Category Archives: Leica Monochrom

Leica M9 Mono vs. Sigma sd Quattro B&W

I woke up this morning thinking I’d take my F5 and my monochrome and take some comparison photos to see what the difference was in the look of real film, in this instance Fomaplan B&W, and a camera that claims to be able to effectively simulate analog capture. I took my Sigma Foveon sd Quattro along too just for the hell of it.

As usual, things didn’t go as planned. When I got home and loaded my Mono photos in LR I found them all grossly overexposed, unusable. Inquiry into the matter determined I had set exposure compensation to +3 and not -0.3 as I had thought. All shots wasted. It didn’t go any better with the F5. Turns out my ‘new’ (as in bought used on Ebay) bulk roller has a light leak, and that leak ruined the roll of Fomapan I shot and has ruined the entire 100 ft of film I’ve already loaded into cartridges, (a second roll shot quick confirmed my findings). So I’ve tossed the loader and 15 rolls of defective film. On the bright side, the Sigma sd quattro shots came out great. So, in order not to completely have wasted my day, I went back and reshot with the Mono at -0.3 exposure comp and figured I’d compare the Mono shots to the sd Quattro shots.

I shot the 18mg Mono at 400 ISO with 35mm VC 2.5 with yellow filter attached. I shot the 19.6mg Sigma at 100 ISO with a 24mm (36mm crop equivalent) Sigma 1.8 EX DG and added a yellow filter in post. Post processing was the same for both cameras – DNGs marginally adjusted in LR and then further work in Silver Efex where the Tri-X emulation was applied to both sets of files and some more marginal tweaking applied.

A Film v Mono comparison is going to have to await my purchase of a new bulk loader.

The Mono photos are borderless. The Sigma sd Quattro photos all have the thin black border. You can click on them to enlarge.

Sigma sd Quattro
Leica M9 Monochrom
Sigma sd Quattro
,Leica Monochrom
Sigma sd Quattro
Leica M9 Monochrom
Sigma sd Quattro
Leica M9 Monochrom
Sigma sd Quattro
Leica M9 Monochrom
Sigma sd Quattro
Leica M9 Monochrom

*************

Note that I chose to use the Quattro as opposed to the SD15 for the comparison. The SD15, while only 5mgs, is a ‘real’ Foveon while the sd Quattro has a slightly different sensor architecture wherein there are more blue sensors than the Red and Green layers beneath it. The SD15 has 3 stacked Red Green and Blue sensors with equal pixel count. B&W Tri-x files from the SD15 are outstanding and actually look like Tri-X. In retrospect, I wish I had used the SD15 instead of the sd Quattro. My initial conclusion is 1) the Monochrom produces kick-ass B&W files…but not looking much like classic Tri-X even when the Tri-X emulation is applied and 2) the sd Quattro also produces its own nice look (not much like Tri-X either) but not quite as good as Mono (or the SD15 files) run through the Tri-X emulations. Between the Mono and the sd Quattro, I prefer the Mono files; they appear slightly sharper and have a crispness to them I don’t see in the Sigma photos. That doesnt mean they look more like film output. I’m not sure either do. That’s probably a comparison between the SD15 and the F5 with Fomapan…and a Nikon d200 thrown in for good measure.

And, of course, none of this accounts for different shutter speeds and f-stops used by the two cameras nor the different time of day the photos were taken – the Quattro photos at about 10:30 AM, the Mono photos about 3 hours later, which essentially makes any valid comparisons worthless. The lesson to be learned? Who knows.

Hits: 505

The Leica Monochrom Conundrum

In 2012, Leica introduced the M9 Monochrom, a dedicated monochrome (B&W) camera, the first digital black and white camera in 35mm format. According to Leica, the Monochrom “builds on the rich tradition of analog black and white photography and brings authentic monochrome photography into the digital era.” With a full native resolution of 18 megapixels, the Monochrom easily bested similar megapixel color sensors; unlike Bayer sensors, the Monchrom sensor records the true luminance value of each pixel, delivering a “true” black and white image straight from the sensor. In addition, users could apply characteristic analog toning effects like sepia, cold or selenium toning directly from the camera; just save the image as a JPEG and select the desired toning effect, “no need for post-processing.”

