Digital Cameras Photos & Projects

The Leica M9M Monochrom – First few shots and initial impressions

I’ve fancied a Leica Monochrom since the day they were announced. It can’t have been that long after that my mate Pete bought one and sent me a few DNG files to inspect – this did nothing for a level of intrigue that’s stuck with me since. This week the time finally came for me to buy my very own. I had to sacrifice the Xpan-ii to do it, but I must say I am happy with that decision already.

Step up the Leica M9M Monochrom for the summer

As well as buying a Leica “M9M” Monochrom, this week has also seen my Leica M9 go off to Germany for a sensor replacement. As such my new Monochrom is going to be taking over digital photography duties over for the summer. Of course, the summer won’t be entirely lost to black and white photography – I still have film. In some ways I’m quite pleased about this too. Since I won’t have the M9 to temp me to the dark side, it should mean my family holiday to Cornwall this summer will be almost entirely documented with film – past experiences tell me that film and Cornwall go very well together. Anyway, I digress the Monochrom has landed, and I’m a week into shooting it…

Different from my experiences and expectations

As mentioned, I’ve already played with some files taken with a Monochrom in the past. Despite this, and despite thinking I knew what to expect, I wasn’t fully prepared for the results I got. Make no mistake, the files from this camera are very different to colour files converted to black and white. They’re even quite different from files taken with the M9.

Norah

I’ll get into this a lot more in a proper review I’m sure, but three things struck me straight away about shooting the Monochrom. I have less room for manoeuvre in the highlights than I was expecting, more room for manoeuvre in the shadows than I was expecting, and it’s ok to shoot this camera at 5000 ISO.

Curb walk

Accidentally shot at 5000iso after leaving it set from the night before

These aren’t points I wasn’t aware of before, but what has struck me is just how more apparent they are now it’s me clicking the button. There’s definitely going to be a steep learning curve to work out how to best deal with these factors in my photography. So far, I have made a few mistakes and missed a few shots. It’s also probably fair to say that I have erred a little to far towards underexposure in most of the photos I have taken.

Fork lift

It was quite dark inside the building… I might have over-embraced that to save some highlights

Closer to a true black & white experience

Something else that’s struck me is how taking photos with the Monochrom feels closer to a true black & white result. This might sound like a blindingly obvious thing to say, but it feels a lot closer to the thought process involved in shooting black & white film. The results, and the wider process of shooting the Monochrom are a fairly big departure from film of course, but the attitude toward the action of the photography is different to colour digital.

As I say, this probably sounds pretty obvious, but it is exactly what I was hoping to find. As time goes on I feel less and less inclined toward heavily processing my photos… In fact, that’s not strictly true, I simply find myself less and less inclined toward processes that don’t feel preplanned. One of the things I most love about shooting film is that the decision to shoot black & white is so purposeful. With “normal” digital cameras it feels much more arbitrary – you can press the button and decide the fate of the photo later. This isn’t the case with the Monochrom, and I’ve really enjoyed that side of shooting with it already. For the first time in ages, I feel like my black and white photos digital photos are the result of planning, not just fiddling with the images in lightroom.

Norah

Discovering black and white lens character

The final observation I wanted to share from this first week with the Monochrom is something I didn’t have any expectation of at all. For some reason I’ve found myself much more aware of lens character within the black & white digital images it produces.

Hannah & Murph

The Monochrom seemed to really capture the gentle low contrast look of my Jupiter-8M

I wonder if I’m so used to digital black and white feeling like a process, that I’m losing something of my perception of the character of my lenses in the muddle of post process. I’m not sure if that makes sense outside of my head really, but somehow – perhaps because digital black and white has always felt a little like an afterthought – I now feel like I am seeing and more strongly appreciating how various lenses impact on monochrome images. This is perhaps also helped by the Monochrom’s native flat images – but that’s a topic to come back to in an eventual review I think.

As I say, there’s now a fairly steep learning curve for me to start experiencing. I haven’t even really properly got my head around how to take good photos with this camera yet, never mind properly got my head around what all of the above means for my photography. As such, I shall leave you with a few more images, and come back to this a bit more at a later date.

