This is the newest post in my Colour Quest series, about trying to find a way of making colour photographs I love, with the minimum of fuss.
You can read all of the Colour Quest posts here.
It’s often said that you find love when you least expect it, and conversely, when you’re desperately looking, it seems more elusive than ever.
Well, this seems to be what’s happened with my quest for colour photography.
Because after all but abandoning colour for the last six weeks or more, and focusing on black and white photography almost exclusively (and entirely throughout July with my new Pentax K30 DSLR), I seem to have stumbled upon a set up that gives me colour photographs I love, straight out of camera, with no need for post processing in Snapseed, or anything else.
After enjoying the K30 greatly, but finding it still too fiddly using vintage manual M42 lenses, I decided to use it with the only lens I have that was made specifically for Pentax APS-C DSLRs, the Pentax-DA 35mm f/2.4.
Still though, the final images lacked something. Or perhaps had too much of something, that sharp, almost clinical, look that many CMOS sensors capture.
A good way of describing how I find the images is to imagine the scene of a family portrait of seven people, but where grandma on the end couldn’t make it, so instead there’s a life size cardboard cutout in her place.
Despite the family’s attempts to hoodwink those receiving the photos, it’s quite obvious that grandma’s smile (and indeed everything else about here) is not so much wooden, but cardboard. The picture doesn’t look right, it doesn’t look natural.
This is how the CMOS images often seem to look to me, a bit fake and scientific, not imperfect or organic enough.
Which is why I’ve had very few CMOS sensor digital cameras, and most have featured the older CCD type sensor that once upon a time all digital cameras used.
And after deciding not to use those old M42 lenses for now, the need for as good as possible a viewfinder (which was a major motivation for buying the K30) has decreased.
With an AF lens, you just need the VF for general composition, not fine detail focusing by eye.
So I got thinking about an older CCD DSLR again.
A few weeks and a dozen watched eBay auctions later, I managed to secure an original Pentax K100D with 6MP CCD sensor for the grand sum of £26.
Now, I thought my K30 was decent value at £150 (they were £600ish new), but this seemed an absolute steal.
What I discovered when it arrived, after a decent clean up, was that it doesn’t have a b/w mode when shooting, just two colour settings – Bright (the default) or Natural. Both of these of course are colour modes.
You can edit images in camera after capture, including converting to b/w, but this is not something I’m interested in.
I’d rather do it with my simple Snapseed set up afterwards. Which is exactly what I planned to do with the K100D.
But because I had to shoot in colour anyway, and my initial test shots (especially of our baby son) so impressed me, I wondered what the a few more images might look like if they stayed colour.
So I set out to experiment in shooting some of the kinds of compositions and colours I usually like to shoot.
What I was delighted to continue to discover, is that the cheap and humble K100D (with my DA 35/2.4 lens) delivers colour images straight out of camera as pleasing as any digital camera I’ve used!
A further play with the Pentax-A series 50/1.7 – which allows open aperture metering and aperture control in camera, but is manual focus – revealed colours that were arguably even better. And with very little tweaking and testing.
So where does this leave me? Am I about to renounce b/w and declare a new joyous commitment to K100D colour photography alone?
Whilst it’s lovely to see what the K100D can do in colour with so little fuss, I still prefer shooting b/w for many reasons.
And with the K100D, for b/w all I need to is use the same Snapseed preset (or a very similar one) I use for most of my digital cameras.
Despite this extra step – whereas the K30 can pretty much deliver b/w I like straight out of camera – I would still rather go this route, as I prefer the look of the K100D’s images (colour or b/w) and just enjoy using it quite a bit more than the K30.
More on this in an upcoming post, but suffice to say, despite my simple set up with the latter, it still feels like I’m using a 27 speed power screwdriver when a good old quality manual screwdriver and 30 seconds of elbow grease would do the job just as well.
And be simpler, cheaper and more direct and engaging to use in the process.
How about you? What’s your balance between colour and b/w photos? Does it change depending on the camera you use, the place or subject you’re photographing, the time of year?
Please let us know in the comments below (and don’t forget to tick the “Notify me of new comments via email” box to follow the conversation).
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19 thoughts on “The Colour Quest (VII) – True Love When It’s Least Expected?”
Like you, I have a strong preference for black and white. But the choice of camera has hardly anything to do with that. Color or black and white, I always want images that are as neutral as possible SOOC, so that I can give them a certain character in post-processing to my own taste (in the past with Lightroom presets, more recently with Snapseed/VSCO presets).
One exception: camera phones. I always find the colors that smartphones produce too saturated and unnatural – practically unusable for decent post-processing. So I convert 99% of my mobile photos to black and white (unfortunately my current Samsung has no B/W setting, like the Huawei I had before – the Leica Monochrom-inspired sensor was really great).
Thanks Robert. Do you set out to make a colour or b/w shot specifically though? Rather than make the shot with neutral colour settings then decide later how to process?
