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Saturday, 03 November 2012


Although I lay no claim of expertise to who you should be more like, but I'm quite sure Ken Rockwell isn't the guy. I read his blog at times too, but usually move on with a sneer. That doesn't happen at your site, I'll not always agree, but I usually feel like I'm reading what you really think, not what you think will create the most controversy. You keep being yourself, and we'll keep enjoying you sharing your many musings with the rest of us out here in the unruly cloud.
Jim A.

OK you got me.

One hell of a camera though, I wish you luck. Oddly I don't find the 600D (only slightly lighter and smaller) that much of a chore to carry around.

I just finished printing a B&W photo, and I can never seem to get it just right. Anyone out there have any recommendations on good sources of info for digital B&W workflow? Books, websites, software? I can't be the only one wishing I could more accurately get what's in my head onto the paper... I imagine I have the vision (Which may be a form of delusion as well), but realizing it in print is dauntingly difficult.
Jim A.

More like Ken Rockwell? No, please, don"t follow that line.

Sounds to me like you need the Leica Monochrome camera. Maybe you should check with Steve Huff.

"To do a better job as the majordomo of TOP, I should really use far more digital cameras than I do, not fewer, and I should probably stop dithering around with film cameras altogether. I'm sure MR at L-L or any of the guys at, say, Imaging-Resource have hands-on experience with far more cameras than I do. The obligation to stay current with many different camera models is not conducive to settling down with the one thing that's best for your work "

No Mike, that's why I'm here! Your wonderful, idiosyncratic not-about-cameras camera blog is a tonic. It's not like my browser won't take me to LL or any other the others. It does regularly. But that tiny little dribble of cash that my Paypal account sends to your paypal account is exactly because you're not doing and saying what they do. I hope lots of others feel the same.

The only digital B&W I have seen so far, which wasn't revolting, has been from Leica S2, but the Leica Monochrom at times manages to pull something acceptable as well. I'd be really curious to see what you can make of this camera, but I am not holding my breath - the bit depth is not sufficient.

Hmmm. Be careful what you wish for! I use a D3s for work, and it's everything it needs to be. It's fast, strong, excellent quality - a really good tool in my hands that I'm very comfortable with. It's also, huge, heavy and intimidating to those being photographed.

The thing is, I almost never use it for personal work. It's too big, heavy and bling. I hate walking down a street with it - I feel like a target for muggers, and anyway I keep bashing it off people.

On holidays this year I brought an old d70 with an old 50 lens. I proceeded to take about 200 photos of the kids, the beach, my wife - the usual holiday snaps. I took them all with my phone. Even the old d70 was too big, heavy and bling. Well, it wouldn't have cost me much if it was stolen (less than the phone), but it still felt like a target.

So I crave one of those Fuji's, or Panasonics, or Olympus. Maybe I should buy one of them for work...

I suspect that you'll feel the same about a d800 Mike. It'll be fine if you set about using it for a personal project or a client, or to test ala Rockwell. But you won't grab it when going for a stroll with the dog!


PS hope you get one anyway - reading your exploits would be amusing. It's your job after all ;)

I'll grant the premise that within whatever time period you set you'll become conversant enough with the D800E to get the results you want, but my guess is you'll not be able to bond with it's operation. This speculation is based on nothing other than an idea I have of you from reading TOP. I assume you'll avail yourself of Thom Hogan's guide to get the most out of the camera. So in short, I'm saying that because the camera won't be your cuppa operationally, you'll not accept it in order to get the expected improved B&W (or color, for that matter).

On an unrelated note, and apropos of more or less nothing, I'd mention I saw a pallet of Nikon D600 two lens kits at the local Costco store the other day. $2800 or so, but I didn't notice the lenses included.


I think I may be afflicted with the same malady as yourself. I just know my photos will look better with the next camera I buy. After all, the problem can't be with me.

Mike - what you write about doesn't depend on the camera, and so you shouldn't beat yourself over the head about the latest and greatest. The next latest and greatest is just around the corner. What make you site so appealing is that it doesn't rely on the gear.

Is the b&w from the 800e because of the canceling out of the AA filter? Doesn't one of the new olympuses have no AA filter?


I've been toying with moving "up" to a D800E or "out" to an OMD. My issues are the standard ones of weight vs the highest resolution.

I'd be curious as to what you think the 800E adds that is special to B&W and at what point that difference would make a difference in a fine art print.

Curious to see your comment about the original 5D. I have one - well used over the years - and a 5DMkII to keep it company. From day one I had the feeling that I preferred the original 5D's output (and I do a lot of B+W conversion). I occasionally appreciate the MKII's extra resolution, but in actual fact the main feature where it wins for me over the 5D is sensor cleaning!

I get pretty darn good conversions out of my D800 - non E. Nikon's implementation of the AA-less sensor leaves me bewildered. If they had only done something like Leica did with the M8 I might be more of a fan.

