Covid-19 Ennui

My Kid and My Cat in Lockdown

Like most of you, I’ve been home during the Covid-19 thing. In addition to attempting to single-handedly run a professional office from home, I’m in the middle of a Harvard graduate seminar that is requiring insane amounts of work, and on top of that I’ve been consistently sick with some sort of viral thing (don’t even suggest Covid-19; my wife won’t hear of it, even though I started feeling bad after meeting family members in Florida for a family get together beginning of March, my brother coming from Albany, GA (subsequently known as Georgia’s Covid-19 hotspot), my mom coming from NYC. Coincidence?). Plus I’ve got to get a Car Sick book to at least 80 of you who have already paid for it. Throw in the fact that I’ve been suffering from a complete lack of inspiration, and it’s been, to put it mildly, an interesting last month or so.

I’m feeling much better, except for the cabin fever. Car Sick is now back on my radar. I’ve got a final draft and now am debating whether the photos should be printed greyscale or CMYK. If CYMK, then I’m going to have to redo all the photos to make sure they have the same tonal values. The publisher tells me CMYK is preferable; why I’m not sure, given printing greyscale would obviate the need to standardize tone between individual photos. Plus, as I’ve tried to explain to them, 1) I’m not Ansel Adams; and, 2) most of the photos were taken out of car windows.


As for photography-related activities, good documentarian I am, I’m taking pictures of the goings-on inside my house. Lot’s of cat pictures, as befits a Leicaphile. I’ve been periodically fighting the urge to buy a Monochrom just for the hell of it, but, of course, that’s not going to do anything but reinforce what I already know, which is that it isn’t about gear….except that it is. After having pondered the question for years now, I’ve concluded that my love of film photography is closely related to the specific ‘look’ of 35mm B&W and, to duplicate that look digitally, you need a decent APC-S sensor from the 6-8mp era. It’s going to give you the approximate resolution of 35mm film and the same approximate ISO sensitivity. And you need Silver Efex.I’m especially happy with the B&W output from the Fuji S5 Pro. Coupled with Sigma’s 30mm f1.4 ART lens its output gives really nice files you can turn ‘film-like’ with minimal effort. What would possibly be the purpose of a Monochrom then?

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20 thoughts on “Covid-19 Ennui

  1. Rob Campbell

    The purpose of the Mono, Tim, would remain as ever: to assure Leica continued production.

    Observing your cat shows me yet again that looking into feline eyes reveals zero. That’s why they win battles; the prey is fooled into thinking them fluffy stuffed toys.

    For a period, we had a rotating company of around twenty-five or more cats. Each had its own name and we knew who was who. The tribe began as a pair of abandoned kittens – both female – that their mother left at the foot of our terrace. At the time, we had a large Alsabrador (you can figure that one out) who was really a spiritual pussy cat herself. Mama Cat took one look at the pooch, my wife and myself, and realised at once that she’d found the perfect bunch of easy touches. She walked smartly away, kittenless, and never returned. They multiplied and walked the Earth very qickly.

    We fed the extending family over the years, and nursed the weak through various cat diseases, although many perished from some sort of ‘flu that stopped their ability to smell their food… They died of starvation, food all around them. I was still working during those years, and had to fly to the UK a few times a year, and on shoots, my wife came along too, and so the dog had to be put into kennels because the apartment had to be closed. At such times, one or another of the women on the site would take it upon herself to feed the multitude in our absence. Those cats were not tame – they lived wild in the fields and woods next to us, but came to us for a daily lunch. And for birthings, when they made use of a carboard wine box we’d put on the terrace for such occasions.

    Then after one trip away from home, we returned to find no cats save two little males. Turned out that one bitch apartment-owner and another old guy who didn’t like cats, had fed the tribe poisoned food. The two little males had had their maleness removed and they were kept away during the massacre, but irony, the bitch who’d done this had intended to keep them up in her apartment as personal pets, but they insisted on returning chez nous. No bloody wonder!