Clouds

Boke

Tom

Defender

Norah

Canal

Hannah & Norah

Norah

You might notice that a good few of these were taken with an ultra wide lens. They were taken with the Lomography new Russar+ – a review of which is imminent. If you are interested in reading such a review, but haven’t yet signed up to my email subscription of followed me on the social medias – crack on

Cheers for reading

Hamish

You can find a few more photos taken with the M9M Monochrom here.

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43 Comments

  • Reply
    douglasgottlieb
    July 2, 2017 at 10:46 pm

    Uh oh. I’ve been just barely keeping my mono mania under control. These reports are going to be a real test. I don’t own an XPan to trade and my Hassy 500C and 2 lenses won’t likely get me there in trade…

    Better start saving

    • Reply
      Hamish Gill
      July 2, 2017 at 10:53 pm

      I got mine for good money, but actually they do seem to have come down a bit in value lately. It seems that with Leica bringing out so many new models these days, the second value of older models is getting crushed … a bit at least … …

      • Reply
        Alvaro
        July 3, 2017 at 6:47 pm

        This is the first Monochrom, the “M Monochrom” without typ, right? That one’s even cheaper than the latest one!

        • Reply
          Hamish Gill
          July 3, 2017 at 6:51 pm

          Yes, it’s the M9 variant, first generation Monochrom

  • Reply
    Nick
    July 2, 2017 at 11:32 pm

    Thanks for the thoughts on the MM, and the wonderful photos to go with it. There’s definitely a ‘filmish’ feel to the images you don’t normally get with digital.

    Your comment about the Monochrome being ‘purposeful’ really struck a cord for me, it’s for this reason that it’s one of the few digital bodies that might tempt me back from film (at least partly).

    • Reply
      Hamish Gill
      July 9, 2017 at 8:05 am

      Cheers Nick! It’s amazing how similar yet at the same time how different it is to shooting film!

  • Reply
    John Lockwood
    July 3, 2017 at 12:36 am

    Since you’re realizing a film approach is appropriate with the MM, just curious, will you be trying color lens filters? My understanding is that there is no point in traditional B&W filtration with a Bayer sensor. Just wondering if you used a yellow/orange/filter straight away, how much LESS processing would be required?

    • Reply
      Hamish Gill
      July 9, 2017 at 8:10 am

      I’m very intrigued by this idea too! I will report back!

  • Reply
    Dave
    July 3, 2017 at 12:53 am

    I’m curious if you’ve tried any of
    the Fuji x100 cameras or the rest of the Fuji line. You can shoot in B&W jpg with custom settings to tweak the files as you like. The EVF will tell you if your shadows are too deep before you push the shutter button. I usually use mine an aperture mode and ride the exposure compensation dial to get the exposure correct in camera.

    • Reply
      Hamish Gill
      July 9, 2017 at 8:00 am

      I have, I’ve owned the original x100 and xpro – I didn’t do this with either, but I have been told similar to this a few times. I shot the M9 in B&W which shows black and white photos on the back. In terms of total user experience it didn’t quite match this

  • Reply
    Rob MacKillop
    July 3, 2017 at 6:22 am

    Good introductory review, Hamish. Super jealous, of course. The closest I get to that is my poor-man’s Leica Monocrom, the Sigma Quattro’s when set to shoot b&w. I don’t think my DPO Quattro has ever taken a colour shot, as the b&w images are so good. But the Foveon sensor, while unique and characterful, is no match for the Leica. And that lens you are using seems a perfect match for it. I look forward to the refinement of your technique with it, as some of the images you have produced already are superb. The soft contrast is especially easy on the eye. Good purchase.

    • Reply
      Hamish Gill
      July 3, 2017 at 11:17 am

      Thanks, Rob! For some reason I thought of you when I started shooting this camera – I think it would suit you! The files are actually quite foveon-esq I think. Something about them that just looks “real” (apart from the fact they are b&w of course).

