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Saturday, 08 October 2011


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How much of a premium do you think a vendor can get for an existing camera that has the firmware modified to always force B&W conversion? I propose calling this model the Cilice.



While I agree with everything you said about how people see and take advantage of their camera's capabilities, I don't agree that there is not also a technical aspect to B&W sensors. There have been experimental version of B&W sensors developed. I know I've read articles about them, although I can't seem to find a link for you. The advantage is the lack of an RGB array, which provides significantly higher resolution for a given pixel count in much the same way as a Foveon sensor.

If Leica made a special edition B&W M9 I would buy more lottery tickets.


It's a shame, cause such camera would have better resolution due to lack of interpolation & about 2 stops better noise performance.

Better served with quality EVF.

Oh, I've complained about this issue a time or two!

What I would like to see is something very simple, almost trivial. I'd like to shoot the image with the color information in the file--but I never want too see it. That is, I want the file to be in RAW or whatever, with all the color data intact. That way I can apply "filters" etc later on. But I want my LCD display to be in B&W, I want to see it in B&W in Aperture and Photoshop.

This is important: I never even want to glimpse it in color.

Why can't there be a "B&W Flag" in the file that all pieces in the software workflow will notice and obey?


I agree, but it would irritate all the black and white shooters who like black and color channel manipulation. There still would be a way to do it raw style, though, if you had agreements with the major converters that the raw files always show up in black and white.
I like shooting black and white jpegs, actually, and don't mind at all throwing away all that precious extra digital information if I get a shot I like. The digital filters (red, green, orange, yellow) work well in some cases. I could see the appeal of such a camera. Sounds like a good hack for old ones, like when that GF1 of yours gets too long in the tooth, send it away to some guy who will make it impossible for you to shoot color with it.

I cannot see B&W sensors happening, it's just too costly. But start crusading for open-source firmware, and you might end up with a lot more than you can imagine.

Not only would it be an affair of minutes to make any such camera a monochrome gadget, but it would just allow for menu clutter elimination, and lead to the development of better user interfaces. Not to mention the ability to have multiple personalities for your hardware...

And those are just appetizers, there's really no telling how creativity would ultimately express itself!

Having recently conceived and shot an exhibition of B&W images entirely on colour negative film (Ektar 100) I think it comes down to whether you photograph with a purpose, or just to see what you get and/or can make of the results. The latter approach has never been particularly fruitful for me.

The issue is conceptual and it's not hard to divorce your seeing from that of the film/sensor. Even if I only ever did B&W I still wouldn't be interested in a B&W digital camera as I'd lose the enormous creative control that post-shot filtration allows.

I get the distinction you're so clearly defining. But in the "before digital" world, dedicated B&W photographers worked with cameras that presented color images in their viewfinders/ground glass. It's only their B&W film that couldn't record color. The dedicated B&W film photographer of yore learned to see in grey scale in spite of his/her equipment. What other choice was there? In saying that B&W-only digital cameras are necessary you seem to be implying that we've lost something we used to have, and that this loss is depriving a small set of artists a necessary tool. I would suggest, instead, that a B&W-only camera might be a nice additional tool made possible by digital tech. But I'm not sure it's essential, given the track record of all the past and current dedicated B&W film photographers.

NOTE: Please note that earlier comments were responding to an incomplete version of this article. —Ed.

One could build a B&W-only camera with a full-color sensor. In fact, you can get fairly close to that with most of the digital cameras I have used -- shoot jpeg mode, B&W, and what you see on the screen is B&W and what's stored on the card is B&W; you have no access to any color that might once have been associated with the image. The actual tech of the sensor used doesn't matter, there's no mystical connection going on. You can change on the fly -- but then, you could with film, too.

With only modest discipline, you could shoot raw mode B&W, too; at least on my cameras, that displays B&W on the screen. You would have to avoid any urge later to examine the color available in the RAW file, though. Maybe run it through a batch conversion to tiff, and work from there; only going back to rework specific shots for highlight recovery if absolutely necessary.

@ Darin said:

"What I would like to see is something very simple, almost trivial. I'd like to shoot the image with the color information in the file--but I never want too see it. That is, I want the file to be in RAW or whatever, with all the color data intact. That way I can apply "filters" etc later on. But I want my LCD display to be in B&W, I want to see it in B&W in Aperture and Photoshop."

It seems to me that this already exists in most if not all cameras that shoot RAW files. You set the camera to record RAW files plus BW JPEGS (choose RAW+JPEG as the file type and BW as the "film/style type"). The BW JPEGS are displayed on the camera LCD for review. You then import only the BW JPEGS into your software of choice for sorting, rating, etc., and save the RAW files to a separate folder without looking at them unless/until you want to for some reason such as converting them a certain way to BW or producing a color file. In this way you only see BW images when your shooting and when you are reviewing your shoot.

"There comes a point where increasing quality becomes no longer mass-marketable..."

This is so true. And we're seeing it in all shape and form. Focusing on what is most profitable leads to reduced choices and oversimplification.

Giants in the food inductry are now focusing on the "big three" (Rice, wheat, corn) and neglecting other food crops. This will lead to problems later on, the size of which is unknown at this time.

LuLa has a review of Phase One's monochrome digital back here: http://www.luminous-landscape.com/reviews/cameras/achromatic.shtml Quite pricey, but interesting.

Uh...ok. I don't know if I completely follow your lengthy treatise, Mike. But I think I get the thrust of its main propulsion?

Who can say whether or not a b&w-only digital camera will appear at the enthusiast level? My own bet is not, as today's cameras continue to expand their in-camera jpg processing power and features. Yes, I know that will never be good enough for those who lust for the ultimate but tough nuts.

There is, in fact, a pro-grade b&w digital back. It's Phase One's Achromatic+ which has been out for over a year. Its main market is scientific imaging and I doubt that many of its limited unit numbers are sold outside that boundary. But it's out there if you want it.

As I do remember, digital camera sensor is already "BW", the thing which makes it colourful is some mask. So basically what needs to be done for , is get unmasked sensor and modify some chip software.
I guess there should be plenty such sensors in factory waste bins :) And I could easily bet that some engineers already has such cameras.
Do I understand correctly that unmasked sensor would have about x3 bigger resolution?

I can speak only to my current camera, Canon G9, which has a B&W option, that also puts the LCD into gray scale. RAW or JPG. No difference in discipline than only using B&W film, though the gray scale LCD is different.

Not sure, other than tech advantages, the gain in a B&W sensor; discipline is still needed.

