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 – Image Quality
Leica’s unique monochrome sensor has imaging properties quite unlike conventional Bayer-pattern sensors, and the full extent of its capabilities is revealed in our tests. With every individual sensor pixel providing discrete luminance data for its location in the image, there’s no need for any additional processing such as demosaicing or white balancing to construct the final photograph (beyond gamma correction of the sensor’s linearly-recorded data). The result is superb pixel-level resolution, and an incredibly fine organic noise pattern.
With the low noise comes impressive dynamic range at low ISOs – in fact, among some of the highest we’ve seen. This means there’s a huge amount of latitude to recover shadow detail from low ISO raw files. The flip side of this, though, is that no clipped highlight detail is recoverable at all – once it’s gone, it’s gone.
At its base sensitivity of ISO 320, the M Monochrom delivers a remarkable 13.5 stops of dynamic range according to our Applied Imaging tests. In practical terms, this means you can recover at least 3.5 extra stops of shadow detail before noise becomes a problem. Dynamic range remains impressive even at ISO 3200, with 9.4EV recorded, which means that there’s still some leeway for processing, and it’s only at the top two ISO settings that it drops below 7EV.
With its 24-million-pixel full-frame sensor that has no optical low-pass filter, the M Monochrom does remarkably well in our resolution tests. At ISO 320 the lines of the chart are clearly delineated to 3600lph at least, with only a hint of blurring and aliasing at higher frequencies. The fine-grained noise pattern also means that resolution barely drops at all as the ISO is raised, still exceeding 3000lph even at the top sensitivity of ISO 2500.
What’s most remarkable about this series of crops at increasing ISO sensitivity is how little there is to see. Image quality is excellent at the base setting of ISO 320, with high levels of detail and barely any visible noise.
Tonality is excellent too, with subtle distinctions between shades of grey. Impressively though, the image quality is practically indistinguishable through to ISO 1600, and it’s only at ISO 3200 that the barest hint of luminance noise starts to creep in, which even then is only visible when viewing images on-screen and examining them for pixel-level detail.
Even at ISO 6400, while noise is more visible, it has minimal negative effect on the image, instead resembling exceptionally fine film grain. It’s only at ISO 12500 and 25000 that image quality is really affected, with a clear loss of shadow detail.