That 3D Look

Tuesday, January 06, 2009 ·

In the years before the internet, photographers liked to discuss the esoteric qualities they associated with certain lenses - mainly Leica glass, it has to be said - but usually were only able to do so once a week at their local camera club meeting. Today, the finer qualities of lenses - both real and perceived - are debated ad nauseam on countless web forums generating, as the saying goes, more heat than light.

We used to be concerned mainly with sharpness but then moved on to "glow", bokeh and then the 3D effect. Now, if you think about it logically, no photograph can have a 3D effect but there are claims that some lenses seem to impart that quality to a scene.

It's been explained away by some as simply a result of good composition or the effect of receding planes caused by atmospheric haze. Those arguments would seem reasonable enough - and yet...

I'm certainly not going to start claiming that the 3D effect exists but I have to say I've occasionally seen something in a photograph that does, for no obvious reason, give a greater impression of depth or "roundness". Leica aficionados sometimes say this is the effect of microcontrast in Leitz lenses but I've seen it in three lenses from different marques.

Two of these are the Pentax 40mm and 70mm DA Limited lenses and the other the 35mm f2 AF Nikkor that I bought along with my D700. The photograph at the top of this post was taken using the Nikkor. My mum is the subject but she'll probably hate this picture as we'd just descended upon her home when she was in the midst of some baking and the bags and coats seen lying around were deposited by us. Normally, I wouldn't ascribe any particularly exotic qualities to the 35mm f2 but there does seem to be a slight 3D effect, possibly due to the lighting - but possibly not.

The Pentax photographs are below, the top and bottom ones taken with the 70mm and the middle pic with the 40mm.

For those of you who aren't familiar with the Pentax lenses, the DA Limited range was designed specifically for digital cameras with the emphasis on high optical and mechanical qualities and compact dimensions. The 70mm, in particular, is as sharp as anything else I own. But is that enough to give a 3D look or is it just a trick of the light? What do YOU think?



Anonymous said...
Thursday, 08 January, 2009  

I see you've finally fixed your comments section! I've been trying to leave comments but was not able to.

The 3d look is, imho, purely to do with light. Sometimes the way light falls on a subject seems to highlight and define its shape leading to the "roundness" you talked about. If it was anything to do with the lens you'd see it in every photograph taken with that lens and that does not happen.

Interesting post - keep 'em coming!

Thursday, 08 January, 2009  

Thanks for being the first to respond, Anon. I'd been wondering why there hadn't been any comments made and then I realised it wasn't working.

I see what you're saying about the light but the reverse argument applies as well: if it was just the light, then every lens would be capable of capturing the 3D look. It's funny how it often seems to be the same lenses that are singled out for their "3D" capabilities.

Andrew G. NY said...
Friday, 13 February, 2009  

Bruce, that lively shot of your mom is really lovely. I think she'd probably be the only one who would worry about how tidy things look.