May 112012
 

Masterpiece or Mistake

The new Leica Monochrom, all black finish and the 50mm APO-Summicron lens.

The Big Announcement

Leica finally made their announcements and in the wake of hysteria, the crowds are already protesting.  A BW only camera?  Why would a company go through all the technical hoops of releasing a camera that has one primary function?  See what Forbes Magazine things of the Leica Monochrom.

The reason is Leica does not need to appeal to everyone.  In fact, they hardly have to appeal to any large number of photographers.  The majority of the camera buying market does not use rangefinders, can’t imagine life without auto focus, and is busy learning how to edit videos because now their clients expect them to be cinematographers.  The audience asked for more features and every other camera company (in the 35mm world) has answered.  Now, Photo-Expos around the world are filled with talks on “How to market video to clients.”  What a colossal mistake!

Leica Monochrom rear view.

I don’t know where this went off course, but I like photography because it presents two simple challenges:

  • Create a 2D image that reads as strongly or stronger than its 3D original.
  • Take a moving scene and distill it into a still image without loosing any of the action.

Notice that “color” is not a prerequisite for my concerns with a photograph.  If you can create a Powerful and Active image, color is inconsequential.  Monochrom is an exercise in understanding value.

You will have to decide if the Monochrom is worth it to you. Oh the sleepless nights to come...

Is it worth it? 

After buying an M9, people would come up and ask me, “…so, is it worth it?”  My response was, for me it was worth it, for you, “I don’t know.”  An $8,000 enthusiasts camera may not be worth it, depending on your resources.  But if you are into many of the additional hobbies that I run across in the Leica world such as cars, boats, planes, really expensive travel, and watches, then $8K is a drop in the bucket.  Of all the expensive hobbies, Leica is still relative cheap.

If however you a 19 year old college student with the prospect of $100,000 of student loans facing you, then the Leica Monochrom would not be the best choice for you.  First, I would say that limitations to artists are useful.  Learn on an M6 with BW film and you will eventually be better photographer.  Anyone I knew in school, who could go out and buy exactly what they needed for their craft usually produced garbage.  Innovative solutions are born through economy and resourcefulness.  Years later, after the student loans have died down and an artist has made the very best they could with very little, it becomes time to step up the gear.

The sensor will be a specialized solution to the black and white photographers needs.

From Leica’s Point of View

If Leica can sell out a camera for $8k, why would they sell it at $4K?  Surely they could sell more cameras at $4K, but who knows if they want to produce that many cameras.  They balance cost to production in a way that keeps people fiending for their equipment.  Its brilliant.  No camera company has such a fanatical following of lovers and haters.  It reminds me of the old statistics they used to run on Howard Stern.  I cant recall the exact numbers, but people who hated him actually listened longer because they wanted to hear what he would say next.  Its quite amusing.

So Why BW Only

The M-Monochrom is a specialized solution to a certain set of photographic problems.  If a tool only has to do two or three things, it gives it a huge advantage over is competition.  I expect the experience of using the camera to be very agreeable.  It will end the conflict of “should it be a color picture or a BW?”  Problem solved, its black and white.  One less thing to think about.

At ISO 10,000 you can take a picture in candle light that will easily rival Delta 3200 film pushed a stop or two.  This is a huge bonus.  And as a professional, if you sell a single image in a gallery with the camera the it pays for itself.

And all of those BW filters will finally get some digital use again.  For anyone who shot film they understand that no amount of post production can equal the use of a filter.  I can’t wait to put an orange filter on a Monochrom and see how far the image can be pushed.

The screen could still use some attention, but I imagine it will be addressed on the M10 or the M-1 Monochrom

What could have been fixed?

There are three things I would have changed about the M Monochrom.

  1. BODY SIZE:  Leica should make an effort to return to the size of the Leica MP.  The added height of the M6ttl and M7 are not needed and the added thickness of the digital M’s would not be missed.
  2. SHUTTER RELEASE:  The shutter should feel like a film camera.  I would pose a challenge to Leica since they are a talented bunch of engineers.  Make the shutter feel like the film cameras and deaden the sound of the curtain to be at least as quiet is the film cameras.  When you consider that a few years ago there were piles of “experts” on forums explaining why a digital M would be impossible, you can see that the realm of possibility is broader than expected.  A quieter shutter and smoother release would be heavenly.
  3. LCD SCREEN:  No one buys a Ferrari and then outfits it with tires from a garage station.  There is a certain level of quality that exists with me M Cameras and the screen is a generation or two behind the curve.  It would be great if the next screens could be retro fitted to the older bodies.  I would not even care if Leica wanted to charge $1000 to make the swap.

