Great question, “clinical” and “character” being another of those subjective terms like “bokeh” and “street photography” where there is no official answer/ explanation, it’s really up to you and how you see it. What does it mean to me? Well, it’s all well and good having a technically perfect image, but it’s not going to look any different to the others as that’s the standard these days. For me, most if not all current new lenses, subject to their respective apertures, and cameras, render relatively the same. So I suppose lenses that render differently to that could be seen to have “character”. The sort of lens where you instinctively provide for its limitations like not shooting towards the sun but against it so as to bring out the best of the lens and its colours working around any deficiencies resulting in an image different but yet very pleasing compared to any of the new ‘perfect’ lenses. A first easy example of this would be a legacy lens, designed for film, but used on a digital camera. A second not so easy to find example would be a current digital lens that renders similarly. In both cases (and this is just me), the results of the images borne by the lens would require little to no PP, more uniquely pleasing to the eye and unable in one’s own mind to be truly replicated with some plug in. I think of examples of current lenses that I use on my digital cameras that fit this criteria such as the Nikkor 35mm F2 D, Nokton 58mm F1.4 and Zeiss Sonnar however, they were all designed for film cameras. So, for their colours and rendering, I would say the images I’ve seen closest to that from digital AF lenses would be from the Fuji F1.4 lenses, Lumix and particularly the 20mm F1.7 lenses and pretty much most if not all the Canon EF primes (although those may have been designed for film cameras?) and most Pentax APSC primes.Many speak of some lenses as having a “clinical” rendering of images. What does this mean to to you? I’m genuinely curious. I never use this word in this context because I’ve never really heard a definition that makes sense.
Yesterday I remembered this video by Matt Granger
"50 mm lenses with Character"
I watched it fresh back in February, going into the video thinking that absolutely the older glass should own the new stuff in overall aesthetics. But quickly I found preferring how the new Z 50mm lens renders. Sometimes perfection doesn't imply clinical.
That was my experience too, it always seemed to be about the snappy AF of the lens when compared to the Lumix 20 f1.7 as opposed to the rendering. Having said that, I have seen quite a few examples of the Oly 17 rendering like the 75 f1.8 from plenty of posters on the mu43 forum. Makes we wonder whether there was huge sample variation or (more likely) my abilities as a photographer that resulted in that lens not shining.Hmmmm . . . might be why I've owned 3 copies of that lens, and ended up selling all 3. No quibbles with the IQ, but the lens never seemed to speak to me, if that makes sense.