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Thursday, 31 October 2013


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I completely agree with you. A cheap and easy to use BW digital camera for photography students (and those of us who hate doing BW conversions all the time) would be a small but profitable niche for some camera maker. How hard can it be?

OK, what am I missing here? Looking through the viewfinder of a K1000 or a K5 shows you a colour image. Developing the film from the K1000 shows you the B&W results. With the K5 set to shoot B&W jpegs (assuming it does that, as does my Fuji XE1 or my friend's Leica M9), you then get to (right away) see the B&W results. No colour intermediary to mess with in photoshop). Filters react as expected. Contrast settings in the jpeg engine correlate roughly to film/developer choices. As a teacher, wouldn't you feel that this approach achieves your goal of learning how to interpret a scene in terms of luminances? (With the electronic viewfiinder of my XE1 I can even see the pre-image in B&W, incuding shooting a bracket of three shots with simulated yellow, red, and green filters, which would be a good teaching tool for filters.) From this perspetie, I'd think there any number of cheap digital cameras that would fit the bill.

I largely agree with you, but I wonder why your insistance on a B&W only camera for anything other than a learning tool. I spent nearly a decade shooting B&W before I could afford color film and processing. And I still shoot for B&W prints. I still see many shots as B&W, but for other subjects color is the way to go, and carrying two cameras (I speak from experience) can be a pain, and can lose shots you want. With film I went from color slides to B&W via internegatives, and now the conversion is both easier and better controlled in Photoshop. So, why your wish for a B&W only camera?

While I agree, until the time comes (or I win the lotto) I happily use my x100 set to bw jpeg (most often with yellow filter). Love the tones produced by the camera.

I learned on the K1000 in film (as in movies) school, and when I went to buy my first camera, I went for a Pentax ZX-M, because in 2001 it was the closest thing Pentax offered. My cousin ended up with it, with a 50mm prime that I bought for $50 when I gave it to her, because I knew that the 28-200 Sigma zoom I'd had with the camera was the wrong tool to help her in nearly every way.

As for Monochrom(e), I didn't learn to see light until I was shooting a black and white film (movie again). Black and white really does force one to consider light above all else.

That said, I find that I do my best black and white photography with color RAW files. I don't carry a set of color filters (I once did, in the waning film days... as boldly primary as I could purchase a deep red, deep yellow, deep green, and deep blue filter), so I truly enjoy the flexibility that shooting color RAW affords me when making black and white images. In fact, in my kitchen hangs a black and white photo of the Coney Island Cyclone that wouldn't quite be the same unless I'd had a deep cyan filter and my trusty Ilford FP4 when I'd taken it. The reds in the "Cyclone" sign registering at pure black really adds to the impact of the image.

Nonetheless, I find myself lusting after an M-Monochrom, much more so than an M9 or M-240. I'm holding out hope that Fuji (the "downmarket Leica" brand that is certainly delivering on many wish lists that existed before they launched the X-Series) will have a monochrome-sensored camera at some point in the near future. They seem like the logical brand to make the jump, and I've now invested heavily into the system. Your wish (for the benefit of students) is much greater. Mine is pure selfishness. Nonetheless, I'd love to play with a monochromatic digital camera, even if I think (and I do) that black and white digital imaging is often best served with a chromatic sensor.

For me, the funny thing about the M Monochrom is that I can afford to buy one, but won't, even though I shoot mostly B&W with various digital cameras.*

The reason? I love the freedom from filters that mixing the color channels during post-processing provides. I roll my own B&W conversions, with each one unique to each particular photo, whereas with the M Monochrom, the final B&W "look" must be chosen before the exposure is made (via the use of color filters) and not afterward, during post-processing.

While I have developed a reasonable ability to visualize my photos pre-exposure, I am not so good at doing so that I am willing to give up the chance to experiment and/or change my mind at a later time, which is what shooting B&W via an RGB conversion offers.

* I use the word "afford" in the sense that my check will clear the bank, not that I can necessarily justify dropping $8 grand on a camera body.

I prefer to shoot my fuji xe-1 in monochrome mode, so in the evf the image comes up as luminance only, the jpgs are b&w, but the raw is of course untouched and in color).

This for me has two advantages. First it forces me to make photos based on light and shadow (or expression, or whatever), not color. I've found my photos (both color & b&w) have quickly become stronger compositionally using this technique.

Second I use manual focus adapted lenses, so it really helps me with the focus. No distractions.

All that, combined with fuji's decent focus peaking feature, makes it a m monochrome for my purposes. And one that costs a tad bit less than $8000 for a body only.