The ideal camera for me is one which remains in the same outer shell because the human hand is not scheduled for a re-design anytime soon.  But what needs to change are the components.  If Leica continues to make bodies in the M idiom, it will be very useful if things like the sensors and screens can be swapped out.  Will they do that?  I would not hold my breath, but when I had a chance to meet with some of the German Leica team last year, they asked for my thoughts.  So why not let them know?

The Monochrom makes sense to me, but the 50mm APO-Summicron is still a little confusing.

Conclusion

Hopefully all of the fanatical browser refreshing has died down.  We have an M Monochrom, a new 50mm APO-Summicron (which I will write about later), and an X2.  Thursday happened, the world did not end, and we can go back to life as usual.  The only difference now is whether we decide to put ourselves of THAT waiting list for a Leica Monochrom.

Today I am off to start another weekend workshop at the Leica Akademie.  Looking forward to it.

Best, 

Adam Marelli

  28 Responses to “Leica M-Monochrom”

  1. IMHO
    A camera for the 2,500 “Leica Collectors”
    A camera for a niche of people the want to “think different”
    A camera for a smaller niche of people the really think this is the solution to take perfect B&W photos

    I really hoped, until the last moment, to a Digital MP (thumb lever to charge the shutter, no screen on the back, wheel ISO selector…) but this really seems to me a sort of “commercial” bridge from the M9 to the M10 while Leica will have a new better sensor.
    Photokina is not so far… we’ll see

    • Vinicio,

      From my discussions with some of the folks at Leica the digital film advance will never happen. Its a cool idea, but I doubt they will ever go that way.

      Photokina should be interesting. Some will love it, others will be very angry. It would not be a proper Leica release if people were not up in arms.

      Best-Adam

  2. If I could, this is the one I would get. If I could get an M3 or M6, I would probably shoot mostly B&W. I know with my current rangefinder and film cameras it is B&W. DSLR is for color and macro. Leica M Monochrom w/ .95 Noctilux. Okay back to reality.

    Still wating on Rene Burri..

    Kristen

    • Kristen,
      You are sooo right. That Burri article has been in draft form long enough. I need to get that out.

      Thanks for the push.

      I too am really considering the Monochrom.

      Best Adam

    • Hey Kristen,

      If you can eye ball lighting, I would get an old 50mm cron and an M3. You could shoot that combo for 100 years to come. Save the money on the 0.95 and buy a few plane tickets instead.

      Burri is forthcoming.

      Best-Adam

  3. I’d love to shoot a digital rangefinder, but $7-8k for a camera that will be obsolete in a few years is hard to swallow, especially with rather mediocre electronics. At least the lenses will last. Leica has always been more expensive, but their prices have gotten out of touch.

  4. I’d love to shoot a digital rangefinder, but $7-8k for a camera that will be obsolete in a few years is hard to swallow, especially with rather mediocre electronics. At least the lenses will last.

    Leica has always been more expensive, but their prices have gotten out of touch compared to the competition.

    • There is always the option to get used gear. My M8.2 still produces great images and there is no need to upgrade.
      Steve

      • Hey Steve,

        You are right on. This whole concept that the technology will be obsolete or the camera will be worthless in a few years is nonsense. It all depends on the needs of the photographer. As long as your computer will still read the files, they camera will not be obsolete. Enjoy the M8.2 for as long as you want.

        There are plenty of people who buy new gear and get sick of it within a year. The re-sale is always marked down, which makes for plenty of cheaper options.

        Best-Adam

      • Too true. I bought a second hand M8 only a bit over a year ago, along with a 40 year old 50mm Summilux. They go well, I’m more than happy with them and I am not going to sell them anytime soon. Hardly obsolete…

        • Hey Mugget,

          Yup, you got it. The M8 will still satisfy a huge client base. Nothing is obsolete if you still enjoy its product. Leica products last a long time and they will still service just about anything you can lay on the table.

          Enjoy-Adam

    • Hey D,

      I dont see the “obsolete” concern. If I could shoot the rest of my career with film, then why couldn’t the M9 satisfy that role? I see Leica’s late entry into the digital rangefinder world as an effort to avoid producing piles of truly obsolete cameras. I went from M6 to M9. And considering Leica is not going anywhere, I bet the cameras will be serviceable for many years to come.

      But the price is not the most friendly aspect of their products.

