May 10, Part 1: The Leica M-Monochrom review

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The focus of Leica’s May 10 announcement landed in my hands a few days ago (not counting the X2, which was reviewed here); I suppose that Facebook post might have done the trick.

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This will be a three part review. Part one will deal with the M-Monochrom; part two, the new APO-Summicron-M 50/2 ASPH (which I’ll refer to from here on as the 50APO); and finally, part three will be a bit of a surprise. The latter I’ll also be testing on my M9-P, because there’s obviously no way of testing the APO specification on a monochrome only body.

Note: I’ve been informed by Leica that both camera and lens are prototypes, and there may be changes between now and the final release product.

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A short note on the context of this review: I am a commercial photographer, and measure the quality of the camera by the ultimate output I can get from it – this is my litmus test, because ultimately my clients don’t care what equipment I use so long they get what they paid for. The images you will see in this review have been processed with my normal workflow (minus the B&W conversion step, of course) – there is no way I’d deliver an out of camera JPEG, and I suspect the target audience won’t be happy with the unprocessed images either; that’s like eating uncooked food and wondering why it tastes odd. Before the cynics cry ‘unfair’, remember that I do this with every camera I review. I try to get the best possible output from the camera, and if the raw data isn’t there, no amount of Photoshop will save it. I’m brand agnostic; I run four systems, will pick the most suitable tool for the job, and (sadly) none of the camera companies pay me.  If the camera doesn’t work, I won’t waste my time with it. I won’t be posting any full size images due to bandwidth – I live in the third world, internet is slow – and intellectual property issues, however, there are 100% crops sprinkled throughout the review. Clicking on the images will bring you to larger versions hosted on Flickr. Please go by what I say as I’ve pored over hundreds of full size uncompressed DNGs on a calibrated monitor; images here are for illustration purposes only.

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Stairs. Sasana Kijang, Bank Negara Malaysia. Leica MM and 50/2 APO

The M-Monochrom (MM from here onwards) is essentially the same camera as the M9-P, but with the bayer filter covering the sensor removed, and a rejigged processing algorithm. Leica have not disclosed whether they have left UV and IR filtration elements in place over the sensor, but it would definitely be nice if they’d removed them – from what I’ve seen so far, I believe these filters have been left in place; I’m not seeing much of a telltale glow off hot black objects which would indicate the absence of an infrared filter. Aside from the new guts, the rest of the camera is almost identical to a standard M9-P, in black chrome (if it existed) with leather textured grips and a small MONOCHROM engraving on the hotshoe, which is now black. I can see detail aficionados knocking themselves out in the distant future over the various different variants of M9. Unfortunately, the same low-res from the M8 and M9 remains.

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Phone call. Leica MM and 35/1.4 ASPH FLE

There’s also one other important detail: the ISO setting now goes all the way to 10(000) – which as far as I know, is a first for any sort of commercial digital camera CCD of any sort. (CMOS doesn’t count). Base ISO is 320, so if you plan on using your fast glass wide open during the daytime, you should probably invest in some ND filters. Finally, it appears that Leica have followed Nikon’s D800/D800E example on pricing: the camera without the Bayer filter costs more than the one with. Niche markets and all.

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Counting pennies. Leica MM and 35/1.4 ASPH FLE

In use, there is really not a lot to say about the MM that I haven’t already said about the M9-P in my long term review of that camera. It shoots the same as any other Leica M, and existing M9 or M9-P users will feel right at home. I must admit, the color combination feels a bit nostalgic for me – I shot with nothing but a pair of M8s in black chrome for most of 2009/10. The camera also comes with a leather strap and rubber-bottomed shoulder pad, rather than the grippy synthetic of the M9/ M9-P. It looks and feels nice, but I personally don’t like it because the strap rings still dig into my fingers, and the ends have a habit of slipping through the rings and interfering with your grip – especially if you have to grab the camera and raise it to your eye in a hurry. I find the stippled standard strap more grippy, too. Care is required when slinging this one over a shoulder to ensure that it doesn’t subsequently make an expensive crashing noise on the floor.

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The hat. Leica MM and 35/1.4 ASPH FLE

The only other notable differences are lack of white balance (duh) and a disappearance of the DNG compression options – it could be because my camera was prototype 007 (makes me feel like James Bond!) and running beta firmware. Compression would be nice as the files weigh in at an enormous 34.75MB; however I suspect this is also partially because of the amount of detail contained therein.

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Lines of the Hoffmeister kink. Leica MM, 50/2 APO

There is no question that the MM out resolves the M9 – by exactly how much it’s hard to say (hint: come back and see the post I have planned for Sunday) – but the difference is similar to the difference between a sensor with a strong AA filter and one without; it’s almost as though there’s a layer of something between you and the image that’s been removed. The MM has a level of clarity and acuity at the pixel level that so far has only been seen on Foveon sensors; however, even those start to become a weak at ISO 800 and above. The MM maintains its acuity all the way through the maximum ISO, though above ISO 5000 noise dominates the microcontrast structure of the image.

