The Fuji Monochrom By James Conley

fujix100sbw

The Fuji Monochrom

By James Conley

A major impediment most new photographers face is that color is the default mode of expression. Not only are we inundated by color images in every possible medium, but digital cameras presume color as the chosen palette. The tragic fact of these defaults is that it interferes with the development of seeing subjects and places emphasis on the impossible task of trying to capture a color reality which makes little natural sense in two dimensions. The result is a great deal of frustration when the captured image doesn’t match the experience of color.

Few cameras are available that address this problem. The Leica Monochrom is one of few. The Monochrom only records in black and white, and only displays its menus and previews in black and white. It’s the gold standard for capturing black and white—after film. However, the Monochrom body alone costs about $8k. That’s a lot of money to get rid of color. There are cheaper ways.

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The cheapest way to shoot black and white, of course, is to switch to film. Using a film rangefinder is one of the fastest routes to improving the composition and content of images, and you don’t even need a darkroom if you shoot Ilford’s excellent XP2 C-41 process film.

But I’m unable to buy into a Leica Monochrom. The next best thing is the Fuji X100s. The X100s contains all the elements needed to work strictly in black and white. To wit:

• A rangefinder, with an electronic viewfinder which can be set to display only in black and white.
• A fixed lens with a 35mm field of view.
• Small and light.
• Silent. (More silent than my Leica M6.)
• Monochrome JPEG modes with yellow and red filters.

All the images in this post are JPEGs shot on the X100s.

Learning to see in black and white is the process of evaluating the luminance of an object instead of its color. Simplistically, luminance is how much light is reflected from an object. People are often surprised when converting a color image to black and white because a bright color often has more or less luminance than expected and doesn’t appear as one would expect. Through the practice of reviewing the monochrome images you make, you’ll develop your luminance sense and start to better anticipate how a tone will translate into black and white.

A way to speed up that process is by using a monochrome viewfinder. When set to capture monochrome JPEGs, the Fuji X100s will switch its LCD back and EVF displays to black and white. This makes evaluating the scene much easier, and will helps to quickly adapt and recognize luminance values.

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Photographers are blessed with a nearly infinite variety of camera bodies and lenses, which can be shuffled into various combinations to address very specific needs. Photographers are likewise cursed with all those options. Options are choices, and choices are decisions. Having to make decisions is an active process in the consciousness, and it leads to a lot of distraction from the subject. In discussing the thought process behind a “decisive moment,” Henri Cartier-Bresson said:

It’s a question of concentration. Concentrate, think, watch, look and, ah, like this, you are ready. But you never know the culminative point of something. So you’re shooting. You say, “Yes. Yes. Maybe. Yes.” But you shouldn’t overshoot. It’s like overeating, overdrinking. You have to eat, you have to drink. But over is too much.

Making choices about lenses is just as distracting as making choices about color. One lens is enough, and your body can be the zoom. Having to move within space and time to frame your subject makes for far better pictures than standing in one place and letting a variety of lenses do the work of seeing for you.

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The X100s’s f/2 Fujinon lens would be fantastic on any camera. Fuji has a storied history in making high-end lenses for a variety of camera makers, and Fuji glass is world-class. The X100s can use autofocus, or a very smooth manual focus. It also has an excellent macro mode.

Having a small camera means you’ll have it with you, which is the most important ingredient in making any photograph. The smaller and lighter a camera is, the more likely it will be with you. The X100s is smaller and lighter than my Leica M6.

Other than opera or a royal wedding, the best way to do things in life tend to be subtle. That’s especially true for photographers, who are dependent upon other people living their lives so that an image may be made. Unless you’re shooting in a studio, pay respect to your subject by being unobtrusive. Being silent is part of that respect, and an X100s shutter is quieter than my M6.

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Photography is about capturing a moment and then capturing the next . . . and the next . . . and the next. Spending time tweaking and playing with images is decidedly not photography—modifying an image is working with software. The goal of any tool should be to do work so you don’t have to. As my dad always advises about using a saw, “Don’t push so hard. Let the saw do the cutting.” If your camera is making you spend more time post-processing than you do taking pictures, it’s either not a good tool, or you’re pushing too hard. Since we can’t get Adobe to make decent software, however, we can use the tool better by putting the work back into the camera and let it produce quality JPEGs that we merely need to review. This not only speeds up the process of selecting good images, but it also lets you learn the capabilities of the camera just the way you would learn about the qualities of a particular film. This is vital knowledge that helps you see better when you’re out taking pictures, meaning you get better results, which sets up a lovely, positive feedback loop.

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With Fuji already announcing new X-Series cameras, ifyou don’t already have an X100s, you should be able to pick one up for a good price.

Once you get it, go to Shooting Menu 1 and select Film Simulation B with a yellow filter. (Red is another option, and will result in more contrast. Start with yellow.) Scroll down to Shooting Menu 2, and change Highlight Tone to +1, and Shadow Tone to +1. This will give you a decent starting place for your JPEG’s. They should require minimal development work after you import them into a computer. (**You can set the camera to shoot both RAW and JPEG files. This is a good crutch to get you comfortable with the idea of shooting only in monochrome. However, you’ll quickly discover that the Fuji’s JPEGS are very high quality and the RAW files are just a crutch.)

