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Monochrom with Leica M6, M8 and M9

I am not a professional photographer and don´t have to satisfy clients. So I don´t have to rush to see the results right away. That´s why I was question myself, if I really need my M9 or if the M6 would be the right tool for my personal work. I traded my M8.2 for a M9 last month. I still own a digital Ricoh GR, which is so compact that I have it always with me.

The M8/9 files, DNG and in camera JPG, are superior in resolution and shadow detail. I can tweak the DNG files with Silver FX or Lightroom to achieve the look of film and add digital grain. But because highlights, shadows, and tones render differently between film and digital, this cannot be emulated adequately with a software filter.

Depending on the light conditions and dynamic range of the scene, it seems like sometimes you can´t see any difference when viewing on your screen. So why taking all this hustle with 35mm film?

M8 + Summicron 50mm, processed in Lightroom 4.4

If I look at the images, I definitely prefer the rendering of film. In particular the beautiful roll-off to highlights (dynamic highlight range). When it comes to color (which is another topic though) Film also has another advantage over digital that many find hard to disregard: better skin tones. Film grain gives a sense of structure and texture to the image that's more pleasing to my eye.

M6 + Elmarit 28mm, Ilford XP2, scanned on Fuji Frontier
M6 + Elmarit 28mm, Ilford XP2, scanned on Fuji Frontier
M6 + Summicron 50mm, Fuji Neopan Acros, scanned on Fuji Frontier

Photography has an emotional impact and artistic quality for me. The images shot with the M6 have a different character, are timeless and giving me the sense of the moment I captured. The M6 just adds to the sensation of documenting reality. 

Don´t get me wrong, I really like the output of the M9. The CCD-sensors for Leica M8/M9 were developed with Kodachrome slide film as the ideal color look. And black and white JPGs are really good. 

But I also love the simplicity of my 35mm workflow, because in 95% of the time I don´t need to do any post production. I let my film develop and scan with a Fuji Frontier with low sharpening settings. Prints just look great, and even greater when printing in the darkroom (which I don´t do myself).

M6 + Summicron 50mm, Kodak Tri-X , scanned on Fuji Frontier
M6 + Elmarit 28mm, Kodak Tri-X , scanned on Fuji Frontier
M9 + Summicron 50mm, processed in Lightroom 4.4

A few weeks ago, I read a comment which I really like. Unfortunatly can´t remember where it was so I apologize for not quoting the author of it:

Digital files may be closer to medium or large format in sharpness. Which, for certain contexts, may be an advantage. But, when shooting street or reportage, we sorta expect grain, because our visual libraries are built from decades of 35mm or vintage film grain images. If you shoot ‘street photography’ with a Pentax 67, you’re going to get a very different ‘quality’ of image than with a Leica M3. 

Our internal reference tells us that even though the 6×7 shot will be sharper and grainless, it’s somehow ‘wrong.’ The more reference you have, the wronger it will be. Somehow, even an Elliott Erwitt 35mm shot, full of grain and blown up to 36″ x 54″ will be absolutely RIGHT.

M9 + Summicron 50mm, out of camera jpg
M9 + Summicron 50mm, out of camera jpg

All pictures shot with the M6 have no post-production. No additional sharpening. Straight from the scanner! And I will return the M9 to Leica and shoot film for now. But who knows, maybe I go back to a digital Leica one day. Whatever feels right.

Happy shooting.

M9 + Summicron 50mm, processed in Lightroom 4.4
M8 + Summicron 50mm, processed in Lightroom 4.4
M9 + Summicron 50mm, processed in Lightroom 4.4
M9 + Summicron 50mm, out of camera jpg
M6 + Summicron 50mm, Fuji Neopan Acros, scanned on Fuji Frontier
M6 + Summicron 50mm, Fuji Neopan Acros, scanned on Fuji Frontier
M6 + Summicron 50mm, Fuji Neopan Acros, scanned on Fuji Frontier
M6 + Summicron 50mm, Ilford XP2, scanned on Fuji Frontier
M6 + Summicron 50mm, Ilford XP2, scanned on Fuji Frontier
M6 + Summicron 50mm, Kodak Tri-X, scanned on Fuji Frontier
M6 + Summicron 50mm, Kodak Tmax, scanned on Fuji Frontier
M8 + Elmarit 28mm, processed with Silver FX
M8 + Elmarit 28mm, processed in Lightroom 4.4
M8 + Summicron 50mm, processed in Lightroom 4.4
M8 + Summicron 50mm, processed with Silver FX
M6 + Summicron 50mm, Kodak Tri-X, scanned on Fuji Frontier
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