I want to keep this short and sweet, but thought I’d share some thoughts about the arrival of the new Type 246 Leica Monochrom, henceforth to be referred to as MM2 (the original being MM1). Its an amazing camera, but perspectives are likely to differ greatly between ‘new buyers’ and existing MM1 owners, despite this camera creating quite a buzz for both groups alike. I’m rarely short of opinions, so will share mine!
So what have the surprises been with the Leica Monochrom MK 2? Well, I think I speak for everyone when I say ‘absolutely zero’. It is to the M240 what the MM1 was to the M9, which is to say a colourblind version of its daddy. This is no bad thing, as long as you get along with the parent model.
To my eyes, the MM2 holds a number of clear advantages over the original MM1, namely:
- Perhaps 1-2 stops better high-ISO (clearly visible above 3200 and very much so at 5000+)
- 1.5 to 2 stops more dynamic range
- Vastly better screen
- Quieter shutter
- Weatherproofing (some)
- Live view.
Yes, this is a simplification, but they’re the bits that I would consider to be the prime levers when comparing the old with the new. There are other improvements, like better battery life (but weighing more), a more accurate rangefinder calibration system, ‘better’ frame lines and more, but these don’t stand out for me personally.
The only obvious downside is that it is a bit heavier and a tiny weeny bit thicker (as per M240). Neither are in Ricoh GR territory for ‘pocketability’ so for me personally, its not a major consideration (both fall into the ‘porkier than I would like’ category). Then there is the fact that the MM2 is ‘only’ 12-bit and the old MM1 14-bit, but I doubt this will matter much. And BTW, I am not going to get into the CCD vs. CMOS debate until the end, at which point I will run away and hide.
Resolution? Hmm, the new model probably has a slight edge, but the M9 came darned close to the M240 and the MM1 will likely be so close to the MM2 as not to matter much. I am not sure its just a case of 18 vs. 24 MP either and various M9 to M240 tests suggest that the different sensor architecture sees the CMOS camera pull away less than sheer numbers would suggest. Does the resolution boost matter much, considering how good the MM1 already is? Not to most people, I suspect.
Regarding the curve and native look of the DNG files, this second generation Leica Monochrom produces lovely ‘base’ files it seems – better than the MM1; however, all my files get significant work done on them so I do not see this as a particular advantage for me, but for others the additional ease with which a good file can be seen quickly, I can understand the appeal. For those willing to spend 30 seconds more on each file, not so much. 30 seconds in five to ten minutes (or sometimes hours) per file does not amount to much. But then again I shoot for projects and not en-masse for commercial or more utilitarian reasons.
The M246 is amazing (sitting right at the core of ‘Leica M’ ideology) and anyone who thought of buying the original MM1 will doubtless be delighted by the new model; however, there is another option: snapping up a discounted new MM1 or second hand example. The old camera is still formidable, but the potential for sensor corrosion and the hassle that entails will not be acceptable to everyone. The question is ‘how much is that worth’, because with MM1 prices falling, the gap between models is considerable.
I already own the MM1 and have already made my decision not to upgrade. The M246 would be the better camera for me personally, due to the, well, general lack of downsides. The additional DR would be welcome along with the points listed above, but none scream out at me to upgrade. This takes nothing away from the new camera, but instead say more about the amazing performance of the old one.
There is one area where I do think the new camera holds a huge advantage over the original CCD Leica Monochrom: Hand-held urban scenes at night. I say this, because the new camera has better high ISO and significantly improved DR. This means less of a need to bring up shadows that (for an exposure governed more by highlight clipping than anything else) will render with more detail simply by virtue of there being more DR. If you still need to raise them, there will be more potential to do so due to the reduced grain of the CMOS sensor at the sort of walkabout-in –city shutter speeds we commonly use, such as 2500-6400 (which is then raised further by the shadow boost). I really do think this is an area where the MM1 can struggle (I say this from experience) and the new camera will be a lot better. For other uses, I tend to shoot my handheld work anywhere from ISO 320 to 1250, where the differences between the MM1 and MM2 are likely to prove all but invisible on print. So, on balance, I’m stuck with a shutter than never really bothered me, with a screen I don’t even look at (aside form adjusting menu settings), with a stable of superb M lenses that don’t IMHO ever need live view (I do not shoot wide aperture long lenses). If you want to wander around, mostly in daylight or dawn/dusk, the MM1 is still a wonderful camera.
As a new buyer, I personally think the only reason to go for the old M9 based MM1 would be the lower price tag. This is my way of saying I’d swap my old camera in a heartbeat, but I won’t pay £thousands to do so! Should I really, really need something for hand-held urban project work at night, I could add a grey market Sony A7S or stabilised A7II for five times less and solve the problem that way. I know this is not the Leica purist’s approach, but one has to be pragmatic at times, despite the admitted allure of a new Leica! Most of my night work is shot on a tripod, for which I have the Sony A7 and A7R with their huge DR and perfect suitability for such work.
Well done Leica for following up the original Monochrom! The M246 is a cracker, but there is still one big unknown looking on the horizon: the replacement for the M240 (likely announced later this year)! For anyone sitting on the fence and in no rush, it may be worth seeing what is revealed here. For those who feel the M246 is just what they have ben waiting for – a M240 based MM – I say ‘jump right in and start taking photos’. Forget all the CCD vs CMOS nonsense and buy the Type 246. If I did not already own the MM1, I would be in the queue next to you.
But what about stacked up against the likes of the A7R II? Is the Type 246 able to compare in terms of technology? No. Is it the best high ISO camera on the market? That is far from certain with the new sensor in the A7R II. Is it the best at anything? Well, no… except at getting out of the way and punching out technically superb images while providing the user with a seamless and intuitive connection to camera, environment and experience. For those who feel the same way, this is all but priceless.