Monochrome vs. Black and White?

posted August 12th, 2013
Hello, Sorry if this is a stupid question! What is the difference between shooting in MC on the camera (I use a Nikon d5200) vs. shooting in color and converting the image to black and white? I use Photoshop Elements 11 and see that there are several different b&w options that look quite different.

Are there advantages/disadvantages to shooting in color first?

Thanks!
Tracy
posted August 12th, 2013
Tracy - in-camera b&w conversion is kind of predefined, you are very restricted the way the camera converts the colors. Using Photoshop Elements would give you much more freedom to play with the conversion, like using color filters, ect. Check out for Nix Silver Efex Pro - a great b&w conversion tool to be used with Photoshop El.. Have fun!
posted August 12th, 2013
Hi Tracy. You can adjust the Monochrome Picture Control from the Shooting Menu on your Nikon. Shooting Menu | Manage Picture Control. There you can adjust Sharpness, Contrast and Brightness and add Several Filter Effects and add some single toning. You then save away the new control and apply it in Set Picture Control, as I am sure you do now. It would typically be used for people who shoot primarily jpegs.

In Photoshop you can do a lot more, as well as have a lot more control over the degree you can adjust the parameters. If you do that, it is absolutely best to shoot in RAW. With the Standard Picture Control to get you started, although it really doesn't matter which control you use. Especially, you can adjust the B/W content of the various color channels that gives you a great deal more flexibility and control than the limited filter effects in the camera. Also the various Toning effects, especially Dual Toning, are much more flexible than the in-camera options. The Nik product is easy to use and has lots of presets, but you can manually do it all in Photoshop, I imagine in Elements although I have never seen the Elements product at work.

The huge advantage of doing the conversion post is its flexibility. You are not tied to one control which you have to edit in the camera menus, a tiresome task at best, and can experiment at your leisure trying lots of different things singly or in combination. But shoot in RAW to get the best results.

Good shooting!
posted August 12th, 2013
Your 5200 may do the same as my D3100 but as Frank mentioned up above shooting in RAW gives you much more control and flexibility over the final post processing. And when it is set on RAW and MC in the camera this display in camera will show you what it will look like in b&w but will come out full color so you can convert in post processing if you like or not.
posted August 12th, 2013
Also if you shoot in color and convert in post processing you have the option of using selective coloring. Ditto the RAW shooting.
posted August 12th, 2013
@tracys There are significant advantages to shooting in color and processing the conversion yourself. In an 8-BIT JPEG, which is what your camera is going to produce, the in-camera monochrome function is limited to 256 unique tones. By contrast, the 8-BIT per channel (which, with 3 channels, turns out to be 24-BITs) can address 16 MB of data. That translates to approximately 940,000 unique tones in color that are useful for the b&w conversion. The bottom line is that, by letting the camera do it, you end up throwing away a lot of useful data.

The other consideration is contrast. The in-camera conversion tends to result in very flat, low contrast images. Just as darkroom photographers needed to work to draw out the true contrast that makes a b&w image "pop", so does the digital photographer need to draw those deep tones out of the image. Limiting yourself to just 256 tones, though, doesn't provide the depth of detail - especially in the shadows - to produce the contrast without blowing out either the extreme black or extreme white ends of the image.
posted August 12th, 2013
@kannafoot One very small reason to use the processing software produced by the camera manufacturer to get the picture controls interpreted on the raw file. But I don't know of many people who rely on in-camera picture controls if using something like Photoshop anyway. Capture NX2 for Nikon NEF files.
posted August 12th, 2013
if you shoot in RAW and JPG (which is what I do), you can change the monochrome settings in camera and the lcd screen will preview the jpg image. I find this very advantageous because you can see when you take the shot if monochrome is going to work well or not rather than waiting til you upload to your computer and convert. It will also teach you to "see in b&w" this way. You CAN get a b&w (mono) image in camera and not have to tweak or adjust in post processing. I still think my best b&w image was the jpg image I did in camera as opposed to what I've done in Nik Silver Efex (although I LOVE Silver Efex software!!!). You can also convert an image to b&w as a layer in photoshop and then use luminosity or overlay or one of the other options to pop the color back in, but it will take on a completely different feel than the original color version. I'll post an example....
posted August 12th, 2013
here's what I mean about b&w conversion and then pop the color back in....
posted August 13th, 2013
The advantage of shooting in monochrome is that you can learn to visualise in black and white. This is important if you are learning the Zone system and want to compose using the various shades of grey. Whilst colour photography it is important to shoot for the highlights, in black and white the shadow detail is more important as the highlights can be later enhanced on the computer.
posted August 13th, 2013
From the online photography courses I've taken, the best approach is shooting in color and converting to B & W--if you check out Lynda.com and their photography course. Renown photography professor Ben Long teaches B & W by shooting in color and then converting in Photoshop (Elements has the same B & W conversion controls) and of course RAW gives the most flexibility (unfortunately my camera doesn't shoot RAW). Try both approaches and see what suits you best. I will say I think it is possible to compose images in color for later conversion by paying more attention to the composition and the elements that are desired.
posted August 13th, 2013
@mbrunner Thank you for the info and telling me about Nix Silver Efex Pro, which I will check out,
@frankhymus Thank you for the thoughtful reply!
@kannafoot Aha! I was suspicious from my results that something was going on with the Monochrome that was making things look "flat." Thank you for the info.!
@jsw0109 You give me things to look forward to figuring out! :-) I really appreciate your examples too.

Today I shot in RAW and JPEG, uploaded my images, and got a message from PSE 11 that it didn't recognize half of them (the RAW I assume). It's late, but I'll have to look into it later.

posted August 13th, 2013
Tracy, While everything you have read about having more post processing flexibilty if you shoot in colour and convert is true, there's one more thing. When you know you are shooting in B&W it sharpens your senses and you'll find yourself deliberately looking at a shot in terms of its tones. It's an exercise I strongly recommend. Try it a few times. There's nothing to stop you shooting the same shot twice.
posted August 25th, 2013
The difference between monochrome and black & white is, that monochrome consists of white and and other single color other than black. Hope, this is the correct definition of what I understand.
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