by Geoffrey Van Beylen
When we shoot digital and then convert our images to B&W, the conversion software we use plays a very big role in achieving our final result. However, when shooting RAW it's also the sensor itself that can impact your B&W conversion result.
First a little background
I came to this realisation after I bought a Leica M8 some years ago. Before that I'd always been a Nikon shooter using D2x, D90, D40x etc… but in fact the M8 gave me new, extraordinary source material from which to start my conversions—even though the camera and sensor were created back in 2006! The reason: a total omission of an antialiasing (AA) filter in front of the sensor, and no infrared (IR) filter—all with the idea to keep the light particles that hit the sensor as undisturbed as possible. It had the unwanted effect that the images are very susceptible to IR light and thus it affected the colour reproduction; I could not shoot a black fabric as it would turn out purple!
It turns out that this "problem" was in fact a gift for doing B&W processing. Where a normal camera would turn certain black surfaces into dark areas with little to no details, the M8 would churn up a much lighter area showing more detail. Of course the colour image would be "off" but once converted you end up with a richer B&W file!
Over the years I've found the M8 a lovely machine for B&W conversion work
Indeed one of the big shortcomings of the camera was the less-than-stellar high ISO performance. But even then: after B&W conversion an almost film-like grain would be the result, sometimes even enhancing the character of the photo. I never hesitated to shoot the M8 at its max ISO because of that, mind though that the colour image really could suck :)
I know it would be easy to say "pick up a used M8 for yourself and check it out", but even used they still are quite expensive. Not to mention you have to get decent glass as well, but more importantly if you're a DSLR shooter, this is a rangefinder; a completely different and manual, mechanical beast!
BUT there are also ways where a normal DSLR can be refitted to be more IR sensitive; usually the IR filter is removed which has to be done by a professional firm. Most people do this with a 2nd body they own in order to do infrared photography—but mind that this also gives you one hell of a camera for normal B&W conversion!
I've since parted with my M8 and bought an M9 which doesn't have the IR "problem", but consequently also does not have that "signature look" I like for the B&W conversion. I might in the near future even get a used M8 again simply for B&W shooting. If you find one on online for a good price, why not give it a try? Remember that they always keep their resale value.
I would be interested in seeing if others have had similar experiences with their equipment with regards to the B&W conversion.