No Color, No Problem: A Hands-on Review of the New M11 Monochrom from Leica
The M11 Monochrom from Leica is the brand’s latest high-end digital rangefinder camera designed to capture images with unparalleled detail, tonality, and resolution, exclusively in black and white.
The fourth generation of the Monochrom line – the original Leica Monochrom came out in 2012, followed by the Monochrom Type 246 in 2015, and the M10 Monochrom in 2020 – I was fortunate enough to test-drive the camera for a few days; read on to find out more!
Right out of the gate, I was pleasantly surprised by how much I enjoyed shooting exclusively in black and white. While I started out still thinking about what the images would look like in color, my pre-visualization quickly switched to shapes and tonality.
This shift in perspective was also oddly appropriate because, turning it over in your hands, I was struck by its stealthy, minimalist design and matte black finish, which combined exudes elegance and sophistication. Moreover, I was startled at how compact and lightweight the M11 Monochrom is (only 542 grams) compared to previous rangefinders, making it easy to carry around and handle.
The camera body is milled from solid magnesium and aluminum blocks, giving it extreme durability and longevity. Meanwhile, on the back, it sports a high-quality 2.95-inch Active Matrix TFT touchscreen with 2.3 million dots, providing a clear and detailed image review. The camera also has a built-in Wi-Fi capabilities that allows you to transfer images wirelessly to your smartphone or tablet using the Leica FOTOS app.
Looking down the rangefinder, you’ll find the familiar magnification of 0.73x, which provides a clear and bright view of the subject. However, for those who prefer to see what the camera sees, the Monochrom also has a live view mode that allows you to view your scene on the rear screen.
From here, you can adjust the focus with even greater precision using the responsive and accurate focus peaking system in live view that uses contrast detection to help you focus faster and more accurately.
Covering Your Bases
The most notable feature of the Monochrom (besides the most obvious one) is its triple-resolution, full-frame backside-illuminated (BSI) complementary-metal-oxide-semiconductor (CMOS) sensor. The three resolutions (60/36/18-megapixel) offer photographers greater flexibility in speed and performance.
Of course, this sensor has no color filter array, so each pixel captures light directly, resulting in sharper, more detailed images with no color interpolation or distortion. In addition, the sensor has a high dynamic range and excellent low-light performance, making it possible to capture stunning black-and-white photos in even the most challenging lighting conditions.
Building on the game-changing BSI-CMOS sensor that debuted in the M11, the Monochrom now had 256 GB of internal storage. This pragmatic upgrade allows me to shoot redundantly without fear of corrupted image files, or I can simply photograph for longer without needing a memory card.
Pushing the Limits
One of the most impressive aspects of the Monochrom is its extreme ISO range. Beginning with a base ISO of 125 and maxing out at 200,000, the Monochrom has the most excellent dynamic range of any Monochrom camera ever.
Coupled with its monochrome sensor’s extraordinary clarity and sharpness, images taken on the M11 Monochrom with extreme ISO values look just as good as those shot in more suitable ranges.
Fun Fact: ISO refers to your camera’s sensitivity to light. Thus, the lower the ISO value on your digital sensor, the less sensitive to light it will be. The ISO value is also one of only three factors – along with aperture (f-stop) and shutter speed – that control image exposure, so it’s kind of important.
The Monochrom is a top-of-the-line camera designed for serious monochrome photographers. Its exceptional image quality, minimalist design, lens compatibility, and advanced features make it a powerful tool for capturing stunning black-and-white images.
And despite its premium price ($9,195), the Monochrom is a worthy investment for those who demand the highest quality from their photography equipment.
The new M11 Monochrom Rangefinder Camera is available worldwide. For more information, visit Leica’s website.
(Photography by Liam O'Donnell)