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perfect lens vs character lens

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good day, 

i'm very new to leica. in fact, i don't even own one yet- awaiting delivery of an m-a hopefully later this month. i'd of course known about the brand for many years- it was holding an m6 at a photoshop sometime in the mid-2000's as a teenager that made me fall in love with the cameras-, but owning an m remained but a pipe dream until recent times. 

since starting my journey, i've encountered a dizzying amount of literature on the many different iterations of the various lenses over the years, as well as some oddities. 

it seems to me- and please correct me if i'm wrong- that a shift occurred in leica's mission statement insofar as lenses are concerned in the late-90's/early-2000's when emphasis on sharpness/optical perfection became their focus, whereas before they seemed to have more... romance?... built into them. but perhaps this only pertains to the summicron series, which constantly is touted as being supremely sharp- and some going as far as to call the apo cron the perfect lens, from a technical perspective. 

mostly summicron and summilux interest me, so i haven't done as much research into the others. it seems that overall the summilux has always been more a "character" lens, though this could be due to the inherent nature of a fast lens like this? i'm not a technical person in the slightest, but just get the sense that the summilux has more character when comparing the images shot on it to those shot on a summicron. it also brings up the question "what is character?"; is it a shortcoming/quirk of the design that happens to yield pleasing (to some) results or was it an intentional decision to make it draw as such? i know it's hard to discuss these lenses without mentioning their apertures and prices- and i suspect that for most real world applications, that will be the deciding factor for someone-, however if we could just focus on their rendering, that would be great. i know it's tough to do because a summilux will shoot much different at f/2 than a summicron will. 

anyways, i'm getting a bit lost in my own thoughts here... i'm just wondering what you guys value more as photographers; a (as close as possible to) technically perfect lens or one that has more character to it? 

in going so deep with my research i've only confused myself more with all the options and am uncertain which lens will be best suited to my needs. i shoot mostly fashion and portraits on my dslr rig, but will likely utilize the leica more for personal stuff, which would mostly entail more environmental portraits and random captures of scenes i encounter. it's sort of a vague criteria, but it's all i can come up with. lenses that interest me: summilux 35 (probably fle), summicron 35, summicron 50 apo, summilux 75, summicron 90 apo. and i know i've omitted the various versions, because that only makes the decision more confusing still! but likely i will go with the newest/latest to start with and later worry about v3 or v4 or whatever. 

yes, it's true i made a similar thread a few days ago, but the focus was more purely on what lens should i get vs this one, where i'd like to know what you value more in your work. 

and kindly note, i'm not exclusively interest in just leica glass... i am open to all; voigtlander, zeiss, konica, etc. in fact just last night i came across the konica hexanon 60 1.2, the rendering of which i found quite unique. and ditto the noct-nikkor 58 1.2, though i'm not sure that can be adapted to an m? 

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Welcome. The choice has to be yours. How does what others prefer matter? You need to genuinely prefer a look you are happy with. Just remember that you can soften a sharp image but you can’t sharpen a soft image.

 

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Just now, pedaes said:

Welcome. The choice has to be yours. How does what others prefer matter? You need to genuinely prefer a look you are happy with. Just remember that you can soften a sharp image but you can’t sharpen a soft image.

 

Of course the choice is mine for what lens I will ultimately buy, but as mentioned in my OP, I want to know what others value you more in a lens- character or technical perfection- in their own personal work. This in no way means that their choices will dictate my decision. It's a discussion forum and I simply wish to have a discussion... 

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Lenses are like humans ;) their character comes from a blend of qualities and flaws so that the more "perfect" a lens can be the less character it has from this viewpoint. In that sense the Summicron 50/2 apo has less character than the Elmar 50/2.8 for instance, same for the Summilux 50/1.4 asph compared to its earlier versions. Now in the same generation of lenses, differences are not huge at the same aperture at all. A Summilux 50/1.4 aph has more field curvature at f/2 than the Sumicron 50/2 apo at f/2 as well but the latter flares more than the former.  Otherwise it is not easy to tell which is which to be honest. I recognize my copies at their bokeh essentially but differences are more obvious when comparing lenses from different generations.

