Leica rangefinder cameras were beloved of Henri Cartier-Bresson, Robert Capa and other legends of photojournalism who documented the historic events of the 20th century. They shot almost exclusively in black and white.
Now, there is the new Leica M Monochrom (Typ 246) a digital rangefinder camera that shoots only in black and white.
As the successor to the original M-Monochrom of 2012, the Typ 246 offers several upgrades:
- 24-megapixel full-frame CMOS image sensor (18-megapixel CCD image sensor in the original);
- 3-inch LCD screen (2.5-inch before);
- Increased ISO range of 320 to 25,000 (ISO 200 to 6,400 originally);
- A bigger frame buffer of 2GB; and,
- Addition of Live View and video-recording capabilities.
- A rangefinder camera uses a range-finding focusing mechanism incorporated into an optical viewfinder that lets the photographer measure the subject distance and take photos.
The rangefinder will show two images of the subject. To focus, look through the rangefinder and turn the focusing ring of the lens till the two images fuse into one. Everything, down to setting aperture and shutter speed, is done manually.
For this review, Leica lent us the Summicron-M 35mm f/2.0 ASPH and APO-Summicron-M 50mm f/2.0 ASPH lenses to use with the Typ 246.
Unlike regular colour image sensors, the Typ 246's monochrome image sensor does not need to filter light into red/green/blue, so there is almost no light loss. Thus, it is more sensitive to light, and images should have more details and contrast.
Unlike its M cousins, this one lacks the silvery metal plating and even the iconic red Leica logo on the body. It comes only in all-black, probably in a tribute to pioneers like Cartier-Bresson, who famously masked his Leica with black gaffer tape.
The camera body is high-strength magnesium alloy with leather wrapped around the middle. The top plate and base plate are of brass finished in black chrome. Strong and sturdy in build, it is a delight to cradle although it is heavy.
A shutter-speed dial, a shutter-release button and an M button for video recording sit on the right at the top of the camera. Under the shutter release is a lever that works as a toggle for power on/off and single/continuous shots, and a timer.
On the rear, a small command dial is sited on the little thumb rest at the top right. Below it is a four-way directional button and information button. The display takes up most of the back, with six buttons, from ISO to Play, on its left.
If you have handled a rangefinder before, the Typ 246 will be a breeze. Newbies will need to get used to it. You can use Live View to focus. Sharply focused edges will be highlighted by coloured lines on the display.
The Typ 246 powers up almost instantly but is slower to shut down, taking about 2sec. Using an SD card with a writing speed of 45MB per second, it shot 17 RAW images in 8.6 sec before running out of buffer. This is a huge improvement over the original, which was known to run out of buffer after just five frames.
The picture quality is out of this world - amazingly sharp, full of details and with great contrast, together with that exquisite romantic quality of black and white photos.
You do not need to worry about chromatic noise as there are no colours. And even ISO 6,400 remains a comfortable speed. Image noise looks like the beautiful fine grain found in black and white photos of yesteryear. But on and beyond ISO 10,000, image noise becomes visible bands and the images look unnatural.
The videos look great but pick up plenty of wind and ambient audio. There is no image stabiliser, so I would highly recommend using a tripod when shooting video.
Battery life is quite good at around 500 still images on a full charge. Mirrorless cameras of this size usually manage about 350 stills.
The Leica M Monochrom (Typ 246) produces excellent black and white photos. Their amazing details and exquisite contrast will blow your mind, as surely as the price of this camera will blow a big hole in your pocket.
Price: $11,000 (body only), available end of this month
Image sensor: 24-megapixel full-frame CMOS
Display: 3-inch LCD with 921,600 dots; optical rangefinder
Sensitivity: ISO 320-25,000
Shooting speed: Up to 3 frames per second
Screen: 3-inch touchscreen LCD, 460,800 dots
Weight: 680g (body only, with battery and memory card)
Value for money: 3/5
Battery life: 4/5
This article was first published on May 13, 2015.
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