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Why some DSLR files look "plastic"?

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As to lenses...they are not the reason for the issues the original poster described.

 

Dan, my post was exactly answering the original poster's questions.

 

Using the same Canon camera but Leica lenses, the plastic look will be gone ... mostly if not completely. It is that simple - consider the word is from a die hard Canon fan, I don't care about any other Japanese cameras.

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Thank you all for your comments. I am not experienced in digital photography or equipment. My first digital was the M8 last November. My original post was prompted by what I detected as a more 3-D and less smooth or plastic look from the M8. i can find no good adjective to describe this.

 

However, I doubt if this is all due to the differences in lenses. Although I am not a long time Canon user, I used to shoot film with both M and Nikon primes and really did not see the kind of difference I am seeing now.

 

Alan

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However, I doubt if this is all due to the differences in lenses. Although I am not a long time Canon user, I used to shoot film with both M and Nikon primes and really did not see the kind of difference I am seeing now.

 

Alan

 

Alan,

 

I think your right, the difference in lenses has existed before the digital age. What we see in the M8 files beihg less "plasticy" has more to do with the files being less processed and manipulated in the camera than anything else. The M8 files thus maintain much more micro detail and texture that the "smoothed" Canon files lack. This detail can be interpretted as either grain or noise depending on the ability of the photographer to refine the image with more sophisticated noise reduction software than the global approach that is provided by the Canon's in-camera noise reduction and sharpening firmware. The results is an image that looks more filmlike to the experienced user. I would venture a quess that most people actually prefer the plastic look, at least at first glance.

 

I find it very interesting that the comments coming from M8 users breaks down into two camps. That is those that believe that the optics are primarily responsible for the more natural look vs those like myself who believe that the more intrusive(and necessary) firmware noise reduction and sharpening algorythms are the primary culpirt in the plastic look.

 

One final point about optics. It does seem that rangefinder lenses provided by other manufactures besides Leica produce similarly non-plastic files in the M8. That special "Leica glow" seems to extend to the likes of Cosina Voightlander, Zeiss and others. Jeesh, even my 50 year old Canon 50mm/f1.2 seems to have it! And I wouldn't even think about comparing the old Canon's MTF file with a modern aspheric Leica lens. But the fact is the old Canon lens on the M8 produces non-plastic, filmlike files.

 

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

 

Lars,

 

That's an interesting analysis. I agree with much of it and made a similar overall point (about smoothed and sharpened vs. not smoothed) in my second M8 review last year. Sharpening, as you rightly point out, can only enhance what exists, it can't create detail that was lost to either the AA filter or to electronic smoothing.

 

I do think that the lack of noise/grain plays a role as well. The M8 makes fairly "straight files" with no AA filter and minimal smoothing.There's also at least a bit of luminance noise in the M8 files even at ISO 160 (subtle though it may be). That serves to provide some of the unifying and surface effects that fine grain provides. Together those qualities can tend to make M8 files seem more film-like (for better or worse, to be fully objective).

 

Lenses can play a role in this but they play a role for film cameras as well. Not all film cameras achieve their "film-like" look using Leica lenses.

 

In another thread some time ago, Imants made the point that we don't necessarily need to be emulating film in this point in photography's history. I think that's quite true. We could ask ourselves "Do I like the look of this file?" rather than "Does this file look like a film scan?"

 

With respect to the look of the files, my favorite digital cameras (in this format) are the M8 (first choice), DMR, 1Ds and 5D. The Canon FF cameras, BTW, have a very different look than the 1.6 crop cameras. I see that all the time in editing because my wife and I shoot with both (as well as DRFs).

 

If one looks again at my DMR review, he or she might be surprised, however, to see how similar files from the 1Ds MkII and DMR can look when both are using the same Leica lens, if the files are processed from RAW in the same way. They are *not* the same, to be sure, but the similarity is interesting.

 

Cheers,

 

Sean

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As a very keen enthousiast for the M8 but not as an owner yet I would be very happy to see for myself the difference. Is there anybody out there that can provide for two raw files of almost the same subject and camera settings than show this plastic and more natural look. Since on screen these differences don't show it must be a print quality that makes the difference.

 

In my experience the Canon 5D delivers great files not plastic looking at all. Many M8 owners have shown samples on the web that look horribly processed and plastic. The best photography I have seen so far on the web was done by Canons, probably since those are most used. Of course I am not leaving out any digital medium format and film based photos I see on the web.

 

This makes it difficult for preM8owners to see whats heading. It would be nice to see a straightward example. I have never come accross such an example that wasn't processed that clearly stated "only M8 and leica glass!

Of course the whole experience using a rangefinder and the great Leica quality also makes part of owning a leica. But just based on pure results could anyone here expose some samples. No need for blowing away the competition but just the sample that makes you want the Leica and nothing else in this 10 to 12 Mp range.

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I do think that the lack of noise/grain plays a role as well. The M8 makes fairly "straight files" with no AA filter and minimal smoothing.There's also at least a bit of luminance noise in the M8 files even at ISO 160 (subtle though it may be). That serves to provide some of the unifying and surface effects that fine grain provides. Together those qualities can tend to make M8 files seem more film-like (for better or worse, to be fully objective).