The Original Leica M9 Monochrom with CCD sensor

Of course, few Monochrom owners are going to shoot jpegs. Most are going to shoot RAW files and post-process, and to that end, Leica gave original owners a free copy of Silver Efex when they purchased the camera: ” Purchase includes a plug-in version of Nik Silver Efex Pro™ software, considered to be the most powerful tool for the creation of high-quality digital black and white images. For pictures that perfectly replicate the look of analog exposures, Siver Efex Pro™ offers selective control of tonal values and contrast and an extensive collection of profiles for the simulation of black and white film types, grain structures, and much more.”

Which leads me to note the contradiction. Invariably, Leica users champion the uncompromising standards of the optics, while often simultaneously dumbing down their files post-production to give the look of a vintage Summarit and Tri-X pushed to 1600 ISO. As noted above, Leica themselves seem to have fallen for the confusion as well. They’ve marketed the MM (Monochrom) as an unsurpassed tool to produce the subtle tonal gradations of the best B&W, but then bundle it with Silver Efex Pro software to encourage users to recreate the grainy, contrasty look of 35mm Tri-X. 

*************

A Place I’ve been to a Time or Two Lately. Taken with the M9M, Processed in Silver Efex

Clearly, Leica claimed and marketed the Monochrom, not merely as a black and white digital camera but as a digital camera that could accurately recreate the black and white film aesthetic. The distinction may be fine, but it’s a distinction just the same, and I think it gets to the heart of what I see as a misconception about the Monochrom’s actual output. Don’t get me wrong: the Monochrom delivers stunning black and white files, super clean past 800 ISO, beautifully subtle tones, file sharpness rivaling Bayer sensors with twice the resolution. It’s just that its files don’t look like film capture, and as I’ve noted in previous posts about my Digital Tri-X solution, it doesn’t particularly take to Silver Efex emulations, where a cheap D200 or a 4 mp Sigma SD15 Foveon best it for emulating the film look.

An M9M file minus the Silver Efex Film Emulation with some minor grain added. ISO 800.
Me. M9M, ISO 800 out of camera file, no emulation.

Here’s a Monochrom file processed in Lightroom without further film emulation:

Here’s the same file run thru the Silver Efex Tri-X emulation:

Here’s a Nikon D200 10 MP RAW file run through the Silver Efex Tri-X Emulation:

Finally, here’s a 14MP (actually 4.6mp when calculated in the Bayer manner) Sigma Foveon file from an SD15 run through the Silver Efex Tri-X emulation:

Now, acknowledging that aesthetic preferences are precisely that, preferences, my analysis is as follows: 1) The straight Monochrom file is nice for what it is – a digital B&W photo. It avoids that plastic look too often seen with digital B&W files and it has a nice graduated tonality. 2) The Tri-X Monochrom file is nice, but it doesn’t look like Tri-X. Too sharp, not enough grain structure evident. 3) The D200 and the Sigma Sd15 files are digital Tri-X, although the D200 benefits just a bit from less sharp optics; the Sigma file, even though <5mp, shows a sharpness and depth I doubt you’d get on a classic Tri-X shot with a 35mm Summicron. Sharper optics, sharp sensor.

*************

Leica Q2 Monochrom

So, the question becomes, is the Monochrom worth it i.e. do we need a dedicated digital B&W sensor if our goal is, as per Leica ad copy ” to have a tool that combines state-of-the-art […] digital technologies to deliver black-and-white images of incomparable quality”? It certainly doesn’t hurt, but probably not. Don’t get me wrong: I love the idea of the Monchrom and its output can be stunning when done correctly. And it feels and performs like a Leica M, which is no mean feat. It’s definitely a fascinating camera and I applaud Leica for sticking their collective necks out and producing them.

But if you’re buying it to give you a leg up on recreating the B&W film look of your photographic youth, you may want to look at much more cost effective solutions I’ve noted elsewhere. It’s not something that you can’t also do with a regular Bayer sensored digital camera if you take your time. The key seems to be using a Bayer CCD sensor in the 10-12 MP range like that found in the Nikon D200 or the Fuji S3 Pro. Other alternatives are the DP1/2/3, SD14 or SD15 Foveons whose functional MP counts are somewhere around 10MP as well. It seems that 10MP is the sweet spot for both taking advantage of Silver Efexs’ simulated Tri-X grain structure and giving a resolution look similar to that you used to get with you M4, Summicron and Tri-X shot at box speed. A CCD sensor seems to help too.

