Home Cameras/Lenses Fujifilm Choosing the best camera for black-and-white photography

Choosing the best camera for black-and-white photography

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It isn’t surprising that the best cameras for monochrome photography are both made by Leica — the Q2 and M10-M. At least, that’s what I’ve read, and I pretty much concur.

The Leica Q2 is AP's best monochrome camera, despite the high cost. It is a conclusion that has the author's full backing (Image Leica Camera AG)
The Leica Q2 is AP’s best monochrome camera, despite the high cost. It is a conclusion that has the author’s full backing (Image Leica Camera AG)

The venerable British weekly, Amateur Photographer, has produced another of its interesting lists of “bests”. In this case, it is cameras for black and white photography.

The Q2 comes out best overall, despite its being “absurdly expensive”, while the “even more ludicrously expensive” M10-M is the best black-and-white rangefinder camera. So far, so good. But what about the rest?

Conversions

Well, with the exception of the Leica Typ 246 Monochrom (as a used buy), they are all colour cameras, so we are dealing with converted images. Some would argue that a B&W conversion is just as good as a dedicated monochrome image. But, as the author says, “A dedicated black and white camera with a monochrome sensor delivers genuine advantages. You get more detail, better dynamic range, lower noise and high ISOs.”

There is a pattern in the following choices, with candidates drawn from very familiar territory as far as Macfilos readers are concerned. It’s a toss-up between Fujifilm, Panasonic and Leica when it comes to black and white, it seems, although I cannot accept those other marques, such as Sony, Nikon and Canon, couldn’t perform just as well.

The winners

The best beginner’s camera for shooting B&W images is the Fujifilm X-T30 II, according to AP. For travellers, it’s the Panasonic Lumix GX9, while street photography fans are pointed towards Ricoh’s excellent GRs (III and IIIx).

Leica Monochrom (Typ 246) is AP's choice as best second-hand B&W rangefinder (Image Leica Camera AG)
Leica Monochrom (Typ 246) is AP’s choice as the best second-hand B&W rangefinder (Image Leica Camera AG)

The journey continues with the Leica Monochrom (Typ 246) as the best second-hand buy, while the accolade for B&W camera with a viewfinder is grabbed by the Fujifilm X-Pro3. Finally, we have the best weatherproof B&W camera in the Panasonic Lumix S5, another of my favourites alongside the Ricoh.

B&W conversion from the Panasonic S5, AP's "best weatherproof camra for B&W". Image by Keith James
B&W conversion from the Panasonic S5, AP’s “best weatherproof camera for B&W”. Image by Keith James

My favourites

Probably my favourite colour camera for using in monochrome mode is the Ricoh GRIII. The out-of-camera B&W jpegs are some of the best, and the little camera is a joy to use. Its only major drawback is the lack of an electronic viewfinder, but to add one would kill the Ricoh’s basic allure. It is the only camera in this list that is genuinely pocketable, and its zone-focus capabilities (thanks to the effective SnapFocus capability) rival those of the Leica Q2-M and M10-M.

I've been a fan of Ricoh's GR series for B&W conversions ever since the original GR. Here is the interior of Charles Dickens' home in Doughty Street, London (Mike Evans)
I’ve been a fan of Ricoh’s GR series for B&W conversions ever since the original GR. Here is the interior of Charles Dickens’ home in Doughty Street, London (Mike Evans)

That said, if I were to become really serious about black-and-white photography, my overall choice would be the Leica Q2-M, and on that, I am in full agreement with Amateur Photographer. Next up, in my estimation, would be the Ricoh GRIII or GRIIIx.

What’s your view on the monochrome world? If you are really keen on B&W photography, is Leica the only choice, or are you satisfied with converting images from one of these mainstream colour cameras? Or are you waiting for the PIXII Monochrome? Join the discussion and let us know

More reading

Full Amateur Photographer article here

Panasonic S5

Leica M10 Monochrom

Leica Q2 Monochrom

Ricoh GR

PIXII Monochrome (via Leica Rumors)


24 COMMENTS

  1. For most of us older hands nothing beats the look of black and white film. The closest I have seen to the black and white film look straight out of a camera are the ACROS Jpegs with various filter settings shot with Fujifilm cameras. They are startlingly good and many black and white film photographers switched to one of the Fujifilm camera range models when going into digital. Fujifilm had the advantage, of course, of being a manufacturer of black and white film and put that knowledge to good use in its digital models.

