I’m in Afghanistan and don’t have photos of the camera to hand, but I’m sure you know what it looks like anyway…. I’ll post some when I’m back in the UK and later on in the review I will post quite a few photos taken with the camera, which are much more important!
I’m now going to review what is quite possibly one of the most absurd cameras ever made: the Leica Monochrom, also referred to by some as the ‘MM’. Oh, how people laughed when they announced this ‘cynical money-grabbing dinosaur of a camera’. They said that Leica really revealed their boutique mentality with this one, insulted the intelligence of every serious photographer and were clearly visualising ‘Aston Martins, bespoke suits and Henley Regatta’ when they considered their target market. However, off I went to Mayfair Leica using public transport, returned to my 700 sq. ft flat, sat my Next jeans clad bottom on the Ikea sofa and opened the box of a demo Monochrom. Now I will attempt to explain why this was one of the best thought out purchases I have ever made, along with Aldi Oliver Cromwell Gin.
The controversy surrounding this camera has certainly been interesting. It’s incredibly expensive (£6000/$8000), based on a 2009 camera (the Leica M9), uses an evolution of a sensor that first debuted in the 2006 Leica M8 and can’t even take colour photographs. Its basically a Leica M9 with something missing (the Bayer array) and retails at a whopping £2000/$2500 more than the Leica ME, which is essentially the current production version of the M9. If you are already feeling ashamed for Leica, I’ll now point out that the Monochrom is £500 more expensive than the Leica M (aka M240), the latest CMOS sensor model which hosts a raft of features and improvements entirely absent from the Monochrom.
So, the question has to be ‘why on Earth would anyone in their right mind purchase this camera’? While few people would consider me to be of right mind at any time of day, I think the answer is simple: it happens to be the best camera in the world for a small niche of photographers. Who knows, maybe you are one of them?
This is one solid, Teutonic, minimalist piece of anti-jewellery that is so cool it has become jewellery again. And then not. This camera could easily have been Darth Vader’s favourite accessory… the one he never left the Death Star without. It’s something to do with how the matt black chassis integrates the rear LCD and buttons about as well as Vader’s chest plate did all those coloured buttons borrowed from slot machines: absolutely ridiculous, but somehow just right. People still laugh and shake their heads, but they both work. It might have been pink, but Darth could certainly swing a light sabre and the same can be said of the Monochrom when it comes to taking incredible B&W photographs. At this point I’d like to ensure that everyone understands that this camera does not take photos or snaps. It takes photographs. The former are casual, even frivolous, but there is nothing James Hunt about this camera. Instead, its all Nikki Lauda and I seem to recall that he was rather good at winning Formula One races.
In fact, the camera is so anti-digital that right now, somewhere, there is a hipster trying to stuff a roll of 1972 Tri-X into the memory card slot. OK, I’ll stop now, but if you crossed Erwin Rommel with a ninja and a camera, you’d have the Leica Monochrom. Sorry.
Everyone reading this will know this is a Black and White only camera. The Bayer array is absent meaning that the light hitting the 18MP sensor is not subject to Red Green and Blue filtration before doing so. Some of you will have heard that the resultant ‘quality’ is far better than you have any right to expect from a modest 18MP. Some of you will be sceptical, but I will say at this point, the image quality is two things: spectacular and unique. Some have commented that it’s nothing but a M9 without the Bayer filter and this is largely true, but surely it’s the results that count and they are rather special.