Too Niche? Leica M11 Monochrom First Impressions

Leica releases yet another black-and-white only digital camera with a hefty price tag: the M11 Monochrom. How wide or narrow is the market for a tool like this?

Leica's latest rangefinder, the M11 Monochrom, is the fourth camera in their lineup to feature a dedicated black and white sensor. But what makes these sensors so compelling? By eliminating the color filter array, the sensor receives more light and produces more precise results. Additionally, since the sensor exclusively detects luminosity, the resulting images possess greater dynamic range and clarity when compared to those captured with color sensors.

The Design

The Leica M11 Monochrom is a camera that embodies the brand's unique design philosophy. It has a sleek, all-black appearance, devoid of the traditional red logo, which a black screw has replaced. The viewfinder on the right has a darker trim, and the bayonet lock is also black, which complements the overall aesthetic.

Looking at the top, you have white and grey text for the shutter speeds and ISO, a black shutter button, and 'MONOCHROM' engraved front and center on the top plate. These subtle changes make this effortlessly cool-looking camera look even better than the original. If we're talking about off-the-shelf production cameras available now, this is the best-looking mirrorless camera on the market by a mile.

The Photography

The idea of a camera that only shoots in black and white will sound absurd to most people, which is an entirely rational response. If a luxury rangefinder camera without autofocus wasn't bold enough, removing color from the equation might trigger some people. Still, the removal of coloring offers three key benefits for your photography.

The first is that more light is reaching the sensor. Since no RGB channels compete with the light, the result is just more light reaching a monochrome sensor. For photographers, you have a much higher ISO ceiling (ISO 200,000, in this case) and more dynamic range for your imagery.

The second benefit is the significant increase in the sharpness and detail of your images. Since the sensor is purely reacting to luminance and there's no color interpolation happening, you have a final idea with more clarity than the color counterpart.

Finally, the noise response in these images looks better than what you'd get from a color sensor. There's no color noise, which makes it less jarring in high-ISO situations. Likewise, the amount of noise at equivalent ISO levels from a color sensor is noticeably less here. And because of the increase in detail, the noise responds more cleanly. It's just not as muddy.

Thus, indeed, a no-color camera will be outlandish for most people. But if black and white photography is at the core of your work, the M11 Monochrom might just be the pinnacle of that experience.

💡The Specs:

  • Max resolution - 60 megapixels
  • Sensor type - Full frame BSI
  • ISO Range - 125-200,000
  • Continuous drive - 4.5 FPS
  • Screen Size - 3"
  • Screen Resolution - 2,332,800
  • Screen Type - Sapphire Glass Touchscreen
  • Max. Shutter - 1/4000
  • Internal Storage - 256GB
  • Card Type - Single SD UHS-II
  • Connection - USB 3.2 Type C
  • Wireless - 802.11b/g/n & Bluetooth
  • Battery Life - 700 Shots per Charge
Image from Gajan Balan -  Leica M11 Monochrom First Impressions
Image from Gajan Balan -  Leica M11 Monochrom First Impressions
Image from Gajan Balan -  Leica M11 Monochrom First Impressions
Image from Gajan Balan -  Leica M11 Monochrom First Impressions
Image from Gajan Balan -  Leica M11 Monochrom First Impressions

The Technology

Along with the monochrome look, the sensor has triple-resolution functionality from the Leica M11. You can shoot 60, 36, or 18-megapixel raw files where the sensor readout changes to give you marginally more dynamic range as you drop the resolution.

The Leica M11 Monochrom has received a significant upgrade with its increased internal storage capacity of 256 GB, which is quite impressive. It's fascinating that 64 GB on the Leica M11 was considered a big deal for most photographers just a year ago. However, comparing it to the Monochrom's four-fold increase makes the original camera seem like a gambler who lost everything on crypto.

Of course, this is an exaggeration, but it's amusing how technological advancements can shift our expectations. With 256 GB of internal storage, a modern mirrorless camera like the Monochrom can easily capture RAW images and save them in two separate locations, even during extended shoots and trips. As I noted in my Leica M11 review, it would be great to see other top-of-the-line cameras in the market follow suit and provide users with internal storage.

Another crucial but minor upgrade on the Leica M11 Monochrom is the sapphire glass on its rear LCD. Unlike the standard gorilla glass found on previous M cameras, the sapphire glass is the same material used on high-end watches. Although some may overlook this improvement, if it functions as well as the sapphire glass on my Apple Watch, users won't have to worry about using a screen protector for their camera.

Final Thoughts

I've only had a few days with the Leica M11 Monochrom, and it's piqued my interest enough to consider doing a full review. The majority of the mirrorless market tends to follow a predictable and incremental upgrade cycle. So, when I come across a product as unique and polarizing as this, I wonder where it could take my creative journey if I fully embraced it. In other words, how wide or narrow is the market for a tool like this?

💌 There's More!

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