Lens contrast: how much does it really matter?

Discussion in '35mm Cameras and Accessories' started by puketronic, Nov 11, 2012.

  1. puketronic

    puketronic Member

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    OK so all of my lenses (rangefinders, mostly) are fairly old: Zeiss-Opton and Leica. I haven't done any comparisons but the difference in contrast doesn't really stand out. I scan (a sin here?) my negatives mostly and print my few favorites. It works out fine, i guess, but I'm not that good in the darkroom or meticulous about my metering/developing/scanning/printing.

    Well for certain focal lengths/speeds modern lenses are more practical (Zeiss and CV mostly). The general agreement is that for b&w film low contrast is preferable, but does it really make that much of a difference?
     
  2. AgX

    AgX Member

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    Except for certain applications (where special filters or special lenses are used) the highest "lens contrast", as you put it, is generally aimed at in photography.
     
  3. puketronic

    puketronic Member

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    well i'm not trying to get into the debate that you would always want a certain contrast level. I mean, to me, it seems obvious that the film, exposure, and development play a large role in determining the contrast levels.

    What I mean is that if you took a semi-modern lens like a Dr Summicron and the latest Summicron (whichever version that is). Would you be able to really tell the difference on the same roll. If this can be quantified, I'd imagine the difference to exist but be say 5% or so. I really do not know because all my lenses are old.

    Also because I'm mostly a 35mm photographer and I do not meter meticulously I'd imagine that changing lenses from say a DR Summicron to a the latest Summicron wouldn't be so offensive.
     
    Last edited by a moderator: Nov 12, 2012
  4. Peltigera

    Peltigera Member

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    I use a range of camera lenses dating from 1930 to 2012 and they are all different contrast wise and all produce very usable negatives. Except for one lens - the Novar on my Tenax I dating from around 1941/2. Contrast is so low as to be unusable.

    If the lens is not visibly damaged (my Tenax I has a visible white cast to the lens), then you can compensate in exposure/development.
     
  5. RalphLambrecht

    RalphLambrecht Subscriber

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    this makes me think about an interesting test. i have a fe brand new and 40-year-old nikkors. i wonder how they compare.
     
  6. AgX

    AgX Member

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    But what shall you compare: MTF-charts, resolution-chart photos, or photos of the same, typical for you, object? I assume the latter is what the OP is thinking of.
     
  7. Peltigera

    Peltigera Member

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    The latter is the only test that matters for a photographer. Other tests are for technicians, not photographers.
     
  8. darkosaric

    darkosaric Subscriber

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    I have nikkor 50/1.8 AF-D, nikkor-H 50/2, nikkor Ai 50/1.8 and nikkor-S 50/1.4

    They are all very similar in contrast except nikkor-S which has lower contrast.
     
  9. ic-racer

    ic-racer Member

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    The title of this thread should read "Lens contrast: how much does it really matter when I print digitally?" and posted on another forum.

    What is the latest on some forum software filter for eliminating having to view posts about digital photography?
     
  10. Peltigera

    Peltigera Member

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    The Forum title is "35mm Cameras and Accessories". It is not "Darkroom Printing on Light Sensitive Paper". The opening poster was asking about using lenses on their 35mm film camera and so is quite appropriate here. The issue is whether he would end up with usable negatives. Quite what use he puts those negatives to is neither here nor there.
     
  11. pdeeh

    pdeeh Member

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    The OP doesn't say he prints digitally. He says he scans. And he refers to printing, and to his darkroom skills.
    That doesn't make it a "digital thread"
     
  12. Steve Smith

    Steve Smith Subscriber

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    It's also a valid question if printing optically.


    Steve.
     
  13. jnanian

    jnanian Advertiser Advertiser

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    hi

    to answer your questions directly .. it really doesn't matter at all.
    if you are happy with the results you get with your optics
    and your processed film, then don't change anything .. but if you aren't satisfied ...

    there are always going to be people who talk about lenses and their contrast and sharpness
    and "stuff" but in the end it is the results that matter.
    as for dark room and technical skills, they are just learned and practiced ...
    like pretty much anything else.

    good luck !
    john
     
    Last edited by a moderator: Nov 12, 2012
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  15. CPorter

    CPorter Member

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    Whether or not a high flare lens is "preferrable" (not for me) with b&w is debatable for sure, but IMO, the short answer is that you can certainly experience a flare factor of 2 (one stop) to 4 (2 stops) with a lens that is not coated or poorly coated. The newer lenses of today and I guess even as of a decade or so ago are pretty well coated, I would think.
     
  16. Thomas Bertilsson

    Thomas Bertilsson Subscriber

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    It does matter with regard to film speed. When I use my old Summitar lens I can easily shoot Tri-X using an exposure index of 400 - box speed. When I use a more modern lens, I have to lower my exposure index to something like 250 to get the same shadow detail. This is probably due to flare, but it does have an impact on the final contrast of the negative, and how it prints.
    But once you know this, it's easy to compensate for it, and it's not really something to worry about anymore. It is just one variable of many that affect negative contrast.
     
  17. michael_r

    michael_r Subscriber

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    Not really. Keep in mind that flare does not simply reduce overall contrast. It reduces contrast primarily in the shadow values.

    Lens flare varies from lens to lens depending on various factors including the optical formula/number of elements, coatings, the mechanical design of the lens (baffling etc), and shooting aperture. Of course, the lighting in the scene to be photographed has a major impact.

    In general, the biggest differences would be observed between an uncoated lens with many elements/groups and a coated lens with a simpler optical design. The difference between say an otherwise similar single coated and multi-coated lens would be much smaller.
     
