Why Black and White Capturing Only
Before I go into detail on the specifics of the camera and the results, I first want to start addressing a question many digital photographers may have: why do we need a black and white only camera, even when many photographers primarily produce black and white images? Isn’t it easier to convert to black and white in post-production? That’s a valid question, since I also use photo editing software like Photoshop to enhance my black and white images, whether they’re color or black and white doesn’t matter to me. If you’re not interested in this topic, then skip this to go to the next section.
The people who have read my previous article, In Defense of Black and White Photography, will know the justification for black and white photography in this digital day and age. If you haven’t read it, it may explain quite a few question marks. In my upcoming article I will go into various ways of converting or better yet, processing, images to black and white images. Conversion, in my approach, implies a (third party) software algorithm, to translate and interpolate color images to black and white, while processing doesn’t involve an algorithm but is much more individual. Usually with color images, you convert it first, using Photoshops features or plugins, then process it. My view on black and white photography as advocated in In Defense of Black and White Photography and the advised way to process black and white images from color, that I will explain in detail in my upcoming article, is without conversion, but with a neutral desaturation and then work (process) from there. The conversion is what I try to avoid in post processing, by approaching the pure capturing of intensities of light only (or luminance and its differences only), through desaturation. (Note that desaturation is theoretically a neutral version without affecting luminance values, but not in Photoshop that averages out each RGB pixel to generate the gray value, but it comes close to neutral in practice. The exact neutral B&W version of a color image in Photoshop is the luminosity blending mode version of it that I will discuss in part 2 of my Guide to B&W photography).
This step, of removing the color information, can now be skipped by using a black and white only camera with a sensor without a Color Filter Array (CFA) that will only record information on light intensities, my prime ingredient in black and white photography. This is more pure and direct information for a black and white photographer since in modern digital cameras the following is what happens:
If you’re a color photographer:
(1) Photo sensor captures light information + (1a) color information (wavelength range) through the CFA > (2) raw data is converted to a full color image through a specific algorithm dependent on the CFA used > (3) photographer processes image in post-production (optional).
If you’re a black and white photographer:
(1) Photo sensor captures light information + (1a) color information (wavelength range) through the CFA > (2) raw data is converted to a full color image through a specific algorithm dependent on the CFA used > (3) photographer converts or removes color data to black and white > (4) photographer further processes image in post-production (optional).
As a black and white photographer with a black and white only digital sensor you skip steps 1a, 2 and 3 and all interpolations that are only useful for color photographers and completely redundant for black and white photographers and actually have unwanted external effects. This is more pure information that can result in better black and white photos.
The Phase One IQ3 Achromatic 100 MP with XF body is a continuation of Phase One’s modular approach with a body that’s the same as the one recently released and a digital back that has the same specs as the IQ3 100 MP but of course without the color filter array and with a native ISO of 200 instead of 50.
As was expected, the camera is a bit heavier and bulkier than the average DSLR but I got used to its size and weight very quickly, so much so that my regular Canon 50 MP DSLR felt a bit light afterwards. The user interface is very intuitive and after an hour of playing around with the camera it felt like I’ve never used anything else. This medium format camera is actually easier to understand intuitively than the average DSLR in my opinion. The clear and simple to use touch screens, both LCD display on the digital back as the display on top of the camera body are touch screens, contributed to that largely. I know all camera menus off the top of my head after using it for a few weeks, which I can’t say of all the menus of my Canon after using Canon for 10 years already.
I’ve always liked the modular approach of the Phase One cameras and to customize the camera exactly to your liking. Prefer the waist level viewfinder to the prism viewfinder? Changing viewfinders can’t be made easier and faster but I found using the live-view feature the best way to compose and focus my shots manually. Zooming in on the photos in live-view is easy by just tapping on the screen. The digital back sits very tightly against the back of the body but is easy to remove to access the sensor with no problems for fast and effective cleaning purposes. And cleaning the sensor is something I needed to do more often but also that is just a routine activity that anyone can do.
