The Joys of B&W Photography

One of the fundamental joys of black & white photography is that it makes life simpler.  A simple life is a happy life.  Freed from the distractions of colour, photography becomes a study of contrast, shapes and patterns.

My background as a photographer is a little unusual because I am primarily an advanced amateur astrophotographer.  So in addition to being experienced in digitally manipulating images in post production like many modern photographers, I am also experienced in the hardware manipulation of cameras, preproduction!  Nearly all black and white photographers have to convert their deBayered colour images into greyscale but most are unaware that their images are not true monochrome images.   The color interpolation algorithm needed to convert Bayer data is not accurate and only a guess at the true color of each pixel and the resolution of the sensor is really only half of the technical specifications since only green pixels are used to capture image detail, upscaled and overlaid over the final image as a luminance channel.

The solution is to use a dedicated monochrome sensor, like those found in Phase One medium format camera backs or the Leica Monochrom, but that entails spending several thousand dollars.  Photography is not about how much one can spend, it’s about innovative and creative thinking.  And that innovative, creative thinking also  applies to the hardware side of photography.  I’ve been successful in surgically replacing the original camera sensor in the Olympus E-500 43rds DSLR (a 10 year old camera) with the monochrome version of the same sensor (KAF8300M) to produce true black and white images with accurate greyscale representation of colour, and enhanced resolution because all pixels are being used and the low pass filter is no longer necessary in the optical train.  The camera is about 2.5 stops more sensitive because of the missing Bayer layer.   This cost under $500 in total, less than 10% of  a Leica Monochrom and I also preserved the autofocus function which the Leica never had.  And since Leica has lenses produced by Panasonic/Lumix for the 43rds and m43rds family, I’m even shooting with Leica glass at a significant discount!!  The details of this project can be read in my book “Astro Imaging Projects for Amateur Astronomers – A Maker’s Guide“, widely available on Amazon and as individual chapter downloads from the publisher, Springer.

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E-500 sensor assembly.

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Below are a series of Salon images shot during the Christmas holidays in my urban neighbourhood along nature trails that follow the tributaries feeding the Don River in Toronto.   The trails are thickly covered with hockey rink quality ice and treacherous for even seasoned Canadians to traverse and most wildlife is in a state of hibernation, but life can be found and the life sustaining fresh water that feeds the Great Lakes continues to flow unabated despite subfreezing temperatures.

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The characteristic aloofness of the Chow Chow to strangers at an outdoor Christmas Market.   Didn’t even sniff and check out the cup of coffee I placed beside him!  E-500 with Leica 25mm f/1.4 lens.
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My 1968 BMW R60US vintage motorcycle captured in IR wavelengths only which gives objects and people perfect and unmarred complexions.
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M4A2 Sherman Tank from the Ontario Regiment of the Canadian Armed Forces. Saw action in Italy and throughout France and the Netherlands after D-Day in WW2.  E-500 with 50-200mm f/2.8-3.5 capturing the firing of the 76mm cannon.  This is a late variant of the iconic tank that is both uparmoured and upgunned with a bigger turret, very similar to the model portrayed in the movie “Fury”.
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A friendly chipmunk meets me in the forest. E-500 and Leica 25mm f/1.4 lens.
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Out pet dwarf rabbit sitting on a new chair that I had just finished making. E-500 and Leica 25mm f/1.4 lens.

6 Comments

  1. As someone who is new to digital imaging, I find that your images remind me of the tones created by film/paper artists of the past. I didn’t know if this was possible, but evidently it is. Much of what I seen recently fits into the range of Ansel Adams’ critical description- “chalk and soot”.
    Thanks for the inspiration.

    Like

  2. Amazing that you were able to find and install a monochrome version of the sensor! Congratulations. Do you think this would be possible for a full-frame camera?

    Like

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