Recent insight: M8 vs. M9 for B&W, and the negative “Efex” of Silver Efex Pro.

Conventional internet wisdom states that the Leica M8 is a better camera than the M9 for B&W file conversion — True or False?

The answer:  True… but barely.

My old B&W conversions with the M8 were more pleasing than the ones I subsequently obtained with my M9/M-E, but now I realize that the less pleasing M9/M-E conversions were mostly secondary to my use of Silver Efex Pro.  Lately I’ve been doing straight de-saturation of my M9/M-E files, and they look more natural and almost as good as my M8 files.  The M8 still wins because of its greater IR sensitivity — this allows for slightly better B&W output.

For all practical purposes, however, the M8 and M9 sensors behave almost identically (for both B&W and colour).  This shouldn’t be too surprising, given how the sensor in the latter evolved from the former.

Which makes me want to re-state something I’ve been saying for years:  the M8 was the most under-appreciated and underestimated digital camera ever.

If there’s anyone from the original Kodak KAF-10500 (APS-H 10.3-megapixel) CCD sensor development team reading this, I sincerely thank you for your fine work.


[Upcoming Insight:  Film vs. Digital].


8 thoughts on “Recent insight: M8 vs. M9 for B&W, and the negative “Efex” of Silver Efex Pro.

  1. Thought I’d share a post processing epiphany that I just discovered that your blog post above tickled what little creativity I have. I use the latest Lightroom to organize and process my photographs. I too have Silver Efex Pro but I haven’t used it in a long time.

    But when you mentioned you “desaturate” your color files for your B&W images I tried a little experiment. I have always used LR’s B&W Mix option. So I duplicated an image and on one I moved the Saturation Slider in the Basic panel to Zero and then compared the second image using the B&W Mix option. The images were both the same. However, either way you do it in LR you still have the option to use the Color Sliders in the B&W Mixer to make adjustments to your final image.

    I’ve never shot with the M8 but the challenge I’d have with it is the slightly cropped sensor. But I’ve been very pleased with how my M-E’s files PP to B&W.

  2. hilminson says:

    As I have been using my M9 for almost four years now, I am pretty familiar with the files it produces. Like you I happen to discover some new things every now and then though. Thus, I can only recommend to use a camera for a few years and not to change gear too often.

  3. Hiya Peter: first, I love your logo, it beautifully matches with your philosophy. Congratulations! After a period of ill-health I can enjoy photography again. Your blog has been as always my daily dose of good medicine 🙂
    As regards the post topic, am not lucky to own an M8, but have the M9 and the Monochrom. Normally I shoot Black and White with the Monochrome and, from my experience, I prefer dng out of camera a little tweckled (contrast, etc.) than post-processed with Silver Efex Pro. SEP is fine to play with and have fun, but not, from my experience, to keep the soul of your original shoot. However this is an opinion from a true amateur. Have a lovely day!

  4. The native DNG files out of the M9/M-E are quite special indeed. And H, I agree, we are better off sticking to one camera and really learning it’s nuances rather than moving on to the latest-and-greatest in rapid succession.

    Teresa, I’m glad you are back and healthy…

  5. Fabrice says:

    The difference between the M8 and M9, is that the M8 have a very weak IR filter, that why the skin are brighter for example.

  6. Adam Spencer says:

    I thought you might like this, its the original Kodak spec sheet for KAF 10500, it has some interesting information such as the RBG percentages (table right side)
    Could not find the Kodak KAF 18500 but did find the ON specs
    similar in general as expected but different RBG percentages I know this is something you have played with so wonder if these specs confirm what you have found when processing.

  7. Christian Bjoraa says:

    Hi Peter.

    How do you find the quality/reliability on the M-E compared to the M9-P?

  8. “the M8 was the most under-appreciated and underestimated digital camera ever.”

    I came to that conclusion as well. I used to scoff at it – imagine! Now, you can ‘upgrade’ it and make it deliver files of a greater bit depth than it does from the factory.

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