30 Days with the Leica M10 Monochrom: Day 3

Alright, I’m going into the third day of this project and I haven’t even talked about the camera…which is kind of the whole subject of this project. Sigh. Probably should have structured this content more deliberately. Whatever. I’m gonna do this thing at my own pace, so random ramblings are what you’re all going to have to live with.

Well, let’s talk about the camera today…better late than never! In my prequel post to this project, I talked about my reasoning for buying a black and white only camera (as opposed to simply switching a “normal” camera to black and white mode) being all about wanting to put some guardrails on my photography to unleash my creativity (this is the whole idea behind “Focus on just one brick“). However, there is one technical advantage to using a camera that doesn’t shoot in color: it allows for incredible low light performance.

The technical reason for this is related to the fact that most cameras have a color filter array that’s layered on top of the sensor. In short, this array slightly degrades image quality and light-gathering capabilities. This degradation becomes increasingly noticeable as the lights go down. Allan Weitz gives a more thorough explanation in his review of the Leica M10M.

Most cameras use a selection of red, green, and blue pixels (generally one red, one blue, and two green) to interpolate the data required to assign a specific color value to each pixel in the final image. In the case of monochrome cameras, every pixel is completely dedicated to recording luminance data and is able to eliminate the color filter array, which increases not only the smoothness of tonal gradations that can be recorded in a scene, but as a bonus, also increases the efficiency of the sensor’s light-gathering abilities. Also, the filter forgoes the use of a low-pass filter for maximum resolution. Compared to earlier-generation Leica Monochrom cameras, the M10 Monochrom knocks out image files containing a far greater range of tonality.

Allan Weitz

This benefit is very cool (in a nerdy way, which appeals to my soul), but I’ll be the first to admit that it’s rarely useful in the real world. Most digital cameras these days can do extremely well up to ISO 6400, which is plenty for the vast majority of real world cases. That said, this camera is able to maintain a very high level of detail without displaying noticeable noise up to ISO 32,000 (according to reviewer David Farkas, who did a very thorough review of the Leica M10M’s low light abilities here. That’s pretty nuts. And while I’m not going around shooting at ISO 32,000 very often, it’s quite wonderful to know that I basically don’t have to worry about my ISO at all. This frees me up to focus almost exclusively on aperture and shutter speed, which are the two sides of the exposure triangle that have creative implications.

Today’s photo shows off the M10M’s impressive low light capabilities. Elle, Herman, and I were relaxing on the couch (probably watching The Office) in the evening after a long day, and in the spirit of capturing the small moments in life I made this frame. This was taken at ISO 12,500, and I actually added some grunge to this image because it was too clean for my liking straight out of the camera. Wild.


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