Archivi categoria: problem

Why and How Fuji Cameras Produce a Strange Purple Flare/Grid Artifact

When FujiFilm’s X-Trans III sensor was introduced in the X-Pro2, many users began noticing a strange new artifact in their backlit photographs. Upon further experimentation, it became apparent that the same artifact could also be found in images from cameras using the older X-Trans II sensor.

Many theories have been bandied about in internet photography forums, pointing the finger at specific lenses, certain body production batches, and, sadly but predictably, the users who dared to suggest there could be flaws in the output of a rather expensive camera, but very little information of a technical kind has been published on the problem.

In the third episode of our X-Trans saga (the first was about color detail in the in-camera JPEGs, and the second about luminance detail in RAW processing), I will share some of what I’ve uncovered about the nature of this particular artifact on my reluctant (some might say heroic) journey to become an expert in FujiFilm’s quirky and eccentric sensor technology. Come Sancho, we must slay this wizard who enchants the people’s sensors!

Joking aside, the first thing I’ve discovered about this issue is that it is very rarely encountered in practice by those who abstain from shooting facing into the sun or similar light sources. For those who indulge in flare-filled portraits or landscapes with the sun in the frame, however, it may be a more frequent occurrence.

Let me be perfectly clear: I’m not trying to play-up the severity of this problem by writing this article (it’s only happened to me a few times), only to offer some insight into how and why it happens, sharing what I have learned from many hours spent studying the issue in detail.

Bear in mind that this is a highly technical subject and this article will only scratch the surface of the issue. If you’re expecting a discussion on semiconductor fabrication techniques, electron beam coatings, etc. you’ll have to look elsewhere. The information presented here comes entirely from my own original eye-straining analysis of real-world images.

I’m not claiming it to be 100% accurate. What I call “left” could be “right” etc.—there appear to be no authoritative reference materials published on the matter by FujiFilm or anyone else. (If someone out there reads Japanese and knows where to find the patents, by all means send them my way.)

The nature of the grid

This artifact is particularly interesting because it allows the layout of the X-Trans CFA to shine through, as it were, in the demosaicked image—something which should never happen. (If you look closely you can make out the “X” of X-Trans: uninterrupted diagonal lines of green pixels which criss-cross the sensor.) Not even the camera JPEG output, generated with FujiFilm’s supposedly expert proprietary image processing, is immune to this problem (And, yes, I’ve confirmed that Iridient isn’t immune to it either.)

Due to the complexity of X-Trans processing, the appearance of the effect will vary with the particulars of the demosaicking algorithm in use, but no algorithm will be completely immune from its effects. It may be possible to include special measures to mitigate this artifact in a new algorithm, but this would further increase the complexity and computational load, and come at the cost of resolution and the introduction of new types of artifacts.

Why is there a grid?

N.B. the large green blocks in the X-Trans CFA are not single large green pixels, but are actually four adjacent green pixels — there are no lines separating any of the pixels in the illustration.

First and foremost, the reason that this effect is apparent at all is because the of the particular arrangement of the X-Trans CFA, with larger gaps between same-colored pixels. If a sensor utilizing a Bayer CFA were similarly affected, the presentation would probably be more like speckling than a grid, and certainly wouldn’t show any X’s, and could more effectively be removed by traditional noise reduction techniques.

What causes the grid to appear?

The X-Trans II sensor found in the X-T1 (but introduced earlier in the X20, X100S, and X-E2) was the first to bring on-sensor phase-detect autofocus technology to FujiFilm’s X series of cameras. X-Trans III, found in the X-Pro2, X-T2, X-20, and X100F, extends this concept with a larger coverage area and more phase detect pixels (PDPs).

FujiFilm’s technology adds an additional layer to the sensor, a masking layer between CFA and the photodiodes. This mask is only apparent in the central region of the sensor (the extent being greater in X-Trans III than X-Trans II).

It should be noted that there are many more masked PDPs on the sensor than there are “AF points.” 2.8% of pixels in the PDAF area of the sensor are masked. On the X-Trans III sensor, the PDAF area is 3000×3000 pixels (9MP), containing a total of 250,000 PDPs. AF points in this context are a software construct—the values of many PDPs are be used to determine the focus at a single AF point.

