Initial Impressions After Upgrading To The Leica Monochrom (Type-246)

Monochrom II 1

On Thursday, we received the happy call from the Leica Store in D.C. that the second version of the Monochrom had arrived in stock, and they had one for me.  Even though my original Monochrom, which I’d had since September 2012, was in fantastic shape and gave me pleasure every time I took it out of the house, I wanted a version built on the same CMOS platform as the Leica M-240.  I did so mostly for practical reasons — the desire to take only one battery charger and a couple of extra batteries when going on a trip, rather than taking one for the M (Type-240) and another for the Monochrom; wanting to be able to use the external viewfinder at times, particularly with a Noctilux; wanting to use Leica R lenses, including telephotos.  If the files themselves were richer, if the ISO performance was even better than the original Monochrom, then great.  But, I told myself, I really wanted the platform upgrade from a Monochrom built on the M9 chassis, to one built on the M-240.

I had an hour to kill before a dinner at a nearby restaurant, so having brought along a lens, a live battery, and an SD card, I took the new Monochrom out for a pre-dinner walk.  And lo and behold, even just looking at images through the new, larger LCD, the tones seemed richer, the 50 zillion shades of grey seemed to have greater depth.

Monochrom II 6

After dinner, walking around downtown with the ISO set to 3200 and the 50 APO-Summicron-Asph set to f/4.8 — which previously was about as high as I would ordinarily take a picture at night in the city — I soon learned that I could have gone several stops higher, and I would have caught the censorious look of the woman in perfect clarity.  Almost immediately, it was clear that the Monochrom-246 had greater gifts in store than simply platform conformity.

Monochrom II 2

The first Monochrom changed the way I saw the world.  That’s a big statement, but hear me out.  Like many people my age, I began my photographic life taking black and white pictures and developing and printing them in a darkroom.  But then, for so many reasons, I began shooting color film and virtually never thought simply in terms of luminance and form — my mind’s eye was drunk with chroma, with color.  When I bought my first Leica in 2002 — an M7 — I gravitated to shooting with Fuji Velvia, as color-rich as could be.  Later, when I had an M8 and then an M9, I loved Leica’s rendering of color images. But as I explained after one year of shooting with my Monochrom, the shift to using a black and white-only sensor brought me back to my roots as a photographer.  It enabled me to go out into the back yard when, say, the azaleas were in bloom, and rather than get bowled over by the color, I wanted to capture what was there in black and white.  I wanted to capture the forms and the light differently from the way my mind perceived it.  Garry Winogrand’s aphorism about taking pictures because he wanted to see what the world looked like in photographs stayed present in my mind.  It was an epiphany.

Monochrom II 9-5

It is springtime in Washington, colorful and gorgeous.  But I find myself wanting to see what it looks like as a black and white picture.  What the Leica Monochrom (Type-246) lets you do that the original Monochrom didn’t is use an electronic viewfinder to focus with.  After more than a dozen years shooting rangefinders, I have become adept at focusing quickly.  But when you are taking a picture like the one above, using a Noctilux with a razor thin focal plane, being able to use an EVF in the evening hours with very little light and no margin for focus error is a dream come true.

Monochrom II 9

Some will remember a photo quite similar to the one above that I took with my original Monochrom.  In some ways the original is better — wilder, weirder, given that it was taken in September and overgrowth was different than what is above.  But when it comes to whether what was intended to be in focus in both pictures actually is in focus, well, the one above wins, hands down.

Monochrom II 9-3

I have taken many pictures of the roses in the Bishop’s Garden at the National Cathedral.  It was a delight this evening to be able to precisely focus on that rose, knowing that having it sharply defined would render the Noctilux’s creamy bokeh that much more startling.

Monochrom II 8

When you go out walking with a camera that only takes black and white images, you see the world differently.  And of course, that was true with the original Monochrom.  Why, beyond using the EVF, or perhaps Gear Acquisition Syndrome, would I sell it in order to purchase the new Monochrom?  Well, when I got my M-240, after years with M8s and M9s, I said that I thought it was a perfect camera — perfect for our use, anyway.  Oh sure, like all Leicas, it has some quirks.  But the images that come out of the M-240 platform, with its CMOS sensor, are, to me at least, every bit the equal of what comes out of an M9, with its CCD sensor, and the M-240 also has a) better high ISO performance, b) the ability to use an EVF when needed, and c) the ability to use telephoto lenses.  With a Leica rangefinder!  That’s a big deal.  And now the Monochrom can do the same tricks.

Monochrom II 7

In the end, the original thrill we got from using a Monochrom — all of the advantages of having a digital Leica rangefinder, coupled with the deliberate limitation of shooting in black and white — are replicated in the Monochrom (Type-246), in what clearly is, after just a few days using it, a superior camera.  It is missing nothing that was available in the original Monochrom.  Yet tt has gained greater flexibility and even clearer high ISO files.  It is the same step up from the M9 Monochrom that the M (Type-240) was from the M9.

Monochrom II 7-5

You can still walk down the street and see the above image and without any hesitation, take the picture.

Monochrom II 7-6

And you can follow it up with a second one, because you’re just taking a picture with a small old rangefinder, right, and no one knows the capabilities of this plain black camera with no markings on it.  You have possibly the world’s greatest camera in your hands.  And you are invisible.

(You can follow John Buckley on Twitter @johnbuckley100

2 Responses to “Initial Impressions After Upgrading To The Leica Monochrom (Type-246)”

  1. Lou Foubare Says:

    Nicely done John. From Lou

  2. […] as the M Monchrom. Some Monochrom shooters resisted that transition, but I didn’t — I embraced the M Monochrom. Over time it became my favorite […]

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