My present alternative is to set my digital camera to record only in black & white. If I can live with the EVF or an LCD screen for composition, I can then see as the camera does. Not sure whether this is the best present alternative for ultimate image quality at the highest level, but it has worked so far to train my eyes to better see the world in black & white. The longer I do photography, the more I am of the opinion that all of my worrying about getting the best technical image quality over 45 years of taking pictures, is taking a back seat to my evolving love for the emotions I feel when looking at most of the great photographs from times-past, when technological perfection, relative to today's standards, just did not exist.

> It's why I can't buy a good toaster.

Toaster oven or slot toaster?

Two things I would *love* to see in digital cameras, neither of which I *expect* to ever see:

(1) Interchangeable sensors. Getting dark? Pop in your specialized high sensitivity/low noise sensor that works great in low light but maybe isn't so great in regular light. B&W mood? Pop in your B&W sensor. Most people would stick with one, but it would be brilliant to have the choice of carrying several or at least of picking the one that suits your sensibilities.

(2) Self-configurable menus. Not by jerking around with the buttons on the camera back, but by uploading a configuration file to your computer where a nice user-friendly GUI lets you drag & drop menu items around until you have menus that make sense to you. You can bury (or even remove) all the silly functions you don't care about and arrange the frequently used ones at the top where you can find them easily. Re-download to your camera and bingo, customized menus.

Yeah, I know. Dream on.

That was a throughly enjoyable piece. Thanks for that.
One can remember parallels in the film era. The real photos came from large format cameras which evolved (read degraded) into medium format and later into roll film cameras. Is it not a bit like the sound files "evolving" into MP3 formats? The final "MP3 format" of the film photography came in the form of 35 mm and the half frame cameras.
Did the 35 mm shooters look down on the large format shooter? I am pretty sure some must have done that too. Just as some cannot "see" the difference between an MP3 file and vinyl disc.
That is the end result of lacing of technology with democracy. It is bound to happen in all arts based on technology, however small the participation of science.
It happened in painting.
Oil colors gave way to acrylic and so on.
Call it paradigm shift if you like.
Ranjit Grover,
[email protected]

"What's not trivial is learning how to see in B&W."

To me that's the key here. I've never really accepted the idea that somehow you have to learn to see in b&w. So which b&w do we mean then - red filter, blue, green, yellow? Let's dig out our glass filters or get coloured lenses in our specs! Remember Photoshop allows you to apply more than one b&w adjustment and convert selected parts of an image. We're far better off starting out by making the best colour image we can shoot, and then applying using that colour channel information in post processing to choose the b&w that best expresses what we want the image to say.

I think shooting Black and White "in camera" is fun.

I started as a B&W shooter by necessity - I couldn't afford color film and processing. With B&W I could do it all at home. Later, when I had more cash, I tried carrying two cameras, one each for B&W and color - briefly. Since I didn't always know in advance which I wanted for a particular image, that was a clumsy but (barely) workable solution. Then I had an AHA!! I started shooting everything on slide film. In the darkroom I would make 4x5 internegatives for those images destined to be B&W. I could crop, use filters to shift balance, and do dodging and other mods on the interneg. I would often make 3 or 4 negs from a singe slide. Highly educational as well as fun. Now in the digital/Photoshop era I can do essentially the same. I still make lots of B&W images as well as color, sometimes both versions of the same image. Experimentation is much easier, and I don't think that makes the results worse.
If you know in advance that all images for a shoot will be B&W, then a dedicated B&W sensor makes sense, especially if it gives better resolution and gray scale. But for my style of shooting, where I don't always know in detail what I will want in advance of getting to the site, it would be back to the clumsy 2 camera/swap lenses/on and off the tripod/shoot with both if you think you may want both/ or just can't decide which will be better/ days. I still love B&W, but I like to keep my options open for what I may find when I look at the images on the screen. After all, the final image, print or on screen, is the product that defines your concept. To all but some "techies" the process is irrelevant. The results are what count.

Umm... there have been cameras which operate in black-and-white-only mode. The Olympus C7xx series from 2002-2005 did so. Now, they were electronic viewfinder models, and used some internal algorithm to map to B&W, but this did provide a B&W-only camera. Exposure and mapping were very consistent shot-to-shot.

Video cameras also operated B&W-only for a number of years, so the technology and sensors exist.

This seems beyond impractical for "students... for their training and education." Choosing to buy only black and white film, whether rolls or sheets, is a far cry from having to buy a dedicated B&W camera. Especially, since similar results could be achieved with only internal disciplines and possibly an adaptation to already available software.

So, in absence of the accountant's nightmare, why not:
1) Create B&W presets for your camera. A high-contrast version. A medium contrast version. A low-contrast version. Shoot using one of those. Your LCD review will show you only the monochrome image.
2) Might be cool for someone to develop a Black and White Only RAW processor. So, you'd never see the RGB versions. Or...
3) Simply have the facility to adapt/install a patch for Aperture or Lightroom that accomplishes the same.

The whole Bayer thing.... Sensors, if they're not already, will soon be good enough (for me) that this isn't an issue. I'm reading rumors that the next high-end Canon and/or Nikons may not have AA filters. The Leica already omits it. I was already 'satisfied' by what the 5D2 gave me. I could be 'happy' with the next generation, with more resolution and no AA filter. That, and a way to never see the color versions of the files - just like committing to a black and white film - that's all i could hope for.

As much as i love monochrome, even if i were a Jobs heir, i don't think i'd be interested in a mono-only camera. I understand that some people might, but the degree of advantage would really have to be demonstrated to me, and i'd still have to factor in the level of sensor development six months to a year from now.

If it's going to happen, i could see it happening with a MF back, and the cost of development would be commensurate with the price. Super high. And, if someone really requires that 1% of quantitative benefit, they probably require the largest sensors possible - not one stuck into a '35mm' body.

A B&W-only viewer would be a very nice tool for those like myself who only shoot B&W film as well as for those digital shooters whose goal is B&W fine artwork. I'm training myself to recognize appropriate subjects, but such a tool would be an excellent visual check.

"We're far better off starting out by making the best colour image we can shoot, and then applying using that colour channel information in post processing to choose the b&w that best expresses what we want the image to say."

You're not getting it. You don't understand what I'm trying to say.

The writer always has to take some of the blame for incomprehension, of course.



If I set my Canon 5D to B&W and RAW it shows me a B&W image on the LCD. When I import them on the computer with Canon software it shows up in B&W - it is that simple (don't know for other camera makes though).
And even if I use Lightroom I can record a preset for B&W at import and bingo, again I see my images in B&W only.
For what I read, there are actual technical differences in a B&W sensor as some have pointed above.

