Photokina 2012 Preview – Malaysia (Part 2)

This is Part 2 of the Photokina 2012 Preview, focusing on the new 2012 cameras released by Leica. Photographs below, unless otherwise noted, were taken with the Leica Monochrom, 35mm Summicron f2.0 ASPH. Read Part 1 here.

This second part review of the Photokina 2012 Preview hosted by the Leica Store Malaysia will also double as a first impressions gear review of the already-legendary Leica Monochrom. All photographs can be clicked for intact EXIF and viewing of the larger version on Flickr.

For a gear review of the Leica Monochrom, the fact that i don’t have a picture of the camera to show is quite poor form. But in a way, it’s fitting because the Monochrom is a camera that doesn’t sell itself on how it looks, but on what it’s able to do, and more importantly, the emotional response it invokes in the user (in this case, me). If you would like to see a more technical review with fantastic pictures of the Monochrom, please look no further than the one written by Ming Thein (in 3 parts, no less), the first installment can be found here.

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Conditions were perfect for a night of photography. Low cloud cover. Combination of soft and hard light. A camera that can blink at ISO6400 without breaking a sweat.

I honestly didn’t think that the Monochrom would be available that night; after all, the attention was to be on the new products. After being wowed by the new Leica M, i didn’t expect another wow to come my way so soon. But isn’t that what they say about good things? – it often happens when you least expect it.

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Shannel Woo, having a laugh and a tickle.

Shannel Woo, our lovely host for the evening, came up to me with the Leica Monochrom casually hanging from her shoulder. It looks like an M9-P and that’s what i mistook it for when i greeted her. But she quickly revealed it to be the Monochrom. Then she asked, “Would you like to take it for a spin?” Of course i said, yes. And i spent the rest of the evening shooting with it, the Leica X2 i had borrowed earlier quickly forgotten into the bag. What an unexpected and happy treat!

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My favourite photograph of the night, Rudy and Camilia sharing a happy moment

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Camilia, in shadows but still bright with a brilliant smile

Being a party and all, in the shadow of one of the world’s tallest buildings, there was no shortage of material. The people were lovely, there was a live band belting out favourite light & easy tunes from yesteryear, and there was a common topic of conversation: cameras and photography.

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Mathieu Musnier, regaling us with tales of Photokina 2012

Mathieu Musnier, a Leica rep from Singapore, explained the significance of a Photokina year to the brand. The new direction for the Leica M, it’s all new sensor, the ability to shoot video and the addition of Live View. The introduction of the Leica M-E, set to help make it easier than ever before to be a part of the famed M rangefinder experience. The new Leica S, a fantastic brick of a medium format camera. And the lovely addition of the Paul Smith Edition Leica X2, lit up brightly with colours and panache.

Once the official banter was out of the way, Shareen Ramli lit up the stage. A beautiful woman with a voice to match. We were humming and singing along with her in no time. Conversation was light, people were happy, and i was sated. The Monochrom is a dream.

Two things about it which make it special for me.

Firstly, the handling. It’s not true that it’s just a M9 with the bayer filter removed. It’s more than that. The shutter release is smoother, certainly. The LCD, so poor in colour, seems more than adequate for B&W previews. Handling is great, great, great. In a way, you forget the camera is in your hands, and all your photos are just recordings of what your eyes see.

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A glass half-empty

Secondly, for a fan of B&W photographs like me, the output produces an emotional reaction that’s hard to quantify. Obviously, this is going to be different from person to person. Some people won’t give two hoots about images that come from a B&W-only camera. Some people might event think it crazy to pay more for a B&W-only camera than the colour version (whose output can be processed into B&W anyways). To them, i won’t really try to explain it. But to fans of the medium, you’ll be able to relate. Imagine the most lovely B&W image you’ve ever taken (and processed), and try to hold the feeling you get as you look at the picture. You’ll get that feeling again and again with the Monochrom.

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Drummer drummer, a cap from summer

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Taking the shot

Scientifically speaking, i would say it’s due to the blacks being blacker, the contrast being stricter, the whites being softer and the balance between the three being very pleasing. Some people have argued that the Monochrom produces flat grey tones. Possibly; i saw it myself in a good number of shots i took that night. But that’s like saying a egg doesn’t taste nice because it’s raw. Of course it would, you have to cook it into an omelette first before you draw out it’s potential. Same thing here.

To continue on the food metaphor, they say that great cooks are only as good as the ingredients they use. The Monochrom’s output out-of-camera gives you the freshest, tastiest, choicest ingredients. It’s up to you to cook the meal.

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Shareen Ramli

I’ll be honest. Life is good to me. I have a happy family, a job i love, and a reasonably long life expectancy, God willing. But i’ll probably never be able to afford the Leica Monochrom. It costs as much here in Malaysia as it does to buy a small car, or to put one of my kids through college. So my admiration for it is from a bit of a distance. I’m happy that i had a chance (and look forward to future such opportunities) to handle it for a few hours. It really is a lovely camera. Not for everyone, but for some it might the camera that ends the need for any other.

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