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Use the EVF. It will display in black and white and get you started on seeing the world that way. (Later, you’ll be able to take advantage of the X100s’s rangefinder.)

As you’re taking pictures, keep your thumb on the Exposure Compensation dial and ride it like you stole it. You’re shooting JPEGs, so work at getting the final product the way you want while you’re shooting.

With a few camera setting tweaks, you’re off to a better world in black and white! You’ll now:

• See luminance instead of color
• See shapes, forms, and shadows
• Cut down on development
• Spend more time working on your ideas and making stories

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The purpose of taking a photograph is to capture an image which conveys your impression of an event and tells the story. The purpose is decidedly not about tweaking, playing, collaging, and otherwise twisting the image into something unnatural. So, if you want to become a better photographer, you have to practice seeing what matters. Seeing what matters happens easiest with a rangefinder shooting monochrome images. Long live the X100s. (At least until those Leica Monochrom prices come down!)

website: fjamesconley.com
twitter: @Philatawgrapher

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99 Comments

  1. Wow. There is a lot of guys splitting hairs here. Grey tones arguments? If you shoot something compelling no one will examine your grey tones. Has anyone ever mentioned the grey tones in the zapruder film?

    • well, now that you mention it, the grey levels in the zapruder film don’t look that goot.
      thinking about it…

  2. To expect to use in-camera settings to achieve a final vision is either asking a lot or born of a limited sense of vision. While we always work to get the best exposure possible in our medium it is the rare image that can be a straight print or screen image that fulfills a vision.

    Film development recipes with discretions in time, temperature, and chemistry are the first line of adjustment for managing contrast and characteristic tonalities.The red pen directions for the darkroom tech for some of our most iconic printed images were exceedingly elaborate. Post processing is key.

  3. Despite the truly exceptional camera that is the Monokrom, for me it would be a huge help to be able to see the image in B+W in the Fuji’s EVF, and ultimately it would be very hard to talk myself into believing that the Mono with an equivalent lens is worth the price of seven or eight X100S cameras.

  4. Getting the pictures in b&w onto the memory card is one thing, then getting the post work right is another, and then there is getting it printed correctly! Here is an amazing video about just that, thought I’d share it with you. It is about the Leica MM, but any other brand fan will enjoy this, I think:
    https://vimeo.com/66352973

  5. Mr. Conley:

    You make a very good point. I can afford and I use a X100 . I enjoy the utility and beauty of being able to make high quality B&W and color images. I can’t afford a Leica.
    Thanks.

  6. Perfect digital black and whites straight out of the camera??? Different photographers see the same image differently. Not even a perfectly balanced scene (in all aspects) can be used as a parameter.

    “If your camera is making you spend more time post-processing than you do taking pictures, it’s either not a good tool, or you’re pushing too hard.”
    Maybe your level of quality acceptance is on the soft side? Couldn’t disagree more.

    “One of the reasons I recently went back to shooting more film was to reduce the post-processing time”
    – Really???
    About the printing process…have you ever heard about a place called darkroom, a portal which once entered, you would forget about life? LoL.

    What would Ansel Adams have to say about this? I guess he would be a more than happy photoshop addict…
    Just the possibility of making more than one copy without having to go through the whole process again and again…(call that a time saver!).

  7. Very, very nice photos! It is interesting though – just for the argument – that all cameras up to the advent of digital screens, showed the world in their finders in colour! The black and white representation didn’t show before you developed the b&w film. For almost a century photography was black and white so we got used to that. But since the dawn of photography mankind has urged for colour. To the better or the wors is hard to say. You find beatiful pictures in both worlds, but due to the fact that most of the great, famous photographers throuhg the times used black and white we percieve black and white as more true photography than colour. Use of clourslides was almost to cheat in my time (76 now) bur cheaper and easier than cemicals and photographic paper. The digital age has given us easy acces to work with colour for the first time in history, and with black and white for taht matter. But the screen or the printed page will never give us the rich blacks and greys we had in the well developed photographic paper!

  8. I happily shoot DNGs in monochrome on my Pentax K-01 enjoying the look of the black & white world WYSIWYG with all the advantages on the LCD of contrast and improved focus peaking. The added bonus is that being RAW, all the colour information is recorded in the file, so I can always output a colour shot via Lightroom or direct from the camera. best of both worlds.

  9. I have my Leicas and my Fujis…the MP never took a “color” photo.
    My X Pro 1 is always in B&W
    I enjoy using them all (especially after “tuned” with JB wood grips”), but I really feel “naked” without one of my 100 around my neck.
    Enjoy your hobby, whatever the camera, or with film, or format, or post-processing…just be happy!

