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Why some DSLR files look "plastic"?

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Just purchased my second digital camera - a used Canon 20D with 135mm f2, 1.4x converter, with a 24-70mm f2.8 thrown in for good measure. All in near mint conditions and at a great price. I have been looking for a DSLR to complement the M8 for longer shots needed for our grandchildrens sports events. Great len - that 135 mm L (just as advised by Guy a while back).

 

However, I do notice a difference from the M8 files. It is hard to describe but is probably what others here have refered to as "plastic". While the M8 files look more 3 dimensional and more like chrome. I am curious as to what causes the files to have this plastic look, and why the M8 files are more like Chrome? Would appreciate being educated on this.

 

Thanks in advance,

Alan

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There are various factors that come into play but two things that tend to make some digital files look quite different from scanned film are:

 

1) Lack of grain/noise

2) The softening effect of the AA filter

 

Many more aspects come into play but there's a start to your list.

 

Cheers,

 

Sean

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However, I do notice a difference from the M8 files. It is hard to describe but is probably what others here have refered to as "plastic"......... I am curious as to what causes the files to have this plastic look, and why the M8 files are more like Chrome?

 

Thanks in advance,

Alan

 

Hmmm, this could be a long answer but I will try to be brief. I'm sure others can explain better than me.

Basically, the 20D sensor includes a filter which blurs the small detail in order to supress the Moire effect. So in order to get the sharpness back, a sharpening algorythm is applied to the file. This does work but a cetain artificiality is introduced.

In addition to that, a very complex set of processes are performed on every file to suppress noise at higher ISO. Canon has a particularly good set of noise supression algorythms which allows the camera to operate at very high ISO values.

All of this, however, does take its toll. As far as DSLR's I think Canon does the best job of preserving the most realistic and non-plastic files but still nothing can come close to the M8 files for a natural and 3D really raw RAW. The lenses are the frosting on the cake. What you give up is those relatively clean ISO 3200 files.

 

Rex

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Thanks Sean and Rex for your quick response. I think the effects of the AA filter and the smoothing algorithm is the difference I am seeing. I'll have to dig into it...

 

Alan

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Lens is the major play here, Alan ... try a Leica R even the lowly 3 CAM 135/2.8 (with an adapter to the EOS) side by side with the EF 135/2L you'll see the difference immediately. There's nothing wrong with Canon's cameras but nothing beats Leica's optics.

 

Buying Canon lenses only makes sense when you absolutely needs AF and will go beyond 200mm ... otherwise it's pure waste of money.

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Lens is the major play here, Alan ... try a Leica R even the lowly 3 CAM 135/2.8 (with an adapter to the EOS) side by side with the EF 135/2L you'll see the difference immediately. There's nothing wrong with Canon's cameras but nothing beats Leica's optics.

 

Buying Canon lenses only makes sense when you absolutely needs AF and will go beyond 200mm ... otherwise it's pure waste of money.

 

I wouldn't say that. Canon lenses can be very fine but because short ones are all of retrofocus design and the design is driven by a certain desire for uniformity with technically "good charts" , they typically lack individual character. In the world of rangefinder lenses it is not uncommon for an individual to have 3 or 4 lenses of the same focal length. This is unheard of in the DSLR world.

This is part of the fun of rangefinder cameras

Rex

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I wouldn't say that. Canon lenses can be very fine but because short ones are all of retrofocus design and the design is driven by a certain desire for uniformity with technically "good charts" , they typically lack individual character. In the world of rangefinder lenses it is not uncommon for an individual to have 3 or 4 lenses of the same focal length. This is unheard of in the DSLR world.

This is part of the fun of rangefinder cameras

 

I humbly disagree, Rex ... many MTF charts are readily available on the web, most of the Japanese lenses don't look good (comparing to German designs). This was verified countless times in test reports from Color Foto, CDI, etc ... I'm not even talking about a rangefinder, when there's no contest at all.

 

Even folks in Japan rarely argue over this, the lust for German optics in that country is absolutely insane - exactly why Leica and Zeiss could make easy money by letting Panasonic and Sony use their name brands.

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Thanks Sean and Rex for your quick response. I think the effects of the AA filter and the smoothing algorithm is the difference I am seeing. I'll have to dig into it...