    Though the cats kept us amused, they also wiped out the local bird chorus.

  2. Pieter de Koninck

    I used Bookmobile to print my book, The Purpose of Things, after learning about them from you. They were very helpful and the book turned out great, considering it was not printed to “art book” standards. All the images were originally greyscale, but converted to CMYK as requested by the printer. I used Bookmobile’s profiles and settings for both the greyscale images and the subsequent CMYK conversion. The odd thing is, when I examine the printed book under a loupe, I only see black, no other colors.

    Unfortunate timing for the book release, though. It has now been put off until the summer.

  3. Henry

    My solution to the “film-like look” was/is a Leica X 113. It has a 16MP sensor, with very nice vibes about it, and a very sharp 35mm equivalent lens. Not uber sharp, like a 24+MP would be, but sharp enough to give you an impression of a very good 35mm film lens, or even 6×4.5.
    But, it doesn’t quite look like film (nor do your examples above). So what? It looks good.
    Plus, I still have my small arsenal of Real Film Cameras (both 135 and 120) to use on occasion.

  4. Thomas Osborne

    Doesn’t the current Bookmobile workflow ask you to build your file with Adobe RGB images and let Bookmobile’s RIP convert your PDF to CMYK? I’m a (recovering) graphic designer who is currently preparing a small artbook for printing at Bookmobile. That’s the workflow I’m using. I’ve designed books printed from on-demand digital to press-checked offset, and conversion workflow is always voodoo. I might be wrong, but converting digital grayscale images to CMYK seems like the wrong path. A friend produced a black-and-white photobook at Bookmobile and I am impressed with the look, from the rich blacks to the no-mud mid-tones. It was digital scans of film images and printed on 80# Titan matte. I’m looking forward to your book, but for the concept, content, and design, not the tech. My cat flees at the sight of a camera, btw.

  5. Lee Rust

    Tim – Don’t discount the possibility that you might have had COVID, especially because of the family contacts. The symptoms vary widely from one person to the next and testing is imperfect and hard to get. I know someone who has had continuous fever and diarrhea for more than three weeks and tested negative for coronavirus, but I also just read a report of a hospital patient with all the classic symptoms who tested negative for three tests and then positive on the fourth.

    Bottom line… we don’t know much about this disease and until reliable and simple testing is easily available we must assume that we could all be transmitting the virus, if not suffering from it. There are indications that up to 50% of infected people are asymptomatic.

    Meanwhile, I’ve have heard and seen good things about Silver Efex. I use an ancient version of Photoshop (Elements 6). Do you know if this particular plug-in is finicky about compatibility?

    1. Leicaphila Post author

      Lee- im using an ancient copy of Lightroom along with Silver Efex. Never had any problems. Until recently Silver Efex was available for free download after it had been bought out by someone big. I dont know if that’s still the case. Its worth paying for even if its no longer free.

  6. Lee Rust

    The current retail price for Silver Efex is listed as $149. Pretty pricey, but I will definitely look into it. Thanks!

    1. Leicaphila Post author

      That’s crazy Lee. Not sure I’d pay that price for something they were literally giving away recently.

      1. David Mantripp

        Well bearing in mind that “they” are Google, who can surely afford it, but disowned the software they acquired from gobbling up Nik, and DxO, who rescued it, probably need to pay the bills, $149 doesn’t seem excessive for a supported version of the full Nik suite (of which Silver Efex is about 1/5th) which originally cost north of $500. I think Silver Efex standalone was roughly $200-$250.

        Can I have your book for free?

        Will Leica give me a Monochrome for free?

        Why do people expect to get software for free?

        1. Leicaphila Post author

          1) No.
          2) Probably not.
          3). Because they were giving it away online until recently?

          I’m not sure who’s advocating for free stuff. My point was that $149 seems steep. Of course, you’re free to feel offended; it’s the internet, right?

