That “Clinical” Look

drd1135

Zen Snapshooter
Jul 13, 2011
Lexington, VA
Steve
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.
 

MoonMind

Hall of Famer
Dec 29, 2013
Switzerland
Matt
Interesting question. For me, clinical means well-behaved, but also very neutral, without "character". The Sigma Art primes come to mind: fantastic performers on purely technical terms, but "flat", analytical images, very sharp, very little by way of aberrations or issues, but neither warm nor appealing. I was constantly underwhelmed even with the results from the best of the bunch, the 50mm f/1.4 Art. I ended up selling the 24mm, 35mm and 50mm Art in spite of the fact that I couldn't put the finger on why I didn't just love them - they were so good that I felt increasingly uncomfortable *not* feeling comfortable with them ... if that makes any sense ...

A lens that isn't clinical may render more pleasingly, but add its own "character", which often means exhibiting some kind of "flaw" that isn't detrimental to the impression the image creates. A lens that does this is the Voigtländer Nokton 50mm f/1.5 Aspherical VM - it's by no means a perfect lens, but a very solid performer nonetheless, and the results from it are much more appealing to me than the ones I was able to created with the almighty Sigma 50mm f/1.4 Art. Objectively, the Sigma is a superior performer. But it seems more like an analytical instrument than a brush ...

So, a clinical lens is more or less the opposite of a character lens. And that may be a good thing if you need a very neutral, very clean image to work from. I myself often prefer character lenses. But the lenses I like best are the chameleons: character wide open, clinical/neutral stopped down. The best example I own: the Zeiss Distagon 35mm f/1.4 ZM - it's a real powerhouse of a lens (and it's also quite bulky for a rangefinder lens); apart from being very, very sharp, it also produces very nice transitions; stop it down just a little, and it gets crystal-clear, precise and clean. Its rendering remains pleasing up to medium apertures and becomes totally neutral at f/8 and f/11. It's a fantastic tool, you can more or less do everything with it. It's a bit of bummer that it's just a little too big to feel entirely comfortable on the Leica bodies ... even gripped (which isn't the lens's fault - the standard Leica "half" grips just don't cut it for me; it took too long to find that out btw. - I now own similar grips for three systems ... go figure). That's why I was so pleased to stumble upon the new Voigtländer 35mm f/2 Ultron VM - it's tiny, definitely a character lens wide open, but pretty sharp and neutral stopped down; of course, it doesn't outperform the Distagon (that's what my other Zeiss, the Biogon C, is for ;)), but the little "Classic" Ultron is a similarily versatile lens.

M.
 

tonyturley

Hall of Famer
Nov 24, 2014
Scott Depot, WV, USA
Tony
A lens that has been enjoyed by many using mirrorless cameras is the Pen F 38/1.8 film lens. Single coated and very small, it has been a frequent companion to various Sony, Olympus, Panasonic, and Fuji cameras I have owned, currently residing on my X-E2. A true character lens, it is sharp but warm, gives a mad swirly bokeh if opened wide, and images gain a washed out haze if a strong light source is anywhere in the frame. I actually used it on an old Pen F half-frame camera, gaining a lot of great images before the 50 year old shutter decided to retire permanently.
 

rayvonn

Hall of Famer
Jan 19, 2015
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.
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.

Lenses that don’t have it out of the box which require PP to get a more unique image; I have a Tamron which is great but I know the light’s going to have to be manipulated either when shooting or in PP to get something out of the ordinary and in my experience it’s the same with the Fuji F2 lenses, Nikkor G lenses, Olympus lenses, (even the magnificent 75, but possibly with the exception of the 12mm F2) and any new Sigma or Tamron. Don’t get me wrong, the end result after PP can be magnificent, but not as originaly shot. My guess is that it’s likley the same with the brand new Nikon Z and Canon R lenses. There’s less need to manipulate and work these lenses, they just do their thing right out of the box on the camera’s P mode which for me wouldn’t neccesarily equate to more memorable or stand out images.

But imo, there’s no getting around the fact that the combination of the lens with the camera is pretty much as important as the lens when it comes to, let’s call it, non clinical rendering. I’ve seen people on another forum post images from their new Leica M10s with older RF lenses to get that character; I can see where they’re going but for me it doesn’t really work, the modern rendering of the camera is still apparent, well to me anyway. On the other hand, if you look at @theoldsmithy ’s images with his Google Pixel, those images do defnitely look pleasingly different in their rendering and also have that “character” which I thnk come from the camera/ lens combo. Another example to me of the lens/ camera combo is @MiguelATF and his carefully chosen gear, which produce images what I would consider full of “character”, somehow different to the rest even before/ after PP and I think it’s a result of the lens *and* the camera. The older Canikon & Fuji P&S cameras, Ricoh GR/GRII, Pentax CCD DSLRs Olympus EP1 to EP3 Fuji ILCs up to the XT1 as well as Nikon D80 to D800E in my experience, seem to render that “character” regardless of the lens (btw, those early cmos cameras/ (Sony?) sensors definitely seem to render more pleasantly to my eye than the cmos cameras/ sensors of say the last 5 years). For me, it’s all about the image looking less digital.

