I stand corrected. The engineers at Sony have given me exactly what I want in order to make perfect out-of-camera, black and white jpegs. I can control the tone curves in the highlights and shadows, as well as controlling the panchromatic color response of the system. Just like using the filter presets in other brands of cameras but with a much more profound level of control and customization. Too bad their marketing people seem hellbent on keeping this advanced level of performance a closely guarded secret....
Backing up for a moment. I had recently written bemoaning the idea that Sony lagged behind other brands (and especially Fuji and Olympus) when it comes to providing a great experience when shooting black and white in camera. Almost all cameras now have a monochrome or black and white setting among their creative settings. Fuji seems to lead in this feature set by having not only color filter emulations but also presets for some of their most popular black and white films. When I dive into the Creative Style menu of the Sony cameras I find only the basic setting and controls for only sharpening and contrast. It's a very limiting feature set and the results arethe predictable sort that one would get in post processing by merely desaturating a file.
I had overlooked the power locked up in Sony's Picture Profile menu. The Picture Profile menu seemed to me to be added specifically for use with video. The basic Picture Profile menu is in the RX10ii, RX10iii, A7ii and A7iiR. It might also be in the A7Sii, but I haven't checked this.
This menu, at least in the A7ii, contains seven preset picture profiles. Each profile is a preset of a combination of settings that create a particular "look" for files. Most of them are labeled as "cine" styles and, at first glance, are aimed at those with a working knowledge of video files. We still photographers rarely encounter controls such as "knee, color phase, black gamma" and more. There is very sparse information about these profiles in the Sony manuals and no information whatever about how to set them. I've largely ignored them because I just didn't know where to start.
In response to the blog I wrote chastising Sony, a reader, Rollin Banderob, sent me to this link: http://magiclanternshooter.com/get-fuji-jpeg-look-sony-mirrorless/ Which introduces the concept of using the picture profiles to create black and white stills and shows one how to proceed. With a bit of knowledge you can: Set the black point of your image, set the curve inflection point for the shadows and the highlights, affect the midrange contrast, change the overall gamma and change the color response curve (which is how one creates a filter "look").
Once I started exploring the power of these Picture Profiles the applications just seemed endless. I'm currently trying the example suggest by the author of the article at magiclanternshooter.com with one or two little adaptations. The image at the top of the blog is an example from my first test. I plan to shoot a few more when the sun comes back out (we've had a rainy month in Austin...).
If you have a recent Sony cameras running the latest firmware you probably have these Picture Profiles in your machine. I suggest you choose one of the profiles and customize it for black and white. If you hate it you can always do a reset.
The realization of this capability in all four of my most recent Sony cameras has elevated my regard for them as must-facted creative tools. I can hardly wait to perform a deeper dive.
But first, let's take a second to absolutely excoriate those dolts in Sony marketing. "What the hell were you guys thinking? Your engineers put this cool stuff in the cameras to unleash more creativity from your customers; why haven't you mentioned this in depth in the manuals and advertising? Get on the damn stick and start doing your jobs!!!" I guess that's enough. But really, in today's competitive market to have an advantage over your competitors like this and not to brandish it is crazy. I'd at least fire the north American advertising agency involved in steering these products in the marketplace. An example of a product becoming successful in spite of the general marketing...
Oh yes... these customized profiles for black and white also work for video. Now, the only tiny thing that's missing is the ability to add grain, in camera. We can take care of that in Lightroom....
In the camera menu you scroll over to this page that has three different ways to introduce preset "looks." Picture Effect is the silly stuff like, "Autumn leaves", "toy cameras", "posterized." Creative Style has the presets we're all used to: "Standard, vivid, portrait, neutral, monochrome, etc.
The Picture Profie menu just has these cryptic PP settings and no other helpful hints. Most of them are video profiles that provide flatter and flatter files all the way down to ultra-flat S-Log2 and S-Log 3 profiles that are meant to provide maximum dynamic range into eight bit video files. Use the right hand button on the multi-function wheel on your camera to dive into the details. I chose PP4 from the menu above. The next two screens are the next levels of choices I get within that selection:
Color depth is where the emulation of a physical color filter on a film camera show up. The author of the link above suggests using the daylight color temp setting as most black and white films were actually made for daylight spectrum...
The detail menu is where you incorporate sharpening or reduce sharpening from your files.
dumb black and white.
picture profile black and white.
Notice the wider range in the sky, the lighter leaves of the trees? Easier to work with.
The same file with a quick contrast correction.
this image is dumb b+w. It's too contrasty with shadows filling in to quick.
This is smarter (PP) and holds much more shadow detail and more realistic rendering of greens in the top of the frame.
I forgive Sony for their reckless and obfuscatory approach to owner's manuals
and valuable knowledge transmission.