I own a Nikon F100 and an FM2. I love them. I love film, but digital has hits advantages. I like B&W, digital printed on cotton paper.
I have a Leica x1 which I bought a couple of years ago because I liked its simplicity. Looking for a more versatile camera I struggle among the three ones, at least two of them you mentioned. And to asnwer your question no, I would never use a camera that I do not like, better I should say that I don't love. And the D-800 is for sure very good but too heavy and large for my tasting. Therefore I prefer a (slightly?) lower quality but a camera I love.
PS: X pro 1 or OM-D ? this is the problem!

You know, Mike, there's a lot to be said for shooting black and white film, scanning it, and producing images and prints digitally. The best of both worlds, in my opinion. And you could use that Leica you have laying around the house. Isn't that what you really want?

I bought a D800E last week. I haven't had time to play with it yet. Thanks for telling us D800E's B&W output. I look forward to it. I bought it to shoot with my Leica R lenses :)

I visit your site every day, LL almost every day and Ken Rockwell a couple of times a week. You are all different and that's the way I like it - if you want to be more like them for your own satisfaction, so be it - but please don't change to suit (at least one of) your readers.
George Gershwin once asked Maurice Ravel for lessons and Ravel refused - at least, so the story goes - because "Why would you want to be the second best M Ravel when you are already the best G Gershwin?"

Have you considered the The Leica M Monochrom?

does mr. merklinger know if there's something special about the b&w photos from one of the three cameras you like, or maybe the leica monochrom or sony rx1?

if the answer is no, take comfort in the idea that there are ways to like things more than you "really" do. getting to like the d800e can be an exercise in developing new tastes. it gets harder to do later in life, but they say it's still possible.

The D800 appears to be the pinnacle of digital camera technology right now this side of $30k. I would get one myself if my Canon lenses would fit. I hope it turns out to be the tool you are looking for.
I tried the Oly EP3 but returned to the DSPR format because I much prefer the mature and thought-out ergonomics.

Can it really be that you can't achieve the kind of B&W you want by post-processing in Lightroom or Nik Silver Efex Pro? It might be that it would take a lot of experimentation to get the right range of densities, contrast, etc. But once you did, the settings should be fairly reproducible for subsequent photos.

I understand your obsession completely. My new Pentax K-5IIs just arrived. It will be the only camera I'll ever need, forever.

Right, Mike?

Mike don't hesitate pull the trigger you know it's the right thing to do at this stage of your life's journey,so what if down the road you change your mind,you'll have learned something new or maybe relearned what you already knew but so what it's part of life's adventure.

On a selfish note would you consider a biweekly piece on your experiences with the D800E and the b/w experiment,I feel this could be of great interest to those of us who look forward to your comments and advice on TOP and it might ensure you give the trial your full commitment.

You might consider showing an example of your photographs as you go with a short discussion piece on each photograph,this might lead to a sale offer of one or two of these photographs which I'm sure would help pay for the whole experiment?

Thom Hogan has the one of the best Nikon sites. (fyi he says that at f/8 and higher the D800e has no advantage over the D800) I went from a D300 which I very happy with to the D800 which I'm thrilled with in a way that I find very hard to quantify. CS6 and the D800 just do it for me. Black and White is my preferred medium and I really like what I'm getting out of the D800. I it set to shoot RAW, but to give me a b&w preview which I find very useful. I'm tempted to get a D8800e, but I think I'll wait for the D800e/s or e/x.
Thom Hogan writes that the D800(e) is a demanding camera, and compared to the D300 it is is a demanding mistress.

I wasn't trying to be snarky, really. Just an observation. But anyway...
A specialized B/W workflow starting with the D800E would be interesting to hear about. What printer are you going to use? Do you print straight grayscale, or do you use duo- or tri-tone curves to get a warm or cold tone paper look? What paper? Software?

A D800E will allow you to visually speak with more eloquence. ... Will it inspire you with something more to say?

Cue a Canon / Nikon maelstrom of comments plus a gazillion questions about lenses... Speaking of which, which of the latter will .... :-)

Actually, never mind, I'm just interested to hear how this pans out for you Mike. Enjoy the camera.

I'd like to see some of these wondrous 800DE pictures of which you speak. I often shoot B/W out of the D300 (although quite often RAW too) and 99% of the time they're fine.

Jim: what printer? I've always had great results from iPhoto/Aperture to Canon ip4xxx with quality paper.

Dang, the D800 is that big?!
Considering that, the price, and the fact that you just wrote that you have to face that you really won't get back to B/W, I guess: no.

For me, despite having a IQ fetish, I have found that a too big camera, I just won't use. The teaching sample was the Nikon D2x, which at the time was the only reasonable 12MP camera. But I just don't *enjoy* myself when carrying too much weight.

You ask, "to get the results you want, would you use a camera you don't like?"

Were I still a working professional I might be able to force myself. As someone doing photography mostly for my own pleasure and satisfaction, probably not for long. Most likely I would find myself passing up opportunities rather than dealing with a tool I found unpleasant to use.

