A Hands-On Field Test of the B&W-Only Leica Monochrom M

The Leica Monochrom M won’t be hitting store shelves until August 29th, but Chris Niccolls of Canadian camera shop The Camera Store was able to get his hands on a pre-release copy of the camera to play around with. In the hands on field test seen in the video above, he shares some of his thoughts on the camera, and then invites some street photographers to use it and share their thoughts as well.

The 18-megapixel sensor inside the Monochrom M is made black and white only by eschewing the standard RGB filter found on traditional digital camera sensors. This omission provides the added benefits of better high ISO performance and sharper photographs.

One of the things Niccolls appreciates about the camera is that it lets him use old fashioned color filters on his lenses — filters that have been largely replaced by digital editing and the likes of Photoshop.

He also reveals an interesting feature offered by the camera that we hadn’t heard of before: delayed camera noise for stealthier street photography. The feature holds back the camera’s main shutter noise until after you release the shutter button. This allows you to snap a stealthy photo, and then walk a good distance away before allowing your camera to make its audible “click-whirr” sound.

Here are his parting thoughts:

It’s the only camera on the market that shoots digital and yet lets us feel like we’re shooting a film camera, and all the fun that went along with shooting a film camera: getting to see grain structure, getting to have different contrasts based on the choices you made at the time of shooting.

This is really bringing back an age-old nostalgic kind of photography into the modern age.

Even if you fall in love with camera, you’ll need to part with one very pretty penny to own one once it’s actually available — it has a hefty MSRP of $7,950.

Image credits: Photographs by The Camera Store

  • Matthieu Calu

    My Nikon D7000 also has delayed shutter for quieter shooting. So nothing new.

  • Allen

    This is how I use the X100. Put it to record RAW and change the film simulation to B&W+R. Convert at import into lightroom and you’ll never see a color image. Absolute love it.

  • Melka

    Yeah, looks like this is much more for hipsters.

  • Nathan Blaney

    There’s one born every minute….

  • Amanda

    Hipster. The most over-used word there is anymore.

  • Ivan

    I would like to point out one important detail here: simulating filters in Photoshop with 18MP Bayer pattern color sensor is NOT the same thing as using “optical” filters for B&W photography on a 18MP monochromatic sensor.

    18MP color image is constructed from 9MP green and 4.5MP red and blue photosites. That may have interesting consequences, depending on how aggressive image manipulation is. For example, simulating red filter in Photoshop by selecting only red channel still results in 18MP image but with image quality comparable to a 4.5MP monochromatic sensor stretched to 18MP. (Give or take, mostly depending on the exact demosaicing algorithm and AA filter used.) In contrast, using 18MP monochromatic sensor with a real red filter results in a 18MP image with full 18MP of image quality. (See the note.)

    Bottom line, if one wants to shoot color and then “desaturate”, monochromatic sensor should be just slightly better, mostly due to lack of AA filter, but nothing spectacular. However, once we start applying aggressive filters monochromatic sensor is expected to show its advantage and retain full image quality, regardless of filters used. So for achieving that “perfect” B&W result Leica MM may prove to be invaluable tool.

    (Note: Strictly speaking, “resolving power” is what I had in mind here,
    but in the absence of any real measurements subjective term “image quality” should have been sufficient for the purpose of
    this explanation. I am sure shortly after camera is released we will see
    MTF curves and LW/PH values for Leica MM sensor and lenses, and side-by-side comparisons to color sensors.)

  • GOT

    I almost had to stop the video, I could barely stand to hear this guy talk about how much it mimics a film camera, and how fun it is to carry around color filters. Get a Canon AE-1, some HP5+ and some and HC-110, and STFU.

  • Matt Hauer

    I read the article and then watched the video, and had similar thoughts. If you want that ‘B&W film nostalgia’, drop $100 on an OM-1 or 2 and load it up with TriX. If you’re concerned about detail and sharpness, get a 120 cam.

  • Alberto Monteraz

    “This allows you to snap a stealthy photo, and then walk a good distance away before allowing your camera to make its audible “click-whirr” sound.”

    And it only costs 8000 bucks??? hey man, give me two!

  • wickerprints

    Don’t get me wrong, it’s a nice camera, but I just don’t see how it’s nearly $8000 worth of “nice.” And that’s without any lenses–the 50mm that Leica made for this camera is almost as expensive as the camera itself.

    Do there exist people for which that kind of money is worth spending on a camera? Sure. Does it mean that they’re better or more discriminating photographers because of it. Absolutely not.

  • thefstop

    Remember guys, this is an advertisement so they can hype this camera, nothing more. Leica has and always will be a rich hobbyist’s camera. If you have the cash and don’t need it to pay your studio fees, assistant fees, upgrade your HDD, upgrade your main camera body or any of the other hundred expenses we encounter as working photographers, maybe this camera is worth a look. But by the sounds of the comments here, most of us are too smart for that.

  • Roy

    Nope, that’s be “latte”.

  • jak hammer

    yeah and I’m going to go out and buy a new car with vinyl seats, AM only radio and maybe get the optional heater, Leica is so full of the retro crap

  • Matthew Wagg

    Its a nice concept. But here’s the thing, if you want to shoot it like you did in the old days. Do it. Don’t waste $8k on this POS which will be obsolete within a year. Go onto that wonderful auction site and buy a real camera from Leica if it takes your fancy, the M3 is a killer and they are quiter and don’t need batteries. Or grab a $20 russian Zorki and spend the rest of the $7980 on darkroom equipment, filter and film and do it like it should be done.

  • Starbuck101

    My goal in b&w digital is to avoid the traditional look of film b&w, so stretching the image greatly is par for the course, and of course, one does give up certain qualities, because, after all, what you are doing is throwing away pixels, picking up noise. So, to compensate, I’ll spend less by going to a camera like the D800 where I have more pixels to throw away. And the dynamite images when you shoot a series then stitch, well, the Leica will not compare.

    I give up too much control to allowing b&w result to be what the camera says it should be. And I believe if AA were still alive and shooting, he would agree.

  • Gordon Callaway

    Personally I think it’s a beautiful camera, and a good idea. Than being said, I’m a teacher, so I’ll stick with my Canon collection of film cameras and shoot actual film. It is a beautiful camera though…

  • Roy Prasad

    Interesting idea, poor execution, IMHO. If Leica had done three things, this could have been a huge winner, instead of being an extremely tiny niche. So instead of selling in the 10s of thousands, Leica will sell this camera in the hundreds. Irrelevant, for all practical purposes.

    The three things?

    One, replace the crappy little color(!) LCD screen, which is worse than what you can find in a free smartphone, with a super-sized monochrome LCD with 16-bit DR and “retina display” quality resolution.

    Two, provide an EVF (preferably integrated, but at least optionally) that allows Live View for critical focusing. With the higher resolution of this sensor, the most minute focusing errors are going to appear hugely amplified, defeating both its high res and the ultra-expensive new 50 cron.

    Three, price it at under US$5,000, preferably around $4,000.

    Unfortunately, Leica opted to do the least amount of work and milk the most out of the M9. A poor business decision, because they won’t sell very many of these, except to a few fans who are willing to sign a blank check for whatever Leica comes up with.