Jun 182013


An Anatomical Mono Breakdown

by Brad Nichol

I while back Steve published an article of mine titled One Giant Polaroid where I gave some insight into photographic processes I use which I felt it might be of interest in the context of the artwork discussed in the article. This time round I thought I could give some insight into monochrome techniques that perhaps readers might be able to at least partially put into practice their own work. Please bear in mind this is not meant to be an instructional piece but rather some words to provide a little inspiration regarding the options you may consider in working in monochrome.

As said in the previous article, I am a firm believer that to be consistently creative, a photographer needs control over their tools, processes and methodologies, otherwise it’s all a bit of a lottery and potentially wasteful of time and resources and creative energy. Today I will look specifically at some methods I use to create high quality monochrome images. Methods in this article are for landscapes and static subjects, for moving subjects, street photography etc a different approach is needed.


First a little background, going back several years ago, probably like a lot of people do, I looked at my work and wondered why there wasn’t that real life “being there” punch and why did my images not match the vision that I saw with my own eyes, and more importantly how could I address this imbalance and get closer to my artistic intents?

From these three questions and following many years of exploration, testing and taking literally thousands and thousands of images I determined the answers and subsequently developed a holistic system of photography which I call True Light Capture. TLC fundamentally works on a completion backwards principle, in other words I determine what I want as the end result and then put into place all the steps I need along the way to get to that end point, being careful that nothing is done that would compromise the following processes. It sounds technical and perhaps limiting but in fact it is quite the reverse, the methods are now so ingrained for me that I feel free to just concentrate on the creative output.

Today I’m not here to promote that system and in any case I only run the workshops once a year in Australia, but rather I would like to give insight into a couple of contributing techniques that might be of benefit to you when capturing and editing monochrome images.


First up I firmly hold to the belief that to create a really good quality monochrome images you actually need a truly excellent initial capture in every technical sense. Without colour Monochrome lives and breathes by dint of its detail, texture and tonality, especially tonality. This is not to discount composition of course, and I would regard myself as being very composition driven but even the best composition can be totally brough undone by poor execution.

It is possible to use monochrome conversions to salvage noisy and sometimes poor quality files but that is not a pathway that holds any interest for me, I set out from the very beginning knowing that a mono output is the target, everything is driven be that consideration, I would never convert to monochrome as a salvage option. Such a file would be just discarded as I would feel embarrassed to present it, but perhaps that’s just me.

For my purposes JPEGs are completely useless, in fact I need low contrast RAW files that have full tonal information right into the highlights and shadows unless of course those areas are meant to be pure white or black. I think of it this way, I can always boost contrast and push tones around for artistic effect and interpretation but they have to be rendered in the file in the first place! JPEGs sacrifice an enormous amount of subtlety, especially in highlights and if you hold the highlights back enough via exposure to fully render them then your shadows are toast! JPEGs also have lots of noise reduction cooked in regardless of the camera settings and that sadly just eats the micro detail you need for great textural mono work.

I realize that JPEG quality is somewhat camera brand dependent, and being a Sony user I would never claim they produce great JPEGs, but nonetheless all JPEGs have significant limitations. I often tell students, if your RAW file derived images are not better than your JPEGs it’s either you have not yet reached a stage of being able to truly process them to their maximum capability or the RAW converters are just not up to the task yet for that file type yet. For example I am sure the Raw files from the X series Fuji cameras offer more potential than we are currently seeing, it is just the converters that are the problem and they will undoubtably get better as raw software developers learn to better crack the unusual Fuji RAW files. In any case RAW future proofs you, the converters will continue to improve and thus open up further options for you down the road.

Fully rendered highlights are I feel particularly important because the human eye is not used to seeing bleached or absent detail in highlights unless of course it is a specular highlight, it is that lack of subtle highlight details that helps make images look…… well digital.

Since I am after a certain look, I also choose my lenses accordingly, generally this means high contrast Zeiss style renderings are off the agenda and typically with both my NEX and Sony A series cameras I shoot with low contrast legacy glass.

Some lenses are particularly nice for certain types of monochrome images and fail miserably for others. For example I often use an ancient Minolta 28-85 f3.5-4.5 zoom, it’s a superb lens at the wide-angle end, but only if using the green and blue channels for the final image, it displays amazing clarity and micro detail in the green channel. Should your image however require a channel mix involving the red channel it is far less suitable as the red channel is very poorly resolved, especially in the outer reaches. Go to the long end on the same lens and the blue channel falls apart and the red shines! One needs to know their lenses and importantly where the individual strengths lie for any photography need, but especially for mono work.

One of the biggest impediments to truly successful high quality color to monochrome conversions is image noise. Don’t get me wrong noise can be a really good thing in a monochrome image but it needs to be applied post-production in the areas where you want it, it is definitely not desirable to be fighting noise from the very beginning of the conversion process, it will simply limit every process you try to implement from tonal adjustments right through to sharpening.

I shoot always at the lowest ISO I can get away with, which with the NEX 5N used for these pics is 200 ISO, I prefer 100ISO and there is a significant difference but if I am forced to hand hold, as I was for these images I will trade the higher potential quality off for a sharper capture.

Obtaining the greatest level of exposure without clipping any of those precious highlights is paramount to me, sometimes you will hear this referred to as ETTR, (Expose To The Right) which refers of course to shooting with your exposure set to the right side of the histogram.

ETTR is a little controversial and in any case there is a lot more to it than just going to the right side of the histogram, and I feel those arguing against it often misunderstand how it works and is actually used but the principle is simple enough, the more light you capture the further down the exposure scale your noise will be buried. The optimum setting for exposure to be set at the point where your brightest wanted highlights details just avoid clipping.

Sometimes I take several frames and noise stack to average noise out, sometimes I bracket the exposures, sometimes I even take the same frame at differing ISOs for later blending, there are lots of things one can do but ultimately really low noise in the file coming out of the RAW convertor means far greater post Raw flexibility. It is a beautiful thing to be able to just push tones around without having to worry about banding and rampant noise.

None of the above is radically different to anything a great number of photographers do but there is one other tool in my armory which you may consider is a little bit unusual.  The use of “balanced sensor capture” which forms an integral part of the whole TLC process.


Bear with me please….don’t nod off now.

Fundamentally good colour to monochrome conversions are impeded by differing noise signatures across the three colour channels, normally the green is quite noise free, the red has a greater level of noise and the blue may have quite radically high levels of noise.

With some cameras the red channel maybe the worst with the blue in the middle but the green will always be the best.  The problem is that most channel mixing processes involve mixing the green with some red and some blue or perhaps just green and red or perhaps green and blue etc In all cases you’ll find that the level of noise in the resulting image varies depending upon the donor colour of the items in the original scene. In other words perhaps blue objects may appear far more noisy and less detailed than those objects which were initially green. There will also be differences in the levels of details that are held in the objects once again dependent upon the colour of the initial object.

The root cause of this is that the three colour channels at capture are not actually exposed identically typically the green channel will receive far more exposure than the red or blue.

Without going into full details and there are many, this also means that the red channel and the blue channel will possess less detail in the shadows than the green channel and will clip in the shadows far earlier, likewise the green channel may clip highlights before the red and blue channel and please note: Here we not talking about JPEG images but actual raw file data, that is as they say a horse of an entirely different colour.

If you could actually obtain a close to equal level of exposure across all three channels you would have roughly equivalent noise signatures for each channel making your monochrome conversions far more successful. Well in fact you can do exactly that.

This state of Nirvana is achieved by filtering the light before it reaches the camera sensor, there are no post production methods that will give the same result.

Typically this will mean you need to use a combination of red and magenta filters and this is exactly what I do. As to the exact values they will vary from camera model to model and even with the lens used. The filtration required is quite significant.

The trade-off of course is that the sensor is receiving less light for any given EV value so your exposure times become longer, in effect it’s like shooting at around 16-32 ISO instead of 100 ISO! Hence a tripod or really steady hold is doubly important.

The resulting files are low in contrast and very low on noise which means they are eminently suitable for monochrome conversion.  The most important factor being because the noise signatures are roughly equal across all three channels, channel mixing can be done using almost any combination of mixes, safe in the knowledge that your image will not fall apart due to weird noise signatures in certain donor colours.

A side benefit the images are slightly sharper, probably due to the better quality of the data being fed into the interpolation algorithm at the beginning of the process.  Even more importantly because there is a lower level of noise across the entire image it can withstand far greater and more sophisticated approaches to sharpening than is normal.