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Posted (edited)

I think it's a good question. I often prefer an older and more "romantic" look in my pictures. So if it was possible to process a picture from a modern lens to make it look like an older lens, then I'd certainly done it, because then I could have both choices in one lens. But it isn't.

So I've ended up with something in between. The latest Mandler lenses have exactly the right blend of old and new – good enough for all my needs, but without the "clinical" sharpness that I often find boring. My main lens today is the 50mm Summilux pre-ASPH v.3. It fits very well together with my little bundle of other Mandler lenses. 

Edited by evikne

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White Buffalo,

Considering that it's for film use, you may "loose" some "perfectness" of later lenses if you use "fast films" like 400 ISO or more.

In this normal/fast film use, "character lenses" (= less perfect ) would retain their characters in most cases.

Characters can be found also in chosen film TriX or Portra or Acros would transfer or not characters of the lens.

The lens is only one variable of the whole process: subject - lens - film - film processing - post processing - print .

In each step, the perfectness/character can be diminished more or less.

 

So in my use of character lenses like Summicron 35mm "8 element" ( I ) or version IV that I know well would retain in final result "some" characters and some flaws.

If I don't need those characters, I'd just use one of those later asph. lenses that I own and rely on the film/sensor to be the most transparent while recording.

 

Like Evikne, I feel that "perfectness" as boring.

I had for years the Summilux-M 50mm asph. that I admit as one of the "perfect 50mm".

Over time, we change , lately I've sold the Lux asph. to return to the non-asph. version that I used for decades (sold after the asph. came).

 

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I like burgers when I get tired with steaks too.  They're both beef and tasty but different in many ways.  Good cook makes burgers taste better than steaks, bad cooks make steaks taste worse than anything.  What am I talking about?  lol

P.S I wouldn't call it perfect becoz nothing is perfect, probably high definition lenses? 

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You should start with something simple, perhaps a Mandler era Summicron 50 Version 3 or 4.  Relatively inexpensive, great character, nicely sharp.  If of course 50mm is your preferred focal length, if not, something similar in 35mm?  The 35 summicron in later versions is a great lens as well.  I've unfortunately ;) developed a stall full of 50's and a few of others!  The beauty is that you can use them all over time.  You can buy and trade.  Or keep em all and work with them given time and inclination. Don't worry too much about the differentiation right now between character and perfect.  Pick one and enjoy, I can almost guarantee that you will be happy with the work product!

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Posted (edited)
1 hour ago, a.noctilux said:

Characters can be found also in chosen film TriX or Portra or Acros would transfer or not characters of the lens.

I scanned some Summilux 35 negatives shot at ƒ1,4 on Tri-X and compared them to my darkroom prints. The scanned images lost some character I was used to due to what appears to be default sharpening. I was disappointed, but I'm not good at scanning.

Edited by pico

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vor einer Stunde schrieb ldhrads:

You should start with something simple, perhaps a Mandler era Summicron 50 Version 3 or 4.  Relatively inexpensive, great character, nicely sharp.  If of course 50mm is your preferred focal length, if not, something similar in 35mm?  The 35 summicron in later versions is a great lens as well.  I've unfortunately ;) developed a stall full of 50's and a few of others!  The beauty is that you can use them all over time.  You can buy and trade.  Or keep em all and work with them given time and inclination. Don't worry too much about the differentiation right now between character and perfect.  Pick one and enjoy, I can almost guarantee that you will be happy with the work product!

The 50 Cron v3 and v4 may be one of the best deals for a Mandler 50mm cron at the moment. If you can get a decent copy and if you are a 50mm guy, do not hesitate. Both versions have incredible optics.

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Posted (edited)

We choose lenses through subjects and environmental circumstances we favor. All lenses behave differently at distance and aperture. Speaking only for myself my typical subject is under 12' away and my favored perspective is 35mm. In low light I use 35mm ƒ1.4. Summilux. In bright light I use the same Summilux because stopped down it is virtually the same as the Summicron - two lenses in one.

How one comes to realize the spread of his aspiration comes from his experience.

Generally I do not like the rendering of later lenses but consider my experience ingrained within age: 73 year-old, 50 of them in photography.