    About 6 years ago I tried a Leica M246 and, again, I was startled, as I had never seen such good black and white images from a digital camera. I thought about buying one, but then the M10 came along and I bought one of those. I have, over the years, taught myself how to produce good black and white images using Lightroom and Photoshop. I am very busy at present with various photo-admin duties, but when I get back to having more time for actual photography, I suspect that I will be shooting a lot of black and white film, but I might also look at the list in this article.

    I met Andy Westlake, the Technical Editor of Amateur Photographer in Wetzlar in June. He is a lovely guy who really knows his stuff.

    William

  2. When I first used my Leica M8 on Labour Day in Zambia (in 2015) I forgot to use the IR cut filter. Black nylon turned magenta and I had no choice : convert to black and white or ditch the pictures. I was startled by the quality of the converted files and still use the M8.

  3. I’ve never tried any of the Leica monochrome cameras so far. The Ricohs are amazing when converting color images into B&W images. If you like hard contrast, the Ricoh B&W high contrast simulation reminds me of the Tri-X but one needs to be careful when shooting otherwise you’re most likely to obtain something close to solarization. The Leica X2 images converted to B&W are absolutely stunning. I’ve recently tried the Monohrome D preset in the Panasonic GX9 and the results are pretty good as well with a nice organic feel.

  4. The M10M has a lot to answer for. Since mine arrived in Feb 2020 my various film cameras (35mm & 6x6cm) have been mostly gathering dust on the shelf ands my stock of Tri-X, HP5Plus & Fomapan 100 etc etc has for the most part lain untouched in the freezer drawer. I did briefly use my 503CX and M7 in 2020 but have not shot a single frame of film in 2021 or this year. The M10M provides everything I require in monochrome photography and given its high ISO capabilities it has also enabled me to indulge in very low-light & nighttime shooting. A wondrous beast!

  5. I love the look of converted monochrome images from my Leica X, they are all the best voted on my Flickr site. I dont even use an overly scientific conversion process either, they just have a window when they pop and look instantly impressive.

  6. If achieving great sharpness is the purpose, an analog medium format, or a digital Hasselblad or Fuji or Phase One also medium format are the best. If you’re not a dedicated b&w photographer, how worth is to pay for a Q2 or M digital Monochrom? My opinion is that not very much. Fuji X cameras have for instance very good jpeg b&w’s. For the rest, converting is a must; so LR or whatever you use rules your results.
    I was watching yesterday the work of a good bunch of photographers. They all worked in b@w, and their contrasty and dramatic results can only come from a process. So, what much the cameras matter

  7. My colour camera choice for conversions to monochrome is the Leica M11.

    Lloyd Chambers commented on his blog after testing the Leica M11:
    “Unlike its mirrorless competitors, the Leica M11 color sensor lacks PDAF pixels that can cause image defects, such as the horizontal white stripes of the Fujifilm GFX100S/100 or horizontal stripes of the Sony A1 (and every other mirrorless camera with PDAF). This page shows examples when Leica M11 images are converted to monochrome using aggressive settings that for most cameras would provoke horizontal lines.”

    Lloyd stated in his blog that is the best colour camera for conversion to monochrome as even the Fujifilm medium format cameras show the horizontal lines.

    I agree with Lloyds competent observations and so the M11 is my perfect colour camera for conversions to black and white. It also has high pixel density to help minimize the effects of reduction in pixel count that happens during the conversion. The M11 also offers more tonality than a lot of colour options.

    It is important to note that you will not see the image artifacts in general that Lloyd mentions unless you increase the contrast significantly – but I love pushing the pixels.

