Getting a camera that has and does everything you want is generally considered a pipe dream, and even if you were able to get close, like Sony a99II close, it would be ephemeral bliss because Moore’s Law suggests tech progresses at a rate that will have you yearning for some new advancement by the time your next birthday came around. As I tend to say, owning the best in camera equipment is like running in a race where the finish line keeps moving.
There are a few caveats, however, and if you’re not greedy, and are really specific, there are specialty cameras out there to suit. The first to come to mind would be the Leica M Monochrom, a beautiful mutant with a CCD missing a color gene that means it’s a purpose shooter with uncompromising dedication to black and white. It actually records only true luminance values in order to deliver the true b&w shots. That allows, technically, for more contrast, sharpness, and according to Leica, a ‘finer resolution that that of medium format.’ They also tout its ability for sharp photos with fine grain up to 10,000 ISO. But it costs $7,500, and that’s without glass.
It’s hard to argue against the idea that a big part of Fuji‘s X-line appeal is that it brings rangefinder style favored in Leicas within reach of mortals. Even if using them isn’t really the same feeling, they are joys to use and certainly more versatile, but what if versatility isn’t what you wanted and really it’s a Fuji version of the Leica M Monochrom you dream about? Well, it exists.
Actually, to be more specific, *they* exist. I spoke today with Dan Llewellyn, President of MaxMax, a kind of skunkworks lab that, among many other things too sophisticated for me to get into, converts some Fuji cameras to monochrome versions, and you can either send your own camera in or they’ll buy it and convert it for you with only about a week turnaround time.
The first thing to address here is Dan himself, who is, for lack of a better term, something of a polymath. Dan isn’t an engineer by degree, opting instead to study finance in college then worked for Electronic Data Systems ending up managing their foreign exchange risks. Then for a change of pace went and worked for a company that made consumer hardware tools, but frustrated with the speed of upward momentum after reaching a ceiling he started his own little company in his basement, setting the tone for MaxMax.
But his lack of expected scholastic degrees doesn’t mean much as Dan has the ever-enviable ability to take notice of the details, then self-teach to the point of mastery, which is why he has MIT PhDs calling him for his thoughts, and why Fuji, years ago, was considering getting him to do types of conversions on the S3Pro which he had done upgrades on and they’d seen. They eventually didn’t go with him, choosing instead to do the same work in-house. But all this is just a testament to the fact that your gear is in good and reputable hands, and when you speak to Dan, you can sort of tell he’s like a sort of human-cupboard for technical data and trivia.
Dan has been modifying cameras since ’97 and does engineering type work for cameras of all kinds of applications from industrial agriculture, to well, whatever else you can think of. The Fuji work has happened a bit more recently as he said the X-Trans is a bit tricky to work with, stating that the cover glass is glued on with a strong agent, and getting it off without damaging the tiny gold wires was a real problem. Never deterred, Dan persisted and many tens of sensors later has overcome and has it down to a science now; a method that makes him the only person to do this right with consistency.
At the moment he’s done X100s and X-Pro 1 which converted are dubbed X100s-M and X-Pro 1-M, but for those of you not satisfied with that, the X-Pro 2 is next, which likely means the X-T2 as well. Excited yet? You should be.
So what’s the cost for this? Yes, there is a premium, but we’re not talking near Leica money. For ASP-C sensors he typically tags on a $1,500 premium (again not just for monochrome but all the other variants he does), and for full frame, monochrome would be about $2,500. The Fuji ones are a bit more challenging so there may be a $100 premium on that, but specifically at the moment the X-Pro 1-M goes for $2,425 and X100s-M is $2,600. So near as makes no difference 1/3rd of a Leica Monochrom.
- Better To Shoot in B&W Or Convert in Post?
- A Simple and Quick Tip For Shooting Better Black & White Images
You can take a look at a few images below with links to the raw files, but Dan should be adding more soon. Either way, if you’re a digital shooter and a fan of shooting B&W in-camera, as I am, this is a really interesting and exciting option, and perhaps even inspiring.