alan frost photography

in monochrome with occasional colour lapses

Posts tagged ‘Leica M Monochrom’

Has Capture One Pro consigned Lightroom, Photoshop and Silver Efex to the history bin?

Leica M Monochrom

I have been quite serious about my photography for a little over 10 years now. Before then I can’t say I knew much about RAW files or how they should be processed. In the early days it wasn’t long before I was hooked on Lightroom and its sister program Photoshop.

In 2012 I regarded myself as a dedicated black and white photographer and then in 2014 I purchased a second hand Leica M Monochrom, which I still love and use to this very day. As its name suggests it is a black and white only camera. It’s an inspiring tool but not to everyone’s liking particularly given the cost of both the camera and a set of manual only focus lenses. Even today a second hand M Monochrom camera body, which is up to 8 years old, is around £3,000, assuming you can find one.

The M Monochrom was sold with a licence to use Silver Efex Pro, arguably the best plug-in for black and white processing. The fact Leica supported this program was a significant endorsement and the majority of my photographs have benefited from its use.

Time though moves on and earlier this year I purchased a Fuji X100v as a carry anywhere camera. I had read that Capture One had a close working relationship with Fujifilm and their RAW editor was a considered to be better than Lightroom. (Let the arguments begin!) I purchased a perpetual licence but this only allowed me to process Fujifilm files and not the Leica DNG RAW files.

Having watched many of the excellent Capture One webinars hosted by David Grover and very informative Live Editing sessions with Paul Reiffer, not only did I learn a great deal about Capture One in the past few months, I was starting to wonder how well it would perform if I could process my Leica RAW files. After all the Monochrom is the camera I use for what I consider to be my best work.

The original RAW file cropped to a ‘2 x 1’ aspect ratio.

Yesterday I processed an image I had captured last week. A picture of Idsworth Church close to the Hampshire/Wets Sussex border. The dramatic sky was the appeal and I visualised a dark moody result. Taken with the M Monchrom I imported the file into Lightroom and followed my usual workflow. I always expose to preserve the highlights but this did leave me with a very dark foreground. From experience I know that I can readily recover detail in the shadows and balance the overall exposure. I couldn’t achieve the look I wanted in Lightroom alone, so I exported the partially processed image into Photoshop and from there into Silver Efex Pro. It was a lengthy process but in the end I made the image you can see below.

Don’t get me wrong I was pleased with the result but it was a long and drawn out process. It made me wonder how well I could do if I just used Capture One Pro? If only I could import the Leica RAW file I said to myself. I couldn’t resist the temptation, so yesterday I upgraded the software so that I could import the RAW file of any camera make and that of course included Leica. I was excited to find out how much could be achieved in Capture One Pro alone. Cutting to the chase I was not disappointed. In fact the results exceeded expectations. Why you may ask?

First and foremost I was familiar with the Luma Range tool in Capture One to create a mask. Yes, there is a similar tool in Lightroom but in my view it doesn’t do the job particularly well. The Luma Range tool of Capture One is far more refined, easy to use, and the ability to feather the edge around the trees and the church made masking the sky an absolute breeze. No nasty halos to worry about. A Luma range mask applied to the sky.

Having processed the sky to my liking it was a very quick and similar process to mask the dark foreground and make the necessary adjustments. I continued by making some further local adjustments on separate layers. This is something you cannot do in Lightroom, hence the need to export from LR into Photoshop.

Luma Range mask applied to the foreground.

Before and after view.

The before and after view clearly shows how the sky has been darkened and the church and foreground lightened. The overall result is quite dark and moody but that is what I wanted the finished image to look like.

The finished result processed in Capture One Pro.

And lastly I applied a split tone……

Some of you may be asking the question why didn’t I balance the exposure in camera by using a ND graduated filter. A fair point but a rangefinder camera with attached filters and no ‘live view’ is not a workable combination. The filter holder obscures the view through the rangefinder window and there is no way to accurately position the graduated filter to match the scene in front of you. More recent versions of the Monochrom, the M246 and the newly announced M10 Monochrom overcome this problem, as they both have ‘live view’ and can show clipping warnings before taking the shot. The use of a filter might of course further reduce the amount of post processing, but this on the proviso that the composition includes a relatively straight horizon.

Conclusions.

May I start by saying that I have the advantage of comparing the results of the two processing methods on a large screen at full resolution and not much smaller resized versions in a blog entry. Whilst I enjoy both versions the finished image processed in Capture One has the edge. It looks less processed, the rendering is smoother, it’s a cleaner result which should print very well. There is also visibly more noise or grain to the image from the combination of LR/PS and Silver Efex. Perhaps I used too much clarity in Lightroom or the processing engine in Silver Efex has had an effect, I don’t know for sure. What I do know is that Capture One Pro is a superb RAW converter.

Not only is the overall result more pleasing but the time taken was considerably reduced and far easier to achieve. In Capture One I also have the advantage of retaining all the layers and adjustments in one program, which means I can revisit and fine tune the image at a later date should I wish to do so. A win win, in my opinion.