One possibility could be that a camera manufacturer offers a "B&W app". Installing it would mean the camera only views and records in B&W. This would be software only and not an optimized sensor - but probably enough considering the high resolution of modern cameras.
Many years ago, in the film days, I shot only B&W, but developed allergy to fumes from chemistry. I had to change to slides and color. Now, with the digital lightroom, since ten years, allergy is not a problem anymore. - But I have not been able to re-develop that sense for B&W - yet.

I would agree with Mark above. B/W photographers have always had color viewfinders, and the seeing in B/W was in their brain. A learned and refined discipline. The thing back then, was that their was not a color image distracting them on the LCD on the back of the camera. So if we ignore the viewfinder, we can create a B/W camera by either not viewing the LCD, or setting the default "Picture Style" to B/W. Produced JPEGs will be in B/W, and if shooting RAW (recommended) most image viewers will display the image in B/W because they use the embedded JPEG inside the RAW to display the image. When using a product like Lightroom which shows the embedded JPEG briefly until the RAW data is developed, it is simply a matter setting a B/W preset when importing, and a color image will never be displayed (unless desired later).

If we now couple this capture workflow to cameras like the new Sonys and Nikon J/V1 and all the other mirrorless cameras that use an EVF, even the viewfinder can be set to display in B/W.

So in fact, in terms of the creative capture process, we already have the B/W camera in our hands, and better than film cameras because the image can be composed and reviewed in B/W.

Of course my argument completely ignores the quality and noise improvements that removing the Bayer filter array would bring. But as others have pointed out (putting aside the resolution and noise improvements), the current B/W sensor (they are all B/W except for Foveon) might give mode control by having 3 different channels of information to control, which cannot be reproduced exactly if there were only channel.

Michael Tapes

This prompted me to try something I've been meaning to try. I set my GF1 to its B&W Standard "film mode" and took a few pictures (still shooting RAW). Then I imported them into Lightroom using my Grayscale develop settings preset.

Here's the result: The camera's LCD screen shows the images in B&W, both when shooting and when reviewing. The preview JPEG's included in the RAW files are also B&W, so the pictures show up in B&W on the Lightroom Import screen. And applying the Grayscale preset during import gives full size B&W pictures in the Lightroom Library. At no time in the process do you encounter a color image. Pretty cool.

If this kind of thing isn't enough, then I think you are right. You are out of luck.

Hi Mike
My early years were B&W but the viewfinder was always colour so it was difficult to convert in my mind, but got the hang of filters after a while.
I assume with a B&W electronic view finder it would be easier, especially if you had filter buttons so you could see in the EVF an immediate effect of say a red filter on a sky.
Unfortunately, due to the minority nature of your need I think the best you can hope for is a setting in camera/converter that allows your work flow to only be visible in B&W. (But I'm not sure I see the difference between converting a colour viewfinder image to B&W vs a colour file to B&W).

I think the Alex Webb image is intriguing; The shadows are not of the people in the foreground, so I'm left wondering where they're stood.

best wishes phil

Spot on!

The sad truth is that the mass market dictates the technology. Coupled with the high cost of even creating a prototype, it means the days of enthusiasts being able to produce high-tech products from their garage are probably well behind us.

I am intrigued by concept of how many people 'see' in black and white, when looking for pictures. Specifically I wonder what the age distribution would look like. At a guess, I would anticipate that it is more common among older (film) photographers who had learned to shoot on b&w, as well as having been brought up with black & white movies or photographs as being the norm. I would further expect that at the younger ages of photographers, more effort is needed to overcome the expectations of color.

From a personal standpoint, I can't think of many (if any) of my personal photographs, that I felt were successful, that relied on color to be successful.

As always, there is much to think about...

Just as an add-on to my somewhat messed up early comment, though I know what you are saying about restricting choice so we are forced to see, I'm not as sure about what the sensor implementation would add to what we currently have (other than forcing a change at the hardware level). Couldn't it just be a software change that the user can't change, perhaps with enriched in-camera conversion options (again, you never see the color, though it's there)? Basically a jpeg or tiff camera, though as I mentioned above, raw converters could only show the b&w version, just as Lightroom already does automatic corrections with certain cameras (m43, for instance).

The "tyranny of the market" is a Catch-22 I feel I run into a lot these days: you can't buy something because no one makes/sells it, but no one makes/sells it because no one buys it. There's too many options for things I'm not interested in, and too few for those that I am! For example, during my last visit to a national chain bookseller, I noticed we have entered a veritable golden age for "Paranormal Teen Romance", but regrettably poetry outside of the realm of "greatest hits" seems to be harder and harder to find.

I was trained in B&W photography, and as Mark McConnell says, I learned to "see" in black and white tones.
I later taught myself to "see" colour, but until digital post processing, I was unable to get the results I really wanted (yes I sold images, and yes I was told they were good, but *I* was not really happy with what I could produce)
Now with a versatile digital sensor, I can capture a RAW file that allows me to create the image I want, whether it is B&W, colour, or even selective colour.


Digital B&W already happened but it didn't stick, at least commercially. See here:


BTW - Aren't sensors natively B&W and depend on the Bayer array or something similar to create the color image?


I'm thinking along the same lines as DDB... I think I'd seriously enjoy setting my camera LCD to B&W, and setting my RAW defaults in the software to be a B&W conversion, and trying not to look at a color photo for a year. (Or at least a few months - I don't know that I'd be that disciplined.)

One reason I wouldn't may be because I want to be able to show my pics to friends and relatives, and I get the impression that they want color photos. Hmm....

On another topics, Ed Hawco mentioned something that I'd really like too :

(1) Interchangeable sensors.

I'd love this too, but it would be difficult to pull off in a couple of ways. One, sensors are fragile. You'd need a good (and possibly complex and bulky) system that protected the sensor when it was pulled from the camera and as you moved it in and out of the camera. Two, sensor alignment with the lens is important. If it's not well aligned, you can get all sorts of bad effects. A sensor mount robust enough to ensure this would have a lot of stuff around it.

I guess the GXR is sort of close and heading this way - it'll be neat to see if it or another camera really gets there.

Apart from the very helpful digital possibility of shooting RAW+jpeg B&W pointed out in many comments so far, I like to point out another adaptation to digital for B&W (formerly film) photographers. Whereas in the film-era the transformation of the coloured world, represented in the also coloured viewfinder (see Mark McConnell above) took place in the mind of the photographer and in the image recorded on film, in the digital era this transformation has moved on one step. No more, no less. Now the final transformation takes place behind the monitor. Instead of looking at a coloured world and deciding for instance whether to use an orange or a yellow filter, I now look at a coloured image on the monitor, with the same B&W mindset that I used to look at the coloured world in the old days, and then decide whether to employ an orange or a yellow filter or what not, and from that point onwards continue in black and white. All the time helped by the initial 'polaroid' so to speak that the LCD-screen provided of the B&W jpeg that the camera provided right after shooting.
(But truth be told, it somehow requires more - what is it, discipline? - to stick to B&W in the process. Strange.)

