As a beta tester, I’ve had the pleasure of putting a prototype of the new M10 Monochrom through its paces well before the launch date. As usual, I’ve been hopping around on hot coals, just waiting for the green light to give you my views on this new and unusual camera.
At the outset, let me say that I am not a typical user of Leica’s monochrome digitals. A few years ago, purely out of curiosity, I tried out the M9-based camera. At that time, I came to the conclusion that working with a dedicated black-and-white camera in the long term would simply be too great a limitation. Fortunately I was able to return the camera, which I had purchased myself, after a few months without losing value.
Cost/benefit versus Cost/want
For me, the high level of investment was not justified because, as a professional photographer, I have to pay attention to the cost/benefit factor (although, I admit, I sometimes ignore this because of the conflicting cost/want factor). But I’m not in the financial position to purchase such a specialised implement as a third or fourth camera. There are simply more aspects of greater importance.
With this in mind, I was all the more delighted when Leica chose me as one of the select few to take part in the M10 Monochrom beta-testing programme. The picture of “my” camera demonstrates, from the P number, that it is No.6 out of 15 proto-brethren.
Despite my not being a typical Monochrom buyer, I just had to find out what this new, svelte high-resolution king is all about. In the end, after a good month with P6, I have to say that I was reluctant to hand back this beautiful device. Above all, I found it hard to resist the temptation to pre-order a production model.
So now on to my little report.
As with all my previous reports (see Macfilos link below), I would like to make it clear that I am not a professional tester and that my views reflect those of an absolute practitioner who does not possess any fancy laboratory testing equipment. In the following report, there is minimal objective testing. Instead, I have striven to create an overall impression of this camera as a photographic tool.
Design and technology
Let’s start with design and technology. Above all, I can say that the M10 Monochrom is an object of beauty. The prototype was a stealthy, black creation (as will be the production cameras) and I have to say I haven’t handled such a nice digital M before. It feels just like the normal M10, of course: A perfect and solid body with the same narrow dimensions — virtually the same as those of the old M7 — clothed in a very tactile, somewhat softer leather jacket.
The top and bottom plates are black chrome-plated, not painted as you might have thought, and the surface has a velvety feel that I really love. Overall, it’s a wonderful and very subtle design, devoid of logo or identification save for the blacked-out “Monochrom” designation. The A and lightning symbol of the speed dial and the A on the ISO wheel are both filled in grey rather than red, thus adding to the monochrome effect. As with the M10-P, the display glass is made of a scratch-resistant sapphire crystal.
The shutter release is very pleasant and unobtrusive. It is the same noise you’ll hear when you press the shutter of the M10-P, which is even quieter than that of the normal M10. This, and the discreet appearance all serve to make M10-M the most inconspicuous of Leicas.
Overall, this M10 Monochrom is technically identical to the M10-P, with the same controls and operation. The only difference is that all-important higher-resolution 41.9MP sensor and that, in a nutshell, is the whole raison d’etre of the new Monochrom.
Now to my little picture test. I was primarily concerned with image comparisons between the M10 Monochrom and the current colour-sensor sister M10. Therefore, in the following tests, I took a picture in the daylight studio with my tripod-mounted M10-P and the M10-M under identical conditions. In the processing of the DNGs (with the Photoshop RAW converter), I then generated colour images and a black-and-white from the M10-P and also developed the monochrome DNG from the M10-M using the same parameters.
Here are the full-frame images in the following order: M10-P colour, M10-P black and white and M10-M monochrome.
Then a 100% crop follows in the same order:
And, finally, a 200% enlargement with the M10P image in black and white on the left and the M10 monochrome picture on the right.
First of all: In my opinion, the differences between the respective black-and-white images from the M10-P and the M10 Monochrom are practically indistinguishable when you look at the overall picture. Apart from the larger representation at the same magnification scale due to the higher basic resolution of the monochrome sensor, no immediate differences can be discerned.
Only at higher levels of magnification do you really appreciate the distinguishing characteristics of the Monochrom. Because of the higher light sensitivity of the pixels due to the missing Bayer filter, the Monochrom at the same ISO setting (here ISO 800), has less noise, despite the higher pixel density, than the M10-P.
In addition, there is an overall softer and somewhat better-graded image with finer grayscale and a touch more drawing in the border areas.
Out and about with the M10-M
Finally, here are two photo series taken with the M10 Monochrom.
The first batch was captured at a concert under rather poor lighting conditions. Consequently, with high ISO settings, between 1200 and 6400. Here, the Monochrom shows its greatest strength in my view, namely in the very low and fine noise at the high ISO range.
Click on the images to enlarge
And, secondly, a series covering the theme of heavy haulage, featuring cool guys from a specialist company, that I shot in parallel with the SL as part of a job. Incidentally, the customer was enthusiastic and, in the end, also wanted some monochrome photos for his reference publication. This is something I had not anticipated. Again, click on the images to enlarge.