With no colour filter array, the 18-million-pixel sensor in Leica’s new M Monochrom rangefinder captures highly detailed black & white images. Richard Sibley considers the advantages of using the Monochrom and finds out if it really is like shooting on film. Read the Leica M Monochrom review...
Image: It is possible to convert images from the M9 to black & white so that they look similar to images from the Monochrom. However, the detail resolution of the Monochrom is still superior
Put simply, the detail resolution from the Monochrom is stunning. Considering the camera has an 18-million-pixel sensor, the amount of detail resolved is far greater than the pixel count would suggest.
In our lens test chart images, the Monochrom can almost outresolve the chart, although there are blurred areas that seem to be caused by a slight moiré patterning or banding. However, these excellent results only tell part of the story.
Real scenes photographed with the Monochrom are full of detail and extremely sharp. When shooting I really felt that I was taking full advantage of the Leica’s superb lenses.
These images show 72ppi (100% on a computer screen) sections of images of a resolution chart, captured using the Leica M Monochrom and Leica Summicron 35mm f/2 lens
Comparing a colour image taken on the M9 with the same image taken on the Monochrom, the differences in sharpness and detail are noticeable.
It is almost as if the image from the M9 has had a slight Gaussian blur applied to it. In contrast, images from the Monochrom do not even need to have sharpening applied. Anything but a very slight application will leave images quickly looking oversharpened.
There is no escaping luminance noise, however, which becomes more and more visible as the ISO sensitivity increases. Images taken at ISO 10,000 are still usable, though – the speckled luminance noise is obviously more uniform than film grain, but it does have a ‘filmic’ quality to it.
From the shots I have taken at ISO 10,000, I would happily use this setting regularly without any concern that the noise would detract from the image in any way.
The only time when it is necessary to be careful with the noise is actually when shooting at a low sensitivity. As it is best to underexpose images and then lighten the shadow areas to maintain highlight detail, I found that noise starts to appear in shadow areas, and there is more noise in these areas than in the midtones.
That said, it does not look too out of place and I’m sure we would all much rather a slight speckling of luminance noise and sharp, detailed images than colour noise and loss of texture detail caused by noise reduction.
Image: Taken at ISO 10,000, the luminance noise makes the image look like it was taken on film. However, you have to be very careful not to clip highlight areas. Darkening an image, as above, shows that little detail can be recovered