Yes Dan, I already know before I start shooting whether it will be black and white or color. As mentioned, my standard mindset is “black and white”, only when the colors are the main subject (eg flowers in the Japanese Garden) then I decide in advance that I’ll end up with color. Very occasionally it is useful to keep the color original of a black-and-white photo, for example when it fits into a series with other color photos and you still have the option to do some alternative post-processing.
Interesting you say “when the colors are the main subject”, as that’s the only time I really want to shoot colour, ie when the colours are too beautiful to ignore. Otherwise, it’s b/w!
The inkjet prints that I make for myself or family members are all from scanned black and white negatives. The visual memos I make with my iPhone are all shot in color.
That’s a very clear separation between b/w and colour, and the type of camera used. It must feel like a very different experience between making colour and b/w images.
Yes! I often complain about the super-sharp, ultra-contrast images made today. Sure they look stunning, but they don’t look real. I like things to look real.
I’m glad you found a colour method that pleases you. I’ve been doing a lot of permutations lately and keep finding that it’s mainly a lot of bother for little difference in results; fun to play with, but not something I’m going to rely on for general photographic purposes.
In a way we are opposites in that I prefer colour over B&W, but I do use B&W when the final result would be better for it. I actually shot some ‘direct’ recently – and missed a good bird shot that would have been better in colour because the camera was set to monochrome. It’s a pretty good picture anyway.
It is possible that one day I’ll get back to ‘normal’ shooting, but due to limitations placed on me this year I’m glad I got that Canon and can experiment with every crazy idea I get.
Yes, they’re hyper real, like a videogame or CGI movie… As we’ve discussed before recently, it’s great to have these options for experimentation and faster learning through immediate feedback with digital cameras…
Hi Dan. I had an interesting colour photography experience on holiday the other week.
I spent a morning trying out the different “film” modes on my Lumix LX-5. Quite by surprise I found that I really like the Nostalgic setting which is very soft and desaturated. Not what I’ve previously liked in photographs at all, but I looked at the test pictures I’d shot and they just made me really happy! I shot the rest of the week’s picture using the same setting and almost none needed any post processing at all.
It’s not a case of trying to replicate the film aesthetic on digital (most of the pictures are at a relatively low ISO and so fairly grain-free) but of finding a setting I like and sticking with it for a bit. I’ll definitely be shooting more in B&W too – the ISO400/Dynamic B&W setting makes brilliant images, especially with flash – but it was a pleasant surprise to find an out-of-the-box colour setting that works for me.
Richard, good to hear from you, you’ve been quiet lately!
That’s what I’m finding with the K100D. Love having a set up that works straight out of camera. Yes I love the dynamic b/w mode on my Lumix LX3 and GF1, again great images straight out of camera.
My K30 also features a good dynamic/ high contrast b/w option, so perhaps in time I’ll use the new K100D for colour, the K30 for b/w, and with both use the images straight out of camera, keep it simple.
Hi Dan. Been silly busy at work so very little time for photography or blogging I’m afraid. I like getting satisfactory images straight from the camera. It almost feels weird not fiddling with them in some way, but satisfying when the original is better than any edit. Looking forward to seeing how your new DSLR pans out.
Thanks Richard, more on the K100D will follow soon, I’m greatly enjoying it. Hopw your work calms down soon and you get back to mote photography and blogging.
The opening shot on this post is gorgeous, Dan. I agree with you on the look of the CMOS images. As for my bw ratio, I go back and forth with color or not based on the image, but find cropping to square more appealing lately.
Thanks Frank, both the K100D and K-m deliver lovely colours straight out of camera using the “Bright” image tone.
Didn’t know that about the K-m Dan. I do have the K-r. Anyways, it caused me to check this out on my favorite image sensor website https://www.digicamdb.com/compare/pentax_k100d-vs-pentax_k-m/
I believe the K-m is called K2000 in some territories Frank, perhaps that’s what it’s known as where you live? The K100D is fantastic, the K-m just has the edge in that I can shoot b/w with it too, and get decent results in camera.
I’ve used that digicamdb site plenty for comparing compact digital cameras! For Pentax DSLRs I always revert to the Pentax Forums camera comparison tool –
Good to know Dan. I have known of Pentax Forums but not about that comparison tool. And, yes, the K-m is here in the USA. Keep on blogging …
I started with a Pentax K100D but never really used it much, then ended going on to a Pentax K200, K7. K3 and K50 BUT ended up going back to the K100 a decade later for the tonal quality of the color shots. It really is in my view that out of that range of cameras in terms of color rendering.
Of course, technically in every other way its a dinosaur esp. compared to the K7 and K3 but at the end of the day, image quality beats everything else.
Thanks for sharing your experiences Theo. I agree there is something special about the images with some of those early CCD cameras that is very difficult to achieve with later CMOS cameras, even with extensive post processing, which doesn’t interest me anyway.