What this masking layer does is block half of the masked pixels from receiving light from the “left” side of the image, the other half from receiving light from the “right” side of the image. When the image at the AF point is in focus, the light from the two sides coincides (is in phase). Each PDP is only receiving up to half the amount of light of an unmasked pixel (1-stop less in photographic terms).

This can be compensated for by doubling its brightness in software, with the penalty of also amplifying its noise. This system is also subject to interaction between medium to high frequency detail in the image and the mask (particularly apparent in feathers and fur), but that’s another problem for another day.

This particular implementation of on sensor phase detect is of the “horizontal” type, meaning it is only sensitive to vertical edges in the subject. Most DSLR cameras, in contrast, have AF modules which include a mix of horizontal, vertical, and, more recently, cross-type sensors. Being limited to horizontal only sensing is a limitation of all currently deployed on-sensor PDAF technologies that I’ve surveyed, and isn’t exclusive to FujiFilm.

But what does any of this have to do with the grid artifact?

There are at two main factors in play, both of which seem to involve this pixel masking layer. The overall effect is a combination of these factors, the precise appearance of which depends on the particular angle/orientation of the flare and the region of the frame the flare covers.

The phase detect pixel effect

To put it simply, it is possible for extraneous light to pass through the lens and strike the sensor in such a way that most of the “left” (or “right”) masked PDPs are not illuminated (although everything else is).

Don’t believe me? Forget about optical inversion for the purposes of this thought experiment (it’s a superfluous complication): Say that a cone of hard light (flare) is shining on the sensor from the “right” direction. This illuminates all of the unmasked pixels, and all of the “right” masked pixels, but none (or few) of the “left” masked pixels. It really is that simple.

When a demosaicking algorithm, even FujiFilm’s proprietary one, attempts to construct a full color image, these shadowed pixels misguide the interpolation, spreading the error out over a wider area, and allowing the pattern of the CFA to show through. Because of the alternating pattern of “left” and “right” PDPs horizontally across the image and the 12×12 repetition of the PDP mask, this effect creates an artifact with a period of 6 pixels horizontally and 12 pixels vertically across central region of the image.

OK, but why is the flare purple?

If you’ve been paying close attention (particularly to the diagram above), you may have already figured that out: the flare isn’t purple, it’s anti-green. Purple, more specifically magenta, is the color you get in RGB additive color mixing when you subtract green from white. That is to say, a mixture of just red and blue.

The flare appears purple or magenta because of all the thousands of masked off pixels on the X-Trans II/III sensor, every single one of them is a pixel sensitive to green light, and located in exact the same place in the CFA pattern (upper right hand corner of that block of four green pixels). When a (white) veiling flare illuminates all of the pixels except for either the “left” or “right” PDPs, this leaves a deficit of green signal.

Note: in the real world, flares do tend to have a color tint of their own, but that doesn’t change the principle at work.

The masking layer thickness effect

The PDP influenced part of the effect only appears in the central region of the sensor where the masked PDPs are, but the purple flare/grid artifact affects the entire sensor. This effect seems to be caused by the added thickness of the masking layer or perhaps some other property of the sensor’s optical stack.

What appears to be happening in this effect is that light is striking the sensor from the “up” direction and casting a “shadow” from one row of pixels to the row below. This is presumably happening in the gap created by the masking layer, between the CFA layer and the photodiode layer.

Pardon the annoying animated GIF below, but this was the easiest way to visualize what’s going on. This animation comprises three frames: The first frame is the (naturally) monochrome RAW sensor data, the next frame is the raw sensor data with each pixel colorized to match the X-Trans CFA pattern, the final frame is the demosaicked image data (where the grid and purple color can be seen.)

This is from an area of the image which would have been uniformly dark (shadow) were it not for the flare.

As you watch this animation, pay particular attention to the top two pixels in each 2×2 block of green pixels. In the row below, you can see the intensity level that those pixels should have, notice how they’re darker, and that the green pixel below a red pixel is a different shade than the green pixel below a blue pixel? Can you also see that all the blue pixels immediately below a red pixel are darker than the blue pixels below a green pixel and vice-versa?

