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Thread: character?

  1. #1
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    character?

    In a recent post Marc commented that sharpness is not a major distinquishing issue in modern MF lenses, but that character is.

    I am unsure how one defines character, but I think you know it when you see it. Certain lenses tend to balance contrast and detail in noticeable ways. To help me understand this better, I would be very interested in experienced impressions of current-generation MF lenses that have strong character.

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    Super Duper
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    Re: character?

    I dont know if you call it recent design but I would name the 110/2.0 which has a very nice transition between focus plane and background, and renders skin great, sharp without looking harsh-dont know how to explain it.

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    Re: character?

    This is gonna get really subjective

    I don't think it has to be a super fast lens to have a pleasing character.

    Two Zeiss lenses from the Contax 645 system come to mind: the 120/4 Macro which has a phenomenal ability to gently transition from razor sharpness to OOF areas, I've yet to use another Macro from anyone including Hasselbald that matches that lens (it'll be interesting to compare it to the Leica S 120 macro when I get one) ... and one of the last lenses they made for the C645, the 55mm which has the nicest front OOF Bokeh I seen so far.

    I think the "Character king" of the H system is the 100/2.2 ... even stopped down the contrast is there but it exhibits gentle roll off to OOF areas.

    I like the character of the Leica S lenses so far ... at first I didn't like it so much, until someone pointed out that you have to rethink your sharpening techniques. Made a world of difference.

    Someone once explained the difference between edge sharpness verses micro contrast that a lot of Leica and Zeiss lenses exhibit ... but I forgot what he said exactly ... but I know it when I see it

    Besides "Bokeh", I think one of the more pronounced character traits is the creation of a 3D illusion ... a realistic looking separation from the background.

    A lot of lenses can produce a sharp subject and decent Bokeh, but the whole thing looks flat and lacks depth. Zeiss seems to have a real knack for this 3D trait ... and I'm seeing it from the S lenses also, not unlike the M lenses in many ways.

    -Marc

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    Re: character?

    this is a BIG topic as Marc suggests - I buy camera systems according to the glass that I can hang off it for this very reason.

    I have three categories of lens types in which I then choose what my eye prefers

    1. Old school lenses - Zeiss and Schneider in C / F and Rollie mount - sharp at focal point smooth roll off into OOF and pleasing bokeh - including the kings F/FE 100/2 and Planar in Rollie mount. In this old school I have a great admiration for Mamiya RZ glass.
    2. Modern Studio lighting lenses - typically these are H series or could be Mamiya LS series - higher contrast sharper and perform well stopped down for greater DOF
    3. Super sharp Aspherics for the camera use Schneider and Rodenstock - especially wides

    I can't comment on S2 range of lenses - yet. I suspect that they will evidence the character of the latest aspheric M lenses - higher contrast extreme sharpness pleasing bokeh.

    However the S2 will be able to draw on the C and F series fro Zeiss - if I want teh old school look.

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    Re: character?

    Quote Originally Posted by cunim View Post

    I am unsure how one defines character, but I think you know it when you see it. Certain lenses tend to balance contrast and detail in noticeable ways.
    It's interesting how many of us might use different words and ways to describe similar things. I've always considered "character" as coming from a flaw with a lens that produces a like-able quality. For example, a lens with extremely soft edges and a strong vignette might be described as having character if a photographer likes those qualities even though they might be considered flaws in terms of lens design. Or a poorly color corrected lens might produce weird aberrations and "glows" in highlights that might be considered a positive character trait by people that want to make dreamy pictures.

    Of course, no lenses are perfect and each one has it's slight advantages and disadvantages at various apertures. But the majority of modern lens designs for digital that are coming from the best companies (like Schneider, Rodenstock, Zeiss, Leica etc) are all relatively free of major flaws especially when used at their optimum apertures. I've generally considered contrast to be the major differences between the highest quality and best lenses. None of them really have flaws that would give them "character." But instead, they just have various levels of contrast and a preference for a certain level of contrast can make the decision between lenses easier for a photographer. For example, I read recently on this forum that Alpa recommends Rodenstock for Leaf backs and Schneider for Phase backs because of the way the particular brand of lenses balances contrast with the backs.

