Leica M246 weighs in at 680 gram with the battery included. The new version of Monochrom is about the same weight at the previous generation which featured an 18 megapixel CCD sensor. The weight and the feel are very similar to Leica’s other rangefinder series cameras with all metal die-cast magnesium body with brass top and base plate marking distinct characteristics of Type 246. The new Leica Monochrom is available in black color with synthetic leather grip.
This minimalist and discreet appearance with the omission of Leica logo and script from the front of the camera or the top plate is continued with Type 246 model. Ergonomics of Leica rangefinder cameras is also maintained with the latest Monochrom model keeping only the most essential of the dials within easy reach for the user.
One of the main differences on the top panel is the addition of M button which functions as the on and off switch for video recording. The previous version of Leica’s monochrom camera did not feature any video capabilities nor the ability to use electronic viewfinder or Live View function for recording images.
The bottom of the camera has the all familiar bottom plate which allows access to the battery compartment and the memory card. New battery in Leica M246 is larger than the previous model and provides extended use of the camera per battery charge. The first version of Leica’s Monochrom only allowed about 400 to 800 photographers per battery charge, the all new M246 allow between 800 to 2000 photographs to be taken.
The back of the camera has new additional buttons placed from the previous version of Monochrom with Live View and four-way controller featuring a button in the middle for easy access to information about image or battery condition and more. A scroll wheel is placed for use to scroll through various options available with the new model. The other buttons like Play, Delete, ISO and Menu are maintained as in other digital rangefinder cameras in Leica’s lineup.
Camera’s rear screen is very much improved with a 921.6K scratch resistant sapphire screen which allows for viewing of images instantly. The display can be set to allow the option to view the photographs when taken or remain off during photographing. The 4-way controller with black scroll wheel is more discreet than Leica’s M240 which is another improvement on Type 246.
On the front of the camera, a viewfinder frame selector switch can be found which allows the possibility to manually change the apparent image field to help visualize the scene with varying focal lengths. Leica type 246 does allow lens M-mount lenses from 16mm to 135mm be used on the camera while the newer 6 bit digitally coded lenses allow metadata to be transferred to the camera.
As always Leica’s M246 is a manual focus only camera with the classic rangefinder functions, but an addition of focus aid is a much need new welcome to Monochrom. Although the learning curve still exists for those who are new to Leica’s rangefinder cameras with time focusing and the use of buttons becomes second nature.
The omission of color filter array and optical low pass filter makes Leica M Monochrom a dedicated black and white camera recording only luminance values by forgoing the need for color interpolation to capture images at the highest sharpness, clarity and resolution in full frame digital format. Leica uses Maestro image processor which is the same processor used in their top of the line M series cameras which affords a sensitivity range from ISO 320-25000 with a buffer size of 2GB which surpasses the previous versions of all digital cameras offered in full frame format by the company.
Among the various improvements in Monochrom camera is Leica m246’s live view function which automatically activates when focusing with focus peaking showing the in-focus and out of focus areas with red, green or blue lines around the subject. This coupled with the magnification function serves to help capture images in critical focus. In live view mode, focusing is entirely manual while the focus is peaking and 10x live view zoom aids to ensure critical focus.
The much-improved quality of the LCD screen is another point to mention, as many buyers of the previous version of Monochrom found the LCD screen on the back to be of little use for viewing images in detail. Leica M Monochrom M246 boasts a larger 3′ inch LCD screen on the back while the previous version had only a 2.5′ inch low-resolution plastic screen. Pixel quality is improved more than four times while the lower quality plastic screen is done away with by the new scratch resistant sapphire glass providing higher quality for viewing images captured by the camera.
An electronic level display can be utilized to ensure consistently level horizons and plumb verticals while the use of Live View function or electronic viewfinder allows viewing of what the final images are going to be like before shutter is pressed.
One other improvement that is worth mentioning is the ability to use the electronic viewfinder (Leica EVF2) which allow focusing without the need to align squares in the original viewfinder window. This helps Leica M246 Monochrom to be easier to use especially for those who have difficulties with their eyesight. For those who wish to adhere to the classic rangefinder design, the Type 246 still incorporates a 0.68x optical viewfinder with split and superimposed manual focusing, automatic parallax correction, and manual image field selection.
In the new Monochrom M246 video recording at full HD 1080p at 24 or 25 fps is possible thanks to the sensor and processor combination. Type 246 does have an onboard monaural microphone for audio recording, in auto, manual, or “Concert” modes but for capturing stereo sound, an optional external stereo microphone must be purchased.
On the top, a dedicated video recording button known as the M button can be used to start and stop video recording which is also a new feature in Leica M246 Monochrom. In the front of the camera, a focus peaking button is located within easy reach of finger distance which allows critical focusing to be achieved either in live view mode or with a use of Leica EVF2.
The menu is simple to navigate through as the setup is identical to M240 digital cameras with CMOS sensors. Placement of ISO button allows easy access to much used ISO settings in one touch. Play and delete buttons also help to view images captured by the camera while the 4-way navigation button at the right side helps to keep the back of the camera relative clutter free from multiple buttons.
While the camera is set to capture images at high ISO setting of 12500, for those who wish to use the camera at ultra low light situations ISO can be pushed up to 25,000 level. Noise level at ISO 12,500 is high but due to the omission of Bayer filter for color allows the images to have only ‘noise’ from lumination. At ISO levels above 3200, a film like quality can be noticed as the ‘noise’ levels increase to give that grainy contrast of high ISO black and white films of the yester years.
Photographs from the new Leica Monochrom show that shades of gray and black are well preserved which renders images much like the medium format cameras of the past black and white era. Improved dynamic range of M246 will not only allow photographs taken with the Monochrom to surpass those captured in color then converted monochrome via software but will also set the standard for full-frame monochrome photography.
The previous version of Leica Monochrom lacked speed because of the limited buffer size which meant that the photographer was limited to the number photographs that can be taken at one time. Leica Monochrom 246 features a 2GB buffer which results in a vast improvement in the number of images that can be captured in succession while benefits of CMOS sensor helps the camera to capture images at three frames per second up to 30 frames.
Leica is still the only manufacturer of dedicated monochrome digital cameras in the market which is surprising knowing the success of the first version of Leica Monochrom would have initiated other camera and lens manufacturers to play catch-up with Leica. How the camera market will shape in the coming year remains to be seen as Leica continues to make products that perform and sell well to a niche market segment.
Whether you are in the market for a black and white camera or not, Leica has managed to create a market for monochrome cameras which allows the company to set the prices freely. The new Leica Monochrom type 246 is expected to sell at the same price range as their flagship rangefinder camera M-P 240.
Leica Monochrom type 246 comes with a 2-year warranty from the factory, and a free download of Lightroom is also available for editing photographs. The camera supports languages in German, English, French, Spanish, Italian, Japanese, traditional Chinese, simplified Chinese, Russian, and Korean.
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Oz Yilmaz – Leica Review Team