1. Reminder: Please user our affiliate links to get to your favorite stores for holiday shopping!

Which lenses render best in B&W?

Discussion in 'Native Lenses' started by GFFPhoto, Mar 29, 2013.

  1. GFFPhoto

    GFFPhoto Mu-43 All-Pro

    Feb 24, 2013
    Hey folks. I used to shoot and develop B&W back in the film days, but I am new to digital conversion and still learning to consistently get good results. I realize that B&W conversion styles make a huge difference in the final product, but looking at the image threads I see that some lenses seem to consistently produce better B&W images.

    My question for the community is which lenses have the better optical qualities for rendering B&W images. Thanks in advance for the opinions!
     
  2. BLT

    BLT Mu-43 Regular

    186
    Jan 13, 2013
    London
    James
    I find the 14mm panasonic actually gives me consistently good looking b&w photos.

    I managed to swap it for my MK I oly kit lens - and while I was disappointed to find that the IQ is no better (than kit @ 14mm) and the colours are not so nice - I do like it's compact size and like I said It seems to produce really nice B&W results.
     
  3. DeeJayK

    DeeJayK Mu-43 Hall of Famer

    Feb 8, 2011
    Pacific Northwest, USA
    Keith
    For B&W photography, your choice of lens should be guided more by "contrast" than by "sharpness" (sometimes referred to as "resolution"). When evaluating an MTF (Modulation Transfer Function) chart for a lens will generally either have bold (thick) lines that correspond to contrast or lines labeled with lp/mm (line pair per millimeter) where the lines corresponding to the fewest lp/mm will relate to contrast. Whichever methodology a given chart follows the lines at the top of the chart will be the ones which relate to contrast.

    So, all that tells you how to determine which lenses will work better for B&W (given that you have MTF charts to compare); I realize this doesn't really answer your question about which lenses are best. The next issue is that you need to find a single source of MTF charts for the lenses you're interested in. While Olympus and Panasonic each publish MTF charts for all their lenses on their sites, you shouldn't use these to compare lenses between the two manufacturers though they are useful when comparing lenses from the same maker. I don't know of any independent source of MTF charts for all of the :43: lenses. If someone else here, has such a source, I'd love to know about it.
     
  4. GFFPhoto

    GFFPhoto Mu-43 All-Pro

    Feb 24, 2013
    Thanks for that info and the link!

    I have seen some lenses that produce color images with a lot of "pop" that seem to have a lot of contrast, but their B&W images don't look that great (or the opposite, softer color rendition but nice B&W). I don't know if I'm using the terminology correctly, but is it possible to have good color contrast and poor tonal contrast?

    Edit: and why is it a bad idea to compare different manufactures data? Is there no standard as to how this is calculated?
     
  5. kwalsh

    kwalsh Mu-43 Top Veteran

    775
    Mar 3, 2012
    Baltimore, MD
    A very important thing to realize about MTF charts is that for almost all manufacturers they are modeled/simulated MTF charts. They aren't measured. This is one reason not to compare between manufacturers, you don't know the methodology matches.

    Some go so far to say that these MTF charts contain no information, they differ dramatically from measured MTF. That is probably standard forum hyperbole, but it does drive home the point that there are limits as to what they convey. Modeling/simulating contrast is extremely difficult as I understand it - often it has a lot to do with light outside the optical path including things such as lens baffle designs and what not. Probably the main things these charts show is whether the lens was designed with significant astigmatism and how much corner unsharpness was tolerated in the design. As far as comparing between lenses goes they may not match reality very much at all.

    Finally, as to what you want to look for I honestly don't know! Voigtlander actually makes and sells versions of their lenses that are single-coated instead of multi-coated (so lower contrast) and people use them specifically for B&W work. So even on the subject of contrast it isn't clear whether more or less is desired for B&W, more likely it is a matter of taste. Interestingly it seems people agree the multi-coated versions are preferable when doing color work.
     
  6. GFFPhoto

    GFFPhoto Mu-43 All-Pro

    Feb 24, 2013
    I see what you mean about manufacturers MFT charts. It didn't tell me much:

    LUMIX® H-H020

    you can see the MFT chart if you click the third dot or use the arrows to go to the third page.

