Design & Operation

The M-Monochrom looks a lot like an M9 (and, for that matter, not radically different from 1957's M2 and many of the company's cameras since that point). In keeping with the camera's minimalist approach, the M-Monochrom has almost no markings whatsoever. There's no 'dot' logo on the front, red or otherwise, and even the brand's elegant script and its beautifully austere (and bespoke) 'Leitz -Norm' geometric sans serif inscriptions are absent from the top plate.

The words 'LEICA CAMERA MADE IN GERMANY' on the back of the body seem to be the only branding but, if you really search, you'll find the word 'Monochrom' etched into the hotshoe.

And, just as the camera closely resembles a film-era rangefinder, so do its controls. Leica hasn't made any further concessions to digital with the M-Monochrom - the interface is essentially identical to the M9's. This means that primary settings are well-placed but anything as modern as changeable ISO feels a little bit like an afterthought.

The camera's ergonomics are identical to the M9 and are the result of lessons learned over many years of film camera production - shutter speed and aperture are easily set but any of the more obviously digital settings (specifically, on a camera with no white balance to be set, ISO), are less well catered for.

Body elements

The hotshoe contains the only hint that you're dealing with the Monochrom edition.
The M-Monochrom has the same button layout as the M9 but also sadly has exactly the same disappointing 230,000 dot rear screen.

This puts it on a par with contemporary $100 compact cameras. For reference, the first 920,000 dot screens started to appear on DSLRs around 5 years ago.
The M-Monochrom features the same two-tone metering reflectors on the shutter blades that first appeared in the M9.

It also has the lens encoding sensor at the bottom right-hand corner of the mount, allowing it to recognise lenses with painted identification markings.
The MM features the same side-mounted USB socket under a plastic cover. This is the camera's only external connector.
The bottom plate of the camera has to be removed every time you need to change film charge the battery or get at the memory card.

First impressions

Our response, when we first heard about the M-Monochrom was not dissimilar to those Leica users who've heard the rumors about the camera - falling somewhere between surprise and incredulity. However, spend some time with the M-M and, in its own reality-impervious way, it begins to make a strange kind of sense. The level of detail the camera captures is nothing short of astonishing and, as we found when shooting the M9, there's a real pleasure to be found in having to think harder about the shots you're taking. Getting the best out of the Monochrom takes practise (perhaps a lifetime's worth) and processing, but willfully embracing that challenge seems to be part of what this camera is about.

Is it easier, more flexible and many times less expensive to shoot in color and make black-and-white conversions (albeit at a cost of the pixel-level detail the M-Monochrom offers)? Of course it is. But then there are many cameras that offer greater capability, flexibility and (in most respects), image quality than the M9 (at a fraction of the cost), but that doesn't make the Leica any less desirable.