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10-24-2012, 12:04 AM - 4 Likes   #1
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K-5 IIs -- The Pros and Cons of Omitting an AA-Filter

The K-5 IIs has created a lot of interest due to its lack of an AA-filter.

Many prospective buyers only seem to see the positive aspects (avoiding the additional blur caused by an AA-filter) but appear to not fully understand the disadvantages, claiming that artefacts such as moiré do not appear in practice and/or that any image issues are easy to remove.

In the interest of avoiding future disappointment, I'd like to clarify the pros and cons of a camera like the K-5 IIs that omits an AA-filter.

Two important messages upfront:
"Personally, I consider a sub-100MP camera w/o Bayer-AA filter technically flawed which is and must be sold with a disclaimer."
Statement made by Falk Lumo (falconeye). Falk is a Physicist and knows a thing or two about optics.
"For most photographers, we recommend using cameras with antialiasing filters. Antialiasing substantially reduces the risk and severity of demosaicing artefacts and moire. Apparent softness can be effectively overcome with Photo Ninja's excellent sharpening filter, which uses deblurring technology that can effectively compensate for antialiasing blur."
Statement made by the creators of the Photo Ninja RAW converter (of Noise Ninja fame).

Why do we have these two clear pro AA-filter positions?
Well, for the same reason DSLR manufacturers have been equipping their cameras with AA-filters for years without anyone forcing them to spend money on a precision part.

An AA-filter is an integral part of an imaging system using a sensor with a Bayer colour filter array. Contrary to common belief, an AA-filter is not required to cut-off frequencies that would cause aliasing in the luminance channel. The fill-factor (the ratio of sensitive versus insensitive sensor area) is so high in modern sensors that luminance moiré does not play a significant role.

However, an AA-filter is nevertheless required because a sensor with a Bayer colour filter array only records one colour component (Red, Green, or Blue) per sensel. Without the blurring caused by the AA-filter, a set of photons hitting one sensel would only have one colour component recorded for them. The role of the AA-filter is to distribute this set of photons so that it hits sensels of all kinds (Red, 2x Green, and Blue).

The following makes it clear that, strictly speaking, "AA-filter" is a misnomer for the birefringent plates that are put before imaging sensors. Watch the following demonstration of birefringence.


I hope it becomes clear that the AA-filter can be compared to a beam-splitter in a 3-sensor camera, that diverts the Red, Green, and Blue components of an image to dedicated image sensors. I furthermore hope that it becomes clear what the consequences are when no AA-filter is present:
  1. false colour: if single sensor sensels are excited in isolation, they will show up as colourful dots (red, green, or blue, depending on which type of sensel is excited), even though the image was monochromatic, for example.
  2. colour moiré: a consequence of the above, but much more visible as the mesh-like structure of moiré shows up on a much larger scale. Big image areas can be affected by (see the last example on the Photo Ninja page).
  3. demosaicing artefacts: The demosaicing algorithm that re-constructs full RGB information for each pixel from all the individual R, G, and B components in a RAW file can become confused by detail that should not have been recorded in the first place. The result are maze artefacts or similar artificial structures.
There are many reasons why moiré or other artefacts caused by removing an AA-filter do not always rear their ugly heads:
  1. The spatial frequencies in the scene are too low.
  2. The lens is wide open and acts as a low-pass filter.
  3. The f-ratio is high enough to cause sufficient diffraction.
  4. The lens is slightly defocused.
  5. There is motion blur from camera shake or subject movement.
In all these cases it would be better to remove the cause of the problem rather than slightly mitigating its effect by not using an AA-filter.

Note that the (necessary) blurring effect of an AA-filter can be completely undone without loss of information, if the original image has pixel-level sharpness. Studio shots, using flash to stop any motion with good lighting allowing the lens to be used at optimal apertures, for example, can be capture-sharpened to optimal detail levels. Anything a camera without an AA-filter records beyond that, is false detail and can potentially destroy parts of the image.

Contrary to what is often stated, moiré cannot easily be removed:
  • It is always a manual process, requiring detailed attention. There is no way to "batch process" images, repairing moiré in an automated manner. You may leave the repair to a RAW converter that automatically addresses colour moiré but notice that one still can see where the moiré was. In other words, one may can easily suppress the false colour as such, but getting rid of the luminance pattern that comes with colour moiré isn't that easy at all. Furthermore, the converter may mess with information that it shouldn't mess with.
  • Information has irrevocably been lost. Some invented information has to replace the ugly moiré patterns and this patching may or may not look good.
In contrast, the capture-sharpening required to remove the little loss in contrast caused by AA-filters, can be applied globally to an image and thus be made part of a default import setting (e.g. in Lightroom).