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Spiral, 2. Sasana Kijang, Bank Negara Malaysia. Leica MM and 35/1.4 ASPH FLE

The files require almost zero sharpening out of the camera; if you missed focus you might want to mask off and sharpen, but then you have to be careful of other areas in the image that will subsequently look over sharpened. Actually, the MM’s high ISO capabilities encourage you to stop down a little more to get the most out of the lens; there’s little noise penalty associated with shooting a stop or two down from your normal aperture. In fact, the camera encourages you to see and think about your images in a very different way: aside from the increased depth of field available, there’s also more dynamic range on tap. The overall look of the images is redolent of medium format – from the tonality to the microcontrast structure.

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The obligatory cat shot. Leica MM, 35/1.4 ASPH FLE

I tested the MM with the new Leica 50/2 APO-Aspherical-Summicron-M (50 AA, review coming on Friday), the Leica 35/1.4 ASPH FLE, the Zeiss ZM 2.8/28 Biogon and the Zeiss ZM 2/50 Planar. The ISO comparisons and tests were performed with the 50 AA. Let’s just say that combined lack of Bayer filter and AA filter makes for an incredibly demanding sensor – focus calibration is absolutely critical* when shooting at maximum aperture or close to it; the sensor captures the falloff in depth of field with warts and all. Similarly, all lens flaws are revealed; whilst you of course don’t get CA on a monochrome sensor, this flaw is seen as a sort of blooming (which makes sense, as the light that makes up colored fringes instead contributes to the luminance values of the neighboring pixels instead).

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Cityscape. Leica MM, 35/1.4 ASPH FLE

*My MM was perfectly calibrated for the 50 AA it arrived with, but not for any of my other lenses; after a couple of narrow misses with my 35/1.4 ASPH FLE wide open, I decided to shoot everything stopped down a little thereafter. Even though the 50 AA is an f2 lens, it demands the same focusing precision as a Noctilux on the MM body precisely because of the unforgiving nature of the sensor. I would highly recommending any potential MM owner sending back all of their lenses and any other M9/ M8 bodies to ensure consistent calibration between all lenses and bodies to avoid any nasty surprises. There isn’t much point in buying a Noctilux over a Summarit if you can’t use the extra stops due to focusing concerns.

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100% crop of the previous.

The decision to release the 50 AA with the MM left me scratching my head – but having seen the resolving power of this sensor, it makes complete sense. None of the lenses were capable of delivering the same cross-frame performance on the MM as the 50 AA, though the Zeiss 2/50 ran very close especially at smaller apertures. Unfortunately the price will make your eyes water – it’s about 70% of a Noctilux – and the relative subsequent performance of your other lenses will, too.

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ISO comparison vs. M9. Click here for the full size image, which contains 100% crops.

All ISO comparisons between the MM and conventional Bayer cameras are a little bit of a fudge, because there is some interpolation that will take place in the color to monochrome conversion; I’ve attempted to avoid this as much as possible by just doing a straight desaturation via ACR in all such A-B tests. The first thing you notice when comparing them M9 and MM is the huge difference in pixel level acuity – I’d normally just sharpen and be done with it. I actually re-ran this test several times with focus bracketing just to make sure it wasn’t a rangefinder calibration issue – it wasn’t. (The 50 AA was used on both cameras, shot from the same tripod position and stopped down to avoid plane of focus issues.) More importantly, this is a good illustration of the difference in resolving power between the new cameras – the M9 is no slouch for pixel-level acuity. The difference is so huge it’s almost as though you’ve removed a sheet of low-quality plastic or similar material in between shooting the two cameras.

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Tripod. Leica MM and 35/1.4 ASPH FLE

The next obvious difference is a 1-1.5 stop noise advantage in favor of the MM; however, the difference isn’t quite as clear cut as that, because the MM retains detail much better than the M9; look at the fine text in the sample as an example. Needless to say, the noise pattern of the MM is extremely fine grained, and pleasingly random – very much evocative of film grain. The reason this skews things is because you’ll have to sharpen the high ISO M9 files to get some edge definition back; this in turn increases the amount of visible luminance noise, and certainly introduces at least another stop of disadvantage to the M9. Furthermore, due to the lack of color filters, the MM is actually about half a stop more sensitive natively – which is to say, you get need 1/15s on the MM to get the same histogram as 1/10s on the M9 would get you. In practical terms, this means the MM is probably more like 2-2.5 stops more useable than the M9.

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Waiting. Leica MM and 35/1.4 ASPH FLE

There’s also more dynamic range, too; it’s hard to say exactly how much, but I think it’s similar to the noise gain – 1-1.5 stops, which makes sense. What’s very nice about the native tonal rendition of the MM is that it seems quite shadow-biased – which suits my B&W style just fine, but may not work for everybody. I definitely feel it’s got better highlight rolloff than the CMOS based DSLRs, too – the transition from light gray to highlights is far more gentle and pleasing to the eye. Watch the extreme highlights though, because as with the M9 sensor, once you get a huge blowout around a point highlight source, there will be blooming to adjacent areas on the sensor – and you can’t recover this information.

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It works for Japanese-style street photography too. Leica MM, 35/1.4 ASPH FLE

One small detail on image review is worth noting – the MM is possibly the only camera that displays a true RAW histogram; normally this information is color-channel based, and thus subject to interpretation by white balance adjustments during the RAW file conversion. All other cameras that are displaying RAW histograms are in fact using a small embedded jpeg to generate this data. The lack of an embedded preview jpeg may also explain why sharpening of the RAW files seems to be very low – it’s actually very hard to determine critical focus using the monitor, more so than the M9. I learned to mostly trust it, then make up the balance of insurance through focus bracketing and depth of field. Would I be confident using this camera with a Noctilux? In time, yes, but not without more frames under my belt for a better feel of how the LCD represents images.