      Best-Adam

      • Hi, Adam. I understand your point about film cameras, although, with film, you can change to any flavor that you like. Should I assume you won’t buy an M10 when it comes, since the M9 could last for decades?

        My point is simply that Leica has turned into a luxury brand in the realm of Rolex these days. The Kodak sensor in the M9 wasn’t even state of the art 5 years ago, and the electronics in the camera weren’t fantastic, either. Despite this, Leica users have been clamoring to mount all of their great glass, so the M9 was and is still a great seller. Leica has become a bit of a Veblen good those days.

        Rangefinders used to be similarly priced to SLRs. In fact, I think my Leicaflex SL was actually more expensive than an M when it was new. Leicas were always more expensive than the likes of Nikon, but the gap in price has become a gulf. Even my workingman, blue collar grandfather shot a Leica M 30 years ago. He wouldn’t dream of spending $10K on an M9 and 50/2 these days.

        Either way, it’s just a tool, and it isn’t my business what someone wants to spend on their own tool. I might even buy an M10, who knows?

        Great blog, btw, and I just received my Barnsdale DVDs, which I’m enjoying quite a bit. Thanks and keep up the good work!

        • Hey Douglas,

          The M10 does not have my attention yet. A rangefinder with video features is useless in my mind. I am a photographer, not a cinematographer. But others may dig it. Live view, is another worthless feature in my mind. It really depends on what Leica decides with the camera. But I am not a gear heavy person. I use two bodies (M6/M9) and two lenses (50/90) I will rent a 35mm when I need it. This who concept of GAS is not my style. Pictures interest me tremendously, equipment is so so.

          As for Leica being expensive, I have nothing to add. The numbers do not lie. They are a niche, luxury brand. They could never compete in the mass market, and between you and me, I am happy that they hardly try. Photography is expensive business. Leica tends to get compared to Canon/Nikon all the time, but I see them more comparable to Phase One and Hasselblad. Most enthusiasts would never image spending 40K on a system. And I understand why.

          Glad to hear you are enjoying the blog. Let me know how you make out with the Barnstone DVDs. They are a powerful tool which should transform they way you see images. Myron is a gem.

          We will see what happens with the M10 in the months to come. It would not be a true “Leica release” if everyone was happy. : )

          Best-Adam

  5. Many of my Leica friends mainly or exclusively shoot b&w. I have no doubt that this camera will be a big success for Leica.
    Steve

    • Hey Steve,

      Yes there are some people who could care less about color. The whole color equation is just an unneeded element. BW digital is going to be a god send for some people.

      Film was totally sufficient for 70 years. Theoretically you could shoot the balance of a BW career with a MM and never need to change. All I ever wanted in a Digital M was to be as good as film. Once that is set, the growing obsession for image quality is not that interesting to me. Its more about the pictures. Its nice for there to be options, but they should not turn into obsessions.

      Best-Adam

  6. For me it’s the perfect solution – I’m in! I was already on the waiting list…;-)

    • Richard,

      I am with you on this one. The MM will surely be a very enjoyable experience for anyone who loves M cameras & BW. It will not disappoint.

      Surely not everyone will agree, but I think of it this way. You are the only one who needs to enjoy the food on your plate. Cameras are no different.

      Best-Adam

  7. Leica present this new leica MM as something special , there’s nothing special in that, it just shows the impossibility for leica to develop a M10 which would compete with the Nikon D 800 .
    So they present a pseudo new product which is nothing than an old one without any filter on top of the sensor , big deal , big discovery .
    If you buy a Nikon d 800 , use ink silver effect , (which you must anyhow use with the MM as it is given with the leica ) and get much better results .
    The Nikon is already better than the S2 .
    All this is just a joke . Leica might find customer for it but it won’t be me .

    Patrick Mimran

    • Hey Patrick,

      Leica’s development always causes intense reactions. But that being said, I have no doubt they will develop a very successful M10. It may be loved by some and hated by others, but it will exist. For BW photographers the MM offers the opportunity to shoot BW filters again, which is a treat and allows them to have a more dedicated lowlight camera which is not in a DSLR housing. That single fact alone is enough to peak my interest. Personally Nikon could not pay me to use one of their cameras. They are too big and too heavy for the type of work I do. Surely I am not the majority on that one. More people own Nikons than Leicas. But I do enjoy having the choice to buy a highly specialized camera that looks like an antique.