 

Sean

 

"for better or worse" is a key comment. For those of us that come from the old world of film and understand grain and darkroom technique, the M8 files are superior to the grainless, smoothed, files provided by so many DSLRs. However, in the world of mass acceptance I am pretty sure we are in a minority. To a lot of people any "grittyness" or grain is to be avoided. Plastic files are a goal not something to be avoided. Canon has done there homework. And I do agree with you that the 5D files do manage to strike an acceptable balance between excessive smoothness and noise/grain . Still a little too processed for me but commercially more acceptable.

 

Rex

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I think the "plastic" look or the "watercolor" look comes mostly from processing, including the kind of quasi-processing you get with an AA filter. If you want to see it in action, all you have to do is import a photograph into a program like Photoshop, where you can push the effects you see to even greater extremes. That is, you can push a slightly "plastic" look to the point where your photo seems to be made of balloons. The problem is, you can't subtract the in-camera effects from a RAW file. So if the camera just slightly over-processes in pursuit of low noise, then some people will see plastic. One solution would be to to allow the option of NO processing, other than what is necessary to get the image off the chip; with the understanding that the photographer would do all the post-processing. Then, what would happen, is that the know-nothings would complain about "bad noise" at 1600 or 800 and how much better the previous (processed) camera was...

 

I think Canon came up with some really great noise-reduction algorythmns, and used it to promote the idea that their chips somehow had "lower noise." Actually, they were just more processed; chips is chips. But they were walking a fine line between appropriate processing and the plastic look. And it worked for them. People might say of an ISO 1600 shot, "Okay, so it looks a little plastic, but *there's no noise.* Isn't that great?" On th eother hand, with a Leica shot, we say, "Well, there's a little noise, but it's not offensive, and *it looks so 3D.* You don't see that with Canon."

 

I don't think there's any big technological secret about noise, or 3D; you just make your choices. Really sophisticated shooters (like people who use very large digital MF backs) may prefer to do all of their own post-processing, because they can tweak it just like they want it. They don't start with something that has already been substantially tweaked according to the aesthetic preferences of some engineeers in Japan.

 

There is an analogy to all of this in the golf world. When "high tech" came to golf, one set of clubs would be touted as "longer" than another. In other words, you could hit, say, a pitching wedge of the New Technology further than the "old technology" wedges. There was some technology involved, but another thing that happened was that manufacturers quietly lowered the loft of their clubs by a couple of degrees. That would automatically give you more length, but slightly less accuracy; but duffer golfers were never very accurate, so they didn't notice the increasing dispersion. They did notice the few extra yards they were getting. It's the same thing as with cameras; and basically, IMHO, it's all about sales.

 

JC

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faces_of_india Photo Gallery by Johan Moeschlin at pbase.com

 

look at these, done with a Canon 5D. I love these picts although I wish I could be more of help to some on those picts.

Explain to me what is plastic about those photos and point me to a site with better comparable M8 photos. These are the kind of large aperture large DOF kind of images the Leica is very good at.

 

I would still prefer the Leice if it could do these because of the more beautiful camera, smaller size and smaller files.

 

Somehow I am not the kind of person who is going to tell people my Leica files are less plastic if I can't back it up with proof for everyone to see.

 

I am beginning to feel the Leica and the Canon 5D are their equal although the Leica might be more fun, better in control manually and definatly smaller and less intimidating.

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Canon's noise reduction processing is often commented upon but my suspicion, having tested and worked with Canon DSLRs since 2000 is that the actual files are cleaner even before in-camera processing. Someone here commented on "noisy CMOS files". I doubt that to be the case with the Canons and, in fact, I suspect that the actual S/N ratio is quite good. But...I'm neither an engineer nor even play one on TV and so I can only speak to what I'm seeing. A camera like the 1Ds II, for example, manages to hold a great deal of detail with fairly low noise. Again, I think it might be interesting (for those who read the site) to look at those comparisons where both the DMR and 1Ds2 used the same Leica lens (the 100/2.8 Macro).

 

The file quality from the M8 is still my favorite but I would hardly hold that up as any kind of absolute.

 

Cheers,

 

Sean

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Ok, Sean, since I am reading your reviews I have come to the conclusion that the best Canon files are simular to the best Leica M8 files. Or at least so much as that my clients would not blame me to use any of these cameras.

 

For me its not really about plastic looking files since looking at Canon files or M8 files I see no plastic, just amazing quality. That is to say for the more or less professional photographers and their work.

 

The Canon is more flexible as far as you need different kind of lenses and maybe AF or not depending on what you do. The Leica is as well great in case of the some truly amazing lenses available like the cheap Voigtlander 12 and 15 and the Zeiss 15. Also for traveling the smaller Leica could be an advantage.

 

Simply put, the choice stays hard if you have to make a choice. I am sure though there is no need to surrender towards "plastic" looking files if all you have is a Canon 5D.

