Leica M Monochrom thoughts

The big news in the land of Leica is the new Leica M Monochrom. Yeah, and the 50 APO-Summicron-M ASPH as well. It’s made me think my impending acquisition of a digital camera.

Let’s get the new 50 out of the way first. Cool lens, monstrously expensive. As long as Leica keeps making the ‘cheaper’ 50s, I think it’s neat that they make a truly exceptional lens like this, no matter what the price. At the same time, the now ‘affordable’ 50 Summilux ASPH is just fine with me. Faster, a bit more character, and I already own it. But if someone gave it to me, I’d probably keep it.

Onto the Leica M Monochrom. Cool camera. I mostly shoot B&W film, so a B&W camera actually appeals to me for some reason. Sure you give up the ability to do color, but you can always pick up a Micro 4/3’s camera for that. Three things interest me about this camera:

  • High ISO. Since there are no Bayer filters, there’s more light hitting the sensor, meaning the effective ISO goes up. Base ISO is 320 (compared to 160 for the M9) and runs all the way up to 10,000! The M9’s ISO range always bothered me—just a bit too low for a camera that costs $7k. ISO 2500 on the M9 can look a bit rough, so you are mostly stuck at 1250 and below, which is where I am with film. The M-M looks totally usable to me pretty much up to 10,000.
  • Noise quality. This is related to the higher ISO. Less noise since more light hits the sensor. Also, since the image data doesn’t have to be demosaiced, the noise from other noisier channels doesn’t contaminate good channels. Since there’s one channel. What this ultimately means is that the noise is pretty tight and contained to individual pixels. It’s not blotchy, and I’ve also not noticed any streaks.
  • No red/cyan edges. I never really heard a definitive answer as to what caused it on the M9, but it sounds like it was something to do with the steep angle of incoming light interacting oddly with the Bayer filters. This camera is monochrome and has no Bayer filters, so my Zeiss ZM 21/4.5 should work just fine!

Notice I didn’t talk about the increased resolution due to the missing Bayer array. That’s nice and all, but the M9’s resolution is enough for me. I’m not complaining though. The files look pretty amazing at 100%. Which I would then mask with grain, but it’s nice to have it if you need it.

What remains to be seen is what the dynamic range of the camera is. You lose a little bit in the highlights compared to the M9, since you can’t recover blown highlights that are only blown in one channel. You probably gain in the shadows since the noise floor is lower. We’ll see. I hope to get my hands on one of these guys at the end of the summer and test it out next to some film to see if I can work with it. The files I’ve played with look pretty good already and I think I could bang out a look that I’m happy with. IF shooting the camera fits in with my sloppy shooting style. We’ll see. But this might be my next digital camera.

Other digital camera thoughts

I know I talked some stuff about the Fuji X-Pro1. Here’s my current thoughts on it. It looks like a great camera, but… The 18mm (28mm equiv.) seems to be just ‘alright’ as is the AF. I’d probably be ok with either of those, but the camera is not exactly cheap. You’re talking about $2500 for a setup that I might like, and that still leaves me lacking a good 21mm option.

I thought about (and am still thinking about) a 5DIII - I could probably be happy with the 28/1.8 (just ok, but cheap) and could always snag the 24/1.4. But it’s so big.

Then I realized/remembered that I really like my M lenses. They are all great. Only the 21/4.5 might prove difficult on a digital camera, and I can always get the Super Elmar-M 21/3.4. So I figured I’d wait it out until the Leica announcement on May 10th (for the M Monochrom) and I was pleasantly surprised. It won’t be available until the end of the summer, so we’ll see what comes out at Photokina, and if the M10 arrives and it looks good, then I’ll probably go with either the M-M or the M10. If the M10 sucks, then I might just jump on the M-M, assuming it delivers like I think it will.

And, the Olympus OM-D is looking pretty sweet. They sell a nice 12/2 (24mm equiv.) and a nice 14/2.5 (28mm equiv.), so I have backup/color options, which makes the M Monochrom that much more tempting.