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Old August 31st, 2006, 12:43 PM   #1
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Camera settings for B&W

I just received an email questioning about settings for the HD100 for a B&W film. I thought about it for a while and here are my conclusions.

I haven't shot anything in B&W so I'm not an expert about it. I did use the B&W settings in Magic Bullet and they looked very convincing to me. The advantage of using color for B&W is that you don't just desaturate the scene but you can use the color information to shift tone in post. For example, you could just use the red channel to generate B&W or the Green channel. Or "unbalance" the channels before applying a B&W filter. The resulting image will be different than simply desaturating the final RGB mix.
It's the sum of the 3 channels that gives you the final look. If you use only a color channel you'll end up with different highlights and shadows that when you use all 3. In another application you might decide to increase the amount of blue before generating your B&W footage. The possibilities are endless.

So I would not create the B&W look in the camera, once you discard the color information you cannot recover it. On the other hand, you can generate almost infinite B&W looks in your compositing program by playing with the color information. And speaking of compositing, Shake is probably one of the programs to gve you most control over the colors space. The whole program, which does amazing things, costs you now as much as some of those plugins. I strongly advice anybody interested in image manipulation to try Shake.

One thing that you can easily try, to get an idea of how to use this technque, is to take a still photo, load it in Photoshop and go to the "Channels" palette. From there you'll see that the R, G, and B channesls have all, as expected, different conigrations of grey.
Now, if you think about it, RGB doesn't store color information, each channel actually stores grayscale information. The software, in camera or in your computer, interprets these grayscale values as color channel information but they are really just numeric levels. Each channel storing 256 values from 0 to 255. The combination of the three goves you the 16+ million colors available.
Kinda similar to the first Technicolor systems where they actually run 3 B&W films in synch.

Now, playing in Photoshop will give you a taste of the flexibility that you can gain in creating B&W images with today's digital power. The next step is to run some tests, find the look or looks that you like, write down ow ou got there and then shoot your next "film noir".
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