Because I’m obviously aiming for a high-quality result I’m very careful about controlling camera movement and shake, picking the exact focus point usually using magnified live view and using an aperture which is optimal for the final DOF that I want. Nothing startling there but take it as a given, this is no off the cuff high-speed street shooter option.

Back at the office the next important step is the conversion of the raw file into a Tiff file. For the ultimate high-end work I choose to use our RPP (Raw Photo Processor) a Mac only converter, but I also use RAW Developer (also Mac only). I adjust RPP to output the files as low contrast 16-bit files without any sharpening or noise reduction. RPP has an option to render files with a film-like tone curve, I use this because it allows an enormous level of flexibility in the post processing.

A cursory glance at the converted RAW files will show just how low in contrast they are, there is no clipping anywhere in the files and a wide amount of tonal wiggle room.

In some cases, mainly with very high contrast scenes I produce multiple conversions of the same RAW file, for example one better attuned to highlight rendering, one for the shadows etc, but in the case of all these example it is just a single conversion.

As mentioned I almost never use any noise reduction in the conversion process regardless of the converter used, this is handled later and very selectively in Photoshop should I need it, In reality I almost never need to apply any noise reduction at all except perhaps to clear cyan/blue skies, which are always a problem in any type of photography. It is in fact quite amazing how much more detailed a monochrome image can be if no noise reduction was applied anywhere in the early processes and when you do apply NR it often makes the noise look worse, clumping fine film like noise into dirty great gobs. Trust me what matters is the final look of the print output, and way too much noise reduction is aimed at making 100% on-screen views look smooth as silk, I suspect so people can brag on photo web forums about their latest wonder cam. Noise is not the enemy! and a 100% on-screen view is not a useable way to display a photo.


This next point which might be a bit challenging for those looking for an easy pre-potted solution, is I firmly believe that for high-quality monochrome conversions there is zero possibility of using automated processes. Every image is different and needs to be treated as such.

I need constantly changing combinations of channel mixing, and other mono conversion methods, local and wide area tone curve variations and much more. It simply defies my experience that you can automate any of it to even a moderate degree and get truly high end custom results. And I didn’t even touch on sharpening, which most definitely cannot be global in nature.


Upon opening the resulting file in Photoshop, which starts as  a 16 bit Lab mode file I make an initial levels adjustment to the L Channel being very careful to keep all the highlight gradation with a bit of headroom to allow for the printing needs and increase the colour saturation by adding equal levels of contrast to the A and B channels. Once the file looks OK I convert it to RGB mode but leave it in 16 bit.

Continuing on I make several duplicate copies of the file, usually five, maybe more. Each of these copies are treated differently, one copy may be converted from colour to monochrome using a gradient map, another simply desaturated, yet another may be converted using a combination of red and green channel mixes and so on. There is no limit to the possible combinations that I would use and sometimes that includes oddballs like infra-red simulations for some parts of the image.


I keep one open version of the full-colour image, this can later be it used to make further mono versions if I need to, and usually I edit the colour one at the same time as the monochrome versions.  Additionally I may use this with Photoshops’ black and white conversion option.

Having created my multiple mono versions I have Photoshop arrange them by “floating all in windows” which means I can see each version side-by-side.  I then closely examine each version deciding on which parts I wish to use from each and decide on which version will form the best core image to work from.


The composited full range tonal version is obtained by copying and pasting different versions of image over the top of one another and using the eraser tool to reveal the pieces that I want to keep each of the underlying layers, this gives me absolute flexibility over how the tonal range is rendered for every part in the image. and with practice I am able to do this quite quickly.


Having flattened the monochrome image to a single layer I’m still nowhere near finished, it requires localized dodging and burning and tone curve adjustments, sharpening and to a certain degree blurring.

A great deal of this step is aimed at giving a closer simulation of how our eyes perceive things in landscapes due to atmospheric factors, for example distant objects appear lower in contrast and lighter, close up objects are often higher in contrast and show deeper detail in the really dark tones, mid range objects rarely show full black, but have only a slightly flattened tonal range compared to the foreground. I’ve literally spent sleepless nights thinking about these factors and hours and hours looking at scenes in real life and questioning myself on what I was really seeing. Most painters understand this stuff intuitively almost but most cameras totally overcook all this.


Sharpening is normally carried out on a localized basis I do not apply any global sharpening and I apply differing degrees of sharpening depending upon the objects in the photo and where they are placed in relation to the plane of focus.

The sharpening methods include USM, High Pass and even Gaussian Blur with custom fade modes (yes I know that one sounds odd). The radiuses used range from 60 pixels down to even 0.2 pixels. Its complicated, heck it would take a book to explain and again it definitely defies any method of automation.

Much of the sharpening is aimed towards creating a more 3D look, but it is a long way from the more, now traditional HDR look which generally is quite forced and global in nature.

The flip side of sharpening is that in a lot of cases I apply lens blur to certain parts of the image to give greater separation and the appearance of having shot at a wider aperture. In fact my general principle is to shoot with an aperture that is just slightly smaller than I would optimally like to use for the required depth of field, this gives me more flexibility in terms of setting precise focus and DOF look in post-production.


An added benefit of finalizing the DOF in post is that you can get effects that would not be possible with regular aperture adjustment of DOF, for example you can simulate field curvature etc. It must be added that DOF adjustment is not particularly easy and care needs to be taken not to overdo things, often in conjunction with masking but well done in tandem with a sensible shooting aperture choice it can be seamless in final appearance.

I personally have a bit of an issue with the current trend for ultra shallow DOF shot with really fast lenses, whilst it might look interesting and all for web images, most times the images lack sufficient clarity and DOF for real world “on the wall” printed use. There is a vast difference between a 600 by 400 px image on-screen or in flikr and a 16 by 20 inch print, but each to his own, if you shoot solely for web use then go as wide as you like.

Ultimately I can take detail away, but I sure as hell can’t create it afterwards if it is lacking and since for me many shots are a once in a lifetime opportunities taken when traveling, I’d just rather not throw all caution the winds with ultra shallow DOF recordings of the scenes.

Once all the tones are finalized, final DOF is set, dodging and burning done and sharpening sorted I have one final thing to do. Add the noise!

Normally I don’t just add noise globally, rather it is added subtly to parts of the image to either increase micro tonality or synthesize detail, in fact in many ways you can think of “noising” as part of the sharpening process.


I am not normally adding noise to simulate film noise….if I wanted that look I would and often do shoot film. No the noise done properly gives the printed image (note, the use of the term printed) a more organic 3D look. This will rarely be obvious on the computer monitor because the pixels of the screen tend to alias the noise dependent upon the screen view, downsizing the image won’t give much of an idea either, ultimately I have to make test prints to verify the result. “Noising” is again usually done via layers and the use of the eraser tool, and again it is almost the subject of a book in itself.

Once the monochrome image is finished I usually copy the flattened monochrome image and place it over the top of the original colour image then choose luminosity mode for the top monochrome layer. The resulting rendering represents the detail and tonality from the mono image mixed only with the chrominance info from the colour image, and usually results, to my eyes at least, in a much better colour version of the photo. I normally then make further adjustments to the colour image but that is the subject of another installment.


And finally the printing, I don’t even attempt to do this myself, despite being capable of doing so, it’s simple really. I don’t have the room for a high-end large format printer and I don’t have the throughput to justify the prodigious expense.

Instead I use a local company who know and appreciate exactly what I am trying to achieve, we have a great working relationship. I have them run some strip tests to ensure everything looks right and of course adjust it if it doesn’t. They do not make any adjustments to the file unless under the watch of my eye.

The prints are made on only a limited array of substrates which we know will work as intended.

Ultimately with printing it is not about the price but the quality, for my part I’d rather spend more knowing that the result will be great than have to worry about the outcome by saving a few dollars working with someone who doesn’t care.


So there you have it, an anatomical look at one approach to monochrome, my approach. Don’t for a moment think I am advocating that this is what others should do, I have offered this to perhaps inspire those who are wanting a bit more from their images, pick and choose as you wish.

Best be a little realistic here, before going off all excited consider that neither you or I are going to whip up a whole batch of these cookies in one afternoons sitting. Most images take me 5 hours or more spread over a few sittings, but then I am not into posting stuff on flickr etc, prints on walls it where it’s at for me so I don’t really need to do stuff quickly.