Since modern EVFs can be set to monochrome (so you can compose in black and white), how much better would a monochrome-only camera be for learning to see luminosity? Would it just be that the temptation to switch back to color would be removed, forcing photographers to shoot in B&W? That's a valid goal, sure, just not sure it's worth the expense.

So, how's about taking your starter digital camera and setting its jpeg settings to monochrome so that you see B&W on the LCD screen. I believe many cameras have this feature. Then set Lightroom to automatically apply B&W develop settings to your images on import. You will never a color again. If you ever tire of this, just return the settings to normal. Problem perhaps solved?

I'm one of the people who would love a Monochrom as I work mostly in black and white, but it's not going to happen any time soon.

That said, I've found that the electronic viewfinders on my Fuji's are fantastic for black and white for one reason: They allow me to *compose* in black and white. For me, compositions fall into line more easily without having to take color into account. I'd encourage others to try this out if they haven't already. And remember: If you set the camera to B&W but shoot in RAW, you'll compose in black and white in the EVF, and still have the option to use a color file later on. It's a fantastic compositional aid.

While I'm at it, a quick plug: I shoot mostly black and white and I've found the files coming out of the latest Fuji cameras (X100 & X-E1 in my case) to be wonderful to work with in post production. Recommended for anybody who loves to work in b&w like myself. (And no, I don't work for Fuji :)

Perhaps I would change my mind if I could see actual prints by the M Monochrom taken under a variety of conditions ("Couples along the Seine" definitely succeeds). But a lot of digital B&W (at least on screen) has such a cold, sterile, plastic look to it. I guess that's why so many opt to make it look like film in post. Digital seems to emphasize sharpness, detail, resolution, and in the bargain can tend to look a bit... soulless. Could it be that grain, which so many photographers fought to negate, was not after all the enemy, but a very crucial spark that helps give B&W its very life force? Could something as simple as a subtle or even moderate grain structure be the emotional equivalent of brush strokes in a painting- particularly in a medium already devoid of something as crucial as color?

This is not exactly the same thing, I guess, but my Panasonic GX7 has a monochrome selection (except they spell it correctly) that looks a lot like the output from the Leica, within the limitations of the glass (although the glass is pretty good.) The difference is, when you're looking through a Leica Monochrom viewfinder, you're seeing in color, and the recorded image is B&W. With the Panny, *everything* changes when you select monochrome -- you see in B&W when you look through the viewfinder.

An interesting experiment would be to take the same photo with a Monochrome, a GX7, and with a high-res DSLR (and desaturate the images in Lightroom) and then send all the files to Ctein to see how close he could get the latter two to the Monochrom. I suspect he could get them very, very close. As close as makes no difference.

Dear Camera Companies,

If you build a digital K1000, and you talk to Mike, and you charge $395, I will pre-order it the day it is announced here, sight unseen.

I love my current camera. I am not looking to blow money. But I will support such an endeavour, because it is needed. I make this promise so you know the market is there.


I follow the Apple Aperture user discussion boards. Right after the monochrom came out, we got a few people asking when Aperture would support it. I would reply that given the size of that market, it might *never* get supported.

I was surprised when Apple supported it pretty quickly. I am guessing that some Apple engineer has a nice new one to use.

Might you be off on the wrong rant here, Mike? My impression is that many/most even slightly higher end digital cameras have a B&W option.

I just grabbed my casual picture taker, an Olympus E-PL3, set Picture Mode to 'Monotone', and took a

This is the JPEG from the camera. A bright yellow rose in direct, middle of the day sun is pretty high DR. I shot at -1 EV to avoid highlight clipping. The histogram shows no clipping at either end.

Not perhaps the deliciously creamy tonal subtlety I've seen in some M images, but surely not bad. *

The LCD review image is B&W. The embedded JPEG in the Raw file is also B&W, so if viewed in a browser like FastStone, it is still B&W. Bridge will show the Raw file in color.

To work with the Raw images in B&W, one must either use the Olympus Viewer software to replicate the exact conversion or create one's own Conversion profiles in the editor of choice.

My impression is that many/most even slightly higher end digital cameras have a B&W option. The M simply adds true resolution and smoother, subtler tonal graduation to what is already a pretty high standard in lesser cameras.

It seems to me that all the learning experiences you enumerate above may be easily experienced using quite inexpensive cameras.


* I've also seen some images from the same camera that didn't seem to have anything special. Subject, lighting and user still matter.

"You can see more—okay, a lot more—M Monochrom pictures in the RFF M Monochrom thread, although it takes a bit of wading."

