Hands-On Review of the Incredible Leica M10 Monochrom

28Share
Leica M10 Monochrom

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. 

The design elements of Leica’s new M10 Monochrom are about as starkly Wetzlar as it gets. There’s no Red Dot, nor is the name “Leica” or “Leitz” engraved on the top plate. In a word, it’s “lovely.”
The design elements of Leica’s new M10 Monochrom are about as starkly Wetzlar as it gets. There’s no Red Dot, nor is the name “Leica” or “Leitz” engraved on the top plate. In a word, it’s “lovely.”

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.

Images Provided by Leica Camera AG

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. 

As with the front and top plates of the M10 Monochrom, the simplicity of the camera's design carries through from every angle.

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.  

The M10 has a slimmed-down profile, compared to previous digital M series rangefinders, making it feel more like a classic film camera.

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.

Shooting around the shops at Chelsea Market while holding detail in the highlights and shadows was a piece of cake with the M10 Monochrom. If anything, it seems as if the camera can see as well as we do in low light.

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.

How sharp is sharp? This 100% detail of the above photograph should give you a sense of how amazing the resolving power of this camera really is. Even at 200%, the image holds up with barely any sign of artifacts.

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.

Stopped down for maximum detail or wide open for a whirlwind of bokeh, Leica’s M10 Monochrom matched with a Summilux-M 35mm f/1.4 ASPH. is a recipe for luscious imaging.

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.

Late afternoon sunlight reflecting off of the mirror-like surfaces of the buildings that line the High Line are ideal for showboating the tonal qualities of Leica’s new M10 Monochrom.

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. 

A sampling of images captured in New York City with the Leica M10 Monochrom using the Summicron-M 28mm f/2 ASPH., Summilux-M 35mm f/1.4 ASPH., and Summilux-M 90mm f/1.5 ASPH. Lenses.

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!

Order Leica M10 Monochrom

28 Comments

I've tried lots of Leica cameras in the past and never was impressed by the result until I tried last summer a Q2... That in my sens is the best Leica ever made and the one i'm dreaming of since then. I thinq that when you love BW and composition, you dont need all the different lens and that simplicity is the way to go! And for half the price of a basic kit of M10 and a lens, you have everything to do your art!

I was lucky to get one of the ones available on January 24.
It's proving to be very satisfactory. Too bad we can't post pictures in this comment.

I'd want to be accompanied by a substantial armed guard before I'd truck one of those machines out on most any street in most any city -- missing the red dot, notwithstanding. And anyway, sharpness is a bourgeois concept.

I'll hold out for a Monochrom smartphone.

There are a couple monochrome-capable smartphones out there! I remember Huawei released some phones with a monochrome sensor to help bolster all images as well as support pure monochrome shooting.

As much as people make a big deal about the thickness of M series Leica cameras, according to Camerasize.com, the M9 is thinner than the M10 family...The original Monochrom is M9 sized. (37mm thick)....  The M246 based Monochrom is 42mm, and the new M10 based Monochrom is 38.5mm.  By comparison to film cameras, the M6 is 33.5mm thick. 1mm is about 1/40 of an inch......Lets get on with features and results and stop worrying about the thickness of an M camera......  It is just plain silly.

Actually, 1 mm is about 1/25 of an inch, not 1/40.  So the difference between 38.5 and 33.5 mm is 1/5 of an inch. But I agree in principle - that's still silly as an issue.  The price - that's an issue!

Intriguing is an understatement.

Al, send me some recipes.

I used to joke to my photo students that it took more than a century to perfect color film photography, and now that we have digital cameras it’s likely to take another century to perfect black-and-white. Whatever the price, it’s nice to see somebody trying. 

This is the kind of camera that folks buy to talk about at cocktail parties. Most people with this kind of money won't have the time or dedication to use it. As for Black & White photography...if you think mastering digital color is difficult just wait 'till you try B&W! Like the guy in this video I started in B&W, but 35mm not 4x5. Seeing in gray scale is very difficult for many folks. Capturing the sort of high quality B&W images illustrating this video? Well for the talented it takes years, for the rest a lifetime may not be enough. In the end you can't buy image quality. The best camera is only as the person behind it. Or to paraphrase Ansel Adams the most important part of a camera is the person standing behind it.

You are all wet.   Amateurs are not competing or aspiring to be great photographers.   Further, black and white pictures, even mediocre ones, look good.   You have a Bernie Sanders type of gripe against people who indulge themselves.   If you play an instrument, are you as good as a professional?    Sure this is more camera than an amateur needs.   So what?   Amateurs buy expensive sports cars yet they don't compete.   Your entire approach to life is mistaken.

I actually can afford this camera and the lenses, provided I don't live more than 12 years and any dips in the S&P are erased during that period.   I've got it all figured out.

I've shot the Leica S and previous Leica M cameras. But this is the first Leica camera to really peak my interest.  Leica M10 Monochrome. I'm in.