You can put together a D200 with a AF 24mm Nikkor or older Nikkor Zoom of your choice for $200. An SD15 is going to run you $550 with a really fine Sigma optic like the 24mm EX DG. A twelve year old CCD Monchrom is going to run you $3500-$4000. Is it worth the price differential? That’s not a question to ask Leicaphiles, as, with Veblen Goods, you don’t buy on price but rather other intangibles. But, for all its cache, you don’t need a Monchrom if you aspire to, in Leica’s words, “to transform analog black and white into digital.” A ratty old D200 or Fuji S3 PRO will do just fine.

Hits: 293

A Retraction and Apology and a Useless Photo Comparison

Donna and Nicki, Dubrovnik 2021, taken with my M9 CCD Monochrom

In a recent post I claimed that Leica’s Service Department Sucked. I’m taking that back. Let me explain.

Last September, while in Dubrovnik, I dropped my M9 Monochrom from a very low table (2 feet maybe) onto a carpeted floor. Should be nothing to worry about, except that the shutter wouldn’t fire now. I envisioned thousand dollar repairs and 1 year waits via Leica’s New Jersey Service Department. As such, upon arriving home I shelved the camera and forgot about it. I’ve got a bunch of other cameras, an M240 which I really like in particular, and I wasn’t shooting much of anything anyway. When I got my terminal diagnosis recently, I realized I needed to get the Monochrom fixed or it would probably end up in the trash after I died due to my estate assuming it was just an inoperable camera with no inherent value…so I sent it off to Leica USA and waited. They acknowledged receipt on August 23rd and then…crickets.

About 3 weeks ago I sent the Leica Service folks the following email:

Can you give me a timeframe for my repair? Believe it or not, I’m
terminally ill – have a few months left – and I’d love to get my
monochrom back for just a bit before I head off to oblivion.

To which they replied immediately, indicating they were moving my repair to the front of the line. Which they did (my apologies to all those Leicaphiles waiting for their camera to get fixed; I just jumped to the front of the line!) I’ve got my Monochrom back, rangefinder adjusted, sensor cleaned, shutter firing (apparently it was just a loose wire somewhere).

That’s good service. Thank you, Leica.

*************

Basic Out-of-Camera Monochromed M240 DNG File

Of course, what this calls for in celebration is a totally anecdotal ‘test’ comparing the B&W output of the Leica M240 against the M9 Mono. The M240 has a 24 mp CMOS sensor, the MM an 18 mp CCD sensor. The same lens – a VC 35mm f2.5 (great lens BTW) – was used for both, making for a ballpark oranges to oranges comparison. (Pixel peeping at x400 magnification will have to wait for another post). Above is an M240 DNG file that imported into LR and very basic adjustments made, essentially just playing with the exposure curves a bit. Directly below is a Monochrom DG subjected to the exact same initial treatment as the M240 file above:

Basic Out-of-Camera Monochrom DNG File

Like most Monochrom DNG files, it’s a bit flat. That’s OK. It’s OK, because Monohrom DNG files, as opposed to in-camera jpgs, are meant to be post-processed. Leica even sent purchasers a copy of Silver Efex along wit the camera. And as a dedicated B&W shooter I always run my files through Silver Efex for a final print or something posted digitally. (I’ve made these files big enough so you can click on them and get somewhat of a larger view). It’s there that I notice the increased flexibility of the Monochrom DNG versus the M240 DNG converted to B&W and then worked up.

Above are the M240 and the MM files respectively, again, this time worked up in Silver Efex to emulate an HP5 negative. The changes made varied between the two files; what I was looking to do was get the best end result I could be each file, and this necessarily required different adjustments.

Nothing wrong with the M240 version – it certainly can stand on its own – but the MM print just has a sharpness and pop that the M240 print doesn’t. Of course, I could have jacked up the contrast and sharpness just a bit more in the M240 print after I’d compared it to the MM print. That’s typically what we’d do in the wet darkroom, right? We’d print it again, knowing we wanted more contrast, this time using a more contrasty grade of paper and, for maximum sharpness, a grain focuser.

So what you see below is the M240 file previously edited in LR, now with some added contrast and sharpness:

Still not up to the MM final print. Arguably not as good as the previous M240 file above. Who knows. All of this is subjective and really is arguing over relatively small differences. Does it make any difference in real life? For most photographers, probably not. For those of us dedicated B&W shooters with an eye cultivated through long experience with both film and digital B&W, yes. It does.

