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Monday, 10 October 2011


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I'm in. How about every possible B&W filter (and a few we don't even know about) are built right in somehow? Push/pull processes on the dial? Downloadable recreations of classic film grains? And an option for seeing B&W through the finder?

Nice idea. By setting limits you will know what you actually can do.
It is possible to see the world in black and white. I remember years ago when all I did was b/w that I could actually visualize the image without the colors. But it took a lot of films and pictures to get to that point.

I learned how to shoot black and white in the days of film by shooting B/W Polaroid film. It was pretty luxurious, but the advantage was the instant feedback. That was the key factor, instant feedback. My ability to shoot B/W improved rapidly. Normally feedback took a while since I didn't have access to a lab. Having the "on the spot" feedback is just great, so I think the idea of having a black and white sensor or a setting that would create the JPEG in B/W (leaving the RAW file as it is) would be so useful. It would be awesome and I would use it all the time.

I know it's beside the point, but with a mirrorless camera one can actually SEE the world in black and white through the viewfinder. And in a choice of aspect ratios at that. Color is still there, somewhere (although the photographer has a choice whether to record it or not) and all the rest of the benefits that come with a dedicated achromatic sensor (resolution, sharpness etc.) are missing, but I still enjoy seeing the colorless world in a square format sometimes.

For a while I dabbled in watercolor. The best advice I got was to begin by using burnt ocher only and work exclusively with it, getting the light right and only then begin to work in color. I think it's the same idea as learning to see in b/w.
James Beinke

Okay, wacky idea time: What if a little startup set out to modify existing digital cameras? Unlike something like the IR cut filter, the Bayer layer is applied directly to the semiconductor surface itself, so it can't be removed by simply detatching it. It can be removed, however, by polishing.

The Plan: Buy up several hundred premium compact cameras that use BSI sensors (so there are no electrodes on the sensor surface). Obtain suitable facilities and expertise to unmount the sensors from their boards. (I'm not exactly sure how this would be done, but I don't think that a little sodering iron and a jeweler's loupe are going be sufficient.) Carefully disassemble the cameras and unmount the sensors. Send them off to have their Bayer layers ground off without damaging the underlying sensors; I expect that such a thing would be within the capabilities of a custom semiconductor polishing house. Return the sensors to the cameras, put everything back together, and sell the result!

Problems: 1) I'm not certain, but I believe that the microlens array is also fabricated directly on the sensor, so it would be destroyed. Perhaps that would have some consequences for the quality of the final result, but maybe less so on a smaller sensor? 2) The polishing isn't going to be cheap; I might make a WAG at a price of ~$1000 per sensor, based on what I've been charged for custom polishes on some of the oddball optical materials that I work with. That'll mean that the resulting camera will be thrillingly expensive. 3) The software of the camera will still think that the Bayer array is in place; this will likely lead to some comical results as the camera tries to colorize the image. Custom RAW processing software might need to be written to interpret the images sensibly.

So, there's my stupid idea. There are likely problems I haven't anticipated, but it might work.

Actually, a BW-only sensor would work well in a camera like the Ricoh GXR (OK, not a camera like the GXR because there isn't one but you know what I mean). Give it a Leica mount as well and it could be a real enthusiast's camera.

So, if such a module ever goes on sale remember you saw it here first. :^)

Speaking to two themes at once (B&W and cropping), I took a color picture of some dramatic bright cliffs and hoodoos, at Tent Rocks in New Mexico. After (digital) processing, I saw that one of the shots would be wonderful in B&W. I worked up a filter and converted to B&W.

I was very surprised to learn that I had to crop the B&W version differently than the color one (which wasn't actually cropped). There was a large bright cliff mass on the right that worked well in color but was only a distraction in the B&W. However, the uncropped comosition works better in the color version.

Most people who have seen both prints prefer the cropped B&W one.

IMO, darn few pictures (mine or others')cannot be improved by a little judicious cropping.
The situation is not helped by viewfinders which "precrop" one's images by showing only a portion of the actual image taken. Leicas viewfinder crop is 90%, and using an Imarect is a PITA!

Well, you can tell Canon,Nikon, Sony or whoever makes it that there will be two customers for said camera. The word that came to me was discipline. If the camera is seeing in B&W that's what I'll be seeing. I need to be told "No color! Bad photographer!"

Why not just shoot b+w film?

I agree with your argument that there is room in the marketplace for a few cameras that are optimized for B&W, as I see these as being very different cameras than ones that are merely dedicated to B&W; i.e., color cameras with the color function(s) disabled.

I would very likely line up to buy one or two of the former, but the latter wouldn't interest me very much.

I was amused by your comments about cropping, Mike. I've sometimes referred to myself, only somewhat jokingly, as a slave to the viewfinder. Partly because I'm generally not too keen on the dominant 3:2 aspect ratio of DSLRs and 35mm film and still I don't crop to my favored 4x5/8x10/6x7 or thereabouts. Not to mention square. Maybe I could… I mean, obviously I can, but I'd hate the process, and the whole idea of it, and I'm doubtful of what would result.

I understood you the first time, Mike, but the comments were fun nonetheless. Ironically, I fear it's the photo companies that tend to see things in black and white.

I'm in the minority of Leica owners wanting a digital M without the loud motor re-cocking mechanism. But, digital folks laugh at manual 'advance.' Oh well.

At least with Panasonic's mirrorless cameras (I have the GF1 and G3 currently), you can choose 4:3 and 1:1 (square, obviously) ratios to shoot in, as well as 3:2 and pano.


Excellent opinion piece and very refreshing to read before the summers shooting (down here in NZ, as a peripatetic digital B+W shooter myself.

Another potential solution to this problem would be a software hack that forced your RAW converter to only DISPLAY B+W. You would then have the advantages of the Bayer array but no visual cues as to the underlying colour processing. Wouldn't cost much either. Any keen software engineers out there?

Cropping is very analogous to shooting B+W or color after the fact. They both have the mindset of getting the meat and potatoes of the shot, and then figuring out the meal you really want come dinner time. It'll sustain one, but it won't be a meal to remember.

Indeed, I've been following developments in MFT-land keenly and I like a lot of things Panasonic (well, and Olympus) is doing. Odds are my next (digital and not embedded in a phone) camera will be MFT.

I just happen to be one of those cheap bastards when it comes to photography gear (there should be a club!) and after four years with my one and only digital camera (the cheapest DSLR ever? A Nikon D40), I feel very comfortable with it and getting photos to look like I want them to is pretty straightforward.