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Cockblock. Leica MM, 35/1.4 ASPH FLE

Something I’m sure every reader is wondering about is the MM’s usefulness as an available light and night camera; after all, the film Ms were legendary for their usefulness in the dark because of a combination of the very low vibration horizontal-plane cloth shutter, and the ease of focusing a rangefinder. The latter hasn’t changed; the Ms are definitely easier to focus manually than an SLR (providing of course your RF is calibrated properly). However, in the film era, the ‘sensor’ was normalized across all equipment; this isn’t the case with digital. I’d long wished for the D3s’ sensor in an M9 body; that would make one incredible available light camera, especially with the f1.4 M lenses.

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Waiting room and garage. Leica MM, 50/2 APO

My normal workflow for shooting in the dark with an M9 sees me setting ISO 1250, 1/30s and f2 as a starting point; I judge the changing light conditions by eye and adjust accordingly – shutter speed or aperture as required – but never increase the ISO any further because of the ensuing noise and loss of dynamic range. Frankly, even ISO 1250 is a bit borderline on the M9.

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Crossing. Leica MM, 50/2 APO

The MM, on the other hand, can be set to ISO 2500 with little noise penalty – at 100% magnification it appears as very, very fine grain; perhaps comparable to an ISO 400 B&W film. Better yet, there doesn’t appear to be much loss of dynamic range, either. This is probably because the base ISO of the sensor is now 320. Having a base of ISO 2500 to start from (and 5000 for emergencies) means much higher available shutter speeds, or a bit more DOF (if desired). During my night shooting sessions, I didn’t run into the usual camera shake issues that come with borderline shutter speeds on the M9.

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Family moment. Leica MM, 50/2 APO

Over the course of several thousand frames in the last two days, and controlled A-B testing between the MM and M9-P, I’ve come to the conclusion that the biggest difference between the two cameras isn’t the sensor. Yes, the monochrome-only version is definitely much sharper and delivers images with lower noise and higher dynamic range, but if you’re shooting the MM for an extended period of time, the change seen in your images won’t be because of these properties.

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Traffic again. Leica MM, 50/2 APO

Rather, the camera forces you to recalibrate the way you see the world. To understand why, we need to think a bit about human vision: the eye sees mostly in color; more intensely when there’s more light, which is why the tropics are generally perceived as colorful, but London in winter is dark and gray. When it gets dark, the eye defaults to a larger patch of cells around the periphery of the retina that only perceives luminance information. This is why almost all photographers inherently compose better in black and white when the light is low – it’s much closer to how our eye natively sees, and there’s less imagination required to visualize the end shot.

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100% crop of above shot – 50/2 APO shot wide open at f2 with zero sharpening.

So how is all of this relevant? Well, because the MM forces you to ‘see’ luminance information even in bright daylight. To use this camera effectively, you have to learn to ignore contrasting colors; these frequently result in very flat monochrome images because the luminance values across the scene have to be similar for us to perceive the different colors equally strongly (and thus appear contrasting). Unlike conventional Bayer cameras, you can’t put this perceptual difference back into the final image in the RAW conversion – there’s no channel mixer. It’s easy to say, but very difficult to put into practice, even when you do consciously understand what’s going on*. During the course of shooting the MM, I started off looking for monochrome images in the same way I would with the M9-P – which is to say, colored contrasts that I might adjust later on to preserve the contrast. This produced lousy, mostly forgettable images. Looking at luminance only – oddly, sunglasses helped achieve this – and consciously remembering to do so, greatly improved the impact of my output. I definitely also noticed that when switching back to the M9-P to test the 50 AA, a lot of the frames had very strong luminance differences that worked OK in color, but were much stronger when converted to black and white.

*I was concerned about some of the early samples from the MM I saw; most of them looked incredibly flat and lifeless – until I thought about it a bit more and realized the above. It’s also worth noting that all of the tonal information is there, it’s just up to you how you want to allocate it through dodge, burn, curves etc in the processing of the raw file.

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Meaningless graffiti. Leica MM, 35/1.4 ASPH FLE

I’m going to conclude by saying that the MM is not the camera for everybody. It’s not easy to see luminance only; if you can’t, you’re honestly going to get better results by shooting a color camera and then mastering the conversion process afterwards (to be the subject of a future article). However, with practice, some amazing things are possible with the MM – the image quality potential of this camera is incredibly high indeed. I’ve never seen pixel acuity at this level before – even Foveon cameras tend to have some degradation due to the multi-layer design of the sensor. You’ll notice I haven’t dealt with the exact resolution numbers in this review; I’ll be doing that in part three, to be published on Sunday. MT

Come back in two days for the next installment: a review of the APO-Summicron 50/2 ASPH-M (I think I got that in the right order.) A shameless plug: If you enjoyed this or my articles, please consider donating support via PayPal ( – it takes a huge amount of time and energy to keep this site running. It’s ad-free at the moment, which means that it’s entirely supported out of my own pocket and time spent writing and testing is time I can’t spend shooting commercially. Thanks! If you’ve got any questions or thoughts, feel free to leave a comment below.