Hits: 23

Another Pointless Photo Comparison

One from the M240. One from the M9M

I’ve always told myself that if I started posting pictures of my wife/kids/pets to fill up space I’d shut Leicaphilia down and call it a day. It’s inevitable, at some stage, you run out of things to stay, no matter how much you’ve said in the past. I suspect I’m getting dangerously close to that time, given I’m now reduced to posting pictures of my wife. I could do worse, I suppose. My wife is easy on the eyes. In any event, the best I can promise you for the time being are some fairly thoughtless comparisons like the output of the M9M versus the M240. I really do like both cameras, but have developed a distinct preference for the M9M since I shoot exclusively in B&W. Native B&W output seems one less unnecessary step, and I do think the M240 suffers in comparison to the M9M’s sharpness and tonal output. Plus its a cool camera, period, the first digital M that really feels like an M4.

What you see above is essentially the same photo, taken with the same lens (VC 35mm 2.5 LTM) and parameters (ISO 2000, f4, 1/60) – one with the M240, one the M9M – both unedited except run through Silver Efex at identical settings. I see a difference. You can right-click on them to view them in a new window.

*************

I really enjoy publishing this blog. The amount of feedback I get from readers is really fulfilling, and people have been incredibly kind in wishing me well since I’ve been sick. I can genuinely say that I’ve made friends here, which is something the old, cynical version of me would have scoffed at; but it’s true. Lot’s of good people have shared lots of good things with me, both via the comments section and behind the scenes. I appreciate all of it. I’ve especially enjoyed publishing work that readers have submitted- Shuya Ohno’s homage to his father being a recent example of a beautiful piece of work that probably wouldn’t have found a wider audience if not for the blog.

Unfortunately, I’m completely devoid of inspiration to be posting interesting or thought provoking content myself. I’m battling a serious case of cancer that had laid me out. I went from someone who literally never had an illness, someone who acted and felt a good 20 years younger than I was, someone who could ride 100 miles on a bike at an 18 mph pace, or row a 2:04/500m pace for and hour, to a frail man who needs his wife hold his hand to walk around the block. It’s been a humbling experience. What’s helped tremendously is the wife….and all the well-wishes I’ve received from so many of you. Thank you.

Plus, I’ve chosen to stay enrolled in my graduate history program, which I’ve been lucky enough to do given COVID has precluded having to travel to Boston to attend classes in person. So I’ve been able to do a lot of work online, which, of course, takes up much of my free time, although it’s a pale substitute for walking through Harvard Yard on a beautiful Spring day. When I complain, as I’m want to do, my wife rightfully reminds me this is a first-world problem at best. Plus there’s my professional career. All of which is to say that it’s improbable you’re going to be getting much from me in the way of interesting content for a bit. Expect more useless photo comparisons until such time as I’m up and on my feet and at least walking the neighborhood without having to hold my wife’s hand. A ride around the block on my bike probably is going to have to wait for the time being.

Hits: 10

Maybe I Need to Rethink This

Leica M8

The M8. I Had a Love/Hate With This Camera for Many Years

As you know, I’ve been, at best, ambivalent about Leica in the digital age. I’ve taken a lot of cheap shots at their digital cameras over the years, M digitals included. I’ve been skeptical that the Leica M film experience could be transposed to the digital age. Part of the problem is digital capture simply doesn’t lend itself to simplicity – it requires electronics and LCD screens and nested menus and all the afflatus that gives rise to digital bloat, and Leica isn’t immune to it in spite of their best intentions to keep things simple.

It seemed, at least in the beginning, that Leica’s continued emphasis on simplicity had become less a design ethos than a marketing slogan, or worse yet, a cynical way of attempting to paper over inferior product. It’s not like Leica, as anyone selling a widget, isn’t above self-serving puffery. Let’s face it: the M8, pleasing to look at and fondle like previous film Leicas, arrived with some serious issues: buggy electronics, color capture issues, battery problems, dismal ISO capabilities, a shutter that sounded like a construction-grade staple gun. The M9 fixed some of it, but I couldn’t help but think that Leica was over their heads in the digital age, where quality had less to do with traditional Leica hand-craftsmanship and more with technical expertise, technical expertise being the forte of large manufacturers like Nikon and Canon.