I do, however, agree there is no way to know without trying. Thank goodness there is a good market for used digital equipment. A few years back I used a financial windfall to buy my dream system. Within 6 weeks I went from not quite comfortable to plain ol' dislike. When I sold it after 6 months I lost around 10% - and I had learned a lot, stuff I would never have gotten reading reviews or hanging out on the forums.

If you want the 800e go for it.

I'm not remotely interested in resolution - but if you think you've found a digital camera that can approach B&W film's tone, then I'm all ears. Does the D800E really do something that different to earlier dSLRs?

Life is short. And for those at our age..... gittin' shorter. Buy the camera. Enjoy yourself.... you deserve it.
Ken M.

Sigma cameras are well known for their B&W capabilities:


and the Sigma Dp2m is holding up well in comparison with the D800e:


so maybe you should simply get a DP2m. It is more portable too.

"... doing the same thing over and over again, expecting different results."

I've been reading TOP long enough now to have 'seen' a few cycles of great excitement, followed by silence, then disposal. You just posted the end of one a couple of days ago. And if the 'sell everything' idea were mine, it would likely be a way to end more than one experiment at once without admitting it to myself.

I know whereof I speak, for myself, simply because I've done the same thing, both with photography and other things, innumerable times. Mostly I haven't done it in public on the web, although those on the Oly List have seen at least a couple of my cycles. /;~)>

Are you, or are you likely to become, a serious digital darkroom worker? Have you determined that images right out of the D800e already have your sort of tonality?

I have a web friend, a fairly well known pro, who has a new Leica MM. What I see coming out of that camera just doesn't 'speak' to me tonally. And not just web images, I've been given a few Raw/DNG samples to play with. Nice resolution, low noise, smooooth tonal transitions, but the tonal distribution just leaves me cold.

OTOH, I have another friend who sells prints out of a small studio and a few other venues, whom I consider a master digital printer. Over the last couple of years, he's moved into B&W work. He's getting some amazing tonalities in his converted, large, B&W prints from a D3.

But it's not the camera, it's the time spent in learning to use software to massage what comes out of the camera to realize his vision on paper. His magic happens in the digital darkroom, not the camera.

'Just sayin'



I'm still amazed you have owned a camera, the same camera, for six months straight, at least once. The times are a changin'. (In all the years I dealt cameras to Mike I don't think I ever saw him own a camera for more than 6 weeks.)

I have trouble seeing you with a D800. It's a very not your feel camera. On the other hand, if it's got the output you're looking for...you'll get over it. At least for a while. ;)

(I'm personally hoping Santa brings me one of the B&W Leica M cameras. I think I have better shot of getting a unicorn though. And probably more use for a unicorn as well.)

My brother Scott, a wise and thoughtful guy, once observed that I'm far better at giving other people advice than I am at figuring out what to do for myself... It's possible that I simply lack the crucial ingredient of objectivity when it comes to myself.

Sounds like you suffer from human nature to me. As a physician, I observe this constantly in others (and myself!)

To quote Robbie Burns (from "To a Louse"):

O wad some Pow'r the giftie gie us
To see oursels as others see us
It wad frae monie a blunder free us
An' foolish notion

Which means, more or less:

Oh, that God would give us the very smallest of gifts
To be able to see ourselves as others see us
It would save us from many mistakes
and foolish thoughts

to get the results you want, would you use a camera you don't like?


I'd really give Nik Silver Efex a try, if you haven't. I know better sensors will give better nuance but I really find that with digital I'm trying to capture a moment and then concentrating on the look later. We can choose the "film" later with digital - for better or worse...

Well I've been beaten to the draw, but nevertheless, Mike, if you were more like Ken Rockwell I for one would not be reading and enjoying your every post. I don't come to TOP to learn about cameras - I come to learn about what do aspire to do with them. Ok, and a side serving of non-mainstream gear porn :-)


I'm interested in hearing more about what makes the D800E
superior for B&W. Is it the lack of an anti-aliasing filter?

Something else that Nikon has done differently with this particular model?

We're still looking at a standard Bayer pattern sensor, right?

I would certainly be interested in learning, even if evidence is less than conclusive.


D800? I didn't see that coming. I felt for sure it was the Monochrom Leica that had your eye. That seemed much more like the camera that suits you. (As much as one can tell from being thousands of kilometers away from someone they haven't even met.) Sure it's double the price, but if you're going to shoot black and white, you may as well shoot IN black and white. After all, playing with the colour bayer array after the shot is cheating, isn't it? ;-)


Mike, the reason you are not satisfied with your black and white photographs is your printer. You need to buy a really good wide format inkjet printer. Then you can try out all those papers that give great B&W images. You'll need to buy a few dozen rolls to be sure, and of course you'll want an X-rite i1 Pro to linearise the output, and a good de-roller. And possibly True Black and White from BowHaus and a small Mac to run it. A monitor upgrade will help. Go for an Eizo.
Might as well get the camera as well.
David S

I confess that I, too, hear the siren song of digital cameras that might give me better B&W prints. For me it's the NEX-7. I'm sure I could learn to love that camera. Then I remind myself of how much I dislike the workflow that takes me from raw file to inkjet print. That's what stops me from ordering a NEX-7 from B&H right now. I like darkroom work. I like darkroom prints. My credit card stays in my wallet.

