Leica M Monochrome - First Impressions

I am fortunate enough to have a retired friend who sold a bunch of older Leica R lenses and bought a Leica M Monochrome a few months back. He let me take it for a spin, and, despite the anxiety of having a $10,000 bill around my neck, it was a lot of fun. 

My personal 'fine-art' work tends to be very detail rich and visually dense, so this wooded area in north-eastern Florida was the perfect place to test the capabilities of this camera in some fairly demanding circumstances—contrasty light and subject, spatial depth, visual density, lots of detail. This of course is not the intended use of this style of camera, but the decisive moment isn't really what I try to photograph so I was mostly interested in the monochrome sensor and Leica lens combination. 

The test was to see if it had the ability to approach the image quality of a medium format film camera and high-end drum scan. We wanted to see what could achieve with final print size and quality when taking every pain to ensure a sharp and noise free file using a tripod, cable release, careful metering, etc. This won't be a technical specs type review—that is what LL is for. This is to see how the camera functions in purely visual terms. 

It took a short while to get used to the rangefinder to compose and focus, and twice I said, "I can't see the picture, the lens is in it!" The interesting thing was that this is the first time that I have used a digital camera in a way that made me slow down enough so that it felt as though I was using a film camera. 

My first impression when first working on the files was, "Damn, this is sharp."

  • Like others have said, it will blow out the highlights faster than you think. There is shadow detail for days, so don't be afraid to underexpose a little and bring it back the midtone and shadow detail through the editing process. 
  • The RAW files can tend to look a little flat without any work, but they can really come alive with dodging and burning and contrast adjustment layers and masks. As people who shoot a lot of film know, a K2 (#8) or a #15 filter can do you a lot of good in this regard.
  • The Leica MM files need hardly any capture sharpening or noise reduction. These files really need careful output sharpening to be sure that the prints don't get too grainy either. 

I hope I can get back to florida to do some more extensive testing with the camera before too long. Maybe even make some comparison pictures with a hasselblad and some T-Max 100, to REALLY see what this baby can do...

Here is a 100% detail crop of the full picture below.