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Author Topic: Which camera to choose for B&W digital?  (Read 14514 times)

bokehcambodia

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Which camera to choose for B&W digital?
« on: September 20, 2015, 03:58:04 AM »

One wonders why there has not been any effort so far by one of the mayor players to release a B&W digital camera that would offer better dynamic range, noise performance and overall image quality compared to converting current color images to B&W? Yes, there are two options, either a Phase One back or Leica M (Monochrome), both of with are out of reach for the vast majority of photographers.

Will Sony release an A7M (Monochrome) ILC being the leader in sensor manufacturing? Sony surely could pull this one off and provide a dedicated B&W camera in the range of $1500-$2500.

But till then what to buy to convert color to BW images? I assume great dynamic range and the ability to pull shadow detail are worth having when converting?
What to buy in the range up to $1000 and what up to $2000? Personally i see the Sony RX100 IV a viable option (great to pull shadow detail) in the lower price tier.
Looking forward to reading your comments. (I cross-posted it in the camera gear section as there is more activity.)

GrahamBy

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Re: Which camera to choose for B&W digital?
« Reply #1 on: September 20, 2015, 07:31:52 AM »

No, it's not at all surprising. You just take your colour image into Lightroom or other, and average your colour pixels to make grey ones. By averaging in software, you've achieved most of what you could have done with larger monochrome pixels that average in hardware.
Plus, you get to choose your weighting, which is like being able to reach back in time and change the filter on your lens.

In fact, many years ago I came to the same conclusion comparing Ilford XP-2 dye-based monochrome film against colour film of the same ISO: after scanning and conversion to B&W, there was no advantage to using the mono film (other than easier at-home processing IF you could find the chemistry, which was gradually becoming impossible).

For getting a sensor with good DR, you could just go trawl through the measurements at DXOmark http://www.dxomark.com/Cameras/Ratings
The Nikon 7200 has DR> 14 bits for $1200 apparently. My Pentax can only manage 13.4. You know what, I don't think it makes the slightest bit of difference in my photography.

Some perspective: yesterday I was looking at "Us and them", a book by Helmut Newton and Alice Springs of portraits. The one on the cover is by Alice/June: low light, Tri-X pushed at least one stop, hand-held OM4 (I think). The shadows are completely blocked up, the highlights are all blown out, but it's an exceptional photo... I wouldn't swap it for an entire catalogue of perfectly exposed, razor sharp landscapes. But that's me.
« Last Edit: September 20, 2015, 08:06:39 AM by GrahamBy »
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bokehcambodia

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Re: Which camera to choose for B&W digital?
« Reply #2 on: September 20, 2015, 07:58:07 AM »

Thanks Graham!
The LR color Mix slider is indeed a joy to use for BW conversions.
So do you think any image quality improvements a BW sensor would have over a color one is negligible?
Cheers.

Plus, you get to choose your weighting, which is like being able to reach back in time and change the filter on your lens.

bokehcambodia

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Re: Which camera to choose for B&W digital?
« Reply #3 on: September 20, 2015, 07:59:27 AM »

Therefore a color sensor that can pull shadows without streaks (not Canon) and high DR would be ideal. Sony, Nikon...

GrahamBy

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Re: Which camera to choose for B&W digital?
« Reply #4 on: September 20, 2015, 08:08:30 AM »

See edits above. I think the cost of developing a mono sensor for such a small niche market (DSLR is already a niche) would make it extremely unlikely to be at the cutting edge...
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bokehcambodia

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Re: Which camera to choose for B&W digital?
« Reply #5 on: September 20, 2015, 08:19:36 AM »

More of a statement product, then.

But then what of the current gen mirrorless is best for BW usage? E.g. having an EVF that can be turned to BW might be helpful (for some, for some not).
That's why i was asking as i am a color shooter since a long time and not been exposed much to BW digital.

See edits above. I think the cost of developing a mono sensor for such a small niche market (DSLR is already a niche) would make it extremely unlikely to be at the cutting edge...
« Last Edit: September 20, 2015, 08:21:32 AM by bokehcambodia »
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john beardsworth

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Re: Which camera to choose for B&W digital?
« Reply #6 on: September 20, 2015, 08:54:54 AM »

So do you think any image quality improvements a BW sensor would have over a color one is negligible?

