Speaking as a photographer who learned the craft of black-and-white photography using a 4 x 5" field camera and Tri-X film, I know a good black-and-white photograph when I see one. After spending an afternoon wandering about New York’s Chelsea Market and the elevated High Line with the new Leica M10 Monochrom, I can tell you straight up that the M10 Monochrom takes incredibly good black-and-white photographs. And you can bank those words… and if anybody asks, tell them Al sent you.
Why Monochrome Only?
A lot of people ask that question, and it’s an easy one to answer. For your camera to record color images, each pixel on the sensor is filtered to capture light in the red, green, or blue color channel.
Most cameras use a selection of red, green, and blue pixels (generally one red, one blue, and two green) to interpolate the data required to assign a specific color value to each pixel in the final image. In the case of monochrome cameras, every pixel is completely dedicated to recording luminance data and is able to eliminate the color filter array, which increases not only the smoothness of tonal gradations that can be recorded in a scene, but as a bonus, also increases the efficiency of the sensor’s light-gathering abilities. Also, the filter forgoes the use of a low-pass filter for maximum resolution. Compared to earlier-generation Leica Monochrom cameras, the M10 Monochrom knocks out image files containing a far greater range of tonality.
The Leica M10 Monochrom: Inside and Out
At first glance, the Leica M10 Monochrom is indistinguishable from Leica’s M10-P digital camera. Under the hood, it’s a whole other story, starting with the cameras 40.89MP monochrome full-frame CMOS sensor, which increases the resolving power of the new Leica Monochrom by close to 70% compared to previous-generation 24MP Leica M-series cameras. The base sensitivity is ISO 160 and it can be tweaked as high as ISO 100,000 with remarkable results.
Something I truly love about Leica’s digital M cameras is that they are beautiful blends of digital and analog technologies. There’s a bright, 3" 1.036m-dot Gorilla Glass touchscreen LCD for live view focusing, composing, and playback on the back of the camera, and just above the LCD is a classic analog rangefinder focusing system, which for film camera diehards, can easily prove to be the deal maker.
During my time with the M10 Monochrom, I had an opportunity to slip a Leica Angle Finder M onto the camera, which in addition to eye-level viewing, made it possible for me to capture interesting photographs from atypical camera positions.
Physically, the Leica M10 Monochrom has the same narrow film-camera profile as its color counterpart, the Leica M10-P, which makes it less chunky in the hand than earlier digital M cameras. The camera’s magnesium-alloy body sports a matte-black finish with black leatherette trim and, like most classic M-cameras, the top and bottom plates are made of brass.
Unlike most Leica cameras, there’s no red dot on the front of the camera, nor is the name Leica engraved on the top plate, the front of the camera, or anywhere on the camera, for that matter. (IMHO, if you own one of these cameras, you don’t need the red dot, nor do you necessarily want the red dot. Just owning one and being able to use it to its full potential should be enough to satisfy one’s photographic soul.)
Photographs below © 2020 Allan Weitz
In fact, with the exception of the white enamel letters and numerals on the camera’s shutter speed dial, ISO dial, and the four menu buttons on the rear of the camera, the camera is totally matte black. Even the few inscriptions to be found on the camera’s top plate and rear body panel are engraved in black. If stealthy street-shooting cameras are your thing, this camera has your name on it.
The Leica M10 Monochrom: On the Streets
The M10 Monochrom offers a choice of manual or aperture-priority exposure control and contains 2GB of memory buffer for capturing up to 10 frames at 4.5 fps. Shutter speeds range from 16 minutes to 1/4000-second in aperture-priority mode and 8 to 1/4000-second in manual. Image stabilization isn’t an option with Leica M-series cameras, but in my experiences shooting with M-cameras, you don’t really need it.
The camera’s centrally weighted TTL metering is the same simple, reliably accurate metering system found in previous-generation M cameras going back to the film days. (The same basic metering system has been used in Leica M-series cameras for more than three decades, so why monkey with it now… right?)
This simplicity factor of this camera carries forward to the operation of its meus and camera controls. The menus are intuitively simple and straightforward as they come (I wish other manufacturers would take note) and the camera layout is equally simple. There’s a shutter speed dial and an ISO dial on the top plate and an aperture and focus ring on the lens barrel. That’s it. Period. Everything else is about taking pictures.
And speaking of pictures, this is where Leica’s new M10 Monochrom truly shines. This isn’t merely another scheduled product upgrade or limited edition celebrity offering from Leica. The M10 Monochrom is truly a new class of camera that is capable of capturing black-and-white photographs better than any camera in its class and beyond, and I say this as a longtime photographer who knows a thing or two about black-and-white photography.
Compared to the black-and-white conversions I routinely make from color raw files captured with premium digital cameras from Leica and other manufacturers, I can honestly say the photographs I captured with the M10 Monochrom have a heightened level of detail and a glow, or luminance about them that strikes you the moment you see the image. When showing off high-res prints and screen images to co-workers, I cannot tell you how many people leaned in, paused a few moments, and said, “That’s sick.”
Is the Leica M10 Monochrom an expensive camera? Not if you’re a card-carrying member of the One Percent. As for the rest of us, the cost of the camera will no doubt cut into your Dinner-and-a-Movie budget.
Is the Leica M10 Monochrom Worth the Price of Admission?
If your passion lies in capturing breathtaking black-and-white landscapes, portraits, or other monochromatically rendered subject matter, the answer is yes. The camera is on the pricey side, and yes, it is worth it. As for your Dinner-and-a-Movie budget, now just might be the right time to break out some of those yummy dinner recipes you’ve been clipping and saving. As for going to the movies, I’d be happy to trade Netflix playlists with you. I also have some good, easy-to-prepare dinner suggestions for you because in all honesty… I’m also going to be saving up for one of these puppies.
That said, you into spicy? If you are, I have some Cajun recipes that will peel the skin clear off your crawdaddy.
The M10 Monochrom is absolutely a specialty camera. But is it the camera you want in your bag? Sound off in the Comments, below!