I thought you might say - it needs a bit of editing! Even Monochrom shooters apparently need a bit of help with that sometimes. :)

Mike, while I appreciate there are significant technical advantages in a B&W only sensor, I’d be interested to know why you think that an SLR with that sensor would help you see in B&W more than just using a normal SLR and either choosing a B&W jpeg setting, or converting all your raw files immediately.

I’ve played around with the opposite approach at times. I’ve set my X100 to B&W so that I literally see in B&W via the EVF. And by shooting raw + jpeg I still end up with a colour [sic] copy of each photo I take. Would your digital K1000 be better off with an EVF for that reason?

I agree with you that it would be good for photography if there was a reasonably priced B&W digital camera - there are many such analogue small dark rooms available of course - but I've just bought a secondhand Monochrom and am completely enthused by it. I think you would greatly enjoy it Mike. It's still not as nice to use as a Zeiss Ikon, but I do like shooting in mono, and the files are great.

Let's not be too hard on Leica, against all expectations they have done it and they will only sell a small(er) number of these. I would be first to applaud if Fuji decided to follow suit, and would assume it was motivated by either philanthropy or as an attempt to hurt Leica more.


A further thought. Seeing a colorful scene in B&W brightness is not easy, color contrast and brightness tend to dominate our seeing. Seeing B&W doesn't come naturally to most, even the pros. When movies were all (or mostly) in B&W, many directors and cameramen used the deep purple Wratten #90 filter as an aid to monochrome brightness evaluation. Maybe for the few B&W movies today they still do(??). I tried it for my still pix, but it didn't seem to offer me much, but by then I had been 'seeing' in B&W for some time.

The desire for an ultra-simple K1000 (or FM2 for me) B&W only camera is often voiced amongst enthusiast circles, but I wonder how many would actually sell?

I don't get it, Mike. Why does it have to be a hardware solution? Using B&W JPEG-only as your output totally removes color from the equation, and it can be done with virtually any camera. If you're concerned with restricting a camera to B&W-Only for student use, then get together with someone who's familiar with CHDK (Canon Hack Development Kit) or Magic Lantern and have them write code to eliminate all access to color on a Canon DSLR. I'm guessing it would be a fairly trivial hack.

Mike, it's 2013.


[Yeah, but...no. The only way I'm graying is that I still blog using TypePad and still quote from episodes of "Seinfeld." So '00s. It would benefit many photographers to learn how to see in B&W. Sentimentality for old ways and old days has little to do with it. --Mike

The sad thing is, most of the cameras now made have a B&W option that affects the viewfinder and jpeg files produced; it's just us tiny band who shoot RAW who are "forced" into color. And one little option to ACR would make Lightroom and Photoshop users also see B&W in raw.

It seems to me that, for training purposes, the affordable solution is in software; the easiest solution is to start out in jpeg (and teach how to do more major post-processing later after they've learned to see some).

You could buy 20 of Peter's prints for the price of a Leica Monochrom. Several more if you want a lens as well. :-)

Gift me a Monochrom and I'll not say no!
The real plus of the MM, however, is not absolute but comparative: that of turning the M9 sensor into a much better performer in BW than a M9 'regular' Bayer sensor conversion can be. All pixels are luminance, as opposed to playing around with Bayer interpolations of RGB channels; no RGB filters in front of each pixel, more light on the sensor hence better ISO performance, etc.
I don't think you need a BW sensor to do focused BW work. What you need is discipline: never look at the original color output, go straight to the BW conversion, never look back.
Some will say use later the BW jpeg engine of the camera. I prefer to start from RAW so that I can tweak the conversion parameters as needed. I love the fact that the Fuji X100S lets you shoot RAW only and preview/use the EVF in BW mode. Leica M9 forces you to also save a BW JPEG if you want the (poor) rear screen show you previews in BW; a waste of card space -- and of course it's OVF only, just as the MM.
At the end of the day, again, it's all about not seeing and getting attracted by real life colors ("oh, that beautiful red mailbox"), but focusing on luminance and imagining it translated in BW when you shoot. From this perspective, EVFs with BW view options (like the Fuji's) are the best teaching tool I can think of...
Again, though, if you find that LEICA MM to spare, I'm game...

I can afford one too, but haven't bought one. If you ever shoot any sort of assignment the chances are you need color. Unless your name is Salgado, or you are independently rich enough to just say no to the assignment. So you need two bodies, M9 or M-E, or M240 on top of the Monochrom. Most if not all who have actually bought the MM have another digital M. It is hard to justify spending 5-7 + 8 k just for the bodies. With most other systems you can buy a cheap 1-2k backup if you are short of cash. I suppose a NEX with adapter or Ricoh GXR M could do in a pinch but then you get 1.5x crop.