"Ed Hawco mentioned something that I'd really like too...Interchangeable sensors. I'd love this too, but it would be difficult to pull off in a couple of ways."

Heck...why do you think I was trying the Ricoh GXR a while back? Those modules are small, handy, simple to exchange--and would be perfect for a B&W module. But nooooo.


Your many points are well-taken. The music analogy especially.
I do think it's possible to see in both ways-color and b&w. I shot TriX on a Pentax H1A in my college darkroom course and alternated (What second body?) with Kodachrome and developed appropriate ways of seeing for both.
Perhaps your biggest point, for me, "It's why I can't buy a good toaster."I can't either. We can't find one that toasts different bread types correctly so we end up with style objects like a DeLonghi that only toasts one side of a slice or a nice red Bodum that won't fit Italian bread or bagels. I'd love an OT post on this.
Maybe Steve left us an iToast in his business plans.

isn't it as simple as...
if all you have is a hammer, everything looks like a nail?

Toasters, FYI

Kodak made some versions of the DCS series cameras in monochrome only. The DCS 760m was the last, I think. There is a LuLa article about it here:

Since I shot 5 or 6 years in b&w only, I can relate to some of your arguments.

Later I shot b&w and color side by side, but that was mostly confusing. It worked somehow if I used completely different cameras (F3 with 35mm in b&w, F90 with 28-70 zoom in color), but it was best to call it a "b&w only week" or at least a "b&w only day" to recover from color and see structures and tonal relationships again.

The technical benefits of a real monochrome sensor aside, I find it helpfull to switch my DSLR to monochrome just for the sake of the b&w preview on the screen, to tune my view back in a "monochrome-mode".

Back in the days of film wasn't there a viewing filter that you could use to visualize how the tones of a scene would look in B&W? Cheating? Perhaps, but that sounds useful to me.

Mike, unfortunately I believe you are spot on with your take on the Nikon 1. Many of us would kill for a digital FM2, but we're not going to get it.
BTW, some of the most interesting bw images I've ever taken were with an orange filter (leftover from my M film days) on my M8. It was just an experiment, but sometimes you have to step outside the box.

Only Ricoh or Fuji would dare something like a B&W only sensor camera, and I'd hope that either, after seeing the overwhelming success of the "niche" X-100, will now seriously consider making the damn thing.

On my Panasonic G1, when I set the film mode to b&w, not only the LCD but also the EVF shows the subject in b&w. I suppose that will be so with all EVF cameras.

I'm not in the market for such a camera myself, but it occurs to me that is basically a software (firmware) customisation that is required to create a black and white only camera. If perhaps it was an option buried deep enough in the menus of a standard camera then maybe this might be sufficient to make it seem permanent to the user! (perhaps involving an obscure combination of key presses - some manufacturers have already shown a talent for designing sufficiently confusing interfaces.)

I'm not convinced by the suggestions of improved image quality of a b+w only camera. It would almost certainly be uneconomic to develop a specifically b+w sensor and in any case a colour sensor would be necessary to simulate the colour response characteristics of black and white films. In b+w configuration such a camera could offer different film types instead of colour modes.

Surely a marketing opportunity for one of the manufacturers!

I am one of those that uses a digital black and white workflow. One of the benefits of having an EVIL camera. I get to see what I am doing in black and white in the viewfinder, I get all the be benefits of having a full colour raw image, and on import to Lightroom I use a bw preset with a small amount of orange filter. If I don't like it I can change the filtration as I please. This is a huge advantage, as now I don't have to think about filters at capture. But I only use this very occasionally.

Bring on a black and white sensor. I would love the discipline, and the quality benefits / improvements.

As a connected note, I have spent the last year shooting with one prime lens in this bw mode, and by doing so have now gotten somewhere significant with a digital camera after all those years with film.

You are very right in your idea about limiting factors develop and promote creativity. Just like your year with one camera and one lens and one film.

The other little wish list, like a black and white sensor, is for a square sensor. Again my little Pen gives me this, but I do lose info. But being able to compose square at the point of capture is again a huge benefit in limiting choice and developing creativity... Great article Mike..

Actually. What I would prefer a dedicated black and white printer over a black and white camera, any day.


As has been pointed out, seeing B&W tonality in a colored scene is not easy. Its a learned skill. Even for pros. In the days of B&W movies only, it was common practice for the director and cameraman to use a Wratten #90 filter (described by Kodak as a 'gray amber monochrome filter") to estimate the tonality of the scene as recorded by the film. Maybe its still used today. I don't know. Color contrast, the color separation of two adjacent objects, may be very different from B&W tonality. Viewing a scene through a color viewfinder or on a view camera back makes it harder to interpret the eventual B&W grayscale that your film or desaturated RGB image. It might be an interesting experiment for some photographer (who is new to B&W?) to put a #90 on the viewfinder or LCD of their camera and see if it helps getting the image in B&W they want.

Photography is not just seeing, it's also a craft. I doubt you'd disagree with this.

When Ansel Adams (but all accounts no slouch at B&W) photographed he'd consider his exposure and the corresponding development carefully, what filter to use, where heavy dodging & burning might be required ... all before tripping the shutter. This before the hard work of printing.

You however seem to be arguing that having options (such as the above) somehow gets in the way of the purity of seeing? Certainly having less can focus one's approach (it's also a great learning device) but it's what's on the wall that finally counts. Who wouldn't want more flexibility/leverage (especially when there's no trade-off) in achieving the results in their mind's eye?

Given the chances of a monochrome-only sensor appearing in a camera you'd want to buy are pretty slim, maybe a rethink is required.

I agree with what Mark McConnell said. I don't have a monochrome viewfinder when I shoot B&W film, and didn't have one when learning photography in high school. If I really wanted a monochrome preview then I'd use Ansel Adam's trick of looking through a red filter (which I didn't find that useful anyway).

I learnt to take interesting B&W photos through developing the skill of previsualisation.

Using this visualisation argument, you can achieve the same thing by shooting JPEG in B&W colour space and not chimping after taking a shot.

So Mike I'm finding your argument rather circular - that a monochrome digital camera is needed because some people want a monochrome digital camera.

There was, briefly, a high-end dedicated black & white D-SLR developed on a Nikon F5 chassis by Kodak, circa 2002-3, known as the DCS-760m. By all accounts it produced incredibly clean and sharp files of far higher quality than its native 6 megapixel resolution would suggest. The lack of an anti-aliasing filter and a sensor design without the Bayer matrix kudge helped immensely. Unfortunately it was hobbled by some sensor teething problems that caused banding, and Kodak pulled the plug rather than spend any more money on such a niche product. I seriously considered buying one, even though I had all Canon glass, but it never reached the market.