*************

Leica M3

And then there was the Leica ergonomic, the felt experience of operating one that was so seductive with their film M’s. The film M’s just feel right. Refined yet simple. No intercession of electronics to do things for you (before the M7 at least). Radically minimalist design, uncluttered viewfinder, big bright mechanical rangefinder. Simple wind-on, imperceptible shutter click, rewind. Advancing the film offered just enough throw and resistance to make the act pleasurable as its own experience. Many Leicaphiles carried our M’s around the house with us – why? because they stimulated that part of the lizard brain connected to the hand. Film M’s made you a gearhead.

I’m not sure that ergonomic simplicity transfers over to the digital M’s, or at least I was skeptical at best. While my M8 looked like an M it didn’t feel like one. Whatever magic they packed into the M4 was simply not there in the M8. Where the M4 felt fluidly effortless and simple, the M8 felt clunky and convoluted. Where the M4 shutter whispered, the M8 sounded like it was shooting high-velocity projectiles. Figuring out how to format a card or change ISO invariably devolved into multi-thumb fumbling of wheels, buttons, and menu options, all while your subject fleeing as if from a school shooter. Efficient it wasn’t.

But …. if your interest was traditional B&W photography, as opposed to digital hyper-realism, in spite of what sensor rankings and 100% cropping geeks declaimed, the M8’s output was astonishing. B&W from the M8 just had the look, a function of the CCD sensor and its increased IR sensitivity which produced thick, film-like B&W files. All you needed to do was add a bit of grain. I was willing to put up with the quirks – the random freeze-ups, the glacial boot-up times, the god-awful swack of the shutter – to get that B&W output. It was that good, a monochrome camera to rival the Monochrom.

*************

Leica M240

This is all prelude to the fact that I’m having to rethink my opinions these days [shock!]. I bought a used M240 a while ago, not expecting much, and found that I really liked it, as in really. Wanting a digital camera to compliment my aging GXR and my exasperating Sigma SD Quattro (another love/hate thing), I’d thought of the usual alternatives – an X100, X-Pro, D4s – and then decided against them. It was time to buy a digital M.

To make a long story short – I liked the M240 so much I splurged and bought the camera I’d always really wanted – the Monochrom, the original CCD version based on the M9 platform. Found a nice one with an updated, non-corrosive sensor. I’ve totally fallen in love. It’s a digital M4. It’s got the feel. Hell, it even looks just like a black chrome M4. As for output, I’m convinced there’s a roll of Ilford HP5 rated at 800 ISO hidden in there somewhere.

An M5 w/ HP5 @ 800 ISO, an M240 DNG Run Through Silver Efex … or a Leica Monochrom?

So, going forward I’ve decided to go all Steve Huff on you, amusing you with various posts about the Mono and the M240 and how they compare to an M5 with HP5. This weekend, I’m going out with the M5 and a 35mm VC loaded with HP5, the Mono and the M240 and see how they each render the same subject. If you’ll indulge my geekiness, I promise no 100% crops or duplicate shots of fence posts. I’ll try to keep shots of the wife and cats to a minimum.

Leica Monochrom
Leica M9M

Hits: 13

Leica and Lenny: A Match Made in __________?

Lenny Kravitz, Correspondent, Stalking Urban Prey with His Drifter Leica and Poofy Cap

Leica is now offering a “Lenny Kravitz designed” Leica M Monochrom camera, a Leica Summicron-M 28mm f/2 ASPH, and a Leica APO-Summicron-M 75mm f/2 ASPH. Buy now and Leica will throw in, at no extra cost to you, matching accessories, including a vegan python carrying strap, matching brown vegan leather carry cases for each lens, versatile pouches, and a brown “Drifter Traveler” weekender bag. No word on how Leica was able to identify and cull “vegan” pythons from regular ones.

Mr. Kravitz’s input seems to have been the idea to paint the camera brown and cover it in snakeskin, which everyone over in Wetzlar considers a brilliant idea, as it apparently conjures up people who are free spirits.   “The striking special edition set celebrates Kravitz’s dedication to visual storytelling and pays homage to his inspired, nomadic lifestyle,” Leica says. “A self-proclaimed drifter himself, the attractive set was designed with Kravitz’s vision of being a free spirit, always on the road and open to adventure – ingredients that ignite visual storytelling.”

