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Posts tagged ‘Leica M Monochrome’

LEICA M MONOCHROM – Reality Check

L1000769-2-Edit

ISO 320, 1/125 sec, 35mm Summilux – by O

Since my “first impression” post back in September last year, O and I sold a few lenses and an old Nikon, just so proceeds could go towards a Leica M Monochrom and we haven’t looked back.

When the camera was first announced in May 2012, O was immediately sold on the idea. Me? I needed a lot of convincing because the price point was high, and it was limited to black and white. But then we were able to test the pre-production model and both of us fell in love with it.

In my previous post, I talked about the most important value any camera can give, whether it be a $1.00 toy camera or a Leica, is the ability to inspire you to grab the camera and shoot amazing or near amazing photographs. Well, it hasn’t changed at all. Actually, I lie. The desire to shoot beautiful photographs is stronger than before.

Leica Liker Martin Cello

ISO 5000, 1/1000 sec, 50mm Noctilux – by O

O sums it up the best. He says there is no excuse to not shoot good photographs anymore. Unlike color, where you can be lazy and decide if the shot could be presented in black and white or not, or slack off on the framing or composition (don’t tell me you don’t do this sometime), the Monochrom only works well when you understand the demands it has of you, the user/photographer. You have to rethink how you ‘see’. You are forced to think in black and white in order to capture the images you want.

This is because the image is recorded in shades of grey and tones and not the colors which our eye is accustomed to seeing in real life. Understanding this is the first step towards a creative process. You have to think about how you want the sensor to record the image. You have to consider many aspects of the photograph in order to capture what you want. This creative process is essential to the Monochrom, otherwise, it would be a waste of money. However little or strong it may be, you can’t run away from it.

M Tillmann 1.A Ewanglee

ISO 400, 1/45, 35mm Summilux

So if you think you are not creative, you actually are because of all the different aspects you must consider and answer before you press the shutter. For instance, the choice of more or less contrast will either harshen or soften the image, therefore changing the way you present the subject. The tones help define whether the image is more realistic or impressionistic. You can emphasize forms and shapes, thereby focussing the eye towards the subject with less distractions.

O believes that black and white has an inherently more impressionistic quality whereas color requires a great deal of thought and planning in order to give off the same level of impressionism.

So without further ado, let’s dive straight into the photographs and details of the performance of the Monochrom.

M Tillmann 12 Ewanglee

ISO 1250, 1/45sec, 35mm Summilux

DISCLAIMER!!!: My review is only based on the images I take and how user friendly the camera is. Some images have been post processed with slight crops (to straighten the shot) and pushing or pulling on the contrast, darks, and brightness in Lightroom 4. A few have been processed with Nik Silver Efex 2. 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.

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ISO 800, 1/2000 sec, 35mm Summilux

THE BASIC PHYSICAL

I love, love, love the stealth look of the Monochrom. No Leica red dot, no Leica name logo on top, just matte black metal with a fine textured leather finish. Simple and understated. In my mind, it’s the most elegant Leica in the M series. The clean lines are classic.

FRAME BUFFER

In Japan, there is an aesthetic called Wabi-Sabi, that is sometimes described as beauty that is “imperfect, impermanent, and incomplete”. It is a concept derived from the Buddhist teaching of the three marks of existence (三法印 sanbōin), specifically impermanence (無常 mujō), the other two being suffering (苦 ku) and emptiness or absence of self-nature (空 kū?).” (Taken from Wikipedia)

You’re probably wondering, “what in the world is she talking about?”… I’m just coming to it, so please indulge me a little more.

Leica Liker Hitchcock church

ISO 640, 1/500, 35mm Summilux – by O

From an engineering or design point of view, wabi may be interpreted as the imperfect quality of any object, due to inevitable limitations in design and construction/manufacture especially with respect to unpredictable or changing usage conditions; then sabi could be interpreted as the aspect of imperfect reliability, or limited mortality of any object, hence the phonological and etymological connection with the Japanese word sabi, to rust.(Also taken from Wikipedia)

Now to the point. On the pre-production model, we noted the Frame Buffer was slow. Well….it hasn’t changed. When you shoot over 4-5 single frames continuously, the frame buffer fills up and you’re forced to wait between 15- 30 seconds before it frees up. It’s a flaw that happens to me very often. That’s why I have had to reach into my Zen drawer and find a way to explain to myself why I must remain patient as little grasshopper should. 🙂

I hope Leica fixes this soon!

L1002492

ISO 320, 1/180 sec, 35mm Summilux – by O

ISO BUMP

The increase in ISO to 10000 make this camera low light friendly. It’s my go-to camera in the evenings. Stripped of the RGB filters, Kodak’s Truesense presents as pure an image as you can possibly get. To the best of my knowledge, there is nothing out there that comes close to purity than this one.

THE BEAUTY OF GRAIN

As I said in my last post, the most unique thing about this camera is the noise grain. It 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.