So are the other programs consigned to history, well yes and no. This is the first time I have processed an image from the Leica M Monochrom in Capture One. I need to work on other images and see what results are possible. I also have a back catalogue of many thousands of images stored in Lightroom and I don’t intend moving them into Capture One. It would take a very long time and life is too short.

I am sure there will be occasions when a pixel editor like Photoshop will work wonders when Capture One simply doesn’t offer the functionality required. The ‘Content Aware’ healing brush is one such example and there will be others. Horses for courses. 

I can of course edit an image in either Photoshop or Silver Efex Pro direct from Capture One in the same way as I can at the moment with Lightroom. However if I can do most, if not all my processing in Capture One this has to be a distinct advantage. More consistent results are likely to be achieved and this is particularly valuable if trying to create a harmonious body of work.

And finally…..

This is the first time in quite a while that I have been out with the Leica M Monochrom specifically to make some images. It reminded me how much I love this camera, its handling, the superb lenses and the RAW files it generates. Having now discovered a new workflow using Capture One Pro 20, the process from beginning to end is that much more pleasurable and that has to be a good thing.

 

‘A photograph is not finished until it is printed’

Printed using an Epson 3880 on Canson Platine Fibre Rag 310gsm.

 

Leica M Monochrom – the good news, bad news sandwich!

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Clouds over Prinsted

Shortly after I acquired my Leica M Monochrom, I became aware of an issue relating to the CCD sensor; not only to this camera but also the M9 and the ME. The problem was one of corrosion on the sensor which could manifest itself at any time. Leica was quick to respond to this news when it broke a few years ago and guaranteed that for the lifetime of the camera a faulty sensor would be replaced. In fact they went further and said that even if a sensor was replaced the guarantee would apply to the new sensor as well.

This is old news really, but aware of the issue I have always been on the lookout for the problem. The good news being that I had comfort in knowing that if ever I discovered any sign of corrosion, the camera could and would be repaired at no cost. But I would of course have to suffer the inconvenience of being without the camera for several weeks as the work can only be undertaken by Leica in Germany.

When processing the above image of ‘Clouds over Prinsted’ I was cleaning the picture for sensor spots and noticed a number of marks which were not typical of dust on the sensor. In fact they were more like ‘flying saucers’ – a dark spot with a light and dark halo. (See the screen grab below of the offending article – just above the tree line).

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The mark on the sensor which is almost certainly the sign of the corrosion issue.

Fearing the worst I did some research which only confirmed that the dreaded ‘corrosion on the sensor’ issue had finally reared its ugly head. Yes, I could clone out the marks, but assuming the  corrosion might spread the camera would have to be repaired. Bad News!

I rang the Leica Store in Mayfair in London and they said that whilst the camera could be collected by courier, if I took the camera in personally, they would provide me with a loan M Monochrom for the duration of the repair at no cost. They informed me the turn round time would be approximately six weeks. Having access to a replacement camera was Great News! I would have it for my planned trip to Pembrokeshire in Wales which comes up shortly and by the time I travel to Scotland the repair should have been carried out and my Monochrom would be back in my hands.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Leica M Monochrom with 50mm Summilux and 28mm Elmarit lenses

So yesterday I caught the train up to London, swapped cameras at The Leica Store in Mayfair and took the opportunity to visit Tate Modern, specifically to see The Radical Eye exhibition. A superb collection of photographs owned by Sir Elton John. I will write about this exhibition in a future post. All I would say is that if you can get to London do go – it continues until 21st May 2017.

Exhibition – my parameters

Although The Image Circle exhibition does not take place until November, preparing a portfolio of images ready for curation at a later date has to begin now. In fact it started some weeks ago when I decided my theme would concentrate on the landscape and environment of Chichester Harbour. Now, whenever I am out walking in the area, my camera is with me. I am very fortunate, as this is an almost daily occurrence, otherwise our dog complains!

Whilst I have never exhibited my work before, I felt it was important to establish some parameters at an early stage, in order to focus my intentions and concentrate the mind. Over the last week or two these guidelines have become well established and are as follows –

  • All photographs will be taken in the clearly defined area of Chichester Harbour.
  • All the images will be taken using just one camera with one prime lens – the Leica M Monochrom and 50mm f1.4 Summilux lens.
  • I envisage the vast majority will be hand held, as this is my preferred way of working, although I will not rule out using a tripod in certain situations.
  • I doubt that I will be using filters, although shooting wide open in bright conditions, it is obligatory to use a 3 stop neutral density filter to manage the light reaching the sensor and exposing correctly.
  • All the images made will be cropped to square format and be in black white. (I have no choice, it’s a black and white only camera!). I have already established a workflow for processing as I need to present a coherent set of printed images.
  • I have yet to make a final decision but they will almost certainly be toned in Lightroom.
  • The photographs will be printed on Canson Platine Fibre Rag. A 310 GSM archival paper. Without question it’s my favourite paper for this type of work.
  • The size of print, mounting and framing considerations are still in the melting pot but I will write about this in a later post, once my thoughts have come together.