I'd appreciate it if you made an extensive, detailed post about just what it is you're looking for. I've heard the "digital isn't as good as film for B&W" canard from at least a hundred different people at this point, and aside from some incoherent muttering about "tonality" none of them have been able to make much of an attempt to communicate to me what the hell they're talking about. A clear post with contrasting examples would be really nice, and probably would help you refine your thoughts on the subject as well. (My digital B&Ws look a lot better than my film ones, but I'm also a much better photographer now, so it's hardly a worthwhile comparison.)

Also, I keep reading TOP despite the fact that I find it aggravating quite often because you're one of the few places out there that doesn't spend all your time writing about gear. I think if you managed to find the one camera that was so good you stopped fantasizing about others, it would make the blog better, not worse.

I don't read TOP for its camera reviews.

Mike: at the risk of dragging you deeper down the rabbit hole, may I ask what the 'back end' of your B&W process is? When you say, "I've been very excited so far by what I've seen of the D800E's B&W output," are you writing about B&W images out of the camera? I have roughly the same relationship with photo gear that you do, and the D800E has piqued my interest.

B&W workflow? That's a matter of knowing what tones you need to separate in the print at the time of capture, working with the channel mixer until you've got the right tonal relationship from the colors, and then deploying all of your PhotoShop tricks. If you don't have many, you can iron out a B&W print in an hour or two ...

And thanks, Mike, for letting me know that I'm a mere $3200 from SOTA digital B&W. A D800E, a 35/1.4, and an 85/1.8 on order for you now?

FWIW, my D600 is now a month old and I'm keeping it. And I really, really dislike "large" cameras; my DSLRs have been a brace of D40s for the past four years and I still think they produce a better "Fuji blue" with their little CCD sensors than any CMOS camera I've handled to date. But the D600 is amazingly intuitive for a complex camera, feels great and has a built-in flash that is on a par with the amazing flash of the X100. For me, it seems the design cycle for great new cameras is running about six years right now.

PS: Ken Rockwell work ethic, sure. Ken Rockwell voice and writing style, dear god no!

1) Don't be more like Ken Rockwell. Just... don't. Please.

2) There are a thousand places to read the work who use many cameras, and some of them (e.g. Kirk Tuck) are even clever enough to make reading their reviews fun. TOP doesn't need to be another such place.

3) I do wish you'd talk more about the cameras you have. You had (have?) that Pentax, but never wrote anything about it. You have an OM-D, and you've alluded to the fact that it makes you crazy, but you haven't written anything like a review of it.

On a different topic:

4) You've talked about this a bit, but not too directly: What do you think of the B&W output of the Sigma cameras?

Mike, be careful, the D800E is an exceptional camera at color too. But if you use the native files sizes you will need to upgrade your computer too, think 211MB 16bit TIFF files from raw for a single file. And of course you'll spent a lot more on lenses - you need Nikon's or other vendors best ones to get the most from this pixel monster. And you'll also probably need to re-learn how to shoot if you want sharp images as this camera shows every little bit of motion blur or out of focus areas big time. I had to work my way through this and am still getting use to pretty much not using a higher F stop than 5.6. The detail benefits of the "E" go away much past this. I also had to get a much better tripod as my old trusty Manfrotto would not deal with this camera and a 70-200. There was always shutter shake in the image, even with LV or Mirror up. But I'm ordering a D800 next week as a backup to the D800E.

Good Luck!


If you're seriously considering a D800E, you might find it helpful to read Thom Hogan's long and detailed review of the D800/D800E, and if you finally decide to buy one, his Guide to the D800/D800E is very helpful for getting the camera set up to function the way you want it to.


Maybe you should move your interest sideways? For example, De Vere (who used to make beautifully over-engineered professional enlargers, including some for sheet film) have produced this hybrid which lets you print digital images on to silver bromide paper:


Sorry to add another option to distract you. :-)


It is not the "dedicated B&W digital camera" you have been pining for. If your universe works like mine, that camera will appear on the market shortly after you purchase the D800E, at a fraction of the cost of the D800E.

As I, too, would like a nice dedicated B&W digital camera, I recommend you go for the D800E as soon as possible.


Why not? It could be painfully fun, let us know the results. Thank you.

Mike, as I mentioned at lunch last month, the D800E files are stunning, both color and black & white. To me, worth the aggravation of the larger size, weight and cost. I just can't get past the look. The siren song.....

Funny you should mention the Panasonic GF1, that's the camera that ruined new cameras for me, I've had that little camera since the beginning of 2010 and paired with the 20mm f1.7 I've shot with nothing else since then (well some shots with my Rolleiflex). I keep looking at new cameras but I can't justify replacing the GF1 it just works so well. I've never kept a digital camera so long...

