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Considering that most people cannot afford a Leica Monochrom, are there any other cameras that are better suited than average for Black and White photography?

I mean, some sensor designs emphasize certain attributes, like the Foveon sensors not having to interpolate colour, the old SuperCCD to optimise Dynamic Range, the X-Trans to not need low pass filter... How do they compare when you don't care about colour at all?

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The Nikon D600 has a facility in the retouch menu that allows one to print in monochrome, sepia, or cyanotype. –  Peter Cotton Jul 7 '13 at 12:27

2 Answers 2

up vote 8 down vote accepted

Foveon sensor cameras (from Sigma) are highly regarded by some for BW work, as often you want to use a single channel (e.g. red) for your images (akin to colour filters and BW film) and with a Foveon this means you are still getting one sample per pixel in your final image.

"The Sigma DP1 Merrill makes a superb black and white camera at 1/10 the cost of a Leica M Monochrom + lens."  - Digilloyd.com

With a Bayer or Fuji X trans sensor when doing a single channel BW conversion you either have one sample every 2 pixels (green channel) or one sample every four pixels (red or blue channels). This means your 24MP Bayer sensor acts like a 6MP monochrome sensor when doing a pure red channel BW conversion. A 15MP Foveon yields 15MP.

You can produce a single channel BW conversion post demosaicing (this is perhaps the more common approach) and here the Bayer (or X-trans) sensor can exploit correlations (similarities) between colour channels and so the loss in resolution is not as severe (roughly equivalent half of the pixel count, depending on image content). But this leaves the potential for demosaicing artifacts (which can be quite severe with the X-trans) which do not occur at all with a Foveon sensor.

Whilst a true monochrome sensor (like such as found in the Leica monochrom) seems like the holy grail for BW photography (extra sensitivity, one sample per pixel, no demosaicing) in reality the difference in quality is not that massive, meaning you have to take other factors into account. At the end of the day a camera with a very good RGB image will also yield a good BW image.

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One note to add to this, is that the Sigma RAW processing software also has a dedicated Monochrome conversion path that is different than the color path - where you can use a color wheel to select the B&W mix you use between the different layers, rather than just using one output color channel after conversion. On the Leica M you cannot apply a digital color filter in post-processing since there was no color data to start with. –  Kendall Helmstetter Gelner Mar 26 at 5:19

I would think that any of the increasing number of cameras without an Optical Low Pass Filter would be good for black and white as you'll get a slightly sharper (ie, not anti-aliased) image. Since much of black and white photography is to do with contrast, this may be something to consider.

The rather expensive Nikon D800 seems to have kicked off this trend in recent times however there are others following in its wake, such as the Ricoh GR or Nikon Coolpix A, which may be worth a look ...

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