    So... anybody have a lens they think renders particularly well in B&W? I agree with BLT about the 14. It seems to render subtle tonal variations very well and give a rich and smooth B&W image.
     
  7. usayit

    usayit Mu-43 Hall of Famer

    When I shot mostly B&W negative, I preferred lower contrast. It gave me a neutral negative that I can easily work in the darkroom.

    I still shoot majority B&W but with little time to dedicate to processing and printing negative. I found that its the technique and post process workflow that really matters. Be very mindful of what you expose for. (IMO, negative is stilll far more forgiving than digital). Also, keep in mind how white balance impacts the final converted photo.... and I don't just mean balance neutral grey/white as you would for color. The nice thing about digital these days, is that the typical color filters are not 100% absolutely necessary... it can be done in post. There are those that would argue otherwise and I believe they have merit.... but that's just because I feel doing it post process is "good enough" for me.

    So in general....

    WB to the tone I have in mind as the neutral highlight (I do this when I remember.. forget often which is ok)
    Keep in mind of exposure... often spot or center weight on an area and then adjust exposure to "place" said exposure in either the highlights of shadows.
    Lightroom... produce even tonality and neutral contrast. Crop etc...
    Nik SilverFX... the final output. Application of color filters, grain, etc.... control of contrast.
     
  8. DeeJayK

    DeeJayK Mu-43 Hall of Famer

    Feb 8, 2011
    Pacific Northwest, USA
    Keith
    To answer your first question, the idea of contrast can be a but confused when you add color to the mix. For example, imagine a scene which contains a bunch of various colors, with a color image your eyes can distinguish between these items based on color, but in a b&w image you only have shade to distinguish so items which are a similar shade (but completely different colors) can appear similar. Here's another article that explains it better than I can.

    As to comparing MTF charts, you are correct that no standard exists. For example the charts Panasonic publishes (see example of the PL25mm f/1.4) show values for 20S/M and 40S/M (presumably 20 lp/mm and 40 lp/mm) while the Olympus chart (see example for the 45mm f/1.8) show values for 20S/M and 60S/M. Some other charts might show measurements for 5 lp/mm (which would make that lens look much better). The other factor is that there is little to no consistency in precisely how values are measured.

    You're right that the tiny charts provided by the manufacturers don't give you much to go on. They're really only valuable to compare lenses from that maker. Here are a couple of examples:

    http://panasonic.net/avc/lumix/systemcamera/gms/lens/img/g_14/mtf.gif" /> [img]http://panasonic.net/avc/lumix/systemcamera/gms/lens/img/g_20/mtf.gif" /> [img]http://panasonic.net/avc/lumix/systemcamera/gms/lens/img/dg_summilux_25/mtf.gif" /> [img]http://panasonic.net/avc/lumix/systemcamera/gms/lens/img/dg_macro_45/mtf.gif" />

    Somewhat surprisingly (to me, at least) these tend to indicate that the PL25/1.4 provides the [I]least[/I] contrast of the Panasonic primes. However, you have to note that all of these measurements are with the aperture wide open, which is wider for the PL25 than for the others, so that is a major factor. Much more valuable would be to see charts where all of these lenses are tested at f/2.8 -- I assume that would lead to a much different "winner". Given this, I'm not sure how much value one can glean from looking at the charts provided by the OEMs.

    Unfortunately, I haven't played enough with B&W enough to give you a recommendation as to which lenses to look for.
     
  9. GFFPhoto

    GFFPhoto Mu-43 All-Pro

    Feb 24, 2013
    Thanks for all the great replies!

    DeeJayK, I think I saw something on Panasonic's site that indicate that those MFT charts only show resolution (there are lines missing compared to the examples on the site you linked earlier). I have seen other tests that show the 14 and 20 are sharper than the 25. I had no idea the 45 was so sharp across the lens!
     