 

Edited by pico

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 V4 has plastic parts and veil kind of flare. V3 construction is not something I would call as smart...

To me good lens is Rigid. It has character on digital, but no defects.

IMO,  the lens should not overturn the purpose of the photography. Which is not about showing special effects, but life and light.

I think 35 Lux ASPH and later are on the edge of it.

 

 

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I've got one lens in my arsenal that is good from close to medium range, but when it comes to distances, the image starts to fall apart.  So I have to figure that from now on, that lens will be only for street/event type photography.  It's not a characteristic I find charming though.  (BTW, the lens I refer to is an Industar-22, styled after the early Elmar 50/3.5, but not a copy of).  Another lens, an Elmar 90/4, attained a certain softness after some rough cleaning by its previous owner.  Nice for old style portraiture, but not much else.  So I try to steer away from "character" lenses.  If it can't be fixed in post, then it's a fault, not a feature.

PF

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12 hours ago, White Buffalo said:

It seems to me- and please correct me if i'm wrong- that a shift occurred in leica's mission statement insofar as lenses are concerned in the late-90's/early-2000's when emphasis on sharpness/optical perfection became their focus, whereas before they seemed to have more... romance?... built into them. but perhaps this only pertains to the summicron series, which constantly is touted as being supremely sharp- and some going as far as to call the apo cron the perfect lens, from a technical perspective.

It was more the arrival of new technology than a "mission" that created that change. In particular, the development of pressed or molded aspherics, but also CNC machining and increasingly-sophisticated lens design software.

It is not as though Dr. Mandler (or other Leica designers, or designers at other companies) said "OOoooo! Let's design romantic lenses with character!!" They built the most "perfect" lenses they could with the technology of the era. Or - sometimes built lesser lenses to compete on price (not so much Leica, though). Up until at least 1990, Leica was still primarily designing with hard-nosed magazine and newspaper photojournalists in mind - not noted for "romance," or glamorizing their subjects.

The 75mm Summilux, for example, is what it is because - in 1980 - that was optical perfection for a lens of that speed and focal length. The best in the world.

Intentionally designing lenses with character is a rather late development, not early (although soft-focus portrait lenses have been a niche all across the industry back to 140 years ago - Leitz Thambar, Rodenstock Imagons, Petzval lenses*, etc.) "Character lenses" from Nikon and Canon - the "variable bokeh/blur" 105s and 135s - arrived very late in their lens lines, after AF came in (late 1980s).

Dr. Mandler designed the original original Noctilux (50mm f/1.2 - 1966) using two aspheric surfaces. They had to be hand-ground. Massively expensive to make, due to the number of "spoiled" units that had to be discarded. Couldn't be sold at a price that covered the cost of production. Same thing happened again with the original hand-ground Aspherical (not ASPH) 35 f/1.4 (1990)  - the technology was just not yet ready for primetime.

However, once the technology was available, a Leica CEO did say in a speech, around 2000±, that "Leica lenses will always be expensive (because of their hand-made, cottage-industry manufacture) - all we can do is make them worth the money." That could be taken as a mission statement for optical excellence (if not perfection). Incidentally, that CEO was ousted by new owner Andreas Kaufmann a few years later, after the company got into financial difficulties.

Anyway, to answer the question:

I generally prefer the lenses from around 1980 - the pinnacle of Leitz Canada design. Not because they are romantic or have character as such (I am a photojournalist - I want reality to look real). But because I find practical advantages to them. I prefer their greener color rendering (makes skin looked tanned rather than sunburnt-pink, and skies realistically cyan rather than purple). I find a little spherical aberration makes nailing "approximate, pretty good" focus easier with the teles - on a rangefinder. The 35mm f/2's are so light compared to the ASPH versions, which I find front-heavy on the camera (and pink as a baby's bottom!). Their lower macro-contrast is very useful at holding highlight and shadow detail on color slides (when I started using them) and digital (which I use today). And many of them have center resolution at least as good as (and sometimes better than) their "more perfect" successors. Because in that era, resolution (the number of pickets in the fence) was still treated as a separate attribute to be designed for, and not just subsumed into MTF.

