Leica M9 Monochrom (M9M) – World’s First Black and White Rangefinder Camera
Leica M9 Monochrom (M9M) - World's First Black and White Rangefinder Camera
Leica M9 Monochrom (M9M) – World’s First Black and White Rangefinder Camera
I will share my thoughts after trying this camera since its announcement 12 years ago in this post. I must admit that I am not a total stranger to this Leica M9M camera because I was a Leica M9 owner and their controls are identical to each other. It took me less than 5 minutes to get used to this timeless machine. Before I shared my experience with this camera, this camera actually was top of my wishlist. However, I decided not to get one.
CCD Digital Rangefinder Camera in 18MP
It is the same as the Leica M9 and was the first generation full frame CCD based rangefinder camera. It has an 18MP sensor, and everything is almost the same as the Leica M9-P, for example, the buttons, controls, menu, size and look, which of course, without the Leica red dot and short of the ability to do colour photography. Leica Monochrom M9 does not have the Bayer colour filter on top of the CCD sensor.
Bayer filter allows the camera to interpret colour. Without this, it can only read black-and-white data and focus on light density. Why do you need a camera that can only take Monochrome images? And why not shoot black and white film or simply convert colour images into black and white?
I always joke about the M9 LCD screen and that my old Nokia phone has a better display than this. You might think your photo was focused and accurate once you load it into your laptop for preview. It won’t be the case.
I love how the camera looks in black chrome. It has a matte finish like the M4 black chrome and is quite similar to the black Leica M8. It feels smooth, and it doesn’t scratch easily like Leica M10. It doesn’t have the surface texture that the Leica M11 offers. It is smooth to handle this camera.
Black and White Digital Camera? Why?
This is absolutely nonsense. Leica, you were joking right! This was exactly my response when I saw Leica’s announcement about a monochrome camera. At that time, it was such a controversial topic across forums, everyone was talking about this new camera with so many question marks above their head. I told myself I won’t try it, I will never lift a finger on something that only takes black and white images and it is digital.. Absolutely pointless.
Clearly. I was wrong.
This year, my friend bought an M9M and we started talking about this B&W camera. After spending a week with this camera, I think the whole process helped me rediscover how I began doing portraits and street in black and white film and it’s always been something I love. I feel connected to where I came from.
It’s simple, period.
What do you expect to shoot with a monochrome camera? Without much expectation, my first impression was it gave me opportunities to think only in black and white. This is how I feel about using this camera. There isn’t much to stress regarding colour temperatures, colour cast, purple fringes and other technical aspects. It is solely about black, white and grey tones. Why don’t you just turn on black and white mode and shoot with your Leica M10-P? I haven’t compared Leica M11 in black and white mode with Leica M9M. I feel like the files are closer to the Kodak Tri-X film. It has a more grey tone, unlike contrast films from Rollei. I won’t compare the quality between this camera and film images because it is not a direct comparison.
Who would want this camera? As film shooters living in Hong Kong, we are spoiled by the availability and fast-processed film labs. It makes more sense to shoot film if you love the quality and process of it, for those who love black and white film but don’t have access to chemicals (some countries banned Rodinal or extremely costly to buy it). And people don’t want to scan these negatives. Also, amateur and professional photographers love black and white images and don’t want to carry the film when they travel. Not everyone wants to develop their own black and white film. Owning a monochrome camera sounds attractive to them.
I find there is one very critical factor to share if you are about to try it or consider purchasing one. The DNG files are nice but flat (not much contrast); the downside would be the highlights when you overexpose the image. Let me elaborate on this. Because the camera does not have a Bayer filter. All white parts will combine together. Suppose you accidentally or purposely overexpose your image by half a stop. You could still obtain it back by increasing contrast and lowering the exposures, but the picture would look flat. However, if you overexpose it by one stop or more, the file wouldn’t look nice, and the highlights will be gone. So be careful of the highlights if you use this camera.
Yes this camera has much better ISO performance than M9 maybe because it is in black and white and it gives you sharper files. You can basically use up to 3200 to 6400 more than the ISO 800 with M9. Try it!
CCD Sensor Corrosion
It is inevitable that you have to send somewhere to change the filter inside of your camera. Leica stopped changing it for free at first and stopped replacing it even if you pay for them. Now there are few companies doing that and Kolari is one of them. I have tried them on my friend’s M9, it works very well.
The very best part is the ability to use different colour filters on this camera directly. Usually with my M10-P, I couldn’t do it unless I only wanted black and white images. I put on a yellow filter on Leica Summicron 35mm f2 V1 8 elements. The best black and white lens in the Leica world, it performs amazing on this camera.
Think in B&W (Monotone)
It is more complicated than I thought. My story was, at first, I visualised every photo in black and white only because I paid so much attention to the intensity of light and its transition. But I lost this ability when I shot more and more colour negative films and digital cameras. What you try to capture is mainly colour because it looks more appealing. It is more attractive to many of us if we shoot landscapes in colour than black and white. Shooting in black and white narrows down and focus on the elements I want to bring out to my audience. I skipped landscapes unless light played a significant part in them. I skipped most of the street photography because if there is no light, everything looks shit to me. As I have mentioned earlier, everything became simple but more challenging. To take nice black and white photographs, at least to my standard. It requires extreme concentration on the lighting around us. Shooting monochrome in default removes the possibility of converting colour into black and white. When we have fewer options, our photos are better.
This is not a technical review of the Leica M9M. I hope everyone will try black and white cameras, film or digital. It improves your image. I am impressed with the Leica M9M. Not because of its CCD performance and battery life (it’s excellent). I wasn’t impacted by the continuous shot ability Nokia quality screen that I mentioned. This is about simplicity. Simple things make us happy. And it is fun to shoot with this camera. And now I am seriously considering a Monochrom camera. CCD or CMOS, it doesn’t matter. On my next trip, I would like to try shooting with a Monochrom camera. This is not something I haven’t done before. I shot only black and white films on a 2015 trip to Prague and Budapest. It was fun, and did I regret not shooting them in colour? No.
After all, I am not getting this camera at this point in time. It is a good-looking camera to let you concentrate only on black and white images. Meanwhile, I will continue shooting with my Leica M10-P in black and white mode. Maybe one day, I will upgrade to the M10 Monochrom! I understand that CCD cameras are nice, and it always has their special place in my mind. By not purchasing a CCD camera, I will have one less thing to worry about.