question re legacy glass in general - why are the images washed out/less contrasty?

Discussion in 'Adapted Lenses' started by so 650, Feb 20, 2014.

  1. so 650

    so 650 Mu-43 Rookie

    Dec 19, 2010
    First, thanks to the mu-43 regulars who provide so much useful information.

    I enjoy shooting manual lenses, both native (Voigtlander 25/.95) and legacy glass (Nikkor 85/2, Tamron adaptall 180/2.5) on micro 4/3. I only recently have moved from a 1st generation camera (G1) to almost current state (EM-5).

    I notice that the images from the old lenses are usually washed out in appearance when I first import the raw files, but by pushing the black level and contrast in lightroom I can get some very nice images with these. (And this is not the case with the much newer Voigtlander lens.)

    My question is: what is it about the older lenses, or combination of lens-made-for-film and digital sensor that gives this result? And how best to deal with it?

    (I think I've read somewhere that the issue is in part the coating s on the older lenses, somehow being non-optimal for digital, but I dunno why, or even if I'm making it up .. but if this is the case, would a highfalutin expensive multicoated filter help?)

    Thanks for your insights!
  2. nuclearboy

    nuclearboy Mu-43 Top Veteran

    Jan 28, 2011
    Ellicott City, MD
    Real Name:
    I have noticed this too and it is lens specific. Different versions (newer versions for instance) of the same lens may be different. I owned 5 Olympus 50mm f1.4 lenses. The old ones were not too sharp and the colors were not too good. The newest version I have looks very similar to the Oly 45 for sharpness and color. I don't feel the need to adjust images from that lens. The difference in all of these lenses is reported to be the different coatings used over the years. The later generation (at least in this example) had much better coatings.

    I had a few legacy lenses that gave very cold looking images (shift towards blue).

    Bottom line, try some different lenses before settling if you have time. If not, keep adjusting. I have to adjust the histogram levels on shots from my Canon FD 200mm 2.8. They always look a little dull until I adjust the levels and then the images are very nice.
  3. Artorius

    Artorius Mu-43 Regular

    I've also heard that the lack of modern coatings on the optics is what causes it to be less contrasty. Hopefully someone can come and elaborate for you!
  4. OzRay

    OzRay Mu-43 Legend

    Jan 29, 2010
    South Gippsland, Australia
    Real Name:
    Ray, not Oz
    Generally it's to do with the coatings, design and the type of glass used in the lens construction. Digital sensors are far less forgiving than film ever was; that said, some lenses are surprisingly good. I have a Leica 135mm f4 Tele-Elmar that dates back to 1965 and it is a very, very, nice lens. I understand the desirability of Leica lenses from owning this lens.
  5. MAubrey

    MAubrey Photographer

    Jul 9, 2012
    Bellingham, WA
    Real Name:
    Mike Aubrey
    It's primarily the coatings. The Voigtlander 58mm f/1.4 is actually a fairly old lens design in terms of the glass (identical to the Topcor 58mm f/1.4), but it is substantially superior to the Topcor in contrast because of its coatings. In fact, according to's reviews, its one of the very best 50-ish lenses available.

    I can't say whether a high quality coated filter would improve things, but my inclination is that it probably wouldn't.
  6. orfeo

    orfeo Mu-43 Top Veteran

    Sep 27, 2013
    It's a question of lens formula. Look at this page, you will see a comparaison of four macro lens. Ranging from 1200 bux to 50 bux... The best color comes from the old 1970 lens.

    Not because it's old, but because of the Tessar formula, with only 4 elements and very few air to glass surface. Expect the multi coated version of that macro lens to be even better. I let you judge the colors.
    • Like Like x 1
  7. Screamin Scott

    Screamin Scott Mu-43 Regular

    Jan 13, 2014
    Atlanta Ga. Metro
    Helps to use a lens hood on the older glass as well...
  8. 0dBm

    0dBm Mu-43 Top Veteran

    Jun 30, 2011
    Western United States
    It is typically a lack of an efficient anti-reflective coating on the older lenses.
    Visualize this: Light incident on the front element on a lens.

    Total amount of light incident is only mostly transmitted through the element because the outside surface of the front element reflects some of it.
    The light then travels to the next element which only transmits most of the light because the frontal surface reflects some of it. Guess where that reflected light goes? Yep, to the back side of the front element which does guess what?!! Yep, it reflects to the front side of that internal element.

    Repeat phenomenon for the next elements until it finally reaches the glass element that covers the electronic sensor of the modern digital camera which likely has a VERY Good AR coating. But, by the time all that light bouncing around reaches the sensor, could the image becomes distorted? Youbetcha!!

    VERY desirable in this modern age is an efficient (defined as VERY high transmittance-VERY low reflectance) AR coating that transmits as much light while minimizing all that doggone bouncing around.

    Ima gonna shutup before this turns into one a dem boring lectures I usta give years ago.

    Sorry for opening up my big mouth and boring everyone.:redface::tongue:
    • Like Like x 8
  9. Reflector

    Reflector Mu-43 Veteran

    Aug 31, 2013
    Modern lenses designed for digital sensors also have some modification of the AR coating (If you're looking at designs that are "optically similar or outright same" to their pre-digital counterparts) on the rear element to reduce the reflection off the sensor and that'll also reduce your contrast as well.
    • Like Like x 1
  10. Screamin Scott

    Screamin Scott Mu-43 Regular

    Jan 13, 2014
    Atlanta Ga. Metro
    Helps to use a lens hood on the older glass as well...
  11. kadamnation

    kadamnation Mu-43 Regular

    Feb 13, 2013
    Boston, MA
    +1 for the Leica 135mm Tele-Elmar, I was just noticing last night how punchy and bright its colors are compared to the other older lenses I have (including an old Leitz 50 that's positively drab in comparison—so it's not just the manufacturer that matter I guess!). Thanks to everyone who's jumped in to help explain why!

