B&W Camera Systems: Functionality/Creative Power/Affordability/Film/Digital ??


Getting your BEST B&W image!

Outer Banks Pier, Monochrom Camera System

Outer Banks Pier, Monochrom Camera System

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.

Dugger Creek Falls, Linville, NC M Monochrom

Duggers Creek Falls, Linville, NC M Monochrom

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…

Sometimes!

Dunloupe Creek, New River Gorge WV, M Monochrome

Dunloupe Creek, New River Gorge WV, M Monochrome

 

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.

Glade Creek Grist Mill, Babcock State Park, WV, M Monochrome

Glade Creek Grist Mill, Babcock State Park, WV, M Monochrome

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!
Roanoke Marsh Light, Outer Banks, M Monochrom

Roanoke Marsh Light, Outer Banks, M Monochrom

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:

 

 

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The Olympus OMD E-M5 and Long Exposure Water Images…


Wonder of Wonders…  Emotionally Charged Slow Water Images with the E-M5!

Etymology of the word ‘photography’:


From the Greek words phos (“light”), and graphis (“stylus”, “paintbrush”) or graphí, together meaning “drawing or painting with light” – allwords.com

Painting with light… Really this is just the perfect description of what I do with my photography!  I rarely take snap shots.  I will walk up to a subject and study it, allow it to wash over me and evaluate its emotional impact upon my sense of self, then I will take my my camera and use it as the tool of creation and force it to capture the scene as I visualize it!

Such was the case during my last workshop where Jamie Davidson and I took a group of students deep into the New  River Gorge in West Virginal to photograph Grist Mills, Water Falls and Vistas.  Usually I used my Fuji X Pro 1 (my main creative tool) but at one location I was forced to use a longer lens in order to overcome intense, harsh mid day lighting on a small set of water falls.  So I choose to try my new Olympus OMD E-M5 camera system with the Panasonic 14-140mm f/4 – 5.8 lens and a 10 stop B+W ND filter (110) and of course on the tripod.

These waterfalls images were very difficult to capture in the fashion that I visualized them in my mind.  I was looking for dark, forbidding images of the water and dark rocks surrounding it with a little  highlight detail on either side on the rocks. I ended up spot metering on the water then placing its exposure into Zone 7 on the 10 zone scale (yes I DO use the Zone system for exposure as you should!  This will be the subject of a future post!).  After setting the proper exposure for the Zone 7 water and very dark rocks  I then used a 900 lumen tactical LED flashlight to light paint the rocks around the water to bring out some slight detail there.   The exposures were long, 3.5 seconds for one and 1/5 second for the larger falls. The longer exposures allowed me to repeatably repaint the rocks with the very, very bright tactical light.  Take a look at the results below and decide if the effort was worth it or not!

Water Falls, New River Gorge, 3.5 second exposure, f/22, 10 stop ND with high intensity light painting around the falls area.

As you can see in this first image, I have created an etherial image with slight edge detail which was generated by the small high power tactical flashlight.  The image worked much better in B&W so I did not really work at the color version of it at all.  My intention was to create a dark moody image that would wash over me emotionally…

Water Falls, New River Gorge, Color, .5 second exposure, f/22, 10 stop ND with high intensity light painting around the falls area.

This second image in color was my 2nd attempt on a different location at the same series of falls.  I really like this one in color.  The exposure time was much shorter due to an increased amount of ambient light falling on the water and I did not have enough time to paint both sides of the falls with the light.  Still, all in all the image is quite pleasing and the colors brought out during the long exposure are quite stunning.

Water Falls, New River Gorge, B&W, 3.5 second exposure, f/22, 10 stop ND with high intensity light painting around the falls area.

This last image I chose to process in B&W with a little darkening of the image corners to make it slightly more moody.  I think that I like the Color image a bit more than the B&W version.  What do you think?

All in all, I have to say that I am very impressed with the functionality of the OMD camera body.  It worked perfectly for these difficult images and allowed me to capture the images as I envisioned them in my mind and that is the best that one can hope for  when you are out in the world creating art…  I will also admit that if I had a longer lens for my Fuji X Pro 1 at the time that I would have used it instead, but at the time the Fuji 60mm macro was the longest I had.  I have since purchased the CV 75mm f/1.8 for the Fuji!

LED Tactical Light

Now, as to the tactical light, Surfire makes lights for the police and military but will sell to you directly or at Amazon or even in a local gun store.  They are used in 2 ways, mounted on the weapon or hand held and are used during a gunfight to see the target and half blind them.  They can be VERY powerful and VERY costly.  Being LED, they will not burn out.  All of them have multiple  output powers and the one I used here had 2, 20 lumens and 900 lumens.  You must be very careful with the high power mode as you can damage peoples eyes with it but being so bright, you can use it during a bright sunny day.  These lights use lithium batteries and they will last about 30 hours on low power and 2 hours on high power.  I keep this light in my camera kit at all times as you never know when you will need to add some detail light on a scene!