Leica Rumors is reporting a rumor that they picked up which says that the camera that Leica will introduce on May 10th, 2012 will actually contain a black & white sensor! It is widely anticipated that the announcement on the 10th will actually be about the successor to the M9 camera and will likely be called the Leica M10. So does it make sense for Leica to release a camera that is only capable of taking photographs in B&W? And, as also rumored, with no LCD screen on the back of the camera?
So what is a B&W sensor anyway?
All digital image sensors actually only record the amount of light falling on each pixel (actually, the correct term is sensel but we’ll use pixel because that is the most common usage). In other words, the sensor records the luminosity of the light falling on each pixel.
So, how do we then get a color image from these sensors? Actually, the camera plays a little trick. Covering the sensor is a layer that is called the Color Filter Array (CFA) which has the same number and size of pixels as on the sensor. As the name indicates, this layer “filters” the light that reaches the pixel underneath it. The most common arrangement of the CFA is the Bayer pattern named after its inventor, Dr. Bryce Bayer of Kodak, who first proposed the system. In this pattern, each 2×2 block of pixels has one Red, one Blue and two Green filters. The reason it has 2 green filters is due to the way the human eye perceives color where the eye is more sensitive to the green part of the visible spectrum. So, what the sensor is actually recording is the amount of red, blue and green light falling on each pixel. The processor in the camera then does fancy mathematics with this information to determine the color represented by each pixel using an algorithmic computation known as demosaicing.
In a B&W sensor, this color filter array does not exist. Therefore, each pixel is recording the intensity of the light falling on it and any information related to the color of this light is completely lost. The camera electronics then convert this recorded intensity into various shades of gray and it does not need to use any fancy algorithmic tricks in order to do so.
Now that we have that out of the way, the big question arises in my mind is why would Leica want to do such a thing in the M10? A B&W image can be easily acquired from the current cameras by manipulating the RAW image in a processing software like Adobe Lightroom, Photoshop, etc. Why then the need to capture only light intensity in the camera and throw away the color information?
To me, this makes no sense at all. Unless Leica want to release a special edition of the M9, this decision, if true, would be a major strategic blunder for the camera maker! Add to this the lack of an LCD screen on the back and I start to wonder what the Leica designers and engineers are smoking…
Quite honestly, I do not believe that Leica would do such a thing. Sure, they might release a limited production run of the M9 with a monochromatic sensor, but they will not release this as their only M-series camera. Doing so would certainly be shooting themselves in the foot and I doubt if Blackstone would be willing to let their investment go down the drain quickly.
Leica needs to grow their market share in order to remain a viable entity. In order to do so, they need to attract more mainstream photographers – people that want a Leica M-series camera, but need more improvements to it over the current M9. The market for a B&W only Leica M, I fear, is seriously limited to a few photographers and catering to such few numbers does not make sound business sense for a company that has less than 1% of the market in digital cameras – no matter how famous that brand is.
Let’s see what the next few weeks bring – I will be following this story and hopefully, there will be more believable leaks in the days leading up to May 10th. Stay tuned…