Lovely camera.  I certainly can't justify the cost, neverthess I'm glad there are those who can, just so such things can be made.  

Lets see, I can buy this pocket camera and all four lenses shown for about $32,600 plus tax. But I suspect there is more credibility to vinyl records than B&W digital photography. Both are romanticized much like paleo dogfood. The proposition that eliminating color is going to automatically make you into a photo artist is utter rubbish even in this age when excessive digital saturation is all the lame amateur rage. B&W requires its own authentic mastery but not through a camera cloned for rich sentimentalists. You can capture grayscale tonality with a more practical DSLR or mirrorless camera and eliminate color in Raw if you think it's gonna make your images compete with Willy Ronis. I would split with $80,000 or more for a top of the line Hasselblad and matching lens collection before I'd waste money on this fine and portable Leica system that disdains color. Yes, if I were a billionaire I absolutely WOULD buy this Leica system if it shot Raw color but not for its B&W tonality as artistic hype. It still requires a rock solid tripod and other accessories to resolve any worthwhile pixel resolution. So you might as well get something bigger and more capable. If you buy this Leica and those four lenses, I hope you run into the most astounding colorful peacock of your dreams.

correction: I meant 3 lenses, not 4.

Love your point about the peacock!  About one photo in ten really needs to be in color and one hates to pass them up. But if you already own 47 lenses compatible with the M-System, including a full house of Leitz asphericals from 18mm to 90mm, Zeiss Distagons, antique Nikkors, Canon dream lenses, MS-Optics Apoqualias and Varioprasmas, and what not, then this camera body is an interesting addition. I looked at the Hasselblads and they're superb, but not the same portability and inconspicuousness. 

@Jonathan L: I believe Leitz lives up to its name. I have no Leitz lenses. I have nothing against the camera or even its high price purely as a luxury lightweight item so a photographer can carry it daily. It just seems they could have made a dual B&W/color camera with a switch. I agree with your inference that composition is usually more important than color, especially in this era of ubiquitously popular sickly sweet digital over-saturation which is totally of no artistic value IMO. But any photog can turn a corner in Paris or anywhere and see something making them regret they did not have a color option.

Can anybody write a legitimate criticism of Leica cameras without diving into classism?  Yawn.

That’s insane for a camera unless you have ooodles of money and are independently wealthy. The Olympus Pen-F as well as numerous Fuji cameras have superb black and white film simulations. Feel free to do a comparison article with these cameras, as well as a side by side image comparison of images for 16x20 prints. I’d love to see those comparisons. Better yet, compare those images to black and white Tri-X images shot from 35mm and 6x6 film. I’m sure the images from all these other cameras will clearly show that in typical prints, there is not enough of an advantage to buy such an expensive tool. Just shoot Olympus, Fuji, or a film camera!

I'm a committed Leica photographer but wholeheartedly agree there are many other cameras that produce superb images, and there is a legitimate artistic question whether to prefer one over the others. For me, the appeal of Leica is the fantastic quantity of interesting lenses, going back a hundred years. I have 15 50mm lenses alone, though it's not humanly possible to use more than 4 or 5 of them with any regularity, each has a different character suited for certain subject matter. 

That’s insane for a camera unless you have ooodles of money and are independently wealthy. The Olympus Pen-F as well as numerous Fuji cameras have superb black and white film simulations. Feel free to do a comparison article with these cameras, as well as a side by side image comparison of images for 16x20 prints. I’d love to see those comparisons. Better yet, compare those images to black and white Tri-X images shot from 35mm and 6x6 film. I’m sure the images from all the cameras will not show their are not enough advantages to buy an 8k Leica camera

[quote=Jay L.]

That’s insane for a camera unless you have ooodles of money and are independently wealthy. The Olympus Pen-F as well as numerous Fuji cameras have superb black and white film simulations. Feel free to do a comparison article with these cameras, as well as a side by side image comparison of images for 16x20 prints. I’d love to see those comparisons. Better yet, compare those images to black and white Tri-X images shot from 35mm and 6x6 film. I’m sure the images from all these other cameras will clearly show that in typical prints, there is not enough of an advantage to buy such an expensive tool. Just shoot Olympus, Fuji, or a film camera!

[

Nice job guys...  

I'm sure it is a great camera, but this article is not great and has too much "used-car salesman" talk, such as "I know a good black and white photo when I see one" and "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.” The photos in the article are not sick and I'm surprised Leica would want these images associated with such a high quality camera.

I hear you.  However, I think we might need to see the photos in person (or download the RAW files) to really judge the tonality.  Surely the process of compressing the data for internet use removes dynamic range.  Forget the subject matter, I'll bet those images are stunning from a technical perspective. - Cliff

I disagree. The photos in the article are good. Some even “sick”.

Make a successful living as photographer in the rough and tumble of the New York media world for decades and you will also say that you know good black & white when you see it. 

Beautiful camera! Could make a fine companion to my M10D!

Close

Close

Close