 

I am going to test the M8 later this month. The shopowner wasn't at all very taken by the M8 but finally agreed to have me use it for an afternoon around his shop, only after I mailed the distributor ...lol. This shop caters to professional photographers only.

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So is the concensus that the 5D is not as "plastic" as the 20D? If so, I should consider trading in the 20D. I don't care much about the full frame (In fact, the 1.6 crop factor is better for my longer shots - gives me over 300mm equivalent for the 135mm f2 with the 1.4x converter) or the additional pixels, just want a more "realistic" look.

 

Alan

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Can anyone post or point me to specific examples that exmplify that "plasticky" look?

 

Could it be a factor of viewing the images on the web? Is this effect worse on small images or larger ones? Do you need to see a 100% finished tiff to judge the image?

 

Maybe because my emphasis has been large format so I possibly gravitate to a grainless smooth look as an ideal for my type of photography.

 

My personal opinion is that images shot for the web can be ok from almost any camera there is. It is funny that as I've gotten more skilled with digital and bought better and better gear, more and more of my assignments end up being used primarily on the web. A number of clients have not even ordered hi res conversions after I supplied them low res jpegs proofs for selection. So some aspects of my skills and gear are probably wasted.

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So is the concensus that the 5D is not as "plastic" as the 20D? If so, I should consider trading in the 20D. I don't care much about the full frame (In fact, the 1.6 crop factor is better for my longer shots - gives me over 300mm equivalent for the 135mm f2 with the 1.4x converter) or the additional pixels, just want a more "realistic" look.

 

Alan

 

I don't know about "plastic", per se, but the 5D files do indeed look different than 20D files. They are sharper straight from the camera, more detailed, etc. This is true for all three Canon FF cameras. I routinely process large sets of files made with the M8, 5D and 30D. All three cameras do a good job but one can certainly tell the 5D files apart from the 30D files.

 

Cheers,

 

Sean

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So is the concensus that the 5D is not as "plastic" as the 20D? If so, I should consider trading in the 20D. I don't care much about the full frame (In fact, the 1.6 crop factor is better for my longer shots - gives me over 300mm equivalent for the 135mm f2 with the 1.4x converter) or the additional pixels, just want a more "realistic" look.

 

Alan

 

As the owner of a 20D, I must admit I have barely used it since I got my M8. In fact, my purchase of the RD1 pretty much consigned the Canon to the back bench. But that is not because of plastic files but because of the superior ergometrics and convenience of the M8. However I have been wondering lately just how much better my files are from the M8. I have a feeling that the 20D will do OK. But I am curious so I have decided to have M8-20D "shootout" for my own edification.

 

If I had a 5D, I would use it...should be alot closer.

 

Rex

 

Rex

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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.

 

 

Ok I'll bite,

I think my Canon 135mm f/2 is vert nice especially stopped down to f/4.

 

I have the Canon 1Ds Mark II and I would try out the Leica 135.

Which version of the Leica R 3 Cam 135mm f/2.8 would do it. I'm thinking the Elmarit that was made in Germany.

I can order one as soon as you get back to me. I have a friend asking me to scout around for a nice 35 as well for his L1.

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Ok I'll bite,

I think my Canon 135mm f/2 is vert nice especially stopped down to f/4.

 

I have the Canon 1Ds Mark II and I would try out the Leica 135.

Which version of the Leica R 3 Cam 135mm f/2.8 would do it. I'm thinking the Elmarit that was made in Germany.

I can order one as soon as you get back to me. I have a friend asking me to scout around for a nice 35 as well for his L1.

 

I think sdia has bitten of more than he can chew. The one Canon lens that would be hard to beat is the 135mm/f2. This lens is phenomenal by any standards. The MTF charts are stellar.

 

I will be very interested in this shootout

 

Rex

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Which version of the Leica R 3 Cam 135mm f/2.8 would do it. I'm thinking the Elmarit that was made in Germany.

 

There's no 135 in Leica's current line up now, Peter ...the last Elmarit 135 I was talking about is 11211 E55 (after 2772619). You should be able to find one in great condition on eBay for less than 300 US dollars.

 

Don't get me wrong, the EF 135/2 is still a great lens ... in the AF world. But that it's to be beaten when Leica introduces their AF lenses with the R10. LOL

 

Once more, I should emphasize we were talking about the 3D look, not MTF ... thought I've no question the Leica MTF will look more beautiful than the Canon at f/2.8.

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It's got nothing to do with the lens, AA filter or CMOS -you can easily make any digital file look plastic by having the wrong settings in the RAW conversion. On jpg files where the processing is in camera over-aggressive or poorly executed noise reduction and sharpening can make files look over processed and digital.

 

Try playing with the noise suppression and color noise reduction settings in C1 it won't take much effort to get watercolor and basket weave effects in your M8 or Canon 1Ds files.

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Trust me, folks.

 

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

 

I did that on my 5D (before I sold it).

 

The 50 Cron was sharper than the Canon 1.4/50, but it still looked like plastic, because of the AA filter, noise reduction and CMOS chip. Glass is not going to change that.

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