Why not? Your friend Kirk Tuck is like a butterfly, equipment wise, alighting on one pretty flower after another, never remaining long. As you say, your writing for us, at least partly. Try as many cameras as you heart desires (and pocketbook can afford). I don't think you'll get many complaints from your faithful readers.

@Jim Allen-- George Jardine did a very good video tutorial on B&W conversions using Lightroom. It was free for the asking at one point and it may still be available. http://mulita.com/blog/?p=1244
If you use Lightroom, George's video tutorial series are absolutely first rate.

Nik's Silver Efex software is also good for B&W. Its strongest point in my view is the control it gives for midrange tones. But it is not cheap.

You may not be consciously fishing for compliments, but as you've seen, you're getting them. Here's mine: if I want gear reviews, I go anywhere but TOP. If I want to drop in and get opinions from a wide variety of fellow photographers about how their personal relationship with photography is going - gear, vision, culture, history, process - I come to TOP. I value your point of view because it does not try to be godallknowing Instead, it represents the kind of individual struggle to sort things put that we're all going through.

I have a D800 and have made a point of carrying it on walks in order to "normalize" it. Well, I've learned to mount moderate aperture prime lenses(smaller and lighter,) and not to be concerned about file size. I don't use a bag or case so the camera hangs "au natural," but the wear on the camera back is a bit of a concern. After 6 months there have been no problems with buttons, switches or the screen on which I keep the Nikon clear plastic guard. Paradoxically, the weight and size are more noticeable when the camera is on my desk rather than when hanging from my shoulder or neck. Still, the D800 is no stealth thing, and remember to expose for the highlights. I'm not a huge fan of Nikon but they seem to understand photography (sensors,) even if their commercial decisions have resulted in not very embraceable stuff (lenses that appear to have been pumped up with helium to lighten them.) Whatever. So, I am quite happy with the image quality properties, and with broad, favorable image virtue possibilities, I don't foresee desiring a different DSLR for a long time.

Having said the above, perhaps you should consider the Sony RX1. The success Nikon is having is due in part to their partnership with Sony, and it appears Sony has learned a thing or two about image quality properties from Nikon.

I'd love to know what you think of the image qualities of files from the Leica MM.

Good luck with the Nikon - as you say it's the learning that is important.

Mike, how many hours per month do you spend taking pictures? How many hours editing and printing?

" I'd be curious as to what you think the 800E adds that is special to B&W and at what point that difference would make a difference in a fine art print."

That will have to be one of those posts I was talking about. I'll tell you when (and if, I guess) I find out.


After making approximately 7 billion B&W prints (perhaps a slight exaggeration) in my 30 year career as a photographer for a state agency, I was more than happy when the darkroom closed. Lately though I've been converting some landscapes shot with the OM-D to B&W and they look really nice on my imac screen. Lightroom seems to do a nice job of converting. Jim A. is probably right though-getting a nice print is tough enough in color. Don't get me going on printers. Just brought my Epson 2400 to the recycling center, although what I really wanted to do was throw it out the window yelling "I'm mad as hell...". Printers are devices made to sell ink and raise my blood pressure.

Jeff L.

Cheaper to rent one first, methinks. (But maybe not as much fun or commitment.)

But, either way, my sense is that more benefits will come through choices, learnings and tweaks to your processing materials and techniques. At least that's been my experience. Software, b/w papers, profiles and inks, etc. have evolved so much recently that one can produce really outstanding prints. I no longer fear hanging my digital prints next to my silver prints.

If I went the DSLR route, though, I'd choose the 5DIII. Canon uses a weaker AA filter than Nikon to start, so it already approximates the 800E in that regard. And I prefer the Canon ergonomics. I've seen some nice b/w with it, particularly with some Zeiss primes. Different strokes.

Besides treating us to some new posts, maybe you'll create some prints for TOP sale. Enjoy. And thanks for the full disclosure; I was way off base.

I've been using a Sigma DP1 Merrill for about a month now and it is phenominal at making files that are ready for coversion to B&W. More film-like than any digital I've ever seen. And the resolution in the files is beyond belief considering that I can carry it around in a coat pocket.

I'm working with a photographer of English gardens who moved from a 39 MP medium format camera to the D800E and couldn't be happier so seeing your GF-1 comparison made me smile.

For the first time, I'm just thrilled by the quality of digital cameras and your list includes the ones I'm most interested in: the XPro-1, the E-M5, the NEX 7. Of those three, the only one I've spent serious time with is the E-M5 and I really enjoyed the camera and the images, once I'd worked out how to enable the Olympus Super Control Panel (SCP)…

Mike, you mentioned in a post that you use the camera to help you visualize in B&W. Artists have a trick to help them visualize when drawing or painting in monochrome: squint your eyes when viewing a scene. That will help remove the color info. Also, you can learn to relax your focus on the central part of your visual field (where the color sensors are in the eye), and use more of your peripheral vision (where the monochrome sensors are). It is a trick best practiced in dim light in order to get the proper feel in your eyes, and it really is an actual feeling in the eyes. I use these techniques when I shoot. Combined with good conversion skills you should be able to get B&W the way you want it. Plus, you can save some money and will no longer be dependent on a mechanical device.