I am fully aware of the shortcomings of electronic viewfinders. But if you set one of these cameras to shoot raw+jpeg and set the picture mode to b/w, the viewfinder image is black and white and you get a b/w jpeg and a color raw file. When you download them, you have two files side by side, color and b/w. How is that for versatility? Works at least on OMD, but should work just as well on M240.

While I'm eagerly awaiting my signed copy of Peters book I do think it's hard to believe that any competent photographer with Lightroom/Photoshop skills couldn't produce excellent b/w images with most of the digital cameras available today.
I do not believe a monochrome camera is necessary for to achieve an excellent image. thats not to say I'd refuse a gift of a Leica M if someone should be so kind as to offer me one,I just do not think it is necessary for to make excellent b/w images,get a Fuji XE1/X100s and shoot jpg+raw set up in monochrome and you have the visual b/w experience with the benefit of colour as well in raw which can be converted to b/w if you are not satisfied with the OOC jpgs.

Your bit about the "market" reminded me of this quote I saved which I thought of immediately:

Yeah I really don't think modern industry is as directly responsive to supply and demand as you're suggesting. Outside certain highly specific situations pretty much every firm is trying to differentiate their particular product with a unique brand. No one sells "tractors", they sell "John Deere Tractors" or "Caterpillar Inc Tractors" (and in each case they sell multiple different models). Then they try to make sure their particular brand gets purchased through marketing, or by cornering the market. Supply and demand principles do play a role in this industrial competition, but they aren't the primary mechanism guiding what gets built.

You're viewing the economy as a giant calculator that impersonally distributes goods in the most efficient way possible. This is a view derived from certain proponents of classical economics and periodically celebrated by neoclassical economics and the Austrian school. Its not a totally useless conceptual map for understanding economic questions, but its far from the best or most accurate one because it leads people to really over emphasize the degree to which the economy actually acts as a giant calculation machine.

I'd suggest a better way of looking at the economy is through the conceptual lens of 'creative destruction'. Vast distortions and inefficiencies constantly crop up in the market and then an entrepreneur recognizes this imbalance and introduces an innovation that capitalizes on it. These innovations wreak havoc on the existing economy, forcing out old ways of doing things or making old product lines obsolete, and replacing them with something new.

Adopting this perspective makes it easier to recognize that while capitalism can often be a highly innovation system, at any given point in time there's no reason to assume (at least not a priori) that a given set of arrangements is the most efficient or beneficial one. It also helps dispel the fanciful notion that under capitalism the economy is a giant calculator distributing goods whenever they are going to be used most efficiently.

Looks as though Nikon are about to make a digital K1000 for you Mike, but unfortunately not at the right price point.

Many of the small sensor cameras -- Panasonic FZ150 and FZ200 -- have a B&W creative mode that looks like Tri-X pushed. It gives the pix a grainy, contrasty, Vietnam-era documentary look.

Quick question for Flickr fans: How do I view Search results (or Group albums) in slideshow mode (one screen filling the image at a time)? Am I missing an obvious icon?

Before its redesign, Flickr's slideshows were excellent: I could search for, say, "Summicron Tri-X night" and then have a great slideshow of hundreds of photographers' work using that lens/film/subject combination.

But since Flickr's site redesign, I can't figure out how to get a slideshow of more than one photographer's work (as I want to do with search results).

With that search-result-slideshow capability, flickr was one of the most helpful photographer sites on the web. If that capability is gone, flickr looks like just another jumble of Internet photos.

Mike: I use my Olympus EM5 always set to B&W jpegs + raw. That way I always "see" black and white in the monitor and compose to the black and white tonalities. I import all the jpegs and raw into Lightroom where I decide if I prefer the black and white or color version. If I prefer black and white, I nonetheless go back to and "develop" the RAW file using Silver FX, which is really wonderful for applying filters and bringing out the tones you want. . . . For me at least, this is much better than a Leica monochrome

A simple camera/lens allowed the user to see tones and light contrasts without the distraction of figuring out how to set up the camera. No menus, just 4 knobs to turn and a trigger. Most people fixed 3 of the 4 knobs, leaving one knob (focus) to adjust while seeing the light and framing the shot.

Meh. Just shoot film. It's no harder now than ot was 10 years ago or whenever ot was more popular.

