Sunday, April 13, 2014

My Itch Has Been Scratched

Yesterday (Saturday) I took advantage of the beautiful weather and went back to SoHo. I brought my Leica 35mm f2 lens with me and stopped into the Leica store to take the Leica M Monochrome out for a test run, along with my Fuji X-T1 and 23mm lens so that I could take comparable images at the same focal length. I tried as best as I could to use the same ISO, shutter and aperture settings for both cameras.

The hype about the monochrome is that Leica removed the Bayer filter array from in front of the sensor, so that no color information is present in the image. By so doing, each pixel is receiving the light and measuring one of 256 tones of grayscale, so when the RAW (Leica saves the information in the Adobe DNG format) data is stored as a b/w image. The Fuji RAW data is uploaded as a RAF file, but I automatically convert to DNG on import (and save the RAF file to a different location).

Comparing the two images presents some challenges. I didn't want to compare b/w to color, so how to de-colorize the Fuji image became an issue. Each conversion method has its advantages and disadvantages. My usual workflow is to use the Nik Silver Efex Pro 2 plugin, but for this comparison I chose to simply desaturate the Fuji images in Lightroom. That processing tends to flatten out the contrast a bit, but as I said, there's downsides to every method. I selected just two images to look at. The day was bright and sunny. The first was taken with no heavy shadows but also no direct sunlight. The second was in sunlight.

The First shot:

M Monochrome

Second shot:

M Monochrome

I had to use 100% magnification to look at the sharpness and acuity, but in both cases the X-T1 image is superior by a tiny margin. The real question for me was in dynamic range, since that's where removing the color Bayer filter would make the Leica image stand out. In both cases the images look very close. And considering that desaturation reduced the contrast on the Fuji images, the Leica shots both look rather flat to me.

Both images in both cases would undoubtedly pop much more with simple Lightroom processing. But the point of the test was to compare the RAW images as equally as possible. The Fuji images especially would come to life much more when processed in Silver Efex Pro since that plugin, after b/w conversion, accesses all the color information of the original file to allow for very sophisticated adjustments.

Leica cameras are very expensive. The current Leica M (color filter in tact) sells for $7000, and the monochrome (without the Bayer filter - after all, less is more) for $8000. For $6700 difference in price between the Fuji and Leica I'd want to see a difference that would literally knock me on my ass. It didn't. Far from it. I think this is simply an example of the Emporer's New Clothes syndrome. I'm sure there are many who would disagree. So be it. Good for them. I don't want to hear about it.

I had an itch.
I scratched it.
It felt so good.
Now it's gone and I saved myself $8000.

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