Probably one thing you would glean from my approach is that it is designed to work only with colour as the original capture method, personally I could never find happiness with a monochrome only camera, much as I really like the idea of the Leica Monochrom it would be just to limiting for my way of working, though I know there would be benefits.

canyonedge col

The photos I have included in the article show the original colour extracted TIFF image (in compressed jpeg form of course), the Monchrome version and the Monochrome over Colour info version. I think you will agree that the final colour version is quite lovely as well. It’s a funny thing but often a good colour image and a good mono image are much the same thing!

canyonedge mono

These images were captured with a Sony NEX 5N using legacy class, for these ones it was a Nikon 35-70mm f3.3-5.5 zoom and 55mm f2.8 micro nikkor with TLC pre-filtering. All are shot at 200ISO and around 1/100 sec. Being compressed web images of course it is a bit hard to judge the full effect, but they print superbly I promise.


Mar 242013

Updates on the Leica M. AWB, Noctilux 0.95 & Black & White

Updates on the Leica M. AWB, Noctilux 0.95 & Black & WhiteThis 1st image was intentionally processed to be more contrasty and grittier over out of camera M files. I am well aware of the highlights and it was done intentionally. Gives it more of an M9 flavor. :)


I know, I said I was taking the weekend off but I had some extra time after finishing up shooting for my X100s review that will be posted tomorrow and I am sitting here in my Mothers house wide awake late at night, so why not :) My Fuji X100s review ended up at 5300 words or so and goes over the camera and updates that were made to it along with my thoughts on shooting it for the past 10 days straight. So look for that tomorrow!

Today I have one more follow-up on the Leica M 240..the camera so many love to hate!

Since posting my Leica M review I have been getting input from those of you who own the M (not too many of us out there yet), those who are thinking of getting one (many asking about B&W capabilities), and those who feel it is just ridiculous to buy a camera for this kind of cash and claim the Fuji X100s is a better camera. Yes, I have heard from all of you with your thoughts, opinions, and requests and I will address all of those concerns in this post.

This post is for those of you who have been on the fence between the Monochrom and new M when it comes to B&W and for those of you who have asking me for Noctilux samples. I decided to write about both in one post to kill two birds with one stone. I am also going to go over a couple of issues that I touched upon in my review but did not go into great detail with (that review is already over 15k words)!

Here is a nice lower contrast look for B&W. This is what you get out of the camera.


Since getting my M I have used it every single day. I have been shooting it side by side with the X100s and the Sony RX1. To me, it doesn’t get much better than the M and RX1 combo and have decided to use the RX1 as my 35mm lens. For my M I will go 28, 50 and 75 but my main focal length right now is 50mm, no question. I seem to go back and forth between 35 and 50 but lately have been really digging the 50mm. It is a “classic” focal length though any focal length can be used for amazing imagery.

I feel the 50 is just the right balance and good for 85% of my shooting. I recently decided to take the 50 Noctilux out for a spin on the new M and since I was visiting family in Illinois my nephew happily volunteered to be my model for the day. What better combo to have then a Leica M and 50 Noctilux ASPH? I mean, this setup alone costs $18k!

INSANITY when you think about it but there is nothing out there that will give you the look of that 50 Noctilux. Not the Canon 50L, 85L, or any Nikon that I have ever shot with. So it may very well be “worth it” in the things it brings to the table for some and if you want this specific look, nothing else will really do it. To be fair, other lenses have their own unique looks as well like the ones I just mentioned from Canon, Nikon, etc. The Noctilux is one expensive piece of glass but if your wallet is fat and you want that look, it is there for you to buy, and I know Leica sells loads of these as I *personally* know 7 people who own this lens. It is also a lens you can actually call “an investment”. The original f/1 version sold new for $3500 6-7 years back, now it sells for $7k used.


No, that is not a dust bob on the sensor, it is a smudge on the wall :) Noct wide open.


The 50 Noctilux is nice but keep in mind that it is heavy, it is uber expensive, and it is not really a lens one thinks of as an everyday lens. It can be (see my article here on this idea shot with the M9) though depending on your wants, needs and wallet but I see the lens as something you may use for certain occasions or circumstances. It has a very unique look and shooting the Noct at 1.4 will not look like the Lux at 1.4. The Noct character sticks through f/4 or so but it is made to be shot wide open or close to it. In comparison to the Lux, it is a totally different lens and I know a few who own both. If one has the funds, for example, if I had a million or two in the bank I would own every Leica lens :)

ISO 1600 on the M with the Noctilux doing what it does best at 0.95


So as you can see just by the samples I have posted so far (click them for better and larger views) the Noctilux quality shines on the new M, no question at all. These have not had any PP, just simple and quick LR B&W conversions which leads me to the B&W capabilities of this new M. With the Monochrom available at $7995 using the M9 body and technology it would seem that the best “deal” would be the M. It is $1000 less and can shoot color as well as B&W and has all of the new enhancements in speed, menus, etc. But what if you want superb B&W to rival the MM as well as color? Can the M do this?

But is the B&W that far off from the Monochrom?

This post is not a comparison of the two cameras but rather just showing you what the new M can do with basic out of camera images with a one button conversion in Lightroom. It will be up to you to decide if this is good enough for your own B&W needs, as we all have different needs.


After shooting the M extensively now day in and day out I can say that the camera can do a very nice B&W and better than what the M9 did with B&W due to the increased DR and ISO capabilities. As for the Monochrom vs M, I can tell you the Mono is sharper out of camera and does better at high ISO because the M at 6400 will show banding and odd noise if you shoot in the dark. Is it usable? Sometimes, depending on if you expose properly or not but my max is staying at 3200. The Monochrom also has a different rendering of the tones.

The Monochrom can at times look like Medium Format so it is the ultimate tool for B&W though this comes at a price. The M does not really give that same look or tonality so if B&W is your thing, the MM is the camera for you. Yes, those Monochrom files can be gorgeous…but that also comes at a price of $7995, very very steep. I can tell you though that there is nothing quite like the Mono files. So silky, detailed and beautiful.

The question is: Is the M good enough for B&W to get by without having to pay $7995 for a dedicated B&W camera? Only you can answer that for you because your needs are different from everyone else.

The Mono with 35 Lux – amazingly beautiful output – click it to see it correctly


Win a Monochrom

BTW, for those who can shoot and are lusting for a MM, the contest site I-SHOT-IT.COM has their Leica Monochrom premium contest and it ends in 11 days. Not only will the winner get a Monochrom but there is a cash prize as well and that is currently up to $8,770.00, yes almost $9,000. A Mono and $8770? That is INSANE! Whoever wins that contest is going to be one happy camper. If you want to enter it you can see the details here. They also have loads of other contest going on as well.

Some issues I found with the new M

ISO 6400 Banding

In my M review I mentioned that your files may show banding at ISO 6400, and yes this is true if you underexpose and try to bring out the details. Below is a sample of a B&W at ISO 6400. You can click it for a larger view to see the noise and banding. I have seen better than this and worse than this at 6400, depending on the situation. But it is there and therefore, I recommend sticking to 3200 if at all possible. You can get banding free 6400 results but you have to really expose correctly. Still, it seems that in 2013 Leica could have d0ne better than this at 6400 because the RX1 does not show banding at 25,600. Still, 96% of us shoot at 3200 or lower. In fact, I do not know of anyone who ever shoots at 6400, so again, up to you if this is an issue for you.

Now the M at 6400 – click it for larger


If you shoot between ISO 200 and 3200 you will be just fine with the M in color or B&W, and for me the B&W is fantastic coming out of the M even though it is not quite up to the Monochrom standards. If you are not a B&W addict or just occasionaly shoot B&W, the M will be fine and to me is better than the M9 for B&W without question. I love those MM files but I also love my color so for me the M makes more sense. But If I were going out to do a dedicated B&W project, it would be with the MM.

With over 1,000 images under my belt with the M so far I am confident in its abilities and what it brings to the table for M shooters. It is quite different from the M9 in almost every way so if you are upgrading to one, be prepared for a few days of getting used to the new files. It took me a little while to figure it all out.

The AWB issue – super warm

Be prepared for very warm color out of the camera. I am guessing there will be yet another firmware update or lightroom update in April to deal with it. I could be wrong but that is my feeling because skin tones can show a little too much red/magenta and it is something that I have noticed as I shot more portraits.I get the same thing with Fuji files but with the M9 we did not have this issue.

