When you think of Leica, you probably think of cameras which are built like a tank and feature that famous red dot. But if you were to take a photo of the iconic red logo with the latest rangefinder camera from the German firm, it might not come out as you'd expect … because the Leica M-Monochrom is the world’s first digital rangefinder which only shoots in black and white.

The Leica M-Monochrom is a full-frame 18 megapixel rangefinder which has no color filter array (CFA) in front of the sensor, meaning the camera is essentially colorblind. However, this also means that because the camera doesn't have to split the light into colors and then combine information from adjacent pixels, it produces better quality images. Leica claims the M-Monochrom is capable of producing "true black and white images" that are significantly sharper than those produced with a comparable color sensor and that it has the ability to capture more light.

Leica set out to create the (presumably somewhat niche … even for Leica) monochrome camera after noticing that black and white photography was becoming more popular and reflecting on the legacy of iconic black and white photographs which have been shot on the Leica M-System. It's not the first monochrome digital camera (we still remember the Kodak DCS 760m and there's always the Phase One Achromatic+) but it's being billed as the world’s first digital rangefinder with a full-frame black and white sensor.

"Black and white photography has become more popular than ever before, with photographers continuing to be fascinated by it as an expressive medium," said Jesko von Oeynhausen, product manager, M-System, Leica Camera AG. "With the Leica M Monochrom, we are offering photographers the opportunity to explore black and white photography with a product that is unique in the digital world, producing consistent and authentic results."

Only shooting black and white with its 23.9 x 35.8mm full frame 18-megapixel CCD sensor means the camera boasts extremely low, fine-grain image noise and ISO ranges from 320 to 10000 (rather than the M9's 2,500 limit). Leica has opted to omit a low-pass filter for added sharpness and while it's only capable of 2 fps, there are various toning effects for outputted JPEGs (sepia, cold or selenium). 14-bit uncompressed RAW mode yields 36MB DNGs and users benefit from a raw data histogram for the precise control of tonal values.

Physically the 5.5 x 1.5 x 3.1 inch (139 × 37 × 80 mm) and 600g camera will instantly look familiar to anyone who has ever lusted after a Leica. It has a die-cast magnesium alloy body with brass top and bottom plates and a synthetic leather trim. It obviously takes Leica M mount lenses and on the rear there's a sapphire glass covered 2.5" TFT-LCD monitor with 230,000 pixels.

Available in July at a body-only price of $US8000, the Leica M Monochrom includes digital workflow software, Adobe Photoshop Lightroom, and black and white image processing software, Nik Silver Efex Pro 2.

Buyers also get exclusive access to the "Leica Monochrom Print Service" which sees images from their Leica M Monochrom produced on premium quality baryte photographic papers resulting in prints said to be "hardly distinguishable from their analogue counterparts printed from negatives."

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