September 5: My Photoshop Workflow DVD for the Leica M-Monochrom is now available. For more details, please click here.

The Leica M-Monochrom is available here from B&H.


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  1. David Murray says:

    Sensor dust? Stop changing the lenses. Buy the MM new with one lens, affix lens, use and leave in place. So many top photographers made their name and style with just one lens. Henri Cartier-Bresson was famous for using the 5cm/50mm, Garry Winogrand used two M4 bodies both with 28mm f2.8 lenses and most street photographers use 35mm lenses.

    • Agreed with the one-lens theory, something zoom-lens users may find hard to understand. From street snaps to documenting strikers in the Umbrella Movement, a 28mm lens, roughly 37mm after cropped, with M8.2 is always my best friend. Out of a hundred shot, there could be only a few captured with an uncoated Elmar 90mm lens. But nevertheless, I carry this little thing everywhere I go. Cartier-Bresson remains Cartier-Bresson. Let’s make the best out of the masters and out of the gear.

    • …Because in order to be different and remembered for our own work we must copy that of others.

  2. I think I owe you this, 2 years+ on with a Monochrom.

    Should you want to shoot BW, and thinking you love the way Rolleiflex, then Mamiya 6 or 7, were delivering BW images 10 to 50 years ago, this is the continuum of such a tradition.

    1. Definition: 20 years ago I went to Mamiya over Leica, at the expense of a bit of distortion (only Leica lenses have none seeable in my view), but to get the right amount of definition (Tri-X was not defined enough in my view with 24×36). The Monochrom is probably close to the Mamiya 6, or slightly below it in terms of definition, and definitely much above the 24×36 film with any lens.

    2. Tonality: the Monochrom is delivering more greys than anything I have seen before. I suspect you had to go up to 4×5 inches with Tri-X, or appropriately use (quite tough these days, it happened “by chance”) the TMax100 on the 6×7 Mamiya. And the thing is, you keep that kind of tonality up to at least 800 Iso! So, with my f3.4 and f4, I feel I can work with any light.

    3. Taking photos: that is it! That’s where, you turn it on (last iso you selected is the one), you focus, and you click. Like in the old days, not trying to see what image there is on a back screen, you are “trapped” in the view finder trying to compose a good image, and I must say this feeling is fantastic. I now only check the light chart on the back screen, as it is useless to check whether your hand did or did not shake (there is one drawback here, compared to Mamiya (it was in the lens, so quiet…), the leaf shutter requires a steady hand or appropriate speed: I tend to use more than 1/125 with the 21, and at least 1/750 with the 90, absent any light constraint).

    4. Processing photos: the raw files once converted in/by Lightroom, I just feel I am with those files like I was in the darkroom with the negatives, but with many more tries before I get the image I would like to make with the file. As a result, much less images go to printing, because by the time you reach the quality you wanted to get it printed, a lot of images have been discarded (not the right tonality, ugly geometry, etc…).

    And to get color photos (which I don’t care about personally, but I do not live alone), when my daughter wanted to learn photos, we bought a DP3M, which I feel is a good partner (the DP1M might come later but 28mm… not enough for my “21mm eyes”), it feels like a grand dad compared to the Monochrom, which is not bad given the price difference. But should you have one budget and only one to take BW, and would it match the killing price of the Monochrom, I could not think of any other option.


    • Just a thought on #4 – perhaps ‘continuity of the tradition’ isn’t the right way to approach the Monochrom’s files; composition aside, you still need to expose it as a digital camera, not a film one. Shot discipline still matters. That should yield quite a few more keepers…

      • Thank you, but also, sorry Ming, what are your thoughts in terms of “need to expose it as a digital camera, not a film one”?

        Also one big drawback with the camera: lots of dots and scratches, requiring a careful post processing on the file at 2/1 or 3/1 to get very clean images. Currently investigating with Leica whether it is due to corrosion of the CCD sensor, but clearly one big drawback here. If it persists, I might stick to the (further) discipline of shooting with DPMs.

        • Sounds like sensor dust to me, which is unfortunately normal.

          Film: underexposure/ push is fine; you sacrifice dynamic range but not much extra noise penalty – with the right films. Digital – underexpose and you have both DR and noise penalties when you correct exposure in post.

          • Thank you Master Thein! You are right, but ISO adjustment has become so common now in the digital age that I forgot I was angry so many times with my films when they were wrongs in terms of ISO (also one of the reasons I loved the medium format: 10 to 12 shots, time to change the film, at that time).

            I will bring my camera to CCL to get a tutorial as how to clean it. I am quite shocked it needs this kind of cleaning and we are not getting any advice as to how to do it. Apparently it super fragile, so one has to be extra careful with doing it…

            • You could first try opening the shutter in cleaning mode and using a blower without touching anything. Any wet cleaning is probably best done by somebody with experience.

              • VincentR says:

                Well, I now need to get used to another camera, as it is in Germany for a sensor replacement… Corrosion it was.

  3. Charles says:

    “various different variants”


    Great review though.

  4. jamese Lau says:

    i am speechless ,this is call MASTER GRADE of B&W !!!

  5. I just picked up my Leica M Monochrom on Friday… I am really excited to see what I get with this camera. I completely agree with what you say about having a higher ISO makes you want to open it up a bit and get more in focus.