Maybe when Panasonic and Olympus launch their next generation with even better EVFs? There's a 20mm f/1.7 with my name on it when that happens, Panasonic.

Also, I'm not cheap when it comes to parentheses. Use'em if you got'em!

No, I'm afraid you still aren't understanding what I'm saying. (Sigh.)

I'd try yet again, but....


With regard to cropping, I find it interesting that I have no difficulty "seeing" in B&W despite the fact that I'm looking at a color image, yet when it comes to formats, I can't visualize anything but exactly what is presented to me by the camera.

If Leica offered its digital Ms with 4:3 format rangefinders, I would own one, but as it is, I can't bring myself to buy one with the 3:2 format even knowing that I can crop to my preferred 4:3 format during post-processing.

It's funny how the mind works, eh?

"Cropping is a cruch". May I draw your attention to the photograph "Harold Feinstein then" from yesterday's post "Another Worthy Kickstarter Campaign". Is that camera being held portrait but the finished print landscape...

Isn't the black and white the real heroin? I mean, it is just so easy to take a mediocre picture, change it into b&w, add some contrast and it looks great. Nr 1 recipe to win a contest (just look at WPP).

The biggest problem with b&w is that it lacks life. Life is in color. When I look at my old family photos the color photos are so much more valuable to me than b&w photos, it's incredible.

So I say, b&w should be banned from photography.

Nah just kidding, I have b&w photos in my portfolio myself. I'm not proud of it. I'm weak sometimes.

My point is: b&w is vastly overused these days. It looks simple and nostalgic, it's so easy to score with. Making a good color photo is so much more difficult.

Some people will probably be utterly mystified by what you've written, but it certainly strikes home with me ! When I would occasionally shoot b/w film, I knew when I took a shot, I was shooting b/w. No choice ! It wasn't a matter of determining through previsualization that this scene would look better ... I've never been able to see like that. (I've always thought I'm pretty good at seeing colors; recognizing them and how they help or hinder a composition).

But with digital, just knowing that I have a Bayer array makes me want to shoot everything in color. A dedicated b/w mode wouldn't really help. (My NEX now has such an option, I believe). But I shoot raw always and I've got the color data. Converting after the fact seems like cheating because I didn't plan to shoot it b/w in the first place. (If I had that discipline then I'd happily convert away, but since it wasn't my intent, it's just "playing").

What I think I'd like is a monochrome version of a NEX. They're tiny & cheap. Unlike carrying a spare DSLR body, carrying another one of these is trivial.

- Dennis

Read again. The premise of this whole piece is, "if you're an upcoming digital photographer used to color who wants to really learn to see in black-and-white." Third paragraph (buried too deep?).

It's not at all an argument over which is better.

Besides, if what you say were even remotely true, there would be a lot more good digital B&W out there than there is.


Being a comprehensive nitpicker, I take exception to this:

Because we're weak, and color is seductive.

We are not weak. We are built that way. It's hardwired into us. It's a survival trait.

I think somebody had already mentioned "red fruits in green jungle" around here, but I don't remember who or when. Possibly even me. But here it is again: by seeing colour we were able to find the fruits more often and thus ensured better chances of our survival. It's completely understandable that we turn to colour as the default choice and seek it whenever it's possible. That's also the reason why B&W is seen as more "arty" than colour - it's divorced from the reality as we see it.

Nitpicking over, I would like a B&W camera. At the moment, my best B&W photos are those that were pretty much monochromatic in colour, too.

Stuart Macaulay,
Do you recognize the camera? I don't. And there are cameras that shoot in a native vertical format, for instance the Bronica RF645, the Fuji 645s, and many of the old Zeiss 645s of that era. Half-frame 35mm cameras also shot in a vertical orientation and had to be turned "vertically" to shoot a horizontal.


So....if you want to learn to see and photograph in B&W the limitations of your "Rules to live by..." must be real. Imposed by your choice of hardware. Not imaginary or voluntary.

Perhaps a poor illustration would be of an alcoholic wanting to break free from that addiction. He must not have alcohol in the house with the intention of merely resisting the urge to drink.

Dear folks,

Does anyone here have any experience with the companies that take an existing Bayer array camera and convert it to a monochrome camera (most commonly done by people who want to do infrared photography, but it's easy enough to put in infrared blocking filter on the lens instead of an infrared-pass-only filter).

I know I asked this previously, but I didn't get an answer to the question the first time, and it seems to me that at least one of the TOP's readers must have experience with this.

pax \ Ctein
[ Please excuse any word-salad. MacSpeech in training! ]
-- Ctein's Online Gallery http://ctein.com 
-- Digital Restorations http://photo-repair.com 

Weirdly enough, some years ago I decided to learn how to see in B&W again. I bought Panasonic L1, a dodo of a camera even then, and everyone looked at me as if I were crazy; the little thing that all these nice Canikon folks missed was that L1 has really nice B&W jpeg mode which it can show realtime in liveview. Instant feedback does wonders for learning.
Even today people keep asking me how do I do my black and white conversion - I just vaguely wave this brick like black thing and claim that I have a black and white camera :)

(I also use just one lens (oly 50mm f2) and shoot just BW jpegs, so no raw zoom tempatation exists for me...)


Playing Devil's advocate here to get us a B&W only camera, what would the marketing message be for the manufacturer to present? I think it would be a tough sell if all they could offer was that it did natively what you could do with a color sensor equipped camera (i.e. setting B&W mode in the menu). I think the camera needs more than a mono only sensor to become viable, which isn't to say it necessarily couldn't.


Reasons to build a B&W only digital camera:

1) Since sensors only see tone and not hue, a B&W camera doesn't need the demosaicing filter and you automatically get sharper images.

2) You can use traditional B&W filters, yellow, orange, red, etc. to alter the tones. Do that on a regular digital camera and you'll confound the white balance algorithm.

3)Setting an RGB digital camera to B&W mode doesn't give you B&W unless you are shooting JPG in which case you are losing a lot of data that is useful in post-exposure processing.

4) Why not?

One thing that I'm surprised nobody has mentioned yet: removing the Bayer array should also provide improvements in resolution and noise. I think Thom Hogan has written an article calling for a B+W-only digital camera for that reason alone.

Personally, I can't - or have never learned to - "see" in black and white. I'm from the generation where B+W film was that strange stuff my grandpa persisted in using (until he went digital). I've shot a handful of rolls of Tri-X but never really liked it, so went back to colour. I've tried converting my digital photos to B+W too, and almost never liked the result as much as the original colour versions. So I'm afraid I'm fairly squarely in the "can't relate to your point" camp. Maybe I should try shooting in black and white for a month or two and see if my perspective changes...