  18. dsmccrac

    dsmccrac Member

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    Hopefully this is not too much of a stupid detour from the OP's question. If it is feel free to ignore ;-)

    Ignoring the effects of aging on a lens, what are the criteria that determines its contrast levels? Some lenses are famous for it (and it is considered sought after by some) such as a lot of Konica Hexanon lenses and certain Russian ones amongst many others. I presume coatings are a big component. I presume materials are a big deal as is the actual design. Were designers looking to build contrasty lenses or was that just the way they were coming out? Clearly everyone wants a 'sharp' lens but contrast seems to be a slightly different beast and clearly lots of folks think stuff can be too contrasty. Contrast, sharpness and acuity do not seem to be entirely synonymous.

    Sorry if these are stupid questions. I have been wrapping my head around lens contrast (and the related issue of the role of the lens in colour reproduction).
     
  19. puketronic

    puketronic Member

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    skimmed through the responses, very good discussion.

    Just to clarify a few things.

    I scan my negatives and make wetprints in the darkroom. I care about my wetprints and negatives more than I care about my scans...
    I have no problems with the contrast levels of my current lenses but I have not tried anything modern. I would be interested in perhaps changing lenses mid-roll. Say for instance a 1950's 50mm Sonnar with a 2012 28mm Biogon. Things like that.
     
  20. ntenny

    ntenny Member

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    It's hard to do a real-world apples-to-apples test. For instance, if you change lenses mid-roll, it's hard to separate "this lens is sharper" from "the coffee finally caught up with me and I started focussing better", or "this lens is contrastier" from "the light got contrastier". There's also that 62 years of aging on the Sonnar to think about---maybe the coatings aren't all they once were, or whatever, and the results could tell you something about old vs. new lenses but not necessarily about "classic" vs. "modern" lenses.

    If you don't have problems, I think you shouldn't worry too much about the theoretical alternatives. The question is interesting, though, and I suspect careful testing would turn up some surprises.

    -NT
     
  21. AgX

    AgX Member

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    Actually in my reply I rather thought oft micro-contrast (which effects acuteness)



    -) lens aberrations effect microcontrast

    -) flare (lack of coating, bad barrel design, lack of lensshade) effects both overall contrast and microcontrast)


    Acuteness is the empiric description of what we by vision call sharpness.
     
  22. michael_r

    michael_r Subscriber

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    In general, good quality single focal length lenses from the 50's such as a Sonnar should not have that much more flare than current lenses. They were coated, and that's a very important factor. For the most part I would say the differences in low value contrast between a 1950s 50mm Sonnar and current Biogon could be compensated for in printing/scanning/processing. One way to help even things out even more would be to use a good lens shade with the older lenses and do your best to shield the front element from extraneous light, particularly bright light sources just outside the frame.
     
  23. Brian C. Miller

    Brian C. Miller Member

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    For black & white, contrast is not controlled by the taking lens. Contrast is controlled through film development and printing.

    How critical is an uncoated lens? Color photography was developed before lens coating. Take a look at old, well-preserved color photos, and see the effect of an uncoated lens. Do you actually see a problem?

    Contrast lost through lens flare is always a problem. Somebody posted a link to a test where a box with a test target in it was photographed against the sun. The test shots were made with and without a lens shade. The photographs with the lens shade showed much better shadow contrast and detail.

    What you need to do is make tests for yourself, and see what works for you.
     
  24. RalphLambrecht

    RalphLambrecht Subscriber

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    Contrast is controlled through film development and printing and the taking lens and lighting conditions
     
  25. Ian Grant

    Ian Grant Subscriber

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    Unfortunately film development can't compensate totally for the lack of contrast due to internal flare with older uncoated or poorly coated lenses, I include some Multicoated lenses in that statement.

    Michael R is right about many 1950's coated lenses being almost equal in terms of contrast to modern Multi-coated equivalents, there's also a misconception that lenses have a single coating, some do but others have more than one coating layer Zeiss used 2 quite early on and some pre- Multicoated lenses were not far different in terms of their coatings.

    Early coated lenses were problematic with colour films often giving quite a strong blue cast and warm up filters were introduced to compensate. Lens manufacturers overcame this in the 1960's with newer coatings and often these lenses were designated to reflect this, Color Skopar, Pancolor etc.

    My experience using an uncoated 1930's 135mm f4.5 CZJ Tessar, a mid 1950's 150mm T coated 150mm f4.5 CZJ Tessar, a late (2000/1) coated 150mm f5.6 Xenar and also various Multi-coated 135mm & 150mm Symmars & Sironars is that apart from the uncoated lens the results are almost indistinguishable in terms of contrast even shooting into the light. In any light there's a drop in micro-contrast with the uncoated Tessar and that's the same for my other uncoated lenses, there's a loss of detail in subtle highlights. The 50's Tessar is very heavily coated and visually give a blue cast but it's remarkable good for B&W work and micro contrast which is imprtant for fine detail is as good as a modern MC lens, and it's very flare resistant.

    The problem with discussions like this is not all manufacturers coated their lenses properly, they wouldn't coat every air glass surface or coatings were poor.

    A classic for poor Multicoating was the Hoya range of lenses in the late 1970's or early 80's launched with a lot of hype. They were very sharp lenses but Hoya skimped on the coatings and many suffered from severe flare, the result was Hoya dropped the entire range and went back to the drawing board, the new range was launched under their Tokina brand name.

    So the choice of lens does have an effect on the contrast and particulary micro contrast, highlight and shadow separation, varying exposure and film development time can only help to get the bst from the inherent contrast of the lens itself.

    Ian
     
  26. Dismayed

    Dismayed Member

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    Every photo displayed on this site was scanned. Try not to be so pedantic.