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Wednesday, 12 October 2022


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No doubt camera manufacturers want to make money, but black-and-white photography seems to be inextricably linked to the darkroom. I would venture to say that most of the greatest black-and-white photographs were created in the darkroom more so than in the camera. It doesn’t seem possible that digital black-and-white photography could live up to that. Ansel Adams or Eugene Smith working in Lightroom?

Other camera companies producing mono cameras…

This has crossed my mind quite often, from right after Leica came up with its first Mono, in fact. Being a Nikon person for 135 format ever since I was able to afford my new F, back in the era, the hope was that Nikon would produce such a camera and allow me, nay, encourage me to use my existing lenses a bit more than I do these days.

Even a brief glance at the non-pro galleries of my website reveal a high bias towards black/white photography. That being so, I have no difficulties converting from colour files; further, there are no devils in my head preventing me from seeing my imagery in terms of black/white before I click the shutter. The entire mental process is automatic, and it was ever so for me - possibly because most of my pro work was in that mode, and it was only some calendar and fashion exhibition stand display pix had to be from transparencies, Kodachrome for the 135 format and Ektachrome for 120 rolls. Ergo, a relatively inexpensive b/w Nikon could be a bit of a novelty, some added fun.

The trouble is, I believe that buyer take-up would be tiny; Leica gets away with it simply because of the kind of clientele that buys its products. As with Lamborghini: nobody in their right mind buys one as a normal means of transport. Supercars are the last form of transport anybody needs: they exist as a form of ego trip, a means of showing wealth without having to resort to the vulgarity of using words in order to say so. Did I forget to mention possible investment value?

All in all, though, it might well make financial sense for Phase or Hasselblad to venture into such esoteric territory.

Back in the day I bought a Sigma DP1 with a foveon sensor. The camera was awful to use, but the quality of the photos is something I'll never forget. I've been hoping Sigma will continue with that, and have even tried to buy a DP2 Merrill online, but I know that if I do, Sigma will announce their latest compact foveon line ;)

@ Rob Campbell: PhaseOne has actually been offering a b&w digital back, known as their “Achromatic” model, for quite some time. The latest model is the IQ4 150. But it’s probably a bit outside of most people’s needs or budgets!

@ Rob Campbell
Phase 1 has made monochrome backs for decades. They are pricy, but they are/have been there.

There has been a call for Pentax to come out with a monochrome camera for decades. It will not happen, since the 10 people who would buy it, do not want to abandon their current platforms.

In regard to TC's comment on Sigma, I bought a Sigma SD Quattro just days before Sigma announched they'd partnered with Leica and Panasonic in the L mount group, and thought "Dang! My new camera is now obsolete!"

That said, while they still say they're developing a full frame Foveon version of the FP, no sign of it yet. Maybe by the time they do bring out a Foveon FP I'll be able to afford one?!

As far as other companies producing affordable mono cameras, I could see Ricoh doing a monochrome version of the GR. If they did do a GR M I'd want one of those.

The advantages that I see that a b&w sensor would confer is that the sensitivity, noise and resolution would all be better. It would not need the Bayer conversion, so every pixel would be real. However, to get the full advantage would require different image processing, if Bayer conversion was abandoned, and that together with the cost of the sensor would probably make it prohibitively expensive. Leica can do it and probably still make money because of their exclusive clientele.

Your Fuji can show you what a b&w will look like and give you a b&w jpeg. You can have an Acros simulation and simulations of all the common filters. You can leave it set like that. Does the converted Sigma gives you better files though? If so I can see the point.

[The images can be processed using a utility called Monochrome2DNG. It's free and very easy to use. Converted sensors yield greater sensitivity (up to 2 stops), better detail (although this varies greatly depending on the sensor that's converted), and less sensitivity to ISO, because there's no color noise.

Go to, say, this image:


And zoom in to see the level of detail. The sensor in this case is 24 MP FF. --Mike]

Pentax has always had my number. As a brand, they weren't ever my first choice, but their product line-up was always pitched at a level where I could get the results I wanted at a price I could afford. They were sort of the Anti-Veblen Company, for me.

When I was still only a photo-pup, rather than a full grown photo-dawg, I was put in charge of buying my sister a camera for her 17th birthday. My secret hope was that my parents would piggyback on my research and buy me the same. So what did I buy my sister? A Nikon FG20 an 50/1.8 lens. What did I get from my parents? Bupkis. So when I went out to buy my own SLR, I bought what I could afford: a Pentax K1000 and 50/1.7 lens. And I used that camera and was quite happy with the results for the better part of a decade.

Then came the time to transition to a "serious" camera. I was moving out of the country and wanted top notch gear. What did I want? A Nikon F3 HP or a Leica R4s. Because of my investment in K-mount lenses, what did I get? A Pentax LX.

Now, I actually think "on paper" the LX was a better camera than the F3HP -- not that this diminished my sense that I was missing out on Nikon-y goodness with my choices or the feeling that my pictures would be sprinkled with special photojournalistic pixsy dust if only my captured photons were traveling through glass from Germany (or Canada >cough<) rather than from whatever benighted realm Pentax sourced their glass. But by this point I was in a phase of dawg-hood that many of you of a certain age will recognize: pouring through the pre-WWW small-print ads of used equipment in the back of Shutterbug, "stopping by" B&H and Adorama (and Oldens, and Lens & Reprographics and others in NYC's Photo district) "just to see" what was on the shelves.

