Leica M8 Infrared Workaround
Magenta Blacks and How to Correct Them
This may turn out to be academic for just about everyone except those that have bought a Leica M8 or who are thinking of buying one soon. But, for anyone in this category it may well be a viable work-around until such time as Leica is able to provide an appropriative fix.
In case you've missed out on the drama, the new Leica M8 has a weak to nonexistent infrared blocking filter. I saw this and reported on it in my initial M8 review, and again in a Infrared follow-up piece.
I had not seen the problem magenta cast issue myself prior to publishing my initial review, except in one image, and in part that's why I didn't report on it then. I didn't understand what I was seeing. That's now a well known story unto itself, which I won't go into here now. The point is that the magenta cast issue has been identified, and Leica has stated that they recognize it and will be taking steps to fix it.
There does seem to be a partial solution available though, and rather than wait for Leica's fix, whatever that may be, I thought it worthwhile that this be brought to the attention of a wider audience.
A small personal digression first, if you don't mind. In my initial review I wrote in part – As for colour rendering, that's harder to report on because a raw file is capable of so many interpretation. Certainly the wide gamut reported on elsewhere in this review shows a very rich palette to be available. I did find on more than one occasion that colour saturation was higher than I expected, or am used to. This may well be a profile issue rather than anything else, and I expect it to become sorted out before long. My friend Nick Devlin, a long-time Leica photographer, called it Leicachrome. An apt name.
Knowing what I do now (yes, pioneers are the ones with arrows in their asses) what I can see is that what we called somewhat derisively Leicachrome, is in fact the results of the weak infrared filter. This is particularly noticeable, of course, in anything with strong IR content, such as certain fabrics and foliage. Isn't hindsight wonderful? I knew I was seeing something strange. I identified that the camera had strong IR tendancies, but I didn't put two and two together properly.
A Quick Fix
Firstly – the origin of this temporary solution is found on the Leica Camera User Forum in a posting by Jamie Roberts. Here is a link to the thread in question. What this shows is that a simple change in the profile used in Capture One appears to be sufficient to address a healthy chunk of the magenta cast problem.
Unfortunately, the profiles that best solve this issue are those that ship with Capture One Pro, not the LE version of C1 that ships with the M8. But, the point is that it appears that a properly designed profile may ( I repeat – may) be able to solve this problem, though my guess is that the final solution will take the form of a firmware update combined with a new profile, as a level one fix. The use of IR cuts filters on the lens is likely as a level two fix.
UPDATE: The profiles required are found in the Capture One Pro demo which can be downloaded without charge, and then loaded into LE.
I have now searched my own files and by knowing what to look for have found a few more that exhibit the magenta cast. Here's one.
Leica M8 profile
Phase One P30 Flash - Easy Black profile
The man's black coat and the umbrella clearly show a magenta cast using the provided Leica M8 camera profile. But by using the profile designed for the Phase One P30 medium format back, called P30 Flash - Easy Black, the magenta cast in the blacks is gone, the super-saturated red of the sleeping bag liner is reduced, and the neutrals overall are improved. Skin tone is much more natural too. There is some overall saturation loss, but this is easily compensated. Greens and yellows are desaturated the most with this approach, so this may not be a viable solution when people wearing tuxedos are standing on a lawn of green grass. Time will tell.
The point of this exercise is not to propose that as an M8 owner you run out and buy C1 Pro and use the P30 profile – though if you already own it, great , go for it. Rather, it is to suggest that a firmware update coupled with a properly calibrated profile, or series of profiles, may well be able to solve this problem effectively enough without the need for people to send their cameras in, or to use lens filters, if that's what Leica comes up with as their solution. At least, let's hope so.
It should also be borne in mind by anyone considering the purchase on an M8 that the magenta cast issue is not something that one sees every day. Many owners have shot thousands of frames and have yet to notice it (they've written to me saying so). While I noticed something almost from the start, I didn't understand at the time what I was seeing. I should have, since I also saw right away that the camera had IR issues.
Now, let's wait to see what Leica proposes as their solution. It shouldn't be much longer.
13 November, 2006