  6. Willi Kampmann says:

    Sorry for pulling out such an old article from the dead, but I just re-read your review of the fascinating Leica MM and stumbled upon this sentence: “This is why almost all photographers inherently compose better in black and white when the light is low – it’s much closer to how our eye natively sees, and there’s less imagination required to visualize the end shot.”

    Now, I realize that I’ll probably set off an angry Leica lynch mob by writing this, but: Isn’t this one of the best and strongest points to be made for EVFs? EVFs can easily be set to B&W live view, which I find is a really huge help when shooting B&W. It helps me see patterns better, it helps me see what colors work together when only luminance is left, and so on. In short: all of the qualities of B&W can be seen immediately instead of being left to guess work. In that regard I think the new M with the attached EVF might be a better B&W camera than the MM is.

    • It’s as good an argument as any I’ve heard. Personally, I’m so used to shooting color and ‘seeing in B&W’ that its not much of a issue for me. The only time I ever use in-camera B&W or preview is when I have to give clients rough contact sheets or jpegs…

      I think what you want is a Monochrome with an EVF port and the sensor from the new M…

  7. Great review and great shots. Am considering an M9 or M-E and perhaps with used lenses. You say: “I would highly recommending any potential MM owner sending back all of their lenses and any other M9/ M8 bodies to ensure consistent calibration between all lenses and bodies to avoid any nasty surprises.”

    Could you clarify this please? One can’t just fit an old(er) lens to a new M?

    • Thanks. You can of course fit older lenses to a newer body, but there may be differences in assembly tolerances that will affect focusing precision with the rangefinder, and this is of course critical when dealing with the resolving power of the MM. It’s normal for calibration to drift over time because it’s a mechanical interface between the lens cam and the rangefinder coupling arm. Finally, if you adjust one body/ lens combination, you may have thrown things out for the rest of your cameras…

  8. Michael Stokes says:

    Ming, great review. I currently do have a 35mm for my M9. I have an MM on order and I am trying to choose between the 35lux and summicron. I would appreciate your thoughts on which would work better with the MM. Many thanks.

  9. This is very interesting, You’re a very skilled blogger. I have joined your rss feed and look forward to seeking more of your excellent post. Also, I have shared your web site in my social networks!

  10. Re: Workflow discussion above,and my previous question. I still think these images have a punch and presence that sets them out from other test pictures for the MM I have seen. If there is anything generalizable in your workflow that is not entirely image dependent in the form of a plugin for LR, I’d be willing to pay for it (PS: Saw David Farkas published a plugin for MM in his review)

    • Sorry, nope. Firstly I don’t use LR, and secondly, the reason why my images look the way they do is because I have to tweak them individually – and that kind of goes against the whole ethos of having presets or actions.

  11. Pretty nice post. I just stumbled upon your blog and wished to say that I’ve truly enjoyed surfing around your blog posts. In any case I’ll be subscribing to your feed and I hope you write again very soon!

  12. Mad Coder says:

    Great review, glad to see contrasty images from the MM. On the physiology front, you have it backwards: the color (and highest acuity) information is recorded by “cones” in the center of the eye’s retina, and greater luminance (b&w) sensitivity is recorded by “rods” in the periphery of the retina. Visual amateur astronomers know this and use “averted vision” to see the faintest deep sky objects – in b&w.

  13. Great review – count me as another one who now wants this camera! Of course, if you could package up your skills and knowledge to , it would be even better

  14. Great article. Thanks.
    Do you have any comparison shots with a color camera to see how a BW chip performs when it comes to burned out or completely black areas? With an image converted to BW from a color original, we have the option to combine detail from for example the blue an the green channel if the red one is burned out. With a BW there is not fallback.

    • Nope, sorry. Wasn’t one of the things I tested for and the camera has now gone back to Leica. What I can say is that shadow recovery on the MM brings up noise very quickly, so one has to be both careful of the exposure and judicious with their use of the dodge tool.

  15. Eugenio says:

    Nice review and great pictures. It’s worth that you point about how different is to compose in B&W. Amsel Adams in “The negative” talk about that also. I think many b&w film photographers know that perfectly based on experience. I’m aware that for many people film is obsolete (what is misconception in my opinion for many reason that I won’t explain) but with film you can do fantastic 35mm or MF b&w with the nice felling of film for less more money. By far I prefer it to the extra clean and chirurgical look of digital B&W, but that’s only a personal preference. What I really wonder is how this apo summicron performs with film and I would like to read a review about that. Thanks for your time and effort in building this review.

    • Thanks Eugenio. I haven’t shot film in years (I don’t even have a film camera left) but oddly I still have plenty in my fridge…so I’m afraid that particular comparison is going to have to wait for another reviewer.

  16. Yor understanding is outstanding. That is exactly what I feel. You have a very very deep understanding in what photography can be! And your writing style is excellent and very honest. Go on!

  17. Thank you for this phantastic review – probably the best currently available. I am thinking about buying the body and use my “old” lenses (35 f/2 asph, 50 f/1.4 asp lux). You recommonded to calibration between all lenses and bodies – do you think this is not a software issue, would leica correct my M9 ? – Or should i sell my lense and buy just this apo 50 f/2 and M9M ?

