Do lenses have subjective qualities not shown in any technical specification?

Started Mar 31, 2013 | Discussions
Alex Notpro
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Do lenses have subjective qualities not shown in any technical specification?
Mar 31, 2013

I used to love the 50 f/1.4D and 85 f/1.8D  on my D7000, but now that I upgraded to a D700 I need a longer lens for portraits. I prefer old 'D' lenses over their AF-S equivalents, as I believe they perform better as investments in addition to taking photos that are 99.9% as good as the newer lenses (I once compared the 50 f/1.4D to the 50 f/1.4G for several days before making this sweeping generalization).

So. Thorn between the 85 f/1.4D, 105 f/2DC, and 135 f/2DC, and not wanting to spend too much money upfront (I don't like buying lenses with the intention of returning them), I decided to buy two old primes to study and compare: 105 f/2.8D Micro, and 135 f/2.8 AI-s.

So now I can play around with cheap primes in the 3 focal lengths, 85-105-135, before deciding which one to drop $1,000+ into.

Now here's where it gets interesting...

After much real-world testing, mostly in "home studio" conditions (kids in my living room, bounced flash and off-camera flash), I quickly concluded that I don't like the results from the 105 f/2.8D Micro.

When bench-testing (lab-like conditions), the 105 is sharp. In real usage, it's too often un-sharp and the colors seem off and unattractive, and boring. The 85/1.8 is a reliable stunner, always sharp in the plane of focus, even wide open, beautiful colors across the frame. The 135/2.8 is a close second, despite being handicapped by the Manual Focus.

Hence the question. Do lenses have subjective qualities not shown on any technical specification? Otherwise, what exactly in the technical specification of these lenses, is the 105/2.8D lacking relative to the other two?

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RBFresno
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Re: Do lenses have subjective qualities not shown in any technical specification?
In reply to Alex Notpro, Mar 31, 2013

Alex Notpro wrote:


Hence the question. Do lenses have subjective qualities not shown on any technical specification?

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Yes.

RB

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paulski66
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Yes. Of course.
In reply to Alex Notpro, Apr 1, 2013
No text.
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krikman
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Re: Do lenses have subjective qualities not shown in any technical specification?
In reply to Alex Notpro, Apr 1, 2013

Yes. Lenses have important and decisive characteristics behind specs. Most common annoing flaws are:

1. Optical.

- flares at some conditions;

- looses contrast contra-light;

- complex distortions at wide end; (i.e. not straigt barrel or picussion)

- while most lenses washes far plane smoothly, only few actually renders 'near focus plane bokeh' or as I call it "focus plane transitions". It is most common flaw and reason that some lens "draws" picture, but some not.

In reality is shows as a very thin focus plane sharpness surrounded by harsh transitions. for example of such 'bokeh' picture ruined by 55-200vr, but some defective lenses make it much worse.

This sample from 55-200vr shows bad and intrusive bokeh

2. Mechanical.

- focus ring path too short;

- focus ring rotates with autofocus;

- change lenght while zoom or focus;

- wobbles and clicks inside;

- "eyepiece blow" while zooming.

3. Handle.

- Too thick for comfortable handling;

- Sigmas zoom rotates contra direction for Nikon.

- some zooms distribute weight to far end while zooming.

- Feeling of plastic and metal finish.

Optical qualities often meet in lens-to lens variations, while mechanical and handle issues are common for all pieces of same model.

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krikman
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Re: Do lenses have subjective qualities not shown in any technical specification?
In reply to krikman, Apr 1, 2013

Another sample from kit 18-105. Picture destroyed by harsh rear plane while othervize good enough.

Sorry I can't find completely bad pictures from tests because they are gone obviuosly.

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PSCL1
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Re: Do lenses have subjective qualities not shown in any technical specification?
In reply to krikman, Apr 1, 2013

Yes, lenses have "subjective qualities" but these are probably a combination of factors which, if identified, could be objectified (e.g. field curvature, vignetting, resolution). E.g. the old 105 f2.5 AI Nikkor was considered the greatest portrait lens of the film era and magical properties were imputed to it.  Consideration of the lens data sheets Nikon used to publish for all lenses revealed that it's optimum aperture was f4, not the typical f8 of most lenses.  Shooting at f4 and normal head-and-shoulders portrait distances, the person being photographed would just pop out from the background, a very 3-dimensional look.  But it was a product of optimal aperture at optimal distance for the likely subject.   If you really want to see posters rhapsodize subjectively about lenses, try the Leica forum, where countless Leica lens owners rationalize the special look of those lenses.  I personally think what they are perceiving is an evenness of resolution and of illumination over the entire field of the lens, giving it a particularly 'real' look.  But I've never seen Leica or anyone else put forth any lens data to support that hypothesis.

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Rich Rosen
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Re: Do lenses have subjective qualities not shown in any technical specification?
In reply to Alex Notpro, Apr 1, 2013

Of course they do. On this forum alone, I read how much warmer, more dreamy, sharper one lens of a particular FL is over another lens of the same FL. Those terms are not in any specifications I know of.

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Emil Varadi
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Definitely. Some lenses can be magical.
In reply to Alex Notpro, Apr 1, 2013

Though there will be a number of posters who will dispute this and will try to ridicule those who can see it.

