Getting your BEST B&W image!
I wish to share some images and thoughts from the Leica M Monochrom B&W ONLY camera system. I know that it is NOT FILM and a very expensive camera system, but it comes as close as you can get in a wonderfully usable B&W only system!
Most people will take a color image then convert it to B&W in post processing but it will never be the same as actually shooting in B&W with a digital or film system! Yes you can get close but you loose the amazing gradations and tonality that is part and parcel to world class B&W images.
The Pier on the top, is in the Outer Banks and is a 4 min exposure using a Leica Elmerit 28mm lens and the creek below is is in the New River Gorge in West Virginia. It is Dunloupe Creek and a 8 second exposure using the AMAZING 50mm Summilux lens. As you can see, the graduations and clarity are simply amazing. The water takes on a distinct Platinum tonality!
Why am I showing you these? Well at the end of the post I will give you a link for 2 videos where a Fuji X100T and a Leica M are compared for street photography and for a discussion on the Leica M B&W. The videos are quite entertaining and shows why sometimes a more expensive camera can be worth the money…
It can be very hard balancing the desire between camera systems and affordability, but sometimes, with SPECIAL cameras the money takes a back seat. I own 3 Leica camera systems, and 1 of them I could have done without (Leica M240), another is an amazing film system (Leica M7) and then there is the M Monochrom. The Monochrom is scary amazing with crazy good B&W output to even consider shooting color then converting. I have NEVER considered the money spent on it to be wasted! In fact, I am considering selling/trading the M 240 but will keep the Monochrom and M7 film body along with most of my Leica and Voigtlander glass.
For me shooting in B&W is a soul centering event. I take it very seriously and slow. When you consider how working in Monochrome strips away the confusion of color leaving the soul of the image then you can understand why I am looking for the very best way to capture the best possible image.
- Shooting in color then converting to B&W works but is a compromise and will only give you a compromise image.
- Shooting in film generates a purest form of B&W image and by far is the best way to do it but requires extensive time for setup, capture, development, wet scanning then printing! One roll of 120 film in the 6×7 format will generate 10 images. Processing takes about 45 min then it has to go into a film dryer overnight. Lastly, comes wet mount scanning which can take 1/2 hour per exposure. Now, I do not scan every image, I choose the very best images from the roll (usually 3 or 4) and only scan those. All in all there is about 8 hours of work involved with that single roll! It is a slow process to be sure but very fulfilling and leaves me with a great sense of inner peace.
- Now, along came the M Monochrom camera from Leica, a full frame 19 mega pixel sensor with NO COLOR FILTERS over the image wells. This means that there is no anti-aliasing filter, and no brayer array. So effectively you get a 19 x 3 megapixel image (no brayer layer means every pixel well generate a true monochrome data value different from its neighbors!) which is crisp and has film like gradations that are difficult to differentiate from a film negative!
Aside from doing all of this in film (which I still work in all of the time) the M Monochrome (or its sisters) is the ONLY GAME IN TOWN! Hence, the cost of the system takes on new meaning since it is such a specialized digital system!
Sometimes I will put the film away and take out the Monochrom system. It is not quite the same as film in the overall process but it certainly is when the finished products are compared!
This is something to consider…
Here are the video links:
Sometimes we just have to stand there taking it all in!Ahh, have you ever had one of those defining moments in life where you KNOW that you are witnessing something truly special that touches your soul? Well that is exactly what this was for me. We had been on the road for almost 11 days on a trip from Rapid City thru Wyoming and Utah. Our last stop of the trip was supposed to be in Zion National Park but we had to cancel due to terrible rain and flooding in the park. We extended our time in Arches which was really nice but it was not until I stood here in Bryce National Park at the Sunset point looking down into the canyon that I realized that I had made a mistake… I should have added onto the time there. We only had ONE day to explore Bryce and it was very nice there with many great vistas and rock formations, but this image at the Sunset Point was the defining moment for the entire trip for me. Understand, that I am NOT talking about either of the photographs captured and shown above, but rather the moment for me personally standing there taking it all in, becoming one with the scene, no camera, no thoughts of photography only the experience and impact of witnessing the greatness of the scene. I stood there for a good half hour drinking it all in and I will remember the emotional impact upon me for the rest of my life. Yes… it was that powerful.