In response to MM “Question for flickr fans”
It's a bit of a faff but what I do is;

Type your info in the search box.
Left-click the first image.
Click the little diagonal arrows on the lower right (if you hover it says “View in lightbox”).
Hover over the image, either use the right arrow key or mouse on the RHS arrow, or, click the “play” arrow – this gives you the nasty moving images but is a slideshow.
Moving the mouse gives title and photographer and "X" top right.

I thought I had the same problem of only showing one photographer's work, but that was because one photographer posted most images on my search term!

Hope this helps phil

My favorite "monochrome camera" at the moment is an iphone app called 645pro. Most importantly, the app puts a host of DSLR-style controls at your fingertips--spot/multi metering, AE/AF/WB lock, aspect ratio, file quality including TIFF, etc. Or you can toggle a simpler interface.

But it also comes with a number of customizable tone curves, including a particularly sweet B&W curve apparently based on FP4. And there is a good set of simulated filters. You decide whether the preview image is "straight" live color or previews the film/filter simulation.

I know that there are companies that do infrared conversions. Does anyone do B&W conversions? I assume that it would mean tampering with the firmware. I would happily spend $200-$300 for a conversion. (I tend to shoot B&W + raw like many of the above posters.)


When talking about the Leica Monochrom people often assume that all [digital] black and white images are created equal, but as the discerning eye knows they are not. When one converts an image from color to B&W a good amount of data is simply lost instead of being available to enrich the tones. What the Monchrom has in its arsenal is indeed very impressive. A CCD B&W-only sensor with no anti-alias filter, and an army of the world's best lenses at its disposal. Such sensor produces tonal gradation and richness that I've never been able to replicate with any CMOS sensor. The closest I've come is with my Leica M9 and old low-contrast lenses, but still not quite the same. With a dedicated B&W CCD sensor you lose the plastic-waxy look, the blacks are rich and deep, the mid-tones are lush and plentiful and seem to take up the majority of the image, the lights are natural and not artifically blown out, and the dynamic range is one of the best available. The image overall is as film-like as any ditital camera has produced. The tones look like film, minus the gunk and noise.

Mike said: "It would benefit many photographers to learn how to see in B&W."

Firstly, I'm not sure you need a FF B&W camera to learn how to see in B&W. For a fraction of the price, a student could use something like a Sony RX100 and shoot RAW (in B&W mode). This would surely be 85% as good as a FF B&W camera?

Secondly, learning to see in B&W is crucial for photographers to wanting to shoot effectively in B&W, but what about colour photographers? I don't know, but do the likes of Sam Abell, Jay Maisel, William Allard or Ernst Haas credit their colour abilities on learning to shoot B&W?

pierre charbonneau

Those are just wonderful, the overall look reminds me of 6x9 PanX or even Kodak Aerographic Pan.

Aside from the technical, many wonderful things are going on in those photos. Also I love the "observations" portfolio , it reminds me of John Baldessari's use of Sight Lines.

"more light on the sensor hence better ISO performance"

Actually, no. silicon is most sensitive at the red end of the spectrum at 650nm (into the IR). Without any filters the output from a silicon sensor wouldn't look the same as the way a human eye perceives luminance. It wouldn't match film either.

The Monochrom sensor (a Kodak CCD) has a color filter (the same on each pixel) to make the luminance response look like silver halide film.


By a digital K1000 I presume Mike means a "full frame camera"?

If so you can't even buy a full frame sensor for $395. And I don't expect to see one at that price point in the near future. Images sensors don't scale like other semicondictor devices.

I don't see anyone elvery building such a device. After all they're in the business of making cameras to make money. They'll build stuff if they can make money which means expensive devices for small markets.

There are two solutions both already mentioned here (and in the previous blog post mentioning this camera:

use film (which is how most Photography 101 classes are run -- the cameras (like a real K1000 with 50mm lens) are still cheap and you teach the students developing and printing too.

or use a B&W workflow.

As other suggest an EVF in B&W mode is a very useful tool for learning too. Rather quicker than film too.

The comments regarding this post remind of the vast majority of replies reacting towards "A Leica for a year". In some ways this post has a direct link regarding perception and learning to see.

"The comments regarding this post remind of the vast majority of replies reacting towards "A Leica for a year". In some ways this post has a direct link regarding perception and learning to see." - Paul

I'm sure the protagonists are the same sets as well:)


C.R. Marshall, maxmax.com sells B&W-modified DSLRs. There's a list here. But it looks like they only sell cameras they bought and converted, I don't see an option to convert a camera you send them.

Other places have played with it, but I don't know of one that does it currently other than maxmax.com. I'm nowhere near omniscient even in this limited field, though, so perhaps somebody does.

IR conversions are quite common, and close to your stated price range.

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