No camera is perfect, all cameras are a compromise. In my view the best compromise is the one whose strengths match all the things you want and whose weaknesses are all in the areas you don't care about. I have to agree that getting the image quality you want is a very big plus but "very much not my kind of camera—not what I want to shoot with, not what I want to carry, not what I want to pay for" seems like an awful lot of weaknesses where you ideally want to find strengths.

You may find using the camera dispels all of those "not what I want"s apart from the "not what I want to pay for" but, even if it does, I suspect that somewhere in the next generation or two of cameras—and that's only a year or two—there's going to be one which could give you a better mix of image quality and shooting wants, and possibly even the price want as well. The D800E is really going to have to win you over in a very big way to hold up against that kind of competition in a short time.

But life is short and the heart has its reasons of which reason does not know. If there's no compelling reason not to, it's good sometimes simply to follow your passion.

if it's a camera you won't use, as your past history suggests, i suspect it would just be a purchase you regret and then resell at significant loss.

for my own amusement, i decide to see how much of my current kit i could fit within the volume taken up by a d800 (without a lens):

I fell in True Love again! :)) working Sigma's DP2M & Nik's SilverEfx2, & printing on Canson's EDITION Etching Rag, deep! blacks on a matte, a Thri!! again... The SDK has been released to Adobe so the use of X3F raws will soon be available to edit as well in Lightroom...DP2M has it quirks, who doesn't, but the sensor has a luminance!component in all image pixels, raw files are ~50M cheers

>>"I've arrived at the point where I just need to try it for myself in order to find out more."<<

Thus the Mercury Marauder...the C5 Corvette... the Chevy Vega...the Triumph Spitfire... the Opel Manta... and the other 35 cars that have graced, at one time or another in the past 40 years, the driveway here at the Swamp.

No need to explain the desire, Mike.

But you seriously need some help with this feeling that there is room for more than one Ken Rockwell, when in reality there isn't really room for the one that we have already. I have his web address set up in my Hosts file as as a reminder to myself.

And, since B&W photos are simply dreadful on computer monitors, please plan ahead and schedule a print sale of "Mike's D800 B&W Follies" so that we may truly judge the work (as if it needed judging, or that any of us is qualified to judge another).

It will help you fund the latest "need" - and allow some of us 'regular folks' (getting back to your Bill Cosby reference) to have a B&W print made by Mike Johnston and autographed just before they hauled him off to the home...



Dear Timprov,

I'd love it if Mike could articulate the difference he sees, but I'm going to bet he can't.

Oren Grad and I have been wrestling with a way to describe the differences between silicon and silver, visually, on and off for several years. We are still wrestling. My current working hypothesis is that it resides in some significant nonlinearities in how digital cameras map information in contrast vs spatial frequencies. But I'm not convinced I'm right, nor have I figured out how to explain it in plain English. There are also peculiarities in how the rendering for printing occurs that may make some cameras' images look better than others.

Insert additional and copious arm waving here.

pax / Ctein

The amateur photography communities on the Internet seem to be overly obsessed with finding just the right machine to bond with. I find the whole discussion kind of pointless and boring. The more important thing is to know how to use what you have so you don't have to think about it in prime time.

It's not entirely clear to me why the D800 should be any better (or not) for B&W than any other digital camera out there. I occasionally dabble in B&W with my D700 and I find it excellent. Of course, I don't see these things the same way you do.

But, my really contentious opinion about B&W would be that I'd almost always rather look at a good black and white picture on a retina screen iPad (or Macbook) than on a print. Prints don't glow like a light table. This trades off against iPads not feeling like paper in your hands. But maybe in time that will come to pass.

It's been a while since I printed for myself, but I've been considering one of the Epson machines to make prints for gifts and things. It's just such a hassle to translate the picture from the screen to the paper though. Much worse than translating it from my head to the screen.

Have you considered the NEX-7 for B&W? Kirk Tuck wrote a favorable article about the B&W files (straight from the camera, I believe). I also am pleased so far with the B&W conversions from raw files in Capture One (studio lit scenes). I may get even better results with my preferred B&W tool, Silver Efex Pro.


If you have seen good black and white work that has been created from images shot with the original Canon 5D, why not buy one of those? It would be a cheap experiment (and almost free if you did not like it and sold it again for the same price).

if i were you i'd hold off to see how the Sony RX1 handles black & white, it's also not just 35mm that your stuck at, it has a crop/zoom to 50mm and 75mm equivalent lengths...

more your kind of camera i thought... and remember those guys from Contax might come-a-knockin...

I'll add another +1 for B&W conversions from the NEX-7. I've never been unhappy per-se from the results I've gotten from my 5D2 for B&W, but something about B&W from the NEX-7 just seems better, especially at low ISOs. (same workflow between the two cameras).