The first results were very impressive, the dynamic range of 15 stops makes shooting and processing photos so much easier. More on that later. The quality of straight out of the camera black and white photos does have no match in today’s world of digital photography: the smoothness and subtlety of gray tones and luminance differences have the look and feel of analog medium format. Usually when you shoot with a good DSLR and a quality lens, there’s either too much contrast or not enough, but rarely exactly right. The IQ3 Achromatic was always exactly right. So smooth and yet so clear in contrast at the same time that post-processing the image was faster, more accurate and more beautiful.
The IQ3 Achromatic has a maximum exposure time of 60 minutes, more than enough for a long exposure photographer. Shooting long exposures is simpler and faster than with a DSLR: either you calculate the exposure time yourself and set the desired long exposure time by just dialing in the time with the camera set to manual mode, or you go to the touch screen on the LCD display of the digital back and you navigate to Exposure Calculator. The only thing you have to do then is to set the number of ND-stops you’re using and the camera does the calculation itself and you only have to depress the shutter button. No remote with lock is needed, and you can delay the shutter for a few seconds after depressing the button to avoid vibration. The quality of the long exposure photos is second to none: no noise, clear, crisp and neutral.
Porthouse in Antwerp (c) Joel Tjintjelaar – Photo taken with Phase One IQ3 Achromatic 100MP, using Schneider Kreuznach 35mm LS f/3.5 lens with Firecrest 10 stops and 6 stops ND 105mm circular filters stacked. ISO 200 | f/11 | 300s exposure time – quick B&W edit
Erasmus Bridge, Rotterdam, f/9, ISO 200, 240s, 35mm
Like the Canals of Amsterdam image, this photo was shot with the 35mm LS lens. This time I used Formatt Hitechs Firecrest ND filters with a total of 16 stops to expose the image at 240 seconds. I enhanced the image fairly quickly in Photoshop.
Of course it isn’t a fair comparison but just to give you an impression of the quality of the Phase One back: back in 2013 I shot this bridge with my Canon 5D mkiii. I remember how hard it was to select the cables of the bridge, there wasn’t clear detail in some parts, edges looked more jagged and the contrast between the cables and the sky were at parts almost non-existent and sometimes the contrast was just too much. Of course the lack of details are due to the smaller resolution of the Canon’s 22,3 MP sensor but lack of subtlety in luminance differences isn’t only due to the smaller resolution but largely also the result of the difference in quality of the sensor and the way the CFA interpolates color in the Canon color sensor.
Either way, the cables were much easier to tackle for the Phase One IQ3 Achromatic 100MP. As you can see on the 100% crops below, the cables looked crystal clear and very well defined. Even the tram lines look good.
Full Resolution Samples
If you ever wondered how a 100MP image from an achromatic digital back looks like, here are three full resolution, unedited, straight out of the camera images that you can download as tiff files. Please do note that these images are for you viewing pleasure only. They are copyrighted and it’s not allowed to use these images otherwise without prior permission from the copyright owner.
The first image is shot at the Markthal in Rotterdam with the IQ3 achromatic and the Schneider Kreuznach 28mm LS lens. The preview image looks quite desolate, but once you zoom in, you will discover many people walking around. The second image is taken in the South of The Netherlands with the Schneider Kreuznach 120mm TS f/5.6 lens with a 2 degrees tilt and a slight upward shift. This image showcases how well the IQ3 Achromatic handles all kinds of textures. The third image is an image of the Prinsengracht in Amsterdam, with the camera pointed at the Anne Frank House. You can see people standing in line to enter the museum and see the ticket booth with the sign ‘museum tickets’ in the back. Photo taken with the IQ3 achromatic and Schneider Kreuznach 35mm LS lens.
MORE INFO ON RELATED TOPICS
- My thoughts on black and white photography in the digital color age: In defense of black and white photography (blog post on this website)
- More on black and white photography, fine art photography and architectural photography can be found in the eBook From Basics to Fine-art, that I co-wrote with Julia Anna Gospodarou
- More info and demonstrations on black and white post-processing can be found in my video tutorial Black and White Speed Workflow.
- More on long exposure photography: