Micro contrast/Macro contrast

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Sorry to ask what probably is a well known term amongst everyone, but I'm curious what the definitional differences were. Is macro contrast the Overall look, where its contrasty or soft. While mirco-contrast refers to the small and fine detail? So if you say a particular lens has been designed for high/good macro contrast what does that mean and what resultant image would it produce? thanx,

-- Sparkie (Sparkie@mailcity.com), October 02, 2001



You've got it just about right... Here is a (over)simplified explanation:

Macro contrast is the ability of a lens to render black areas very black and white areas very white. A lens with poor macro contrast will scatter (or flare) light from the bright areas to the dark areas, hence rendering the dark area lighter and the light area darker. In the dark area, there will be no texture present, just a slight density present in the negative where it should be clear (black is reproduced as clear in the negative). The light area is likewise slightly darker due to the flare, because some of the light has been robbed from it and sent into the dark areas of the image.

Micro contrast is the ability of the lens to differentiate between adjacent areas of the image that differ only very slightly from one another in contrast - hence rendering very fine textural detail in both the highlight and shadow areas of the image. Due to excessive flare, poor macro contrast can thus adversly affect micro contrast as well as creating the aforementioned problems in an image.

-- Jack Flesher (jbflesher@msn.com), October 02, 2001.

Jack, many thanks for your answer.

Is it possible to have a lens that excels both in Macro AND mirco contrast? The reason I ask is that I used to have the latest 35mm'Lux ASPH, was happy with it for colour slide work. I would rate this lens as being excellent for capturing fine textural and light details and so would I be right in assuming this lens has(had) a good micro- contrast? It didn't live up to my expectations when I shot in B&W however. I felt the images were not contrasty and edgy enough. My images came out a little flat and muddy, and lacked the punchiness of my 90'cron APO ASPH. Which is why I swapped it (the 35'lux) for a 'cron ASPH. I am now pleased with the images from the 'cron, they are much more contrasty, the blacks are truer and there is a greater range of tones. I haven't however shot slide on this lens and just wonder whether it might be too contrasty for slide causing colours to bunch up. So, is it feasible to have a lens which is great in both traits. Or is it common for some of you to have a dedicated B&W lens (contrasty) and separate lens for colour slide (good at capturing micro detail and nuances of colour). I may have had a dud 35'lux, but my main interest is in B&W, with colour slide on the odd occasion when called for. Cheers,

-- Sparkie (sparkie@mailcity.com), October 02, 2001.

Sparkie, IMHO a high-contrast lens is better for color work than a low-contrast lens This became very apparent to me after I'd learned to use Photoshop and worked with photos made with a variety of lenses.

The low macro-contrast lenses are that way because of their weaker control of internal reflections and flare, giving me dark murk in the shadow areas where there should have been black, and making highlights not as bright as they should have been. These photos have a shorter range of tones, from off-white to dark gray, instead of white to black. When I expand the tonal range to match that of a photo produced with a high-contast lens, the tonal gradation suffers, as seen in the saw-tooth histograms that result from stretching the tonal range.

Some people argue that the scattered light in the shadow areas help bring out shadow detail and the light loss in the highlight areas helop preserve higlight detail but my experience is that the scattered light in shadow areas (for example) move the existing shadow detail to a different part of the tonal range, which has to be adjusted back to near-black in Photoshop. Likewise the highlights resulting from using a low-contrast lens look like someone tried to get white and almost succeeded. These images take a lot more work to get a decent print, and still are lacking the shadow detail and tonal range I'd have gotten with a high-contrast lens.

FWIW, my photos made with Leica lenses (R in my case) are easier to work with. Infer whatever you wish about Other Brand glass :)

-- Douglas Herr (telyt@earthlink.net), October 02, 2001.


Yes, it is possible to have a lens that gives both good Micro and Macro contrast - in fact, this is the very trait that sets most modern Leica glass apart from the competition, IMO! Also, I agree with what Douglas said in that I like high contrast in both my color slides and B&W work. And it has been my experience as well that many people confuse low Macro contrast with improved exposure latitude in their images - which it is not because of the lack of any expanded detail.

You also made an interesting comment re your 35 'Lux asph - The first version of the 35 'Lux asph had "aspherical" spelled out completely on the lens, while the second (improved) version just had "asph" printed on it... I understand that first version had a problem with low contrast (and flare) which was why it got improved. HOWEVER, the first version lens has become VERY collectible. So if that's what you had, I hope you got a lot of $$$ for it! I have owned both the 35 'Lux and 'Cron asphs, and found them each to be exceptional performers with exceptional Macro and Micro contrast; equal in all respects to my 90AA. In my case, I kept the 'Lux because of its extra stop, but admit I hated selling the 'Cron...

-- Jack Flesher (jbflesher@msn.com), October 02, 2001.

Thanks Douglas for your answer, have you used an M before, and if so, have you seen differences in performances of the lenses? I saw a program on TV last night on photo-documentarism(?) as opposed to photo-journalism (probably the same) and it shouwed Salgado and his work, he was polishing the lens on his R (6.2 i think) - wicked. This guy takes 5-7 years to do ONE project! Lucky.... Jack, I didn't have the first verson 35 'Lux ASPH, I had the latest model, whichever version that is!, I bought it in December last year. So by what you are saying I Should have got similar results to my 90 APO ASPH, dissapointingly I didn't, which is why I swapped it out for a 'cron ASPH. Maybe I had a dud 'lux?