  • Reply
    Oliver
    July 3, 2017 at 7:49 am

    I had the opportunity to play with a view files of a Monochrom 2 down at the local L-Store (Meetup)
    The latitude in the shadows was very impressive i have to say.
    But as someone who thinks in analog black an white film it is also very confusing.
    I am curious if you can find a way to use the features of the monochrom to your advantage.
    The owner of the Mono2 (also the owner of the shop) told me the Mono is produces unique results.
    You have to accept that or you get frustrated.
    He loves his Mono and he uses it exclusively for his private photos.

    • Reply
      Hamish Gill
      July 3, 2017 at 11:20 am

      Unique is definitely the word – I can see how people would find frustration, but I just see a learning curve.
      It is backwards to film, and I do keep metering for the shade then looking at the back of the camera in horror… that said, I’ve had one high-key shot that nearly looked ok. I think going to be about fining soft transitions to clipped whites where having them is inescapable, if that makes sense…?

  • Reply
    Terry B
    July 3, 2017 at 8:12 am

    Hamish, do you have the CCD or CMOS version?

    What surprised me was how much your images are similar in tone to my old FP4/Aculux 120 negs shot with my Rollei 3.5f and Mamiya C330S. And this is even for allowing viewing on a monitor.

    I should think that what could be very interesting is the ability to go to 5000 ISO, something impossible with traditional film, and I’d certainly be interested in any tests and comments you do at this setting. Pity I can’t afford it! :D(

    Does the lack of an AA and Bayer filter assist with corner sharpness using extreme wide angle lenses?

    Looking forward to your expanded post.

    • Reply
      Hamish Gill
      July 3, 2017 at 11:23 am

      CCD – the M9 Monochrom, or M9M is I’ve found myself calling it.
      Could you link me to some of the film shots you mention – I am ISO g mostly “vintage” glass with it at the moment…

      As for the 5000iso – I can’t wait to try it in the pub on Wednesday night. I think it’s going to really shine in lower light

      As for wide angles, “a bit” is my conclusion so far, but I have no proof of that yet…

  • Reply
    Hector J. Oca
    July 3, 2017 at 9:17 am

    Not sure of what to think about the Monochrom. I would love a camera like that but it’s too much money for me tight now and I have the M8 that it’s the “medium poor man’s Monochrom”, I don’t see differences in BW tones terms, except, obviously, the abysmal ISO range of the MM that dwarfs the M8 and the possibility of playing with colour filters, just like in film.

    Maybe I need to test it with a yellow and a red filter to see how it behaves 🙂

    • Reply
      Hamish Gill
      July 9, 2017 at 7:57 am

      Filters are high on my agenda – I’m just trying to find a preference for lens with it before I commit

  • Reply
    Frank Lehnen
    July 3, 2017 at 10:14 am

    If it just wasn’t so darn expensive…..

    • Reply
      Hamish Gill
      July 3, 2017 at 11:23 am

      Used, they are coming down – I got this for £2300, which is a lot, but is also a LOT less than they were new

      • Reply
        leo sze
        July 7, 2017 at 8:54 am

        Where did you get your second hand Leica? This price is cheaper that those on the eBay.

        • Reply
          Hamish Gill
          July 8, 2017 at 8:24 am

          A mate – I realised after he sold it me that he’d done so for around £200 less than it’s lowball value! He had been offered this money by a shop, but very kindly offered it to me for the same money knowing I was after one

  • Reply
    Neil Woodman
    July 3, 2017 at 2:08 pm

    That’s a mega price for one, this is great can’t wait to see more pictures from it. So now you have an M9, a monochrom and an M-A, good heavens! Nirvana.

    • Reply
      Hamish Gill
      July 3, 2017 at 2:50 pm

      Don’t forget the M3 … 🙂

      • Reply
        neil woodman
        July 3, 2017 at 2:55 pm

        Fantastic. What a collection.

        • Reply
          Hamish Gill
          July 3, 2017 at 6:52 pm

          I’m equally as proud as I find it almost embarrassing.

