Forget RAW: Leica Vintage B&W

As I’m experimenting with the different Fuji film simulations in my recently acquired Fuji X-Pro3, it occurred to me that my Leica M-E (M9 generation) actually features a very elegant JPEG mode most people are unaware of, and seldom talk about: Vintage Black & White.

For some reason this special JPEG mode seems to be available on the Leica M9 only. As far as I know, all other Leica cameras released before and after lack this mode, which is a shame because Vintage Black & White is so special.

Most cameras nowadays feature B&W modes, but none of them come close. Especially the sepia simulations that are often exaggerated with a very artificial, unpleasant tint.


Vintage Black & White from Leica has a very natural look. Objectively, it converts the photo into black & white and adds a light sepia tone. The images do look softer sometimes, although I doubt something is done at the pixel level.

It’s probably the result of the vintage look playing with my perception. Bokeh looks particularly good and film like.


Vintage Black & White is able to produce beautiful, classic looking portraits.

I’ve shot my best portraits using this mode. It adds a layer of magic, encapsulating the subject in a timeless elegance, a magical parallel world of its own.

You may feel I’m stretching a bit too far with my prose here, and I’d probably agree with you. But the reality is that we often get overwhelmed by features that come out with every new camera and we tend to forget the good things we have on hand.

I’ve owned my Leica M-E since 2013 and I didn’t care much about the Vintage Black & White mode just until recently. I had to shoot some beautiful portraits to open up my eyes and truly understand the added value of this mode.

And it took Fuji’s X-Pro3 to unblock my brain and accept in-camera JPEG modes as something legit and worth appreciating. This is happening to me now, a stubborn photographer who keeps advocating RAW shooting to extract the maximum of the camera image files.


Frankly, forget RAW shooting. Photo technology has evolved to a point where technical attributes like colour accuracy, dynamic range, sharpness and resolution are more than enough for our needs.

In fact, miles ahead and an overkill in most cases.

I’m not saying development should stop. And, as always, I’m welcoming whatever breakthrough technology that will take place tomorrow and open up a window for a whole new world.

All I’m saying is, we are no longer where we were 15 or 20 years ago when digital photography was in the early stages of development and camera outputs had weird colours, luminance noise, low megapixel counts, and struggled to reproduce reality with accuracy.

We had reached a plateau where this is no longer the case, so it’s time to drop spec races and the likes. Every camera now is able to deliver perfectly clean and accurate images. So “perfection” is boring now — even your smartphone can do it.

It’s time to focus on character. The character of the output, adjusted by camera manufacturers based on their know-how in colour science.

Hence forget RAW. Let’s shoot JPEG and embrace in-camera modes like Vintage Black & White from Leica or the film simulations from Fuji.




One comment

  1. I love this mode. I’ve stopped using raw and converting to BW. If you enlarge the images to say 100% they look just like film, amazing.

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