The skin tones are just way too red coming from the camera and need to be toned down some during the conversion. This happens in some situations but not all as I have some portraits without this red issue. It seems to happen with daylight, even worse with direct light coming in through a window as in my sample below.

Below is an image straight from camera using AWB and standard color mode. Below that is an image I have already corrected to the best of my ability (WB adjust in LR 4.4 is all it took) and I think it looks good but still not 100% right, a little blue but better than the original unless you like bold reds and color. Maybe Leica was trying to tune the AWB to be like Fuji? In any case I am confident this will be fixed with an update soon because others are noticing the same thing. The image below..the blue shirt is spot on, background colors look great but the skintone and hair has a little too much red. There is a slight orange cast over the image as well. Something I also mentioned in the review.

Direct OOC


Some adjustments in LR4 with WB – just cooling it down a little


and a B&W conversion using Alien Skin Exposure 


My prediction: Leica will have a FW or some kind of update in April. Just a guess. I have no inside info.

As for the stability of the camera, I have had no technical issues whatsoever. None, zip, zero. No freeze ups, no SD card issues (and I have used many) and no lag problems. This is good because the M8 and M9 had a few of these quirks. The M seems  to be rock solid.

RX1 vs M

As for IQ, in comparison to the Sony RX1 it is no better or worse. You can not get the Noctilux look on the RX1 of course but that Zeiss 35 is special in its own right. The RX1 is a sweet camera, and as I said in my review, there is a reason it was launched at $2799. Because it gives Leica/Zeiss quality in a small well made package at 1/3 the cost. If you want a small 35mm only camera, the RX1 is the best in this category and beats the X100s without question.

X100s vs M

Finally, for those who have been asking me about the X100s, no it is not better than the M in any way, shape, or form and that is a fact no matter what anyone else will tell you. Well, that is a lie. The X100s is superior to the M and RX1 when it comes to high ISO. The X100s is the high ISO champ, no doubt. But that is where the comparisons end.

The M files are much richer, hardier,  have more depth while  the X100s files are more digital and flat when you compare them side by side. It can be very sharp but IMO it has lost some of the soul of the old X100 output. The X100s body is in no way equal in build to the M and the lens can not match any Leica lens, period.

The Noct at f/4 – High contrast? No problem and no blown  hi lights 


Leica M and 35 Cron – lower contrast – this works as well


But this is to be expected. The M is $7k for a body and $3k for a 35mm f/2. The Fuji is $1299. For it to even be in the same ballpark to be compared says alot. The Fuji is fantastic, but it will not give you the Leica look, feel, usability or any of that. It will give you the best Fuji shooting experience to date but more on that in my review tomorrow :)

The Leica M is already stirring up loads of controversy due to its price tag. Same thing the M8 did as well as the M9. It’s Leica, we all know their pricing and we all know they are not for everyone. It is what it is but many shoot Leica for the glass. Lenses like the Noctilux and Summilux line. Lenses that are legendary (and actually go up in value instead of down over the years). I feel that the M offers nothing special over the RX1, D800, etc in image quality but it is the usability of the camera, size and the lenses that put it up there for me . It lets the lens character shine through as they should, with a full frame high quality sensor .

Just hope Leica ships more soon to those who are waiting!


PS – Yes, the M is still my favorite cam ever. Used to be the M9 and that has dropped to my 3rd fave ever behind the RX1. :) I’ve had more fun shooting in the past two weeks than I have in a long time and after 3+ years with the M9 the M has been a little bit of a challenge due to it being so different but once you settle in with it, the camera is what you expect it to be, an M. I am sure Leica will have FW tweaks soon as well just as they did with the M9.

Feb 042013


The Sony RX1 in B&W by Steve Huff and other RX1 owners

The Sony RX1 has been out for a few months now and many owners have been happily shooting with the camera, myself included. Sure, I have access to just about any camera out there on the market but for my personal use I keep 2-3 cameras on hand and lately, my RX1 has taken the #1 spot for my personal shots, family use, etc. It is a jewel of a camera and I have been using it almost daily since it arrived to me and I have yet to have any issues with the camera, no matter what my situation.

That is not to say that if the new Leica M 240 is everything it is cracked up to be that it will not be added to my arsenal, but I can state with 100% certainty that this RX1 is here for the long haul, much like my M9 was.

It is just such a joy and pleasure to use and while not perfect (no camera is) the results that come from this little guy are so damn pleasing. I have recently found out that due to the dynamic range and high ISO capability and sharpness/character of the Zeiss lens that has been matched and attached to the camera that when shooting plain old B&W JPEG with the camera set to B&W the output is quite amazing.

In my review I touched on how easy and simple it is to get results with this camera..without having to fight it for those results. When you mix that with everything else the camera offers, your JPEGS come out looking GREAT and if you want that last ounce of performance then shooting RAW will take you there. I have been hearing from many owners of the RX1 who feel the same way as I do and they also love shooting it in B&W and for the most part, these shooters are just like me, enthusiasts who appreciate great cameras and gear but also LOVE shooting and capturing those memories.

Just a few days ago I noticed that many of the photos posted in the RX1 group on facebook were being posted in B&W. It seems others were coming to the same conclusions that I was..that the RX1 is a great B&W shooter and a fantastic street camera as well.

It also happens to be amazing in color and if you have not yet seen the shots over at the RX1 files HERE or my RX1 gallery HERE then take a look :) Yes, it is expensive. But it does what it is advertised to do and it does it very well while being very solidly built and like I said, it has never given me one issue.

Direct from camera JPEG. Had the camera set to shoot in B&W with lower contrast by 1. Click it to see a larger image, and yes, this is my Son Brandon. Time flies huh?




and how about one at ISO 25,600 in a dark restaurant? With Todd Hatakeyama


EXIF is embedded in all photos and you must click them for larger views or to download them







Others who own and shoot the RX1..

Phillip Lieu


“Due to the extremely high tonal/dynamic range achieved by the RX1 sensor, B&W output from this tiny wonder is producing results that are so rich and mesmerizing, it redefines the genre altogether!” 


Philip Liew

BTW, There’s a link to DXO labs that I setup which you may find helpful –http://www.dxomark.com/index.php/Cameras/Compare-Camera-Sensors/Compare-cameras-side-by-side/(appareil1)/833%7C0/(brand)/Sony/(appareil2)/793%7C0/(brand2)/Olympus/(appareil3)/695%7C0/(brand3)/Fujifilm . It’s comparing RX1, OMD-5 & Fuji X100 head to head. As this is a B&W review, please click > Measurement > Tonal range. As you move the mouse cursor to the vertical color bar on the right, it shows how having a great Tonal Range vs ISO affects the B&W output.

Steve Wong


Why I like the RX1:

I love having a compact camera that allows for stunning captures in any light. Despite the drawbacks, it is simply the most enjoyable camera I’ve ever had a chance to use.

Steven Wong


Justin Greene


“Full frame goodness in a small package.”

Alexander Ess




The RX1 is for me a good tool for my passion street photography. Street photography is to transform the ordinary into the extraordinary, to highlight the poetry and the simple feeling of human endeavor.
simply moments of life.  If you won’t mind I would be very grateful if you could find some time and look on my photos
Eric Berg
I love shooting with the RX1 for black & white images, as a digital student of photography it is quite difficult to see in black & white. The RX1 and its evf not only inspire but aid in training your eye to see in black & white.
Eric Berg
Syuck Saito
I sent you two photos taken with the RX1. Best camera I have ever had, period. Thanks for your reviews which helped me make the purchase.

SK Saito



Dec 122012


Scary Faces – Pushing the Monochrom Further

by Jason Howe – Website | Flickr | Twitter | Facebook


From Steve: I know, I know…many of you are tired of these Monochrom articles! At the same time, many of you are NOT. This will be the last one for a while because I feel we have PLENTY of information on this camera now on this website, let alone the entire internet. I could not resist posting these as it really shows what the camera can do better than any previous post on the MM. I am dubbing Jason  Howe the “MM Master” as these are masterful shots and he certainly has learned the camera better than I have! Enjoy and THANK YOU JASON!


In the short period of time that I have owned the Monochrom it has already established itself as my “go to” camera, in part this is due to its incredible performance but also because my subject matter of late has been dark, in every sense……this camera along with the 35mm Summilux f/1.4 Asph FLE make a formidable team, one I’m finding difficult to break up despite the other lenses available to me.

