I critiqued Sony and now I have to praise them. It's all black and white...

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 are
the 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.


HR said...

Glad you found a way to do what you want with Sony. I sometimes shoot B&W in camera using my Olympus OM-D cameras. For example, with my E-M10II (the PEN-F maybe has even more choices) there are 28,125 B&W "looks" using the color filters, contrast levels, highlight levels, shadow levels, and tone settings in combination:

Monotone * 5 filters * 5 contrast levels * 5 tone settings * 15 highlight levels * 15 shadow levels = 28,125 B&W "looks"

There is also one more B&W choice called Grainy Film Art mode (very contrasty with grain). The default for Grainy Film is very contrasty. You can use the E-M10II Hi Light/Shadow curve control with the Grainy Film mode to tame it though and make it less contrasty for 225 "looks". The Hi Light/Shadow curve control has 15 levels each (-7 to +7) so gives a lot of control.

Most of the time I don't bother with all the adjustments on a photo by photo basis. Most of the time I just shoot with the yellow filter and contrast +1. :-) After importing into Lightroom I sometimes make some small tweaks though.

joel said...

Glad you've found success in the picture profiles. I think they aren't promoted more because they are complicated and seem to be taken whole clothe from Sony professional line of camcorders—wouldn't be surprised if it's the exact same code in fact running in a built-in "app". At least on the A7S there are strange limitations like no silent shutter which aren't an issue with the standard looks.

Because Sony uses the JPG engine to render the histogram (instead of RAW) I have been meaning to play with making a profile that would help ETTR for landscape and such that I know I will post process later. Really powerful stuff. Most manufacturers don't give you that control but I'm not sure even Sony knows what to do with it!

Art in LA said...

Sadly, I can't use Picture Profiles with my NEX-6 or A77ii. Maybe the option is buried in the menus somewhere, or I need to upgrade the firmware.

But, as an alternative, I'll try to the basic approach that the Magic Lantern guy also suggests -- "The fast and easy way is to go to the “Creative Style” section and modify one of your B&W settings"; just crank up the contrast and sharpness.

Maybe I'll start shooting RAW + JPEG one day, or be really crazy and colorize a B&W JPEG somehow ... LOL. But, my short term goal is to have more SOOC keepers, #nofilter as the kids say.

Alex said...

As an olympus user these options make me quite jealous.
I really wish for a Tri-X preset.

HR said...

Alex, see my comment at the top about Olympus B&W. With a small amount of experimentation you can probably find a look you like since with Olympus there are 28,125 non-grainy B&W "looks" and 225 grainy B&W "looks". The OM-D and PEN cameras can all do this. The PEN-F, I think, might have a few more though; I am not sure. Anyway, with 28,125 to choose from you can probably find *something* that looks good to you.

Craig Yuill said...

Your post illustrates the need to experiment with settings in our cameras. Never mind the lacklustre B&W results you were getting before - changing B&W settings as you wanted to change them was not made clear. How many photographers are getting less-than-stellar color images because they rely too heavily on auto while balance when they could easily change WB to one of the presets?

Art in LA said...

For some reason, there's a stigma to optimizing your images in-camera, or just shooting JPG ... RAW workflow or bust! I generally touch/post-process every picture that I share, but I prefer to do as little as possible. I think it would be fun to see a SOOC photography exhibit with "big" prints.

John Krumm said...

I like your examples. You have managed to create that graphite look I like in black and white photos, a little like a drawing. I think Mike Johnston leans towards that look too.

DaveW said...

I've always assumed they were for videographers. The PP menu also exists (in a slightly simplified form) on the RX100M4, and works very well. Thank you for pointing out this great feature!

Peter E. said...

wish your site didn't have a changed text. The long lines are difficult to read.

Richard Rodgers said...

Earth to Kirt- where are you?