Shooting in Black & White… repeat Shooting

lone cactus

I’m presently intrigued by the recent announcement of the Leica M-Monochrom digital rangefinder camera.  In short, it’s a camera that shoots only in black & white.  Only.

When I first heard about this, I thought: why would anyone want to limit themselves to shooting only with black & white?  Why not shoot in color, particularly in RAW, and then leave yourself the ability and latitude later to convert, particularly as Nik and Topaz Labs make such effective conversion algorithms?

Well, apparently, there are two reasons.  The first is technical and there’s no way I’ll be able to explain it better than the geniuses at dpreview.com.  Here’s what they have to say about it:

Removing the color filter array from the front of a sensor has several advantages. There are certainly benefits in terms of noise, mainly because all the light hitting the sensor is available to be captured, rather than just one color being allowed through to each sensor location. But also, because noise isn’t spread by a demosaicing process, the noise pattern doesn’t appear to muddy detail. These two factors see the camera’s maximum ISO increase to 10,000, rather than the M9’s 2,500.

However, the biggest advantage is resolution – each captured pixel gives one output pixel, with none of the detail-blurring combining of neighboring data that demosaicing inevitably brings. As a result, the M-Monochrom immediately trumps even the low-pass-filter-less M9 for sharpness. Given the reputation of Leica lenses, this has immediate appeal.

Bottom line: there are technical benefits to a monochrome (monochrom as Leica would have it) sensor.

The second reason is more esoteric and one that is being debated on podcasts and in internet forums as we speak.  It pertains to the simple idea that shooting and seeing only in black & white is freeing, that it allows the artist to concentrate solely on contrast and composition.

So, I’ve been thinking about setting my camera to black & white (using its JPEG processing engine) and seeing whether this “seeing” is all it’s cracked up to be.  I’ll let you know…

By the way, the above photo was taken with an Olympus OM-D E-M5 in Phoenix, Arizona.  I’ll be posting an OM-D user report soon.

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7 Responses to Shooting in Black & White… repeat Shooting

  1. Prentis Drew says:

    Rey, Leica shooters have always had a love affair with black and white. It is not surprising to me that Leica would come out with this product. It will appeal to the M Series B&W film shooters who kicking and screaming are finally making the transition to digital. But to take advantage of all that detail that the special B&W Leica sensor is capable of it will be important to have those super sharp German lenses to go with it. It’s going to be pricey to say the least. I suspect for us normal folk, going through the color conversion to B&W will be as good as it gets when using equipment that isn’t priced in the stratosphere. Based on your sample shot that will be plenty good.

    Deliberately shooting in black and white does change your point of view though. Think Ansel Adams and Henri Cartier-Breeson.

    • Rey says:

      Thanks, Prentis. I suspect you’re right, that the M-M will demand the summicrons and noctilux’ to really make it sing. I’ll stick to the poor man’s version (Fujifilm X-Pro 1, which I’ll also be reviewing soon).

      Rey

  2. Frank Villafane says:

    Impressive shot with the OM-D. Can’t wait for your review…

  3. Prentis Drew says:

    Man, you two have a lot of cameras. Just wondering, do you get them from manufacturers to review on this site, or do you have an over the top camera fetish?

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