  10. For me, the advantage of a edge mounted viewfinder (as opposed to a centrally mounted one such as in a DSLR) is that one can see beyond the frame, and see subjects entering the “capture area”. This applies to the Leica’s as well as the Fuji – and the method of focus acquisition is not that relevant, provided it catches the moment and works efficiently. The whole issue of “it’s not a rangefinder” is in my opinion, pure intellectual (and brand) snobbery – having used both true rangefinders and the the Fuji version.

  11. “The tragic fact of these defaults is that it interferes with the development of seeing subjects and places emphasis on the impossible task of trying to capture a color reality which makes little natural sense in two dimensions. The result is a great deal of frustration when the captured image doesn’t match the experience of color.”

    I usually shoot b/w, both digital and film, but I’m sorry that this intro doesn’t make sense to me…

  12. I shoot B&W plus RAW. I find I go with the B&W over the color at least 90% of the time. B&W hits some emotional buttons color misses.

  13. It would have been more correct if Leica had called the Leica Monochrome with “Achrome” instead, that is just the prevalence of grays (not really grays but this is the color that is closest to the way the eye perceives achromaticies).

    The human eye when sees achromatic images does not fell any emotion because of their flatness, humans are programmed to fell the richness of colors. Black and White are colors too. They interact really well, more than other colors, but the trinity of black, gray and white is the best, we like it paradoxically because despite there is nothing in nature that has this combination of color as a natural pigmentation, this trinity does not overlap with any other combination of colors with which things are naturally made. It’s the more non natural but emotional (because of a perfect combination of real colors) combination of colors to see the world in another dimension.

    In fact the ridiculous thing is that to give that same richness to the final output Leica monochrome users use softwares to pump black and white colors in the original achromatic image. Converting with software any image taken with color sensor into just “B/W” (flat images with prevalence of “gray” in his every tint) will give almost the same effect. Not the exact same affect, but no human eye can perceive the more subtle differences. The absence of the RGB filter allows one thing that other sensors do not allow, that is, to “see” more gradations and shades of gray in the landscape of gray. An human would have to born and live for an entire life seeing the world only in shades of gray to learn how to distinguish the difference that there is from a particular shade of gray produced by a leica monochrome and the one produced by a software that converts colors in scale of grey.

  14. “… and you don’t even need a darkroom if you shoot Ilford’s excellent XP2 C-41 process film.”

    To be clear, you don’t need a darkroom even if you’re shooting Tri-X (or any other film). You need only have a developing tank (and reels) and a changing bag.

  15. Sebastião Salgado reportedly applies Dxo Filmpack to his digital photos
    to keep the continuity of look from his b&w film.

    I saw Sebastião Salgado Genesi in Victoria and Albert Museum in London.
    In print I couldnt tell which was which.

    I would say then the same with Fuji, MM any other digital + software simulation
    If it is good enough for Sebastião Salgado …

    • Some of Salgado’s images are clearly digital. Complex lighting situations in which the balance between the shadow and highlight areas could only be achieved through digital processing of a RAW file due to its latitude.

  16. I get what you are trying to say but, unfortunately, this article misses the mark (for me). I’m tired of the “Adobe can’t do X-Trans” arguments – there are plenty of issues with the in-camera JPEGS as well, and your notion of “using the right tool” is nice, but the reality is that some folks actually LIKE to work on their images in post. For me, that’s 50% of the fun!! Lastly, except for the very 1st one, your images do not support your idea of “telling the story”. I see no real “stories” here. Just some decent everyday snapshots that happen to be B&W. I do love the X100S though! 😉

  17. Nice writing. I much agree with your approach.
    Technically i even prefer shooting with the OVF.
    Actually i started few times ago to switch off the image display.

    i just discover yesterday that this option might have cost me 15000 euros …
    … enough irony, Leica is something else…

    Having switch off this image display is SO peaceful.
    It is really worth to try.
    X100s, as most of nowadays cameras, is a very powerful and trustful tool.
    Check the pictures later.

    Time is now.
    Staying focus and close to the people, things and spaces i shoot made my pictures better.

  18. Excellent article! I use the same approach setting my camera to see in Mono but shoot in Raw, this gives me far more control when converting Raw files to B&W, a process I actually enjoy that lets me further connect to my images. Shooting straight Jpegs in B&W is a risky proposition in my opinion, you are locking yourself in if you have to tweak in post…

    • I agree. Which is why I recommend shooting the Fuji in Fine+RAW. A moment is a moment, and I’d rather have a RAW file I can work with in case the image demands it, or if the JPEG disappoints. It’s more files to manage, yes, but hard drives are cheap enough.

  19. That bike in the first pic should be a Royal Enfield Bullet. I wonder how it made its way there. It is a very popular bike in India. For trivia, The Royal Enfield Bullet has the longest production run of any motorcycle having remained continuously in production since 1948.

    • Haha! There are images of my Bullet here: http://fjamesconley.com/projectbike/ I have both a B5 and a C5. The C5 is silver and the B5 is black because . . . wait for it . . . they look better in black and white pix. 🙂

      RE is selling them in the US through a handful of dealers. I’m spoiled in Philadelphia by having two dealers close by. They’re great bikes!