Only if the original image does not have pixel-level sharpness, due to any of the reasons listed above, then not using an AA-filter is actually of advantage. The reason is that the original blur, plus the blur added by the AA-filter adds to an overall blur that cannot be exactly reconstructed to the original detail.

Of course we are already seeing many comparisons allegedly demonstrating how the K-5 IIs blows the K-5 (II) out of the water in terms of recording detail. Note however, that few of these demonstrations have the rigour behind them that is required. A very prominent example is based on manual focus with focus confirmation by the camera (very inaccurate) and uses f/11 as the f-ratio (lots of details has been lost at such an aperture already).

Whenever you see a comparison, know that the version that was captured with an AA-filter always requires capture-sharpening. The Bayer colour filter matrix is ingenious in the sense that it records colour while recording spatial information at the same time. The blur that was necessary for the correct colour encoding, negatively affects the spatial aspect, which is why appropriate levels of capture-sharpening are always required. This is as essential as the correct white balance or gamma encoding. Do not let yourself be fooled by comparisons that show the same levels of sharpening applied to both AA-filter and AA-filterless versions.

I hope the above helps you to make an informed decision. If you expect almost all images you take to have some real world blur (slight defocus, camera shake, lens abberations, etc.) then the K-5 IIs may be for you.

If you aim at 100% pixel-level sharpness and use tripods, studio lighting, etc., to obtain the latter, the K-5 IIs may not be for you. Any detail beyond the colour resolution of your camera will cause artefacts and if these details are regular, they will cause highly visible and large colour moiré structures.

Arguably, most images will exhibit some slight blur and most scenes won't excite objectionable colour moiré. However, if colour moiré strikes, it can ruin your image and one could argue that this is worse than the slight negative effect of an AA-filter on your images. After all, most people will not exhibit their work in a form (e.g., poster size to be looked at from close distances) that would make the difference between AA-filter vs no AA-filter worthwhile. The issue with moiré is that moiré structures can be very large, certainly much bigger than the minute differences in pixel sharpness that are obtained by omitting an AA-filter.

The higher the number of MP, the less need there is for an AA-filter because real world blurring effects will play the role of a natural AA-filter. One such real-world effect is diffraction. When image sensors will record 100-200MP then even diffraction at f/2.8 will be a sufficient source of blur. Lower f-ratios will cause other lens aberrations to dominate, so higher numbers of MP will not be necessary in order to avoid colour moiré. At 16MP, the K-5 IIs has probably too few MP in order to make the absence of an AA-filter truly practical.

My position is that the vast majority is much better served with a complete image forming system. Your mileage may vary.

EDIT: I should have written that my best guess is that "the vast majority is much better served with a complete image forming system." Fast forward to a better argued position by falconeye.

EDIT 2:
I concur with the assessment by Imaging-Resource:
"Even then, a touch of unsharp masking on both images will often leave the K-5 II's result near-indistinguishable from that shot with the K-5 IIs.

For some purposes, that little extra sharpness might be worthwhile, but for my money it's simply not worth the risk of a hard-to-remove artifact in a once-in-a-lifetime shot. The slight reduction in sharpness is one I'm willing to make, for the peace of mind it brings.
"
You may check out some real world K-5 IIs moiré examples (which is not to endorse the review whose scoring is broken in many ways).


Last edited by Class A; 06-08-2013 at 01:38 AM.
10-24-2012, 12:27 AM   #2
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QuoteOriginally posted by Class A Quote
Many prospective buyers only seem to see the positive aspects (avoiding the additional blur caused by an AA filter) but appear to not fully understand the disadvantages, claiming that artefacts such as moiré do not appear in practice and/or that it is easy to remove.
I think people do understand that, and accept it. There is not much point talking about it (the negatives) once you do. For instance, in my case, I'm certainly interested in that less blur, and as far as the risk of getting moire and false color if they occur in shots then I'll have to deal with it (if I really want the shot) or simply throw it out. Probably throw it out. In other words, I don't really care about the moire because where it occurs I'll simply delete those shots, but my keepers will be nicer. And of course I'm also aware that the kind of shooting I do generally doesn't lend itself to moire, and if it did then I'd be silly to get an AA-less camera.