Another point in favor of the NEX7 is that you can set the finder & LCD to display in B&W. The RAW is still full color so you can change the balance however you like, but I enjoy being able to see in B&W through the camera.

"... to get the results you want, would you use a camera you don't like?"

Not one that I don't like, but one that is not my style, sure. I'm using a D7000 primarily for the 70-200/2.8 and it's fast AF tracking. And, to a lesser extent, the 85/1.8 for shallow DOF. But primarily the tele zoom and its fast AF and speed. If it weren't for that, I would seriously consider ditching the DSLR kit for a Fuji or NEX-6 system.

I don't dislike the D7000 at all. I've been an AF SLR shooter for 20+ years (and a MF SLR shooter for a few before that). I shot Minolta then Sony and I like the controls on the D7000 quite a bit. But it's big, heavy, "gawky" and as much as I dislike many things about my NEX-5, I find myself enjoying the convenience of the little mirrorless.

I've been going back & forth on shooting two systems (upgrading the NEX to a model with an EVF and adding a couple primes), but have pretty much decided (90%+ sure) that I'll stick with the DSLR (ties in with a recent post of yours on 'mastering' a camera) and an RX100.

Photography has always been the art of compromise.

I'm not really sure it's a camera/captor sort of thing, but more of a software one nowadays ! From the humblest phone to the highest camera/captor thing, that all record colors and need to be converted in B&W, the key word (you used) is "conversion" !
In old times, with film, we seldom did it, some quick "downgrading" in B&W, more because color printing in some magazines weren't cheap ! It was more an economic move then a photographical one as, after all we did have a lot of nice B&W films :-)

Today we have a genealogy of captors and processors, but to really see the pictures on our computers, we still need a virtual developer, whether we use a jpeg, tiff or raw file ! Once the picture size/definition/Megs/Printer process mastered, it still comes back to the softwares and the "art" (or know-how) of the person who uses it (ask Ctein :) )...
I've used many cameras, films of course, but also digitals. From time to time I go back to old files with new softwares and I'm surprised at the quality I can obtain of "oldies" that I didn't even print at that time !

So while I wouldn't dare telling you to stop buying whatever camera that blinked at you, I would think that you should try also various softwares... :-)

MJ says: "I've been very excited so far by what I've seen of the D800E's B&W output. Unlike most D800/E shooters, I wouldn't buy a D800 for resolution; 16 megapixels in Micro 4/3 is already plenty of resolution for me. "

So why do you keep typing D800E?

Of the ten times you mention a D800/E eight of them are D800E the other two are D800.

If you don't have a good reason for omitting the anti-aliasing filter (IMHO there never is a good reason unless you like aliasing artifacts) then you should be jonesing for the D800.

Just sayin'

And right below this post is the Quote o' the Day by Henry Richardson:

"Photographers get a much better payoff by thinking about QI (quality image) rather than IQ (image quality)."


Your dilemma has me confused. The articles from Harold Merklinger seem to indicate that his best digital results (in color) come from the M9, and he wonders if the M Monochrom could deliver the same quality level for digital b&w, but says he won't spend the $8K necessary to find out.

The Nikon D800e provides him with the necessary quality, presumably from its very high resolution sensor and lack of AA filter, but you say that the D800e isn't a camera that personally appeals to you at all.

I seem to remember you own some Leica glass already, and I don't understand why you haven't mentioned or considered the MM. I know that $8K is a lot, but this strikes me as one of the few genuine "you only go around once in life" moments...


Am I reading those articles by Harold Mercklinger right? They seem to be full of caveats and pitfalls, and one passage in particular stands out to me as very important to what I know of your BW preferences:

"My best images [in one testing day] came from a 10 megapixel camera, not an 18 megapixel unit or even a 35 megapixel camera! It was more about tonal rendition than sharpness or texture in this prticular case."

At the end of those articles, I'm merely left with one person's strong conviction and theory that the D800E may be the digital BW camera he's been looking for strictly from the point of view of sharpness and resolution, and then only if printed on a printer that doesn't exist (or that he at least didn't know or had access to).

I could well be misinterpreting both of you here, but it doesn't sound like his holy grail is quite your holy grail.

If I were on a quest for my particular "compact" digital BW holy grail (and I may be in the not so distant future) I would feel compelled to consider at least the M8 and M9, the Sigma Foveons, and the K5 IIs, in addition to the D800E.

Well, anyway, good luck! (Or should I say "bon voyage"?)

I read Imaging Resource, L-L and Ken Rockwell occasionally and like them all (occasionally). Yours is the only photo web site that I visit almost every day. Sometimes two, three or four times a day if there's interesting commentary on the posts (as there often is).

Hopefully that bit of the above post was meant sarcastically. If only one thing was going to change, I wish you had someone to help with the admin of the site - moderating posts, dealing with advertisers and the like - leaving you more time for longer form writing.

