Posts Tagged ‘Japan’

Here are some traditional Japanese paintings found in a recent Google search.


Now look at some traditional European paintings, also found in a recent Google search.


A few of the most obvious categories where these traditions differ include flatness vs. depth and flat color vs. multi-tonal color.


I maintain that for their visual arts, these foundational differences have influenced the engineering designs of their photographic camera systems, as well.


Post WWII in both Japan and Germany, the camera and lens industries had to be rebuilt.


Because all lens design involves physical rules from nature, trade-offs must be made, sacrificing one quality to gain or improve another. It is the balance of these trade-offs that is the key to understanding lens designs.


Each group took pride in this work and each designed their lenses to more closely match their culture’s visual biases.


In europe, the German lens designers (Leica and Schneider) balanced their lens designs so that they’d produce subtle and smooth color tonal ramps throughout both the in focus and out of focus areas of the image. Also, barrel and pincushion distortions as well as chromatic aberrations in both the in-focus AND out of focus areas in the image were minimized. To accomplish all of this, the trade-off was some edge sharpness.


Even european films such as Agfa, mirrored their culture’s visual sensibilities with subtle, perhaps even a slightly muted color pallet.


In Japan, their top lens designers at Nikon, Olympus, Pentax, etc., concentrated on lens designs with the sharpest possible focus and bold colors. Out of focus distortion and aberrations were acceptable trade-offs as long as the in-focus plane was tack sharp and the color tonalities were vivid and bold.


And Japanese films such as Fuji, were similarly all about sharpness and bold colors!


Still today, this dichotomy of camera design persists! Even though Leica lenses are now manufactured in Japan, their designs are the same German designs that came out just after WWII.


As we have moved from analog film to digital cameras, these two very different visual/cultural sensibilities continue to influence the design of the cameras and lenses!


That so few photographers will ever notice this in our current visual society is unfortunate. Beyond techniques, the physical gear that they choose to capture their photos will have a tremendous impact on the look and feel of their images.


Those that do see and understand these two design philosophies will be able to select the one that best fits their own vision and color pallet.


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