The green pixels don’t appear to cast any kind of “shadow” in this way, only the red and blue pixels do. Perhaps because the green filter is weaker or because of color shifts caused by the various coating involved or some other effect—the physical particulars don’t really matter at this level of analysis.

This pattern affects every 3×3 group of the X-Trans pattern, and repeats on a 3 pixel period horizontally and vertically across the image, creating the bulk of the “grid.”

OK, but why is this one purple?

It should be obvious from referring to the figure illustrating the X-Trans CFA that every third row of X-Trans has an equal number of red, blue, and green pixels. That is to say, it is 33% green. The remainder of the rows are 66% green.

When a 33% row casts its “shadow” on the 66% green row below it, it is removing a significant amount of green signal from the image (the image of the flare, that is) simply because the 66% green rows have a larger contribution to the green channel. This isn’t even accounting for the fact that none of the green pixels appear to cast this “shadow.” This minus-green effect results in the flare appearing magenta overall.

All told, this “shadowing” effect is responsible for the majority of the magenta tint.

Examples

Well, since you’ve read this far, I guess I’d better show you some examples. Unfortunately, Sancho and I were unable find any conveniently located windmills (trust me, there are at least a couple of dozen people on the planet who will find this joke mildly amusing), so this plastic flamingo lawn nativity scene will have to do.

Side Note: Below is an artist’s depiction of person who criticizes the artistic merit of example images in articles about camera artifacts:

You may think that the example image below isn’t a good one. Please try to bear in mind that the purpose of the example is to show the purple flare/grid artifact in a real-world context, not to present a composition for artistic criticism.

You may be tempted to point out that the image is out of focus, and think that this somehow invalidates the example. It does not. Indeed, it may very well be out of focus, and if you’ve been following closely you will know why: flare (and to some extent any backlighting) causes the on-sensor phase-detect autofocus system of these cameras to go haywire. The camera doesn’t know what’s in focus. It’s hopeless. I suspect that in-focus examples of this problem are the exception rather than the rule.

The image below was shot with the FujiFilm X-T2 using the Fujinon 35mm f/2 lens at f/4.0 and ISO 200.

Close up of purple flare/grid artifact
Uncropped Camera JPEG

What can be done about it?

Unfortunately, not much. From a software perspective, you could insert some preprocessing before the demosaicking algorithm to identify the flare area, add some of the value of the red/blue pixels to the green pixels in the rows immediately below them (assuming the flare usually comes from the “up” direction), thus compensating for the masking shadow.

In addition, you could have a demosaicking algorithm that ignores all of the PDPs, interpolating around them. That would probably get rid of the grid for the most part, and the purple aspect, but doing so would come at a cost to resolution, in particular the green/luminance resolution, an extra quantity of which was supposed to be the saving grace of the X-Trans CFA. This would all be absurdly complicated for a demosaicking algorithm and likely to introduce some new artifacts.

A hardware solution would be to ditch the current method of on-sensor PDAF in favor of something more sophisticated like Canon’s Dual Pixel AF technology (with which such imbalances as described herein are presumably impossible because there is no masking layer and no lost light). No camera or lens yet designed can perfectly reject flare; this problem is less about the flare occurring, which is inevitable under the described conditions, and more about the way the sensor responds to the flare.

It’s worth pointing out that all of these problems could have been anticipated by FujiFilm’s engineers before ever coming close to the manufacturing stage—they just didn’t think it was a big deal. Given that they went on to release three more camera models with the same sensor design after the problem was discovered by the public, I wouldn’t hold my breath waiting for them to issue a recall over it.

Conclusions

It is obvious from the single-pixel extent of the artifact in the raw sensor data that this is a sensor-level effect. The grid/purple flare is not due to internal reflections between the sensor and the lens (although this kind of reflection certainly can and does happen with mirrorless cameras), but to optical or electrical effects occurring within the sensor package itself.

Any precautions to avoid or eliminate flare may reduce the the symptoms, but the disease remains. The underlying problem is exacerbated by presence of the X-Trans CFA, which imparts both the grid-like luminance effect, and the majority of the magenta colored chrominance effect.

