A modern classic camera?


Pay More For Less

The above title is a concept that I am not familiar with until a M9 Monochrom (thereby known as M9M) came into my collection. I always enjoyed the M9 colour version - the weight, the sound, the feel, and the brass. When I found out there is a M9M, the seed to acquire has been planted. One day, my Leica dealer called me up and said he acquired a second hand copy, low shutter count. good condition, for a fair price. I did not want to disappoint him for finding this camera in my favor so a M9M joined the household shortly after.

I have been shooting B&W photos long before M9M: what I really mean is I turn colour pictures into B&W in lightroom and it worked for my workflow. I think B&W photographs have a way to tell the story different. There is just so much more drama, and seriousness to whatever it is about. Thus I was under the impression that a M9M, a camera that only shoots B&W, is somewhat magical or mysterious.

The tech-orientated photographers would explain how the colour layer is removed, thereby increasing this and that to make better pictures. To my eyes: its bullshit! I am sure it does better on paper but a photo from M9M looked no different to a M9 turned B&W. There is indeed a great dynamic range; I could push the details of the shadows more bordering night vision but the end product is not the vision I have in mind. It is slightly unnatural even, to be able to see in the dark in bright daylight. The light blinding our eyes as we exit a tunnel is a natural relatable phenomenon: M9M's dynamic range is unnatural. Furthermore with social media platforms taking a huge bite off the data, only to be displayed on a low bit-depth smart phone screen, I would say there is no detectable difference to an average person.

Some Leica fanatics a.k.a drama queens would tell you its the act of holding one that makes you do better pictures through inspiration. Or the fact that it shoots B&W so you have to compose without colour by force and that is 'challenging'. To me this is again, fantasy talk. I am a photographer and the process where I take pictures should not be affected by the tools in my hands. Just like how I would load an Ilford B&W film roll, a mental note that I am going to create B&W photos is sufficient. The thought that I need to be inspired by a camera is daunting: isn't it the other way round where I have to get an inspiration first, then take a picture? Most colour cameras have B&W profiles to preview the raw files hence it is not challenging to compose right.

So where lies the magic of a Leica monochrom camera?

I think there is no magic in reality. It does not speed up the workflow for raw shooters, nor does it create pictures of another world. It is a great camera to own and to use, perhaps no more than a conversational starter in front of clients. I would prefer a colour camera for professional work simply because you never know if the client would want a colour version of the picture. Hence, the M9M is a personal tool, a secondary camera for moments where I felt inspired to take purely B&W photograph; it is no more speical than a simple decision to buy a roll of Tri-X 400 to use for my own pleasures.

If you have the space and the financial ability for one, grab it, otherwise look away.