 

Alan

I think Canon's use of inherently noisier CMOS sensors in their DSLRs is the problem ...they have excellent in camera processing to handle this noise, but it does tend to produce a "plastic" look to their files ...in all but their most recent offering, they use a 12 bit ADC which also contributes to the digital look of their files

IMHO, Fujifilm makes the best sensors for DSLRs ...they produce very film like files from their CCD sensors which have a number of unique features ...their RAW files are huge, but they have the best dynamic range of any presently available digital camera & they use a 14 bit ADC which helps with tonality

Fujifilm also seems to do the best in camera jpg conversion of any of the DSLRs, which is fortunate as their RAW files are so huge (25 MB!) that they slow to a crawl shooting RAW

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Guest guy_mancuso

Well great glass is great glass and you won't see me argue about the use of leica glass and zeiss optics over some of canons and nikons , i already know the clear winner there but C and N do have some fine optics but my take on it is really coming down to the use of AA filters and the micro contrast lost on using a DSLR with it. i still contend the 1ds was the best DSLR before the DMR because it had the weakest AA filter of all of Canons selections , okay noise was bad but the files looked much smoother because less sharpening was applied to get a nice file and that is were the issue really comes in is the sharpening and how much you need to compensate for the AA filter. now i have other theory's as well and i am sure some engineer will think i am nuts but CCD sensors in my book still rule the house. Almost every MF camera is CCD and pretty much always has been and i still think there the best sensors and i told leica that flat last week in my meeting is don't switch to CMOS and stay with Kodak sensors and CCD. Now i could be completely off but i have been around digital a very long time and the best images i see come from CCD and that is not sceince or engineering but just my visual take on the years looking at and working with many camera's with sensors.

 

When i bought the DMR and did direct comparisions against the 1dsMKII it was clearly the case the DMR files looked so much better , It was a long thread on FM for almost a year on the DMR and how wonderful the files were from it. Frankly when leica mentioned the M8 specs on release it made me seriously get excited all over again and look at me now, all M8's. i still think the effects of non AA filters and the CCD sensors along with the outstanding micro contrast we get from the Leica glass is the winning combination to our files, and that is the reason i shoot leica pretty much right there is the whole bowl of wax for me.

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Trust me, folks.

 

Try a R lens in front of your EOS camera ... your pictures won't look plastic.

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... but C and N do have some fine optics but my take on it is really coming down to the use of AA filters and the micro contrast lost on using a DSLR with it.

 

Guy, I've seen test pictures with/without AA in the 5D, 1Ds etc ... (don't ask me when where. LOL) there's really not much magic there. No AA is just another marketing hype - just to save the cost of a AA filter.

 

You can try the Mamiya ZD with/without AA as well, there's no much loss of detail/contrast either.

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... i told leica that flat last week in my meeting is don't switch to CMOS and stay with Kodak sensors and CCD.

 

I absolutely agree with you on this but don't count out DALSA from Canada ... if it's not too late.

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Guest guy_mancuso

Simon i think it is a combination of the factors i was mentioning. I did not leave out Dalsa either and it's never too late. i think though Kodak maybe the better source overall for them, given they have been using the smaller sensors more and have it down pretty good.

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Trust me, folks.

 

Try a R lens in front of your EOS camera ... your pictures won't look plastic.

 

While I agree that the Leica lenses are top notch, it's not really about German vs Japanese anymore. Some of the newer Canon zooms are up there with the best R lenses. My Canon 24mm F1.4 is in a class of it's own not only because of great optics but because there is nothing else like it in either the SLR or rangefinder world.

That being said, the possibility of using symmetrical or semi symmetrical designs for wide angle, opens up a whole different world for the rangefinder lens designer. I actually like some of the older designs for my M8. It is not all about MTF charts.

 

Rex

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It is generally thought that what has been described as the 'plastic' look (I presume what people mean is the 'plasticky' look, they do not mean 'three-dimensional') of the images from many digital cameras is caused by an absence of grain/noise. Still, nobody ever complained that medium or large format images looked like plastic, even though grain was often conspicuously absent. I have worked quite a lot with medium format cameras myself.

 

Sean's point about the anti-aliasing filter is a step in the right direction however. Such a filter, and also anti-noise measures, do soften the image quite a bit. After that, new sharpening algorithms step in, increasing the edge sharpness. And these images can be impressively sharp – *edge-sharp*.