Dear Mike,

You're running up against the brick wall of binary thinking.

Suggest that black and white might be a useful aesthetic and that there might be different ways to handle that than are most common today, and you'll immediately get a back-reaction from people who think you're saying that is the only way to do it or that it is a superior way.

There's nothing in either of your columns that can be construed that way (well, except for True Believers who truly do believe there is only one right way and the world is a battleground over it).

Similarly, on the matter of cropping. There is cropping as an adjustment, as a refinement, as a tweak, as a post-exposure tool no more or less significant than any other. I work mostly full-frame, but I am in no way afraid to crop. Probably as often as not I take a modest amount off of one edge or another. Sometimes it's because I don't have exactly the focal length lens I want and can't reposition myself appropriately. Sometimes it's because I have to work too fast to get the framing perfectly correct in the camera when I need to press the shutter. Sometimes it's because I look at the image on the proof and realize that my original instincts when I was pressing the shutter weren't quite right. And, on very rare occasion, sometimes I will look at that proof and realize there is a completely different photograph contained within it which is much better than what I saw originally. Doesn't happen often, but it has happened.

All of which is very, very different from treating cropping as a crutch-- the compositional equivalent of “I can get everything wrong and fix it in Photoshop.” If you need to crop, great, but if you're going into the photograph without some reasonably clear idea in your head of what the final composition should look like, you're really unlikely to get a great photo out of it. And there are, unfortunately, a measurable percentage of photographers who seem to work this way.

For those who are wedded to binary thinking: it's the difference between refinement and the equivalent of buying an 80 megapixel camera, sticking the widest angle lens you can find on it, and just shooting blindly and cropping out the photograph later.

pax \ Ctein
[ Please excuse any word-salad. MacSpeech in training! ]
-- Ctein's Online Gallery http://ctein.com 
-- Digital Restorations http://photo-repair.com 

If we really wanted to learn to see the world in B&W, what would be very instructive to use would be sunglasses that removed chroma and left only luminance values.

And what we would find, of course, is that along with shadow and light, form, and texture, etc - all the things that we think of being important to B&W composition - is that different colors have different luminances.

A very striated, brightly-colored multi-colored flower, for example, may make a wonderful B&W subject, because all that color striation translates into B&W texture and form.

The difficulty or challenge would be in being able to predict just how those different colors will translate into different luminances. And which brand sensor you use, which filter you use, which white balance setting you use, etc might well alter the relationships.

Hence, seeing in B&W initially is a wonderful skill that will allow the photographer to choose and compose his subject and his composition. And this is a skill that can be developed with a B&W sensor - or, indeed, with any of our color Bayer sensors.

But, the ability to then tweak the luminance values of the different colors captured by the color sensor in the B&W module of, say, Camera Raw, so that the finished B&W matches our original vision of what the B&W capture should be - is that cheating, Mike, or is that just a bloody miracle?

I think you overstate the difficulty of "seeing" black and white while using a bayer-sensor based digital camera.

Is your claim that just knowing that the camera is designed to allow the creation of color pictures makes it impossible for you to use it only to shoot B&W?

Consider the following thought experiment:

If you pay me some money I can set you up a workflow with your D700 or whatever which guarantees that you never, ever, see the image in color between shooting it and editing it in Photoshop. Would this be good enough, or would you undermine the process by resetting the camera or processing engine to "color mode", therefore making the whole exercise pointless?

This, it feels to me, is like an argument I have with people who design video games sometimes (bear with me). Some video games allow you to save your game anywhere. Others only allow to save at fixed spots. The rationale for the second design is to enforce a build up of "tension" or "excitement" because the player knows he can't just creep save through difficult parts of the game.

I say that that's crap. If I need to save the game to go do something else at any point and time I should be able to... but, some players apparently simply cannot keep themselves from creep-saving and it takes all the fun out of the game for them.

I think this hang up over black and white is like creep-saving.

Me, I'll continue to shoot black and white in my "color" cameras. After all, I can visualize the black and white in the color viewfinder. That's most of the battle, it seems to me.

Extra note: I also enjoyed the comment on the previous post that noted that even a camera that generated only monochrome images would have to record color information... so, if you knew the camera could be re-programmed for color, would that ruin it too?

My general response is that I think you're slicing and dicing too much. I'm saying it would be nice to have a tool that was designed for the job I want it to do. I do understand that there are workarounds and that we can discuss the finer points of the workarounds ad nauseam, but that topic doesn't interest me especially.


Isn't it curious that Canon found enough users to release an astrophotography-oriented camera (EOS 20Da) but they cannot release a similarly modified BW-only camera?

If someone can cope with low-number batches of special cameras is Leica. The number of M8 ever manufactured is reckoned as lower than 15.000. I wonder if there aren't more potential users in such an unpopulated market as that of BW-only cameras. Never going to happen, though...

Kinda off-topic, but whatever happened to the K-5, Mike?

HCB always made of point of saying "I never crop" which was true because HE never did - it was done by his printer!

One benefit to EVFs, perhaps - visualizing B&W in camera. I've played with it on my X100 - detail can be lost in the finder and I don't think OOC JPGs look that great (they're either too flat or blow out shadows and highlights - but maybe some folks have found a magic recipe), but it is interesting to try now and then.

Off-topic answer, my own problem with Pentax is one I've written about many times...it's that there's no convenient option of a compact 35mm-equivalent or 40mm-equivalent prime. There's no reason people can't be happy with slightly wider or slightly shorter lenses, or zooms, but after many years of shooting with 35's and 40's on a variety of cameras it's just the way I most naturally see and shoot. I tried various solutions but wasn't able to find one I was happy with. Old dawg, new tricks, you know the saying.

The Sony solution isn't very good either (used 35/2 or a massively overpriced 35/1.4 that simply isn't very sharp), but it's a better fit for my preferences.


there are lots of companies that i could see making a b&w only camera, but certain hang-ups keep them from going down that path.

voigtlander/epson: if mr. k ever goes digital (again).
ricoh/pentax: if they can get their act together and focus on being a big fish in a small pond.
fuji: if they ever realize that a small sensor is a small sensor is a small sensor.
kodak: if they ever get over the fact that the glory days are over, and if they don't implode before halloween.
dhw fototechnik (franke & heidecke): hmm...what's going on over there, anyway?

can anybody with insider knowledge comment on the feasibility of making a b&w only camera?