On the "it is easy to get rid of" point: getting rid of the false color and weird colors in moire patterns *is* easy -- I can zap those in 10 seconds with a color noise filter. What is harder to get rid of is the wacky pattern itself -- if it is a small detail you can just blur it and it won't be noticeable (although then if you add global sharpening it can come back so you have to careful the order you do things). Large areas and patterns are a bigger problem, but again I'd just toss such a shot. If I'm going to shoot things prone to moire, I'll use a different body. Having a IIs as your only body probably isn't the best idea unless you only do landscapes or whatever and you're just not worried about it, but some of you guys seem to think that no one but you is smart enough to make this decision for ourselves and recognize the trade-offs...
10-24-2012, 01:13 AM - 1 Like   #3
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QuoteOriginally posted by vonBaloney Quote
...some of you guys seem to think that no one but you is smart enough to make this decision for ourselves and recognize the trade-offs...
My post was not meant to school anyone.

The copious amount of hype surrounding the K-5 IIs, however, deserves a measured counterpoint, AFAIC.
10-24-2012, 01:22 AM   #4
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QuoteOriginally posted by Class A Quote
The copious amount of hype surrounding the K-5 IIs, however, deserves a measured counterpoint, AFAIC.
Let's be honest here, if the K-5 IIs wasn't announced alongside the K-5 II, the announcement wouldn't even be remotely exciting to current Pentax users.

But on a serious note, doesn't the 645D lack an AA filter as well? I haven't seen any complaints about moire, noise, etc.


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10-24-2012, 01:38 AM   #5
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QuoteOriginally posted by Adam Quote
Let's be honest here, if the K-5 IIs wasn't announced alongside the K-5 II, the announcement wouldn't even be remotely exciting to current Pentax users.
I'm not sure in what way anyone had been dishonest.

I'm not sure either how to interpret your comment. Does the fact that Pentax did not have anything more exciting to show at Photokina 2012 than a warmed up K-5 mean that a sister model without an AA-filter has to be exciting news?


QuoteOriginally posted by Adam Quote
But on a serious note, doesn't the 645D lack an AA filter as well? I haven't seen any complaints about moire, noise, etc.
  1. The fact that you haven't seen any complaints does not mean there are no issues. After all, there are a lot less 645D shooters around and it is probably fair to assume that with equipment like this, they are busy earning money and have hence no time to hang around in forums.
  2. The 645D has a 40MP sensor. This means it is much harder to excite artefacts like colour moiré. If the K-5 IIs had 40MP then I'd get one myself and be much less concerned about warning people about the perils of not using an AA filter.
10-24-2012, 01:39 AM   #6
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Correct me if I'm wrong, if the issue *does* arise, can the user not apply a filter(Or filters) to their optics to compensate? They would lose the additional sharpness for sure, but it would be doable, no?

Just took a snoop around for such a thing, apparently, someone has developed a removable AA filter for the Canon 5D. It rests in the chamber, and has just enough clearance for the mirror to move. This particular one was designed to reduce moire in video files for the camera, however. (I'd assume it would need to be stronger for it to be a standalone, however the concept is there nonetheless).

Last edited by Eulogy; 10-24-2012 at 01:49 AM.
10-24-2012, 01:51 AM   #7
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QuoteOriginally posted by Class A Quote
Does the fact that Pentax did not have anything more exciting to show at Photokina 2012 than a warmed up K-5 mean that a sister model without an AA-filter has to be exciting news?
Frankly, yes, it does, given our desperation as a community for signs of forward movement by Pentax In any case, I will let you guys go back to discussing the topic at hand.

The only other thing I'm going to add is that the K-5 II s is the first filterless APS-C DSLR, which is sort of a bold move on Pentax's part, and it wouldn't make sense if it ended up not being a positive surprise. They must have done a great deal of research before even considering such a product...

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10-24-2012, 02:14 AM   #8
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QuoteOriginally posted by Class A Quote
  1. The 645D has a 40MP sensor. This means it is much harder to excite artefacts like colour moiré. If the K-5 IIs had 40MP then I'd get one myself and be much less concerned about warning people about the perils of not using an AA filter.
I thought that the moire was affected by pixel density, and not the total amount of pixels?