The Laconic “Guy Wearing Heels Doing Funky Gymnastics Inside Unidentified Commercial Establishment” by Lenny Kravitz, currently on exhibition at Leica, Wetzlar

The Leica Gallery in Wetzlar, Germany is hanging an exhibition of Kravitz’s photography in conjunction with the Drifter release.“ The photo series, inspired by Kravitz’s nomadic lifestyle, will feature intimate portraits, laconic snapshots, carefully observed scenes from the street and well-composed moments in hotel rooms, all captured during his time on the road,” Leica says.

Hits: 1266

It’s Not the Tool

By Mark Twight. All photos by the author. You can see Mark’s work at www.marktwight.com

I was born in the mountains. I grew up middle class in an American city. I climbed mountains professionally for twenty years, making first ascents in the Americas, Europe and Asia. In those years I wrote articles for magazines, shot pictures to illustrate them and gave multi-media presentations in the U.S. and Europe. Later I wrote two books on the subject. Both won awards and were translated into German, Italian, Spanish, Slovenian, and Polish.

Mountain climbing and movie work allowed me to travel to incredible places I would not have otherwise seen. Antarctica. Bulgaria. Israel. Iceland. Japan. Tibet, Nepal and Pakistan. Norway. Argentina. Bolivia. Australia. France, Italy and Spain. Detroit. Alaska. China. Russia. Kazakhstan. Canada, of course. And all over the American West.

I have carried notebooks, a pen, open eyes and a camera in every place but I am not a photographer. I have a camera. I point it at things. I know my way around it, the darkroom and the computer. My attitude and the fact that I do the things I photograph gives me unique perspective. Although I am not now the man of action I was, what I did informs what I do. And what I will do in the future.

*************

I was anti-Leica for years. I thought it was snobbery. I shot an old Fujica HDS in the mountains because it was waterproof but eventually the fixed 38mm lens was too tight. I bought a Nikon FM2 with a 24mm even though it was enormous compared to my partner’s Rollei. Later I graduated to a Nikon F3, and a Angenieux 70-210mm zoom. I learned my way around the darkroom, developed and printed through many, many nights and eventually got back to Nikon optics and an F5. Despite the magnificent utility of the Nikon, my experience working in black and white introduced me to the Leica brand and the famous shooters who used it. I couldn’t afford to invest so I found adequate enough cons to outweigh the pros.

Then I did a job that paid enough to buy a M6 and 28mm lens. I compared it to my F5 with a 20-35mm f2.8 lens and once I saw the results I switched wholesale. In the mountains Leica lenses easily outmatched my best Nikon primes. The 28mm Elmarit held details when overexposed, captured astonishingly rich color, and separation. I loved pointing into the sun. I shot muddy cyclocross races, sand-boarding the dunes, and in the snow. I carried it in the Alaska Range and even when temperatures dipped to -30F, when plastic film canisters shattered, the camera functioned without problem. In 2001 I bought a Panasonic Lumix digital camera because it supposedly had a Leica lens, then a Canon S80 for its manual functions, then a G9, and later, a compact S100. As a reaction to muddy details at relatively low ISO values I bought a full-frame Nikon D800 so I could use my old 20-35mm but it was no pocket camera so a Sony RX1R with a fixed 35mm f2 Zeiss lens came next.

Instead of a darkroom I had Lightroom. The film in the refrigerator expired. I sold one M6 body. Eventually, I gave another to my friend because I knew he would use it. The beautiful Leica lenses sat idle. Regret nagged at me. I lived with it easily for years but it grew. And itched. I knew that sooner or later I would scratch. Then on a film set in 2014 Zack Snyder handed me his Leica Monochrom and said, “If anyone should have a camera that only shoots black and white, it’s you.” I laughed but he was right, the Gym Jones website had been exclusively black and white from its launch in 2005. That statement matched my vision and attitude. I didn’t want it to be easy to read so I floated white text on black. The viewer had to want it. I converted all images to black and white to remove the distorting influence that color can have. What remained was raw, and essential. When I finally bought a Monochrom – 13 years after I put the last roll of film through my M6 – it felt like coming home.