Depends how you define image quality.... Capturing in colour lets you control the B&W conversion afterwards and usually produces a better final result than if the tonal separation had been frozen at capture time. Much as B&W is my default, I just wouldn't want to spend much on a camera limited to B&W capture.
« Last Edit: September 20, 2015, 09:20:40 AM by john beardsworth »
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Herbc

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Re: Which camera to choose for B&W digital?
« Reply #7 on: September 20, 2015, 11:47:03 AM »

As I began my serious photography in the 1950's, you can be sure b/w was all I did. Now, with Sony's  lightweight camera's, it is still all I do, although with digital software.  One can do some real nice work with a 24mp camera and software such as NIK's Silver EFX that would take me many hours in the darkroom with a Large Format Negative.  It is assumed you would print your own work, but if there is a
good printer in your area that will use Baryata papers, that is also good.
No need to spend $$ for big megapixels.  I have a gallery winner that was taken with a Sony Nex-7, which can be found used for $400.  I got rid of my D800's.
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Paul Roark

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Re: Which camera to choose for B&W digital?
« Reply #8 on: September 20, 2015, 12:16:59 PM »

...
What to buy in the range up to $1000 and what up to $2000? ...

I'd recommend a used Sony a7r for that price range.  With the advent of the a7rii, there should be a lot of good used ones on the market. 

(I currently use the Sony a7rii and keep the older one as a backup and training for my adult daughter.  Leica M9 and, most importantly, M optics remain in the picture.)

The mono v. RGB capture issue, digital and film, has been discussed before, and the experiences vary, probably depending, in part, on the size of enlargement, styles and lots of other variables.

My own experience has been that once digital sensors got to their current level (actually to the M9 non-diffused 18 mp) the RGB advantages in Photoshop processing outweighed the speed, noise and sharpness advantages of the grayscale sensors.  Note that I do wall display landscape types of images.  If I were an experienced street photographer a grayscale sensor (Leica Mono) might win the contest. 

FWIW,

Paul
www.PaulRoark.com
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Telecaster

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Re: Which camera to choose for B&W digital?
« Reply #9 on: September 20, 2015, 03:32:50 PM »

See edits above. I think the cost of developing a mono sensor for such a small niche market (DSLR is already a niche) would make it extremely unlikely to be at the cutting edge...

There's no need for this. Sensors are already mono by default. Creating color via filter arrays is an added expense both in terms of manufacturing and data processing. Just eliminate the CFA et voilà! No more need for demosaicing either. Of course simulating global filter effects in software becomes an issue…better to use actual filters.

My guess is mono cameras will continue to be niche indulgence projects regardless. The number of buyers willing to devote a camera solely to b&w is surely small.

-Dave-
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GrahamBy

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Re: Which camera to choose for B&W digital?
« Reply #10 on: September 21, 2015, 05:09:47 AM »

Just eliminate the CFA et voilà! No more need for demosaicing either.

I'm not a sensor design engineer, so maybe I've got this all wrong. But I'd have thought that if you simply drop the filter array, you'd get exactly the same result as fixed weight averaging post-exposure. The only advantage I can see is that of eliminating some wiring and hence increasing the total sensor area on the die... although that also would seem to be redundant given the latest rear-wired sensors.

Basic story: the generic, universal solution is now so good that there is no useful gain to be had by specialising: the compromises have no real technical cost.

As for why someone thinks an 18Mp mono range-finder is worth more than twice a 37Mp DSLR with better DR, or a 50Mp DSLR with marginally less... that's a question for psychology and marketing... but whatever makes the buyer happy, in the end.
« Last Edit: September 21, 2015, 07:14:24 AM by GrahamBy »
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brandon

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Re: Which camera to choose for B&W digital?
« Reply #11 on: September 21, 2015, 06:43:33 AM »

Just to add the Sigma Merrills are pretty good for B&W capture
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JohnBrew

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Re: Which camera to choose for B&W digital?
« Reply #12 on: September 21, 2015, 07:10:14 AM »

Leica M8 series are especially good for bw as they lack an AA filter and have a thinner cover glass than later models. And they are getting almost reasonable! I believe Pentax has an AA-less crop frame DSLR which would also make a good candidate.
But don't be put off by brand specific recommendations - any digital camera can make respectable bw.

EduPerez

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Re: Which camera to choose for B&W digital?
« Reply #13 on: September 21, 2015, 07:13:16 AM »

Just eliminate the CFA et voilà! No more need for demosaicing either.

