Leica M-Monochrom

Photographer Jacob Aue Sobol captures an emotional trip through Russia in black and white

by Warren Rubin


For the release of the newest Leica M-System camera, the black-and-white only M-Monochrom, Magnum photographer Jacob Aue Sobol journeyed across the Trans-Siberian Railway, stopping in Moscow, Ulan Bataar and Beijing with the camera and a 50 mm APO-Summicron-M lens.

The Leica M-Monochrom is the first 35mm-format commercial digital camera built exclusively for black-and-white photography. With a design based on the M9 and a sleek all-black exterior sans the typical red Leica logo, the Monochrom stands apart with its custom-designed CCD sensor that lacks the typical red, green and blue filters over the pixels. Rather than collecting color data, the camera captures luminance data—the amount of light striking each pixel—which allows it to resolve extreme detail and fine tonality.


Any photographer can make an image black-and-white in post-production, but the Monochrom’s 16-bit capture can detect roughly 65,000 different tones of gray compared to the M9, a 14-bit capture capable of only 16,000 tones. The Monochrom provides a much greater range of tone so that the base data used in post-processing, starts higher. “You have twice as much light reaching the sensor because you don’t have the color filter,” says Sobol, “so there were a lot of tones to work with in the post processing.”


Arrivals and Departures marked not only Sobol’s first time using a Leica, but the first time with a digital camera as well. Artists can go a lifetime without changing their medium, but as he relates, “It was a great experience. If people look at my prints with the Monochrom and you look at my prints taken with film, it’s pretty close.” He typically does high-contrast developing to create his prints, so his aim was to replicate this with the Monochrom. “The reaction I get is that people feel it is my voice and you can see it has my signature.”


On this trip he took close to 1,000 images a day, investing emotion in each one. He says, “I use the camera very much as a mirror, so I feel that with the people I photograph I am photographing a piece of myself. That’s my ambition for people who look at my pictures, that they can relate to some of these emotions and things they experience from their own life.”

As emotionally invested as Sobol is, no laughing or crying appears in any of his images. He feels these emotions would make his images too obvious. Instead, they remain emotionally open to him because, “it always happens to be that there is some emotion that seems stronger. Something that is really vibrating.”


Sobol, an award-winning photographer, plans to go back to the Trans-Siberian Railway to finalize this project. He is also planning a project to photograph twins, as he is a twin himself. He became an associate at Magnum in 2010 and when asked if being a part of Magnum influenced his work Jacob said, “Not really. I don’t think so. Maybe, but then I realized I had to be myself. I am grateful for the relationship with Magnum.”

Visit the website to find out more information and locate a dealer to purchase the Leica M-Monochrom.