Monday, May 04, 2015

New Leica M Monochrom (sic), review/trial

Whether you can afford them or not (apparently quite a few people can, Leica is busy), you may have an interest in reading about high-quality cameras. If so, this article is num-num. This is about the second version of the Leica M Monochrom, "typ 246". (It seems that Leica is following the trends of Apple and Amazon, no easy distinction of generations, an iMac is an iMac is an iMac, and Kindle is a Kindle is a Kindle. Sigh.)

A Black-and-white-only camera is not only interesting because of the purity and abstractness of the medium, but also because it has no color filter. This means that each pixel gets at least three times as much light as when a color filter is fitted (as it is in virtually all cameras). Imagine what this does for low-light power.

As as the camera does not have little filters in three different colors, this means that it does not have to guess what the light would be in pixel position x if the filter there had been green and not red. How much exactly this improves sharpness and tone accuracy, I don't know if anybody has tried to measure, but my guess is a doubling or so.

So I don't doubt this photographer when he says that the quality he is getting from this B/W full-frame camera with top lenses is "like from a field camera". (A field camera has a negative of 4x5 inches or even 8x10 inches. Not many of the general public are familiar with photographs of such technical quality.)

Of course like all high-end equipment, it does have lacks which laymen don't understand: it does not have Image Stabilization (anti-shake), and it does not have autofocus! A different beast.

New Leica Monochrom, "The Black Ghost"? 

And being digital, it can be fitted with an Electronic ViewFinder (EVF), which does away with that old downside of non-reflex cameras, parallax (non-precise framing), and also now lets them use tele or zoom lenses, impossible with film Leicas.
(Gotta admit that as configured here, the machine is very handsome and "manly". :-)
Update: Mark reminds me about Visoflex, a flip-mirror adapter one could/can put between the Leica and special lenses, like specially made tele- or micro lenses. So "impossible" is not correct. Though surely it had some serious limitations, since Leica made the Leicaflex camera too.


David Evans said...

At that price, I would like the option of image stabilization. You can always switch it off if you think it spoils the purity of the experience.

Ken said...

The reason that it is close to a 4x5 inch is that it has a true 18MP resolution. In a colour camera with 18MP, one third of the pixels are used for each of the primary colours, so you don't actually get 18MP so this will be a big improvement. I've already seen claims that the Sony A7R does as good a job, in colour, as a 4x5 inch so it is quite likely that is achievable.

One disadvantage is that B&W enthusiasts would need to go back to the traditional use of filters, instead of just applying the filters in photoshop. It probably isn't that easy to find the red, green, yellow and blue filters that are used for B&W work.

Eolake Stobblehouse said...

Yes, I do think the lack of IS is a considerable downside. They have fast lenses and very high quality at 12.000 ISO. But the new Olympus E-M5 II has in-body IS which can gain up to five stops! Imagine if that was added.

And lack of autofocus would delay me by a couple of seconds for most pictures. That's a long way from the 0.1second AF we have now.

CalgaryMark said...

Eo - you said "... which does away with that old downside of non-reflex cameras, parallax (non-precise framing), and also now lets them use tele or zoom lenses, impossible with film Leicas."

Not so. I recall my father using a Leica M2 adapted for the photomicrography of carefully stained human tissue slides on an optical bench he built (!) The film was usually Kodachrome, occasionally Ektachrome. The M2 was fitted with the Visoflex and (I think) he composed the pictures using the front lens element since the Visoflex was in front of the camera, behind the front element of the 5cm lens. The Visoflex could also be used with tele lenses.

Some of my father's pictures were spectacular 'modern, abstract' art. Mostly he was taking pictures of the lungs of miners who had succumbed to dust diseases in the mines of West Cumberland, so pink tissue was stained with haematite (red), coal dust (black) and other malignancies like cancer (usually white). I also recall a spectacular picture of white anthrax germs (which looked like benign albino caterpillars) on a vivid blue background. They all looked so harmless, but of course all the host subjects were dead.

Eolake Stobblehouse said...

Ah yes, I'd forgotten about the Visoflex.
But I think they were pretty rare. Do you know how expensive, and how practical they were? Did they give instant up-return like a reflex camera?

Joe Dick said...

Those are some nice pix. Are you getting one, Big E? Now that you're retired, barring health problems, you can get out there and take some kickass photos. Travel around, Jules Winfield, but with a camera.

Eolake Stobblehouse said...

Admittedly, this is perhaps the first Leica I have found really attractive. The quality gain is impressive. But only seen in really big prints, which I don't know if I will ever make.

But I'm not sure I like rangefinder cameras, and I want autofocus , and of course the Leicas and lenses are insanely expensive.

My fingers are crossed for a black and white camera from Olympus, maybe a special version of the E-M5 2.