    • Thanks Marco. It’s not a software issue, calibration is a physical relationship between the rangefinder cam and the lens focusing cam. If you can afford the 50 APO…it’s great, but the 50 lux ASPH will give you a bit more flexibility in low light and with subject isolation.

      • Thank you for your answer.
        My thoughts about available light and M9m are: With M9M i have much better quality on higher ISO camparing to M9 – so i think its better to spend more money in the body than on the lense and i can use f/2 also in critical light situations – what do you think?
        You wrote that the f/1.4 was difficult to focus – so will probably not have all the flexibility at all when a i have to set f/2 anyway.

        • Lenses last a long time. The body is only current as long as the sensor is current generation; they go out of date. However, if you think the high ISO performance of the MM is good enough for you, then both will last you a long time. I would personally stick with the 50/1.4 APSH in this case.

  18. strongergodzilla says:

    Wow great review, and fantastic shots! Thanks for the great insights Ming! Can I ask, you mention on one that it works for “japanese style street photography”. Are there specific cues that Japanese street photography follows? Very interested to know more!

    • Thanks. I think Japanese street photography can be characterized by a slight haphazard randomness to the images; almost as though they’re rushed, grabbed, furtive frames. There’s usually motion blur and extremes of contrast to go with it; it’s almost as though you’re looking at the inner antithesis to the outwardly calm and organized persona the Japanese present to the public. I find it more of an intriguing insight into the mind of the photographer than the subject – what’s interesting is that a lot of Japanese photography looks this way; it’s almost as though there’s a societal uniformity in the chaos even.

  19. Since there is no color-to-BW conversion possible – do you plan to try some BW filters with the MM? It would be interesting to see the effect.

  20. The only worthy M9-M review published on the web. Thanks.

    • Thank you!

      • Could you say something about to what degree/how these images are post-processed and published? These images really stand out, also compared to other reviews of the MM. Do they come out like this directly from MM/LR4, or have you applied some tricks?

        • I apply my standard workflow – convert from ACR, tonal remap to put the shadows and highlights where I want them, curves and dodge and burn in Photoshop. Much the same as the way a chef wouldn’t serve uncooked ingredients and risk people complaining about the final dish, so in that sense I’m doing much the same thing here.

  21. Mikko Moilanen says:

    Hmm, hilarious! When I watched the pictures and read the text for the first time I was so inspired that I wanted to get MM at once. It became like the only worthy camera in my mind. Later I calmed down and remembered that it is not the camera but rather the photographer. Now I am pretty cool and thinking about putting my digicam to B&W jpeg mode with RAW files, so that I could have a poor man’s B&W camera 😀

    Thank you very much of the pics and thoughts. Was very very inspiring to read. You really did excellent job with this review.

  22. Great review, wonderful shots, but I feel like everyone sees that most of photos look plastic-y.
    My opinion is that there’s no point in spending 15000 dollars on camera+lens to get the same effect
    almost any three or five years old digital camera can create.

    • For web use, probably not. For print use, especially large prints, I think it’s a completely different matter.

      • Re: Leica M Monochromatic Processing Insights Here is an interesting reeivw of the MM but more than that, the pictures are far from the flat renditions seen in most reeivws, I thought of this thread when viewing them. Would love to know what his reciepes are.. May 10, Part 1: The Leica M-Monochrom reeivw

  23. Ron Sprunger says:

    Ming, even though I’ll never own the MM, I love your review and the images. Would love to see comparative BW conversions from D800E or even D7000 (comparable pixel density).

    Just want to let you know how much I appreciate the time and thoughtfulness you put into this blog. Have made a small contribution, recognizing that monetizing without advertising is a tough nut to crack. Guess you could take the DigLloyd approach, but that introduces a whole extra layer of effort to manage the business and security aspects, and maybe limits your audience as well.

    Good luck, and hope you’re able to continue. I’m strictly a Nikon user (D800E on order), and retiring next month, but I do enjoy your ruminations and analysis.


  24. larsgoran1 says:

    Very informative and matter-of-fact review. Good read! You are the second who have captured lively, dynamic, contrasty pictures from the MM. The other photographer is Edmond Terakopian. Otherwise, as you write, pictures from the MM so far have been lifeless, grayish and flat. Thank´s for an excellent review. I´m hold´n my horses for the next part…

  25. Excellent practicial and useful information. Looking forward to the next parts and to the 50APO review.

  26. This is very useful, Ming, thank you. Looking at the difference in acutance between the MM and the M9, it reminded me of when I compared my M8 to a friend’s M9. The M8 was actually a llittle sharper and seemed a bit better as a black and white camera, even though the M9 had more pixels and less noise. I’m sure the main reason for the MM’s sharpness is the lack of color interpolation. But I wonder if there are differences in the MM vs. M9’s on-sensor IR filter that contribute, just as I believe they did in the M8 vs. M9.

    • If it were me, I’d leave out the UV and IR filtration entirely because that ‘spectral pollution’ actually contributes positively to the image, at least for B&W work. I agree that the M8 was a better monochrome camera than the regular M9 for this reason – there’s a tonal richness there that’s hard to duplicate. The MM has it, though.

      Also worth noting that focus calibration on the M9 and MM is much more critical than with the M8 due to pixel density.

      • Pixel density is exactly the same across M8, M9 and MM.

