Leica’s M Monochrom (Typ 246) features a full-frame black & white-only sensor. See if it justifies its huge price tag in our Leica M Monochrom (Typ 246) review. By Callum McInerney-Riley
Leica M Monochrom (Typ 246) Review – At a glance
- Shoots only in monochrome
- 24-million-pixel, full-frame CMOS sensor
- ISO 320-25,600
- 3in, 921,600-dot fixed LCD
- Leica M mount
- £5,750 body only
Many non-Leica users cannot understand why anyone would want to restrict themselves to shooting solely in black & white, when colour images can be converted to mono in post-production. However, Leica photographers – many of whom are more likely to shoot in black & white than in colour – pride themselves on being different in their approach to photography, and the thinking behind the camera’s development is as bold as it is strange.
The original M Monochrom is a popular camera and is used by many Leica enthusiasts. Now, three years on, there’s a new M Monochrom in the form of the Leica M Monochrom (Typ 246), which boasts Leica’s newly developed CMOS sensor along with a host of other improvements.
Leica M Monochrom (Typ 246) Review – Features
The new Leica M Monochrom (Typ 246) was launched in April, just eight months after the release of the Leica M-P (Typ 240), and has an identical body shape to that camera. Both feature the same Leica-developed 24-million-pixel, full-frame CMOS sensor which does not use an optical low-pass filter. However, the M Monochrom’s sensor doesn’t have a colour filter array (CFA) either. The removal of these two filters has a positive effect on image quality, resulting in sharper images, better dynamic range, better high ISO performance and no colour noise artefacts.
Removing the CFA also means that more light can reach the sensor and, as a result, the sensitivity range of the M Monochrom is ISO 320-25,000. While luminance noise at ISO 320 will be less than it would be with the CFA present, not having the low base of say ISO 100, is a disadvantage. Losing 1.5 stops at the low end makes shooting in bright conditions more difficult, although this can be rectified by the use of a neutral density filter.
The M Monochrom uses Leica’s Maestro processor, which is a bespoke chip based on the Fujitsu Milbeaut media processor. This is the same processor as that used in the Leica M and it is claimed to be three times faster than the sensor used in the original M Monochrom.
There’s a 2GB buffer that allows 4 frames per second shooting for a total of 30 frames. Users can select shoot in JPEG, compressed raw, uncompressed raw or a combination of raw + JPEG simultaneously.
Leica’s M mount is fitted to the M Monochrom. M-mount lenses are arguably the best lenses currently available, with a host of models boasting incredible sharpness. However, while their brilliance is accompanied by suitably substantial prices, Leica is keen to point out that lenses from its discontinued R-mount SLR system will also fit onto its M-series models using an adapter. Most other lenses can also be used, including old manual SLR optics, with the right adapter. These generally can’t be focused using the optical rangefinder, so will work best in Live View mode.
The M Monochrom records video in 1920 x 1080 Full HD resolution or 1280 x 720 HD resolution at either 24 or 25 frames per second, all in black & white. A built-in mono microphone is featured on the top left of the camera, although it’s possible to record stereo sound using a microphone that attaches to an adapter on the hotshoe.
There are a number of add-ons available for the M Monochrom, including a version of the Summicron-M 35mm f/2 Asph (£2,500) and Summilux-M 50mm f/1.4 Asph (£3,125) lenses have a black-chrome finish that match the subtle black of the new camera.
Unlike with a black & white conversion from a digital file, there is no colour information in which to lighten or darken an individual colour channel on the M Monochrom. However, in August Leica will be releasing yellow, orange and green colour filters in 39mm and 46mm sizes for controlling the tonal contrast (prices to be announced).
The optional handgrip for the Leica M will fit the M Monochrom, adding both GPS and tethering for studio photographers. Many other Leica M accessories can be used too.
Raw files from the M Monochrom are saved in Adobe DNG format. A copy of Adobe Lightroom comes included with the camera, which is among the best post-production software available.