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03-08-2014, 01:35 PM   #1
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color characteristics of lenses

I often read comments on the forum about the color characteristics of lenses, but the comments contrast pretty dramatically with my experiences,so I'd be interested in what others' experiences are.

With digital, it's always seemed like the software I used to process (raw - I don't use jpeg), combined with variation in camera sensors (K100 vs. K200, etc.) has vastly more to do with image color than which brand or model of lens I use.

In the film days, when I'd switch rolls (to another roll from the same batch of professional Kodachrome, Ektachrome, or Velvia) and needed to take an identical image on the new roll (you never knew about that 38th frame, or the 0th, for that matter), the colors were rarely all that close, unless possibly if the rolls (rarely) happened to make it into the same processing run. Sometimes the difference was truly dramatic (especially with K14 - not so much with K12 or E4/6), but almost never did two rolls that weren't processed in the same run look identical, even on casual comparison.

So of all the possible factors, lens color has always seemed to be, by far, the least significant factor in image color. Yet we see so many posts about preferring one lens to another because of color. Particularly, with digital, are colors not easily modifiable enough to make images from one lens look sufficiently like another?

03-08-2014, 02:24 PM   #2
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QuoteOriginally posted by tibbitts Quote
I often read comments on the forum about the color characteristics of lenses, but the comments contrast pretty dramatically with my experiences,so I'd be interested in what others' experiences are.

With digital, it's always seemed like the software I used to process (raw - I don't use jpeg), combined with variation in camera sensors (K100 vs. K200, etc.) has vastly more to do with image color than which brand or model of lens I use.

In the film days, when I'd switch rolls (to another roll from the same batch of professional Kodachrome, Ektachrome, or Velvia) and needed to take an identical image on the new roll (you never knew about that 38th frame, or the 0th, for that matter), the colors were rarely all that close, unless possibly if the rolls (rarely) happened to make it into the same processing run. Sometimes the difference was truly dramatic (especially with K14 - not so much with K12 or E4/6), but almost never did two rolls that weren't processed in the same run look identical, even on casual comparison.

So of all the possible factors, lens color has always seemed to be, by far, the least significant factor in image color. Yet we see so many posts about preferring one lens to another because of color. Particularly, with digital, are colors not easily modifiable enough to make images from one lens look sufficiently like another?
The sensor has a lot to do with it, too. Maybe more. Take a Sigma lens that's available for both Nikon and Pentax, shoot the same scene in raw, develop with the same settings, and it will look different. The greens will be much more yellow with the nikon, the reds will be more saturated with the pentax.. I forget what other differences I saw. A big part of why I was so happy when I switched to pentax is I like the base color rendering better.

But the lens definitely can make a large difference. I can see a clear difference when I take, say, flower/foliage photos with my da* 50-135 vs my Tamron 28-75 (both with hoods on, in the same lighting). The pentax lens is richer, more saturated, especially the foliage.

When I switched from my D5100 to my K5, my post-processing time dropped dramatically because I liked the out-of-camera color so much better. I've noticed that a few of the lenses I have seem to take me more time in post to get them "right" and they're all third party lenses (though the 28mm/2.8 I got for $5 is pretty darned close to pentax colors for being some random company I've never heard of).

I do wish the reds weren't QUITE so saturated, though. They probably worked great with film, but it overdoes red so much sometimes that it wipes out all the details of a red flower unless I desaturate it to the point that it looks pink.
03-08-2014, 06:45 PM   #3
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The effect of lenses on colour must have been more significant in the days before multi-coating when scattered light watered down the tones. Single coating could even shift the hue by passing one wavelength in the spectrum and reflecting the others. In the review of the old Takumar preset 55mm F2.2 is is noted that the lens gives a blue shift. All the surfaces of that lens reflect yellow light. I can see that effect in comparison to SMC lenses by photographing with a fixed white balance.


Still, that is an extreme case, and I am with you in wondering what people are seeing with modern lenses.
03-08-2014, 09:56 PM   #4
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I use only Pentax lenses these days, and don't notice enough colour difference between my lenses to matter. The red super saturation problem, I don't seem to have either, perhaps because I shoot RAW, and when I use RAW+ I have all my JPEG settings at the zero mark, so my JPEGs seem to come out OK as well. The other difference I have is the K10D uses a CCD sensor rather than CMOS. Lousy noise at high ISO, but the colour is gorgeous.

03-08-2014, 10:24 PM   #5
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I work with lenses from many different makers , Canon,Leica Nikon Pentax - and there are significant differences in rendering my different makers. Though each maker tends to stick with the "house" colour rendering there are some odd exceptions to that rule.

With the camera profiling tools I work with it is possible to completely eliminate any variations in colour rendering when working with different lenses and cameras.
03-09-2014, 09:13 PM   #6
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I have cycled many lenses through my K-30: Takumar M42s, A's, F,'s , FA's, a few DA's, and some non-Pentax branded M42s. The color differences between lenses can be very, very dramatic. I don't know all the physics of the glass and the coatings but I'm sure that each lens has its own formula to meet manufacturing, cost, and performance criteria. The factors that make up a lens are no doubt all interdependent on each other. Pull one lever and you'll see three more move in response. Some lenses give very vivid and dramatically saturated colors. Others would give a muted blue tint. Many were neutral but in their own style and taste. A lot of these differences can be compensated for or changed in RAW post processing.

I think the coloration from the lens formula is much less significant than the impact of film chemistry. Maybe that is why lens coloration took a back seat in comparison? Today's sensors have a lot of differences between makes but I think we're also seeing differences in the image engines between camera bodies.
03-10-2014, 11:45 AM   #7
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The Pentax lenses that I have do have a similar color rendering. Some are a bit more saturated (A 70-210, DA 35 2.4), some are a bit less (K 55 f2). Some are more "neutral" but still very pleasing (M 50 1.7, A 135 2.8). But the look is quite similar - even the DA 18-55 kit lens, which can take very pleasing pictures especially on a sunny day.
I also have lenses from Ricoh, Sigma, Tamron and Tokina. They are quite a bit different from the SMC Pentaxes. The only ones that are as pleasing out of camera (yet still different rendering) are my two Rikenon XRs. The others have quite a different look but I have learned to change the pictures (from RAW) in such a way that they "emulate" the things I like about the SMC look (which I also usually change a bit in PP). Not quite exactly, but I can get them close enough that they please me.

On film it's a different matter, you are kind of stuck with the look you get - if you mess a lot with PP it loses the film's appeal, I think. But that limitation can be a blessing, too... PP is not the thing I most look forward to when taking pictures...

Just one point to answer the OP's initial thoughts... yes I can make pictures taken with whatever lens have that "look" that I'm after - but the less I have to mess with the pictures, the better the final result. So if they already are closer to that color rendering, I'm happier - and I think that's what experienced people mean when they say they like a lens' colors. Or maybe it's because they're from the old film days
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