Still, I stuck with Pentax until the LX's rewind crank handle fell off in a country with no Pentax dealerships. And then I switched to Nikon, where I happily stayed for decades, with the occasional used Leica as funds allowed.

But then again, when the FF DSLRs were promising a firehose of megapixels, there was Pentax with the K-1, and once again it was spec'd to be superior to Nikon's offerings in specific ways (IBIS) and at a convincingly lower price point. So I jumped again (free power boost grip!) and added used Pentax MF and autofocus lenses (at pennies (or dimes) on the dollar)("practically free" he muttered to himself, hair pasted to his forehead in a febrile state, eyes glazed and fixedly staring at eBay's verdamnt count-down clock . . .).

So Pentax and I have had this remarkable 50-year run, where many of my best photos were taken with their gear, all the while suffering from the "dance with the one that brung ya" sense that my dream date was leaving with the dashing Sabastiao, or the shark-like Henri, or the peripatetic Gary.

Here's the latest with that K-1:




Now, if I could just afford that Z9...

Kenneth and PDLanum: thanks for bringing me up to speed in the Phase lane.

Phase inhabits a world I normally don’t visit. As with cars, unless I can write a non-bouncing cheque for one, I don’t investigate; masochism ain’t my thing. Hassy, on the other hand, sometimes registers on my screen because I used to use a pair, back in the day, and now and then, just out of curiosity, I look through their offerings and sigh to the bittersweet memories of days long past. I have sometimes tried to work out some comparison between the price the things cost me in the 60s, and how that equates with my purchasing power of today, in real terms. It’s not as simple as comparing pounds with pounds, because such an equation leaves out personal earning powers enjoyed (?) in the two different eras.

I guess that’s where much of that good old days sentiment truly originates: current ability to keep swimming. Does it, or does it not, still match the younger life today?

Perhaps the main obstacle to happy spending comes from the fear of living too long for the bank balance to keep up. Was a time I though I could afford to live for ever; no more! No debts, no mortgages etc. is all well and good, but one still requires lots of disposable income these days.

Anyway, at least there are still cameras available!

Ansel Adams explicitly answered this question. He eagerly looked forward to the potential development of 'electronic' means of darkroom processing if it would make his workflow more precise and flexible.
It's self-evident that he would have loved Lightroom, or more likely Photoshop with its infinitely flexible layers and masks.

Last I checked there were zero film cameras with mono viewfinders of any kind. Heck we even had to look through yellow, red, green or other color filters. Way back in the day, for me 1965 onward.
I don't need a monochrome camera. Your feelings differ and that is fine. Please enjoy your converted camera and I will be looking forward to your results.

The great yellow father indeed! Kodak's color negative business not only funded a wealth of amazing projects and spinoffs, it helped to fund my education (thanks Dad!). And while the old man was the co-inventor of the T-grain; he absolutely loved the images that I would get out of my various flavors of Foveon-powered Sigma cameras (starting with the SD10). He was so taken with the 'realism' of the images. Yeah, I can sympathize with those who have had trouble with the DP series (I had a DP3 that I could never love). The cameras were between 'just OK' and 'pretty good', the software was between 'OMG' and 'I can get work done'--but the images were really a cut above.

Mike's non-review of the Sigma fp lead me to rent one for a weekend trip up to Maine. I didn't do a ton of shooting, only got 1-2 images that I would want to print, but I will say that I actually enjoyed almost everything about using that camera. It was a great experience. I'm looking forward to the FF X3 (nee Foveon) sensored camera that will hopefully be out sometime in 2023.

@Randall Teasley: It took me a long time and many €uros to come to that conclusion...

Re. the monochrome camera: I happen to be a person that doesn't get distracted by the fact that my current camera records in RGGB, in fact I find the possibilities of monochrome conversion in postprocessing more than agreeable. Add to that a monochrome image in the viewfinder... Even the potential higher resolution doesn't (currently) tempt me. Just now I processed some images that were created at ASA 3200 and find the results marvellous...

Forget black and white already, you can do the conversion in post-processing, even if it is not ideal. The real question is, who will be the first manufacturer to make a modern-day digital Nikonos? That's the niche product I want to see.

Antony Shepherd got to the commenting before me. I agree that by Pentax making a monochrome camera you meant Ricoh. The GR series would seem to be a no-brainer for a mono edition. Which isn't to say they would make money, but I think it would have great take-up among those already aware of the GR series' charms.


I like to think about Jeff1000's idea, that we would not have classic black and white photographs without film. In my no-film-ever fantasy world, maybe for some odd reason no one can explain, no one invents bayer filter sensors for decades, so we are all shooting with monochrome sensors at first. Do we have classic photographs that come out of that? Probably. Then later we have classic color photography. Then eventually, just like with classic rock, everything starts to seem repetitive and done before and too easy (even though it's not). I think what happens is that when a new art form is created, there is a certain cultural enthusiasm that leads to some star players emerging, and then it all kind of turns to commercial mush, except for the people in their basements, still playing the classics (us).

The other thing Kodak wanted - well, George Eastman wanted, was the actual and long term betterment of his community. Dental clinics, Eastman School of Music, etc., etc. There’s even an Eastman dental clinic in the 13th arrondissment of Paris. It seems that these days philanthropic gestures are often performative acts whose main purpose is to simply burnish an otherwise unsavoury corporate image.

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