Additionally, I find them more reliable in some ways. No floating elements to stiffen the focus or jump the track and go fuzzy (ASPH 50 lux and 75 cron). Longer focus throws on the teles for more precise, vernier focusing with an RF. Back in WW2, the German Tiger tanks were wonders of engineering in many ways - but so over-engineered and difficult to maintain that they were wiped off the map of Europe by clunky old American Shermans. My idea of a "perfect tank" (or a perfect lens) is one that goes into the shop for servicing about once every 35 years (I grew up with plain-prism Nikon Fs - I have high expectations. ;))

If they happen to have character - that can be a two-edged sword. Sometimes it is useful, and sometimes it gets in the way of the primary function - recording reality. Fortunately, I can make use of it - or work around it - as needed.

___________________

*although the Petzval lens was called a "portrait lens" mostly because it was fast (aperture of f/3.5 - the "Summilux" of the 1840s). It allowed exposures of just a few seconds instead of minutes, which meant subjects did not have to sit as long with their head gripped in the iron restrainer that prevented movement during the exposure. Coincidentally the large aperture made for artistic vignetting and swirly bokeh.

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10 hours ago, PFM said:

I've got one lens in my arsenal that is good from close to medium range, but when it comes to distances, the image starts to fall apart.  So I have to figure that from now on, that lens will be only for street/event type photography.  It's not a characteristic I find charming though.  (BTW, the lens I refer to is an Industar-22, styled after the early Elmar 50/3.5, but not a copy of).  Another lens, an Elmar 90/4, attained a certain softness after some rough cleaning by its previous owner.  Nice for old style portraiture, but not much else.  So I try to steer away from "character" lenses.  If it can't be fixed in post, then it's a fault, not a feature.

PF

 

You might just have bad copy of I-22. Why not to get another one? They cost low. I had I-22 on M3, which I shimmed by using of M-E.

Easy to shim lens.

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I may well want “perfection,” when shooting a nature/landscape image, or a photo showing a group of people, or images of buildings, and may want “character” when shooting images of individual people and pets. I bought my 85mm Otus ZF.2, with nature and landscapes in mind, and my 90mm Thambar-M while envisioning images of people, pets, and close-range flowers, though one can create “impressionist” landscapes with a Thambar-M.

Some “character” lenses will become more “perfect,” when stopped-down. The Summilux-M 50mm ASPH comes to mind; I have not felt a need to add an APO Summicron-M 50mm ASPH for more-perfect 50mm images. I did, however, add a pre-APO, pre-ASPH Summicron-M 50mm, a 50-Jahre special edition, without the telescoping hood, for its smaller profile, and because I really like its resemblance to the classic Rigid Summicrons, a case of the character being on the exterior, rather than the interior. (The fiftieth-year event being commemorated was that of the first Summicron 50mm lens, with the optics of this special edition being those of the IV or V ‘Cron.)

I only added the Leica-M system in April 2018, so am not an expert, of any kind. The signature/character of the Summilux-M 50mm ASPH is what attracted me to Leica. I decided to buy a specific pre-owned Summilux ASPH, at a local Leica dealer, before I knew which M camera I would be buying, upon which to use the lens. I decided to scuttle plans to buy a Nikkor super-tele, for birds, which enabled me to buy both the pre-owned Summilux ASPH and a new M10, together. The months-long recovery, from a left rotator cuff injury, meant that I would not have been hand-holding any long telephoto lenses, for a while, anyway. I soon realized that I had lost the fever for chasing birds, with super-telephoto SLR lenses, and returned to favoring close-range nature/wildlife photography, with SLR gear already on-hand, with emphasis on wee beasties, an unusual case of the desire for Leica-M cameras/lenses resulting in spending less money. 

 

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42 minutes ago, ianman said:

Without a shadow of a doubt: character over perfection.

I cannot imagine what rendering by a perfect lens would be.

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7 minutes ago, pico said:

I cannot imagine what rendering by a perfect lens would be.

Spectacular and boring?

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15 minutes ago, ianman said:

Spectacular and boring?

Or spectacularly boring.

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