B&W ISO Showdown: Leica M Monochrom (Typ 246) vs. M Monochrom (M9) vs. M (Typ 240)

Sep 22, 2015  By David Farkas

During my testing of the new Leica M Monochrom (Typ 246) in NYC and New Orleans, I was blown away by the camera’s high ISO ability, so I wanted to see how it stacked up against the original M Monochrom based off of the M9, as well as the Leica M (Typ 240) when converted to B&W.These kinds of tests are never easy or clear-cut and there were some obvious challenges. I’ll address these and how I decided to handle them.

M Monochrom (Typ 246) vs. M Monochrom (M9)

There is a resolution difference between the earlier M9-based M Monochrom, which I’ll refer to as the M9M, at 18MP, and the new M Monochrom (Typ 246), which I’ll call the MM246, at 24MP. Others might have uprezzed the M9M up to match the MM246, but I feel this can actually have a detrimental effect on image quality as we’d be doing some non-integer scaling. Such scaling can create a loss of per-pixel acuity. Also, if you have read my thoughts on uprezzing before, you might recall that I’m not a huge fan, even when printing big. My preference is almost always to output files at native size and let the printer driver handle the scaling. So, I decided to leave each one in its native size. You’ll see the resolution difference in the comparisons. Please keep it in mind when making your own evaluations.

M (Typ 240) vs. M Monochrom (Typ 246)

The M240 is a color camera and color images converted to B&W don’t always translate to a monochrome capture, but I think you’ll find that my B&W conversion, the default one in Lightroom with some small tweaks, did a pretty decent job of matching the overall look of the MM246.

The M240 also tops out at ISO 3200 for its normal range, and up to ISO 6400 in the PUSH range. You’ll notice as you look at comparisons higher than ISO 5000, I’ve used ISO 6400 on the M240. I could have deliberately underexposed once I hit the ISO wall on the M240 and pushed in LR to achieve higher “equivalent” ISOs, but I felt that most users would stay within the confines of the operating range. The same is true for the M9M, where the range stops at ISO 10000. For ISO 12500 and 25000, I used the ISO 10000 export.

The Test Setup

My goal was to provide a broad range of tonality and textures in my test setup. I also wanted something a little nicer than crayons and figurines, so I settled on a creating a food still life. Admittedly, I don’t have much practice arranging or photographing tabletop compositions, so this image won’t be gracing the cover of a major food magazine anytime soon. Additionally, the food setup had the distinct disadvantage of wilting when using fresh veggies like I did here. So, re-shoots were out of the question. On the plus side,we have lots of natural textures that can give a better idea of organic subjects like the ones you’d find shooting outside.

The scene is set up in our conference room. The overhead fluorescent lighting was turned off. All the light for the scene is coming in through windows in front of the set up. The windows themselves have the vertical blinds mostly closed. The idea was to create even and diffuse illumination, not affected by moving clouds. Luckily, the sky was totally overcast, yet fairly bright during the duration of my test shooting, so this never ended up being a concern.

The cameras were all shot from the same position on a Gitzo tripod using Really Right Stuff bottom plates. This allowed me to use the same quick release clamp for minimal movement between cameras. The same lens, the astonishingly good 50mm APO-Summicron, was used on each camera with the focus set at the exact same distance, with all exposures taken at f/11 to maximize depth of field while avoiding diffraction. To eliminate any camera vibration, I used a self timer for all shots.

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David Farkas
David Farkas is a self-admitted Leica junkie and an avid photographer since he was seven years old. He also owns and operates leading Leica dealer Leica Store Miami in beautiful Coral Gables, Florida with his wife Juliana. David has years of experience shooting with just about every Leica camera and lens made within the last few decades.

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