It's curious that no one has mentioned the Kodak 760m, an actual monochrome digital camera that Kodak sold for a while.

See http://www.luminous-landscape.com/reviews/cameras/kodak-760m.shtml

Apparently it was "close but no cigar", though it could take some excellent photos at times.

Several people have mentioned it....


"creep saving". Excellent; some people live their lives like that I think. Thanks for the concept psu.

I'm an avid B&W shooter. Colour is alright but I don't have a sweet tooth and have never succumbed to drugs and alcohol in excess (bingeing aside).
However, it wouldn't be an EOS Fine Art. EOS FArt?
Because, while I'm furiously cropping in-camera on my DSLR wunderkamm - in Raw with Picture Style set to Monochrome and aware that Lightroom will import with a B&W preset thus being a seamless B&W experience - I know somewhere in the back of my mind that if the B&W results don't work out then I have the fall-back of using colour.
This approach gets more of my assignment work published in B&W. Typically, a magazine will commission a shoot in colour. I'll argue that it would suit a B&W approach. They insist on colour. I shoot it and supply B&W and say, "Told you so", or words to that effect. They often agree and everybody is happy. Sometimes, however, they tersely request the colour versions and nothing more is said on the matter.
My point is that the (lost colour) opportunity cost of such a camera would have to be outweighed by its advantages for it to be accepted in the market. And it would be the technical advantages (no Bayer pattern, interpolation etc) and disadvantages like not having post-processing B&W colour-tone balancing (colour filters in B&W but in post) that would ultimately determine its popularity in the committed B&W photographer market.

[[Isn't it curious that Canon found enough users to release an astrophotography-oriented camera (EOS 20Da) but they cannot release a similarly modified BW-only camera?]]

I was going to comment about the 20Da only to find Rodolfo beat me to it...

However, one could argue that, given the one-off nature of the 20Da, Canon did not, in fact, find enough users (for their own economics). Because, if they had, they (presumably) would have released a specialized model again with a later model.

The aftermarket conversions continue (though I do not know how many cameras are converted) so there is some demand, but clearly not enough to make it worth their while.

Among all the 'catnip' fanciers I find there is a chronic dearth of catnip connoisseurs or aficionados. There have been shooters over the years who used colour creatively. For most, it would seem, colour is just a given. It is THERE, like the hinge on a toilet seat. Possibly useful but seldom considered.

Back in the day, I would have clients who would say, "While you are at it, just shoot off a sheet (roll) or two of B&W." I invariably refused, telling them that a black & white picture was not merely a colour picture with the colour removed. It was a different lighting ration and possibly a different compostion. Contrast by colour does not often translate as beautiful tonal separation, for example.

I still shoot B&W film for all the reasons you have been alluding to in these articles. Over a lifetime of commercial and personal shooting I have always worked differently depending upon what film type was loaded. Why should that change with digital? It is not a mechanical phenomenon but a psychological one.

Incidentally, I know it is another point, but I concur totally about 'too many lenses'. My eye has had me gravitate to the 120mm on my 4x5 for general shooting. Shooting live subject in the studio I 'see' in 210mm vision. I do have other lenses, but only for when the initial concept does not work optimally on the 120mm or the 210mm.



My 5D2 has been set for black and white, yellow filter, RAW since I bought it.

I occasionally change the "filtration" in the RAW processor to orange or yellow. Hardly ever change it to colour.

Makes nice A2 (17x22 inch) prints too.

Main limitation is the lenses (35/1.4L, 85/1.8, 135/2.0L), not the sensor.

Ctein, the company that does black and white camera conversions is LDP, aka MaxMax.

Mike, I'm curious why you feel that way about cropping. I crop every photo I take--no exceptions. Horizontals get cropped to 16:10, verticals get cropped to 4:5 (or occasionally 10:16). Printing film in a darkroom almost always involved cropping.

I must agree with Rory, wouldn't it be oh-so-much-simpler to just grab a film camera, load up Tri-X or whatever, and go forth and photograph?

Has everyone become so much of a digital couch potato that the concept of using film in a camera is just too much effort? But of course you'll pine for a B&W [i]digital[/i] camera which will never be made.

Mike, reading your post and the responses makes me happy I have film cameras. Color? No problem. Black and white? No problem. Want a different grain texture? Switch film, no problem. No Moiré patterns, no aliasing, no problem.

"I will refrain from taking pictures of any description, under any pretext whatsoever."

I shoot film too. But I shoot Tri-X 400 at E.I. 200, and I used to shoot P3200 at E.I. 1000 (its actual speed), and I got pretty good B&W indoors with the D700 at E.I. (ISO) 5000. Film isn't entirely a usable substitute for digital.



>In some ways, Saturday's essay "Why Would a Digital Camera Have a B&W-only Sensor?" is one of the worst things I ever wrote.

If it's any consolation, I thoroughly enjoyed it and thought it was one of the better things you've written lately.

As for "the message", I think the ones who didn't get it weren't capable of getting it at that moment in time, so don't feel that you failed. Your points were well presented. Soil has to be properly prepared for seeds to flourish.

I think the key to this is in the word "recognize". We only re-cognize something that we already know, perhaps on another level.


Kodak built a black-and-white-only DSLR called the 760m (A review at Lula: http://www.luminous-landscape.com/reviews/cameras/kodak-760m.shtml)

It had two problems -- it was very expensive, and it didn't sell. I understand that when a rare copy comes up on the bay, it now sells for almost the new price. That may be only a rumor, but I've seen the rumor in several places. I'm not sure, but I think it was based on a Nikon body and uses Nikon glass. If a camera company executive were to read the first sentence of this paragraph, it would look like this: "It had two problems -- it was very expensive, AND IT DIDN'T SELL."

As a very tolerant internet person, I'll give you most of your points, though I'd be happy to sit around and argue about several of them. I have to say, though, that you're flat wrong about cropping, and should be ashamed of yourself for putting it on the list. This is just an old, reactionary position that should be ignored and even fought by right-thinking peoples everywhere.


I have been always wondering and trying to answer myself why my B&W digital photographs are not as good as my film-based B&W photographs? And I am not considering the technical qualities now. Now you have elaborated this to me to some extent.

However it seems to be even more general topic to me. This seems to be about the shift that happened with a born of digital photography era. The shift from PRE-visualizing to POST-processing.

Digital-based photography is well suited for POST-processing. It means that the available tools and workflows allow for the exposure and frame manipulation to the great extent after the photo is taken. This creates an illusion or temptation that making photos is easier, because you can put less effort before releasing the shutter and adjust the frame afterwards, in POST-processing.