-- Sparkie (Sparkie@mailcity.com), October 03, 2001.

Thanks Douglas for your answer, have you used an M before

Nope, never have. My normal lens is the 400mm f/6.8 Telyt, and there's a reason my e-mail address is 'telyt'. See:


This kind of photography is SLR stuff so I have not used an M.

-- Douglas Herr (telyt@earthlink.net), October 03, 2001.

I remember very well taking shots with an M3 and K64 in the 80s with a rigid Summicron 50mm, 90mm "fat" Tele-Elmarit, and 35mm 2.8 Summaron. These lenses do not have the tremendous "punch" that current Leica lenses have, but on a contrasty film like Kodachrome the results were positively magical. I think these lenses had pretty good microcontrast (the resolution was excellent) but less "good" macrocontrast. It is generally assumed that high macro contrast is good. After my experiences with these lenses, I am less certain. The Japanese used to have the reputation for going for high macro contrast, rather at the expense of microcontrast/resolution and the comparison of the Leica look with the look of my other Canon and Tamron lenses was striking. To me, the Leica won hands down.

I am quite prepared to accept that these older Leica lenses are less "good" than the current designs, but the older lens characteristics are wonderful. I saw a similar effect changing from my older style 50mm Summicron-R to the current Summicron-R. I wish I still had those older lenses...

-- Robin Smith (smith_robin@hotmail.com), October 03, 2001.

To a great violinist playing classical music, the difference between a Stradavarius and an ordinary violin is very important; to a fiddler playing pop tunes it's not.

I have a page of color portraits all done with Canon EOS lenses (50mm f/1.4, 85mm f/1.8, 135mm f/2L)--all but one, that is. Now I understand that this is not a fair test: all the images are 300 pixel-high, sharpened JPEG's--but I'm wondering if anyone else but myself can see the difference and pick out which one was taken with a 90mm Summicron. To me the ringer is obvious and is differentiated from the others by its, for lack of a better word, 'naturalness.'

Wild Flowers: Women Artists of the Monterey Peninsula

-- Peter Hughes (ravenart@pacbell.net), October 03, 2001.

Martha Casaneve? Many of the others seem very soft, were you using a soft filter of some kind?

-- rob (rob@robertappleby.com), October 03, 2001.

Hey Peter,

Okay, I see here that I'll have to confess I need to work out much less theoretical aspects but just take even a fraction of the good portraits that you have done.


-- Michael Kastner (kastner@zedat.fu-berlin.de), October 03, 2001.

Sparkie, your contrast analysis is right on target.

My experience is similar to Robin's.

The films I shoot are inherently contrasty - Velvia, Pan F, pushed HP5 - and I find most modern lenses (Zeiss, Nikon, AND some of the newest Leica designs) to be a touch 'hot' for shooting in sunlight, with a tendency to block detail in either the highlights or shadows. I was lured into Leica after experiencing the tonal range of the 1980s-era lenses, which have excellent micro-contrast but a touch less macro contrast, and on the whole I prefer working with them.

My impression is that the 35 f/1.4 ASPH has a contrast signature closer to the non-ASPH f/2 design, simply because of the design constraints of the very large aperture. The 50 and 75 'luxes also follow this pattern, but they really ARE older designs, so it's not so surprising.

That being said, in low contrast situations (heavy overcast or deep shade, especially shooting color negatives) my lenses start to suffer a bit from low contrast - so there is no perfect solution.

Here is a shot made with my 1980's 28 Elmarit on Pan F. It holds a very long tonal scale , from the sun itself to deep shadows. Yet is also has very crisp micro-contrasts in the kids' hair, the T-shirt lettering, the boy's glasses, and the columns of transparent water against a bright sky.

There are also some flare patches in the center, but these are partly from water drops on the lens - I had to warm the M4-P in a 100-degree oven after this shoot to evaporate condensation from the RF optics.

-- Andy Piper (apidens@denver.infi.net), October 03, 2001.

Sparkie: if you get a chance to look at Doug Herr's photo site, you'll see why contrast is useful/important to him - he's doing a lot of shooting in low contrast settings (overcast or near dusk/dawn) when trying to capture birds and wildlife, or with flat frontal sunlight (coyote) or backlight where the contrast helps brighten flat shadow areas (pelicans and some other birds). I lust after his 400 Telyt - it's one lens that might drag me kicking and screaming back to SLRs for occasional use.

Note that one of the few shots taken in 'contrasty' light - Mt. McKinley sidelit at dawn - was shot with a 1960s/70s Nikkor, which would have relatively low macro contrast by today's standards (German AND Japanese).

RE Peter's quiz: Martha Casaneve pops out, but that shot is in a quasi-studio setting - I think it's just the different lighting. Ther's something about Belle Yang's eyes that says 90 Summicron, but that's mostly a WAG at this resolution.

(Damn, I love it when these threads get into classroom mode!! Such a lot of knowledge to exchange!)

-- Andy Piper (apidens@denver.infi.net), October 03, 2001.

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