Are you an invisible photographer or visible? I would like to be invisible.
Favorite street photography city: I love Barcelona. I shot for three days in London and it was great. I think New York must be incredible. I wish I could visit there someday.


What inspires your photography? I don’t know. Probably the great photographers I admire inspire me in a deep way. In fact, everything we read, enjoy, fear and love somehow, at some level, influence the way we see. In that respect, Jung, Rilke, Rimbaud, Proust, Kafka, Tarkovski, Faulkner, Goya, Coltrane, Van Gogh, Brancusi, Palestrina, Jaco Pastorius, Paul Celan, Georges Perec, Juan José Saer and, say, Julio Cortázar wouldn’t be more significant than bicycling, chocolate, football (soccer), olive oil or “yerba mate” (traditional South American infusion), in affecting the way I shoot.

Is there a philosophy, concept  or aesthetic behind your compositions that you apply to your photos? Not consciously. I think there is no concept or aesthetic, with regard to the form. But I do believe there is something when you ask me about content. For instance, I like to find interactions between people, and between people and things. Photography gives me the chance to read these interactions in a certain contemplative manner. In some way I try to understand what the hell I’m doing a hundred of kilometres away from my home, holding a camera and walking aimlessly. And the way to find out is through the pictures, with hindsight of course.

What kind of style would you describe your photos? The light in Barcelona is strong. Combine it with shooting digital and the result is strong shadows. But when I shot film I tended to go out specifically when it was overcast because there is no shadow. So it forced me to think about composition and forms.

How do you compose a shot?  Most of the time I don’t have time to compose. It’s all about reflex. Things are happening so fast it’s difficult to compose. But when editing, I choose the takes that works compositionally in some way. If it’s possible, sometimes I shoot many shots of the same thing. So it’s not a conscious decision to shoot it one way or another. It’s more a reaction.

What do you look for in a good photograph?  I don’t look for anything in particular, although I’m usually drawn by good light. Chance is crucial in street photography and you can’t pursue chance. In some way, street photography is about failure. It’s about how you endure constant failure. How can you spend so much time walking aimlessly with a camera? How can you go out to shoot knowing that in all probability you will be back home, after a whole day walking and shooting, with nothing, not a single photo?

I don’t look for anything in particular because, when chance and surprise is part of the equation, then as a consequence, you don’t have any control. If you look for something you will probably not find it and you will miss what appears, what reveals itself. Or, even worse, if you look for something you will find it, and it will be only what you already had in your mind. One thing that I love about this kind of photography is, that when it works (and it almost never works), you get much more than what you put in.

“It is the photo that takes you; one must not take photos”, said Cartier-Bresson.
“I don’t press the shutter. The image does”, said Arbus.
“Good photographs get made despite, not because”, said Garry Winogrand.
Asked how he chose the things he photographed, Paul Strand replied: “I don’t. They choose me”. I think that is a clever approach to photography. So, what do I look for in a good photograph? I don’t know until it appears. In Barthes’ words: until it, “pricks” me.

How do you go about shooting a street photograph?  I know some quarters of Barcelona pretty well. I know in which hour the light will be good in certain places. I walk in those areas to see what happens. There is a wonderful place in Barcelona called La Boqueria, a small place with beautiful light. I often stay there for about 15 minutes and then move on.  So in that sense, I tend to stay for a while in places with good light, and walk back and forth to see what unfolds. But lately, I prefer to walk constantly, taking shots as I go.

How do you go about shooting a street photograph?  I know Barcelona pretty well. I know in which hour the light will be good in certain places. I walk in those areas to see what happens. There is a wonderful place in Barcelona called La Boceria, a small place with beautiful light. I often stay there for about 15 minutes and then move on.  So in that sense, I tend to stay for a while in places with good light, and walk back and forth to see what unfolds. But lately, I prefer to walk constantly, taking shots as I go.


How do you choose your shots when you edit? What tells you that the shot is good? In most cases I know it’s a bad shot. It’s not common to see a good shot. So when there is a good one out of a thousand, you notice it.
Best 3 tips for shooting the streets: Just one: enjoy the walk.

Best single advice on how to improve your work: Be patient? Don’t give up? Try new approaches? I don’t know. I’m still struggling to improve my work, how could I give any advice to others?
Best single advice on how to edit your work: I think you must be somehow detached from your emotional connection with the picture. I have the invaluable help of my wife. Her detailed analysis and thoughtful critiques help me to be detached while I edit.
Best single advice for someone who wants to get into street photography: Get a good pair of shoes?

What’s the best moment in your street photography career? I wouldn’t say I have a street photography career. What would that be? I’m very glad to have been selected as a finalist in the 2011 London Street Photography Festival. That showed me that I was going in the right way. I’m very happy to be part of Calle 35, a Barcelona based street photography collective, and Street Photographers, an international collective which has recently launched a E-book at Blurb Books: Street Photographers.

What’s the worst moment in your street photography career? I really haven’t had even one single bad moment. Sometimes people get upset or ask me to explain what I am doing, but nothing bad at all.

What projects are you working on? That’s a tough question, I’m still asking myself that. Maybe something will appear by itself soon?

Where do you want to be in 5 years with regard to street photography? I will be fortunate if I still have the time to go out to shoot. I would like to have developed a consistent way of seeing. I would like to be able to articulate the pictures in a strong, solid and coherent discourse.

Are there other exhibitions planned in the future? Alongside my fellows at Calle 35, we will exhibit our work at the Biennal Xavier Miserachs 2012 from September 15th to October 14th in the City of Parafrugell here in Spain. Everyone is welcome!

Leica Liker thanks Martin for sharing his experience and inspirational advice with us. :-)We look forward to checking in on him in the future.

You can check out Martin’s gear in “Liker Bags’n Gear here”.

This is Martin’s self portrait. He likes the mystery of life.

#8 Martin Molinero’s Gear


We are pleased to have Martin Molinero, Barcelona Street Photographer as our #8 featured street photographer.

You can check out the interview under “Inspiration” here in this blog. This is his bag of goodies!

LowePro Stealth Reporter Bag

Nikon D90 camera + Tokina AT-X 17mm 3.5 lens

1 x spare battery

Glasses etui

Notepad

Pen

Little cleaning brush

Folding backpack

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