In contrary in film-based photography you need to spend much more effort before releasing the shutter. That somehow puts the discipline to us, to watch the frame more carefully, because fixing it later is more difficult, and sometimes not possible at all. You need to PRE-visualize the frame, whether you are aware if it or not.

We all know that "pre-visualizing" is a historical term in photography. Obviously it is an exercise that is making my mind better trained for taking better photographs. But I must say that I am not able to exclude the possibility that some good digital guys here, perhaps without the strong film-era bias, so these guys are able to master the art of POST-processing in the same way and with the equivalent results as Ansel Adams did master the art of PRE-visualizing... Can you exclude that? I must say that I am very reluctant to this art of post-processing but there is also an increasing trend in camera desing into this direction (best-frame selection, focus selection, etc). I feel and fear that the digital photography will develop into this direction in the future more than we can imagine today.

What you think?

Now I am getting back to re-settle my darkroom :o)

All the best!

All I can say is that I'm glad we're seeing all these comments for something other than arguments over the value of one camera vs another.

This stuff counts the other doesn't.

I don't know if some people are deliberately misunderstanding you, Mike, but the whole notion of what you say seems perfectly reasonable. I too am not interested in 'work arounds' and would prefer a broad choice of simpler functionality that offered me a tool I could use instinctively without concerning myself with the feeling that the tool is designed to decide things for me.
I sold my wonderful A900 (my most expensive camera ever) partly because I couldn't take it in the direction I am used to/needed to go - partly due to the unavailability of affordable primes ( I suppose I bit off more than I could sustain, but I was half-hoping for a radical development of the market to provide the tools I wanted and also the software that didn't need a new computer to run efficiently.)
I wonder if camera development will start to take more diverse turns - which I hope - or wether we will be offered the illusion of choice, i.e. more variants within a limited spectrum.
The ability to choose a picture from your camera memory you didn't consciously take, seems to be a significant step that I think will become common and more refined. The whole decision making process is being eroded to such a degree that any knowledge of photography is (misguidedly) increasingly unnecessary - I observe this first hand with people buyng £1000 cameras who have no idea about the fundamentals of picture taking. As these technical advancements take precedence then the 'traditional' concept of photography gets buried and, arguably, craft and insight as contributions to the expression of art, suffer.
Sorry, going off piste.
What some people see as quirks - even irrelevant - , are the very essence of a vibrant future. There are a number of very simple things that the camera industry is falling short in providing, so keen is it to offer us the next best thing: in whose eyes?

But, but...*twitch* I don't want to give up color images! Some things *twitch*twitch* HAVE to be in color. They just don't translate well to B&W. *twitch*twitch*twitch*

'Scuse me. I need to go process some color images now. *TWITCHTWITCHTWITCHTWITCH*


Fair enough. I was just trying to frame your point of view in my head and make sure I had understood what I thought I understood.

I think the reality is that designing a monochrome digital camera might not be all that simple in practice, since, as people have said, you don't really want a machine that only records luminance. Black and white film has a particular spectral response with various non-linearities. So I bet even if the camera were designed for "black and white" it would be more similar to the current color cameras than you might imagine.

Alas, I think the guy who suggested to shoot film has it right for now. But maybe down the road a company or a conversion specialist will listen. The closest I can come digitally is putting my spare and rarely used Olympus 620 into monochrome mode and then writing or painting "black and white only" on top as a reminder. And then only shoot jpeg, so the "candy" is at least removed after I press the shutter button.

On a side note, does shooting ARGB jpegs in monochrome make any difference? I notice if I change them over from srgb to argb in the Oly software, they become more dense and contrasty.

MIke Johnston for President! All I'm saying is, for all the reasons stated in your article, I'm for a dedicated b&w sensor.

Give them a B&W sensor and they will want a cyanotype sensor...

Where does the madness end?!

Mike, I find it strange that people do not get it. It's obvious. Both your articles are very good.

Myself, I also tried to use the BW option in digital, but soon realized that color must not be an option at all. That was about 3 years ago that I stopped bothering about sensors.

I shoot TriX, primarily. I can't turn on color on it. It's the only way to deal with the issue. Eliminate it as an option.

I think most people argue because the truth is uncomfortable. You spend thousands on new cameras to only realize they are useless. It's not how we like to have it.

Mike - I thought I got your point until a couple of your responses threw me. I guess you're making two points?

1) Shooting a black and white sensor would allow one to "see" in B&W while photographing, and learn to take photos that work in B&W - or at least let the absence of color in your photos guide how you see, and learn from the experience.

2) You'd like a B&W sensor so that you can begin "seeing" in B&W like you used to. (And to gain the other possible advantages a B&W sensor would entail.)

If I'm right, then I think psu's suggestion (and some other folks) would work in much the same way for point #1. That's what I think I'd like to try (setting my camera LCD and ACR to never show me a color image), just for the learning. It would definitely take discipline since you'd know you could revert to color, and I can see how that could alter your state of mind and ruin the whole thing. (Which couldn't happen with a black and white sensor.)

As a writer, the "don't crop" advice rings a bit hollow. In the writer's world, that would rather be like suggesting, "don't edit." There are as many writing styles (in the sense of the craft of writing) as writers. Some think until it all gushes forth. Others muse on paper/screen, relentlessly editing as they go. For photography, might the goal be, "strive for the best composition in the viewfinder," (best first draft) and then crop/edit the hell out of it.

Call me stupid, but:

1) Regardless of the camera I use, the world is still in color. Thank goodness!
2) Most digital cameras can be set to take b&w photos; and most of these show a color image through the viewfinder even when set to b&w.
3) All film cameras show a color image through the viewfinder, even when loaded with b&w film.

Perhaps most convincing, however, is Vincent Versace's new course, "From Oz to Kansas 2.0," on KelbyTraining.com. Versace emphatically demonstrates why it's essential to take all photos in color, then convert to b&w in post-processing.

I recently posted a b&w series called "Old Cars in the Weeds." During b&w conversion, I darkened the greens and the yellows to get the look that I wanted. This would have been impossible if the original photo had not been taken in color.

According to the running tally at 1001 Noisy Cameras, there have been 189 cameras released so far this year by major manufacturers, of which 19 have interchangeable lenses.

Your topic for today's essay reminds me of the comment made in one of Brooks Jensen's blogs (this question may have been asked by others in the past as well.)

"If color photography had been invented first would black & white photography have ever been invented?"