    • Agreed. The M11 is the first contender for monochrom shooting over my M10 Monochrom. It really looks amazing with conversions but does still tempt you to shoot in colour. 🙂

      • I agree that I find it much harder to get into the black and white thinking zone when carrying a colour capable camera. I find carrying a black and white camera puts me into a totally different mindset and I see monochrome options more readily.

  8. I have my Retired French teacher and friend to thank for my GRD4 and gr11 his photo b/w of the head statues in Cambodia did it, GAS told me I had to get those cameras. Then found DAIDO MORIYAMA OMG, I SURRENDERED! Now as much as I gleam Mac for any and all help for my Q, I read GR BLOG, and that is something that has opened my eyes too more B/W a nd what I think you can call minimalist photos! Any way I wish LEICA would do more like this.

  9. There is a diffuse misunderstanding in the concept of Digital “monochromatic” photography. When we used film, we had panchromatic and ortochromatic BW film (someone remembers the fabulous contrast of agfaortho 25?). Panchro was sensitive to all colours, ortho to green and blue only. What we have today is only panchromatic sensors, either Bayer or unfiltered (Leica monochrom). Using filters we could do monochromatic photography, which means taking pictures using only a limited set of wavelenghts. This was useful not only to manipolate contrast, but also to exploit the different properties of light colors: e.g. red light reduces haziness. This you cannot do with a Bayer filter: conversion to BW uses all colours, and the effect of filters is simulated, but the simulation affects only contrast, not other properties of light. On a Leica monochrom you have a true panchromatic sensors, you can add filters and take a picture using only red light, of you so wishes. Thus Leica monochrom is the way to go of you have big enough pockets; otherwise you can try a sigma foveon camera, and select the appropriate layer. Or, as I do, contenta yourself with a Fuji or other “common” camera and accept that yours is panchromatic BW.

  10. When it comes to monochrome photography just forget all these digital cameras. Just go and purchase a film camera and a few rolls of film. The most important thing , it’s real photography.
    You will learn to compose, take your time viewing your subject and BINGO …TRUE PHOTOGRAPHY and yes, just look at the grain.

    • I agree that I learned a lot using a film camera and sticking to a nifty fifty until I understood it. My next lens was a 24mm which took a long time to learn to capture great images versus just a lot more in the frame. I then had to learn how to use that lens effectively. Now when I use a zoom, I pick the focal length (the look) first and then use my feet instead of zooming. These days I see a lot of photographers see something and lift the zoom to their eyes and then make major zoom adjustments without thinking. Film photography had a lot of strengths but I am now a digital person.

  11. Well, that PIXII might actually be a contender here with it’s innovative sensor tech. The (only) video from Matthias Burling on it looks pretty interesting. I will follow the PIXII users call to share their experiences with interest……

      • Very curious. I have my finger on the trigger but want to read up some more, there is just not a lot of user experience reviews out there so thanks for putting the call out on that!

          • Haha 🙂 – don’t tempt me… the APS-C sensor is a bit of a dilemma, but then again, I had pretty good experience with M lenses on the CL….

  12. I shoot a lot of Moorland and mountain scenery using my Q2M. The orange filter is almost glued to the front. There are some technical advantages like a bit of resolution gain and high ISO performance but, ultimately, it’s about the simplicity of always shooting with the intent to make a Monochrom image. The DNG files are just wonderful to play with. Having used Fuji X series cameras before this the files are not of comparable quality. Recent firmware updates – especially the ‘DRI’ options – have really improved the jpeg output. One can now preserve highlights but not at the cost of dark shadows. This especially helps with the toning options. Initially, I avoided the jpeg output. Nearly two years from launch its got much better and is every bit as rich as Fujis Acris simulation output.

  13. I use B n W filters sourced from Ffordes. They have become quite hard to get hold of. I think they are special order only at this point but they do have some second hand stock from time to time. I am completely unpersuaded that the Leica branded filters sold in store at more than twice the price have any discernible advantage.

  14. Ricoh GR cameras like GR / GR II / GR III and GR IIIx as well as some Pentax DSLRs like K-30/50/5/5II/3 and even full frame K-1 are available in monochrome versions (debayered).
    You can look my profile on faceboo: MG Leisure

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