THE NEW ERA OF ACCEPTABLE AND CORRECTABLE LENS DISTORTION
A long time ago when I was with Nikon and based in Ohio, I remember several customers who were more than advanced photographers coming to in store demos in search of the perfect optic. They would take a 105mm f/2.5 Nikkor lens and shoot two or three frames and then another and shoot two or three more frames and then go home. Afterward, they would process their film and pick what they thought was the best performing lens out of what they tested and come and buy that lens. Given an opportunity they would have shot one hundred lenses and spent months examining them to the point of becoming eye impaired for life. Fortunately there was no digital and film with 36 exposures limited the test to just a few optics but these were the first pixel peepers. 🙂
If you do a Google search you will not find anything that defines a perfect photographic lens and that makes sense because I do not believe it actually exists. Cambridgeincolor gives basic information about what a lens is. But there is no description that would have the word perfect in it.
Lenses, even lenses from the same manufacturing batch, have always had an individual “character” or look based on different aberrations that could be found from one to another. Different manufacturers formulations gave lenses that character. Many people say that Leica Optics and Zeiss Optics had a more contrasty dimensional look to the images they produced while others felt Nikon glass was more neutral and Canon glass was warmer.
Depending upon the lens type, meaning wide angle, telephoto, normal, or zoom there were variables such as distortion, edge to edge and center sharpness, contrast and even color reproduction.
There were several companies that sat on a higher plane and were capable of producing optics that were way up there when it came to “correctness” but never perfect. Manufacturers like Leica, Nikon, Fuji, Carl Zeiss, and Schneider were at the top of the food chain.
Today, there are few others that sit at the top because manufacturing technology has changed quite a bit. Companies like Sigma and Samyang are two that come to mind for producing some very high quality optics in the upper part of their product lines.
Making optics free of distortion,and chromatic aberrations whether it be prime lenses or zoom lenses is costly and that is why some companies have come to rely on in camera firmware and software as well as outside the camera software to correct these problems. It is cheaper and less challenging for them to design and manufacture. In doing so they create other problems that may not have existed such as a loss of sharpness to the edges of the optics and possibly an overall loss of resolution as the image is corrected by camera and desktop software.
I use the Fuji X cameras as well as as Fuji optics. What I have seen so far is that some of their lenses require no correction at all. Some do. Their 14mm, 23mm, 35mm,60mm and & 56mm seem to not require any real correction because of the lens design. Interestingly, however, the two Zeiss lenses I was able to test made with the Fuji and Sony mounts did require distortion correction. They are the 12mm and 32mm. The end results were excellent.
Other systems like the Olympus and Panasonic Micro Four Thirds system lenses do require extensive correction. Software in the lens is proprietary but programs like Adobe Lightroom have lens profiles for individual lenses which correct problems when the image is loaded and Exif data is read.
I personally like using lenses that are corrected by design and manufacture even though the price is going to be higher. However I have seen lenses that are pretty darn expensive and they require assistance from internal and outside sources to look correct.
So while modern technology helps to make up for designs flaws, it is ultimately up to us as consumers whether or not the new technology works for us. Ultimately it just may be that these newer generations of lenses is what we have to look forward too.
I think in the end if the optic is producing what we want then there is not much more we can as for.