Do some lenses/lens brands produce more contrasty results than others?

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PGraham3

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Howdy, APUG!
I’ve been getting into BW photography much more these days, and while I’m aware that different BW film produce different results, I’m quite curious about lenses. Have any of you found or know if certain lens brands and/or lenses produce better contrast than others?

The reason I ask is that I’ve noticed that’ my Nikon lenses tend to produce a little more contrasty results than the Auto Rikenon lenses using the same film and similar lighting. In color, Nikon lenses appear to produce more cooler tones, whereas Rikenon lenses tend to produce warmer tones.
And yes, I’m aware that the photographer has a lot to do when getting good results, but I’m just super curious if there is any official/good non-official data out there that suggests certain lens brands/lenses are better for BW than others.
Thanks, APUG! Looking forward to read what you’d like to share.
-Paul
 

narsuitus

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Have any of you found or know if certain lens brands and/or lenses produce better contrast than others?

Zeiss lenses have the reputation for producing more contrast than other lenses.

The 8-element Asahi Pentax 50mm f/1.4 Takumar M42 lens has the reputation for producing contrast like a Zeiss lens.
 

GLS

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Yes, absolutely. Macro/micro contrast, colour casts and so on are all affected by the optical design of the lens (including coatings). Zeiss lenses for example are well known to produce a high degree of contrast (especially microcontrast); I own several for different formats and can attest to this.
 

guangong

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For more recently manufactured lenses with computer assisted assembly, I don’t know, but one reason for the higher cost of the better lenses in the past was the need to match the various lens elements into a single lens for desired quality, including contrast. Cheaper lenses were cheaper for a reason. The popularity of the Tessar and its variants was the small number of elements needed for a rather good lens.
Yes, Zeiss lenses have reputation for very good contrast (as well as Nikon, which was the beneficiary of Zeiss patents after WWII), as well as Leica.
PGraham3 is a sharp eyed viewer of his prints.
 

Les Sarile

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How you are evaluating the results has considerably more influence then the characteristic of the lens when factory new.
 
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PGraham3

PGraham3

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Thanks a bunch for commenting! To be honest, I'm not super interested in recently manufactured lenses, but I can imagine many innovations have been made over the years to assure that lenses may be better than what they were 30 years ago. I'm actually primarily interested in lenses made from the 1950s-1980s, particularly trying to ascertain if certain m42 lenses are more contrasty than the others, and if certain brands or styles of lenses produce more contrasty images in BW.
I was quite surprised to hear about Zeiss lenses being known for their contrast. I've honestly never used a Zeiss lens and will definitely take a look.
Is there any official/non-official data compiled anywhere to attest for this?
Thanks again for commenting!
-Paul
 

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For lenses in the period you are describing probably one major factor that benefited lenses was the introduction of surface coating which was followed by multicoating. These reduce reflections at air-glass interfaces and can increase contrast in part by suppressing flare from bright light sources in the frame which cause the shadows to become lighter. Look for multicoated lenses in preference to single coated or uncoated lenses.
 
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Oh definitely. I printed color for a photographer that shot a Leica. The prints from his negs were contrasty. It was too crispy for my taste.
 

GLS

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I was quite surprised to hear about Zeiss lenses being known for their contrast. I've honestly never used a Zeiss lens and will definitely take a look.
Is there any official/non-official data compiled anywhere to attest for this?

The problem with such contrast comparisons is they are difficult to quantify, but are obvious when results from different lenses are seen side-by-side. Here is quite a lengthy article by Lloyd Chambers on the Zeiss "Pop" (the first comparison image is particularly telling).:

https://lenspire.zeiss.com/photo/en/article/micro-contrast-and-the-zeiss-pop-by-lloyd-chambers/

There are many, many similar anecdotal reports you can read online from people who have shot Zeiss lenses compared against other brands. I too have found the same; the RAW files shot with any of my Zeiss lenses on my D810 are clearly more contrasty than those from my Nikon glass, and appear more three-dimensional.
 

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Usually what kills contrast is internal flare, or stray light bouncing around in between the elements. So usually lenses with fewer elements will often have more contrast. Though the additional elements are usually there to fix other aberrations, so you usually gain sharpness with more elements. This was more true during the pre WWII days, before coated lenses were the norm.

What lens coatings do is allow you to add more elements while keeping the flare down, because the glass to air boundaries could be coated to prevent excessive reflections off the glass surfaces. That's one reason why modern lenses tend to have more contrast than older ones. It's also what gives lenses from certain manufacturers a look.