  20. A Leica M8 also makes an excellent b/w shooter due to the lack of UV/IR filter. A “poor man’s Monochrom” as pointed out earlier on this site!

  21. Right on James. I think this is a great article and I really appreciate you putting the time in to produce it. For many, the accessibility and convenience of a fuji X100 camera make it a wonderful learning tool, one that no doubt help them grow. The monochrome M’s will always be in the hands of the few, while the fuji X100s can be in the hands of the many. Given the diversity gap there, I have no doubt that the stories told through the lenses of these working people’s cameras will reflect the depth of experience that could never be covered by a hand full of dilettantes. That’s simple mathematics. Calling out a camera’s images to be superior to another’s should take far more into account than sensor and lens capabilities.

  22. remember the guy did say that this camera from the start is not the leica mm, being that that model is 8k to begin with, you can’t expect a 1200 camera that simulates b&w to be exactly the same. I don’t think the author states that its as good as the leica only that if you don’t have the cash to blow on it then you have to come up with something else, and this camera is a good substitute if you want to go digital.

    obviously you can always go film but that is still not a digital if you want cut the costs of developing and such and instant results on your computer. just saying.

    good article and informative, you don’t have to agree with everything but its good.

  23. …”Not only are we inundated by color images in every possible medium, but digital cameras presume color as the chosen palette. The tragic fact of these defaults is that it interferes with the development of seeing subjects and places emphasis on the impossible task of trying to capture a color reality which makes little natural sense in two dimensions. The result is a great deal of frustration when the captured image doesn’t match the experience of color.”

    What?? That quoted statement above makes no sense. What does two dimensions and color have in such conflict? People take color photos because those people like color photos. It’s real simple. Other people enjoy B&W. Great.

    Also, this notion that a ‘monochrome’ camera is superior to a color camera making monochrome images is silly. They may be a bit cleaner from a noise perspective but it’s not all that. All camera sensor photo sites detect and display the amount of luminance of a scene. The other part of the equation is the chrominance information. In the digital world, there are only a finite amount of bits that can be used to display the grey scale. For 8 bit grey scale you have 256 levels of grey from black to white, and for 16 bit grey scale you get 65,536 levels of grey from black to white.

    But my real point is that when an image is taken from the Leica MM or any other camera shot in monochrome mode, then it gets displayed on a color monitor, well now the monitor is doing the same thing the color camera sensor does when it shoots in B&W mode! Your monitor is an RGB color system just like your camera. Looking at B&W images on a color monitor defeats the purpose if you want to be a purist. So unless you have a B&W only monitor and or a really high-quality B&W printer, you are not gaining a lot with a very expensive camera that only shoots B&W. Find a new digital B&W ONLY monitor, then you may have something.

  24. “A rangefinder, with an electronic viewfinder which can be set to display only in black and white.”

    Errr… Except the fact that the Fuji X100s does not have a rangefinder. It’s an auto-focus camera with option of manual focusing.

    Nice pictures btw

    • Thanks, Carlos.

      I think the issue is how “rangefinder” is defined. No, the X100s’s lens is not coupled to the rangefinder lens for focusing in the same way that an M is. But the X100s does provide a viewfinder which is not visually linked to the lens, and instead provides a clear and unmodified view of the lens’s perspective. To me, that unmodified view is the advantage of using a rangefinder, and it’s what keeps the M6 close at hand.

      The X100s has nothing like a Leica viewfinder, but it’s pretty much alone as a feature in cameras comparable to the X100s, and is a great option to have.

      • There was a whole class of cameras with tunnel viewfinders, without rangefinders (like the Olympus Trip 35, the Voigtlander Vitto, etc.). They were never known as rangefinder cameras. The confusion/issue is a recent one. Because the Fuji cams look remotely like a classic rangefinder, people call them that.

        If a camera does not have an optical rangefinder that uses trigonometric principles to figure find out the distance-to-subject, I don’t think you can call it a rangefinder camera.

  25. this is an excellent article – my best photos have been in B + W or with very minimal colours – is it possible to do an article like this with the OMD EM5 – or does anyone have some tips for setting the EM5 up for black and white?

    context is that i am picking up my nnew EM5 today 🙂

  26. My sentiments exactly. Beautifully written and expressed.

    ‘Options are choices, and choices are decisions. Having to make decisions is an active process in the consciousness, and it leads to a lot of distraction from the subject.’ … Very true.

  27. Interesting Article. I also play with the B&W settings on the x100s and continue to enjoy using it and respect the quality of the photos it generates. My one point of difference is that the shot I take is the starting point and PP allows me to do the kind of things I used to in the darkroom with my negatives.

  28. Nice Pictures, try this with a Leica Monochrom and compare the photos. But yes, there is a cheaper Camera next to the Monochrom. It´s absolutely comparable to the Leica, except it´s less convenient to use. I talk about the Sigma DP 2 Quattro or even the old Sigma DP1x i own. Converting those Raw-Files in BW is a rewarding task. They´re just what a BW Photographer likes to see, i think.