I pulled the lenses from their cases and relearned how to focus manually. My love for taking and making pictures returned and within a year I’d traded the RX1R for a Leica Q and carried it with me everywhere. I loved the fact that — shot at f1.7 — the images had remarkably shallow depth of field for a 28mm lens. The Q easily handles high ISO so even this night owl can make pictures, and the auto-focus is snappy. I can’t change my spots though so I still convert color images to black and white with Silver EFX in the digital darkroom. Black and white is still the way I see. Kiss or Kill.

*************

Spending so much time staring at images on a large monitor made me a pixel Nazi. On the screen, with the ability to ruthlessly zoom in to any aspect of a picture creates a very different relationship to the image than I have when I stand back and appreciate the totality of fine print. Dissecting local contrast at 4:1 can break the heart of any image.

This got me thinking about sharpness, which I revered when I started shooting a Leica M6. Because that’s what I thought I was seeing when I compared the M6 images to those from the F5. But maybe it wasn’t that the Leica images were sharper, instead their crisp luminosity made the wholly-adequate slides shot with the Nikon appear flat. The M6 images felt vibrant and alive, with details revealed from deep shadow, and texture preserved in areas of hotly overexposed snow. Peering through the loupe I could see greater density, or maybe depth but it wasn’t necessarily increased sharpness that caused that. Honestly, like describing taste, I have difficulty explaining why a Leica image looks different. I do know that — after almost 20 years of living with these images it isn’t as simple as cost influencing appearance. I mean, many times in the past thirty years I have spent far more and received demonstrably less.

That said I started feeling like many of my digital images were too sharp. Harsh, even. That I couldn’t appreciate them without some jpeg compression or the physical equivalent: standing at an appropriate distance. Apparently, anything above 18 megapixels is irrelevant because that’s the maximum our eyes can resolve (this is affected by viewing distance, eyesight quality, etc., and not gospel of course). Yet we chase ever-sharper resolution with 30, then 40mp and 50mp sensors. My eyes get tired first, then my brain.

Perhaps this is a question of perspective. I want to feel the emotional impact of the whole, to re-see what my eyes actually saw, to remember or re-experience how I felt when I initially witnessed the scene I “captured” with my camera. Instead, I crop, I dissect, I zoom, unintentionally stripping away emotion until only the technical remains. Or maybe 0s and 1s just lack soul. Subject, timing and composition are my antidote to binary reductionism but I am still and often dissatisfied with the outcome of the digital capture + edit equation.

*************

In October 2016 I serendipitously encountered Nicholas Dominic Talvola at Chris Sharma’s climbing gym in Barcelona. He shoots film with old Leica M2, M3 and M4 cameras. Properly. Astonishingly. We swapped Leica stories, handed each other our cameras, and he told me about an old 35mm lens that glows when it is shot at f1.4. He shared some images with me and I knew what I’d been missing. “Those lenses are hard to find, man. Not many of them were made and you have to get the one from Germany, not Canada and in X range of serial numbers … it should have a bit of purple cast to the reflection of light off the lens.” And the rabbit hole opened beneath my feet. “You’re going to love it on your Monochrom but you’ll die once you start shooting film again.”

I remember film. And I sometimes wonder if the problem with 0s and 1s is the immediacy. The all-important Insta. Frequency over Quality. And the metaphor of it. Who has any idea what to value or what has value when the only option on these platforms is to ignore or to like? 0 or 1. And no volume knob.

Instead, I try to make photographs that involve the viewer the way I was involved in the making. The Summilux 35mm lens Nicholas told me about gave my images an ethereal glow. It softens generally without sacrificing sharpness locally, luring the viewer to engage rather than evade.

When the image is too sharp and obvious its interpretive quality disappears. We accept what we see. And quickly move on. But when the focus isn’t obvious, when lines lead, when the whole implies more than it declares then we must interpret. The image – whether written or graphic – compels us to do so. It asks. We seek answers. Our own answers. And we wonder … which I always thought was the point.

Hits: 2411

Marcus Wainwright (Yup, THE Marcus Wainwright) Wants to Sell You a Glow in the Dark Leica

Would You Buy an $8000 Camera That “Glows in the Dark” from the Guy on the Right?

As the renowned fashion designer explains: “For me, Leica embodies the pursuit of perfection in an object with the lifelong mission of fulfilling its function. That’s why I love Leica.”


