Yesterday Steve Huff posted one of his “crazy comparisons”, pitting the OM-D against the Leica M Monochrom. While I don’t fully agree with his methodic approach (but then, it was just for fun), the result was pretty impressive. People couldn’t tell the difference.
What exactly did he do? He took his Leica Monochrom, mounted the $5000 Leica Summilux 35/1.4 ASPH and an orange filter, and on the OM-D side he used just the kit lens with the Picture mode set to “monocrome / orange filter”. That’s probably as unfair as it gets, but to level it a bit, he presented the images in “web size”. He didn’t want to test sharpness or any other lens-dependent properties, he wanted to compare tonality.
I really suggest you head over to his site and hopefully come back to read on.
As you see, he used JPEG on both cameras, because the software B&W / orange mode of the OM-D works only in JPEG.
Of course I have no Leica to compare (neither do I want one), but when I saw the beautiful tonality, I just wanted to make some in-camera B&W images myself. And I was struck.
I have sometimes used the D300 at ISO 6400, but that was mainly to make the point that such high ISOs are possible with the camera, at least as long as you shoot in B&W. Sometimes I just liked the grittiness of those images, although at ISO 6400 the tonality was relatively poor.
These images that I took today were of course taken at base ISO, and they had a richness of mid-tones that was really amazing. Could they probably be usable straight out of the camera? On the LCD they certainly looked so, and when I had them on my computer and looked at them on a 1920×1200 display, they still looked pretty good, even at pixel level.
I decided to make another comparison, this time not between cameras, but between myself using Lightroom and the algorithms of the camera.
In the introduction I have said that the OM-D’s monochrome mode only works for JPEGs, and that is right, but you can still use RAW+JPEG, and then the JPEG will be in B&W, while the RAW retains all color information.
Basically I wanted to see two things, namely how hard or easy it would be to emulate Olympus’ JPEG processing, and whether I could even improve upon that.
For the first point I tried Lightroom’s “B&W / Orange filter” preset. Bingo! I didn’t have to go any further, this was already sufficiently near.
For the second test I used two images, the first one, this street scene, slightly hot on the highlights. I have linked both thumbnails to the full sizes on Flickr, to make it easier to see the difference.
The out-of-camera JPEG is on the left, my own version is on the right.
I think even when shooting B&W, I wouldn’t do JPEG only. There is a clear advantage to my version. It has more mid-tone contrast, retains highlights much better, and it is also sharper to boot. It is a tad noisier as well, but firstly I could have tackled noise and because it was a rush job I didn’t, and what is more important, for the other qualities I take a little noise all the time.
The second image is shot into the light and the JPEG has very dark shadows. From the JPEG I wouldn’t have been able to open them up as well as I did, and while I prefer the image as it now is, I could have opened them up much further without breaking the image technically.
Some of the noise in the second image is from opening the shadows without noise reduction, but most is artificially added in Lightroom.
The other two images have been processed in Lightroom as well.
What have I learned? Well, mostly that I won’t dump RAW, even if some people suggest it’s a good idea (and it may be for a pro in certain situations). But I have also leaned that using the camera in B&W mode is a good way to shoot for B&W, even if I do the final processing from RAW. The preview in the electronic viewfinder or on the LCD is of a total different quality than just converting color images later. You don’t need to think around the corner, you see B&W, and B&W is what you get. I like this so much that I have dedicated one of my camera’s “MySet” presets to B&W.
And there is one more thing: The difference in tonality between my street image and that of the camera is greater than the difference between the Leica and the OM-D. Much greater. So please stop talking about Leica tonality. It’s just bits and bytes, and once we’ve got them out of the camera, we can make of them whatever we want.
The Song of the Day is “Crazy” from Tori Amos’ 2001 album “Scarlet’s Walk”. Hear it on YouTube.