This incidentally was just about the last moment in time when Kodak might have done something to alter their corporate trajectory from a downward arcing rainbow ending in today's crater. Killing radical but promising products like the DCS-760m is classic Kodak.


...a couple of points, when we were still shooting film, and the place I worked at the time had its own scanning department, we tried to just shoot color transparency and scan it in black & white for monochromatic uses...what became immediately apparent, is that a black & white scan of a color transparency is NOT black & white...black & white film is panchromatic, but not perfectly so, so while a scan of a color subject converted to black & white would reproduce many similar densities of dissimilar colors as the same gray tone, a black & white print from black & white negative film would not necessarily do so (following?), what we really want then, is a black & white CMOS that has a black & white film emulator, with it's imperfect panchromatic effects! It's why my color files out of a digital professional camera, converted to monochrome, look sort of lifeless without a lot of messing around in PhotoShop or some other processing software...

...second point, many of my pals are cinematographers and videographers, and they will tell you when "Hollywood" shoots black & white, a lot of the time they shoot the usual color neg and just print on black & white stock, or even color stock "gamed" to look neutral. They will all say, it really 'doesn't look like black & white" from the days gone by when people really shot the black & white neg stock and printed to black & white pos stock. They can get close (like the Cohn brothers film of Billy Bob Thorton as the barber), but it takes a lot of 'dickin'" around to get there, like they did printing on an old Kodak 'titling' stock and messing with the processing (at least I've been led to believe, could be wrong....again).

Anyway, more stuff to ponder...makes you wonder why people just don't shoot film!

Dear Mike,

Maybe there are some reasons this doesn't work, for I haven't tried any such cameras out, but…

There are a couple of companies that will modify existing cameras for infrared work by removing the Bayer array and IR filters. That leaves you with a black and white camera. With way, way more spectral sensitivity that you want for conventional black-and-white work, but that simply means putting an IR blocking filter on your camera lens to get a straightforward panchromatic black-and-white camera.

My recollection is that the services aren't terribly cheap… But they are cheaper than buying an entire new camera body.

Anybody reading this experimented with these?

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

I once asked the brilliant Australian B&W landscape photographer RIchard White about the possibility of B&W digital sensors. He said that some photographers had removed the Bayer arrays from their sensors, but that it was still impossible to get printed results as good as he was able to get with his medium format film camera and silver-chemistry based developing and printing processes. The chemistry apparently makes a difference.

You're spot on about the economics of it and the tendencies that will evolve. We will be lucky if the dichotomy is Nikon 1 | D3s and not cellphone | D3s. There is one interesting possibility that might save us from this predicament: larger markets. It is never the accountants that take decisions of course, it is always management, using data from the accountants. If the data say that you can't make more money from an additional venture than you invest in it, then any sane management must kill that venture. Return on a project depends in part on fixed cost and in this technology area (sensors), fixed cost is extremely high. To get it down you need large numbers. The numbers needed for suitable economies of scale can only be provided if either one of two things happen: your product is wanted by a large fraction of people, or, the minority that wants your product comes from a very large base market. So all we can hope for is that India and China and Russia and South America further develop solid middle classes. Then, all sorts of niche products, in cameras and elsewhere, become profitable enough for some company to survive on it.

One more thing. The decline of technologies towards mediocrity, economically, comes from companies reducing what's called consumer surplus. Say, when a new product comes out, companies don't know what exactly the consumer wants. So they offer something really good for a good price, and a great risk. It will be more than the consumer needed, at a price, or at a lower price than the consumer would have paid for it in an auction. Often the product is not even profitable - it is a risk taken to gain market share. This difference is called the "consumer surplus". After a while, and under competitive pressure, companies get a better handle of what the consumer really wants in relation to price willing to pay. So they reduce the consumer surplus. And that's my explanation of why the second generation of a technology sometimes (often?) offers less in terms of price/performance. Say, my Nikon D70 had a slightly lesser sensor, but a lot more "pro features" than what succeeded it (all sorts of manual controls, a better kit zoom than its successors, the initial Nikon Capture with tons of nice software ideas in it etc).

B&W sensors are available, on their own or in bodies with shutters and lens mounts. Made and marketed for the scientific/astronomical crowd. Image capture (and electronic viewfinding) tends to involve a tethered laptop though. Would take quite a bit of effort to get them into a street-shooter's form factor, but for the medium format always-on-a-tripod type shooter quite a viable option. Maybe even hand-holdable if you could work out how to get an iphone or similar to work as the tethered computer.

Having been a b&w photographer for 30 years , making my own cameras and materials on occasion, then going digital in 1995 after ten years if writing my own graphics software (I'm not claiming that any of this was high quality, just that I was doing it) I have to say that most of the commenters think they are all talking about the same thing, but they aren't.
On another note, there are monochrome digital cameras , just not dslrs although sigma comes close.

I like this one ,

I think the issue is that a lot of people would like a digital camera that acted like b&w film , which involves a lot more than just discarding the color information.

If color sensors got a lot more dynamic range, you could get pretty close in software if you didn't mind having half the resolution and speed in return for putting up with color capability and low price.

Breville Smart Toaster.

Very well written article, Mike, I couldn't have said it any better.

In my own experience, I have found that when I am out in the field shooting with just black and white film I tend to find more rewarding images, and I know there are many out there using digital cameras and converting the images later who are having great success, but for me I still prefer to shoot B/W film, when I shoot digital, I tend to think more in color and my work takes on a different look, maybe not all that bad, just different.

Very good article! I agree completely! I have been taking pictures in BW for 20 years. Nowadays with my digital camera I know pretty well when I take a picture if it will BW at the end or not! I see it already BW when I look through the viewfinder! But I still would be happy if I could get a BW digital camera!

I think I do understand what you're getting at, Mike, though we could get very Rumsfeldian about not understanding what I don't understand.... I suppose I don't feel that such a camera would be as beneficial as you contend in heightening the B&W sensibilities and bringing to the fore a few great artists in the medium. They already have the choice of Canon-DPP or Nikon-CaptureNX workflows - plus self-discipline - if they do want to deny themselves any possibility of ever seeing in colour. But deep down I also still deny the concept or need to "learn to see in B&W" - for me the need is to learn to recognise what looks good in B&W and I'm rather glad I can do that later in Lightroom rather than lugging around two bodies or backs.

An interesting question follows from some of the comments: Does a black and white viewfinder (eg an EVF) help or hinder learning to see in black and white?