  29. Very helpful, thank you. I’m just finding my way round my X100S and can really use your tips – encouraged by your very good photos.

    • Yes, indeed. I appreciate the article, but I’ve been doing this for years with my Olympus OMD-EM1 and before that an EM5. I also agree with another poster that the MM files and the Fuji files are totally different animals. Just sayin.

      I love the writer’s images. Nice work.

  30. “The tragic fact of these defaults is that it interferes with the development of seeing subjects and places emphasis on the impossible task of trying to capture a color reality which makes little natural sense in two dimensions.” This statement makes zero sense to me. Why does a color reality make little natural sense in two dimensions and why is reality any more or less possible to capture in color than if it where monochrome? Surely as we actually perceive vision in color, monochrome is the medium which makes less natural sense? If the pioneers of the technologies of photography, moving pictures and television had created color straight out of the box, would anyone ever have even considered black and white as anything other than an interesting effect?
    For me there’s much nostalgia associated with b&w and I certainly love the tonality and atmosphere of really good monochrome photos (including the ones in this post) but I sometimes wonder at the pretentiousness of some photographers over their art. I certainly don’t see the ability of modern cameras to record the world the way I perceive it as a ‘tragedy’
    Then again I’m probably to dumb to appreciate the point being made…

  31. I have both the Fuji and a Leica M and have done great black & white on both. The Fuji is a fantastic camera, however it is NOT A RANGEFINDER. I think saying that the Fuji is a Rangefinder is very misleading to people who do not really appreciate what this entails.

  32. No offense James, but you are speaking as if you have authority on the matter, and from what I see from your image samples, you don’t. To the extent that there are “rules” in an artistic endeavor such as photography, strong composition is probably rule number 1. I would work on that before worrying about +1 to the highlight curve. And your comments about image processing don’t make sense either. Many of the best film photographers spend hours developing their negatives to get the look they wanted, natural or otherwise.

    And while I am a longtime Fuji user, there is no particular reason any mirrorless camera with an EVF couldn’t function just as well. The Fuji isn’t a rangefinder, and if you are only using the EVF, then the hybrid VF becomes kinda pointless. I think what you mean is, the Fuji looks like a Leica, and you like-a that, which is fine.

    • I’d like to add, that I went to your website, and there are some really nice photos there. Great work. I just wasn’t impressed by some the ones in this post. To each their own.

  33. I’ve been a B&W photographer for decades…from 35mm to several medium formats to large format and even larger format, then to digital. After the weight of my large format kits became very painful for my Old-feeling hips and seeing articles in photo magazines about digital being the “new large format,” I switched. I’d worked with Leica for years and traded my large format equipment first for the M8, then traded up to the M9 and finally the MM. Initially, the change was difficult for me. I wasn’t used to seeing in color, yet when processing my photos, I’d see my images in color, not black and white…it was startling. That’s when I bought the MM. After using it for some time, I realized that I felt I had developed a way to working with my color images that gave me a lot of flexibility by converting them to black and white. I could convert the skies to render as if made with a red filter and the late summer straw-colored fields lighter as if I’d made them with a light yellow filter. And so on. For me this was easier than working a B&W image from the MM and “remembering” exactly how I saw the color of the scene I was photographing…and, more importantly, how I wanted to render it in my final black and white print. Was the blue of the sky dark enough that it would be too dark with a red or even dark yellow filter? Did I want the atmospheric haze at the ground level in a landscape to stand out dramatically or less so, which could mean no filter or a light yellow? I always make RAW images, and found after working a lot of color files, that all of this was easily resolved when converting digital color to B&W. Maybe I wasn’t working the MM images correctly, but I found that converting my RAW images from color to the B&W I’d visualized when making the image required no more work than processing my MM images. I’ll admit to probably not being most proficient in that area, but I felt that, for me anyway, I could work better doing RAW color-to-B&W conversions and I sold most of my Leica equipment. I now work and am quite impressed with Sony equipment. I don’t know the Fuji camera mentioned in the original post and am not commenting on using that camera, just offering a view on how I approached the transition from B&W film to B&W digital.

  34. Interesting and some very good points. You can try this with any digital camera that allows you shoot RAW + JPEG, with the JPEG set to B&W. This gives you opportunity to try this technique out. The X1000S is an elegant way to approach it at a reasonable price, but you can most likely try it out with the camera that you have.
    I shot B&W film almost exclusively for many years and pretty much saw things in B&W when I held a camera to my eye. People that never shot film sometimes have a lot of trouble with this.