        • Yes it is, but the MM has no Bauer filter and no interpolation, so you see the effects of perfect sharpness/ lens quality a lot more…

      • Can anyone, esp. Ming Thein and Peter Klein himself, respond to the saying about how UVIR affects the quality of B&W images? Does he mean M8 without UVIR cuts shoots sharper and more detailed B&W than UVIRed M8 or even M9? Look forward to your response!

        • IR pollution is most visible in the blacks. It will make deep blacks lighter and reddish or magenta-tinged. If converting to B&W this is a good thing because it gives your shadows some luminosity without incurring any noise penalty (you can also increase shadow luminosity by dodging shadows at the cost of noise). My M8 B&W images were mostly shot without a UVIR filter.

      • Thanks, Ming Thein. I am relieved. 90% of my shots were done in B&W. I always thought of using Elmar 3.5cm, whether or not it is coated, or 35mm summaron. I stepped on the brake because of the cost of UVIR. The simplest way to UVIRised the two old lens is to put it on a Rayqual UVIR adaptor, which costs about US$200. Forget it! Let’s move on.

  27. Jimmy Law says:

    wow..excellent review of leica MM i have read so far, your understanding is outstanding and Leica MM is not for everybody, i hope Leica M10 will not be disappointed. The B&W is timeless but the colour is life itself. Thank you so much for the review.

  28. – Being a lover and a shooter of steret photography myself, I luv your work especially the use of light on the first two images the guy smoking and the buildings, and the rim lighting on the second image

  29. Link: May 10, Part 1: The Leica M-Monochrom review – Ming Thein | Photographer can be set to ISO 2500 with litlte noise penalty – at 100% magnification it appears as very, very fine grain; perhaps comparable to an ISO 400 B&W film. Better yet, there doesn’t appear to be much loss of dynamic range, either Posted by Trent Nelson Posted in Leica

  30. Thanks!


  1. […] (no video, no live view), £6200. – Reviews: AP, Jonathan Slack, Phoblographer, RedDotForum, MingThein, Sample Photos PopPhoto, ePHOTOzine. Leica X2 – Compact by Leica with 16 megapixel APS-C […]

  2. […] I don’t have any info about the sensor specs yet so we have to read some Leica Monochrom tests to learn how good a B&W sensor works: Luminous Landscape reports that “the technology is not without ot flaws. Among these is that since the luminance information is only being sampled from the green cells, there is actually less resolution available than one might think. About 2/3rds in fact.” Two great reviews and nice image samples can be read/seen at Thorsten Overgaard and Ming Thein. […]

  3. […] gotten a lot of emails after the Leica X2 and M-Monochrom reviews asking about B&W conversion and processing; I guess the M-Monochrom announcement had a […]

  4. […] and silent the shutter mechanism is; for those who’ve only experienced the digital M8 or M9 / M Monochrom, you’re in for a surprise. This type of shutter feel is precisely why Leicas were renowned […]

  5. […] struggles to match B&W film – though there are a few exceptions that come close (the Leica M Monochrom, and most of the medium format digital backs). I’ve spent a lot of time trying to replicate […]

  6. […] by saying I’ve only seen this level of pixel acuity in a small handful of cameras: one is the Leica M Monochrom, that doesn’t have a Bayer sensor, and the others are all medium format. Even then, […]

  7. […] the Panasonic-derivatives, it feels like a Leica. At first glance, it even looks more like an M-Monochrom than an X2. I’d go so far as to say build quality is a notch above the X2, and at a similar […]

  8. […] ASPH (reivew here). As you can see, it may not have the dedicated B&W-only sensor of the M Monochrom, but the files it produces still hold the potential for great tonality. Enjoy! […]

  9. […] of one important aspect of the M Monochrom as an attitude adjustment machine is by Ming Thein, who wrote at length about the difference between seeing the world in black and white vs. seeing it in color.  To […]

  10. […] who have read my review of the M Monochrom will know that I was very enamoured of this camera’s tonality: it produces very rich, dense […]

  11. […] raw file results in nice quarter tones and smooth tonal ramps. In fact, it’s not far off the M Monochrom in this area; although the Monochrom will still hold a slight advantage in resolved detail due to […]

  12. […] admit I was disappointed when I learned that the Leica M-Monochrom retained its UV and IR filtration, but it turns out that decision actually makes a lot of sense, as […]

  13. […] M9 and new M type 240, which still use mechanically coupled optical rangefinders, and the M Monochrom, which doesn’t even record color data, for crying out loud–to vintage-style cameras like […]

  14. […] the Leica M9 and new M type 240, which still use mechanically coupled optical rangefinders, and the M Monochrom, which doesn’t even record color data, for crying out loud –to vintage-style cameras like the […]

  15. […] the Leica M9 and new M type 240, which still use mechanically coupled optical rangefinders, and the M Monochrom, which doesn’t even record color data, for crying out loud –to vintage-style cameras like the […]

  16. […] For a gear review of the Leica Monochrom, the fact that i don’t have a picture of the camera to show is quite poor form. But in a way, it’s fitting because the Monochrom is a camera that doesn’t sell itself on how it looks, but on what it’s able to do, and more importantly, the emotional response it invokes in the user (in this case, me). If you would like to see a more technical review with fantastic pictures of the Monochrom, please look no further than the one written by Ming Thein (in 3 parts, no less), the first installment can be found here. […]

