Leica M Monochrom – performing recovery on my exposure mistakes

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A few nights ago I was doing some long-exposure work with my camera, and I had manually set the ISO setting to its lowest setting (a fairly high value of 320 compared to other cameras). I usually use Auto-ISO on my camera, or manually set my ISO pretty high (800-6400).

Yesterday I decided to go for a walk in my hometown, and I brought the camera as I usually do. I rarely have any photography goals set when I go for a walk, and I really enjoy the act of making photographs – even bad one’s – just for the sake of making pictures and practising on composition. I almost never use the LCD display on my camera at all when I am out walking – I prefer viewing the files when I get back home.

Anyway, I assumed that my camera was set to Auto ISO up to 10000 (which is my default setting) and I manually selected my shutter speed (1/250) and set my lens to f/4-f/8 (depending on the scene). It was a very overcast and grey day. But my ISO was set manually to 320 and I used a yellow color filter which effectively reduces the exposure of 1 stop.

I didn’t notice that my photographs were severely under-exposed until I came home and imported the files to my computer. Oh well – might as well just delete everything – I thought – until I decided to check if I could actually recover some of the images and make them look decent. At ISO 320 the MM captures a whole lot of data in the shadow areas, so why not play with the files and see how much could be recovered? Here is the results:

Example 1 – before:

Example 2 – after:

The exposure on the first image was pushed +4,05 stops in post. The shadow areas was also pushed by +15. There are no noise reduction applied to the raw conversion, and I have sharpened the file as usual.

Example 2 – before:

Example 2 – After:

The exposure on the second image was also pushed by +4,05 stops and the shadow areas was also bumped up to +15. Again – no raw noise reduction at all and the file was sharpened as usual (my settings are 50-0,7-50-0 in Lightroom).

You can easily push the files even further without getting into trouble. At ISO 320 I’d say you can easily push the files +5 stops which is the current maximum in Adobe Lightroom. You can also bump the shadow details as well to effectively increase the exposure even more, and if the small amount of noise bothers you just apply about 10-20 of noise reduction in Lightroom to remove most of the visible noise.

So if you ever make the same mistake as I did – don’t delete your images even though the exposure is way off! As long as you are using a fairly low ISO setting the useable dynamic range captured in the MM’s files are incredible. I’m not sure if it is worth using high ISO settings with this camera (as you loose dynamic range as the ISO setting is increased) compared to under-exposing by using lower ISO values and pushing the files in post. I think I’ll have to do some experiments with this in the future as I am currently doing a lot of night time shooting.

See my in-depth review of the Leica M Monochrom here
Leica M Monochrom review – a real life usage review – part one
Leica M Monochrom review – a real life usage review – part two