Photog Turns His DSLR Monochrome by Swapping Out the Sensor


Earlier this month, we showed you how some astrophotographers were turning their standard DSLRs monochrome by physically scratching the color filter array off of their sensor in order to get sharper black-and-white photos.

Another photographer is doing something similar, only instead of scratching off the color array and possibly doing damage to the sensor, he decided to swap out the sensor entirely.

The photographer’s name is Lasse Beyer, and as he explains it in on his website, he thought that simply swapping out the color sensor in a cheap DSLR with a panchromatic one made more sense than stabbing sensitive electronics with a pencil.


There are two major challenges to this approach: One is that monochrome sensors (especially ones that will fit your DSLR) are very hard to come by these days, and another is that most DSLRs have their sensors surface mounted in ways that make them nearly impossible to remove.

Fortunately for Beyer, the old Olympus E-500 he had sitting around featured an 8MP CCD that was mounted in such a way as to be easily (relatively speaking) removable. And what’s more, that sensor has a commonly found monochrome cousin that would fit just right and Beyer was able to purchase for about $133 from a German manufacturer.

The actual mechanical swapping took some physical force, and getting rid of the antialiasing filter caused some further problems, but Beyer was pleased with the results. Because the sensor is more sensitive, he gained about 1 EV. And once he managed to remove the anti-aliasing filter he saw a slight (yet noticeable) improvement in resolution as well.

Here is a before (top) and after (bottom) test shot. Click here for the high-resolution version:


You can read the full write-up, see a bunch more test shots, and get all of the technical details on Beyer’s website here. Assuming you have a camera that this would work on and you want to try it yourself, there should be enough details there to get you going. As always, however, if you choose to crack open your camera and start fiddling around with the internals, you do so at your own risk.

Olympus E-500 “Panchromatic”: Conversion to Monochrome [preamp via Hack a Day]

  • Abel Lenz

    “Lasse Beyer” = “Less Bayer” ?

  • Ivan

    I apologize for this long post, but I think it is important to highlight often overlooked advantages of true B&W and stacked (like Foveon X3) sensors, which are mainly lack of moire as well as more details resolver in red and blue subjects. Here is my take on the latter:

    In this example author has tested resolution gain on a B&W test target and a printed circuit board which is usually predominantly green. The problem is, B&W test targets expose all pixels (R, G and B) on a RGGB Bayer array giving full 8MP of information to interpolate very detailed final image, so no real gain here. Predominantly green test target does that with over 50% of pixels on a RGGB Bayer array (since that green is not narrow-band green strictly exposing only G pixels while leaving R and B with absolutely no data) again providing enough information to interpolate reasonably detailed final image, with only slightly less details compared to true B&W sensor.

    In my opinion a better test should be done by using red and blue test targets, because that’s where the main advantage in rendering details should be. If proper target color (red or blue) are chosen not to overlap with green, it should be possible to expose around or just over 25% of all pixels. In this particular case (8MP sensor) interpolating the final image from 2MP of information should produce much less details compared to shooting the same test scene (red or blue) with a B&W sensor exposing full 8MP and consequently using 8MP of information to interpolate much more detailed image.

    I was surprised when I tested this using regular RGGB Bayer pattern camera on small red, green, blue and white text (same size) printed on a black background (again: printed, not a text on a computer monitor in order to shoot real *paint* not RGB pixels!). Make text as small as possible as long as white text is still crisp and readable. At the same magnification green should be just fine, but red and blue text would look jagged, with missing parts and perhaps with some letters hardly recognizable. This is an example of using 100% (white text), ~50% (green text) and ~25% (red and blue text) of data to interpolate the final image. In contrast, with pure B&W sensors or Foveon X3 all four text colors would retain the same level of details since with those sensors 100% of pixels are *always* exposed (assuming a subject fills the frame) regardless of subject color – and that is the main advantage.

  • lololalallll

    Orrr… Just learn how to use Nik SilverEfex 2 nd save yourself lots of time and money.

  • Mike


  • Josh

    Awwh. I had an E-500. But it didn’t have live view and was super frustrating to focus with the tiny 4/3rds view finder. So I asked Olympus if they would trade me for one that did have live view, and they gave me an Olympus E-520 for my E-500 and $50. Luckily I lived close to their HQ in Southern California. I’d really like to try this on the E-520. I still have it.