Are differences in lenses only seen at 100%?

Started Feb 8, 2013 | Discussions
tamasine
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Are differences in lenses only seen at 100%?
Feb 8, 2013

I've read many reviews of various lenses and certain ones are said to be sharper than others, especially in the corners.

Is the lack of sharpness in some lenses only seen when you print at a certain size, or can you notice it if you (for example) display it on a monitor at, say, 1920 x 1200 resolution or less?

The reason I'm asking is that I'm looking at a few lenses for FF.  The best value one to go for is the Nikon 24-85 VR but website reviews suggest that this is just an 'ok' or 'good' lens on FF.

If this verdict is made after blowing the image up to 100%, would I be right in saying that if printed at a smaller size (A4 or A3), or even downsized for the web (1600 pixels), you might not be able to tell the difference in sharpness compared with a lens that most people say is sharp, i.e. the 24-70 f2.8?

I'm just wondering that in the real world, without lab tests, if most people would actually notice the difference between many lenses?

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Re: Are differences in lenses only seen at 100%?
In reply to tamasine, Feb 8, 2013

I think the differences in lenses is fairly clear to see, not only sharpness, but color, contrast and very much rendition, even at smallish monitor size.

If you go to any imag site and compare various lenses, sites such as pbase, even without viewing 100%, just at normal size, then assess differences, between lenses of same focal length, same aperture, then different focal lengths too, differences should be evident, unless specific lenses are very close in optical construction.

I am not saying that you will not get good images from some lenses, certainly unless a lens is fairly bad, you should be able to, particularly after post processing, but that there are clear differences in look, in affecting post processing decisions, in options for the image and in ability to create differently with different lenses.

Then, to compare for example, a consumer variable aperture zoom to a pro fast zoom is valid in absolute terms, but not comparative. Say $500 vs $1,500?

Obviously the pro zoom will have better optics, tolerances and just be faster with all that entails. For $1,000 more it should.

In this example, is the additional 1,000 a good value proposition for you, in money return terms  (if you do it for sale) or aesthetic terms?

Or would the consumer zoom together with a fast prime for another couple of hundred, be more suited to your needs?

That is a choice.

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Daniel Lauring
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Re: Are differences in lenses only seen at 100%?
In reply to tamasine, Feb 8, 2013

The larger you view the image the more obvious the differences in sharpness.  The Nikon 24-85 VR F3.5-4.5 kit lens is very good.  No worries with that one.

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Brev00
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Re: Are differences in lenses only seen at 100%?
In reply to tamasine, Feb 8, 2013

What is your concern about corner performance?  Has that been an issue with your current gear or is it a topic that has emerged more in your research than your actual photography?  The reason I ask is you are in a gear forum where a large percentage of members do examine images closely for edge-to-edge performance.  Many might have a professional status and thus must get top performance for prints and sales.  Some might just enjoy perfection.  On the other hand, there are many, professionals and otherwise, who might not care as much about corner performance.  It might depend on the subject matter, style of photography, or training.  To give one example, some lenses are reportedly better at central sharpness and bokeh than overall sharpness.  That lens is designed that way and bought for that performance.  I know in my pics there is often nothing but water, blue sky, or a blurred bg in the corners.  Plus, I do correct my pics at 100% but I evaluate them aesthetically only at normal viewing levels.  I would guess that you can buy a less than perfect lens and still get a knockout performance from it.  I hope so.  Anyway, if you can't see it, I wouldn't worry about it (unless you are a pro).

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tamasine
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Re: Are differences in lenses only seen at 100%?
In reply to Brev00, Feb 8, 2013

Hi

Yes, it’s emerged in my research more than in my actual photography.  I’m using DX now but looking to move to a D600.  I think (hope) that this will be a big step up from my D90, but finding a walkabout lens that has very good IQ and isn’t too big/heavy is the problem.  The 24-85mm would be perfect for me in terms of focal length, size, weight and price.  I do take in what reviews say about various lenses and whilst most sites say it’s a good lens with very good centre sharpness, they also say this sharpness reduces quite a bit as you go towards the edges/corners.