  17. paillasson personnalisé…

    May 10, Part 1: The Leica M-Monochrom review – Ming Thein | Photographer…

  18. […] The focus of Leica’s May 10 announcement landed in my hands a few days ago (not counting the X2, which was reviewed here); I suppose that Facebook post might have done the trick. This will be…  […]

  19. […] May 10, Part 1: The Leica M-Monochrom review – Ming Thein |…(via May 10, Part 1: The Leica M-Monochrom review – Ming Thein | Photographer)I love my leicavar linkwithin_site_id=358771;var linkwithin_div_class="linkwithin_hook";share: […]

  20. […] Ming Thein has a great review going on his blog. His impressions of the camera come from real, daily use and is accompanied by some truly inspiring images. Check it out HERE […]

  21. […] from the M9 and its derivatives (full review of the Leica M9-P here, and the M-Monochrom here), the only other digital true range finders that have made their way to market in the past were the […]

  22. […] Ming Thein – The Leica M Monochrom Review […]

  23. URL says:

    … [Trackback]…

    […] Find More Informations here: […]…

  24. […] takich zdjęć testowych jak te powyżej, czy chociażby sesje Edmonda Terakopiana, Minga Theina, czy Alfreda Weidingera to najczystsza […]

  25. […] it`s going to be a classic. Upon inspecting the samples that have surfaced from reputable sources (Ming Thein and Steve Huff) I can`t figure what else could anyone want more out of a black and white camera? […]

  26. […] triptych aims at examining the differences between Bayer and non-Bayer sensors. Part one was the review of the M-Monochrom; part two, the APO-Summicron 50/2 […]

  27. […] Re: Leica M Monochromatic Processing Insights Here is an interesting review of the MM but more than that, the pictures are far from the flat renditions seen in most reviews, I thought of this thread when viewing them. Would love to know what his reciepes are.. May 10, Part 1: The Leica M-Monochrom review […]

  28. Anonymous says:

    […] MM, han sido tomadas con una OM-D y el 45 2.8. Iniciado por sharpei estupenda review: May 10, Part 1: The Leica M-Monochrom review _5001729 copy | Flickr: Intercambio de fotos _5001707 copy | Flickr: Intercambio de fotos […]

  29. […] cuenta “Rob Galbraith”  ;  Blog de Ming Thein Tagged with: Análisis • Leica • […]

  30. […] one of this review took a look at Leica’s new M-Monochrom I’ve had a chance to review already earlier; however, it’s now time to take a look […]

  31. […] read many different reviews of the beastie, but the best (and the one with the best images) is here. I really suggest you look at those images and read the commentary. […]

  32. […] issues have a look at this review of the Monochrom from someone who knows how to use a camera May 10, Part 1: The Leica M-Monochrom review Gordon __________________ Flash is completely […]

  33. […] detailed review, first part, by Ming Thein, with excellent sample images, an excellent read altogether. Verdict: I’m going to conclude by […]

  34. […] still can’t get over the Leica M Monochrom, the only $8,000 black and white only camera on the market. $8k without a […]

  35. […] Thein's excellent MM review I really like his website – here's his take on the MM Ming Thein on the MM […]

  36. […] Please post reviews/tests with the Leica MM here… Here's the best i have found so far… May 10, Part 1: The Leica M-Monochrom review – Ming Thein | Photographer __________________ Best Regards Alexander Tufte […]

  37. […] spectacular image that I would be quite happy to have shot. Judging from the MM images shown at May 10, Part 1: The Leica M-Monochrom review – Ming Thein | Photographer I suspect that your foreground would be still sharper, but I'm not sure that would be an […]

  38. […] an enormous technical benefit that is reflected in the amazing imaging quality it delivers.” Read a good review here. This entry was posted in Photos, Tech. Bookmark the permalink. ← Lost Type Web […]

  39. Anonymous says:

    […] 210 estupenda review: May 10, Part 1: The Leica M-Monochrom review […]

  40. […] Link: May 10, Part 1: The Leica M-Monochrom review – Ming Thein | Photographer can be set to ISO 2500 with little noise penalty – at 100% magnification it appears as very, very fine grain; perhaps comparable to an ISO 400 B&W film. Better yet, there doesn’t appear to be much loss of dynamic range, either Posted by Trent Nelson Posted in Leica […]

  41. […] Today, 07:20 AM Another Leica M Monocrom review: May 10, Part 1: The Leica M-Monochrom review […]

  42. […] background-position: 50% 0px ; background-color:#222222; background-repeat : no-repeat; } – Today, 6:34 […]

  43. […] of videos and reviews:ReviewsThe Leica Forum presents a complete review of the Leica M Monochrom.Ming Then  is a commercial photographer and had the chance to test the Leica M Monochrom, too. He describes […]

  44. […] zusammengestellt:ReviewsDas Leica Forum präsentiert einen kompletten Review zur Leica M Monochrom!Ming Then ist Werbefotograf und hatte nun auch die Chance die Leica M Monochrom zu testen und schildert seine […]

  45. […] Thein Monochrom Review Terrific review of the Monochrom: May 10, Part 1: The Leica M-Monochrom review – Ming Thein | Photographer Now I'm saving […]

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