 

The algorithms can only sharpen the remaining edges however. But the previous softening steps have already obliterated a lot of micro-detail, detail which existed on a scale not very different from that of noise or grain itself. So it is gone, and no magic exists that can restore it when gone. The result is a spooky combination of great low-l.p.i. acutance (on the order of 5 – 10 l.p.i.) with featureless, bland areas. It is true that such an image looks unnatural, 'synthetic' – like an object molded out of plastic. We expect a certain level of edge sharpness to go with a certain level of detail, of micro-contrast in fact.

 

Medium format images did not look synthetic, because they retained the micro-detail: The blades of grass, the grains of sand, the rough tactile surface of stone, or of cloth.

 

If we want the highest definition, we must also accept the level of what we may call 'non-image-forming structure' (i.e. grain in a silver image, and noise in a digital image) that exists in the raw image. I think that in time we will learn to do that, as we learned to accept a certain level of grain in a 35mm picture. Leica Camera is on the right trail.

 

The old man from the Age of Pushed Tri-X

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Guest stnami

Any of the top RAW files whether a Nikon, Canon, Fuji, Leica , Leaf etc. or well scanned film will get you the so called "natural 3D look", (despite being a bit of a myth ) not a great problem in PS with the right workflow

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It is generally thought that what has been described as the 'plastic' look (I presume what people mean is the 'plasticky' look, they do not mean 'three-dimensional') of the images from many digital cameras is caused by an absence of grain/noise. Still, nobody ever complained that medium or large format images looked like plastic, even though grain was often conspicuously absent. I have worked quite a lot with medium format cameras myself.

snip

I believe the role of the analog to digital converter is a critical factor

one of the reasons I bought the M8 was that it used a 16 bit ADC

this step, in which the data from the sensor is digitized, is critical to having smooth transitions

what gives the plasticky look that I do not like from most cameras is not only the lack of grain, but the abrupt transitions in color that are typical of much digital image capture

I am not certain if the M8 uses a 16 or 14 bit ADC (there is conflicting information on this) but I am certain they are not using a 12 bit ADC like most other cameras use ...I believe this higher sampling at the signal's origin (along with the exemplary in camera processing from Kodak/Jenoptik) accounts for the excellence of the 8 bit DNGs the M8 writes & is critical to the analog or "film like" quality of the files it produces

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I have seen many "plastic" looking M8 picts on the web. Browsing throught Fred Miranda's site and many others I see super natural 3D kind of images taken with all sorts of camera's. I think really that mastering postprocessing is part of a photographers jobs nowadays. Some are very good at it. M8 files cana be great I agree mostly because of the great glas that is available for it.Where for Canon can you get a Zeiss 15mm as good as it gets for the M8 and so there are other examples.

 

I just saw the Mamiya ZD and the new 28mm advertised. 22Mp and hopefully a superb wide angle lens. It reminds me to spend wisely on what you really need. A new less plastic looking option is on its way.

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Some of the newer Canon zooms are up there with the best R lenses.

 

Now you must be kidding ... Rex. I have lab test reports from at least 4 reputable sources. Even the best Canon primers can only look at their Leica peers from a distance.

 

Canon zooms? LOL The one having best test numbers may be the new 70-200/4L "IS" ... even this one can NOT be compared to the Leica 80-200/4 - there're people selling it for 600 bucks on eBay so get it while you can. Yes, I know, the 80-200/4 is also a "Japanese" lens but comparing the Canon zoomers to a Leica 70-180, or a 105-420 is even more UNFAIR.

 

If you believe that the AA filter is the evil killing details and contrast. Easiest way for you to see this is trying out a Mamiya ZD with or without the optional AA filter. You don't have to believe what I say here ... try it yourself.

 

Some medium format back companies choose to implement software moire solution instead of adopting an appropriate AA filter this is because an adequate AA filter is very expensive ... easily costs you thousands of dollars. If to say AA aliasing kills moire and detail, micro contrast ... software did the same thing as hardware.

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I've owned a few Canon's and never liked any of them for the very image qualities described. While their high end cameras are great, their point and shoot and lower priced dslr cameras make images that look very "digital".

 

If you dont feel like purging yourself of 3-5K for a camera I would suggest a Nikon D40X. Nikon just seems to have it more right with their lower priced cameras.

 

As to lenses...they are not the reason for the issues the original poster described. Canon L lenses are top notch, as are many Nikons. The differences between a Leica 50mm Summicron F2 and a Nikon F1.8 are measureable in a lab, but not meaningful in the world of digital processing.

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