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Why Leica M Monochrom images are a class above?

Original DNG RAW image

 

I have been searching for an ideal camera to take BnW images since I moved from the BnW films and the wet darkroom to digital. Most of the time I was disappointed. Perhaps it was the lack of exposure latitude (dynamic range for digital users) or the toe and shoulder characteristics. I often find digital black and white too clean and clinical. Where is the gritty Kodak Tri-X look which I have grown accustomed to? The mellow and yet contrasty feel of the film negatives seems like a distant past. Most people would often say, “You have got to move with the times”. Get used to it.

Many camera manufacturers often cater for the mass market needs ie. High megapixels, high ISO sensitivities and a host of features like video capabilities, etc but none catered to the Black and White Photographer.

At last, Leica has heard the growing grouses of this particular niche of photographers. When Leica introduced their latest Leica M Monochrom, I was really excited. It is still not available in the market. However, I have searched for sample images that I can work on.

Here is one of those images that can really test the exposure latitude and tonal ranges of the camera. I downloaded this image from Dpreview’s sample galley.

On first inspection, the image looks a bit low in contrast. This is what most BnW shooters want to see. I know non BnW shooters will have a problem understanding this. The image resembles an image that is projected from an enlarger onto a base board – that is low in contrast but is able to record the full tonal range. It is the photographer’s decision to either maintain, increase or lower the contrast of the image by using contrast filters. The “levels” from the DNG RAW file was almost perfect. The highlights were not blown nor the shadows blocked.

 

Estimated exposure latitude of the sensor

The sensor and the lens resolved the image well. From the looks of it the exposure latitude was around 8 stops. I have taken the liberty to put in the rough EV values in the image to illustrate the point.

I have also increased the contrast of the image by increasing the “curve”. I think that is equivalent to about grade 3.0 (in terms of paper grade). Both the original and enhanced image is put side by side for comparison. The differences may be subtle but this is what black and white photography is all about.

Conclusion

I have not worked with better BnW files than that from the Leica M Monochrom. For a Black and White Photographer, this is their dreams come true. However, the only thing holding back is the price. This may change if the facebook stocks are on the uptrend…*evil smile*

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