  7. JamesP

    I, too, am guilty of occasionally turning my camera-that-costs-as-much-as-a-good-used-car toward my cats. I console myself by remembering that none other than the sainted Henri Cartier-Bresson took cat shots too. Of course, his are much better than mine, but still…

    1. Rob Campbell

      I like your faith: good used cars are probably as rare as good used hens’ teeth.

      Do you wish your pix were as good as HC-B’s or that your cats may be as good as his cats? You can instantly tell that solitary confinement does wonders both for focussing and for blurring the mind. Henri may not have enjoyed our contemporary experience in his life, so in that respect at least, we are all ahead of him.

      Try as I might, which I am forced to admit hasn’t been too assiduously, I haven’t really been able to come up with very much material that gives an informed view into his actual personality. The feeling is that he developed a public face behind which he concealed an entirely different kind of entity. Little snips from various interviews reveal, if possibly only to my own jaundiced mind, a bit of a tyrant, a demagogic mind with little time for those seeking enlightenment. And not a little disdain for fellow snappers. I mean, pretending to a supplicant that holding a contact sheet of 135 format images upside down is some sort of key to design is nuts: try it – you soon realise that without a magnifying glass you haven’t a clue what the hell you are looking at most of the time. Sure, assuming you can light the contact frame evenly enough, you do get an idea of exposure consistency – or otherwise – but in people-shots, that’s about it.

      I think he may have had difficulties coming to terms with his own situation: born a rich kid, he seems to have made his name working for far-left publications with obvious political axes for the grinding, the reason that he has so many pictures of the lower classes at work and play. It has become kinda fashionable to imagine him as some visionary stalking the globe in search of enlightenment; I tend to believe he was indulging himself as deeply as he could, which is exactly what I might have done too, given the opportunity. For sure, had I the means, I would spend the rest of my life out of a suitcase as I drift from one Relais & Châteaux location to the next. Long barge trips on those French canals, all work handled by staff, would perhaps come first on the list before the hotels. I don’t bellieve I’d bother with Spain’s Paradores, simply because after almost forty years of it, though I love it still, it no longer retains its excitement for me: it has become my normal life. In fact, a trip back to Britain is now perhaps more exciting – as long as I know I can leave again and come back home!

      After coming to realise that my stock photos were not, after all, in any way going to supplement my pension, I have given photographic effort much thought. Once, a camera accompanied me on any such travel; today, after realising the futility of spending time working on pictures (why add yet more prints to boxes of them already ignored even by myself) that have little or no real practical purpose, I think that I conclude that cameras and their strident if silent calls for attention could actually impair my enjoyment of my proposed travels when I become rich. Could be more rewarding simply luxuriating in the moment.

      Yeah, ennui is a relevant and important factor in life, especially in photographic life. I like where your writing leads me, Tim; the only other place I spend time in has become obsessed with politics, especially those surrounding Mr Trump and the virus-of-the-age. Nice being somewhere that leaves all of that down on the surface of Earth.


      1. Daniel Castelli

        Since we are enjoying the benefits of ‘shelter-in-place’ I’ve had the time to re-read the three very heavy books on HC-B I’ve got in my library (I collect photo books.) I’ve looked at pages upon pages of his photos.
        You know what? I’ve come to realize I just don’t like him or much of his work. Of course, I’m a nobody (and he’s dead) but I’ve come to the conclusion he was a SOB.
        I like Capa’s work better. Even though Capa was a self-made ‘invention’ he had compassion for his subjects and a lust for life. Not cold and calculating like HC-B.

  8. George Feucht

    I fell ill to the same sickness you have: Monochrom lust. HOWEVER: I demoed an M9M twice and an M246 once and finally admitted to myself: I don’t like how they look.

    There. I said it.