So what are my intentions? Chichester Harbour is a beautiful and intriguing place, with a great deal of variety for image making. By walking the many footpaths that cover the area, a more intimate knowledge of the landscape becomes possible. I see the same locations at different times of the day; the weather and the light is constantly changing and in the months ahead Winter will turn to Spring, followed by Summer and Autumn, all of which will give me plenty of opportunity to capture the area as I see it. It will be my personal view of Chichester Harbour; an intimate portrait of a place I know well but will get to know even better as I explore locations which are less familiar.

The images which form part of this post were all taken very recently in and around one specific location – a small pond on the western side of Fishbourne Creek. One or more may or may not be included in the exhibition, but these and the many others I have made in recent weeks will start to make up a body of work from which a final selection can be made. Curation is a topic in its own right and I will doubtless be writing about this in the future.

 

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To see the work of my fellow exhibitors, do visit and follow our website – 

www.theimagecircle.com

Keeping it simple at Langstone Harbour

langstone-skycape

In recent days I have tried to simplify my approach to image taking. Let me explain. I have been out and about walking and exploring the footpaths that surround Chichester Harbour. I have taken with me the following: A Leica Monochrom and just one lens; a Leica 50mm Summilux f1.4. A spare battery just in case. A three stop ND filter should I want to shoot wide open in bright light, a shoulder strap for comfort and finally a microfibre cloth for cleaning the viewfinder – oh, and a 16GB SD card! This limited amount of equipment has been quite liberating and if anything stirs the creative juices as I look for images which work with one prime lens and in black and white of course. There have been times when a wider or longer lens would have been useful but I rather like a more minimalist approach.

In many ways the picture which accompanies this post of Chichester Harbour from Langstone is also very simple. It’s all about the clouds in the sky, a skyscape no less. An uncluttered horizon with a band of sea low in the frame, confirms a waterside location. There is no main point of interest but there is plenty to enjoy in the sky, with the various forms of cloud constantly changing with the light and moving in the breeze. I have kept processing to a minimum as well. A minor crop to place the horizon. An adjustment for levels, whilst adding a little contrast to bring out some detail. Lastly the removal of some dust spots on the sensor.  Job done.

A favourite image and a favourite camera – is that possible?

st-botolphs-hardham-1-of-1

 

I was asked recently if I had a favourite image which I had made? In all honesty I don’t think I do, although there are a number which I could name in a top ten. I do though remember reading that someone else when asked the same question replied – ‘The next one I am going to take.’ I rather like this response as it suggests a desire to constantly improve, believing that your next photograph will be better than the last and all those in your back catalogue. It also infers that the last image taken must be a favourite for at least it’s tangible and not a figment of the imagination – or is it? I’ll come back to this question later, as it’s relevant to the photograph in this post.

As far as a ‘favourite camera’ is concerned, well that’s easy for me to answer. It’s my Leica M Monochrom which I have been using for the last couple of years. It’s built like a tank, feels so good in the hand and the simplicity of its controls put me in complete control. It doesn’t have a multitude of programmable buttons, nor pages and pages of menus, which only serve to confuse, and nor does it come with a manual which might take the best part of a week to read, let alone understand. More importantly though the Monochrom together with the exceptional Leica lenses produces the images I am seeking to achieve with post processing and careful printing. The next incarnation of the Leica M Rangefinder must be just round the corner but I think its unlikely I will want to upgrade. The Monochrom has many idiosyncrasies, but I love it and the cost of upgrading is quite likely to be prohibitive anyway.

Given my feelings towards the Leica Monochrom, I am not that interested in the latest camera technology although to digress for a moment I was intrigued to learn about a new camera being developed by a company called Light. The camera is called the L16 and has the appearance of a large mobile phone, but instead of one lens and sensor there are 16. On pressing the shutter the camera software combines all the exposures from each of the sensors to produce one image. According to their website this can be up to 52 megapixels in size, with low noise and covering a focal range equivalent of 28mm to 150mm. The depth of field and other adjustments can be manipulated in post processing. Is this the future of camera technology, I don’t know, but nothing stays the same, so it will be interesting to see what happens when it actually hits the streets.

Back to the question I posed at the end of the first paragraph and indeed to the photograph in this post. It was taken a few days ago at St Botolph’s Church in Hardham, West Sussex. I had visited the church previously and noticed how the light was falling on the altar. I had taken some shots that day, only to find that my composition was not quite right, nor had I used the correct exposure settings. There were too many blown highlights. I decided to return, knowing in my mind the image I wanted to make. I knew which lens would give me the composition I wanted (28mm) and the likely exposure settings required to produce a malleable and workable file for post processing. I knew the time of day when the light would be in the right position, so I arrived at the church in plenty of time to get ready. The sun wasn’t as bright as it had been a day or two earlier but this proved to be a good thing. As it turned out I only had a couple of minutes to take the shot before the sun moved round and no longer illuminated the scene as I wanted it.

A favourite image or not, I like this photograph, as it will always remind me that it can be worth revisiting a location to take a particular shot that you have already pictured in your own mind.

Here are two more entries about St Botolph’s Church at Hardham.

Churches Project no.4 – St Botolph’s, Hardham, West Sussex

Thwarted by the flower arrangers at Hardham Church