I tend to agree with everything you say.  I reckon they and many professionals on this site analyse the lens’ performance in depth and are looking for optimum performance.  I’m not a professional and don't crave absolute perfection.  If I’m using a wide aperture to isolate a subject then I’m not worried about edge-to-edge sharpness anyway.  I guess it’s in landscape and general outdoor scenes I was thinking of.

Would you say that the 24-85 on a D600 would beat a D90 with 16-85 in terms of image quality?  That’s what I need to know, because if it doesn’t then I have to look for a better lens, which means bigger and much more expensive.

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anotherMike
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Re: Are differences in lenses only seen at 100%?
In reply to tamasine, Feb 8, 2013

Good topic. My experience is that slight to moderate differences in image quality usually can be detected in prints at or larger than 13x19" in most cases. Obviously subject matter plays a huge role; something with fine detail to the edges and corners will show more differences than a seascape with a few rocks at sunset which has realistically less fine detail.

An example: I ran a print (13x19" size) comparison - a blind test - between the Nikon d7000 with 60/2.8G AFS against the Nikon D700 with the 85/1.8G - roughly similar focal lengths on a scene with detail out to the edges and corners. Blind test, 4 out of 5 viewers could see the difference at normal viewing differences (and preferred, as I did I, the print from the d700, mostly because of the better corner performance). However, if I were to do that test at 8x10" or web sized images, the differences wouldn't really be noticeable.

-m

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tamasine
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Re: Are differences in lenses only seen at 100%?
In reply to Bajerunner, Feb 8, 2013

Hiya

I've looked at images from various lenses and they all look pretty good...I guess if I compared them at full resolution I would see differences in resolution (maybe you have better eyesight than me!).

But that would only be relevant if I were to print large wouldn't it?

The big problem with something like a 24-70 is the size. Obviously, it's really expensive too, but the fact is I don't want to lug a heavy camera/lens all day whilst walking around a city on holiday. VR is more important than a fast lens so I'm basically left with

24-85

24-120

16-35

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Brev00
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Re: Are differences in lenses only seen at 100%?
In reply to tamasine, Feb 8, 2013

What about getting a prime or two?  One of the reasons I would like to go to full frame would be to have my 50mm lens back to the way it looked and worked on my film cameras.  Light, fast, much less cost buying one by one (depending on max aperture) than those pro zooms.  The Sigma 35 1.4 is getting all sorts of raves (relatively pricey, though).  I think getting a prime would be a great way to go plus, depending on the prime, you would not have to worry about corner performance or whether the iq is up to your dx kit.  The 85 1.8 is supposed to be a great performer.  You will probably want that fl eventually.  Think along fresh lines.

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tamasine
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Re: Are differences in lenses only seen at 100%?
In reply to Brev00, Feb 8, 2013

I do have 4 primes (only 3 would be good on FF I guess)

50mm f1.8G

60mm f2.8D

AIS 24mm f2.8

35mm f1.8DX

I know that generally, primes give better IQ than zooms, and they are light, which is definitely a plus point.

I had considered the 28mm f1.8 and the Sigma 35mm f1.4 but since I shoot a lot in museums and low lit areas, I'm guessing that VR would help me more than a wider aperture?

I'm open to changing my view on this though if I've got this wrong.

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Ray Ritchie
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Re: Are differences in lenses only seen at 100%?
In reply to tamasine, Feb 8, 2013

Probably you'd have to start by asking, "100% of what?"

