A Very Black And White Decision

Comparing Monochrom Mediums: The Leica Monochrom Typ 246, Leica M7 + Tri-X, and M Monochrom.

I won't be too wordy here, considering I am more interested in the pictures a camera makes than specs on paper. 

Leica Trifecta: Typ 246, M7, M Monochrom

Leica Trifecta: Typ 246, M7, M Monochrom

So lets get to it. After many years and quite a few "upgrades" in using everything from Canon 6D's to Nikon D810's, Mamiya RZ67's, and Fuji XPro-2's (among many others) I decided that it was time to find a camera that could do everything I needed. I wanted stop worrying about things that had nothing to do with the pictures I make and focus solely on the shot. With this in mind, I decided to go back to what made me fall in love with photography and start shooting exclusively in black and white film. Then, one fateful day, my local "drug" dealer (Mike at Wings Camera in Atlanta) called me to let me know that a Leica M-E (Streamlined M-9 with a 'nicer' shutter and less moving parts on the outside) had found it's way into the store. I rushed right over and played around with what I thought I was in love with. Mike agreed to let me take the camera overnight to test out before taking the plunge and everything started out beautifully... but then the sun set. Past ISO 1600, the M-E was all but useless. Needless to say, this relationship would never last as I like to go out at night and wander quite a bit. 

Reluctantly, I took the camera back to the store and told Mike that, while the M-E made amazing pictures during the day, it completely fell apart at night. He nodded, took the camera from me, walked over to his desk and from the bottom drawer, pulled a minty-looking little black rangefinder. Simple and clean in its design with "Monochrom" printed inconspicuously on the top of the hot-shoe. "This is what you need, then!" I switched the camera on and clicked the shutter button once. That simple "click" was all i needed to hear. The Typ 246 clearly had a much more nicely damped shutter than the M-E.

Again, I left the store with a new camera in hand but this time was different. 

Channing Holding the original M Monochrom. Shot with the Leica Typ 246

Channing Holding the original M Monochrom. Shot with the Leica Typ 246

Long story short, I have now owned the Leica Monochrom Typ 246 for a little over a month and have gone out to shoot every single day with it. The files that come out of this little black and white only camera are rich and solid. This past week, however, the original "M Monochrom" showed up in a nice shiny silver box at Wings Camera and I got curious. "The previous owner decided he wanted to upgrade to the Typ 246 like yours so he traded this and a few other things in." Mike told me. 

Could the Typ 246 really be THAT much better? I needed to know. 

I took both cameras out, along with my M7 loaded with Tri-X and decided to see if there were any real world differences. Of course, on paper, all three cameras have their strengths and weaknesses but for those of us who actually make pictures, those bells and whistles don't always matter. 

Some Key Differences: 

Without all the tech stuff you can google

M Monochrom (2012)

  • 18MP black and white only CCD Sensor
  • Crappy 2.5in LCD
  • Quiet shutter with obnoxious winding noise
  • Decent battery life for 1/2 - 3/4 a day
  • No buffer! Continuous shooting is a pain in  the ass... but thats not what Leica's are for

Typ 246 (2015)

  • 24MP black and white only CMOS Sensor
  • Much nicer 3in sapphire crystal LCD
  • Nicely damped shutter
  • Enough battery to shoot all day
  • 2GB buffer for shooting sports if thats your thing

There's a pretty clear difference between the FEELING of film and digital but in terms of tones, both Monochrom digital cameras seem to render pretty nicely. 

Now, here's where I started to notice a difference; HIGH ISO. Both the original M Monochrom and Typ 246 make amazing pictures at ISO 3200 and 6400 but the Typ 246 has a clear advantage past ISO 6400. The files from the MM seem to be quite flat as the ISO rises. 

Typ246 @ ISO 10,000

Typ246 @ ISO 10,000

Of course, the big question is why would anyone want to spend $7000+ on a camera body that ONLY shoots black and white? Well, I can't speak for anyone else but personally, I have two reasons: 1- I added up what I spend on B&W film and chemicals + the time I spend developing and scanning and the Typ 246 just makes sense. The second reason is that there is just a certain magic in the camera that gets me out of bed in the morning to go shoot and that's the most important thing to me. Of course, it's not my only camera but it is the only camera that I'm using right now. 

There is ONE advantage that I can see with the older M Monochrom; it's files do seem to be ever so slightly sharper than the ones from the Typ 246. But maybe that's just to me. 

At the end of the day, I think I'll stick to using my Typ 246 for the foreseeable future. It does what I need, I can take it with me anywhere... and for me, black and white just feels right.