Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Leica M9 Class - Interesting Twist With the New Leica M Monochrom

I took a nice Leica M9 user's class at the new Leica retail store in Washington, DC. It was a good chance to meet some fellow Leica photographers, and talk shop. Our instructor, Justin Stailey, Product Specialist for Leica M Products, North America, was a real source of great information.
I learned a few key things about setting up the M9 that I didn't know before, and also picked up some pointers on how to recognize great lighting opportunities for street photography.
I also got clued into something that wasn't obvious to me, relating to the new Leica M Monochrom. This is an M9-like camera which is designed specifically for monochrome (black and white) imaging.
Leica M Monochrome
Image Source: http://us.leica-camera.com/photography/m_system/m_monochrom/
Normal camera sensors, designed for color photography, accomplish their job by using filters of Red, Green, and Blue over a set of four sensors, in something known as the Bayer pattern. This means that in order to get all of the color information for a location in the image, the chip must blend information from four sensors on the chip. The new Monochrom does away with the Bayer filters, and uses all of those sensor locations to gather light level information in only black and white. This results in exquisite detail in monochrome images.
Well, here's the twist. Until now, digital imaging has sort of rendered those old red, green, and yellow filters we used for black and white film photography obsolete. When converting an image from color to monochrome, we can use our post-processing software to balance the color channels, effectively allowing us to apply filters digitally, after the fact. Since the Monochrom doesn't even gather any color information, that's impossible. So guess what? Dig out those old filters - they're useful again. I think that's kind of cool.
By the way - if you're in the area, there's a spectacular exhibition of images by Magnum photographer Jacob Aue Sobol, all taken with the M Monochrom. They are awesome. They really show how this camera can make black and white images that look like the classics, but with detail and tones that are just beyond belief.
I can't imagine paying that kind of money for a camera that only does black and white. But, if that's your thing, this is the camera.
The regular Leica M digital cameras are no slouches at black and white, either.
All in all, an interesting day at the Leica shop.