  • Reply
    Tobias Eriksson
    July 3, 2017 at 2:27 pm

    Thanks for the guidance in Leica country. Always enjoyable.
    I just want to comment on your experience with different results in b&w and colour with the same lens. I’ve had the same experience with my Helios 55 mm lens on a Zenit 3m and Chinonflex TTL. The lens has areas of uneven (is the most fitting description I suppose) focus visible only when I use b&w film. On the colour scans there is focus where it should be. So for me it is now a b&w only lens, since I love the dreamlike haziness.

    • Reply
      Hamish Gill
      July 3, 2017 at 6:57 pm

      I wonder if that is down to the very slightly different focal lengths of different colours of light…? Interesting, anyway! Cheers

  • Reply
    Tom Brayne
    July 3, 2017 at 6:42 pm

    A different animal, but I happily use the Fuji X series. I find that setting the jpg Film Simulation to one of the Black & White variants which then appear in the electronic viewfinder is a great help to shooting black and white, though I always work in Capture One Pro to render the raw files. That BW jpg gives me a great base point for where I want to go with the raw render. As an aside – am getting interesting results with an adapted Jupiter 3 and Helios 44-2.

    Cheers!

    • Reply
      Hamish Gill
      July 3, 2017 at 6:54 pm

      The Helios 44 is a great lens! I really love the fact that they are so common, almost regardless of how popular they get, they can still be had for next to nothing!
      I used my old xpro like that – in fact, short of the live view, I used to use my M9 like that on occasion too

  • Reply
    Oliver
    July 3, 2017 at 8:17 pm

    @terry Someone explained me why the digital M tend to loose light and sharpness in the corners.
    Film is a flat surface but a sensor is compared to film like a pack of drinking straws. and because the flange distance of a M is so low and for some wind angle lenses even lower the light is blocked by the shadow of the tube.
    Just in case you have not heard that before.
    So it should not matter compared to a “color sensor.”
    @Hamish he also showed a lot of photos taking by night. no tripod. high ISO. breath-taking. insanely sharp and full of shadow detail. so it should be fun to use in the pub.
    I think the Mono is “the queen of the night.” but in bright sunlight some pictures where almost surreal. things made of wood and some plants looked like some kind “neo infrared-film” to me.
    Anyway – interesting camera and one of the reasons why they are my heroes. You need balls of steel to even think about building such a camera.

    • Reply
      Peter Boorman
      April 5, 2018 at 7:29 pm

      I think the pack of drinking straws analogy is a good one – but it’s worth remembering that the ‘straws’ comprise several elements, of which the Bayer filter array is one (the microlenses and the ‘pit like’ nature of the photon detection sites themselves are the other important ones, along with the way the IR hot mirror behaves for oblique rays, to a degree.) Thus, my thinking is that not having the Bayer filter has the potential for the ‘straws ‘ to be a little bit ‘shorter’ – which has the potential to help with performance with wideangle lenses.
      .
      Real world results will be the real answer 🙂

  • Reply
    Brian
    July 3, 2017 at 11:40 pm

    Congratulations on the M Monochrom- I’ve had mine for over 4.5 years now. Just back from a sensor replacement. My M9, 2 years older, shows no signs of corrosion. Have not had a chance to test out the new sensor, the original was one of the most uniform I’ve seen. Shoot at ISO 10,000 with slow 4x SD cards, good charge on a battery- no signs of banding. High-Speed SD cards might produce banding at highest ISO.

    ANYWAY! put an Orange filter on the Sonnar, you’ll be amazed at how much sharper the image is. I was.

    https://www.flickr.com/photos/[email protected]/albums/72157655430704496/with/21039294675/

    Compare the performance of the above 1934 5cm F2 Sonnar on the M9 and M Monochrom.