There is people who did this already: the CFA is a thin layer on top of the sensor, that can be easily removed with a small piece of wood, plastic, or any other soft material. Unfortunately, the CFA array is also the lens array, and without it you also lose a noticeable part of the light that reaches each photosite.
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Mousecop

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Re: Which camera to choose for B&W digital?
« Reply #14 on: September 21, 2015, 10:34:26 AM »

what of the current gen mirrorless is best for BW usage? E.g. having an EVF that can be turned to BW might be helpful (for some, for some not).
They will all basically use the same conversion process, so they should all be about the same. The better question is which mirrorless system will meet your goals overall.

I happen to use Micro 4/3. Quality is good enough, EVFs are usually very good, lenses can be excellent, the system is small and lightweight. I find it useful to shoot in RAW, set the EVF to B&W, and do the conversion in post. Fuji also has an excellent platform.
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Telecaster

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Re: Which camera to choose for B&W digital?
« Reply #15 on: September 21, 2015, 05:10:19 PM »

But I'd have thought that if you simply drop the filter array, you'd get exactly the same result as fixed weight averaging post-exposure. The only advantage I can see is that of eliminating some wiring and hence increasing the total sensor area on the die... although that also would seem to be redundant given the latest rear-wired sensors.

The CFA just gives you a means of separating in-coming light into wavelength ranges. This in turn gives you a means of creating color. Sensors don't know from wavelengths. They count photons and, via the photoelectric effect, express those counts as voltages. Eliminate the CFA and you have a monochrome sensor: photosites with higher voltage readouts are interpreted as "brighter," those with lesser voltages as "darker." No need, or desire, for any wiring changes.

With a hi-res camera like Sony's A7r2, or the latest Canon 5Dwhatevers, you should be able to get less tonally manipulated monochrome output while preserving decent spatial resolution (~10.5–12.5mp) via processing each RGBG array to a single full-color output pixel. Which you'd then convert to mono via existing methods. This would, in theory anyway, eliminate most if not all demosaicing/interpolation artifacts and so would benefit color tonality too.

-Dave-
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Jager

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Re: Which camera to choose for B&W digital?
« Reply #16 on: September 21, 2015, 07:31:47 PM »

I think pretty much any modern digital camera will work just fine for B&W work.  Color RGB sensors have gotten very, very good.

That said, as the owner of two Leica Monochrom's (the original CCD version as well as the newer CMOS model), I can affirm that, for me, there are both technical and creative benefits to using such a dedicated camera.  It prompts you to see in tones of gray, much like when you load a roll of Tri-X in a film camera.  Actually, the whole process of shooting a dedicated-monochrome camera is very much like shooting film.  And, yeah, I was a naysayer when Leica first announced the Monochrom back in May of 2012.  I thought it was indeed a contrived, 'statement' camera, with little practical use.  I would have laughed at the notion that three months later I would not only own one, but that it would quickly become the finest, most addictive, most creatively inspiring camera I had ever owned.

Alas, I agree with the sentiment that the market for such niche cameras is exceedingly small.  I wouldn't count on seeing more of such models, from other makers, anytime soon.

bassman51

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Re: Which camera to choose for B&W digital?
« Reply #17 on: September 21, 2015, 08:45:57 PM »

They will all basically use the same conversion process, so they should all be about the same. The better question is which mirrorless system will meet your goals overall.

I happen to use Micro 4/3. Quality is good enough, EVFs are usually very good, lenses can be excellent, the system is small and lightweight. I find it useful to shoot in RAW, set the EVF to B&W, and do the conversion in post. Fuji also has an excellent platform.

I shoot my m43 cameras in Raw+JPEG, and monochrome.  This gives me a monochrome JPEG and the full-color Raw image. 
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Telecaster

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Re: Which camera to choose for B&W digital?
« Reply #18 on: September 21, 2015, 09:03:59 PM »

I shoot my m43 cameras in Raw+JPEG, and monochrome.  This gives me a monochrome JPEG and the full-color Raw image.

Me too. It's a Cool Thing IMO to see in monochrome while taking photos intended to be printed and/or displayed the same way.

-Dave-
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chez

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Re: Which camera to choose for B&W digital?
« Reply #19 on: September 21, 2015, 10:56:05 PM »

Me too. It's a Cool Thing IMO to see in monochrome while taking photos intended to be printed and/or displayed the same way.

-Dave-

How close is the b&w JPEG to your ultimate b&w image that you derive from the raw image? How do you use the JPEG image to better the b&w raw image?
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