I'm sorry, I only got to the picture and started browsing through Alex Webb's pictures. How comes I didnt know that guy? Thank you Mike!

And i'm sure you're right!

I've been regularly shooting my D7000 in monochrome mode - with a touch of extra contrast, I like the look, especially at high ISO.

I certainly agree with your point about seeing in B&W which is why when I want B&W I shoot it like that in camera. I have been scoffed at a number of times by people suggesting I should shoot in colour and convert later as I could do more with it and still have the possibility of a colour shot too!

I've only ever shot a couple of rolls of B&W film - just wish I could get round to doing more of it!

P.S. Would people say the same about printing B&W from a colour negative?


Couldn't agree more. Now wasn't Steve Jobs the one that said "It is not the customers job to decide what he or she needs". But Steve is right, in the modern economy, were marketing budgets outpace development and manufacturing budgets 2:1, we are at the mercy of an industry selling us whatever product they see fit for us. Only remedy. Stop buying and start booing (cheaper as well). I would not use a Nikon V1 if I was given one for free. I still would like the digital equivalent of an FM2 instead, with a 100%, bright mirror reflex viewfinder. No options, no auto what so ever, no other crap just a hell of a 24Mp sensor (and yes it may be color), a watertight shell, no displays of the any kind variety and an upgradable architecture so I could change/upgrade sensors as time went by and a Nikon F mount for a set of manual high end lenses (like the ones they made in the 70th and 80th). And don't tell me that is not possible, just make it so Nikon. Output only RAW and the rest leave that to the computer. But I'm not gonna get it, since customers want foolproof camera's. And foolproof products usually are only used by fools. Ah, maybe I will take out my GF1/Nikon 50mm/1.4 combo today and go hyperfocal.

Anyone from Ricoh following this? Anyone??

"...eventually, industry will figure out the practical minimum that the largest part of the market will accept"

Nailed it, this is the dystopia that corporations have in store for us. Depending on their size and influence, some even call in laws and politics to protect their "bare minimum" business model and erect high barriers for new entrants.

But yet, there is hope and enough examples of corporations that have collapsed for being too obsessed with sustaining a status quo. Look at cell phone manufacturers and carriers, their "bare minimum" business at one point left such a gap between what was possible and what they delivered, that complete outsiders (Apple & Google) could easily turn their market upside down.

If, at some point, the gap between the "bare minimum" and what's possible becomes too wide, there will always be a chance for a new player to disrupt the market.

For photography, a disruption took place silently with micro 4/3 (and some "custom firmware" hackers). Sony as well is a huge disruptive force, taking advantage of the "bare minimum" mode that Canikon have chosen to operate in.

I'd say - let's hope for the best :-)

Featured Comment by Jeffrey Goggin: "FYI, those of us who actually enjoy manually shifting gears in our cars are encountering a similar problem. And despite many claims to the contrary, using 'flappy paddles' to shift gears manually isn't the same thing, even if it is a technically superior method in every other respect...."
And those of us who don't enjoy manually shifting gears are stuck with vestigial pseudo-stickshifts taking up valuable room in the middle of the car, or big levers attached to tiny microswitches on the steering column. Pseudo-gearshift knobs are like putting fake pentaprism housings on non-SLR cameras. Stupid pandering to would-be manly men who don't even know how the technology works.*

Don't even get me started on having multiple "speeds" when all you really need is R-N-D. (P should be attached to the parking brake, and the other drive settings are either unnecessary, or should be automatically computer selected. "Low" gears" for pulling stuff should be manually engaged from a separate set of switches that are mercifully hidden behind a cover on cars that don't have hitches installed.)

*but probably helpful to the left-eyed? Er, sorry, I don't mean you guys.

What about having an existing DSLR converted to B&W only via having the bayer array removed? There is at least one company that does this...

Back in the 1970s some student friends of mine experimented with spending a day walking around looking at the world through multiple layers of red cellophane - probably equivalent to at least an ND8. This pretty much blocked out the other wavelengths, making it a monochrome experience. One claimed it led to hallucinations.

But moving red, and green, filters to and fro in front of one's eye does provide a good indication of the effects of these filters in b&w and I found it useful to help train myself to think in b&w.

Ricoh is one of the few companies I can think of apart from Leica that might risk a b&w M-module.

Great article, Mike. Reminds me why I read TOP daily.

Sadly, due to start up costs, you won't see any Lensbaby type companies taking this on. What I can't figure out is why companies like Olympus, Fuji, Pentax, etc. don't attack these niches. Let's face it, they're not making any market share headway with existing products. Find some under-served potential customers and make products for them. Wouldn't it be better to make $ 50 each on 50,000 cameras than $ 2 each on 1,000,000?

The world we live in is run by accountants and focus groups. *SIGH*

I wonder always as our eye sensors (the rods and.cones) are different and also black and white always associated withnight time when we alone, that makes black and white different.

"You however seem to be arguing that having options...somehow gets in the way of the purity of seeing"

Somehow you've managed to misread me completely. I'm arguing that opposite, that having options we don't currently have would be a good thing.


"An interesting question follows from some of the comments: Does a black and white viewfinder (eg an EVF) help or hinder learning to see in black and white?"

I don't think the viewfinder matters. I think what the camera records and how it records it is what matters.


"Don't even get me started on having multiple "speeds" when all you really need is R-N-D."

Never lived in a snowy climate, eh, Will?


I get what you're trying to convey, Mike. I'd LOVE a B&W sensor, but with the option to see B&W through the viewfinder hole. I'd also like to be able to cycle through a variety of virtual red/orange/yellow/green/blue/IR filters. And if they made it as a square format, I'd be a happy, gibbering idiot with a permanent grin. I'd sell a kidney and both ovaries to own it, too.

I've been shooting exclusively with B+W film for some thirty years. I have never tried B+W digital of any kind, so I'm at a loss to compare the two adequately. That said, I have seen B+W inkjet prints that look totally "plastic," a very simplistic and cheap imitation of what traditional B+W can capture and create. I have also seen some very, very beautiful B+W inkjets, virtually indistinguishable from silver prints. I don't know if the latter were created by using film emulating software, or what- but the end results were very film like. No doubt, the latter have probably gone to considerable lengths to achieve such exacting results.

As you stated, we learn to see the way our cameras do- our tools help define our products. If one's initial exposure to B+W is solely from digital output, you may not be experiencing the crux of what "true" B+W is all about, or what it's capable of in all it vast nuances, technically or aesthetically.

Even if we do get the B+W only sensor camera, it may not yield the "traditional" film results we aspire to. It will not only have to be a B+W only sensor, it will have to be B&W "film like" sensor. Perhaps a B+W only sensor may raise the bar some on what B+W can achieve in the digital realm, it will remain to be seen what it can achieve aesthetically...