10-24-2012, 02:57 AM   #9
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QuoteOriginally posted by timcatn Quote
I thought that the moire was affected by pixel density, and not the total amount of pixels?
Pixel-density is the relevant parameter to consider when comparing sensors of different sizes when you compare images taken with the same lens from the same distance. Then indeed, sensors with the same pixel density (e.g., Nikon D800 and Pentax K-5 IIs) will show moiré under the same circumstances.

However, note that in the above scenario the FOV will be different, i.e., the larger sensor will capture more of the scene around the crop that the smaller sensor shows.

When you compare equivalent images, i.e., images taken from the same distance, same DOF, same exposure then only the total amount of pixels matters. The sensor with the higher amount of pixels captures the same images just with more resolution (completely independently from sensor size).

Hence, the sensor with the higher amount of pixels requires finer detail for moiré to be created, i.e., will exhibit it fewer times than the sensor with the lower amount of pixels.
10-24-2012, 03:05 AM   #10
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As an owner of several cameras without Aliasing filters ( Leica M8,M9,Leica Monochrom,Pentax 645D) I find the results I get from these cameras perfectly acceptable, I prefer them over cameras with Aliasing filters because I don't have to spend much time sharpening files, and they preserve the qualities of the lenses the images were taken with. I don't think we will ever see a camera with a 100mp sensor smaller than what is currently being used in medium format.

QuoteOriginally posted by Class A Quote
The fact that you haven't seen any complaints does not mean there are no issues. After all, there are a lot less 645D shooters around and it is probably fair to assume that with equipment like this, they are busy earning money and have hence no time to hang around in forums. The 645D has a 40MP sensor. This means it is much harder to excite artefacts like colour moiré. If the K-5 IIs had 40MP then I'd get one myself and be much less concerned about warning people about the perils of not using an AA filter.
I agree as a 645D user myself, I have tried torture tests to see if I can cause moire - and yes under certain circumstances it can be a big issue. However there are a few options open to photographers that find Moire objectionable - stop the lens down to the point where diffraction attenuates the frequencies that are causing it, or use the lens wide open - since most lenses don't perform that well at their widest apertures and the shallow DOF that comes with doing this can help reduce the probability that moire will be a problem. There is software that can reduce/mask the unpleasant visual effect of moire but they cannot eliminate it, as always I prefer to actively eliminate it as opposed to removing it afterwards.

Last edited by Digitalis; 10-24-2012 at 03:20 AM.
10-24-2012, 03:08 AM   #11
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QuoteOriginally posted by Class A Quote
...
My position is that the vast majority is much better served with a complete image forming system. Your mileage may vary.
Thanks for a great post.
Very concise and informed article.

Wrt to this last sentence: Here you make an assumption. I prefer to say: "The absence of a Bayer-AA filter improves many images and deteriorates a few -- with the balance shifting towards the former while the MP increase".

It is up to any photographer to decide if the many or the few images count more. A contract photographer will probably try to avoid any deteriorated photos at all while the hobbiest will just care about a few keepers (and may have another camera too). I wouldn't speculate where the vast majority sits.

Having said that, I got quite a few images with color moiré patterns with my D800E (maybe 1% and it is more than twice the MP) but only one made me loose a keeper (an otherwise very nice portrait shot).

QuoteOriginally posted by Adam Quote
Let's be honest here, if the K-5 IIs wasn't announced alongside the K-5 II, the announcement wouldn't even be remotely exciting to current Pentax users.

But on a serious note, doesn't the 645D lack an AA filter as well? I haven't seen any complaints about moire, noise, etc.
IMHO, Pentax should have left the s-option to the K-3. The improved AF should be exciting enough.

It really looks like the s-option was planned for the K-3s which however wasn't ready for PK 2012. So, they probably decided to at least move the s-option into the K-5II.

IMHO, a K-5II Bayer-AA filter which is weaker than in the K-5 (like what Nikon did in the D800) would have provided a more compelling offer. The complete removal of the Bayer-AA filter in a consumer model with only 16MP is shifting engineering decisions to the end user. Or Pentax could have been innovative to emulate the Bayer-AA filter using the sensor shift motor (allowing for an adaptive AA filter depending on shake, aperture and still/video mode).