    They both have a plastic-chrome look to them. And the highlights hit a wall and clip in a very video way. As much as I love Peter Turnley, look at his current NYC Covid reportage pics. They all have this harsh, plastic look to them that you would NEVER have on film. It is all very subjective and I won’t say that organic grain is better than plastic brassiness, but I prefer the former.

    What I’ve found is absolutely sacrilegious to utter in the Leica world, but I’ll say it: I really prefer my M240 BW conversions to images from the Monochrom. There. I said it. I’ll just be over there by the stake surrounded by kindling.

    Due to the bayer color filters on each pixel, highlights roll off much more so than the Monochrom. Everything about the file seems to have more elasticity like film, but unlike the Monochrom file. The images from the Monochrom are definitely different and some folks love them… but I am much happier with either my M240 coversions or my real B/W from my M6s.

    1. Stephen J

      You’ll be OK George, at least the fire is warm…

      I’m in the fridge and frozen stiff.

      And yes, the Mono, is no match for a proper film camera.

      There Tim…

      That’s another blogpost ended.

      You’ll have to make a new one now.

  9. Andrew Molitor

    Have you experimented with Ctein’s suggestion for a “film look from digital” which is a large radius unsharp mask (radius… um, 2-5x what you’d use for “normal sharpening”) gently applied?

    It struck me as doing something definitely filmic to local contrast.

    Combined with a gentle toe+shoulder curves adjustment it’s my go to “fake film” treatment. If I am actually trying to fool someone (err, not that I would ever do that because it would be wrong) I add some fake grain, mostly to the midtones. Err, would add, I mean, obviously, if I were every to do such a thing.

    1. Rob Campbell

      Andrew, I use “Noise” and just try it out to different degrees; you can see the effects pretty well on your monitor as you try the various amounts of it. Also, one can give different parts of a picture more of the same blasting if you think it adds anything to the overall shot. It even works subliminally as a kind of vignetting effect.

      Extreme highlights that would have blocked up with film never did show grain – insofar as I can remember – they just remained white unless you fogged the paper, which didn’t convince me either. Consequently, when I apply fake grain (Noise) I mask off the very strong highlights so as not to have Noise appear on them and give the game away. How much you sharpen the end product also effects the look of the grain/noise you have added.

      I seem to be taking the little photography I do these days further and futher away from what I did when working: I tend to want to distress the images rather than have them as “perfect” as possible.

      The above pic illustrates the look of one kind of application of the varied Noise technique.

      In this shot, the print that I have on A3+ shows grain (false – the original was Kodachrome 64 Pro) like mothballs, and sharp. It’s a tiny section of the original 36mm x 24mm slide. I made the conversion years ago, and if memory serves, was a product of repeated doses of sharpening.

      An old rebel without a cause, then?


  10. Larry Cloetta


    You mentioned Silver Efex pro and “the black and white output” of the Fujifilm S5 pro here.
    I’ve got both. Was wondering if you meant you were shooting the S5 Pro in RAW and converting in Silver Efex Pro, or if you were just shooting jpgs with the S5 Pro in B&W mode, which most people think is pretty nice.
    Just curious and trying to save myself some legwork as usual.

    Best wishes,

  11. Leicaphila Post author

    Larry: I’ve transitioned from shooting the S5 RAW and now shoot in B&W jpg mode, which is really nice as you say. I just don’t see any major advantage to the RAW files and the extra work required when the in-camera B&W is so nice. I then often run them thru SE and choose the Tri-X emulation. Presto, a nice filmic b&w file, super easy. I really do love the S5. Wonderful camera with the 30/1.4 Sigma DC ART lens.

  12. Larry Cloetta

    Thanks, Tim. Will give that a try. Have had a S5 for about ten years now, mostly doing color because of skin tones. Have only now and then done B&W generally as RAW, then Silver Efex. There are almost too many in camera presets for me, spoiled for choice, so I’ve never explored all the possibilities. Paralysis of analysis. I like what you do with it though. Would love to settle on a jpg. Thanks for the heads up on the lens as well.

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