Making Black And White Photographs In Camera With The Pentax K-m

Photography for me is all about exploring the countryside alone, camera in hand, being immersed in that meditative and restorative experience.

I also like the making of a picture to end with me pressing the shutter button.

I’ve wasted too much time in the past with post processing – including scanning negatives myself (torturously laborious, however good the results) and shooting RAW then using LightRoom presets (an infinite, ever shifting, time destroying rabbit warren).

For perhaps a couple of years now, with black and white photography, I’ve favoured either shooting JPEGs and then running them through a 13 second b/w process in Snapseed, or even better, setting up the camera to produce pictures I like with no further processing whatsoever.

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The latter option has worked very well with my Lumix siblings, the LX3 and GF1, my first “proper” digital camera, a Nikon Coolpix P300, and my Pentax Q.

All of these cameras have some form of high contrast dynamic black and white mode that delivers straight out of camera (SOOC).

My recent photography adventures have been with two old Pentax CCD DSLRs, the K100D and K-m.

The K100D has very limited in camera colour control – simply “Natural” or “Bright” colour modes.

Fortunately the Bright mode produces lovely colours.

But if I want to shoot b/w with the K100D, it’s a case of shooting colour, then running the images through my b/w Snapseed workflow afterwards.

No great hardship.

But the K-m offers far more colour options – including a b/w mode.

Within this, you can also adjust contrast (the main parameter I play with using Snapseed).

So I’ve been experimenting with the K-m and the b/w mode, with contrast set to its maximum.

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At first, I found the standard b/w mode far too lacking in contrast.

So I gradually nudged up the contrast control, comparing shots (one of the great pluses of digital – you can do this in a matter of minutes) and found the maximum setting was most to my liking.

I also explored the digital filters in the camera, one of which is for high contrast.

But even on the lowest setting, it was too extreme for the look I wanted, so I stuck with the b/w colour setting and contrast right up.

Even then, I wan’t sure the photographs had enough contrast.

I was comparing with my Snapseed process, which itself was modelled on the results from those high contrast dynamic b/w modes on a few cameras I mentioned before.

The b/w images with the K100D were not as dramatic in the differences between the darkest and lightest parts, and the resolution felt almost too good.

Despite “only” being a 10MP sensor, the increased image quality achieved with an APS-C size sensor compared with the much smaller sensors in the Lumixes, Coolpix and Pentax Q is very apparent.

So I experimented further, “dumbing down” the K-m’s images by simply shooting at ISO400 instead of its native (and very smooth) ISO100, which I always use for colour.

The results were now becoming very satisfying.

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Still not as grainy or inky as the images made with the compact cameras, but then I want some distinction and some benefit of using a DSLR for these images, otherwise why not just use the compacts all the time for b/w?

Next, I plan to continue with this set up in the K-m, perhaps adjusting to ISO800 to see the effect it has, if any.

I do like a little grit and grain in my b/w images!

The photographs in this post were shot with the Pentax K-m on b/w mode, with maximum contrast and ISO400.

What experiments have you made with black and white photography recently that you’ve enjoyed? 

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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4 thoughts on “Making Black And White Photographs In Camera With The Pentax K-m”

  1. Next you will buy a set of coloured filters … 😀
    I’m playing with the resurrected P850 right now, so some B&W shots are inevitable even though I don’t normally shoot B&W in the camera because of the chance of losing a great colour shot. Also, most digitals don’t do B&W well as you’ve discovered.

    1. I’ve never really tried colour filters Marc, the closest I’ve come is using the infra red digital filter on a couple of cameras (Pentax Q and K-m).

      I think I’ve been quite lucky to find three or four digitals that do deliver great b/w images out of camera, because yes most just give a very bland low contrast sea of greys.

  2. I will occasionally play with the black and white presets on the only digital camera I use – my iPhone*. For medium or high contrast scenes the MONO setting produces results much like my HP5 Plus film prints. For low contrast scenes the NOIR setting produces results something like my Tri-X film prints.

    * I do have a proper digital camera – a Fuji X-T20 – but it resides permanently on a Leitz BEOON copy stand for digitizing (scanning) negatives. (FWIW it takes me less than 10 minutes to digitize a 24-exposure roll of film, including the time to get the rig out and put it away.)

    1. Phones are capable of very impressive images, and there are so many apps and filters now that make it simple. I could quite easily use my Sony Xperia phone, process with Snapseed and get b/w images I really like. But the ergonomics and general feel mean it’s unlikely I’ll ever use a smartphone as a full time camera.

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