Gear Talk > Lenses

Expensive lenses and "color"; any real basis for gushing praise?

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I have been reading up on 50mm primes.  Obviously Canon has about 4 current offerings, but then you see Zeiss has two.  Manual focus of course, and apparently made out of the same stuff as Wolverine's claws if you believe their user comments, but a lot more than the Canon lenses. 

User comments talk a lot about how the colors are extra saturated, etc... 

Is there anything to this?  Is it anything you could not achieve with mainstream glass and a decent lens hood? 

One of the two Zeiss 50's is not entirely out of my price range, if there was a real reason.  It would do poirtrait duty on my crop frame, at least until I might ever go FF.  Maynbe I could will the thing to my grandkids or whatever.

Mt Spokane Photography:
Not really.  A digital camera photosite only sees black and white.  There are color filters over the photosites, and a color image is produced by what amounts to the most probable guess by the software.
As long as you have reasonably white light (there is nothing you can do if one color is missing), the colors can be adjusted in post processing to anything you'd like.  Adobe Lightroom and others let you set color sliders to get a image color as you like it, and then every image you import will have those adjustments.  You can even make different settings for different lenses.  After all, its only a best guess as to the real color.
Then, after you import images, you can further tweak the color if it does not look to you to accurately reflect what you saw.
Some people like warmer images, some cooler, its a personal preference, so the photographer should do it his way.

It is mostly in the coating and the construction of the lens. A good lens will have higher contrast meaning it is "leaking " vy little stray light into the lens. ie shadow area will hold more details and the color more saturated.  Analogy is that u can see a projected slide show with saturated color and good shadow details in a darkroom but u will see washed out color and reduced shadow details from the projector screen, when the darkroom is leaking in some stray light.  Similar to the darkroom, a poor lens will "leak" more stray light into the lens and "contaminate" the shadow details/color saturation of the lens, creating washed out color.

I once thought that photoshop could bring back the color saturation and shadow details of an image captured by a poor lens.
I was almost right and photoshop indeed can do mostly that. The catch is that you will have more noise
in the shadow details of the image, after u boost the shadow details...  Worse yet,   u may actually lose some shadow details,  since the stray light inside a poor lens has "overpowered/wiped out" some deeper shadow details.

Someone with more technical background pls feel free to jump in, as I only remember the basic principle...

Mt. Spokane is right...and, IMO, wrong.  It's true that a photosite just counts photons of any wavelength, gated by the RGB filters of the Bayer mask, then interpolated to assign a color to each pixel.  Likewise, hue and tone can be adjusted in post.  But, different lenses transmit color differently, and with some lenses that color is 'richer' and 'more vibrant'. Those are subjective, of course.  Can that be replicated in post?  Yes, but it's not so straightforward.  An analogy is the Vibrance adjustment - that's an adjustment of a subset of color tones, and replicating that effect using curves in Photoshop (for example) is difficult and time consuming.  IMO, similar to getting the exposure right in-camera rather than fixing it in post (which can negatively impact IQ), it's better to get more pleasing colors as the image is recorded.  An example I'm personally familiar with is the 85/1.8 vs. the 85L - the former is an excellent lens, and a great value, but compared to the 85L the images are a bit flatter and have less 'pop'. 

Lenses can have better color rendition than other lenses beyond what can be corrected for in post; sensors can have better color rendition than other sensors beyond what can be corrected for in post.  Whether the people posting these comments are right or not, in theory their ideas are sound.

Sensors can have stronger or weaker (or more or less IR sensitive) filters in front of their photo sites.  The more frequencies the color filter rejects (the deeper it's tinted), the more vibrant the colors the camera can reproduce--and the less sensitive the camera is to light.  DXOmark's "portrait" rating measures for this exactly (in theory).

Lenses can be more or less corrected for aberrations, and not just garden variety CA; apochromatic and superachromatic lenses should have dramatically reduced longitudinal chromatic aberration (any lens with ED glass or ULD glass or fluorite should have LoCAs substantially mitigated) and that means as the image goes out of focus its out of focus areas take on magenta/green tints.  A properly corrected lens will not have this!  And that means everything, in focus or otherwise, should be almost perfect in terms of color, and areas that are just out of focus but still smaller than the circle of confusion look better, really everything looks great.

I used to shoot Fuji 4x5 and 120 Velvia.  I stopped shooting film a year or so ago and miss it tremendously.  Velvia has color rendering that, however inaccurate, looks like nothing else.  If you look at Velvia's sensitivity curves they're incredibly narrow and reject most light.  And so photos taken with Velvia have amazing saturation and vibrance.  Just the richest, most outrageously deep colors (and contrast; it had extraordinary d-max).  I also shot with a set of apo-sironar-s, with ED glass, and the lenses and the IQ is intense.  Here's an image shot on 4x5 velvia with such a lens:


Can your dSLR produce colors like that?  I doubt it.

But it can get close.  Optically, better.  The Coastal Optics 60mm f4 is corrected for visible and IR/UV light and produces the most beautiful colors, better corrected than any other lens I know of.  I've seen images taken with it and a Nikon D3 that have amazing color, noticeably better than most even in web size.

Coastal Optics


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