If you're talking about starting from a D800 image (7360x4912) or a D600 image (6016x4016) and downsizing to 1920x1200, then I strongly doubt how often you'd be able to see substantial difference between, say, a 24-70 f/2.8 and a 24-85 f/3.5-4.5VR. Here, for example, is a D800 image taken with the 24-85VR lens, downsized to 2016x1134 (yes, it's cropped, but for esthetic reasons, rather than technical - the lower corners are intact):

Ceiling mural, The Vatican

Technical data: 40mm, f/4.5, ISO 1600, and 1/60 sec.

And here's a full-size image from the same lens at the same location:

Mosaic, St. Peter's Basilica, The Vatican

Technical data: 46mm, f/4.5, ISO 1600, 1/100 sec.

I don't have the 24-70 yet, so can't share comparable images from that one, but the quality of the 24-85VR images both downsized to full screen-size and viewed at full D800 resolution leads me to believe the differences between this and other lenses are unlikely to be noticeable at very much less than full resolution. I'm sure there will be some specific cases (most likely around 24mm) where you can find some differences at, say, half or full resolution, but I don't think you'll see them at 1920x1200.

If you'd like to look at further examples, you can visit my Italy gallery on Flickr, where there are probably at least 90 images from the 24-85 f/3.5-4.5VR; many of them are available at resolutions of 1200 to 1800 pixels on the long side. The gallery can be found here:

Italy

Ray
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Brev00
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Re: Are differences in lenses only seen at 100%?
In reply to tamasine, Feb 8, 2013

tamasine wrote:

I had considered the 28mm f1.8 and the Sigma 35mm f1.4 but since I shoot a lot in museums and low lit areas, I'm guessing that VR would help me more than a wider aperture?

I'm open to changing my view on this though if I've got this wrong.

The only thing is I read the 24-85 suffers from some difficult distortion and is not well suited to shooting architecture.  Plus, you will often be at the extreme wide end of your zoom.  Since you have a normal prime, you could get a stabilized wide angle lens. Of course, the Nikon 16-35 vr is, again, pricey.  No tripods or monopods allowed in the museums?  I would think it would be pretty easy to hand hold a light prime to a pretty slow shutter speed.  How many stops do you find the 16-85 gives you at 16mm?  Remember, the D600 will enable you to shoot at a much higher iso than you are used to.  You might be able to skip vr at these fl's with that body.  Just thinking out loud.

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RBFresno
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Sharpness is not synonymous with Resolution
In reply to tamasine, Feb 8, 2013

tamasine wrote:

I've read many reviews of various lenses and certain ones are said to be sharper than others, especially in the corners.

Is the lack of sharpness in some lenses only seen when you print at a certain size, or can you notice it if you (for example) display it on a monitor at, say, 1920 x 1200 resolution or less?

The reason I'm asking is that I'm looking at a few lenses for FF. The best value one to go for is the Nikon 24-85 VR but website reviews suggest that this is just an 'ok' or 'good' lens on FF.

If this verdict is made after blowing the image up to 100%, would I be right in saying that if printed at a smaller size (A4 or A3), or even downsized for the web (1600 pixels), you might not be able to tell the difference in sharpness compared with a lens that most people say is sharp, i.e. the 24-70 f2.8?

I'm just wondering that in the real world, without lab tests, if most people would actually notice the difference between many lenses?

HI!

"Sharpness" is one of those terms that is casually thrown around (particularly in this forum), but might mean difference things to different people.

As you are using it, I'm guessing that you are actually referring to resolution.

If fact resolution is only part of what constitutes "sharpness":

Sharpness Tutorial- Cambridge in Color

Sharpness; Luminous landscape

So, to partly address your question, it is possible to have images taken with lenses of equal resolution, but having different sharpness. and these difference can be seen at less than 100%.

Nikon D4 ,Nikkor 200mm f/2G IF-ED AF-S VR
1/1000s f/2.8 at 200.0mm iso1100

RB

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BobSC
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Re: Are differences in lenses only seen at 100%?
In reply to tamasine, Feb 8, 2013

If I set my 18-55 to 50, I don't have any trouble telling which were the 18-55 and which were the 50/1.4 AIs. Mainly color and contrast, which gives the perception of sharpness. And yeah, I can see it in small sizes as well as large.

