This is the Camera I Would Buy if I Could Afford It (but I Can’t)

I recently wrote about the two cameras I use: the Fujifilm X100F and the Olympus Pen-F. They are both very good cameras, each with their own features, and each with their negative points. They are priced at what I would call the high end of affordable; each of these brands sells cameras that are cheaper and more expensive, and other brands of camera for the enthusiast use can be much more expensive.

But if I had an unlimited budget, the camera I would buy is the Leica M Monochrom (Type 246), in black, of course. As the name suggests, this is a camera that shoots black and white only. And it’s a Leica. (Amazon.com, Amazon UK)

Leica

I know, the gear doesn’t make better photos, but still; Leicas are among the finest cameras made, and this one in particular is special. I very much like black and white photography, and the standard way of shooting is to take a color photo and convert it to black and white (either in camera, using the camera’s own JPEG conversion, or in post production). But the Leica M Monochrom has a sensor that records no color information, so there is no conversion.

The Leica M Monochrom has a 24-megapixel resolution on a monochrom CMOS sensor similar to the Leica M. As the M Monochrom has no need for color filters, it needs no interpolation for the calculation of luminance values. This results in brilliant images which have 100% more details and contrast than what is possible in color photography.

With 24 Mp in full-frame size, this camera makes photos that give you plenty of latitude for cropping, even if you plan to print them at large sizes.

It’s also a minimalist camera; there are no fancy options, it’s essentially a manual camera, with a rangefinder. It’s old-school photography (except that it’s new-school digital).

I know, it’s expensive. With either a 35mm or 50mm lens, it would run at least £7,000. (Funny, my bank sent me a letter yesterday offering me a personal loan at a killer interest rate… No, I’m not going to do this.)

I wish other manufacturers would make monochrome cameras. There’s not a huge demand, but there are probably enough people who like black and white photography that it would be viable. The X100F in a monochrome version would be ideal, because of the nature of that camera.

In any case, I bought a lottery ticket; you never know…

15 thoughts on “This is the Camera I Would Buy if I Could Afford It (but I Can’t)

  1. For that amount of money I’d definitely buy a Fujifilm GFX 50S medium format camera, or a complete Sony A9 /A7x kit with great lenses.

    Today Leica M is for retired established graduate teachers and elderly collectors only. Just my 2cents.

    • Yes, perhaps. But the monochrome version really is something special.

      I’m not interested in a lot of lenses; I like the minimalist approach, as much as possible one camera, one lens.

  2. “I know, the gear doesn’t make better photos…” Has anyone ever determined whether Leitz or Zeiss or fill-in-the-blank lenses are better than others, and if so, how much of this superiority is available when shooting in silver or digital?

    • There’s plenty of testing of lenses, and their are brands whose lenses are better than others. But great shots depend more on good composition than the lenses. I’m not finicking about sharpness, vignetting, and the like; I like photos that have something to say. (Hence my great appreciation for William Eggleston.)

      This said, Leica cameras are better built than most, and the monochrome sensor is what really interests me here. But, as I say, I wish other camera manufacturers made monochrome cameras.

      • I’m a former pro photographer and I understand people fascinated about Leica gear in general. I’ve also had a Leica M3 and some primes back in the analog era. But why a monochrome sensor?

        From my point of view you’re limiting yourself to what that sensor is ready to give you. Isn’t it better to shoot in full-range (color) RAW and make it a black-and-white photo later in postpro? This way around you have much more options to get the look you want. I have custom b+w presets in Lightroom for that and it takes me just 2-3 clicks to apply “my look” to all the photos of a session.

        Do you really like the default output of the Monochrome Leica?

        • I love black and white photography, and because of the way the sensor works on the Monochrom, there is far more detail and more gradations in grays than with a color sensor. In short, every pixel records luminance rather than having three different color pixels averaged out. This gives a more film-like look, and also higher ISO.

          The default output isn’t a way to measure, because, again, it’s more like film. RAW files need more processing to look good. I’ve played around with a few sample DNG files and they really do look better than standard BW conversions.

          Here’s an extensive review of the first model, with lots of sample photos:

          http://www.overgaard.dk/leica-M-Monochrom-Henri-Digital-Rangefinder-Camera-black-and-white-sensor-page.html

          • And it’s worth noting that with files like these, you process differently. You don’t have the ability to manipulate “colors” and their values, but you work only on contrast, brightness, highlights, shadows, etc. It’s the same way you would work with making a black and white photo from a color photo if you reduced the saturation to zero and then adjusted it (which I find more satisfying, in most cases).

            I could see myself spending more time in the “darkroom” with these files, treating them more like negatives.

            • Thanks for the link but I’m still not overly impressed of the Monochrome Leica output. I’d have to spend even more time in Postpro to give the photos the look I want.

              The Monochrome Leica’s sensor isn’t really “Monochrome”. It’s pretty much a standard Sony chip – no matter what Leica states in their advertising. It’s Leica’s custom-made image processor that does all the magic. It strips everything down to the engineer’s liking.

              The results are good, no question. But do we really need that? I think we’re better off when we process our images to our liking from start to finish.

      • Have you ever tried Fujifilm X-series cameras? You can shoot RAW and JPG at the same time and you can choose between different film-simulation presets for JPGs. The newer Fujis come with a b+w preset called “Acros” that looks similar to what the Monochrome Leica does.

        Since photography is just a hobby now, I like the Fujifilm cameras for casual work. Some of their models are pretty Leica-esque, viewfinder-styled cameras (X-Pro2, X-E3) with just the right amount of physical knobs and wheels to shoot manually or semi-automatically – just like we didi back in the good ol’ times.

        And the quality of their bodies and lenses are superb. At 1/3 to 1/4 the price of Leica stuff.

        Give the 23mm F1.4 (35mm FF equiv.) a try. You’ll love it!

        • Yes, I have the X100F (and also an Olympus Pen-F). I love the X; it’s an incredibly organic camera to use. I love the optical viewfinder, and use it most of the time. I’m even tempted to sell my Olympus gear and buy the XPro-2, perhaps keeping the X100F, perhaps replacing it.

          I like the Acros film simulation, but not all the time. I wouldn’t say it looks similar to the Leica, but it does look very film-like.

          I wish there was a monochrome version of the X100F.

          Most of the more recent black and white photos here I shot with the X100F.

  3. Hi Kirk,

    very interesting post, thank you. I didn’t even know that monochrome cameras existed. I looked around on the net, and you probably have seen this article but I’ll put a link anyway as it might interest other readers : https://www.digitalphotopro.com/gear/professional-cameras/monochrome-capture/
    It seems like Sigma cameras with their foveon sensors offer a good compromise and they are far less expensive than the Leica M.
    Maybe, if the demand is there, Panasonic will produce its own version of the Leica M monochrome. Cheers, Pierre

    • Yes, I’ve read up on the Sigma, but there are many downsides to their cameras. They are extremely slow, both in focusing and in writing to the SD card. I think it is an interesting compromise, but the reviews suggest that they’re not quite up to par. Yet.

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