Freakishly pertinent article. I've actually used the MPEG argument to fend against smug DSLR users who push the 'time marches on' and market realities arguments to bid film farewell. Be careful, they should be, as time will march their affordable DSLRs into the irretrievable past, replaced by jpeg-only cellphone cameras (a definite anathema to them), as the mainstream begins to ruthlessly erode choice.

Not a huge Beatles fan, but how deflating was their re-release a couple years back knowing that the medium was still saddled to 30-year-old standards, which in digital years, is what, a couple of centuries. Such lost sonic potential. And why, because of MPEG, which is great for portability, no doubt, but a scourge to technological advancements that, for whatever reasons, video managed to enjoy during the same past three decades (VHS-DVD-Blu-ray).

Don't get me wrong, I move a lot; the agonizing weight of vinyl, or even CDs, is clear, and MPEG quality at high bit rates can be quite good. But on principle alone, I will never pay for any media unless it is lossless. With storage cheap, and broadband getting faster, no reason for this option to eventuate online, but only if the option retains any degree of mass appeal; and from the looks of it: Nope.

I'm beginning to miss those smarmy 1970's stereo dealers; the pseudo-silk shirted ones cruising in their Datsun 280ZXs, who at least, on some level, even if a bit dirty, promoted quality sound as an actual premium.

I'm generally on the side of the photographer in the interminable 'photographer versus gear' debate, but the psychological factors inherent within the tool used are, I agree, underrated. I have limited desire to use anything but my Barnack rangefinder for simply its feel; the perfect size, fit, and weight. I'm actually introverted, and the camera's smaller dimensions provide greater comfort when pointing the damn thing at a person, even if only for a second or less. And I generally only use a 50mm, because that is how I view things (I reckon I'm somewhat literal). I enjoy the dynamism of wide-angle street shots, but ultimately, it's not just me. My ancient Summar lens has a wonderful glow (excessive flare), and this has certainly influenced the aim of my camera, as have other qualities.

Oddly, I should probably pick up a Holga since there are certain subjects that, to me, just so atmospherically fit in with its rendering. I would also like to pick up a TLR someday to play around with a 6X6 frame, as I figure this will also force a visual reinterpretation of the subjects around me. And no, I have absolutely no f**king desire to use a DSLR (or scanned thus manipulable shots from my rangefinder) to recreate the Holga effect or to crop down to a square format; it is not the same thing---and I unapologetically note that what I desire is immune from logical retort---better off telling me what color I should like!

For now, at least these options, whether in used or new formats, are still affordable…but I do worry about the loss of film to mass demand; not just in terms of its look, but the variety of hardware associated with it and the psychological components involved. The diminishment of choice is seldom a good thing (although the variety of toothpaste---from the same company no less---could use a trimming).

Thanks for this explanation Mike. I think I have a much better handle on why a black and white sensor would be attractive for some, even though I still believe it would be of limited appeal to me. By the way, if my comment on this subject on the A77 story came across as arrogant, it wasn't intended as such. It was just striking that this subject has come up from time to time when it seems like digital offers so many advantages for black and white photographers. Point taken.


I understand totally but can't see it happening on mass market cameras (the "run" would be quite limited). Ricoh could certainly risk one with their Leica module though.

However it would not be inconceivable to create a camera with bayer filter that was simply easier to remove (or even special factory order) purely to satisfy such a market without massive investment. In addition, the processing engine could have the interpolation algorithm disabled to improve performance.

Replacement of the bayer filter with a simple IR+NR filter to reproduce the same spectral response and ISO sensitivity should not be impossible either.

As others have said, it is possible to convert many cameras to IR, so all you need then is a lens IR filter. Perhaps something to consider for an older camera you dont want to trade in.

However, were I dreaming a little, one thing to fill the "empty" mirror box of a mirrorless SLR would be a set of built in colour filters....


Sometimes you mark your posts SA... I think you might occasionally need a CA, for 'Curmudgeon Alert.'

People will create art with the means that they have available to them, within whatever limits exist. Some artists find limits helpful, while others find them limiting, just as some people wok in the way that you describe, requiring an imposed discipline of materials, while others impose their own discipline. I think your argument is applicable but not universal, and that the small percentage of the small percentage will learn to see however their 'vision' dictates. I think of Kertész framing pictures before he could afford a camera. Perhaps that's better, really... let the lazy be lazy and those who want to, work.

P.S. I think that running into the other end of your argument are the advancements in computational capacity and battery power, not to mention software engineering. Yes, it's sad that there are no B&W sensor mass-market cameras, and as you say that's really a facet of the difference between mechanical and electronic engineering and production. You cannot currently make a profit on small run sensors, microchips, etc., unless you charge very difficult prices. That, however, could well change, and quickly, so I don't expect the endgame you envision.

Even if it doesn't, I don't expect your endgame... if our consumer society persists, there will continue to be a market for mid-level photographic gear. There's still a market for all kinds of different cars, a market I'd call pretty mature, and absolutely any car over $25,000 is a luxury item–no one needs one for personal use. But it's still a good business, has been for many years, and goes up in many tiers. There's no reason that cameras won't be different.

Mike, this is so true. I can't understand why so many people are missing the point. Some of us are super disciplined but for the rest an enforced discipline is often required to produce the desired results. As a personal example, I bike to work and think that about 10 kilometres one way is the minimum I should be doing to get enough exercise. Accordingly I live about 11 kilometres away from work. Now one could argue that if I lived only a kilometre away from work I could still cycle 10 kilometres one way by taking a much longer route but that is just not going to happen, particularly early in the morning when one is in a rush.

B&W? There's an app for that!

At an LHSA meeting a few years ago, Stefan Daniel asked how many of us would buy a B&W-only digital M if Leica produced it. A significant number of us raised our hands. But a significant number of LHSA members probably didn't translate into a significant market of all Leica's potential customers, and it didn't happen.

I think one of the reasons why we wanted such a camera was this: Though the M8's high ISO performance was better than film, it was no longer the high ISO champ. With the Bayer filter removed from the sensor array, we would have digital Leica with better high ISO. A couple of stops better, if I recall. The absolute resolution would also have increased. some of us thought (naively I now realize) that a B&W digital M would be just like Tri-X.

I've rethought the issue. When I'm out photographing, I never know whether I'm going to encounter a color subject or a black and white one. Now I have the choice without having to carry two cameras.

So I'm happy with my M8. With a bit of channel-mixing, I can make excellent B&W photos. It's got even more capability than color filters on the lens. What I miss is the tonal range and rendition of B&W film. Digital giveth some things, and it taketh away others.