It's a big enough difference that my wife noticed.

So between two "professional" lenses there probably wouldn't be nearly as much difference, but if you really knew the two lenses you could probably do pretty well sorting out which was which. Maybe it's like telling twins apart -- a casual observer might not, but their mother sure does.

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PHXAZCRAIG
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Re: Are differences in lenses only seen at 100%?
In reply to tamasine, Feb 8, 2013

OK, here's a comparison for you.   Can YOU see a difference?   It's not back-to-back changing of lenses on the same camera, but I think the situation is close enough to be useful.  D80 with 18-200vr compared to D300 with 24-70 (and circular polarizer).  If anything, the filter on the 24-70 cuts the sharpness a bit.

Similar aperture, shutter speed and ISO.   Downsized for the web, so you're not looking a 100% pixel peeping.   Both processed (by me) with the same software.

D80, 18-200vr

D300, 24-70 F2.8 with circular polarizer

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tamasine
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Re: Are differences in lenses only seen at 100%?
In reply to Ray Ritchie, Feb 8, 2013

Ray - thanks for the pics!  Your photos with the 24-85VR look really good at 2016 pixels.  I'm sure even printed at quite large sizes they would look good.  I see that you used the 24-85VR in Italy as a walkabout lens - this is what I was thinking of, since I'd be going to Europe quite a bit, plus I also have a trip to Boston in April.

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tamasine
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Re: Are differences in lenses only seen at 100%?
In reply to Brev00, Feb 8, 2013

I've used both the 35mm f1.8 and 16-85VR inside the Natural History Museum in London on my D90.  I found the pics with the 16-85 had better colour, contrast and overall quality.  I cannot say that one was sharper than the other though, just that the ones taken with the 16-85 were better to my eyes.

I get what you mean about the D600 allowing me to use far higher ISO so I could use a prime and still keep the shutter speed fast enough for a steady shot.

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tamasine
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Re: Sharpness is not synonymous with Resolution
In reply to RBFresno, Feb 8, 2013

Hi RB

Yes, I guess I mean resolution, since it's possible to make an image sharper in post processing but not possible to increase resolution (is this correct?).  Your original size crop of the Darth Maul guy is fantastic btw!

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tamasine
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Re: Are differences in lenses only seen at 100%?
In reply to PHXAZCRAIG, Feb 8, 2013

Well, the second pic looks 'better' to me...more contrast, colour and yes, I'd have to say sharper too.  Was this a trick question? 

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Ray Ritchie
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Re: Are differences in lenses only seen at 100%?
In reply to tamasine, Feb 8, 2013

Yes, I did get the 24-85VR specifically to be a travel lens when I got the D800 last August - it's quite a bit lighter than the 24-70, so it's more comfortable to carry for an entire day than a pro-grade lens would be. I still have intentions of getting something like the 24-70 for the D800, but I'm holding off until I see whether Nikon will decide to bring out something new this year. The 24-85 has actually surprised me with its quality. I also have several other lenses that are OK on the D800, including a 50mm f/1.8 and a 35mm f/2, and my old 17-55 DX lens works really well on the D800 in 1.2 crop mode as well as DX, so I'm not in a hurry.

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Ray Ritchie
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Re: Are differences in lenses only seen at 100%?
In reply to PHXAZCRAIG, Feb 8, 2013

I'd have to say that comparison is rigged, Craig. The polarizer helps to increase the color saturation and the contrast, so it improves the perception of sharpness. Without an 18-200 shot with polarizer, it's impossible to say whether the 24-70 is visibly better in a downsized image.

I'm not saying the 18-200 is "just as good" as the 24-70, of course. Just that, for small screen-sized images, the difference between the two is a lot less than this particular comparison would seem to imply.

Ray
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