That's one reason I love those old Pentax SMC lenses. Back in the 70's and 80's, I think Pentax and Zeiss had the best coatings, and the Pentax are obviously cheaper. My old Nikon, Canon, and Minolta lenses from the same era usually have less contrast, though some are a bit sharper. And my off brand lenses tend to be even flatter than those brands (but not always). It's also why I tend to prefer prime lenses (they usually have better correction using fewer elements). Though, it's hard to generalize anything with lenses across the board. You really have to compare one lens to another directly to fully understand any meaningful differences. Just saying one brand is always more contrasty than another will get you into trouble. In fact, about a year ago I sold an E series 28mm Nikon 2.8 because a 24mm Cosina 2.8 lens from the same time period I got for free was far superior in every respect. And as time has moved on, and lens coatings and lens formulas have changed, so to does their performance. Plus there's always sample to sample variation to consider.
 

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There is a great deal of differences that are not just measurable on a lab bench. Once you work with a few for a while these differences become understood. Contrast is one that's easy to notice as you mentioned and could be caused by many factors like coatings, flare from not using a hood or inherent design. There is a world of difference between my 50 DR Summicron and 50 Summilux, for example, so that I can choose one or the other depending conditions. My friend who was shooting Leica and Nikon in the early '70s told me once he would choose Nikon for high contrast and Leica for shadow detail depending on the shoot. I would put myself on the line and postulate that there may be less variation (or less noticeable) these days among modern lenses.
 

Arthurwg

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My subjective impression is that while Zeiss lenses produces great contrast, they also have a wider separation of grey tones. I do think Mamiya may have the best contrast, however.
 

Alan Gales

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I used to shoot a Contax camera with Zeiss lenses. Zeiss were well known for their contrast. All five of my lenses were very sharp and contrasty. I know that Zeiss was said to have incredible quality control so there was very little sample variation. This was one of the reasons they were so expensive.

That said, I owned the Zeiss 180mm f/2.8 Sonnar. It was a fantastic lens but I heard that the Nikon 180mm f/2.8 was just as sharp and contrasty. :smile: I think a lot depends upon lens design, sample variations and of course more modern multi coatings.
 

Ian C

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Realistically, lenses don’t produce color or contrast. They can, and sometimes do, reduce the original scene contrast in various degrees compared to other lenses. Thus images projected from some lenses have more contrast than from others lenses for a variety of reasons. But no lens can increase contrast beyond the contrast of the original scene.

Likewise, some lenses filter some colors to alter the color of the projected image. Usually the lens-to-lens color difference is quite subtle, even unnoticeable. About 1995 or so I did a test with two friends. We each shot the same series of 4 subjects. One was colorful 30” x 40” oil painting. All shots were done in sunlight under a sunny sky. We used a single 12-frame roll of Kodacolor VRG 100 film. I shot frames 1 – 4 with a Nikon 55 mm f/1.2 AI Nikkor. Ron shot frames 5 – 8 with a Minolta 50 mm f/1.4 Minolta AF lens. Helmut shot frames 9 – 12 with a 58 mm f/2 Zeiss Biotar (East Germany). We simply moved the roll of film from my Nikon EL2 to Ron’s Minolta Maxxim 7000, and then to Helmut’s Exakta Varex (I don’t recall the specific model).

The shots with the modern Nikon and Minolta lenses were identical in color, resolution, and contrast. The shots from the Zeiss Biotar were quite exaggerated in yellow/amber/red. They were also of somewhat lower contrast and significantly low in resolution of fine detail compared to the modern Japanese lenses. Note that all shots were recorded on the same roll of film, so the only difference was the lenses used. All shots were made at the same shutter speed and aperture.

The old Zeiss Biotar had yellowed considerably over the years. I presume that it used thorium-alloyed glass as was common in the era of its manufacture. The photos from the Biotar were a lot warmer than those from the modern Nikon and Minolta lenses.
 

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For lenses in the period you are describing probably one major factor that benefited lenses was the introduction of surface coating which was followed by multicoating. These reduce reflections at air-glass interfaces and can increase contrast in part by suppressing flare from bright light sources in the frame which cause the shadows to become lighter. Look for multicoated lenses in preference to single coated or uncoated lenses.

I agree. I have Zeiss multicoated lenses and they are more contrasty than my Nikon and Tameron lenses.
 

jjphoto

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Lenses with fewer elements (when discussing older lenses but this is not as relevant to new designs because coatings are so much better today) and, more importantly better coatings, will potentially give higher contrast. Zeiss T* coatings were always excellent and I think this accounts for their high contrast, especially during the period the OP is discussing. Flare (glare) kills contrast.
 

Arklatexian

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For lenses in the period you are describing probably one major factor that benefited lenses was the introduction of surface coating which was followed by multicoating. These reduce reflections at air-glass interfaces and can increase contrast in part by suppressing flare from bright light sources in the frame which cause the shadows to become lighter. Look for multicoated lenses in preference to single coated or uncoated lenses.
What is said above mostly applies to color photography. Single coating and sometimes no coating can be better for B&W. Pictures made by Ansel Adams, Edward Weston and many others were shot with uncoated lenses before 1945. In B&W the question might better be asked of enlarging lenses. The answer would probably be the same..........Regards!
 

