The Monochrome

Did you notice how the title does not say “black and white” but “monochrome”? Why do some manufacturers chose a monochrome sensor for their phones? And therefore, what is the difference between monochrome and black and white ? 

In 2012n Leica revealed the  M Monochrom. A surprising approach in the digital age, as the legendary camera manufacturer withdrew the RGB treatment of the photosites to only keep their luminous values.
From black to white, the goal is to gain in quality. The approach was adopted for some smartphones, including HTC in 2014 with the M8. Leica signed in 2016 a partnership with Huawei.

The Mate 9 and P10 have two sensors Summilux-H, including one only for monochrome images of 20Mp. The Essential PH-1, that was just released has similar features.
More precisely, the monochrome sensor does not read the colors of the pixels relative to each other, which reduces the noise, and adds in sharpness during the fusion with the colored image. The surface of each photosite is a few tenth of micron on the smartphone sensor – when it is about 4 microns on a DSLR. The results usually go bad over 400 iso.

But the black and white mode has been there for a long time, as a photo filtre. Convenient when the colors of the scene are not great, or when you want to play with a relief with the lightning, with the contrasts, etc…

However, there is a distinction between a monochrome sensor ( a component)  and a monochrome picture ( an algorithm). The black and white does not reduce de facto the digital noise: the pictures are first saved in color and then converted in black and white. The precision will still be disappointing.

We could laugh at the will of developing two cameras instead of just a good one… Because the colored results alone are polluted by noise. It is the synthesis of images that allows to improve the result. Pay attention to this promotional video, you will see the the pictures are not as amazing as the film pretends. The Verge published an article about the P10-Leica last February.



In any case, the multi-cameras are the new Eldorado of the manufacturers, find ever more creative ways to progress. We talked about the monochromatic feature, but we could have talked about the depth of field, the augmented reality, the zoom, the 3D stereo…

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