Source of myth that different brands of LF lenses reproduce colors differently? : LUSENET : Large format photography : One Thread

Is it just me, or do others agree that there isn't any significant difference in color faithfulness among LF lenses? For years I've heard that "European sand (used for glassmaking) renders different colors than does Japanese sand" or "Buy all of your LF lenses of the same brand, because different lens brands have different personalities" (that's from a 1999 Calumet catalog!) or "German-made lenses like Schneiders produce more faithful colors" (that's from a pair of posts in this forum, as yet unanswered, called "Horseman and Schneider" and "Schneider and Horseman").

Will anyone go on record as saying they can actually look at a photograph and declare in which COUNTRY was made the lens used to make the photograph?

Maybe I'm colorblind, but when I buy current/modern LF lenses, my criteria are three other C's (not "color"):

1. Coverage 2. Compactness 3. Cost

(Sometimes the order varies.) Sure, it's nice if the lens shutter fits a lensboard I've got lying around, or if the filter size matches my screw-ins, but it always comes down to the three considerations above: I can safely say that "Color rendition" has never been a factor in my decision whether or not to buy (I'm talking about current production lenses, of course, not antiques, which is why "sharpness" is as much of a given as is "decent color rendition").

As a result, I have at least one lens each from Fuji, Nikkor, Rodenstock, and Schneider. Each lens, I feel, is the best choice for its focal length in the format for which I bought it. As far as I know, no viewer has recoiled in horror at the jarring dissonance between the colors in a photo I made with a Nikkor, for example, compared to a photo I made with a Schneider.


-- Simon Gammelin (, November 21, 1999


There have been, in the past, some brands of lenses that were slightly warm or cool in their color rendition. An older series of Cooke Kinetals come to mind; they were particularly amber in color, so much so that you could see this when holding the lenses up to the light. But I don't know that those variations have anything to do with the country of origin. I'm certain the glass that the manufacturer's use makes a difference but I've got to believe their coating methods play an important role as well. An interesting historical note is that Alpa, once upon a time, selected from a group of about 4 or 5 lens makers, a system of lenses they called matched apochromats. Schneider, Angenieux, Kern (Switar fame), Kinoptic are the 4 I can remember. Maybe it was only 4. Point is, they felt they needed to select from a number of makers to come up with a group of focal lengths that would meet their standards of color neutrality. When all is said and done, I wonder if maybe the films, film freshness, quality of processing, color temperature of the light, filtration, etc., etc. don't play a more important role in the color balance of the finished product.

-- Robert A. Zeichner (, November 21, 1999.

I agree that the widespread generalizations about color rendition, like much photo lore, have little basis in fact.

The sand explaination is ludicrous. Today, the composition of the commonly-used optical glass types is effectively internationally standardized, and very closely controlled; it is not affected by local variations in raw materials. Examination of glass catalogs from Schott, Hoya, Ohara, etc. will confirm that the optical properties, including spectral transmission, do not vary significantly with country of origin.

While the anti-reflection coatings used on all modern lenses can have a measurable effect on spectral transmission, the effect is unlikely to correlate with lens brand. The coatings are individualy designed for each coated surface, so the aggregate effect varies more between designs from a given manufacturer than between manufacturers. However, the difference is very subtle -- more so than between different batches of a given film type.

Vintage lenses, however, may vary significantly in color rendition. Before color photography became dominant, lens designers paid less attention to spectral transmission.

In any case, differences in spectral transmission can be compensated with filtration. If it is necessary to more closely match the color rendition of lenses, this can be done with color-correction filters, as is done in critical work to compensated for variations between film batches.

-- Sean Donnelly (, November 21, 1999.

May I take this in another direction?

This myth started when there was a wonderful range of lenses with different, real, personalities to choose from. Even in lenses that are just twenty years old, the differences are far greater than they are in the indentical and boring optics on today's market.

At one time, there were lenses that suited different styles of work because they "rendered" the image in very different ways. Now we have great accuracy, sharpness, and correction, but the images all look the same.

The saddest part of this thread is that this is described as a "myth" in the first place. There was once a reason to choose a lens other than its' MTF chart or image circle.


-- Brian Yarvin (, November 21, 1999.

There was a Japanese photography magazine that performed a test of 300/4's from leading manufacturers about 2 yrs ago (Zeiss, Pentax, Nikon, Canon, Minolta, Sigma). In the photos shown, you could clearly see color casts from different brands of lenses. Even recently, there was a test between the Contax 645 and Pentax 645N for portrait lenses, and then a test between all three leading AF 645 lenses (Contax lenses were definitely the warmest in color). You can clearly see differences in color (sharpness in some cases, and definitely bokeh). That said, I own 8 schneider lenses (MF/LF), a few zeiss, and 1 nikkor LF lens and have to say that I'm convinced the Schneider MF/LF glass is warmer this single Nikkor sample. I'm even considering permanently attaching a 1A filter to the Nikkor to compensate. I don't believe the warmth/coolness is characteristic of a country's optical glass, but rather that of a particular brand.

-- James Chow (, November 21, 1999.

James states that his Schneiders seem warmer than his Nikon. I have found just the opposite to be true with mine. I have consistently seen a difference between the two Nikkors I have when compared to the Schneiders. When shot under the same lighting conditions and with the same batch of film the Nikkors are noticeable warmer when comparing transparencies side by side on the light table.

-- Mark Windom (, November 21, 1999.

I agree with Mark. I don't think it is a "myth" at all, but rather a linguistics problem. Certainly different brands and vintages of lenses have diferent characteristics. No lens is truly neutral in reality, just as no film is. Maybe with digital imaging you can get an image that is technically truly neutral according to the numbers, but then you are goingto look at it either on a monitor (which or may not be calibrated, and if it is to whose standard?) or as a print (and once again subjectivity raises it's pretty little head). Let's say you make some test images varying only the make of lens (in other words: same film stock & processing, same lighting, same subject matter,) slap them down on your Just-Normlicht computer calibrated and controlled lightbox. You may like one while your partner or client likes another, Which of you is right? Take the two lenses out into the field and shoot lots of tests under wildly differing conditions. Maybe you'll like the warmer lens for end of the day "golden light" or people images and the cooler lens for product and moody, stormy scenes. Does this mean you should carry both? Maybe in an ideal world you can but most of us can't afford to have two (or more sets of lenses) much carry the excess weight and baggage around.

If no has yet " recoiled in horror at the jarring dissonance... " maybe it is because they are too busy responding to the images you are making.

-- Ellis Vener (, November 22, 1999.

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