  35. Anyone with a long film experience knows that the kitchen of the darkroom is sometimes more important than the act of shooting the picture. This by principle has not changed in the digital era. The darkroom just became a lightroom. This cut the time of post processing to the minimum. But for a b&w conversion a little bit more is required. Reading your interesting article I have to make a couple of points. As a general practice shoot RAW+JPEG Fine in B&W mode. Do not use any filter inside the camera. Post process your JPEGs and examine the result. Then try to get the better tonality in b&w by using the conversion of the RAW to B&W in PS using a specialized plug-in like Silver Efex Pro 2. The end result will be much more closer to the “real” film b&w tonality. This works with Fuji as with any othef camera as well. If you have the option of shooting an X-Rite colour checker and convert the RAW in B&W as above then you can fine tune your files and use them as B&W presets. You can create your own presets in Silver Efex or any other serious B&W converter depending on the film emulsion you choose to simulate. It takes a little more effort and time but the initial investment will pay back very quickly as you are stepping up the learning curve.
    Best regards,
    Dimitris V. Georgopoulos
    Photographer at Large
    Athens, Greece

  36. Eloquent and well written James, and beautiful images to back it up. I don’t own a Fujifilm X100-S, but did own the original X100 and Fujifilm X-E1 at one time … both great cameras. The doubters will obviously disagree, but I would wager a bet that if this entire article was re-labeled “The Leica Monochrom” and the text adjusted accordingly – nobody would even question the validity of what camera was used, short of pulling the EXIF information.

    And as good as these OOC jpegs are, a raw image processed in a program like Nik Silver Efex would likely raise the bar even higher.

    Inspiring article.

  37. People insist to claim that Fuji is a rangefinder but it isn’t. The rangefinder itself is an expensive equipment to ‘put’ in a camera. Fuji manual focus version cannot beat it. Ok after all X100S is a pretty nice option for BW, I just love it, specially the ‘red filter’.

    • In some sense, on a camera, ANY focusing system — including e.g. Fuji’s digital split focusing — is inherently a “range” finder, as it enables the determination of the lens to imaging plane distance at which the intended subject is in focus; said lens to imaging plane distance is a direct function of the subject to imaging plane distance, and is therefore a direct function of the “range” — i.e. distance.

      • In that sense, the term “rangefinder” then is meaningless, and should hereafter be banned.

        Otherwise, the Fuji X100 is a viewfinder camera, not a rangefinder. It shares being a viewfinder camera with instamatics and 110 cameras (save the Pentax), and other point and shoots.

  38. …”Not only are we inundated by color images in every possible medium, but digital cameras presume color as the chosen palette. The tragic fact of these defaults is that it interferes with the development of seeing subjects and places emphasis on the impossible task of trying to capture a color reality which makes little natural sense in two dimensions. The result is a great deal of frustration when the captured image doesn’t match the experience of color.”

    What?? That quoted statement above makes no sense. What does two dimensions and color have in such conflict? People take color photos because those people like color photos. It’s real simple. Other people enjoy B&W. Great.

    Also, this notion that a ‘monochrome’ camera is superior to a color camera making monochrome images is silly. They may be a bit cleaner from a noise perspective but it’s not all that. All camera sensor photo sites detect and display the amount of luminance of a scene. The other part of the equation is the chrominance information. In the digital world, there are only a finite amount of bits that can be used to display the grey scale. For 8 bit grey scale you have 256 levels of grey from black to white, and for 16 bit grey scale you get 65,536 levels of grey from black to white.

    But my real point is that when an image is taken from the Leica MM or any other camera shot in monochrome mode, then it gets displayed on a color monitor, well now the monitor is doing the same thing the color camera sensor does when it shoots in B&W mode! Your monitor is an RGB color system just like your camera. Looking at B&W images on a color monitor defeats the purpose if you want to be a purist. So unless you have a B&W only monitor and or a really high-quality B&W printer, you are not gaining a lot with a very expensive camera that only shoots B&W. Find a new digital B&W ONLY monitor, then you may have something. I know no one wants to think about the monitor thing… but it is the same issue as the color sensor on a camera.

  39. The process of shooting b/w is well explained, but the premise of why one should do it (the opening paragraph) in the first place is rather muddled. You give two reasons: 1) we’re “inundated” with color images and 2) it’s impossible to translate three dimensional chromatic reality into two dimensions. Regarding the first, this is true if you consider all photographic images, but surely b/w remains the “default” mode of self-consciously artistic photography or photography that attempts to evoke the historical legacy of the medium. I don’t think I speak for myself only when I say b/w has been the excuse for many, many, many bad photographs. 2) You seem to be implying that b/w is somehow truer to our experience of the world, or (quite the opposite) that b/w is so far from our experience of the world that we don’t get frustrated by their dissimilarity. I’m not sure I really follow either, and I have never found color to be frustrating in itself–I find rendering its beauty challenging and motivational, and I’d be sorry to miss it.

  40. “The cheapest way to shoot black and white, of course, is to switch to film.”

    That statement is so NOT true. Film is expensive. Processing film is expensive. With film, every time you press the shutter release, little dollar signs float out of your wallet and vanish into thin air. So while the up-front cost of (some) film cameras may be less than (some) digital cameras, it doesn’t take very many rolls of film and processing before you’ve outspent what you would have paid to take the same number of shots digitally.