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What attracts me to older lenses is their comparative lack of contrast, or at least their very subtle management of it.
There are plenty of modern lenses with increased contrast if that is the look one is after
T
 

TheRook

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Often the actual difference in contrast between lenses is far smaller than people imagine it to be.
 
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PGraham3

PGraham3

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To be a little more specific now, are there any older Zeiss M42 lenses y'all would recommend for BW photography, particularly ones that are known for producing high contrast?
I keep hearing about the Carl Zeiss Jena Flektogon 35mm f2.4. Anyone have any experience with it?

Thanks!
-Paul
 

MattKing

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High contrast may mean lower resolution, or resolution that is significantly higher near the centre than the corners. It also may mean that the lens renders images in a way which favours contrast over tonality.
When lenses are designed, compromises are necessary. How the compromises are balanced is a priority decision made by the lens designers and manufacturers.
In medium format, the comparison between lenses for the Hasselblad cameras and Mamiya cameras tend to show a difference between how those compromises are balanced.
 

jim10219

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What is said above mostly applies to color photography. Single coating and sometimes no coating can be better for B&W. Pictures made by Ansel Adams, Edward Weston and many others were shot with uncoated lenses before 1945. In B&W the question might better be asked of enlarging lenses. The answer would probably be the same..........Regards!
To be fair, most of those high contrast B&W shots were made with colored filters. That’s a huge advantage for black and white photography. By choosing the appropriate color of filter, you can boost and/or reduce contrast within a scene. Even without colored filters, some B&W films respond differently to colors and can increase contrast. The obvious examples being infrared and orthochromatic films versus panchromatic. As an added bonus, you can even reduce chromatic aberration and increase apparent sharpness by using colored filters.

Coatings still reduce flare and flare still reduces contrast, colored filter or no. Even on B&W film. Most of the lens designs in use before coatings became standard are designed with minimal air to glass surfaces. This also helps to cut down on internal flare. Lens hoods also go a long way in controlling that. So it’s still possible to get great contrast from uncoated and single coated lenses.
 

guangong

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The Nikon copy of the Zeiss Olympic Sonnar was tweaked to f2.5, probably for marketing reasons. It was my 180mm for my Hassy 1000F and later my 2000FCM. But that f0.3 stop increase came at a big increase in weight. However, lens was, and is, very good. Originally made for Nikon rf cameras. Digital age made longer Hassy lenses affordable. Keep Nikon for weight training.
 

Alan Gales

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High contrast may mean lower resolution, or resolution that is significantly higher near the centre than the corners. It also may mean that the lens renders images in a way which favours contrast over tonality.
When lenses are designed, compromises are necessary. How the compromises are balanced is a priority decision made by the lens designers and manufacturers.
In medium format, the comparison between lenses for the Hasselblad cameras and Mamiya cameras tend to show a difference between how those compromises are balanced.


Matt, you are of course correct. Contrast and resolution are two different things and a high contrast lens may have higher or lower resolution than a low contrast lens.

I heard this back in the 1980's so take it with a grain of salt. As a whole, Japanese lenses were said to be sharper in the center and German lenses were equally sharp all over but not as sharp as the Japanese lenses in the center. The German lenses were also said to produce more contrast which could give the illusion in the print that they were sharper. These were of course compromises made by the lens manufacturers.

I used to be in a very large camera club back then and members owned a variety of cameras and lenses. We projected our slides for critique. For the life of me, I couldn't tell you what photograph was shot with what lens. I'm not saying that there isn't differences in lenses. There is of course but I think that sometimes there was less difference in real world shooting than people imagined.

I like your comparison of Hasselblad Zeiss lenses and Mamiya lenses. Zeiss gives you that "pop" and Mamiya is sometimes favored for portraiture. If I were shooting fashion I'd prefer the Zeiss and if I was shooting portraiture I'd favor the Mamiya. I've owned both and you really can't go wrong with either.
 
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Sirius Glass

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Matt, you are of course correct. Contrast and resolution are two different things and a high contrast lens may have higher or lower resolution than a low contrast lens.

I heard this back in the 1980's so take it with a grain of salt. As a whole, Japanese lenses were said to be sharper in the center and German lenses were equally sharp all over but not as sharp as the Japanese lenses in the center. The German lenses were also said to produce more contrast which could give the illusion in the print that they were sharper. These were of course compromises made by the lens manufacturers.

I used to be in a very large camera club back then and members owned a variety of cameras and lenses. We projected our slides for critique. For the life of me, I couldn't tell you what photograph was shot with what lens. I'm not saying that there isn't differences in lenses. There is of course but I think that sometimes there was less difference in real world shooting than people imagined.

I like your comparison of Hasselblad Zeiss lenses and Mamiya lenses. Zeiss gives you that "pop" and Mamiya is sometimes favored for portraiture. If I were shooting fashion I'd prefer the Zeiss and if I was shooting portraiture I'd favor the Mamiya. I've owned both and you really can't go wrong with either.

"If I were shooting fashion I'd prefer the Zeiss" I would replace "fashion" with "just about anything".
 
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