Leica M10 Monochrom Review

There are three reasons why the Leica M10 Monochrom is a beautiful camera. The first is that it employs a manual focus rangefinder design many decades old. The second unique characteristic of this camera is that it exclusively captures images in monochrome. The third is a price tag that is far greater than that of any other M-series camera, except the prestige special editions produced by Leica. Just what is going on here?

A camera that only records in black and white is the kind of audacious undertaking that only Leica could undertake. When the German business Leica initially unveiled the first Leica M Monochrom in 2012, many people believed it was merely one of Leica’s special editions that would go as soon as it came. However, the company has continued to produce the Leica M Monochrom.

However, the Leica Monocrom dynasty has established itself as a new class of cameras, and it is currently in its third complete iteration. Along the road, there have been several special editions released. The Monochrom brings back the experience of using a rangefinder camera with just one or two prime lenses and a roll of black and white film. In those days, great documentary photographers took their equipment with them wherever they went.

Leica M10 Monochrom Features

Let’s begin with the sensor, shall we? The Leica M10 Monochrom features a monochrome full-frame sensor that has been custom-made with 40 megapixels, does not have a low-pass filter, and, most importantly, does not have a color filter array.

Because of this, each photosite only records information about luminance, also known as brightness. As a result of this, the images produced by each photosite do not require the color interpolation that is needed for the red, green, and blue pixel ‘Bayer’ sensors that are utilized by virtually all other cameras.

This is not the same as the ‘black and white setting on a standard camera. It’s unlike an average camera, where you can turn off the color mode. Even after the image is converted to black and white, regular RGB Bayer sensors produce processing artifacts that cannot be removed. The sensor above does not. The use of a camera that only captures images in black and white, for example, may appear to be an act of purposeful perversity, yet, there is a very substantial and highly technical reason for this choice.

Adjusting the red, green, and blue channels of a standard camera will allow you to imitate the effect of traditional black and white filters; however, doing so will result in the appearance of channel noise and artifacts, the severity of which is proportional to the amount of modification made. If you want black and white ‘contrast’ filter effects with the M10 Monochrom, the only way to acquire them is to screw genuine filters onto the front of the lens, although doing so will not result in any channel noise or artifacts. It’s almost like back when photographs were only black and white.

The rangefinder’s focusing mechanism also seems quite reminiscent of times gone by. This camera does not have an autofocus function. To achieve focus, you will instead use a viewfinder with direct vision and a secondary picture, known as a “ghost,” which you will align with the primary image by twisting the focus ring on the lens. Even though the back screen provides a live view and a focus peaking option, the focusing process is still done manually.

It is also important to emphasize the bayonet mount of the Leica M camera, as well as the quality and price of Leica M lenses (high). These Leica lenses may be pricey, but they are so tiny that you will be left wondering how current mirrorless lenses managed to get so large.

Also, there is no video mode available. At all. If that’s what you want, a better option would be the mirrorless Leica SL2 or even one of the Leica D-Lux partnerships with Panasonic (essentially premium Panasonic compacts rebadged and reskinned for Leica).

Leica M10 Monochrom Build Quality

This camera is a Leica; it has a sturdy, weighty metallic chassis that gives the impression that it has been precisely manufactured and hand-assembled and that it could even be worth the price tag, which is reassuringly high if you are in the giving mood. It only weighs 660 grams, which is not particularly hefty compared to other recent cameras, but because the body is so compact, it gives the impression that it is pretty “dense.”

Interestingly, the Leica logo has been removed from this model. There is no colored marking on the dials, there is no red dot, and there is no Leica emblem on the top plate. Even though this is the most understated approach possible, it is easy to tell that this camera was manufactured in Wetzlar because of its traditional rangefinder design and Leica M-range aesthetic.

Each of the dials uses a mechanical mechanism. This indicates that you can select the ISO, choose an aperture, and choose the shutter speed setting (manually or automatically) even before turning on the camera. This may make people who grew up with film cameras feel nostalgic and possibly bring a tear to their eyes. When all you had to do to operate a camera was the focus, then adjust the shutter speed and aperture, this is how cameras used to work.

No matter what lens you select, the focusing must be done entirely by hand. If you have never used a rangefinder before, you will need some practice to get used to the rangefinder-focusing viewfinder. This is because you must use the central portion of the viewfinder to produce a secondary ghost image that precisely aligns with the primary viewfinder image.

Most people who use this camera use a zone-focusing method, which involves pre-setting the camera for things at a specific distance. Leica’s M-mount prime lenses make this process much simpler thanks to their lengthy focus travel, precise focus scales, and depth-of-field index markings.

Use the three-inch touchscreen LCD in LiveView mode to make essential adjustments to the focus so that you can be sure that it is locked on exactly. This is an alternate method that is also utilized by the Leica M10-P, which is the source of much of the design inspiration for this camera. This will take longer and won’t be as exact as you had hoped. The focus peaking looks relatively indiscriminate since it displays some pixellated ‘peaking’ even when your target is blurry.

Leica M10 Monochrom Performance

The many resolutions offered by the most recent iteration of the Monochrom is the primary benefit that it provides. Because it is equipped with a 40.8-megapixel sensor that has been optimized for black-and-white photography, it does not require using color filters or demosaicing algorithms to produce an image. When compared to color sensors, the fact that each photosite directly correlates to the resultant pixel ought to increase the effective resolution of the device. In addition, there is no anti-aliasing filter, which is often used to improve the clarity of images captured by a camera.

The resolution of 40 megapixels may seem excessive for a camera that is aimed primarily at documentary and street photographers; yet, the additional detail means that you have a far greater power to trim your photographs (compensating for the fact that you will probably use this camera with a prime lens).

We had some hands-on experience with this camera, beginning with the presentation of the camera in London’s Covent Garden, continuing with lab testing, and finally, with our shooting adventures. The Leica M10 Monochrom and its sensor have impressed us with their ability to render fine detail, as well as their expansive dynamic range and broad processing latitude.

Leica M10 Monochrom Specs

Body typeRangefinder-style mirrorless
Max resolution7864 x 5200
Image ratio w:h3:2
Effective pixels41 megapixels
Sensor sizeFull frame (36 x 24 mm)
Sensor typeCMOS
ISOAuto, 160-100000
Image stabilizationNo
Manual focusYes

Leica M10 Monochrom Verdict

In this day and age of digital photography and focusing, the Leica rangefinder is most certainly an acquired taste, yet despite this, it has a dedicated following. This specialization is taken to an entirely new level by the Leica M10 Monochrom, which only captures images in black and white. However, there is something curiously intriguing about the mix of an old-fashioned focusing method and the limitation of being able to shoot in black and white.

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