Ending 2016 on a early monochrome tone
The end of one year and the start of another is always an excuse for a bit of introspection, the wonder at the speed with which the old year has flown away, the anticipation of a whole new year of experiences.
For Macfilos 2016 has been very much a Leica year as usual, with the SL, the Q (Leica’s surprise star of the show) and the basic no-screen M-D. I love all three of these cameras, the Q and the M-D especially. It has also been a time when I moved to micro four-thirds as a second, lightweight system and experimented with the Panasonic Lumix GX8 and the Olympus PEN-F. These are excellent cameras and the outstanding range of automatic lenses, including the Leica DG range, adds a great deal of pleasure to the experience. Somehow, though, I fail to bond with other systems as I do with Leica. Leica is always something special.
Despite the launch of the M60 Edition in 2014, the production version, the M-D, came as something of a surprise. Yet it was an instant hit and I have thoroughly enjoyed using it. Never once have I wished for a screen to chimp or organise; never once have I felt disadvantaged by the simple controls which exactly mirror those of a film camera: Aperture, shutter speed and ISO. The M-D feels like a film camera and about the only nod to the digital world is the ability to change the ISO from frame to frame. With film you are stuck with the speed of the chosen film for all 36 exposures.
Which brings me back to the M9. I am finishing 2016 with a most unlikely camera in my hands — a first-generation, M9-based Monochrom. I owned it three years ago, shortly after it was launched in 2012. Later I tried the M246, the Mk II Monochrom based on the M240, but I still hankered for the relative simplicity of the original. A couple of months ago I bought another, mint-condition Mk.I Monochrom from Red Dot Cameras in London and I have been wallowing in nostalgia ever since.
As Leica’s first monochrome digital camera the Mk I is now becoming something of a classic in its own time. Despite its modest ISO performance, lack of live view, pathetic rear screen and out-dated 18MP CCD sensor, the Mark I is still capable of great results and still inspires confidence and affection. I have quite a few experienced photographer friends who have made the backwards trek from an M240 or M246 Monochrom to an M9 or first-generation Monochrom.
As a last outing for 2016 I took the Monochrom along the river, from the Middlesex/Surrey borders to the heart of the city on the south bank. The misty, rather gloomy atmosphere is just perfect for the Monochrom.
As usual, however, DNG images from the Monochrom are exceedingly flat and uninspiring. They just beg to be brought to life in Lightroom or (in this case) Silver Efex Pro. I have deliberately developed these shots to be harsh and contrasty to bring out the detail from the mist. Not everyone likes this treatment, I know, but I feel it adds a sense of drama. It all comes down to a matter of personal taste.
One thing that is clear with the Monochrom, both the Mark I and Mark II, is the impressive dynamic range that allows improbable levels of detail to be extracted from underexposed areas. This is fortunate, because the camera (especially the Mark I) doesn't deal well with highlights and it is always important to avoid overexposure. I normally underexpose the Monochrom in the certainty of being able to bring out the shadow detail later.
Life moves on and I am looking forward to more new Leica experiences in 2017. I’ve cleared the decks and am eager for a new, lighter and thinner M next month or soon after. I think this new camera will be a natural successor to the M9, especially if it carries on the old naming convention, either M10 or M11. If this happens, the current M240 will come to be seen as an oddity, an interregnum in the long line of rangefinder classics.
Our thanks to all readers for helping make Macfilos into a successful yet specialised site. 2016 has been a good year and we have built up a very loyal readership, many subscribing to our daily bulletin at 6pm London time on weekdays. In the coming months we will be writing more on Leica, Fuji, Olympus and Panasonic and I will continue to look at two opposite ends of the productivity spectrum — from the latest in Apple products to the tradition fountain pen and notebook. Both have a secure place in my interests.
I wish all readers a happy and successful 2017.