But then, so what if one has a “clinical” lens that doesn’t have “character”? As someone who has owned and still owns a number of lenses on that above list of lenses that I say do not have character, I’d say consider that:

  • Light is just as important and capable of rendering an image as a lens with “character”, whatever gear you use and can render a similar/ same result;
  • You may find what you need through PP plugins - that’s far cheaper than the gear route to achieving same; and
  • For all this talk of “clinical” and “character”, do you think it actually makes a difference to your images? It may not, these things are in the eye of the beholder. If you can’t see the difference, don’t bother.

I should probably heed my own advice as, in what is probably the biggest first world problem you’re going to hear today, I’m currently in a bind over considering in the long term, a Summilux ASPH or pre ASPH over this same issue of “clinical” and "character”. If you’re not like me, that’s probably a good thing!
 

mike3996

Hall of Famer
Apr 2, 2018
Finland
Blessed are the ones who enjoy the "clinical" lenses, for theirs are the modern zooms and primes. Then again, those who chase the highest MTF values, are constantly "forced" to upgrade their lenses when new revisions come out...

I use the term "clinical" often but without a good definition. Suppose "flawlessness" is the operative component of a clinical lens. "Transparent." High-fidelity.

Okay, even a highly transparent lens can actually have character, so not all perfect lenses are clinical. It's a highly subjective term after all, beauty of the beholder and something like that. I consider Cosina Voigtländer 50 f/3.5 Heliar to be a such lens. Not many are going to find fault in it. I haven't used the lens but I believe Leica SL 24-90 ASPH is another highly transparent lens that has enough character qualities to not to be a clinical lens.

Would love if I didn't have the bug about character lenses. I'd be content shooting Fujinons, or Olympus Pro zooms.

PS. Great conversation going on but I admit I didn't read it all yet. Today's chores first.
 

tonyturley

Hall of Famer
Nov 24, 2014
Scott Depot, WV, USA
Tony
Yashica ML lenses made by Tomioka seem to have an excellent reputation. Back when I was using Sony, there was a guy who posted on the talkemount forum who was a big fan of the Yashica ML lenses. His work was brilliant. I never was able to adequately describe his images, other than to use the description "other-worldly". I have thought about picking up a Yashica ML lens for the X-E2, but the 28/2.8 with adapter is not compact; it looks to be about the size of a Fuji XF 60. As intriguing as the prospect is, I want to wait and see what Fuji releases in the 27mm MK II.
 

mike3996

Hall of Famer
Apr 2, 2018
Finland
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. :)
 

drd1135

Zen Snapshooter
Jul 13, 2011
Lexington, VA
Steve
Character lenses for me: Lumix 14 2.5, Fuji 35 1.4, and certainly my new Sigma 45 2.8. I like the lumix 20 but I’m not sure I’d describe the output as “characterful”.
 

serhan

Hall of Famer
May 7, 2011
NYC
50Z is too clinical:) Check these:
Leica M 50mm Lenses Compared (x11) +Leica Lens Guide!
The Bokeh Kings: A Look at 50mm M Lenses | Red Dot Forum
:) :)

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. :)
 
Last edited:

mike3996

Hall of Famer
Apr 2, 2018
Finland
In Fuji lineup I consider XF35/2 and XF50/2 to be overly clinical, and XF18/2, XF35/1.4, XF27/2.8 to be pretty nice. Perhaps not character lenses but certainly not clinical.

In m4/3 world I regard Olympus 17/1.8 to be very clinical and boring. As a rule Panasonic primes are all very nice looking lenses. And I haven't shot them but it almost seems like the Pro lenses are almost always clinical but the budget friendly options are pleasant in rendering.
 

TraamisVOS

Hall of Famer
Nov 29, 2010
Melbourne, Australia
A few years ago, someone who owned a Leica M9 asked me for my opinion on the M240. I told him the M240 was a technically better camera than the M9 and it produced a more clinical look. I clarified that I didn't mean "clinical" to be a bad thing. I felt that the M240's CMOS sensor produced a technically cleaner, modern/contemporary look, whereas the M9 with its CCD sensor produced a more organic look.

Over the years I have thought back about that conversation and I have wondered what the hell I actually meant by it. I think I may be subconsciously referring to the better performing ISO of the M240 vs the M9. It's not difficult to get the M9 to produce more grain with a slight kick up the ISO which seems to add some 'organic character' to the images. It may have also been the M9's 18MP photo sites on its sensor which adds to the perception of grain.
 
Last edited:

rayvonn

Hall of Famer
Jan 19, 2015
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.
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.
 

drd1135

Zen Snapshooter
Jul 13, 2011
Lexington, VA
Steve
I have the 17 1.8 now on the E-PL7. I’m going to use it occasionally for the daily post so I’ll pay attention to the rendering compared to the old 17 2.8. I like the newer 17 because it’s a nice lens with fast AF and an MF clutch. Unless of course I get distracted by something else.
 
Last edited:

Latest posts

Latest threads

Top Bottom