There is some serious food for thought in this last statement. In these days of rapid fire digital photography don’t you think that we can quickly loose sight of what it is that we are trying to create in our art? Shooting in film slows you down which aids in the creative process. This is not to say that we cannot do this with our digital systems because we can and I do, but rather most of us who practice this art tend to “hurry, capture and move on to the next thing!”It was almost as if it was an afterthought that I actually took my Sony A7rii with me up the trail to the overlook and took a few images which were actually quite nice in color, but after the sensory overload of the scene I could only think of one thing, B&W and FILM. Yes, I could convert the color image above to B&W in post processing and do quite a good job of it but NOTHING can compare to what I can create with film! So, it was a bit of a walk back down to the car where my wife and 7 year old grandson were resting because of the long drive to get here, but down I went with only one task, to trade the digital for a TINY B&W film camera, the Olympus XA. The XA is the worlds smallest 35mm rangefinder camera. It has an amazingly sharp lens with easy focus, but the key is the fact that it is pants pocket (not those bulky cargo pockets but regular ones), it is light and handy.
I took so much camera equipment on this trip that the only space I had for a film system required that it be tiny. Against all of my experience I threw in this tiny camera along with just 5 rolls of Kodak Tmax 100 film and off we flew. I am so glad that I did now but having said this it is only fair to share that this was a colossal mistake. I should have made room for a medium format (120 6×7) camera and taken out a lens or two for the Sony. I have learned my lesson and will never repeat this mistake. Don’t get me wrong, the XA captured an amazingly detailed and sharp image. I love how it turned out. The Kodak Tmax 100 film along with the Perceptol developer generated a image (yes small) with tiny grain and great sharpness. Am I happy with the result? You bet! Would I have been happier with a larger 120 negative, OMG YES!! Can I have a do over please? Yes, I know, not to much of there ever being a chance for that.
So lets sum this up a bit shall we?
- SLOW DOWN, take the time to really look at your subject! If you do this your chances of creating a world class image will greatly improve.
- Look closely at what is in front of you, take the time to feel its emotional impact upon you and only then bring out the camera and with your skill and insight to the scene make the camera (nothing more than a tool) capture what you saw!
- Think in both color and B&W. Remember though that B&W removes the clutter and confusion of normal color work. In my opinion, B&W allows you to capture the soul of the scene! So yes, take color but also take B&W, you might be surprised at how well you can do.
- If you are working in digital only, during post processing work color first completely, save the image THEN process for B&W generating all of the mood that you possibly can!
Ok, this post is done. Get out there, shoot and create, but slow down and think about what and WHY you are doing it!
My favorite image from my visit to Georgetown today…
Stormy Seas… Calm Dock…
I had to sit in the Georgetown gallery today. On my way there I stopped at Stormy Seas, my favorite shrimp boat in the area. I had the Leica M Monochrom with me and the Tri-Elmar 16-18-21 mm lens on it as well as the FRANKEN-VIEWER which enables me to compose the image with ultra-wide lenses on the Monochrom. Did I mention that the Leica M Monochrome is a B&W ONLY camera system? The sky had this amazing gradient across it going from dark gray to bright silvery light on the horizon and the water that you could slide across… Oh My, the water was so perfectly smooth and mirror-like that I stood there stunned with camera in hand just hypnotized at the magic and taking it all in. But alas, I only had a minute to spare so I took 3 differently composed images at -1ev, f/11 and 1/1500s. This is the result: a simple, well balanced image, so full of tonality that it is dripping from the bottom all over my feet….
Enjoy while I clean my shoes…