The problem is that we are going to see a K-01, K-30, K-5, K-5II, K-5IIs, K-3, K-3s and support from companies like DxO in their converters for all these versions is unlikely. E.g., Nikon only made a D800E but no D600E or D3200E. And it made a lot more sense because the D800E is actually able to compete with MF while the K-5IIs cannot (Pentax has the 645D to do this job).

Wrt a lack of complaints for 645D ... I believe Pentax even forwarded this as an argument to release the K-5IIs: a lack of complaints for the 645D (and D800E actually too).

But if a camera is sold with the disclaimer that it may produce color moiré then people of course don't complain (and 645D, D800E, K-5IIs all have that disclaimer). And at 36/40MP it is less likely to occur than at 16MP.

QuoteOriginally posted by Eulogy Quote
Correct me if I'm wrong, if the issue *does* arise, can the user not apply a filter(Or filters) to their optics to compensate? They would lose the additional sharpness for sure, but it would be doable, no?
The mirror box AA filters for the 5DmkII and D800 (VAF-D800) probably blurs the image (I am not sure). This is not as precise an operation as what the birefringent Bayer-AA filters do and may or may not be applicable to the high resolution needed for still photography (the VAF-D800 is made for 2 MP).

However, it is possible to create a filter screwed to the lens. Such a filter contains a large number of scattering perturbations (like holes) at random positions with diameters (e.g. hole diameter) corresponding to roughly an f/14 aperture (for a K-5). E.g., for a 31mm lens, this is ~2mm per hole. You may drill as many as possible 2mm holes into the lens cap at as random as possible positions to see the effect. I am not sure if it works though (because the combined wavefront may not be distorted enough). Nevertheless, blurring filters for a given combination of focal length and pixel pitch can be purchased (maybe working by a different principle).
10-24-2012, 03:23 AM - 1 Like   #12
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AA filter is just for the dumb masses

[deleted]

Last edited by beholder3; 08-11-2013 at 07:16 AM. Reason: [deleted]
10-24-2012, 03:45 AM   #13
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QuoteOriginally posted by falconeye Quote
Thanks for a great post.
Thanks, Falk!
It goes without saying that a lot that I've written has been informed by you, so thanks again for your contributions here.

QuoteOriginally posted by falconeye Quote
It is up to any photographer to decide if the many or the few images count more. A contract photographer will probably try to avoid any deteriorated photos at all while the hobbiest will just care about a few keepers (and may have another camera too). I wouldn't speculate where the vast majority sits.
I agree with you and have amended my original post with a pointer to your more reasoned position.

Thanks for the other good points you've made as well.
10-24-2012, 04:34 AM   #14
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QuoteOriginally posted by Class A Quote
Contrary to what is often stated, moiré cannot easily be removed: It is always a manual process, requiring detailed attention. There is no way to "batch process" images, repairing moiré in an automated manner. You may leave the repair to a RAW converter that automatically addresses colour moiré but notice that one still can see where the moiré was.

Well here is where I wish I would have paid more attention to the details; perhaps even taken some notes.

I've seen still photographers use programs such as Adobe CSxx (substitute in any recent edition) in addition to at least one plug-in where it wasn't all that difficult to remove moire from a rather large scale raw file - do it in a relatively short manner of time - and then have it ready for publishing.


And then there are video cameras. Some of the higher end video cameras out there have the ability to (also) have their filters removed. I personally have seen Panavision and RedOne cameras that have no (AA) filters on them. Yet those same production facilities also have the ability to pay for some of the most expensive software and editing suites in the world. But they are also able to reduce and/or eliminate the effect.

If they are able to do it, then it i alo able to be easily adapted to consumer software - also noting the first example.


I'm in line to get one of these newer model cameras without the filter. But I will also keep my cameras that do have the filter already in place. I expect minial issues for use without the fiter. It will be quite adaptable to.
10-24-2012, 05:07 AM   #15
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A nice write-up !

A couple of points need stressing again and again.

The birefringent 'AA' filter 'blurring effect' is different to that which you'd get from defocus or diffraction, the whole idea being that you split a point source into four images spaced by the right amount. Someone should plot one of those Airy pattern 3D plots to demonstrate this to the unbelievers.

In real life moire will probably be a lesser problem than colour fringing at contrasty edges. It will be interesting to see how the various demosaicing algorithms cope with this.

Most of the time any extra detail recorded will probably get mangled in jpeg subsampling and compression anyway.

Last edited by kh1234567890; 10-24-2012 at 05:17 AM.
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