We really can't complain that we lack proper tools--only that we can't do things digitally exactly the way we used to.


"I bike to work and think that about 10 kilometres one way is the minimum I should be doing to get enough exercise. Accordingly I live about 11 kilometres away from work. Now one could argue that if I lived only a kilometre away from work I could still cycle 10 kilometres one way by taking a much longer route but that is just not going to happen"

Good example. Thanks.


Hi Mike, newb here. My first thought was that my m4/3 can be setup to present B&W through the EVF and that I could setup the processing stream much like others have suggested above. My second thought was that I'm going to do that and shoot colour with the D7000 and B&W on the EPL-1.

I suspect this may help me see more in monochrome to some extent as well as starting me in on grappling with the challenges of finding a way to get B&W printed in some reasonable way.

Thanks for the inspiration.

I really enjoyed this essay, mike. I thought it was both well written and well argued. I get your points, though some of them are depressing and some of them i would take short odds bets on being wrong. (i think it is possible we will get at least one bw camera in the next 3 years.) and having transitioned from being a mostly bw film shooter to shooting digitally in almost all color, i am an example of your point; even setting the camera to process in bw, i found i just couldnt give up the color subjects around me the way i can with bw film; i know they'll be there, lurking in the raw file, and so i shoot those anyway, and lose the focus on bw picture hunting.

But if i were you, i wouldn't hold out too much hope for another try at conveying your point. The main trouble, i think, is that you are running smack against one of the shibboleths of internet age photography: the "its the photographer not the camera" cliche. Too many people are too fixated on this strange denial of the inherent device dependency of photographic picture making, melded with a lionization of the artist as an self-sufficient genius.

This may be the best on-topic article I've read on TOP (and that's against a lot of tough competition).

Thanks Mike, I'm really scared now!

I agree. For a while I tried carrying around two cameras, one loaded with colour film and the other with B&W. Didn't quite work. I could only shoot B&W if I left the house with only B&W film (not that I was ever any good at it, really).

I cannot shoot B&W with my digicams. I tried and I can't do it. The only time it sort of worked was with the Sony R1 I used to own, because when you set it to B&W, the EVF would appear in B&W. That helped a lot. It's an unsung advantage of EVF-equipped cameras.

I don't believe that having a "color" camera hinders my ability to see a B/W photograph when I want to. I don't believe that having a "B/W" camera would help me produce better B/W images either. My film camera did either one -- I loaded up film that matched what I saw.

That being said, I think you also got the technical part wrong. A sensor with or without the Bayer array is a monochrome device, capturing only luminance information. The colors are added by the firmware of the camera interpreting the capture. B/W film is not luminance-only; it responds to color. A B/W sensor would have to have some sort of color filter array (probably the same Bayer) anyway to make it sensitive to color as film is. So you have your "B/W camera" hidden in your "color camera." (The scientific cameras mentioned have a reason to capture pure luminance info, but that's not what a B/W art photographer wants to do.) The reason why no manufacturer offers a B/W camera is not the "tyranny of the marketplace," it's because they already are -- you're holding it. Turn off the review function of your LCD and pretend you're shooting a film camera. Yeah, I know, there's still too many buttons and modes but you'll get used to it.

Yeah, uh, I have a GF1 like yours Mike so I know that it has several B&W 'film modes' and I know that when in that mode, the LCD displays a B&W image and the camera records a B&W jpeg.

So why on earth would this option be inadequate and a dedicated B&W camera preferable?

You want me to say it again a third time?


Dear Phil,

Mike has it correct in the respects that are relevant to the photographer. ALL photographic processes, with the singular exception of the Lippmann process, only collect luminance information. For that matter, that's true of our vision as well. A color image is synthesized in all of these, silver-, silicon-, or carbon-based, by filtering that luminance information into different spectral channels and then synthesizing a color image from that.

Experientially, who cares?! The photographer's experience, both visually and photographically, is that they are seeing and photographing in color. What's going on technically behind the scenes is relevant to the photographic technician and scientist; it has no bearing on the press-that-shutter experience.

On your second point, a black-and-white camera does not need to have a color filter array. Black and white films don't have color filter arrays. You control the spectral sensitivity through the use of a filter. Bayer array cameras do offer the convenience of being able to do a semblance of color filtering in software; for many people this is a win over having no post-exposure filtering capabilities at all, even though the filtering is crude compared to that done by filters on lenses.

This does not address your subjective experience, that you don't need the kind of tools he's talking about. Neither do I. But he didn't say everybody did. All he did was suggest that it would be useful for a lot of people. Neither of us has grounds for disagreeing with that just because we personally don't need this.

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

I understand the desire to want a black and white only camera. I even wrote a whole weblog article of my own about it


My general hangup was that seeing the image in color would mess up my evaluation of the picture in monochrome. I don't actually care if there is a bayer filter and color engine behind the curtain as long as I never actually have to *see* the color bits.

With my current D700/LX-3 cameras I have come to an uncomfortable truce by using the B&W conversion mode in the RAW converter and trying to set up Lightroom to only ever show me B&W previews. But, this isn't really the same as when you shoot in black and white film, as you said.

On the other hand, it's usually close enough, and I have found that I can certainly get black and white pictures that I am happy with.

Here is one of the better shots.


So, while I am sympathetic to the overall point that it's sad that we can't get a sensor that lets us work how we want, I think that the point is mostly trumped, for me at least, by the fact that I *can* get results I'm happy with even if the working method is not ideal.

it's true that the consumer society will to some extent always oppress those who think they want something better or different. But in my experience it's also the case that at least half the time, maybe more, those who think they want something "better" or "different" are actually wrong.

Finally, you might be interested to know that one area of photography still does deal in monochrome sensors: high end astronomical CCD cameras are almost all built from monochrome sensors, for various reasons. Prices are high and the user interface is fiddly. But, you should feel encouraged. The market for such devices is arguably much smaller than the number of people who want to shoot black and white pictures. So maybe there is hope for you all yet.

This has already been mentioned, but some cameras with EVF are particularly easy to use in B&W. Sure, not strictly, and they aren't going to make a RAW that magically hides the colours, but my G1 has a very nice Jpeg mode which lets me see in B&W, take three different tonal versions of the B&W shot and gives me a RAW to squeeze extra goodness out of if I find none of the three B&W pictures quite get what I wanted.
That such an inexpensive camera does what (to my knowledge) none of the others can do is very pleasing. Now it is up to the camera companies to do a full-frame digital with similar capabilities ... yeah right.

"But nobody can pay for their own sensor, even with money. "

Actually, you can and Mitchell Feinberg has: http://www.aphotoeditor.com/2011/08/23/mitchell-feinbergs-8x10-digital-capture-back/

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