Photographing Monochrome with Leica M (Typ 240)
Monochrome only on a trip to France
14 Photos • 07 May 2014
As I was packing my bag for a 4 day trip to France, I came across some B+W Yellow filters and found myself wondering how they would perform on a colour digital camera. Up until now, I’ve only ever used them on the Leica M6 and M3 with monochromatic film (mainly Ilford HP5+ and Kodak TRI-X), so how would the M (Typ 240) handle it?
After some consideration, I figured that the auto white balance, or a grey card white balance would mess things up. Given that everything looks yellow through the filter, the white balance would try to get rid of the yellow and make it neutral white/grey, defeating the point. A setting of “Daylight”, the lighting conditions I would be shooting in, would easily stop it from doing this however.
Naturally, the thought also crossed my mind that it would actually be a stupid thing to do, since I could do the same thing in post processing anyway – none the less, I wanted to try it, and made my decision that I would only produce monochromatic images during my trip in France, whether the yellow filter worked or not on the M.
Shooting solely monochrome, was enough of a challenge for me by itself. When you find yourself in a part of France blessed with beautiful pastel hues, it almost felt as if I were wasting the colours. But I’d made my choice, I had to stick with it.
This said, there are aspects to shooting nothing by monochrome that makes the photography easier for me. You don’t have to take as much care with regards carefully composing your colours. You will never have the problem that a certain object will distract the eye when it’s colour “pops” too much. This “loss” of a sense of colour, in a way, heightens your focus on the composition, form, and emotion of subjects. I always find it easier to go from colour photography to monochrome, than the other way around.
My setup for this four day trip, consisted just a single body, the Leica M (Typ 240), and three lenses – the Elmarit-M 28mm ASPH, Summicron-M 35mm ASPH, and Summilux-M 50mm ASPH. Oh, and of course, some colour filters. For more striking, darker skies and to get rid of reflections of faces in bright sunlight, I also brought the Leica Universal Linear Polarizer. (Part #13356). A very handy and lightweight kit.
So, how were the images directly out of the camera? They were, of course yellow tinted. No big surprise there. But on simply desaturating the images and slightly tweaking the contrast and shadow/highlight sliders, the images were already very satisfying, almost akin to my experiences with TRI-X.
I spent some time adjusting my developing technique for more or less contrast, to see what I could get out of the RAW files. In the end I realised that I couldn’t easily reproduce the yellow filter effect in post processing, on images I had not shot with a filter! For me, this was reason enough to use a glass filter on your lens – it’s super easy and saves a whole bunch of post processing time.
Of course, there are some downsides, such as that fact that you have no choice by to convert a shot to black and white. There is no going back to a colour version after having shot with the filter on, unless you happen to like heavily yellow colour images, that is.
I couldn’t take all the images on my trip with a yellow filter, simply because I only have an E39 filter, not the E46 sized filter needed for my Summilux-M 50mm ASPH. As I use that lens a lot, I was out of luck. But it’s definitely now on my want list, along with the Yellow, Orange, and Blue filter for both filter sizes I need.
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Very nice pics and interesting story! Well done Jip!!!
I loved your experimentation – I would have never thought of using coloured filters on digital but I love the results!
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brilliant~ great skill~ lovely trip and photos!!
Does it give you a better resolution so it would get somewhat comparable to the MM?
I can explain to myself why you get a better effect, that is because in the case of a filter you only let pass the real yellow or orange component of the light to the sensor, whereas with the post-processing you actually take a mixture of what the sensor with all of its components hat put in the file and eliminate by software the part you don’t want to consider. I don’t know whether it makes sense to explain it like that, however you made me curious enough to try it out with my M.
Above all a yellow filter in E39 or even E46 should not be that expensive – at least not second hand.
Jip van Kuijk
You are right it gives a little better results since you don’t push or pull colour channels in post processing. When you push certain colours in post processing you get colour channel noise for a certain colour channel. When you use real filters you don’t get this. Just make sure you set the white balance to daylight when you are shooting outdoors. Because the auto white balance will try to get rid of the yellow colour cast if you are using a yellow filter.
I advice getting filters from B+W I use them and they are very good.
Hi Jip, I have a Leica M/240 and exactly the set of lenses that you took with you to France. I use the M mainly for colour, but delegated my Sigma DP2M for black and white. I too have experimented with colour filters from my film days on digital cameras. Most of these filters are 52mm in size so I have found that the easiest way is to use filter adapter rings (39 – 52, 46 – 52 act.). B+W Red filter is too ‘heavy’ on digital, both on Leica as well as Sigma. After some experimentation mid yellow gives me best results, mainly darkened blue sky and shows white clouts in more details, just like in the film days. Mid green gives interesting rendering as well.
Jip van Kuijk
Thats great to hear how you use those older filters! You are right red filters are too heavy for the colour digital camera’s like the M (Typ 240) but work really nice on the M Monochrom though.