    Sure, shooting film might be less expensive than digital, but only if you’re planning to shoot a few rolls before you die.

    • I agree. Shooting film is the most expensive of all options. With film costs, processing, times to scan or print..it could swallow your life and savings up if you shoot a lot. The Monochrom is even cheaper in the long run than shooting film over a few years.

  41. Very nice read. Every once in a while I’ll have an image that I’m compelled to process in color, but for the most part I appreciate black and white photography much more.

    I’ll admit I’d love to have the Leica sitting on my desk right now, but don’t really see that in the budget. I love my Fuji X100 (original model) and appreciate it more the longer I have it. Thanks for posting the article!

  42. “The purpose of taking a photograph is to capture an image which conveys your impression of an event and tells the story”… Sez who?

    “The purpose is decidedly not about tweaking, playing, collaging, and otherwise twisting the image into something unnatural”… Why not? Photography isn’t “natural,” it’s something people invented.

    I’m not knocking black-and-white photography, or using a Fuji (I do both) but I don’t see how this kind of doctrinaire view gets us anywhere. Okay, I’ll get off your lawn now…

    • Isn’t Black and White a tweaked version of our colorful reality ? or basically, pushing the saturation slider to its minimum?

  43. I got excited when I thought Fuji actually made a BW sensor version of their camera…and then disappointed…

    cool read, and I use the black and white mode on my NEX-6 to “see” in BW, even though I’m going to convert RAW’s in the end…but I’m mostly shooting Kodak BW400CN (I got 52 rolls for $47) from ISO 50-400 on the same roll with my Olympus OM4 or Minolta Maxxum 7 kits. SO much easier than sitting in front of Lightroom, IMO and it and XP2 are SO GOOD.

    • Sadly, Kodak discontinued their BW400CN. I’ve been very impressed with the Ilford XP2. (Write up here: http://bit.ly/1u4Fuz0) It’s got a great dynamic range, and because it’s a dye based emulsion, it works with Digital ICE. (Dust control on black and white negatives is so time consuming, I rarely even bother with it. The dust is just part of the unique image.)

      But even though it only costs $5 to process it at the drugstore, It’s still about $10 a roll to shoot. Sadly, price matters.

  44. To me, postprocessing black and white is essential. I must say I shoot film only, black and white. I assign grey values (burn and dodge) to the shot to make it meaningful. This is a slow process, last month I made two prints i had been thinking about and experimenting with for two years, always restarting.

    Maybe it’s been said too many times: “the negative is the score, the print the execution”, or such. I feel like that about my black and white.

    Now, the standpoint of making perfect digital black and whites straight out of the camera is very interesting, I never saw it that way. JPEGS can’t be post processed properly, you need 16 bit, but if you aim for perfect shots that doesn’t matter. I guess it ‘d have to make you extremely selective and you’d have to be an excellent photographer. It’s not the way I work, I shoot negs with the express purpose that they are such in tonality that I can work on them.

    The images shown are all interesting and look very good to me.

    Black and white I shoot film, with a Mamiya 7, a Fuji GX617 and recently with a Linhof technical 6×9 camera. I make about ten prints a year.

    I have an Olympus PEN, I think i’ll try to shoot some B&W with it. Might be fun!

    Dirk.

    • Hi Dirk,

      Your comments are spot on. One of the reasons I recently went back to shooting more film was to reduce the post-processing time. I usually shoot digital RAW and post-process, and it was simply eating up too much time and taking a lot of the joy out of shooting for me. Film eliminates much of the post-processing, even when it’s being scanned instead of printed.

      One of the goals of shooting monochrome on the Fuji was to address the post processing time. I’ve been very critical of JPEG quality in the past, but have been quite surprised by the Fuji files. There is still a fair bit of data left even in the JPEGS that some final tweaks are possible.

      Also, it’s just great practice shooting b&w digital to improve the film results.

      Good luck with the Olympus!

  45. The x100 is NOT a rangefinder. Just because it has an offset viewfinder does not mean it uses rangefinder triangulation to focus.

  46. Mm doesn’t have the Bayer colour filter array which calculates 2/3 of colour from 1/3 captured.
    In practice when Steve did a M9 MM comparison couldn’t really tell their B&W apart.

    Only other digital 35mm that doesn’t have Bayer cfa is Sigma.
    IMO B&W subtlety, shades of grey, tones of black from early sigma
    Is on a pair if not superior to MM

  47. End of August I did spend a couple of days in Helsinki. I’ve had set my X100S to B+W plus RAW. Back home I did keep a lot of the B+W pics but also edited some into colour. I’ve even shot at my bro’s wedding and those pics turned out just beautiful ,-)

    If anyone feels like having a look, here’s the link to the Picasa webalbum:

    https://picasaweb.google.com/101763868370227998870/Helsinki?authuser=0&feat=directlink

    ,-)