As can be plainly seen, the overall effect isn’t particularly noticeable at typical (at the time of writing) Web display resolutions. The purple tint is present at all display sizes, whereas the grid requires magnifications higher than about 25% to become apparent. However, the grid, consisting of high frequency detail, is subject to enhancement by sharpening and other post-processing steps, which may increase its visibility at lower resolutions.

Whether or not you consider an image with this artifact to be completely ruined is entirely up to you—many people consider an image with any degree of flare to be ruined—but this is definitely a lower level of fidelity than I’m accustomed to seeing in similar situations. Furthermore, as already mentioned, due to the mechanisms involved, it is likely that the grid artifact and phase detect AF failure are, shall we say, comorbid and linked.

This artifact is characteristic of the FujiFilm X-Trans II/III sensor, allowing affected images to be easily be identified. I can’t recall another instance of such a complex and distinctive artifact. It is, however, easily avoided by abstaining from photographing backlit subjects.

Is this mere tilting at windmills? I don’t believe so. The problem is real, if infrequently encountered, and having an understanding of its nature can help us avoid it.


About the author: Jonathan Moore Liles is a photographer, writer, musician, and software architect living in Portland, Oregon. The opinions in this article are solely those of the author. You can find more of Jonathan’s work on his website, Instagram, and Bandcamp. This post was also published here.

PSA: Olympus E-M1 Users Reporting Issues with Firmware Update 4.2

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If you’re an Olympus OM-D E-M1 user, we’d suggest you hold off on updating to the latest firmware. Version 4.2, which added some focus stacking capabilities, seems to be leading to corrupt images and locking up cameras.

Several user reports have popped up online claiming updated cameras “lock down and create corrupted images” when you’re using the Focus Stacking, Keystone, HDR, or Starlight modes.

We’ve reached out to Olympus for comment and will update this post when we hear back. Until then—or, rather, until they issue a fix, since this seems like a legitimate issue—we suggest not updating, or staying away from the aforementioned features if you already have.

(via 43 Rumors)

GoPro Karma Recalled: Drones Losing Power and Falling Out of the Sky

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GoPro made the shocking announcement today that it’s recalling each of the ~2,500 GoPro Karma camera drones sold so far in the 16 days since it has been available. Why? Because there’s a chance the $799 drone can lose power during flight and fall out of the sky.

In a note to customers published on its website titled, “Karma Recall and Return Information,” GoPro says that it’s instructing all Karma owners to return their drones for a full refund while the “performance issue” is being investigated and fixed.

“GoPro is committed to providing our customers with great product experiences,” GoPro says. “To honor this commitment, we have recalled Karma until we resolve a performance issue related to a loss of power during operation.”

“We plan to resume shipment of Karma once the issue is addressed.”

GoPro says that a “small number” of Karma units have “lost power during operation,” and that it’s asking every Karma owner to stop using the drone and send it back to where they purchased it from, even if the drone appears to be working correctly.

No injuries have been reported thus far, but you don’t want the drone to suddenly fall on someone’s head or somewhere out of reach — you need to return both the Karma and everything it came with if you’d like a full refund.

The recall is a massive blow to GoPro, which has seen its stock fall from highs of $80+ in October 2014 to about $10 today. GoPro also had its highly anticipated Karma launch in September 2016 overshadowed by the launch of the Mavic drone by competitor (and drone market heavyweight) DJI.

GoPro's Karma (bottom right) has faced stiff competition from DJI's Mavic (upper left).
GoPro’s Karma (bottom right) has faced stiff competition from DJI’s Mavic (upper left).

DJI’s Mavic is more compact than GoPro’s Karma and has been found to be greatly superior in some early reviews.

As with Samsung’s global recall of its Galaxy Note 7 smartphone, which has been found to spontaneously catch fire and explode, GoPro has an uphill battle if it hopes to convince current Karma owners to invest in the Karma again once the issue is identified and fixed.

Google Pixel Has a Lens Flare Problem, Software Fix Coming

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Google says its new Pixel smartphone has the best smartphone camera ever made, but it looks like the company still has some issues to work out. Pixel owners are reporting that the camera sometimes captures annoying lens flares in photos.