I've never managed to get my head around digital black and white, it's always been a bit hit and miss for me. So my work around is to shoot colour digitally and shoot black and white on film. Mind you it still takes me a few rolls to get my eye back. Luckily I tend to have phases where I shoot nothing but colour for say 6 months and then nothing but black and white for another.

I know it is not the ideal solution Mike, and I understand where youare coming from with your wanting a monochrome digital. If such a beast existed I would buy one straight away.

Why not just shoot b+w film?

Because then you'd be tempted to pull out the film half-way through the roll and put in some colour film. Couldn't resist that, but it highlights the flaw in the argument of this article: "It's the discipline, stupid."


Mike, I don't see why a custom firmware or RAW processor couldn't be written that would take the RAW sensor data and not apply color information to the processed file. Just turn that data into luminance values.

It's not like the sensor is really seeing in color anyway, it's just counting photons at each photosite.

What I do when I really want to shoot in B&W is to use my Fuji superzoom. Since it has a B&W mode, and an EVF, it really helps to be able to see the scene without the color. Many people online poo-poo this, but IMO, seeing it when you are taking the picture is worth far more than completely accurate tonal conversions in post.

Neither one of us are in a position to put our money where our opinions are, but I'd bet that if Canon, say, put out a competent B&W-only version of its T3i, at nothing more than a small premium over the cooking version, it would be a good seller for a niche product. Just my sense of it.


Meant to comment on the "rules to live by" too, but forgot.

* Settle on one axe.
I like the idea, but only as an ideal. Even if I stuck to one DSLR body, I like different cameras for different purposes ... so my DSLR for somethings, NEX for others (though I'd be thrilled if my NEX were much closer in behavior to my DSLR than a cell phone !) and a p&s for others. I won't even pretend I'll ever settle on one axe.

• Have a clear project with defined goals and ideas about the end result.
I acknowledge that this would lead to better results, but I can't reconcile with it. I don't seem to have that passion to photograph some particular theme ... much to the detriment of my so-called portfolio. For me, maybe it's just tourism.

• Settle on as few lenses as possible.
I'm trying to do this, but unfortunately will never get there. But I'm a firm believer in having a lens for everything I do and a use for every lens I own. (I'm not there; I have a selection of lenses waiting for me to get around to trying to sell them). The lack of "one axe" complicates things, because even though my DSLR kit is almost firmed up, I have my NEX ... sigh.

• Never crop.
I believe in trying to get the composition right in camera and in having the right lens to do so. I don't shoot with the intent of cropping. I regularly straighten & tweak/crop (sometimes changing aspect ratios) in post. But while I believe in relying on raw to avoid making some decisions at capture time (WB primarily), to me there's no real point in pursuing photography if I can't identify the composition before I press the shutter. (One reason to crop is shooting sports & tracking a subject with the central AF sensor; I get the AF benefit; I get the subject recorded by the sharpest part of my wide-open tele; and I crop after to put the subject off-center).

Having striven for the full-frame ethos for many years, I've been doing more and more commercial and publicity work in the last year where I've really had to force myself to think about leaving room for alternate crops: worrying about whether the background is clean enough to run text over it (here's where the rubber of bokeh hits the road), and if there's enough space for logos, and thinking "will it work cropped 2:1 as a headliner in our e-blasts?", or worse, "can I use this both in the e-blast and in a one-column print ad?", or "can I crop part of it as a thumbnail to use on our website," and "are we doing the brochure horizontal or vertical next season?", and "I really intended this as a square, but it just doesn't read as a square in any of the layouts we're doing," and "if I include this interesting detail off to the side, will the photo editor at the newspaper just crop it out anyway and make my shot look fuzzy by blowing up a smaller section than I'd planned?"

Shooting for the fine print--yes, try to use the full frame, but when layout and other interests are involved, be prepared to crop, I'd say.

"but when layout and other interests are involved, be prepared to crop, I'd say."

David (Dennis too),
Yes, I'd say all these recommendations go out the window where professional photography is concerned. Pros can't afford to be purist, they have to be prepared to do everything and anything.

But this is in part why amateur photography has suffered lately, because the pro has gradually replaced the art photographer and especially the photojournalist as the paragon most admired by amateurs.


I think were back in the golden err of B/W photography myself.....A little history: from the 70's when we shot a couple or three bricks of Tri-X a month and a couple rolls of E-6 film for the three or so times a year the newspaper ran color on the section fronts. Now in the 80's with new presses and more color we shot more E-6 film (alot of Fuji400). We didn't get to crop our pics in color and the art directors loved looking at whole frame on the light table in color and they cropped....so out with my favorite lens...the Nikon 180 2.8 and bought a 80-200 2.8 zoom to do some better cropping in camera, since the use of enlargers were not used by the photographers in color, just B/W.... color printers and editors were more in the work flow. Now the early 90's color negative film took over or both B/W and color in the papers...and scanning the film for either B/W or Color use. The photographer didn't get to crop so much as the editors did from little fax copies with red lines marking the size. 1996 was the switch to digital, (AP's Nikon NC2000) and many painful years later and we now have a deceit bunch of digital camera for color and very good B/W software (Nik Silver Efex Pro 2) that brings back the look and feel of the darkroom again without a wastebasket full of $$$ paper. I really enjoy B/W again and cropping if I like without waste......Printing it is another story.

Forgive me if others have mentioned this but Pete Myers purchased and wrote about his experiences with a Kodak 760, which is a Nikon with a Kodak monochrome sensor.
I believe that without allocating resources to the colors the actual "pixel count"of the sensor is rather dramatically increased.
I may not understand or agree with everything you write but on this issue we are in complete agreement.


You're bang on. Several times, I've gone out to shoot B&W with the camera set to show B&W previews but to record raw files and ended up converting at least one of the pictures back to colour.

It's not a disaster but for one thing, it means you're right about the deep-down temptation of colour (for me, at least, and I'm not even good at colour). Another thing is that, it stops me from getting better at B&W. Removing options is the key, here.

I often look at one particular picture with bemusement: I took it only because I was shooting B&W and can remember thinking it was something that just wouldn't work in colour, I loved the preview that the camera generated, which looked like what I'd imagined but better, and I liked the initial Lightroom conversion that, automatically run on import.

Today, when I see the picture, which is in colour, I remember the B&W version that I visualised, created and, without even knowing why, discarded when I couldn't resist peeking to see what the colour version looked like. Habit?

And, for the record, I remembered none of this when reading your earlier column so thanks for trying again.

