View Full Version : The R-D1 and Lenses: Contrast

Sean Reid
04-11-2005, 06:03
SimonPJ posted a comment on another thread that began an interesting discussion of the R-D1, various lenses and contrast. I figured this topic deserved its own thread. My reply was:

"...regarding dynamic range (which is similar to most DSLRs):

1. Consider trying some of the older, lower contrast lenses from Canon, Leica, etc. This option is not as easily available for DSLRs.

2. In RAW conversion in PhotoRAW, try changing the black and white points so that they don't clip so early. The default settings clip both ends of the tonal scale quite noticeably. Sometimes just moving those black and white points can recover a suprising amount of detail on either end (or both).

In my notes to the PhotoRAW team, I've asked them to consider modifying the program so that one can specify settings before batching (as opposed to the camera just picking up the tags from the in-camera settings). One could have a default set of black and white point settings for various lenses to maximize the dynamic range of each. For example, I'm about to start working again on a set of files made with the (superb) Nokton 50/1.5 in very contrasty sunlight. On my current frame I have the white point set to -12 and the black point set to -19. It varies from frame to frame but one could choose default settings for a given lens and apply them for the initial batch conversions."

DaShiv then posted:

"That reminds me, Sean -- glad to see you're doing contrast testing on the fast lenses, since I'm curious to see which fast and low-contrast options are out there. I love the 35 'lux ASPH but I do find myself dialing a little bit of -EC to protect highlights at times, especially outdoors. I'm waiting to see if the VC 40/1.4 or similar alternatives might work better under high contrast conditions."

Two more comments from me then.

1) I recommend that everyone interested in this topic play around a bit with the black and white points in PhotoRAW. I've been shooting a lot with the Nokton 50/1.5 this weekend (deciding if I want to buy one - I do). That lens is nearly as contrasty as the Leica 50/1.4 Asph. I've found that with the proper white and black point settings, I can preserve a fairly wide dynamic range using that lens.

2) From my review draft, here are the dynamic range ratings for the 35mm and 50mm lenses. "1" is the ranking of a lower macro-contrast lens that holds the widest range of detail in an Epson RAW capture of a contrasty subject. This is a snippet quote from the review:

"Preservation of Detail Across the Dynamic Range of the R-D1: 35mm lenses

1. Canon 35/2.0
2. Canon 35/1.5
3. Voigtlander Nokton 35/1.2
4. Zeiss 35/2.0 Biogon
5. Leica 35/1.4 Summilux

Preservation of Detail Across the Dynamic Range of the R-D1: 50mm lenses

1. Canon 50/1.4
2. Canon 50/1.8
3. Canon 50/1.2
4. Leica Noctilux
5. Leica 50/2.0 Summicron (non-asph)
6. Voigtlander 50/1.5 Nokton
7. Leica 50/1.4 Summilux

Essentially, some of these lenses convey scene contrast so well that they easily exceed the dynamic range limits of the R-D1 (which has a similar dynamic range to many DSLRs) as well as the dynamic range of many films, depending on their type and processing. Until sensors catch up with this lens performance, the extreme macro contrast of these lenses actually works against them, I believe, for use with digital bodies in bright contrasty light. As technology stands now, I strongly prefer to use the older and lower contrast lenses for “sunny day” shooting because I know that they’re more likely to hold the kind of highlight detail I like to preserve. There’s little point in sending a sensor a broader dynamic range of brightness than it can record. As digital camera dynamic range performance improves, it may become less necessary for the lens to act as a “contrast buffer” between contrasty light and the sensor. "



Sean Reid
04-11-2005, 06:18
I just worked the CV40/1.4 into the list of 35-40 lenses. Revised list:

Preservation of Detail Across the Dynamic Range of the R-D1: 35 - 40mm lenses

1. Canon 35/2.0
2. Canon 35/1.5
3. Voigtlander Nokton 35/1.2
4. Voigtlander 40/1.4
5. Zeiss 35/2.0 Biogon
6. Leica 35/1.4 Summilux

04-11-2005, 06:23
Looks very interesting. It's too bad you mentioned earlier that the ASPH lenses also hold their sharpness the best, at least when it comes to center sharpness (which is much more important than edge/corner sharpness when shooting wide open). Tradeoffs, decisions... :D

Will your full report be ready within the next couple of weeks?

Sean Reid
04-11-2005, 06:42
Hopefully...I keep revising it as I discover new things about the lenses. I'm making decisions myself about what I want to use for fast lenses and that process makes its way into the article. I also have all these other time demands. The section about how the lenses draw also takes a lot of thought and revision. Basically, lenses like the Leica Asph, Zeiss Biogon, Nokton, etc. are (with respect to contrast and the R-D1) somewhat the victims of their own competence. Still, as I mentioned earlier, the slightly less contrasty Nokton can be held in scale very often just with white point and black point settings. The Leica Asphs tend to send the very upper highlights into the stratosphere but, boy oh boy, are they good lenses.


04-11-2005, 08:42
Thanks for the peek at your draft results Sean. What is your favourite thus far and price being no obstacle which 3 would you personally choose to buy?

Sean Reid
04-11-2005, 08:56
Well now, those are magic words: "price being no obstacle". I didn't test 28s in this article but my favorite 28 is the VC 28/1.9 Ultron, otherwise:

35mm: Leica 35/1.4 ASPH
50mm: Leica 50/1.4 ASPH

Other very strong performers: Zeiss 35/2 Biogon, CV 50/1.5 Nokton

On a bright sunny day, I still like to use the old Canon lenses such as the 35/2.8 and 28/2.8. At F/8 or F/11 on a sunny street they're just perfect (to my eye).

I'm buying the 50 Nokton and will decide, over time, if I want to compliment it with a Canon 50/1.8 for sunny day shooting.



Huck Finn
04-11-2005, 09:05
Sean, are these your favorites to use with digital, film, or both?

Sean Reid
04-11-2005, 09:11
Hi Huck,

I don't shoot film anymore so I haven't done these comparisons on a film body. The last time I made lens comparisons on film bodies was several years ago so, while I have my hunches, I couldn't say for sure how these various lenses do on film.

I hope that a wide variety of film remains available to photographers for many years to come but digital is a much better fit for my workflow.



04-11-2005, 09:19
I may follow your lead on this Sean and buy the Nokton 1.5 too. I was going to buy the Nokton 1.2 or 1.4 but they are further down your list in terms of overall performance?
In case you didn't know of it here is a link which has an ongoing live update of all canon LTM lenses on ebay: http://members.aol.com/dcolucci/can.htm

Sean Reid
04-11-2005, 09:48
Yes, in terms of sharpness and microcontrast across the frame, the CV 50/1.5 outperforms the other two. But, as I discuss in this review, a lot depends on how you want your lens to draw. The 50/1.5 is a steal at $329.00 given its performance.