The problem was first reported yesterday on Reddit and in Google’s Pixel User Community forums.

“Most of us have been noticing an issue with the camera – rather extreme lens flaring happening when a light source is glancing off the side of the camera,” a Pixel owner named tusing writes. “All store units our group has tested are exhibiting the effect; all RMA and return units are also exhibiting the effect […] the overwhelming majority is able to reproduce the effect.”

“Troubleshooting steps, such as factory resets, Camera app rollbacks, and safe mode do not have any effect on this effect. This is clearly an issue with the camera itself.”

The flare shows up as a halo spanning a section of the frame, as these example photos on Twitter show:




Others owners report that photographing the exact same scene with other smartphones doesn’t create the same lens flare.

Google’s camera product lead, Isaac Reynolds, quickly responded to the complaints by confirming the problem and promising a fix.

“First, for some background — flare is a property of ALL camera lenses,” Reynolds writes. “However, we have seen reports about this ‘halo/arc flare’. This is the specific kind of flare that appears as a bright/low-contrast arc in the corners of the frame.”

What’s interesting is that even though the flare may be caused by the hardware design, Google is planning to correct the flare using software.

“You can expect a software update in the next few weeks that will improve the effects of this issue,” Reynolds says. “We’re working on some algorithms that recognize the halo/arc flare, characterize it mathematically, and then subtract it from the image.”

The bad news is, because each Google Pixel is manufactured to exact specifications, every Google Pixel will have this flare — getting your phone replaced won’t do anything. Also, the future software fix will require you to shoot in HDR+ mode if you’d like to have the flare removed digitally.

“…by doing things in software, we are able to make Pixel’s camera even better over time,” writes Reynolds. “This is one of those ways.”

Parody Film Pokes Fun at Photo-Crazed Wedding Guests

Wedding photographers these days often find themselves competing with guests who spend the whole ceremony shooting photos with smartphones, DSLRs, and even tablets. The short film above, titled “Unplugged,” is a parody that shows why couples are sometimes choosing to have an “unplugged” wedding free of these distractions.

“For our friends in the industry and to wedding guests everywhere,” writes creator Bryon Neal Daniels of SLF Weddings. In the first 2 days after being shared on Facebook, the video was watched nearly 2 million times and liked over 8,000 times.

“Hopefully we got a few people to #unplugthewedding,” Daniels says.

Nikon Users Reporting Another Shutter Issue with the D750

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Despite rave reviews, the Nikon D750 has been plagued by several issues since its release in September of 2014. And even though Nikon did issue a recall of certain models due to a well-documented flare problem, it seems another potentially-related issue with the shutter is being reported in the forums.

The original issue had to do with a defective shutter mechanism that caused a dark band and ugly lens flares to show up in photos captured by affected cameras under certain conditions.

The new issue—which is being reported by a few users on Nikonistas but has been cited as early as December 2014 in the DPReview forums—may be related to the flare problem, but seems to affect some serial numbers that were not included by Nikon in the expanded recall.

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According to several forum posts we found reporting this issue (from as far back as December of 2014 till March 31st of 2016), affected cameras will lock up when taking a photo (often after the first shutter actuation of the day) and display an “err” message. In some cases, all that’s required to move past this is a second shutter click; in others, removing the battery, SD card, lens, or any combination of the three may help; for some, even that didn’t work, and the camera had to sit for 24 hours before it would work again.

“My 750 locked with mirror up upon first powering it on and taking the first picture of the day approximately a half dozen times,” writes stevef1961 on the DPR forums.

“In mine, which is among the serial numbers announcement Nikon […] it misses the first shot of the day. After pressing the shutter button, it appears frozen, it shows “err” in the viewfinder until you press a second time not released. After that first failed photo, the rest work all day… until the next day that is exactly the same,” easagp writes on Nikonistas.

“After an ordinary shutter press to take a photo, the camera unexpectedly went into a hard error,” writes another user, form, on Fredmiranda. His camera had just come back from getting its shutter fixed by Nikon.

The reports sound suspiciously similar, and users who replied to the DPR and Nikonistas forums posted links to other similar discussions or reports of similar (if not identical) issues that they themselves had experienced.

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The most troubling report of this nature came on a DPReview forum 6 months ago. In reply to the DPR quote above, user eridano writes:

I had the same problem 10 days ago: at first a series of blocks with “ERR”, then the shutter finally crashed.

The local repairer doesn’t believe me, he said that I “must” have touched the shutter blades. But I never did, I didn’t even clean the sensor (the 750 is only 5 months old)… So I must pay € 400 for shutter replacement.

Is this the beginning of a new problem for the D750?

It’s too early and these are too few reports to tell if this is indeed the beginning of “a new problem” for the Nikon D750. But Nikon expanded the recalled serial numbers once before; if this issue is widespread, they may have to do it again.

What about you? Are any of our readers who use the Nikon D750 experiencing this issue? And is your serial number included in the recalls issued by Nikon? Let us know in the comments or send us an email through the tip line.

(via Quesabesde)

The Problem with Modern Lenses

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When talking about the right kind of lenses, there are some characteristics that people should not be buying for most photographic practices. In this post I’ll be discussing the problem with modern lenses.

Here’s a summary of what I call the Lens Intention Diagram.

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Based on my “right” gear manifesto, lenses shouldn’t be (or aim to be):

Sharp: All lenses today are sharp. Most modern lenses emphasize sharpness in the edges and corners where nothing interesting is truly happening (most of the time).
Corrected at Max Aperture: It is a modern belief that you are supposed to get perfect corner to corner resolution at the maximum aperture of the lens. Wrong.
Amazing at Bokeh: Achieving blurred circles of confusion in your shot is as impressive as your ability to afford the lens.
Unidimensional: And there you have it, the result of 1-2-3 turns your lenses into a specialized lens for extreme low-light photography and nothing else, thanks to the addition of up to double the glass element count in the barrel.

The Outdated Quest for Speed Led to the Quest for Resolution

Gorgeous A7r2 + 35 1.4 ZA (12 elements including 2 ASPH and 1 Super ASPH) combo shot on Ricoh GR (7 elements lens)
Gorgeous a7R II + 35 1.4 ZA (12 elements including 2 ASPH and 1 Super ASPH) combo shot on Ricoh GR (7 elements lens)

Up until recently, camera sensors couldn’t achieve usable image quality above ISO 1600. Fast lenses were then great options to freeze motion in low ambient light but they were not well corrected. Fast forward a few years later, many camera sensors have reached or crossed the useable ISO limit of 6400.

This increase in sensitivity gain would allow lenses to be used at smaller aperture rather than at their native to correct for chromatic aberrations. Yet the birth of the Zeiss Otus and Sigma Art prime lens series in late 2012/early 2013 encouraged the idea of a massive highly corrected fast aperture prime lens described as optics with “no-compromise”. This was wildly accepted by photography gear critics and a community of image resolution seekers, yet the results of such a thing are quite far from versatile.

The Wrong Message

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Even today, the lens review industry considers “high performance optics” to possess properties located well below the high-aperture and optical correction by glass element line of the diagram. This, of course, educates the consumer to seek “optical correction” in order to fully enjoy the value of his high-resolution camera. The message is usually transmitted through:

1. 100% crops of each areas of the frame, emphasizing corner and edge correction for edge to edge resolution.
2. 100% crops of the blur circles of confusion (the bokeh).
3. Numerical “sharpness” values based on how many “lines of resolution” is measured.
4. Persecuting vignetting and distortion as defects of the lens.

Often referred as a “cold and clinical lens”, such an ideal lens has quite limited abilities, especially if the user wishes to shoot other things aside from high-contrast for “ultra-lowlight or ultra-thin-DoF handheld photography”: a lens in the red zone, below the “line of realism” wouldn’t perform as well for spaces, still or moving life capture compared to a another with much less correction and much more 3D as well as tonality.

These high-speed lenses not only cost more since their require more corrective glass, but the micro-contrast treatment would need to be applied at abuse.

Modern Prime Lenses Fall Below What’s Natural

Sigma ART 35mm f1.4 (13 elements including 3 ED + 2 plastic ASPH + 1 FLD glass) Notice the flat nose and head.
Sigma ART 35mm f1.4 (13 elements including 3 ED + 2 plastic ASPH + 1 FLD glass) Notice the flat nose and head.

If we look at those approximate diagrams per brand/system, we notice the gravity of the obsession for optical correction.

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By either cheapening glass quality or relying too much on micro-contrast treatment (ineffective against too many glass elements), modern lenses are barely able reproduce the imperfect life despite heavy post-processing by the user. Of course, they were built to photograph in situations where the human eye cannot reach or recognize. Their rendering are often described as “digital” or “flat”. You simply cannot cheat the diagram.

Nikkor AF-S 35mm f1.8G (8 elements including 1 plastic hybrid ASPH). Notice the flat nose and head.
Nikkor AF-S 35mm f1.8G (8 elements including 1 plastic hybrid asph). Notice the flat nose and head.

Older Prime Lenses Don’t Just Have Character, They Simply Record Life

ikkor AF 35mm f2D (6 elements of multicoated pure glass). Notice the 3D nose and head.
ikkor AF 35mm f2D (6 elements of multi-coated pure glass). Notice the 3D nose and head.

Many people shoot film because they believe in a “there-is-something”, “true”, “organic” and “genuine” reproduction of life with “interesting” or “unique” character. Simply put, those low-element count multicoated “film” lenses were built for maximum physical transparency, 3D rendering and rich tonality

These also possess such life recording abilities when used on a digital camera. If we look at most lenses made before the surge of high-element count primes, many of them share common design and rendering properties.

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Lenses used by professionals then, lenses used by the professionals in the know, now.

Nikkor AF 105 f2DC (6 elements of multicoated pure glass). Notice the 3d nose, head and trees
Nikkor AF 105 f2DC (6 elements of multicoated pure glass). Notice the 3D nose, head and trees

Solution for Modern Lenses: Improve Glass and Coating Quality on Old Designs

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The late 9-element Zeiss ZF.2 35mm f/2 Distagon is very close to striking the absolute balance of maxed-out quality glass and coating while flirting with the limits of optical correction before losing the ability to reproduce life. A lens of such versatility would definitely produce more life-like images than the digitally flat ones that the review world is advocating.

Zeiss Distagon ZF.2 35mm f2. Notice the 3D nose, head and scotch glass
Zeiss Distagon ZF.2 35mm f2. Notice the 3D nose, head and scotch glass

If manufacturers would only revisit the philosophy of old optics, we would witness the true evolution of life-like image quality. Sadly, the solution will require way too many changes in the industry.

A Call for Change

Nikkor AF 85mm 1.8D (6 elements of pure multicoated glass). Notice the 3D nose, head and depth around the protester girl
Nikkor AF 85mm 1.8D (6 elements of pure multicoated glass). Notice the 3D nose, head and depth around the protester girl

If people are listening right now and realizing the gravity of the situation, here are some suggested changes in photography gear talk:

1. A clear indication of lens application specialty based on where the lens is situated within the lens intention diagram.
2. If a lens is made for extreme low-light and thin-DoF shooting, don’t suggest using it on anything else!
3. An honest discussion on the lens’ renditional abilities based on how it measures on the 3 opposing properties of the lens diagram.
4. A better and simplified (5th grade level vocabulary) education of lens usage in relation to modern sensors of high gain and advanced signal-to-noise ratio firmware algorithms (i.e. encouraging correction by aperture instead of correction by glass element)
5. A strict demand for true improvement to modern optics by rejuvenating old designs with improved high quality glass and coating.
6. A better and simplified education of lens design (what plastic elements do vs. full glass vs ED, etc…) to justify eminent increased pricing.
7. A more critical and educated demography of users.

New Lens Acquisition Behavior

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Simply buy the lens design that is made closest to your desired photography style. There’s a high probability that most of the lenses made for capturing life are affordable, out there, and deemed “obsolete” by today’s review standards. Although these are increasingly hard to find in good shape, I wish you good hunting!


About the author: Yannick Khong is a photographer based in Montreal, Canada. You can find more of his work and writing on his website, blog, Instagram, and Flickr. This article was also published here.