To me, shooting in black-and-white is like listening to opera—I have to be in the right mood and frame of mind. Earlier this year, that mood happened at WPPI, a wedding trade show in Las Vegas. I had arranged a demo Leica from their booth and, well, the lighting at trade shows is always terrible, so I asked for the M Monochrom, then assigned myself the task of shooting Vegas in black-and-white.
What I enjoyed the most about the B&W experience was how lo-fi and tactile it is compared to the latest, at times overwhelming, camera tech. You know, like 20 fps with no blackout, 4K, HDR and so on.
In the ARIA north valet exit, conference attendees encounter, “VEGAS,” one of Jenny Holzer’s insightful LED signs spanning more than 260 feet. The piece displays her thought-provoking phrases, including some from her famous work “Truisms,” scrolling across the LED wall.
The art is a striking contrast to the extravagant nature of Las Vegas, a nod to the neon that made it famous, and envelops the space in a quiet energy. It’s where I took the camera as soon as the trade show floor closed.
Hundreds of frames later, at various settings, a few turned out. As David Schloss wrote in his review of the Leica SL, shooting with a rangefinder is all about precise composition and the elimination of distractions. All the distractions of Vegas fell away as I stood there shooting. Considering Holzer’s work as a backdrop, that’s the truism of the camera—it requires you to engage with it fully.
Shooting with the Leica is how I treated myself to a creative break, and in this line of thinking, I also shared why Doug Menuez switched to Leica. His switch was entirely based on how the camera made him feel, and I encourage you to read it.
For the few hours I spent on a B&W assignment, it sure was satisfying. When the mood strikes me again, I could set any other camera to B&W, but it’s not the same as the Leica. Fujifilm’s have excellent film simulation modes, but the M Monochrom isn’t a film simulation.
That’s all it does.
The 24-megapixel-resolution M Monochrom CMOS sensor produces exceptionally sharp pictures at all sensitivity settings, up to ISO 25,000. Because the M Monochrom has no color filter array over the sensor, it requires no interpolation for the calculation of luminance values. The result is 100% sharper images with detail, contrast and brilliance that far exceed what color photography can do.
You can see that detail in this shot of the Bellagio Fountains. I took the frame using the full visual control via Leica’s Live View function, which provides two focusing methods: the up to 10x magnification of Live View Zoom mode, enabling full control of the sharpness of details in the image on the monitor or the closest focusing distance; and Live View Focus Peaking mode, where sharply focused edges in the image are highlighted by colored lines.
Back to the show floor, this is my fave photo from the experience and when Andy Marcus said, “Hey, is that a Leica?”
Andy was lecturing at the Sigma booth, and I apologized for interrupting him. He didn’t seem to mind, attracted to the unmistakable rangefinder design of the Leica.
It sure draws attention, even with the understated, no-logo aesthetic and black chrome finish.
Look past Andy to the models and notice the depth and clarity in the photo. The Leica Maestro processor throughputs with very little, if any, noise. Leica just updated their firmware to make a reasonably fast processor even faster. Not having to mess with color spaces and white balance in post sure speeds the process along, too. It will shoot HD video in 1080P to complement a still shoot.
If I could afford the $7,550 street price, I’d set out to shoot portraits as my long-term assignment. The Leica would sure make characters pop and make you think about them in tones, shadows, textures and pure luminance.
My current commitment to B&W is only when the mood strikes or the next time under trade show lights. However, looking at the M Monochrom photos again, I wonder about capturing light that’s not within the visual spectrum and what happens when a creative limitation is imposed.
The photographer’s perspective is vastly simplified and thinking expanded, much like Holzer’s artwork. It may seem esoteric, but can translate into the lovely imagery of moments, like this dog on the monorail or a woman making a call with a six-pack at her feet.
To avoid the triteness of a sunrise photo, I don’t often take any, but look at what’s going on with the light in this one taken with the Leica M Monochrom.
While on the topic of B&W, don’t miss Meredith Winn’s how-to this week.
You can follow DL Byron on Twitter @bikehugger