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Analog Films vs Digital Chip



William wrote:

"What is it about digital photography that has or will allow for a = newer superior line of lenses over older traditional lenses?"

The question was raised in connection with the future of the line of Contax 35 mm manual focus lenses (here in the meaning of "older traditional lenses")

First of all the progression in the development of digital media has been and is likely to continue being much substantially more powerful than progression in development of traditional film-emulsions.

This will mean a strong drive in the market towards new formats and designs that will be able to take advantage of the latest technological developments. New lines of cameras, new lines of lenses, new systems.

We have seen this already in digital still cameras and digital video cameras. There have been heavy investments from industry in these areas and if you look at the windows of one averagely well-managed camera store for the mass market, digital media is now heavily dominating on behalf of 35 mm and other "analogue" media.

The strength of this trend was demonstrated when "analogue" film industry tried to launch their own format with some conveniences that was thought to match the immense conveniences of digital media: The APS-format. Smaller negative size (meaning smaller lenses, more light sensitive lenses and stronger zooms). Different formats. But APS is now dead =96 and digital rules.

Please don't take me wrong here. I don't say that 35 mm is also dead - 35 mm still has many advantages to digital media. First of all the cameras are generally cheaper (in comparable formats) and many people are today accustomed to this kind of photography - including professional photographers. And so it will be for yet some time. Not forever though.

Now, why then does the development of digital media tend to allow more superior lenses than older, traditional lenses?

Because this is where the market is and this is where industry will plow down most of their investments in the years to come. Development comes with investment.

Because the future of digital media means very, very small chips with very, very high capacity =96 meaning new and quite stiff demands to the lens industry also. New lenses is now developed to match the possibilities of the new digital media.

Where does this leave the traditional film formats and the lenses for these formats? I'd say that they will remain for quite some years as an opportunity for professionals and craftsmanship loving nostalgics. And for many owners of older equipment (who does not care to change) as well.

Where does it leave the Contax line of traditional lenses? Hey, these lenses are still great - and under the right circumstances the brilliance of these lenses as far as sharpness etc. goes will surpass any needs the consumer might ever dream of.

But ... the digital market will see much more compact lenses, much more light sensitive lenses, much more capable zooms. Along with the immense advantages of digital editing, this will attract far the most consumers and therefore it will continue to attract the most investment from industry.

New lens technology developed for digital media over time will surely pass through to analogue media as well. For Kyocera in particular the choice will be whether to direct their investments into new lenses with manual focus or lenses with autofocus.

Look back five years and you will see their priorities clearly.

Take the numbers of AF-lenses developed for G-series, T-series, 645-series and N-series and put them all together.

Then take the number of new lenses developed for the 35 mm manual focus SLR lenses in the same period - one new wide angle, one zoom and a tele lens. That's about it.

What do you think, William?

Kind regards,


My contrary and hopefully misguided view is that the impending dominance of digital means that the "golden age" of fine lenses is or will soon be over.

To illustrate my thinking, a chip to capture most of the information content rendered by, say, the 45mm G-Planar, would require roughly 150 million pixels (only 50mp with Foveon). Since there is no commercial or mass-market application that requires that number of pixels, such chips won't be developed, and future lenses will render less detail.

I hope I'm wrong.

Dan, I hope too, that you are wrong. I do not know the exact facts, my rough guess is that at 40lp/mm the 45mm G-Planar has around 60-70% transfer capability - this is within 20% plus/minus, for sure. Whatever, we could find it in the data-sheet. Let's assume we use a fine color film with high resolution - e.g. Velvia. This is 160 lp/mm, in an ideal case. In a simplified way, 1 lp/mm is 2 pixels/mm. So, we need 320 pixels/mm from the lens, to feed the film with information. This is roughly 7700 pixels by 11500 pixels, i.e. 88,5 million pixels. BUT: to utilize all these pixels as they are, we would need a lens that has an MTF which shows 100% transfer factor at 160 cycles/mm in all directions. We do not use that sharp lenses on 35mm cameras today. Digital sensors will continue to have bigger and bigger resolution, and as far as I know, in chipmaking the mass manufacturing cost is rather more related to the number of chips on a single wafer (the more the cheaper) than to the complexity of a single chip. So, resolution will grow, chip sizes will tend to be small (except perhaps very professional sensors at very high price). So demand for higher resolution, very sharp, contrasty lenses will be higher than it is today. Just imagine: a Nikon D1X would require 88 lp/mm in the horizontal direction. An average Nikkor lens has perhaps 50% capability to transfer HALF of that. Conclusion? This is my simple logic, I hope it makes sense. The golden age is ahead: you can expect very fine lenses in the coming years. Should anybody have a better understanding, I am very interested, along with you. Cheers, Willy
This is a moved topic, which started in the Contax RTS III thread.

