How to effectively compare Micro-Contrast in between lenses

2016/09/12 UPDATE: This comparison article is now OBSOLETE. The new comparison here is more conclusive. Please consult it.

This article is a follow up or complimentary article to the previous one that introduced us to the concept of micro-contrast. Now I shall demonstrate how a modern overhyped 2000$CAD lens compares to a much older 400$CAD (easily findable used for 200$) lens on the attribute.

Nikkor AF 50mm f1.4D vs Nikkor AF-S 58mm f1.4G

People would normally call this an unfair comparison, but lets list the specs that matter to us today (i.e. element count + coating). With the 50mm on the left and the 58mm on the right, lets start the fight!

Here are the RAW files so that you can download and reproduce the test we are about to undergo.

Observations were witnessed using a Spyder calibrated Dell u2412m monitor of 82% color gamut.

Lets remind ourselves once again that Micro-contrast is not pixel detail but tonal detail. LOOK FOR TONES NOT PIXELS.

1. Take an approx. exact RAW photo with the lenses at f5.6

Both lenses are at their "peak sharpness".

2. Even out exposures and white balance in Lightroom

Right away, the 50mm image (LEFT) displays RICHER COLOR (especially richer blues) than the 58mm image (RIGHT).

3. Convert to black and white

Blacks on the 50mm image (LEFT) are deeper. Especially when we look at the Yaris car’ windshield. Street on the right has more shades of grey leaning towards the darker center. 

Less tones are shown on the 58mm image (RIGHT). Windshield is greyer. Street has less tones.

4. Zoom in to look at the micro-contrast

Hood of the Yaris on the 50mm image (LEFT) showcases MUCH MORE SHADES OF GREY. Hood of the Yaris on the 58mm image (RIGHT) is simply grey with much less shades.

The 50mm image (LEFT) is less resolving (less sharp) than the 58G but richer in tones (i.e. shades of grey) on the asphalt. We can clearly see that the dots on the right side of the crops has more contrast on the 50mm image (LEFT). We can try zooming out a little more to look more at the street.

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We can definitely enjoy more tones on the 50mm image (LEFT). The little trail on the right again is more visible than the 58mm image (RIGHT) thanks to superior micro-contrast.

Results of the comparison

We can clearly see that the nearly 40 years old optical design of the 50mm trumps over the modern and inferior design of the 58mm when it comes to micro-contrast. The 58mm sucks, end of the line.


This resorts back to the original article in which optical companies are relying on the consumer's obsession with resolution (sharpness) to sell lenses that measure well on numerical scales (like DXOMark). Such lenses sacrifice timeless attributes such as micro-contrast, attributes that have more stories to tell rather than blur circles to display.

Further reading

Yannick Khong8 Comments