Leica has just announced a new Monochrom, designed by a “fashion designer.”  Yup. The Leica M Monochrom special “Stealth Edition” is designed by Marcus Wainwright, founder and owner of  “rag & bone”, a hipster joint in Chicago featuring  “wildly flattering jeans, flowy [sic] dresses, cult-status booties, and general urban, monochromatic vibe” with “the simplicity of the ’90s played into some of the collection’s more delicate pieces like the slip dresses and lace separates and the Mary Jane shoes.” According the Wainwright, in addition to the Mary Jane shoes they’ve got “a lot of cool styles, from heavily quilted leather parkas to camel hair overcoats.” Apparently, the guys at Wetzlar feel this qualifies him to design a Leica that “glows in the dark:’

Marcus Wainwright’s design concept is the individual perfection of existing icons. In the case of the M Monochrom “Stealth Edition,” this means taking the discreet unobtrusiveness of the camera to the extreme. A special scratch-resistant, matte paint is used to make the surface finish as black as possible. Accompanying it in matching jet-black, the leather trim of the camera is made from an extremely smooth full-grain cowhide that also offers excellent grip.As a striking visual counterpoint, the most important engravings on the camera and lens are intentionally highlighted with a special fluorescent paint that glows in the dark. This enables faster setting of the aperture or focusing of the lens in low-light situations. The set includes a comfortable black fabric carrying strap, a metal front cap for the lens, and a certificate of authenticity. The edition is strictly limited to only 125 camera sets for the worldwide market, each of which bears a special serial number.The word “Stealth” describes the extremely discreet appearance of the camera, which is essentially characterized by its matte black paint finish, black leather trim, and the omission of color for all “unnecessary” details.

Marcus Wainwright and Leica – a perfect match.

Wainwright is also a dedicated Leica photographer who shoots with various Leica cameras, often in black and white using his M6.

Make of this what you will.

Hits: 1727

There’s a Lenny Kravitz Joke Here Somewhere

A week ago, Leica released a new special-edition M Monochrom rangefinder named after late rock ‘n’ roll photographer Jim Marshall. Jim Marshall photographed The Beatles, Jimi Hendrix, Led Zeppelin, Johnny Cash and Miles Davis, among others, presumably with a Leica. Marshall died in 2010.

Jimmy Page and Bob Dylan, photos by Jim Marshall

The Leica M 246 Jim Marshall Edition Leica M Monochrom shoots only black-and-white. It comes with a 50mm f1.4 ASPH lens. Both the camera and lens are finished in brass with Jim Marshall’s signature on the camera’s top plate. There will only be 50 models of the Marshall Edition available, each at the cost of $12,950 (about £10,050 and AU$17,400).

Here’s what you’ll get for your measly $12,950 (excluding tax) when you purchase your Jim Marshall Edition Leica:

  • Leica M Monochrom (Type 246) in brass
  • Summilux-M 50mm f1.4 ASPH brass lens
  • Brass lens hood
  • Brown leather strap
  • Jim Marshall Limited Edition Estate print of “Thelonious Monk at Monterey Jazz Festival 1964′
  • “Jim Marshall: Jazz Festival” book with a special dust jacket
Jim Marshall

Hits: 718

Leica Monochrom vs. a Leica M2 and Tri-X

Templeton MM Templeton Tri-X

Above are two pictures I shot in the autumn of 2014 in Glasgow. Both with a 28mm Summicron ASPH and a B+W red filter. The top picture was shot on my M Monochrom mk1, the lower picture on my M2, loaded with Kodak Tri-X film.

The M Monochrom is an incredible camera, and it’s as close to shooting black and white film as I’ve yet come across. It’s also versatile since the ISO can be altered from frame to frame, and convenient, because the images are instantly available.

The M Monochrom is also very sharp. In the M Mono shot attached here, you can zoom in and count the ridges and veins on some of the leaves. With the film image from my M2, there is less detail, but a more beautiful veiling grain, especially in the sky.

Crucially that’s the difference. I’ve made both of these images into prints, and everyone who has seen them, including me, instantly prefers the image shot on film. It just looks nicer. In the M Monochrom shot, the tree trunk has a kind of plastic look to it.

Film requires more dedication than digital. But when you get a shot that you’re happy with, you’re always glad you shot it on film. It looks nicer, and you have a negative, a permanent record of the event, whereas with digital, you’re always worrying that the file will become unreadable one day.

Colin Templeton is a newspaper photographer for the Herald/Times/Sunday Herald/The National in Glasgow, Scotland.  You can see his personal work here

Hits: 5577