    I wrote my own software to add a gamma curve to the image and convert the 14-bit DNG to a 16-bit DNG as to not lose resolution. In Fortran.

    https://www.flickr.com/photos/[email protected]/albums/72157653270743238

    Spent most of the 1980s writing image processing code. So- any questions about M Monochrom file format…

    • Reply
      Hamish Gill
      July 9, 2017 at 7:55 am

      Thanks Brian – I’m on this Orange filter idea – how does it make it sharper? different wavelengths of light being different focal lengths it right at the edge of my ability to understand stuff, but is it because of that?

      • Reply
        Brian
        July 10, 2017 at 7:25 pm

        Chromatic Aberration tends to spread the image out, make it blurry. There are two types of chromatic aberration. Longitudinal- where the image plane depends on the color, cannot be corrected in post-processing. Transverse- the image is all in focus at the same plane, but the size of the image varies by color. With a Monochrome Camera and an Orange filter: you get rid of most of the out of focus components. Figure Medium Yellow: cut in half; Orange: cut 2/3rds; Red- 90%.

        Waiting for my 50/1.1 7Artisans lens to test this idea!

  • Reply
    Toby Brownson
    July 4, 2017 at 8:43 am

    For those times when you’re dying to shoot mono but you’re just stool with your pesky A7RII. BTW I hate you, your cameras are all far to nice!!!! Your Jupiter will mount very easily as I am sure you know. Try setting ISO in excess of 1600 if light will allow for a slightly grainy look. I know nothing like film but stil, with all NR, off all DR off, DRO at minimum, creative style B&W with an additional 3+ on contrast and set Live view display settings effect to on. If you haven’t already tried it or something similar, hey presto. It’s as near as I am going to get anyway. No Leica Monochrome on my budget ?

    • Reply
      Hamish Gill
      July 9, 2017 at 7:48 am

      Ha, sorry Toby! tbf, the Sony belongs to my company rather than me and was paid for through hard slog – The monochrom cost less money than it too. I do keep meaning to set the Sony to b&w – you aren’t the first to suggest this to me

  • Reply
    toby brownson
    July 4, 2017 at 8:47 am

    For those times when you’re dying to shoot mono but you’re just stool with your pesky A7RII. BTW I hate you, your cameras are all far to nice!!!! Your Jupiter will mount very easily as I am sure you know. Try setting ISO in excess of 1600 if light will allow for a slightly grainy look. I know nothing like film but still, with all NR, off all DR off, DRO at minimum, creative style B&W with an additional 3+ on contrast and set Live view display settings effect to on. If you haven’t already tried it or something similar, hey presto. It’s as near as I am going to get anyway. No Leica Monochrome on my budget ?

    • Reply
      toby brownson
      July 4, 2017 at 8:53 am

      oh the Jupiter 12 works really well too, for that older not quite prefect bit of character. Yes that enormous rear element fits a A7 nicely, and I presume would maybe mount on your rangefinders too, though I would check. That rear element is really close to the shutter!

  • Reply
    Nick
    July 9, 2017 at 8:16 am

    I’ve seen images from the Monochrom online before and they seemed so sharp and over processed that it put me off to be honest. But these images are the opposite, more organic looking and seem to me to be closer to a B/W film look. I’ve always loved the idea of this camera. When i shoot digital i don’t know whether it will end up colour or B/W. I would imagine it makes you more purposeful. The digital equivalent of having a camera loaded with your favourite black and white film. Then of course there is the ability to shoot at high ISO’s… interesting stuff!

    • Reply
      Hamish Gill
      July 14, 2017 at 8:15 am

      Thanks Nick – yes, there is a fair amount of over-processing, I’d noted that too. It might just be that the original images are so flat, that some then make up for it by pushing too far… not sure…
      The high ISOs are definitely a bonus – though I am yet to use them (I just don’t often find the need)

  • Reply
    Derren Lee Poole
    July 21, 2017 at 9:59 am

    I found this an insight and informative article.

  • Reply
    Ming
    September 25, 2017 at 1:48 pm

    Nice. Do a side by side with your M3 loaded with FP4, acros 100 or Tmax 100, get good scans and you will sell your M9M 🙂 I did :-))
    Cheers

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