April 11, 2024

The Leica Q2 Monochrom journal.

Chapter 2: Why black and White?

There’s a problem with color images: They’ve becoming a form of noise.

Literally half the world has a phone with a color camera in it. And we thirst for the screen on each new phone to be more colorful than the last as we flick through our share of the 32 billion images uploaded daily on social media. As a result, our eyes and brains are oversaturated with oversaturated color. So more than ever, when you see a striking black and white image, its visceral nature immediately draws you in. The story it tells in the tones is a very different one from all those color images that seem to get more cartoon-like in their exaggeration every day.

But why a black-and-white-only digital camera like the Q2 Monochrom? After all, through software you can convert color images to black-and-white. But that’s a little like using a color negative to make a black-and-white print: So many compromises along the way rob the image of its very life.

Digital cameras often have a monochrome mode, but it’s not the same thing. A color digital camera actually uses a black-and-white sensor and then creates color from a minimal amount of data. It does this through filtering and interpolation (computerized guessing). Then when you convert the image back to monochrome in the camera it leaves the artifacts and noise from that less-than-perfect color. So even when shooting RAW, some of that original, smooth tonal information gets lost and the image suffers from a little degradation of sharpness as well.

Instead, the Leica Q2M sensor captures only the monochrome tones, so once colors hit the lens, they’re never part of the equation. Plus there’s no extra layer of color filter glass to reflect light, soften focus and rob a stop-or-so of light from the sensor. Editing is also simpler: The Saturation, Vibrance, Temperature and Tint have no effect on a monochrome image and the white balance can’t be off since there’s no color temperature to the light to balance for.

Will you notice the difference in a color image converted to black-and-white and an original monochrome image? On social media: No. On a high-def monitor or a print on your wall: Quite possibly.

Today we’re oversharing billions of tiny glimpses into other people’s colorful lives on a tiny screen. As we flick through Instagram, we’re speed-reading, while a good physical photograph on a wall, like poetry, requires time to absorb.

When I first looked at the monochrome screen on the Q2M, it was really very eye-opening after all these years to turn off the color and actually see things in black-and-white.

Read the next chapter: Automatic

Read the whole series

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Photography Leica Q2 Monochrom

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