In the last week I took the opportunity to visit the theatre once more, this time with a view to having a closer look at the higher ISO’s on the Leica M Monochrom. With nothing specific planned we decided to do some impromptu “Scary portraits” by utilising the fixed stage lighting and a borrowed LED torch which on occasion I managed to hold in my teeth whist shooting. Clearly, this is far from ideal but it did actually work out reasonably well and I’ll be adding a torch to my bag for those occasions where you just need a some additional light.

Even though this show is very dark I still found myself not needing to push the camera beyond ISO 3200, even then it was artificially so and I could probably have shot at 1600, but as I wanted to see a little more from the Monochrom I went ahead. I also continue to deliberately underexpose by 1/3 of a stop to as much as 1 stop on occasion, I feel I’m really getting to grips with this particular Monochrom idiosyncrasy and as there really is so much detail in the shadows of these MM files that there is absolutely no point in risking blown highlights. I also wanted to take a closer look at what I would describe as being the Monochrom’s digital grain.

These images were all shot as JPEG’s, this was something I’d not yet tried on the MM and I was very curious to see the results, I always found the B&W JPEG’s from the M9 to be very pleasing, as you’d expect the MM files were even richer.

Please remember to click on the image to see a better quality rendition.


Scary Faces – No 1 – Leica M Monochrom – 35mm Summilux f/1.4 Asph FLE – ISO 800 – 1/180 Sec

Scary Faces - No 1

Scary Faces – No 1 – 100% Crop at ISO 800 – YOU MUST CLICK IT TO SEE FULL 100%

ISO 800 Crop

I’m absolutely loving the sharpness and detail from the Monochrom and 35mm Summilux f/1.4 Asph FLE, traces of what I would describe as the Monochrom’s distinctive “digital grain” are just apparent at ISO 800, this shot was taken in total darkness and illuminated by the LED torch only.


Scary Faces – No 2 – Leica M Monochrom – 35mm Summilux f/1.4 Asph FLE – ISO 1250 – 1/125 Sec

Scary Faces - No 2– 

Scary Faces – No 3 – Leica M Monochrom – 35mm Summilux f/1.4 Asph FLE – ISO 1250 – 1/125 Sec

 Scary Faces - No 3

Scary Faces – No 4 – Leica M Monochrom – 35mm Summilux f/1.4 Asph FLE – ISO 1250 – 1/125 Sec

 Scary Faces - No 4

The image above will be a favorite of mine for a long time to come, I’d say these are some of the richest blacks I’ve achieved so far with the Monochrom, there is still plenty to learn and a lot more experimenting to be done but the progress has been satisfying so far. Despite being shot in JPEG the images still exhibit a huge tonal range and whilst I don’t think I’d ever use them straight out of the camera the PP certainly only took 1-2 minutes each to process.


Scary Faces – No 5 – Leica M Monochrom – 35mm Summilux f/1.4 Asph FLE – ISO 1250 – 1/180 Sec 

Scary Faces - No 5

Scary Faces – No 6 – Leica M Monochrom – 35mm Summilux f/1.4 Asph FLE – ISO 1250 – 1/250 Sec

 Scary Faces - No 6

Scary Faces – No 7 – Leica M Monochrom – 35mm Summilux f/1.4 Asph FLE – ISO 1250 – 1/180 Sec

 Scary Faces - No 7

Scary Faces – No 8 – Leica M Monochrom – 35mm Summilux f/1.4 Asph FLE – ISO 1250 – 1/180 Sec

Scary Faces - No 8– 

Scary Faces – No 9 – Leica M Monochrom – 35mm Summilux f/1.4 Asph FLE – ISO 1250 – 1/250 Sec

 Scary Faces - No 9

Scary Faces – No 9 – 100% Crop at ISO 1250 (click it)

ISO 1250 Crop


To me this crop at ISO 1250 is indistinguishable from the ISO 800 crop in terms of “digital grain”. In fact, I’d actually say it’s superior to the ISO 800 image, I don’t have enough insight in to this camera yet to give a categorical reason for that and I’ll definitely be looking closely at future images. Once again the detail is quite staggering.


Scary Faces – No 10 – Leica M Monochrom – 35mm Summilux f/1.4 Asph FLE – ISO 1250 – 1/90 Sec

Scary Faces - No 10 –

Scary Faces – No 11 – Leica M Monochrom – 35mm Summilux f/1.4 Asph FLE – ISO 1250 – 1/250 Sec

Scary Faces - No 11

This particular image brings a smile to my face, it’s most definitely enhanced by the third face in the background!!


Scary Faces – No 12 – Leica M Monochrom – 35mm Summilux f/1.4 Asph FLE – ISO 3200 – 1/180 Sec 

Scary Faces - No 12

Scary Faces – No 12 – 100% Crop at ISO 3200

ISO 3200 Crop

Usually we’d be referring to digital noise when looking at images shot in these lighting conditions and ISO’s but whilst that may be technically correct it does not seem fair to use this term when analysing the Monochrom images. I prefer to refer to this as digital grain, it’s certainly a more accurate description, whilst it is not directly comparable to film grain it is certainly closer to that than digital noise in my opinion. I’m sure plenty would disagree with this statement…..


Scary Faces – No 13 – Leica M Monochrom – 35mm Summilux f/1.4 Asph FLE – ISO 2500 – 1/750 Sec

Scary Faces - No 13– 

Scary Faces – No 13 – Leica M Monochrom – 35mm Summilux f/1.4 Asph FLE – ISO 1600 – 1/125 Sec

Scary Faces - No 14

Scary Faces – No 15 – Leica M Monochrom – 35mm Summilux f/1.4 Asph FLE – ISO 1250 – 1/350 Sec

Scary Faces - No 15

With each passing week I grow more competent and excited in equal measure with the MM, I can’t tell you how pleased I am that I talked myself in to this purchase. I’m sure there are many more out there going through the same thought processes I did when considering this camera, all I can say to those people is go for it, you will not regret it.

As I initially mentioned I’ve been finding it difficult to break the MM partnership with the 35 Lux but in order to further my learning and enjoyment of this camera I am going to need to, I’ve got lots of vintage glass to try and there are photographers out there already getting excellent results. I’ve also got some exciting new lenses in the pipeline, certainly one of these has the ability to force me to ditch the 35 Lux for a while……..

Once more I’d like to thank the cast, crew and all those associated with the Tauranga Musical Theatre, your enthusiasm and willingness to participate in the making of these images is really evident in the photographs and most certainly appreciated. I’ve made no secret about my own feelings for this wonderful place, I look forward to capturing more moments and memories in the future.

Cheers, Jason.

Aperture Priority – Photography by Jason Howe
find me online: Website | Flickr | Twitter | Facebook

Oct 132012

The Leica Monochrom Review Part 2: Low Light, High ISO and Filters

This part of my ongoing Leica Monochrom review will go over Low Light and High ISO shooting as well as using filters on the lens and off the lens. The images here were all shot by me at high ISO or in low light. I will have many more great samples in parts 3 & 4. For now, Enjoy part 2 and feel free to leave your comments about the Leica Monochrom!

Read Part 1 Here which goes over what the camera is all about as well as a quick comparison with 35mm film. I also added some supplemental photos HERE. Part 2.5 is now up as well! Thank you!


My Monochrom Journey Continues…

After reading part one of my continuing Leica Monochrom Review (you can read it here) you now realize what the Leica Monochrom is all about as well as who it is for and NOT for. You also know it is an $8,000 B&W only camera that does not shoot color. I have been shooting continuously every day with this camera and I have to say that after two weeks I am really connecting with the Monochrom on a level even more so than I did with the M9, which was my camera “soulmate”..or at least I thought. The more I shoot the Mono, the more I think that this one may be “the one” that sticks by my side for as long as it can. I shot the M9 for 3 years and only gave it up to get the Monochrom and I am not in any way disappointed with this decision. In fact, I feel 100% happy with this choice that I made and after daily shooting with this I can say it is a camera that is VERY capable of creating some fine photographs and in the right hands, works of art. Low light, high ISO..yep, the Monochrom is the real deal my friends.

The Leica Monochrom is a serious tool even at night on the street at ISO 2000. I shot this in San Francisco while taking a street walk and was very happy with the results. Please click the image for a larger 1800 pixel wide version.