Mike, here's my predictions - I'm sure you already know all this, deep down:

1. The D800/800e will produce very nice files, from which you can make very nice bw prints, as long as you get on top of the post processing

2. You will grumble about its bulk and weight, the discipline needed to shoot with it, and the expense of upgrading your computer/software/storage/printer

3. You will like autofocus, until you start pixel peeping and decide to focus manually just to be sure you've nailed the exact focus point

4. You will want to buy the very best glass to make the most of the sensor's capabilities. You will search the house for other items to sell in order to fund the purchases

5. After much experimenting you will make some beautiful prints

6. Someone will show you a nice print made with a Sigma DP2M (or perhaps the new RX1) and you will look enviously at how it slips into a jacket pocket. You will compare that with the bulk of your D800 with lens and the weight of your camera bag

7. You will compare prints from your D800 with prints from MF film, and decide that you still prefer the look of film

8. You will remember the hassle of scanning and spotting film, and decide that although you prefer the look, you don't want to go back to that again

9. You will sell the D800 and buy a DP2M or RX1 (or its interchangeable lens successor)

10. Repeat cycle, with blog comments. We will have enjoyed the journey


You'll have "fun" either way, but even if you swear by the results- ultimately it's not a camera you like, so ultimately...

Anyway you can rent it for a week?

I just read the Merklinger articles (which cover a whole swag of issues/gotchas) but fail to see the link between the D800(E) (a great camera I'm sure) and great B&W ... other than its sensor resolution being a close match to that of 16x20 at 360ppi. Are you planning on doing 16x20s? Also, basing assessment on output from a 38x0 isn't something I'd do as the head has nowhere near the precision (and resulting local contrast) of an x890/x900.

I'd figured you were going to buy the Sony RX1 ...

I just read through Merklinger's 3 part essay on B&W digital printing. Very interesting.

After reading it and thinking for a bit, I'm surprised you're not selling off all your gear in exchange for a Leica Monochrome.

Mr. Mike. Johnston:

Just do it, whatever you wish...

Six months from now, well, you'll be
looking at something else..

Change is good in your pocket or mine.

It's not the camera; it's the mindflow.

I get fantastic B&W from my X100 and Silver Efex Pro 2. But the trick is, I think, is that I just twiddle with things until the photo looks like a print from my M4-P, loaded with Tri-X and printed on Agfa paper. If you know what you want your photo to look like ahead of time (did you have a Zone VI "previsualizer" too, by any chance?) you can use your software to get there.

Or, screw it, just get a Leica Monochrom. The pictures I've seen from it are, in the literal sense, breathtaking. Like an 8x10 contact print breathtaking.

Mike, why don't you skip the next 5 procrastination purchases, suck it up, and just get the Leica M Monochrom and 35mm Summicron that so befits you? You might even save yourself some money!


You drive a Miata. You're primary camera has been the GF1. The D800 will be akin to buying one of those Porsche SUVs - mechanically brilliant but otherwise soulless.

Methinks the Sony RX1 is more your style - small and with your preferred 35mm FL. I'd wait to see some BW shots with that camera before leaping.


p.s. - the day you start being more like that Abnormal Rockwell is the day I stop visiting TOP daily. Just sayin'.

During the years I have read your work - and that extends back long before the blog - your preference in pictures that you like, and especially the ones you like that you shot, do not match up with a D800E.

If you could not get into the Zen of 4x5, you are not going to like to shoot the D800E as if it was a 4x5. But if you do not limit yourself to top primes and shoot on a tripod, all you will get are way too many pixels and stuff that looks fuzzy at 100%.

You get the dynamic range and the look of the sensor with the D600, without the unnecessary pixels. Better, learn to do conversions properly and you will realize that the quality has little to do with the camera.

I second the printer recommendation. I spent a lot of money learning to print black and white digital by trying RIPS and printers and making a LOT of print. It all fell into place with the Epson 3800 and the AWB mode. Much better to get that 5D or D700 (depending on what lenses you own) and a 3900 or 4900 and learn to make really good B&W prints. (If you are judging black and white on the WWW, then it does not matter what you shoot with.)

Olympus PL5 supposedly has no AA filter, might as keep your m43 glass. Also the sensor is made by Sony, possibly just a cropped version of the D800 sensor.


Harold and I have coffee once a week and I get to see the photos from the D800e. Even in large prints they have to my eye a uniquely smooth tonality.

No Ken Rockwell on TOP please. On the other hand, I'm keen to read your review of the D800E. Although I wonder if D600 can achieve similar results with BW.

The irony of the juxtaposition of this post and the quote of the day is painful....

Have you read Ming Thein's recent review of the D800E? (http://blog.mingthein.com/2012/10/27/nikon-d800e-midterm-report/) He seemed to have some complaints about the AF system. I don't keep up with Nikon news at all, so I don't know whether or not this issue has been reported elsewhere. Just thought I'd mention it in case you find his review useful. AF issues aside, the files he posted with his report look lovely, including those in B&W.

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