My belief is, they cannot see it, as some people for example cannot see color just black and white.

We has been disputing this at great lenght in this thread:

http://www.dpreview.com/forums/post/50268190

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Leonard Shepherd
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Re: Be realistic!
In reply to Alex Notpro, Apr 1, 2013

One of the first "rules" of marketing or selling is to emphasise a products strengths, and to play down or to avoid drawing attention to any weaknesses

There are often important to some, but not necessary to all, performance differences between lenses not mentioned in the manufacturers specification.

There is then the subjective issue of different photographers having different needs.

Someone on a limited budget never making larger than A3 prints can be perfectly happy with a "do it all" lens like they 18-200 DX or FX equivalent. For someone regularly shooting in low light anything slower than f1.4 may be unacceptable.

This is one of the reasons why Nikon provide photographers with a number of choices for any specific focal length.

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Leonard Shepherd
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Grevture
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Agree, and ...
In reply to krikman, Apr 1, 2013

krikman wrote:

Yes. Lenses have important and decisive characteristics behind specs.

I agree with (most) of what you brought up as examples of "flaws" (or "character as some might call it ) but just wanted to add on to that slightly:

We all have a wild variety of personal hang-ups, habits, preferences, idiosyncrasies that combined with all the characteristics of lenses - both those in and those out of specification - mean some people will like some lenses more then others and it is hard to define exactly why and how it became like that.

What I am getting at is that photography is a creative endeavour which at times makes it hard to pin down what it is with a lens, a camera or a combination of lens and cameras which works better then other combinations.

Example: I absolutely loved the 135/2.0 DC on my D70s and my D200, but I could not use it at all on my D2H and later my D3 - for me that lens was excellent on a small body camera, and did not work at all on a big body camera. Rational? Not very, but none the less how it was for me and I ended up selling the 135. Optically it was the same, in terms of handling it was not.

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Grevture
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Yes, lenses have subjective qualities not shown in technical specifications
In reply to Alex Notpro, Apr 1, 2013

Alex Notpro wrote:

I used to love the 50 f/1.4D and 85 f/1.8D  on my D7000, but now that I upgraded to a D700 I need a longer lens for portraits. I prefer old 'D' lenses over their AF-S equivalents, as I believe they perform better as investments in addition to taking photos that are 99.9% as good as the newer lenses (I once compared the 50 f/1.4D to the 50 f/1.4G for several days before making this sweeping generalization).

Such a generalization might work for some lenses, but certainly not for others. The AF-S 85/1.8 most certainly is a better lens then the older D model. Same with the 85/1.4. For some the difference will be clear and important, for others less so. As for the 50/1.4 I would agree with you - the newer AF-S might be better optically (like noticeably better OOF rendition), but is bigger and focuses slower. I'll keep my Af-D until it falls apart.

So. Thorn between the 85 f/1.4D, 105 f/2DC, and 135 f/2DC, and not wanting to spend too much money upfront (I don't like buying lenses with the intention of returning them), I decided to buy two old primes to study and compare: 105 f/2.8D Micro, and 135 f/2.8 AI-s.

In that context you could also have tried the AI-s 105/2.5 - a brilliant gem of a lens

So now I can play around with cheap primes in the 3 focal lengths, 85-105-135, before deciding which one to drop $1,000+ into.

Now here's where it gets interesting...

After much real-world testing, mostly in "home studio" conditions (kids in my living room, bounced flash and off-camera flash), I quickly concluded that I don't like the results from the 105 f/2.8D Micro.

When bench-testing (lab-like conditions), the 105 is sharp. In real usage, it's too often un-sharp and the colors seem off and unattractive, and boring. The 85/1.8 is a reliable stunner, always sharp in the plane of focus, even wide open, beautiful colors across the frame. The 135/2.8 is a close second, despite being handicapped by the Manual Focus.

Keep in mind these are lenses made with rather different design goals, a close -up lens like the 105 Micro is great for close ups, for working with extension tubes, for getting maximum sharpness at say f8 or f11 ... While a 85/1.8 is meant to be used wide open or nearly so, and has less focus on contrast and more on pleasing out-of-focus rendition (contributing to a subjectively "better" sharpness.

So, yes, they will be different, because they were made with different uses in mind.

Hence the question. Do lenses have subjective qualities not shown on any technical specification? Otherwise, what exactly in the technical specification of these lenses, is the 105/2.8D lacking relative to the other two?

I would not say it is really lacking, just that it is good for different things then you might have used it for. It is after all first and foremost a close up lens, hence the 'Micro' in its name.

Say we had thrown in the 70-200/2.8 VR II in the comparison and went of to shoot a basketball game. Then the zoom would probably have excelled, and the others would have appeared somewhat (or a lot) less useful. That does not mean it was anything wrong with them, just that they were used slightly out of their context while compared to a lens made for exactly such a context.

Some lenses are general purpose tools which work reasonably well in almost all conditions, but excel at none. Others are more specialized, purpose made, and more or less fail at things they were not made for, while excelling at the very things they actually were designed for.

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By the way, film is not dead.
It just smell funny

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