BTW, I edited this to have the darker gritty feel. I like this high contrast deep black look when shooting late night street and the Mono gave it to me. I could have easily taken the flat grey low contrast look as well. Many Monochrom haters initially said the camera was incapable of producing blacks yet when I compare this to my high contrast film shots on my HD this looks much better to my eyes. 

and one more with a less harsh look



With the Leica M9 we all had (or still have) a tool that can deliver mind-blowing results with the right lens and of course the right vision of the person behind the camera. There  are indeed limitations though because the M9 is limited with high ISO. Even shooting the street at night with an M9 and 35 1.4 was a little tough at times because the max ISO is 2500 and at that level it is pretty damn noisy. I have used ISO 2500 on the M9 in B&W to great effect but it was still grainy and noisy and that was it… The ceiling was hit with nowhere else to go in regards to low light. Well, that is not true actually. You could always grab a Noctilux f/0.95 for a cool $11k. :)

When Leica announced the Monochrom they touted it as a camera that will put an end to B&W film. After using it for a while and getting the hang of the processing I almost believe that statement. I still feel B&W film like Tri-X will never fully die due to the film die hards who will refuse to ever give it up and admit that anything digital can beat it but here we are in 2012 and more and more B&W films are fading away and being discontinued. Neopan 1600, T-Max…it’s a sad time for those who love shooting silver B&W. Many faves are dying away and there is nothing to replace them with. They each had their own look and feel and even smell. Can the Leica Monochrom deliver the goods for those who love those films that are now gone?

I think so..if you have the vision to create what your mind sees and wants.

ISO 1600 – I slightly back focused my 35 1.4 but the result is still gorgeous. While other guys were using strobes and flash I went “au natural” with whatever light was in the room and I like the result much better than the deer in the headlights look. Again, I processed this to have more contrast and deeper blacks. I could have went with a lower contrast look. Remember no lighting was used here so the shadow on her face is due to this. 

It Delivers the Goods

The really nice thing about the Monochrom is that it delivers the goods *if you know how to use it and process the files from it*. Many shots from the Monochrom, even from a couple of well-respected shooters and reviewers look a but flat because the files need a little bit of work to make them go from great to WOW. I am not saying that my shots are “WOW” but I have come a long way from my 1st samples in Berlin which showed the flat grey look that many are getting with this camera. I am speaking of the look of the files, the tones..the pop..the beauty. In my opinion, the Leica Monochrom is a box full of hidden potential and it may take me a year to really get the most from it. The one thing I know is that it certainly CAN deliver, and it is the real deal if you take the time to get to learn it and become one with it.

Here is an example I shot on the streets at night at ISO 8000. Yes, 8000. I processed it to give it a high contrast pop and as you can see, it has it. Gone are the dull greys you saw in earlier samples. LIke I said, this camera is VERY versatile and can get any look you desire once you learn how to work with the files. 

When I say it “delivers the goods” what I mean is that it can do just about anything you need it to do in the B&W world. Do you like flat grey shots? No problem. Do you like gritty high contrast? No problem! Do you like a Tri-X look? The Mono can do it all but to help it along it is quite simple. I always shoot RAW for the best quality file and then during RAW processing I tweak the exposure, black level and contrast to where I want it. I then process the RAW and use either an Alien Skin Exposure filter or bring it in to Silver Efex Pro (which comes with the Monochrom) to finish it up.

Using Software Filters with the Monochrom

You do not have to use any kind of filters with the Monochrom but they can add the look of your old fave film and get pretty damn close to it. You can go for rich blacks, high contrast, low contrast, grit and noise, or anything you desire just by running an image through Silver Efex Pro or Alien Skin Exposure. I love Alien Skin Exposure 4 and have put a sample below as to what it can do for a photo from the Monochrom.

This 1st image is direct from the camera with no adjustments at all. As you can see it is a bit flat and dark…

I took that image and ran it through Alien Skin Exposure using a simple preset (but I did it without adding grain). This example now pops more and has more contrast. This is just a generic example of a 3 second filter added. You can get as complex as you wish and you can also choose different looks for your photos. The arsenal of film stock filters and customization of these software packages are a must for any Monochrom owner. 

So if you are buying a Monochrom or already own one I highly recommend at least playing with some of these software filters. The camera actually comes with Silver Efex Pro which is the standard by which all others are measured. Alien Skin Exposure 4 can be downloaded here with a 30 day trial.  I highly recommend it not only for the Monochrom files but also for any digital files. Mess with it and get creative..step outside of  the box and see what you like. You may be surprised. I am happy that the Monochrom puts out flat files. Remember, this is a GOOD thing! This gives us the room to process the files to our liking. If the files came out all contrasty and slick then we would have less freedom to create our vision.

The Monochrom is just right and does what it does for a reason. It is not a camera for beginners.

The software filters also allow you to get as creative as you want by adding frames and more noise..ISO 2500 – I cropped this one and it shows the effects of the filter I applied. 

Using Actual Filters on your Lenses. Red, Yellow, IR and ND. Old School B&W.

With the Monochrom you are shooting just like your Father or Grandfather (or even you do today) did back in the day. Many B&W film shooters use filters on their lenses to enhance their skies or skin tones and you can also do this with the Monochrom. When shooting just imagine that you are shooting film because what worked when shooting with B&W film will work with the Monochrom. I feel Leica should have included a set of nice filters with the camera for those who want to take it all the way old school and get back to the ultimate B&W frame of mind.

They didn’t include any so I went out and bought a few. I picked up a B+W Red, Yellow and IR filter as well as an ND filter for those bright sunny days when I want to shoot with a wide aperture. With the minimum ISO of the Monochrom being 320 it is impossible to shoot at f/1.4 in full sun or mild sun. Adding an ND filter solves the problem. I bought this one for my 35 Lux FLE.

IR filters

I bought one of these out of curiosity. Here is the description of what it should do:

The B+W 46mm IR Dark Red (092) Filter is used for infrared photography with digital cameras and specialized infrared films. This nearly opaque filter blocks all visible light up to 650nm, lets 50% of radiation pass between 650 and 700nm, and more than 90% of radiation pass between 730 and 2000nm. Infrared film sensitivity is rarely greater than 1000nm, so this filter essentially allows most perceivable infrared radiation to be transmitted. Due to the nature of infrared photography, the filter factor for this filter is highly variable and depends largely on your film sensitivity and lighting conditions.

This was shot with a B+W IR-695 filter. I wanted to expiriment a bit with one. This one was at f/1.4 with the 35 Summilux FLE. 

Red Filter Usage and Example

The Red Filter when used on the Monochrom or with B&W film will add massive contrast. If you use this to shoot clouds in the sky you will get very dramatic results with borderline “Thunderstorm” effects. Unfortunately I live in Phoenix where there is rarely a cloud in the sun filled sky so all I have for this section is a shot that shows an OOC JPEG from the Mono with a red 25A Red filter. In most cases you would not want to use this filter – only for dramatic effects in skies IMO. When I get a nice sky shot using this filter I will post it here. I bought a cheaper red filter as I will rarely use it. 

Yellow Filter Usage and Example

Using a yellow filter will help bring out some contrast and can help skin tones a little as well. It’s a mild filter that can help bring more pop out of the camera to your files from the Monochrom. Using a yellow filter for B&W is pretty standard and is usually the goto filter as it will help your skies from being too bright as well. If you get one filter for your Monochrom, get a yellow. I use a B&W  Medium yellow which is a very high quality filter. The image below was shot with the yellow filter on the camera. Click it for a larger view.

Using filters can be part of the fun and creativity with the Leica Monochrom and will bring you back a bit. Pick a filter for your specific use and go with it. You can also buy other filters but these were the ones I bought for my Mono as they are the most used in B&W film.

Really High ISO & the Monochrom

With the Leica Monochrom you no longer have to be limited to ISO 2500 because you can shoot up to 10,000 ISO with this camera and get usable results. I have already shown an ISO 8000 shot earlier in this review but below you can see more from ISO 3200 and up. What amazes me about the Monochrom is the detail that is kept even when there is noise and grain. Even when shooting at night which is a torture test for ANY digital camera and high ISO the Monochrom keeps its cool and delivers stunning results in detail, tonality and overall wow factor.

Click the image below to see a larger version. BTW, this was ISO 8000 on a DARK street. The detail that is here is quite amazing. The tones are rich. IMO, this beats film because I was not stuck with one film in my camera. With the Monochrom I have ALL B&W films available at all times. 

Another ISO 8000 with crop – click it to see full crop embedded

ISO 6400 with a little more light shining in…and none of these shots have had ANY Noise Reduction of any kind. What you see is what you get.