  10. Replytoken

    Replytoken Mu-43 Hall of Famer

    May 7, 2012
    Puget Sound
    Ken
    While lens selection is certainly important, I think that your sensor and post-processing software would have a greater impact on your final output, assuming that your lens is up to the task. I tend to shoot raw and do my work in Lightroom, as it offers significant control of the image. Were you planning on shooting raw, or were you wanting the camera to to the conversion?

    --Ken
     
  11. GFFPhoto

    GFFPhoto Mu-43 All-Pro

    Feb 24, 2013
    I shoot raw into LR then into Silver Effex Pro2, but I'm having difficulty getting what I think are good results on a consistent basis. Like usayit pointed out above, digital seems much less forgiving than film. It seems very easy to overcook digital B&W and get a harsh looking image (to my eye anyways).

    While looking at the native image threads, I had noticed that some lenses seem to consistently produce better B&W images (although all threads have good examples of B&W, some have significantly more). I realize that post processing will make a huge difference (I think more than sensor, but again, I'm new to digital B&W), and its possible that processing is responsible for the variation I notice, but color can mask a lot of subtle optical qualities that show up in B&W.

    But overall, I'm getting the sense that most people haven't noticed much of a difference in the way different lenses render tonal variation and luminosity.
     
  12. Replytoken

    Replytoken Mu-43 Hall of Famer

    May 7, 2012
    Puget Sound
    Ken
    Everything is worth checking out. Digital B/W images do seem to have their own "secrets", not unlike all of the great lens/camera/film/developer/paper combinations that everybody swears by in the land of film.

    Good luck,

    --Ken
     
  13. kevinparis

    kevinparis Cantankerous Scotsman

    Feb 12, 2010
    Gent, Belgium
    another factor is the delivery format... in film days you only saw the print...or more likely reproduced in a book/magazine...which, while a step removed from the original image, at least had a consistency.... in digital, where the prime method of view images is via a computer screen you are at the mercy of the viewers display.

    Digital, by its nature is a set of steps.... that increasingly gets closer to replicating the analog world... its probably exceeded 35mm of 15-20 years ago by now... the real issue is understanding and taming the digital information...

    In film days you had basically stick to an ISO for a whole 36 shots, you produced a negative by developing to a formula that you either trusted or believed may or may not make a better negative. Then you had to work out how to print whatever negative you had. Each print... the only way to see your image... took time and resources.

    Digital, as we are talking in this forum , has the potential to blow away what most of us did in the days of film... Our challenge is to learn the tools

    K
     
  14. GFFPhoto

    GFFPhoto Mu-43 All-Pro

    Feb 24, 2013
    Good points Kevin. It's possible my exposures aren't doing a good job of capturing the information I need to work with in post, the lenses I'm using are not the best for capturing subtle variations in luminosity and tone, or I am still too much of a novice with the processing tools, but I have difficulty keeping subtle variations in the mids if I go for strong darks and lights. Smooth, even high contrast is currently tricky. Too often I get a harsh look (which I often see in others images as well).

    Halos are also an issue, which I can fix somewhat with balancing tones in the area and reducing localized structure, but I think the only real fix might be working with layers, which I have no experience with.
     
  15. Replytoken

    Replytoken Mu-43 Hall of Famer

    May 7, 2012
    Puget Sound
    Ken
    You mean there is a problem when my nicely processed images are viewed on overly bright uncalibrated screens that are way too blue? :eek:

    --Ken
     
  16. kwalsh

    kwalsh Mu-43 Top Veteran

    775
    Mar 3, 2012
    Baltimore, MD
    The link to APUG reminded me of something not mentioned already on the SC/MC question. Digital sensors are linear, film is not. So veiling flare in a SC lens on film can result in significant differences in the shadows as this is on the shoulder of the films tone curve. In digital there is no such effect as the response of the sensor is linear.

    The second affect is a reduction in microcontrast and this would be the same for both film and digital.
     
  17. Pecos

    Pecos Mu-43 Top Veteran

    775
    Jan 20, 2013
    The Natural State
    Agreed. If you want contrast that's doable in post processing. If you want that certain je ne sais quoi, get the PL 25mm 1.4.