For the sake of others, who would not find it otherwise, I moved it to this thread.

Hi Dan,

"Since there is no commercial or mass-market application that requires that number of pixels, such chips won't be developed, and future lenses will render less detail." - the quote is for Jacob

I would disagree on that statement. The mass market is you and me! There is just the print media market, which is not requiring the high amount of quality and in this ex&le pixels.

A chip is nothing else then a film. It just records the image. There a cheap films and cheap chips, both have not a great quality in the final print. There are more expensive films and more expesive chips, which offer a lot better quality. The only difference at the moment is, that the chip design is just at the beginning, like film design was in the 50s/60s. Since then films improved a lot. Just think about the jump with Fuji Velvia 15 years ago and Fuji Provia 100F nowadays. The same will happen with chip design. The only problem is that you can not buy the chip and the camera separately. So you always have to buy a new camera, if you want to have the latest improvements. Very similar to the computer industry (i.e. notebooks).

In the 50s, you have not had an alternative (except medium format, which was restricting in other areas). But nowadays you can have a camera&chip in the same size and weight with higher pixels called "the old film". So why changing?

The mass market did not change its attitude since the invention of digi cameras. There are just more people who are switching from a minolta 404si to a Canon ixus digital. But no Leica, Contax or high end Nikon/Canon user will drop their stuff for the current available digital cameras. This will change as soon as you have improved chips (in size and in pixels).

In my opinion to many people look at pixels. Look at size first! As a comparison: Why should I switch back from medium format to 135, just because the industry is not offering a "real size" chip? The same drawback is with full frame vs. 2/3 chip. Then I prefer to use my old system and enjoy my slides with resolutions unmatched from any chip currently available.

The chip&camera with 10 mio pixel will be affordable soon, the one with 20 mio too. Just wait and see. I do not have any pressure in buying a digital camera as long as it can not match the quality output of my current system. Or would you buy a new lens, knowing that it is inferior to your old one???

The industry knows that. Of course they try to make you believe different things. They have to sell to finance future research for producing better chips. Contax is offering with its new full size chip this chance. Also the new N-lenses with their new N-mount were designed bigger in diameter just to exploit this full size chip quality-requirements in the corners of a picture. I am sure cheaper and better chips are in the pipeline, otherwise nobody will switch from analog to digital.

At the end of the day, you want to have this smile in your face, when you look at your picture.


p.s.: I think this is a very interesting discussion. I will try to move it to a special Folder in the digital corner, so that other users will find it also and can participate.
Vincze, Dirk -

No disagreement here, but still wondering where it (lenses, chips, the marketplace) will go, when, and what it means wrt lens quality.

The concern I expressed regarding future lenses was at least partly based on my sensing that pros & manufacturers were approching a consensus wrt what was "good enough", and that it was somewhere in the 15-30mp range.

Even ignoring the current factor-of-three "accounting irregularities" which probably will be obviated by technology, this compares very roughly to 35lp/mm in medium format.

Under this scenario, the great lenses of the future will provide >90% contrast transfer at an equivalent 35 lp/mm (wonderful), and essentially nothing beyond that (not good).

In musical analogy, we will be losing the subtle overtones - no loss for professional/commercial applications, but a great loss to imaging purists.

Time will tell.

I agree with everything that you say about digital.Before purchasing the aria and 85mm lens I looked at digital cameras and the quality is not there yet.The prints that you make fom even the high end digtal cameras (nikon 4500 etc..)do not seem to be able look good when enlarged to 10 x 8 the detail goes.They look good from a distance but not close up .I enlarged an image from a slide taken with a G1 plus the g45mm lens where the image I enlarged was was only about 2mm across on the slide, i scanned this slide and the image came out better than images from digital cameras which have not been enlarged.
Digital is just begining and in the future the chips will improve but for the majority of people they are happy with quality from there 2mb cameras but i would not be.
Sldes on a large screen are fantastic so film for me until the qualtiy and price of digital improves.
One more thing to show pictures from digital you need another £700 worth of equipment called a computer which you can not cart about with you unless you have a laptop.
The other thing is that people with digital cameras try and rectify there mistakes on the computer which takes time and you need software so film for me. You still cant beat the feel and noise of the shutter and mirror on an slr when you press the shutter release.
Heaven How sad am I
Marcus and all,
Do not dispair, film will be here for a long time.
I for one will continue to enjoy my Leicas and Contax film cameras for as long as I wish, and so can you.

However, do not delude yourselves into thinking that digital is not there yet. The wedding photographic industry is being revolutionized by digital. For my commercial work 80% of it is now digital. my digital images appear on outdoor billboards and full spread magazine ads. I make 20"X24" display prints from a D1X file that you can press your nose against and swear they're conventional prints. You just have to know how to maximize images in the digital domain.

Yet I still love film and all it's diverse wonders.