Digital camera monochrome comparison
A comparison of the monochrome capabilities of three digital cameras

The test
Monochrome photography has a long and interesting history, but technology now allows us to move on from black and white. Or does it? Monochrome still has a lot to offer to photographers; it tends to enable study of the picture's composition and gestalt, or overall form or shape. The distraction of colour, and in particular the relationship between appeal and saturation, are avoided. There may be advantages in noise reduction, or at least less intrusive noise. Digital noise is prevalent in the colour channels, so shooting in monochrome may result in less obvious noise.

I wanted to reawake my photography in 2011, with particular attention to composition and light. Shooting in monochrome will help me to do this (and all is not lost if I want colour because the colour data is still recorded in the RAW files). This page presents a quick and dirty comparison between the three digital cameras I am considering taking with me on a trip to the East later this month.

The test was a to shoot a distant urban landscape scene using Nikon's D2x and D700, and a Fujifilm S5Pro. Cameras set to monochrome mode. The images are crops, RAW conversion using NX2 and HyperUtility for the Fuji. Images had little post processing done, no sharpness, noise reduction was not used, and the light did change during the course of shooting. The same lens was used throughout, a Nikon 135mm f/2 AF, and all were taken at f/4. Camera settings were not tuned to be the same however.

I found all three cameras are quite capable of good monochromatic images!

  • The D2x delivered less contrast at higher ISO, requiring about a 10% bump to match the others.
  • Dynamic range appeared better at lower ISO, with the S5 and D700 better than the D2x. In all cases however it was easier to recover highlights in monochrome than colour.
  • Loss of sharpness at higher ISO was to be expected. Images appeared sharper at high ISO than their colour equivalents. D2x images appeared more smeared at ISO 3200 than the S5, but the detail was still there.
  • ISO 25600 on the D700 has a grainy character that produces (for me) a nicer effect in low contrast scenes than in the high contrast areas. It is usable in daylight as is (without noise reduction software), although only from an artistic perspective.
  • Shooting in colour and then converting and selectively blending the channels is another option, and will achieve better results, but that takes work.

  • The results
    ISONikon D2xNikon D700Fuji S5Pro
    ISO 100Click to open Click to open Click to open
    ISO 800 Click to open Click to open Click to open
    ISO 3200 Click to open Click to open Click to open
    ISO 25600 Click to open

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