Real world ISO 6400 on the street at night…not the best shot but you can get a feel for the noise level when there is no light around..This is direct from camera with no filter applied at all..

ISO 2500

The bottom line on the high ISO and low light is that this camera is SUPER FANTASTIC! This camera is really  a treat and so nice to shoot at night and in low light because it just does what it should and that is to have every kind of B&W film loaded up and ready at your command. Dial in ISO 320 to 10,000 at any given moment and be surprised by the results you will get. The Mono keeps the detail and sharpness and the noise is like a nice grained film. I was very happy with the results and when combined with a fast Leica lens like a Summilux or even Noctilux you can be king of the nightime B&W world. There is no color camera that can do what this one does with the tones nor the experience. The Monochrom is a different camera than anything on the market right now and many scoff at the idea of a B&W only camera but at the same time many are drooling over the thought of owning one.

Shooting in B&W requires passion and a love of the art of photography. You will get out what you put in and the camera can either reward you with beautiful files or disappoint you with flatness. For all of you getting this camera be sure to work with the files using lightroom or Photoshop as well as filter plug-ins and physical filters. This is when you will start to really appreciate what the Monochrom can do for you. I feel that this camera also inspires and when you tale it out to shoot you know you have something special in your hands. I may not agree with Leica’s pricing on this camera but I have to tell it like it is and the fact is that I adore this camera. End of story.

BTW, I am loving the combo of the 35 Summilux FLE with the camera and is my favorite Leica lens ever. My perfect kit would be a 28 Elmarit, 35 Summilux, 50 cron APO and a 75 of some kind. No way I can ever afford the 50 APO but it is a killer lens on the Monochrom.

For those that want to replace B&W film with a camera that can do it all in the B&W world but were worried about high ISO..well, don’t be. The Monochrom delivers :)

Part 2.5 is up HERE.

To buy the Monochrom you need to get on a list or pre-order. Mine came from Ken Hansen ([email protected]) but you can also buy from Dale Photo, PopFlash, B&H Photo or Amazon!

Look for part three of this ongoing review  in 7-12 days where I will have side by side comparisons (full size samples) with cameras like the M9, Fuji X, OM-D and others :) I also plan to do prints with the files as well so bookmark and check back often!


Remember, anytime you follow my links here and buy from B&H or AMAZON, this helps to keep my site going. If it was not for these links, there would be no way to fund this site, so I thank you in advance if you visit these links. I thank you more if you make a purchase! I have nifty search bars at the upper right of each page so you easily search for something at either store! I currently spend 10-14 hours a day working on this site and the only way that I can pay for it is with your help, so thank you! Currently my traffic has been increasing but my funds to pay for the site has been decreasing, so any help would be GREATLY appreciated!

Even if  you buy baby food, napkins or toothpicks at amazon it helps this site, and you do not pay anything extra by using the links here. Again, you pay nothing extra by using my links, it is just a way to help support this site, so again, I thank you in advance :)

If you enjoyed this article/review, feel free to leave a comment at the bottom of this page and also be sure to join me on twitter or my new facebook fan page and Google +  page! Also, you can subscribe to my feed at my subscribe page HERE and read these posts in your browser or news reader! As you may see I do not ask for “donations” through paypal, just support by reading, subscribing, liking, commenting, coming back and visiting my sponsors. Thank you!

Sep 102012

My 500 Mile, 38 Day Walk Across Spain with my Fuji X100 by Michael Fratino

Hello Steve,

Thanks for your great site and your real world reviews. Last March I embarked upon my 500-mile walk from St. Jean Pied de Port in France up over the Pyrenees Mountains to Santiago Spain on the northwestern corner of Spain. This walk is known as the Camino de Santiago and has been traversed for over 1000 years by people from every walk of life. Last year Emilio Estevez made a movie (The Way) starring his father Martin Sheen describing this journey.

Since weight and space were my biggest concerns, I had to triple think everything I packed. I knew I wanted to take a camera but the idea of a P&S was out of the question and a DSLR was going to be too big and bulky. Last year I purchased the Fuji X100 when it debuted but was so disappointed with it that I sold it.

Fast forward one year and I began to look at the X100 again because of your posts on how Fuji corrected some of the issues with major firmware updates. I knew this was the camera I had to take because of its solid metal design, worked miracles in low-light situations, had mechanical old-school dials, had only one fixed lens and most important… it was quiet and discrete.

Well, I wasn’t disappointed. The camera handled itself almost perfect. The design of the camera is so robust that it survived wind, rain, mud, snow, hail and the rigors of it being used on a continuous basis. So much so that the emblems on the back of the camera wore off. I even dropped the camera a couple of times and it didn’t even dent the metal housing.

I only had two complaints about the camera. The first was and still is battery life. It is so poor that even carrying an extra battery sometimes didn’t even work out right. I had to make sure that wherever I stayed for a night that I was near an electrical outlet and that didn’t always happen (thank God for my iPhone!)

The other complaint is not really even one. For being so small and discrete, the camera drew so much attention from everyone I was around. Many of the Germans I met along the way thought I was carrying a Leica, others thought I was shooting film. Many wanted to just pick it up and shoot a few frames with it. One Japanese fellow was so taken with it that he made copious notes about it so he could purchase one when he returned to Japan. Almost everyone was blown away by the hybrid viewfinder, the ability to shoot in low-light and how silent it was.

For this walk, I carried everything on my back and stopped only for food, drink and a place to sleep. This walk took me 38 days through some of the most incredible scenery I have ever seen. But the walk was only half of it. The people I met along this path from every walk of life were just incredible. I took over 2500 pictures. At first I concentrated on the scenery but after a week or so I realized for me that this journey was about the people who embark upon it for all kinds of reasons. So, I decided to take portraits of some of the people who had some type of effect on me.

While the lens is not necessarily geared towards portraits, I had no problem using it for this purpose. I can’t even begin to tell you how liberating it was to have only one lens. It seriously makes you think about your subject and creative ways around any type of situation.

Attached, please find some of these portraits. I hope you like them and if you have any questions for me, please free to email me. On the technical side, I shot all images jpegs. I used to Photoshop to resize, correct brightness / contrast and to add vignettes. There is no retouching done to any of the images.


Michael Fratino

Jun 022010

Today I welcome Tom Di Maggio who has written a nice little article that asks the questions “Color or Black & White for Concert Photography?”  – Tom has provided plenty of real world samples here so I hope you enjoy this one! You can see more of Toms work at his website HERE. Some pretty amazing stuff! He can also be found on Flickr.

Since I’m shooting concerts there’s always been that argument in the pit about black and white concert photography. I’ve always avoided being drawn into that discussion, as I don’t think that one can definitely say it is acceptable or not. To me it often sounds an awful lot like the “to photoshop” or “to not photoshop” discussion. In the end it’s about a personal choice, I for one love black and white concert shots, as long as it’s not overdone and fits the purpose of the shot. I tend to think of concert photography the same way I think of any other kind of photography. You want to make the viewer feel a certain way when they watch the picture. If that means converting a photograph to black and white, well then so be it.

Don’t get me wrong, I am convinced that if a photograph is bad to start with, it is not a conversion to black and white that will save it. I still have to see a badly exposed photograph turned into a keeper by such a conversion. There’s also a limit to what I think should be digitally done to a concert picture as you want to stay as close as possible to the original.

In my experience not every photograph works in black and white, in fact most don’t, especially with concert photography, because the lighting is a key component of the show. Converting a picture to black and white equals to removing what often makes the best concert picture i.e. colors and atmosphere. You should know why you want to convert that specific picture and how it will help to increase the impact on the viewer.

The goal of this article is to demonstrate that a conversion doesn’t necessarily be a means to hide defects of a photograph, whatever they are. But rather to bring the viewer closer to the “feeling” the people in the first row had at the precise moment the picture was taken.

The next four shots are ones that worked better in black and white than in their original color. The reason might vary from frame to frame but as you can see in the original the exposure was right to start with:

This shot from Ben Kowalewicz (Billy Talent’s lead singer) looked a bit dull to me in that blue tone, but the expression is great. The shot worked better for me in black and white as it conveys more passion. The contrast in the picture is increased, and the focus is lead to his face, which is precisely where I want the viewer to look in this picture.