I had something of this experience last night processing the latest batch of my underwater photographs. There i was busy doing colour corrections on what are essentially B&W shots. Damned colour output.
Underwater, colours are all messed up & I find myself seeing in B&W. Stupid camera is getting in the way of that.

I'm away from my computer for two weeks ( starting a week ago ) and am only able to read and ciment with my iPhone , so thit will be brief.

If you want to get your color digital camera to act more like a film camera loaded with b&w , try setting the white balance with a magenta card instead if a gray card, and setting the camera to save b&w.

You will match the spike in green sensitivity found in color film, and you will have less of a problem of blowing out one of the r g or b channels.

Typing with one thumb preclude going into detail , but it works for me when I want it.

I will probably never master black and white visualization, but I'm pretty sure I understood you the first time, Mike. Then again, I agreed with you on this before you wrote these articles.

Still, it's odd how people can take an idea that explicitly applies or appeals to a small minority of people, and passionately object to it the grounds that they are not one of those people.

Regarding cropping: I very often shoot with a 40mm lens while looking through an M2's 50mm frame lines. I struggled for a while trying to guesstimate the 40mm f.o.v., but now I generally frame using the 50mm lines, knowing that I will get some slop, or that when I can't fit everything I want into the 50mm frame, the lens will see around it some.

That also happened with the Canon 20D's slightly cropped viewfinder--it frustrated me at first, but I learned to appreciate the extra margin, especially when I was using a prime lens and didn't have the time or space to back up a step or two.

However, whether I later crop the image precisely the way that I framed it in the finder is a post-processing (or printing) decision.

@Bill Rogers: doing that in post from a BW file would have been impossible, true, but I propose that a true BW-head would have used filters to get that effect (perhaps blue or magenta?).

I was thinking about this while walking in a near-full moon last night, remembering that the human eye sees low light levels in monochrome because it has rods that see in monochrome and cones that see in color. Since there are 18X more rods than cones, the eye is more sensitive in monochrome, as in near darkness.
So as I walked, the world was visible but monochrome.
But in daylight, we see in brilliant color.
I shot B&W when I was getting started 50 years ago because it was so much easier to process, but moved to color (ektachrome) when I could process my own color.
That's because I don't think in color except at night.

All this discussion leads to a few thoughts on my part:
1. If you got what you asked for you'd still want to be able to change the B&W film style (although that's not what most of you would call it since you never shot Plus-X, Tri-X or Royal-X Pan (which I shot in 4X5) or Ilford too - to know that ISO/ASA speed, color sensitivity and grain are variables in color film.)
2. If you shoot a rangefinder or SLR, you view in color. If you do that and shoot B&W, why can't you learn to see a picture on a monitor and convert it to B&W? That's what I do. I see a photo and the bulb lights up and I say "That would look better in B&W" and I spend more time screwing around with conversion than I would with most color shots.
3. Ah, finally, addiction. I bet most photographers are addicted to using all the options on their camera, digging deep into the menus to change this, that or the other. Just choose the B&W option, but I bet you can't do that - there are dozens of other "art filters" to play with.
The recommendation is to go "cold turkey - use all those options to customize the camera to how you like to shoot and leave it alone. I now shoot Oly M4/3s and the only thing I routinely mess with is exposure compensation because I know how I like my cameras to work and I set them up to work exactly like that. I really don't change things any more than when I shot a M2 Leica 50 years ago.
What I do is concentrate on the picture I want and let the camera be my assistant - and it's damned good at it!
Then when I see the result on a monitor, I can decide how I want it to look.
But since this is a meeting of "Photographers Anonymous," I must admit my addiction: "I'm a photographer who is addicted to zooms. I've tried to break the habit several times by buying really good primes, but I keep going back to get my thrills from the "zoom!"

I do agree with you, Mike.
Shooting B&W and converting to B&W is not the same matter. It's all about the difference between you look at a subject then think that it could be B&W, or know it will be B&W. You cannot escape the limitations when you shoot B&W film, you are basically force to skip the color stuff and to look for something really specific. The camera and the roll of film sets your mind to B&W mode. If it does not, you will fail and learn. B&W film is even more punitive.

If you are used to your color to black and white workflow with complicated channels mixing and adjusting, it probably won't make a difference. It would be a forced learning tool.

Most artists thrive with limitations. Many painters could not afford all the pigments in the world, photographers cannot afford dream rigs, when you draw, some things cannot be done at all, and so on...
You set the limits, then you exploit what you have.

From some of the comments I sense a dimming of the photographers eye and a gleam in those dependent on software technology to 'create' a picture. Why is there such a reaction from some to a notion that would diversify what we do ? The best/only black and white option is to convert from colour ? Those suggesting this simply do not understand what is, evidently, a minority view.

"But this is in part why amateur photography has suffered lately, because the pro has gradually replaced the art photographer and especially the photojournalist as the paragon most admired by amateurs."
That is spot on, Mike. As a small indication, by far the most sought after equipment at the moment from amateurs is for long (semi)pro lenses to 'do what the pros do', (and some think they can). Amateur art photography is in the doldrums.

@ our Mr. J: "the pro has gradually replaced the art photographer and especially the photojournalist as the paragon most admired by amateurs"

Maybe it's because of the plethora of magazines that tell you how to "shoot like a pro" when they should be telling you how to shoot like an artist.

Mark Hespenheide: "I'm not even a black-and-white photographer, never really have been, and I'd probably buy one if it were under $2000. Just to learn for a year, and push myself."

Would it not be cheaper to just shoot B/W film instead? Obviously there are difference, but if you were only temporarily interested in B/W, you could do so at virtually no loss if buying a used film body and lenses then selling afterwards. In comparison to the massive depreciation digital would take.

That is my thought anyways.

Yes yes yes!

If only the Leica M9-P had a black and white luminance sensor and a mechanical shutter cocking lever…sigh.

"Would it not be cheaper to just shoot B/W film instead?"

I've suggested just that in the past.



A little OT. While reading these comments I remembered one of my favorite conversions from color to black and white. It was a picture of an apple in grass by a photographer in Wisconsin. This photographer may have mumbled something about making prints of said picture and offering them for sale. Have you heard anything about this?

Jim :-)

I'll stop cropping when I get a camera that has a 3:1 format sensor.

I've been primarily a B&W photographer for 30 years. All I shot and printed in my darkroom was B&W. With digital cameras I still do B&W and I like setting it to B&W mode and composing in B&W, for all the reasons Mike listed.