    BTW: I am about to receive a Bessa R2M which I am going to shot with my Voigtländer lenses. Just now I have ordered 3 of these films. Plus one roll of 120 Ilford B+W. Got to load my Lubitel once. I have no idea about how to use that camera.. Hope I’ll find the time and I’ll get some useful results with the Lubitel. I have no doubt about succeeding with the Bessa. Today I dropped an old Kodak 400 film at the local photo store. I’ve shot that roll with an even older Bessa L and some LTM lenses (15mm Heliar, 50mm Jupiter 8, 85mm Jupiter 9, 135mm Jupiter 11). I’m pretty sure there will be a lot of waste, since that camera hasn’t got a viewfinder (oh, Leica, how about that??) and I have no feedback on focus point but guessing. Curious, though <3

    PS: will ask my bro if it's ok for him if I use some of the wedding pics for a short report on tumblr and might share it here later.

  48. The real difference between the Leica MM and shooting B&W on the Fuji is that the MM doesn’t capture color and the Fuji captures it in color and coverts it to B&W, which nowhere near the same. Thats why the MM has so many shades of grey where the Fuji won’t.

      • don’t want to be picky (well, actually i am), but i’m not sure if this is correct.

        a pixel from a digital image in grayscale can have 65’536 values of brightness in 16bit mode. any image from any camera (or scanner, for that matter) that is in 16bit mode can have that amount of values. the point is that the MM captures the shades of gray and their transitions more precise and with more detail due to the special sensor.

        • … and just learned that “16bit” in Photoshop actually is 15bit, so 32’768 possible shades of gray in a 16bit image.
          … and the human eye can tell apart around 200.

    • “The real difference between the Leica MM and shooting B&W on the Fuji is that the MM doesn’t capture color and the Fuji captures it in color and coverts it to B&W, which nowhere near the same. Thats why the MM has so many shades of grey where the Fuji won’t.”

      That is true but funny enough I’ve seen better examples of B/W photography(IMO) from files that originated from a Canon Mark D II than I have with a Leica MM. I still think at the end of the day it’s really difficult pull off digital BW and I’m not sure if I’ve seen real world evidence the MM does this better than other cameras in the final output. Though the high ISO is a big bonus.

    • Amen to that! And hopefully Ken Hansen will eventually find me one I can afford! The MM also has an effective 30 megapixel sensor. There’s nothing that beats the Leica.

    • I agree but at what point is there a co$t justification for those grey scales(besides shooting in a lovely rangefinder::—->)) ?? 98% of the users of the Leica MM or any camera are not printing versus just pushing images put to a web page like Flickr/Facebook etc. and there is not the visible difference at that point, specially most are viewing images on their phone!
      I have the x100 and for me the x100 with Silver Efex Pro with a M6 for B&W film is all I need at the moment….. but James Conley makes a pretty good argument

    • The real difference between the Leica MM and shooting B&W on the Fuji is that the MM doesn’t capture color and the Fuji captures it in color and coverts it to B&W, which is nowhere near the same.

      That’s why the Fuji can render so many shades of grey where the MM won’t, as the Fuji can actually use the color information to separate what are superficially similar luminances — e.g. a red apple on green grass — and render the red apple e.g. as a darker gray than the green grass.

      That’s why most knowledgeable BW film photographers have color filters in their kit — e.g. yellow and red filters — to compensate for the fact that BW film — or the Leica MM’s sensor, — unlike cameras equipped with a color sensor like the Leica M240 or the Fujis or the Canons and Nikons and Pentaxes etc. etc., can’t provide the gray shade tonalities that are necessary to achieve a photographer’s vision.

    • Yeah, I think the X100S images make great B/W conversions, but they definitely don’t compare with what I’ve seen from the MM.

      For those of us who can’t afford an MM, there is always film! Grab a Fuji GW690 for $300.

    • Yes, but you need to do a lot of PP with MM files to get most of’em. The Fuji OOC B/W JPG-files are just awesome! Exposed right you can easily do 60cm x 40cm prints on baryt! With the X-T1 and a nice prime it gets even better and better! Fuji is just doing it right!

      • Don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying it’s bad, I’m just saying it isn’t the same. The pictures are great. I convert to B&W a ton, but it just isn’t the same as capturing the image with no color filter.

    • There’s 6% more luminance (green) information and 6% less color (red, blue) information with Fuji’s X-Trans sensor than with traditional Bayer sensors. That extra concentration of green photosites means that luminance information is quite good, luminance noise is relatively low, and the combination of those factors makes for very good monochrome images. Thus, technically speaking, the Fuji X-Trans cameras produce the second best black and white renders of any digital camera on the market, after the Leica Monochrom.

      • The sigma merrills are arguably better than the MM and certainly better than the Fuji. The 246 is now top of the monochrome heap but not by a large margin over a merrill.

  49. I learned a lot from this; I think you explained the idea of seeing in luminance values well, gave an interesting practical account of how to do so and backed that up by showing images that result. The ones of the boy on the ledge, the girl sitting/smiling and the horse are stunning. Best article I’ve read here for quite a while. Thanks very much.

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