An email from Mark Power
I wonder if you've noticed the furor surrounding the Panasonic LX3 and the issue of barrel distortion. I just bought an LX3 and only then came across the storm raging over at dpreview which apparently has been going on for months now. Basically, it seems that Leica and Panasonic decided to correct for a rather severe case of barrel distortion (and chromatic aberration) with software rather than correct it in the manufacturing of the lens.
One of the issues is that neither Leica nor Panasonic thought to mention this in their lens specs and it only became obvious when some people opened their LX3 raw files in RAW converters other than the Panasonic-supplied "Silkypix" that comes with the camera. In other words both the in-camera JPEG conversion and the Silkypix RAW processor automatically correct both CA and barrel distortion. I opened up a LX3 raw file in a third-party RAW processor and it immediately became obvious the barrel distortion was being fixed in the Silkypix RAW processor and in the camera by the JPEG processor.
It also seems that Adobe and Panasonic have been going back and forth on this issue; I'm not really smart enough to follow it in any detail; it appears that Adobe and Panasonic/Leica can’t agree on what to do about the software correction in RAW of both barrel distortion and CA.
My first impulse was to repackage the LX3 and send it speeding back, assuming of course I could manage to refit it into the box obviously packaged by a robot and retie all those fiddly plastic bags.
But then I gave it some more thought. Why not fix barrel distortion with software? Is this sleight-of-hand by a distinguished lens manufacturer or clever technology? Maybe that’s the best solution for a very wide lens attached to a tiny sensor. In every other respect the Summicron ƒ/2 24–60mm equivalent is a hell of a lens, and I think it deserves the Summicron name. Would I go for a $600 camera instead of a $400 camera if they corrected the lens in the factory? Probably not, as I already have a decent DSLR (Sony A350) with two lenses.
In other words I hesitated because I am getting some fine pictures with the LX3 and that should be the bottom line. So I guess I've learned something new yet again about this ever-changing digital world: what I have is a computer, not a camera, and I shouldn’t expect it to behave like a camera.
But I have to say it was pretty dumb of Leica and Panasonic not to be more forthcoming about the solution to the problem; most likely it would have avoided a lot of the controversy, but then again, maybe not. It seems the camera aficionados out there—I hesitate to call them photographers—are never happier when they can spot some slight defect in design or execution which they then run into the ground with reams of graphs and mathematical formulas.
By the way I am very pleased with the Sony a350, particularly when hooked up to a Sigma 10–20mm which is a great lens for the kind of shooting I do. I don’t dare try the A900 despite your enthusiasm for the camera because I don't have that kind of money, plus I lament the lack of a movable LCD screen on the A900.
I think you've made this point many times yourself: those of us who started out with an old Leica along with a Weston light meter bigger than my LX3 are perhaps more tolerant of these wonder cameras than those who just came to the party.
I attach a doggie picture, knowing you are partial to same, made with the LX3. This is Mr. Woolford of Edgewater, more popularly known as "Woolley." (Named after a great-uncle, a breeder of pocket beagles.) In the good old days I would have been happy with this level of definition from a medium format camera. And even with a view camera I doubt if I could have gotten this delicacy of tone and color from color film. Particularly considering this picture was made by the light of a single floor lamp, hardly ideal. All I did in processing was to tone down the color a bit, no sharpening at all. To my eye most digital images are overly sharpened. If you want a "film-like" look, stay away from sharpening. Seeing as Adobe hasn't issued a raw converter for the LX3 (see above) what I do is open the RAW LX3 file up in Silkypix, save it as a TIFF without further processing (automatically corrected for barrel distortion not that Mr. Woolford gives a damn because he is quite used to his to his own considerable barrel distortion as I am used to mine!) and then from Bridge re-open the file in CS3 RAW—do whatever work it needs, then open it up in PS for more work if needed and resave the final as a TIFF again. It seems to be a workable go-around until Adobe settles their differences with Panasonic.
My friend Mark Power was one of my teachers at the Photography Department of the Corcoran School of Art (now the Corcoran College of Art and Design) and is a recent recipient of the Bader Fund Grant. I didn't know about the LX3/Silkypix controversy myself so I figured others might be interested too. Thanks to Mark for giving me permission to publish this. —MJ
UPDATE: Eric Chan of Adobe has posted a response to some of the criticisms of Adobe. See the comments...and thanks to Eric.
Featured Comment by Amin Sabet: "I see two issues here, one general and one specific.
"The specific issue is that some of the major RAW processors (ACR, LR, C1, and Silkypix) do not even give the user the option to leave the barrel distortion intact. I shoot RAW because I want to keep all my options. Leaving the barrel uncorrected on LX3 files gives me the option to have a significantly wider angle of view (correcting it chops out a significant portion of the image) and also allows me to use the barrel distortion and light falloff as an artistic decision.
"The general issue here is that this isn't the first time and sure won't be the last that a company uses software to address a lens flaw. Panasonic has been relatively open about doing this since Venus II. Using optics alone, they couldn't possibly have developed an 18x zoom with good sharpness across the frame and low distortion in the FZ18. Likewise, using optics alone, they couldn't accomplish an ƒ/2–2.8 ultrawide zoom with good sharpness across the frame and low distortion in a camera as compact as the LX3. If you look at the older generation of compacts with ƒ/2–2.x lenses (e.g., Panasonic LC1, early Canon G series, older advanced compacts from Olympus, etc.), they had much larger lenses than the LX3 does, and as a result, they were simply not pocketable.
"I have no problem with manufacturers using software to pull off what would be impossible with optics. In this respect, Panasonic is cutting edge. However, it is important that optical designers don't get lazy as a result of improved software. We can only have the best result if both optical design and software approach are excellent. Also, to reiterate, I'd like the RAW applications to give us as much choice as possible. Ideally, all settings to address lens flaws in post ought to be optional.
"If anyone is looking for a RAW processor that keeps it really real, I highly recommend Raw Developer from Iridient Digital, which is a Mac-only application.
"Raw Developer leaves all options to the user. Beyond that which is inherent in the demosaic process, no sharpening or noise reduction is applied unless one selects to do so in the app. I find that it preserves more detail in all my camera files, from the Nikon D700 to the Panasonic LX3, when compared to Lightroom or Aperture.
"Relevant to the current discussion, Raw Developer leaves the barrel distortion intact in LX3 files. The PT Lens plugin for PS can correct barrel distortion after the fact, but I don't find a need for this in most files. Raw Developer LX3 files without distortion correction have far more detail than distortion-corrected Silkypix or ACR/LR LX3 files.
"I am not affiliated with Iridient Digital, and I have purchased several RAW apps. RD is the least expensive of the ones I've bought, and it is now my processor of choice for the Nikon D700 (having tried NX2, Aperture, C1 v4, and ACR/LR) and all of my compact cameras. I still prefer C1 for Canon DSLR files, but I no longer have a Canon DSLR."