However, I would not want a B&W-only sensor because it would be making all the tonal conversion decisions for me. It was Ansel Adams who (I think in response to a question about black skies) emphasized that his pictures were his artistic interpretation of what he saw, and that he claimed the right to do that just as a paint artist has the freedom to interpret a scene.

I LOVE the ability in Photoshop's B&W conversion tool to interpret the image in a way that my artistic senses take me. A B&W-only sensor would rob me of that artistic freedom. I don't want Canon/Nikon/Oly/Sony/Panny/Fuji whatever, making those decisions for me.

I enjoy way more artistic freedom with digital than I ever did with film. I'm not eager to give it up.


"I enjoy way more artistic freedom with digital than I ever did with film. I'm not eager to give it up."

Then don't. Evidently you missed it when I wrote, "As I keep saying, I'm only talking about a small group here, a minority." I tried to be clear about this, even lingering on the point too long to try to help it sink in.

One commenter even called me a fascist, evidently under the mistaken impression that what I want to do is FORCE my choices on EVERYONE even against their will. I don't know how else to try to communicate this: that's not the case.



About cropping my thoughts exactly. Sometimes I know while pressing the shutter that some edges will have to go. But I don't usually crop. I keep the format and use Transformation -> Scaling and Transformation -> Perspective to do that in GIMP. Of course you sometime have to take into account some degree of scale (round object should stay circular for instance) but that is done easily. That way all my photos have the same aspect ratios which sort of looks good on a wall. Oh, yeah and I clean things up quire a bit as well and I also know that when I press the shutter. The last thing I do is to use the 3:4 aspect ratio of the GF1 as a technical camera, by shooting straight and then reducing the shot to a top 3/4 16:9 or shooting portrait and turning the top part into a 1:1. Instant shift lens without the hassle of a real shift lens.

Thanks for the re-write Mike as I hadn't realised the full impact of temptation!
I thought that if the image worked in B&W you wouldn't have the desire to peek at the colour version, and if it didn't work it was unlikely to become good by changing it to colour - this was based on me working mainly in colour and if it was naff it was equally naff if converted to B&W.
The images I take which work as B&W are either already monochrome (ripples on a sandy beach with side lighting, tree roots, rocks), or strong shapes/patterns which override their colour (rows of beach huts etc - do you even have those in USA?).

So; is there any consensus on what people want in a B&w camera? EVF in B&W? DSLR to use existing lenses? 4/3rds with fixed prime or fixed zoom? small for street or large for landscape? inbuilt filters (instead of WB options)?
Can a B&W camera be made easily at the manufacturing stage by leaving bits out and a software change? or does it have to be a ground up redesign?
I'm not sure if Canikon would take the risk but smaller manufacturers might, esp if bloggers, focus groups etc were all saying the same.

I like when you do a rewrite as it gives responders a further insight and allows you to add their initial responses and thoughts to your new post.

best wishes phil

I was thinking if a company wanted to test the waters on a monochrome only camera why not try one of the smaller cameras first Think of a Panny LX-5 or even one of the new Nikon V1. Give it a best possible "standard" prime (35,40 or 50) and I think the thing would sell. Or (my favorite) Fuji could offer a monochrome only x100 (X-100m?). That camera just screams for this kind of treatment. Not knowing the technical side if the images could be significantly superior to the color sensor that would be a plus.

The Monochrome Eye

This idea would seem to be a natural for the Ricoh "everything interchangeable" system.


>Evidently you missed it...

I didn't miss it, I got it the first time, as I indicated in my earlier comment.

However this comment section has taken on a life of it's own and has become an interesting thread among it's participants and I've enjoyed reading it. I added my remarks because it's something that hadn't been touched on by anyone else and is an important consideration. I knew it was OT from your original message and that's why I didn't address it to you at the beginning.

You know that photography is akin to religion and politics among the great unwashed. A single word or phrase can touch off an avalanche, which seems to be the case on this one. I'm enjoying this thread very much and have actually learned some things and gotten some new perspectives. In that sense what you started is now serving a broader purpose and I appreciate it. It's one of the best comment sections in a long time. I feel badly that it's still giving you some angst. I hope you know we all love your writing and appreciate your efforts. I look forward to TOP every day.


Another automotive analogy, you can't learn to drive a stick shift by putting your auto box in manual shift mode. You are losing something and gaining almost nothing.

The temptation on a normal Bayer camera is to simply convert to B&W only when you feel like it, or compare the two and see which you like. This is not, as Mike says, the same as having only B&W to start with. Nor is it the same as having a camera that is optimised for the medium in the first place.

I don't just want to throw away colour, I want to gain something useful in place of the colour. I want an advantage I can positively exploit, not negatively reject.

More DR, more grey shades, more resolution, less noise, less lens aberation, no moire etc.

I do not think B&W is intrinsically better or more artistic. I love colour, it turns my head. I get heartily sick of people thinking B&W = art. It doesn't. Much of the time it just means "retro".

But I have seen a lot of B&W shots taken on film that simply would not have worked in colour, or could not even have been captured on colour film because B&W film had unique capabilities that made it a fully valid choice in its own right.

No, what I want is a thoroughly up to date re-birth of the B&W medium in digital - one that could exploit the astronomical potential of a digital array unencumbered by filters and redundant processing.

Digital B&W potentially offers the same advantages over a Bayer camera that B&W film offered over colour film, only moved four stops up the ISO scale. The possibilities are making my shutter finger twitchy...

If the method works for you, then have at it. But I've always failed to understand this whole "I need the tool to remove options so I can focus" ethos. Perhaps that's why I'm not a Mac person as well.

have two fundamental camps been revealed in this discussion: photographers who see black and white as an option during image processing, to apply or disregard depending on a pictures merits, and; those for whom black and white is integral to the way they see and wish to express themselves ?
Do actors forums debate wether it is worthwhile to still 'tread the boards' when all the available technology may suggest that that's not necessary any more ? - I don't know if that analogy makes sense but the thing that most concerns me as a recurring theme that arises from such debate is that a lot of people do not see choice in your means of expression as important. How the hell would a black and white sensor rob you of artistic freedom ? The assumption is staggering.
Is the architecture of Photoshop enough to provide you with all the choice you need ? Others prefer to make the prime decision during point of capture: during the moment. We all make decisions to the final look of a picture, but for some there is a desire to have a linear connection from capture, through medium to output: the essence of black and white that some commentators just do not understand. Would someone seriously suggest that drawing pencils are unnecessary, when you could sketch in colour and scan to black and white later ? I do not understand the sentiment to not have something that quite modestly broadens our means of photographic expression.

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