      As for the Leica Nikon comparison, I hate to compare the two. The Nikon has more features and holds up well on the DxO charts, but that is not the whole picture. I think of the S2 as a publicly released prototype. It has some kinks, but if I had to shoot a larger body I would choose an S2 or a Phase One over a Nikon. But Nikon is a fraction of the price with different glass. Its great to have a market with choices, because the preferences of the DSLR world do not fit me.

      I welcome all the innovations that each camera company contributes.

      Best-Adam

  8. Looking forward to your write-up on the new 50 cron. I must say that my jaw dropped at the price, and I felt rather sick of Leica and their prices, but now I find myself curiously attracted to the lens. It’s my favorite focal length after all.

    • Hey Guy,

      Yes there is a interesting story behind the 50mm APO-Cron. Its price is jaw dropping, I agree. But as with anything I will want to test it in person before I write it off completely to price.
      I too, live in the 50mm idiom, so it has my attention.

      Best-Adam

  9. Nice writeup that brought up some great points

    I think the concept of a monochromatic camera is brilliant, the price , not so much. But I doubt Leica will end up with these being overstocked in a warehouse, they will sell them all, some will even be used to take photos with!

    fortunately for my budget , Im quite happy with my upgraded M8 , there are no Leica stores or dealers within 1,000 kms luckily as this M-M is quite lustworthy !

    cheers

    • Thank you Robert,

      Yes I expect the MM’s will get a tremendous amount of use. They are a BW dream in many ways. Now the Hermes camera?! That set may not get any use. Though if I had the means I would buy the one with the 50mm Lux and use the sh*& out of it. I loved the orange Hermes MP from a few years ago. I dont believe in glass box cameras. Buy them, use them and get great images.

      I always want to peel the UL labels off of peoples M9s when I see them. Its like leaving a sales tag on a jacket.

      As for the price, Leica will be Leica. Maybe they are subtly promoting us to sell our photos.

      Best-Adam

  10. Hi Adam,

    Thanks for a well-balanced, yet opinionated review. I came across your blog via the official Leica blog and will definitely read your other posts.

    As for the M-M, well, as a marketer I appreciate the notion of producing niche products for a niche target audience. Sure, this camera will not suit everybody. But given that many of us may well own several cameras, I can see this camera fulfilling specific needs. What I really appreciate is the company’s single-mindedness about producing equipment of the highest quality. Who knows, this monochrome idea might trickle down to other, more affordable manufacturers.

    I am sure some fine art photographer will produce a hand-coloured image using the M-M. Now that would be the final irony.

    Best regards,

    David

    • Hi David,

      Happy to hear you found the site. I agree with your marketing points. This camera is going to make a number of people very happy. Inspite of the cost, I will admit it has my attention. Granted I like film, BUT I dont not get the sense that film companies are doing their best to keep people shooting film. I find there are huge opportunities for film companies to improve the introduction of film and simplify the digital conversions. But the film market is still ass-backwards.

      The MM will allow all of the BW filters to be used and the aesthetics of the camera are almost perfect. If I had my choice the first M9 would have looked like the MM.

      And you are probably right. I bet you will see other BW digital cameras from other producers soon. Leica, for once, is on a conceptual front with the MM. We will keep an eye out for the hand colored images, because they will def creep up somewhere.

      Best-Adam

  11. Adam,

    I shoot B&W with my M6. Now with the Monochrom, I think it is time to go digital. But how do I rationalize the price. I think of all the money I will save on film and processing. From the Return on Investment analysis shown below I will pay for the Monochrom in 8 years. Yes the cost of film could be less with home processing and buying film in bulk.

    $5 per 24 shot roll of film and processing X 200 rolls per year = $1000/year X 8 years = $8000

    Then there is the fact that from what I have see thus far I really want it. But changeable sensors would be nice.

    John

    • Hey John,

      I am not sure where you are located, but I wish shooting film costs what you say it does. My math is wildly different because I do not have a darkroom and I need to digitize frequently. The M-Monochrom would pay for itself in about a year.

      Here are my numbers:
      Film: 5.95 per roll
      Processing: 6.50 per roll (dip/dunk prices NYC)
      Scanning (Imacon): $350, per 100 images, lets say of the 200 rolls there are 500 keepers.

      200 Rolls per year (assuming 500 scanned images) = $4,240.
      I would also figure for my hourly billable rate for sitting at a scanner.

      Lets just say that Monochrom would pay itself off in a matter of months, not years.

      It really depends on how you use it I guess. That being said, my M6 is not going anywhere, but I may make room in the bag for a Monochrom.

      Best-Adam

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