Leica M-Monochrom Hands-on Preview
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.
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.
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