    Lenses with flaws can also have differences in contrast qualities. But I'm making the distinction that the differences between a well-designed lenses might mostly only really be related to subtle variations in the rendering of contrast. Whereas, lenses with design flaws tend to have other variations between them besides just contrast and those differences can best be described politely as a character of the lens.

    The last thing I'd want from a six thousand dollar modern digital lens is character. To my way of thinking, character is what comes from ebay, nostalgia, or the used section at the local camera shop. I'd prefer to shop for 6 thousand dollar lenses based on how well they perform without flaws and makes decisions between similar performing lenses based upon how they render contrast differently.

  6. #6
    Optechs Digital
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    Re: character?

    I think it is in the instruction booklet for Holga cameras that advises the user that things like lens flare and fringing and even fogging are, unique bits of character, and not to be seen as defects or flaws.

    It also reminds me of when my wife and I were shopping for our first house quite a few years ago. A lot of house flyers advertised "old world charm". We really liked the sound of that until we realized it actually meant a crappy old run down shack.

    Best,
    paul

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    Re: character?

    Quote Originally Posted by Optechs Digital View Post
    A lot of house flyers advertised "old world charm". We really liked the sound of that until we realized it actually meant a crappy old run down shack.

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    Re: character?

    "Character" is one of those loaded English words that can drive people learning the language crazy. Big difference between "He is a character" and "He has character." or, He plays a character." One means idiosyncratic, the other moral or ethical strength, and yet the other means to mimic.

    When regarding photographic optics, my definition of character is the root meaning: the combination of qualities that distinguishes one thing from another. Otherwise, we go off into the weeds as far as communication is concerned.

    IMO, all lenses have character, even $6,000. ones, and that character need not be "flaws" or Holga like performance, nor retina slicing sharpness alone The Contax 120 APO Macro has a character that visually separates it from other 120 macros, but is hardly loaded with flaws. So, what those image characteristics are, and what appeal they may have is all in the eye of the beholder, and what the photographer wants to achieve with his/her imagery.

    In context to the OPs original question, quoting another thread where I forwarded the notion that modern MFD lenses have become less defined by "sharpness" ... my personal feeling is that the focus on that "sharpness" and "resolution" has reached obsessive-compulsive levels to the detriment of other characteristics that appeal to the human eye on emotional levels.

    Subjectively, I see a lot of sterile and lifeless 2D looking images lauded for their sharpness and resolving power ... with 300%+ crops to prove it. However, the over-all image is flat as a pancake and subjects often look cut out and pasted on their backgrounds ... including some from $6,000. optics.

    As long as this obsession prevails, the lens designers will full-fill it as users vote with their wallets. I also believe that, for the most part, this forum is highly engaged in this pursuit ... but not all photographers are shot in the butte with the resulting lack of other characteristics ... and I am one of them.

    -Marc

  9. #9
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    Re: character?

    marc, 100% about to important things u mentioned:
    1. the obsessive-compulsive attitude to sharpness-resolution. well, this is probably because of two reasons, one is that those technical qualities has easy indication for judgment, does not really need a "developed taste/eye" etc. and the second thing is that it is easy to talk about it because of in addition to "easy indication for judgment", there is also element for progress and competitiveness. these may have just little to do about good photography, but gear-heads in obsessive-compulsive state of mind dont seem to care about photography :-)
    2. i do like the Holga, and i do like the idea and the look of "defect becomes effect", but this is another easy way to define "character", and only interesting to some point, and even here, thing quickly become one-dimensional, impressed by defect/effect alone and ignoring many other sides that makes photography.

    overall, your definition is really good, i say it as a man with philosophic/logic education :-) i would add, some things/lenses/films/lights have something singular about them, and it gives them unique temper, appealing one, even thrilling in some cases, and maybe here those things have "character" in terms of idiosyncratic (+interesting).

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