    Is there any thread on here about what lenses give the best (most contrast, brightest color) OOC results, or should I look through lens tips or something?
  12. Drdave944

    Drdave944 Mu-43 Top Veteran

    Feb 2, 2012
    Agree with comments about hood and coating. I use some real modern glass such as Canon EF and find hood and more particularly amount of sunshine makes big difference.Get good bright back lit scenes for good contrast.
  13. dwig

    dwig Mu-43 Top Veteran

    Jun 26, 2010
    Key West FL
    There are actually 3 major factors at play:

    1. The effectiveness of the anti-reflection coatings, as many have said in earlier posts.
    2. Condition of the lens surfaces. Older lenses very, very often have acquired a film on interior surfaces due to exposure to contaminants in the air (e.g. cigarette smoke, storage in plastic bags, general air pollution, ...). These are very slow working, but over a third or half century they can build up to levels that noticeably impact image quality.
    3. Internal flare from reflective surfaces. These are often well controlled in the lenses themselves but are very often poorly dealt with in the adapters. Shiny flat surfaces on the sides of adapters can add a very large amount of flare. This is rarely seen in the LTM and Leica M adapters since they are very short, but is quite commonly a factor in adapters for legacy 35mm SLR mounts. Lining my Pentax K-mount > m43 adapter with flat black felt made a big improvement in the performance of my 100mm f/4 Pentax-M macro. Mount the "problem" lens on its adapter and point it toward a bright window and look through the rear. If you can tilt the combo and see any reflection on the inner surface of the adapter then the adapter is causing at least some of the contrast problem.
    • Like Like x 3
  14. pellicle

    pellicle Mu-43 All-Pro

    Feb 10, 2010
    Southport, OzTrailEYa
    Real Name:

    basically I agree with the 2nd reply to your question (and I didn't read all of them).

    It is lens specific. However to me the solution lies in that legacy lenses fullfil criteria that that native lenses may not.

    For instance when I first got my G1 I bought a 50mm lens for it. It was an FD 50f1.8 ... being curious I naturally put a OM 50mm f1.8 on as my next small experiment and found that it was noticably better.

    My next purchase was a FD200f4, which was actually better by far to the (then only native lens) 45-200mm zoom.

    Since then I've mainly kept to lenses which fit roles which other native lenses do not (or if they do are more than I'm willing to spend).

    For instance I'm quite fond of my Pentax 110 70mm f2.8 lens. Its probable that the Olympus native 75mm f1.8 is better, but as I paid $50 for the Pentax I'm not sure the Native is worth the extra $$$ in my case.

    Other than that I've read / heard / seen that RF lenses (with shorter flange distances) seem to be less effective on the m4/3 than the legacy 35mm lenses, which have an adapter to hold them 'off the sensor' further. I notice also that many of the newer lenses seem to have a 'telecentric' design (to keep them further away from the sensor) which seems to effect the image. It has been said that the reason for this is that the light can fall more 'perpendicularly' to the sensor and not have 'edge angeles' which of course Leica solves with specifically oriented micro lenses on their sensors. (see
  15. pellicle

    pellicle Mu-43 All-Pro

    Feb 10, 2010
    Southport, OzTrailEYa
    Real Name:
    wouldn't you want good bright front lit scenes?

    Sun over the sholder? not looking into the sun?
    • Like Like x 1
  16. DigitalD

    DigitalD Mu-43 Top Veteran

    Jan 10, 2014
    Real Name:
    I've found that I lose contrast when stopped down too far. Say passed f5.6 where as it needs some help in post. With FD and MD glass I find f2 to f4 to render the best color/contrast wise. I'm not sure why and think it has to do with how the particular sensor corrects for low light? Maybe someone more knowledgeable can speak on that.
  17. RichardB

    RichardB Snapshooter

    Nov 19, 2012
    Maryland, US
    Real Name:
    My understanding is that telecentric designs limit distortion (e.g. fisheye effect) while the sensor micro lenses or perpendicularity are meant to limit vignetting due to light fall-off at the edges. I can imagine that distortion and vignetting could both be improved by moving the lens out from the sensor. It does seem that pancake lenses are always a bit compromised optically.
  18. coffeecat

    coffeecat Mu-43 Top Veteran

    Aug 4, 2012
    SW England
    Real Name:
    I asked a similar question a year or so back


    And got a similar reply, with some fascinating (to me, anyway) technical discussion about what lens manufacturers did with their lens coatings when colour film started to take over from B&W.
    I guess it depends on how old the "legacy" lenses are that you are talking about.:wink:
    Mine was (I think) very early 1960s.
    Now I've added a really modern one from 1974...!

  19. RobWatson

    RobWatson Mu-43 Hall of Famer

    In addition to what everyone said above the adapter may need to be blackened and/or baffled to better control stray light not directly headed for the sensor. Remember your legacy lenses image circle is much larger than the m43 sensor - that light has got to go somewhere! Best to control it at the front of the lens with a well fitted hood and at the back end with some baffles. Good idea to fit a good baffle into the adapter so all legacy lenses can benefit.

    I had a few adapters with very shiny interior surfaces that produced results as you describe that were reduced quite a bit just by adding flat black paint to the offending surfaces. A baffle improved things even more. Not perfect but significantly better and well worth the effort. EDIT - like dwig said.
  20. Drdave944

    Drdave944 Mu-43 Top Veteran

    Feb 2, 2012
    I mean sun hitting your back:smile: