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Here's what it's like to shoot with the most unique digital camera in the world

Published by Business Insider on Tue, 19 Apr 2016

If you ever want to lose faith in your skills as a photographer, pick up a Leica M Monochrome.Designed to bring a mid-20th-Century feel to 21st-Century digital shooting, this camera is unlike any device you've ever used. Like the premium German brand's regular M, the $7,450 Monochrome is a rangefinder. That means the viewfinder is just a glass port through the upper-left-hand corner of the camera, not a mirror of the image in the lens. So you have to think carefully about the relationship between your lens and viewfinder beforeeach shot.Even more unusually, Monochromefeaturesoneof the few, if not only, true colorblind digital sensors sold in the world.For a photographer whose booked his first shoot the same year Steve McCurry shot the last roll of Kodakchrome, this was not an easy camera to workwith.The M Monochrome is an enthusiast's and artist's camera, built for street shooting and other niche applications. The brilliant underwater and nature photographer Anuar Patjane Floriukbrings his along on trips to Antarctica.A slow black and white device isn't exactly right for theatre shooting, photojournalism, or the other situations in which I'm most comfortable. So I decided to push outside my comfort zone and use it as intended, spending a Saturday wandering Manhattan and trying to make beautiful pictures.Here's the thing: Street photography ishard. When you shoot the news, you have a reason to be there, and it'softenreasonably easy to blend into the background. But turning strangers into art is a whole other challenge; I feel like a voyeur, surreptitiously shooting and trying to remain invisible. Fumblingwith a complicated, unfamiliar camera only serves to compound that feeling.If you're like me, you'll spend your first many hours (or days) with this camera skulking around behind people's backs, breaking Robert Capa's famous rule: "If your pictures aren't good enough, you're not close enough." (That Leica only lent me a long 90 mm lens further encouraged this bad habit.)I fell into tourist habits, defaulting to shots of less judgmental subjects: horses, pigeons, dogs, buildings.But as I grew comfortable with the Monochrome, I began to appreciate the tactile experience of its '70s-style knobs and shutter, the slower and more thoughtful pace at which it forced me shoot, and the altogether different experience of shooting in native black-and-white.In 2016, almost any black-and-white image you see is the result of post-processing in Photoshop or Instagram. The category's taken on the bad aftertaste of kitsch and artsyhipster self-satisfaction. But shoot in true black-and-white long enough and you'll find yourwhole mindset about image-making begins to shift. Throw away vibrance and all you're left with is light, shape, and composition.It feels new and exciting. I started making images entirely unlike the ones I shoot on my DSLR.Leica, arguably the most respected brand in photography, is best known for its glass. And you can see the tack-sharp lines and liquid bokeh (orappearance of the out-of-focus bits of the image) from the $3,995 manual-focus90 mm f/2.0 Summicron M lens I had to work with in these shots.But I was most impressed with the physical sensor of this camera. More than just a standard full-frame sensor with the color drained away, this 35 mmback comes closer to the texture of film than any digital machine I've ever worked with. I could capture incredible subtletyof light and shadow on skin, or deliberately blow out highlights as in the shot above without the jagged, unnatural look of a misfired DSLR.While I can't recommend that most people shell out something close to a year's rentfor what is, essentially, a hobbyist's device, shooting with the Monochrome turned into one of the most pleasurable experiences I've had with a camera. I found myself wishing I could road-trip across the West with it, or take it to some far away, unfamiliar place. Shooting with this camera is just fun.And that has as much to do with theway the Monochrome makesyouwork as it does its sheer quality. You can spend a lifetime as a photographer without street shooting or thinking in black and white. I do recommend wakingup in the morning with the goal of taking a day to yourself to make pictures. Focus on shape and light over colors and landmarks. Meet strangers, ask to take their pictures. You'll find most people are thrilled to oblige, and you'll get to have conversations you never would otherwise.A few more notes on the camera itself: This is one of the better low-light shooters in the world. Images in even the darkest situations come out clear and well-exposed, with a soft, mild grain that again looks more like film than digital.The only major design flaw I found is a menu that seems almost intentionally difficult to work with. I accidentally deleted almost every image in this article with a slip of the thumb before rescuing them with card recovery software.Also, unless you're especially talented with a rangefinder system, you'll likely find action and motion very difficult to shoot. Except in situations where I could pre-focus on the spot where I knew the decisive moment would unfold, it was not easy to time out a well-focused and composed shot.That said, I'll be sad when the time comes to send it back.Join the conversation about this storyNOW WATCH: Here's why airlines ask you to raise the window shades for takeoffs and landings
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