However, at 10,000 ISO, the Truesense sensor is pushed to its limit. The noise is extremely noticeable with a slight muddy nature (for my taste), although professional photographers like Jacob Aue Sobol has been able to turn it into an aesthetic. The highest I use is 6400, where the noise is acceptable and part of the aesthetic of the shot. But at 5000 you can get a near noiseless shot. My ideal range for night shots is 3200 -6400. During the day, I play between 640 and 3200.

TONES

I love the complex and refined tonal range of this camera. When you look at the images, the details are part of the lure. Hence, the grey nature of the RAW files. But that’s what is so great about the camera. You capture more detail than some negative films. Your RAW files let you make ‘informed’ choices on how to process the shot. You have more options to post the image than ever before.

L1002487

ISO 320, 1/125 sec, 35mm Summilux – by O

EXPOSURE
As mentioned in my last post, you need to underexpose the shot so don’t blow out your highlights. Unless you want to of course.

LCD SCREEN

I really hope Leica will replace the 2.5″ TFT LCD sapphire-crystal display screen with something comparable to any SLR camera out there. What they have on there is just subpar.

THE MENU

I was able to play with the new histogram that shows the raw data combined with a clipping display. I try to practice with it to see how my estimate of exposure is compared to the actual. It’s still a work in progress for me. A wonderful tool for those who are still learning.

Leica Liker Back

ISO 320, 1/4000, 50mm Summicron – by O

LENSES

The Monochrom makes every lens shine because the image is as pure as the lens. But O and I are of the opinion that the Monochrom is really made for sharp lenses like the APOs. The sensor captures every nuance of the image.

THE PRICE TAG

What can I say? I hate it because it hurts the pocket for those of us who have to count our pennies. But I understand it and am in support of the decision. It’s the only camera that is hand made. Regardless of the technology (good or bad), I love the fact that I am paying for some one’s livelihood. Someone who has pride in their work. Some one who gets excited when they can invent, to preserve and expand a legend, or bridge a gap between old and new, paint the logo on, put on the screw… well you get the idea.

In our society, we don’t seem to value individual input anymore. The bottom-line rules everything at the expense of people. You can’t compare products that are made from robotic assembly lines with ones put together by humans.

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ISO 2000, 1/60 sec, 21mm Super Elmar

CONCLUSION

The Leica M Monochrom is a milestone in camera inventions, just like when the ‘Barnack’ was invented to make cameras portable, or the first M(3) Leica was invented with bayonet interchangeable lenses, or when the M9 was born with its full frame sensor. This camera is a game changer in the world of full frame digital cameras. It is also the perfect evolution from negative film to digital without leaving the achievements of film in the trash. It tries to emulate the beautiful quality of film, yet still have its own unique quality. That’s a good thing.

You can read:

First Impressions of Leica M Monochrom (Pre-production model) Part 1 here.

First Impressions of Leica M Monochrom (Pre-production model) Part 2 here.

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First Impression of the LEICA M MONOCHROM (Pre-production Model) PART 2

ISO 400, 1/350 sec, 35mm Summilux

A couple weeks ago, I wrote about my first impression of Leica’s M Monochrom camera. You can read Part 1 here. I promised to show a variety of images to give you a broader idea of how the camera captures black and white images. Well, here they are.

ISO 400, 1/500 sec, 35mm Summilux

Keep in mind, O and I only had two half days to play with the camera and we both struggled with “seeing in black and white” to really take advantage of the camera. We never really grasped the concept completely. It’s something you have to learn or re-learn, as the camera demands that of you.

ISO 400, 1/500 sec, 35mm Summilux

As I mentioned in Part 1 of this post, O and I are sold on playing more with the Monochrom. We can’t wait for the delivery our our new baby. We’ll be selling some Leica stuff soon to make way for it. So please keep an eye out for our eBay announcements within the next two months in Facebook, Twitter and Tumblr. It will take a couple months to prepare ourselves mentally to “let go” of some of our other other Leica babies. 😉

ISO 400, 1/350 sec, 35mm Summilux

By the way, this time I increased the resolution of images for a finer view.

ISO 400, 1/750 sec, 35mm Summilux

ISO 160, 1/500 sec, 21mm Summilux

ISO 400, 1/250 sec, 21mm Summilux

ISO 400, 1/250 sec, 21mm Summilux

ISO 400, 1/350 sec, 21mm Summilux

ISO 400, 1/500 sec, 21mm Summilux

ISO 2500, 1/350 sec, 21mm Summilux

ISO 5000, 1/90 sec, 21mm Summilux

ISO 5000, 1/45 sec, 35mm Summilux

ISO 400, 1/750 sec, 35mm Summilux

ISO 400, 1/250 sec, 35mm Summilux

If you missed Part 1 of the Leica M Monochrom (Pre-production Model) Review, then you can check it out here.

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.

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