Machine Head’s lead Robb Flynn, is a very intense person on stage. He really lives his music. This one “screamed” for conversion, the subtle change in Hue on the red background provides a great base for a conversion. When you have a background like this you know that the conversion will make it interesting as it will increase the perception of the tonal change. But the conversion only works because of the yellow spotlight on Robb’s face. The spotlight brightens up his face , which leads the view back from the background tho his face. Whithout the spotlight, the background would be the point of interest in this picture and not the artist.

When I was selecting the pictures from Epica I didn’t notice this one straight away. It’s only a day or two later that this photo of their lead singer Simone Simons came to my attention. This is one of my favorite concert pictures. If there is one reference shot for a black and white conversion, this would be it. The intensity of the moment is not increased by the conversion but rather prioritized.

Joe May from Pale Obsession was 100% into it at this point. The red Vari-light on his face brings the intensity of the shot way down. Red light is a common issue for concert photographers, and I think this is where the black and white conversion is used most of the time.

The next four shots are ones that reduce the impact of the viewer once converted to black and white for me:

The colors at the Tori Amos performance were great. Her red hair on the blue background are great. They actually help the photograph to come to life, getting rid of them would be taking away the atmosphere of the picture.

This picture of James Morrison is full of emotion, the bright spot and smoke in the background actually make the atmosphere in this one. The smoke and light beam are heavilhy reduced in the conversion which result in a darker picture altogheter. The shadow on James’ face are harscher as well.

To be honest I like both versions of Jennifer Kae’s picture. But the color version looks a lot more intense to me, the colors really fit well together and the warm tone in the background give a lot to the strength of the picture, which is utlimatively what I wanted to convey here.

The lighting at Charlie Winston’s concert were very warm, which perfectly fits the music and the artist. This is a good example as to how the lighting is an integral part of the show. Conversion simply doesn’t fit in this case.

As a final word I’d like to say that for me it is important to keep in mind that photography is a very subjective area, and I think that you should present your photographs the way that you like them, post processed or not, black & white, or in color. No matter how, there’s always going to be people who like your pictures and those who don’t.

Mar 072010

I have always been one to say that you can most certainly shoot a wedding with a Leica M9. Yesterday this site was low on the updates due to me being out shooting a wedding and yes, I shot it with my M9! I also brought along the 35 Lux and the 50 Summicron. In my bag I also had the E-P2 and Noktor lens on hand to give that a go, but the real winning images were taken with my M9. From the bright sun to the low light reception, the M9 did not let me down.

At the reception I shot ISO 2500 with B&W JPEG’s. Amazing results! Of course I also shot RAW so I do have the color versions as well but the camera did so well in B&W at ISO 2500, and my whole plan was to shoot in Black and White anyway so it worked out perfect.

Many of the M9 bashers say that you can not use an M9 to shoot a wedding, and that is pure nonsense. I have been told to not even attempt it by a few of my DSLR toting wedding buddies. OK, I will be realistic…the M9 and weddings would not seem to mix to well when you look at it on paper. No auto focus, no 8 FPS, funky center weighted metering..the list goes on. But yes! I am here to tell you that not only can you shoot a wedding with the M9, you can do so with more style and pizazz than you can with a DSLR! Bold statement and maybe I am biased but shooting this wedding was so fun with this camera and with a DSLR it would have been a pain. My results would have been different as well. Yes, I was in that “M9 state of mind”  while shooting :)

Now I admit that I am not a wedding pro. Hell, I have not shot many at all recently (it’s been a long time). But today I had fun and just wanted to write this post for those out there who say it can’t be done or that it’s not ideal. It can be done, and it can be ideal depending on your style.

If you want a documentary style to your wedding images and want to shoot black and white then an M9 may be just what you are looking for!

Leica M9 and 35 Summilux at 1.4 – I added grain to ALL of the shots shown here

I was simply amazed at the 35 Summilux when shooting in the lower light areas. I shot the lens at 1.4 ALL day long and never stopped it down one time. My ISO range was anywhere between 160 and 2500. The best part is that not one of my images were out of focus. Not bad for a manual camera huh? My guess is that if I had a DSLR I would have had MANY out of focus images AND Missed a few shots due to focus hunting. Sure, something like a Nikon D3s would have been awesome but it may have scared those kids above and they probably would not be so relaxed, ha ha:)

35 Summilux, 1.4, ISO 640 – vignetting and noise added

With the M9 I found it easy to grab quick moments. It was 2 hours before the wedding and I just walked around and snapped away. No one even realized I was there to photograph. I probably looked like a relative taking family snaps.

35 Summilux, 1.4, ISO 640 – vignette and noise added

This wedding was actually shot by someone else. A girl was hired for the job but the bride was a friend of my niece and she asked me a couple of weeks ago if I could shoot the wedding. I turned it down at the time because I felt I did not have fast enough lenses. When the 35 Lux arrived I decided to give it a shot so I called and said I would do it. I was too late :( I was told there was a girl hired but to come along anyway to shoot some behind the scenes type of stuff. I thought it would be fun and besides, it would give me a chance to test out the M9/35 Lux combo :)

35 Summilux at F2.8 – ISO 80 – vignette added

I only snapped a few shots outside because the hired photographer took care of the posed shots. I admit that I  am not a fan of posed shots anyway. I prefer to document the day as it happens…real life.

When we went inside I thought I was in for trouble. It was 5 o’clock and the sun was going down, so the light inside the church was getting  lower and lower. An ISO bump here, an ISO bump there..all was good. Remember, these images have all had noise ADDED to them as part of my B&W conversion!

35 Summilux, 1.4, ISO 320

Next two shots…50 Summicron, F2, ISO 1250

Since I was not the “official photographer” I did not want to intrude on the girl who was there shooting but I have to say, during the kiss she did not get out of her seat to get the image. I went center aisle and squatted down to get the one above just in time.

I also wanted to stay in the background and be unnoticed. Again, I did not want to intrude on the hired hand so I kept my distance for most shots.

Next two shots, 50 Summicron at F2

Once the wedding ceremony was over it was time to head over to the reception. When I walked it I was like “WHOA!, It’s dark in here!”. Yep, it was any NON Flash photographers worst nightmare. I set the M9 to ISO 2500 and did a test shot with my niece with the 35 Lux wide open.

Hmm, looked good to me. The above image has no NR and was shot in camera B&W. So away I went to finish off what I could before I had to leave. I could not stay the whole night and since there was another photographer there I was not really needed anyway. For the cake cutting I had to crouch down under the other photographer but like this shot anyway :)

Rest of the images were shot with the 35 Summilux at 1.4, ISO 2500 and in camera B&W JPEG.

Also, while the other photographer got this shot…(they were looking at here)

I got these…

I had a blast shooting my M9 at this wedding and came away with about 50-60 keepers. Oh, and I only shot 100 frames. Again, not bad for a manual camera! Now, if your style of wedding photography is different than mine, the m9 may not work for you. If you want bright, colorful, noise free images a Nikon D3s or big Pro Canon with some nice primes would do the trick. But for those who say an M9 can’t shoot weddings I have to disagree and say YES IT CAN! The last 9 images were all shot at ISO 2500 with B&W JPEGs in camera. No noise reduction! Focusing was easy and I did not miss any moments. My only wish was that I had a 50 Lux ASPH because in this kind of light, you will need all the speed you can get. Actually, the Noct 0.95 would have been simply AMAZING. I know of a few guys who shoot weddings with film M’s and digital M’s and at least  two of them shoot with the Noct 0.95. Their images are among the best I have seen and no, they do not use a DSLR.

Who knows, maybe I will start to take more wedding jobs. I had fun with this one and all I had one me was one camera and two small lenses and I was there as a guest really, not the official photographer. :)

Also, as of this writing B&H Photo is now taking pre-orders for the M9! Order now and you may be able to get one within a couple of weeks. A bunch of you have been asking me where to get one and B&H is my recommendation for the quickest way to the M9 right now. You can pre-order the black one HERE, or the grey one HERE.

I hope  you have enjoyed my little M9 wedding story. I also want to thank the bride and groom for allowing me to shoot and to also share these images on my blog. Thank you! Oh, and BTW..I also shot a few frames with the E-P2 and 50 Noktor…I will be posting those later today in my Noktor review diary!

UPDATE: Due to some e-mail requests asking me for color samples I am posting a few here. Keep in mind that the B&W samples above were not really processed. These were just out of camera B&W. Below are some processed color shots but still, no noise reduction was done on any of them. Yea, they are small size but they print nicely, even the 2500 ISO images.


Get every new post delivered to your Inbox

Join other followers: