DxOMark Introduces Free Lens Sharpness and Camera Image Quality Info

by Alan Haynes / PhotoCitizen on June 25, 2010

DxO Labs announced today the unveiling of DxOMark, a website full of scientific information about the quality of digital cameras and lenses.

DxOMark Lens StarThe DxO Labs crew has long been involved in precision testing of lenses and digital cameras. They use this data in their highly successful DxO Optics Pro software which, among other things, automatically corrects for lens distortion and other defects.

If you’ve read any of my camera review articles, you’ll know that I’m not a big fan of the scientific method applied to photo equipment reviews. I’ll take a well-researched review by a real photographer over a technician’s data-point by data-point report any day.

However, I do see the value of a combination of the two. So, before you come to any conclusions about photo gear, check out the data on the DxOMark site and then go looking for a real-world review to fill in the blanks.

About DxO Labs

I’ve been using DxO Optics Pro for years now and I’ve been designated a DxO Image Master. (Cue the applause.) I have some respect for this company’s products and trust their measurements.

Because of the time and effort involved in creating each profile,  DxO has not tested every lens/camera combination. But for the ones they have, they’ve accumulated a plethora of data.

Now, this data is available for free on the DxOMark website. It’s presented in such a way that it is relatively easy to understand even for us non-scientists.

Comparing Lenses and Camera Bodies

Here is an example of DxOMark data comparing the quality of a Nikon 70-200mm f/2.8 VR lens used on three different Nikon cameras: the D300, D700 and D3X

DxOMark Comparison

The DxOMark website has a lot to offer. There are many ways of viewing DxO’s data. My favorite is the Compare Lenses page. Here, you can compare up to three different lenses or, as I did, the same lens on three different camera bodies.

I compared the measurements of my favorite lens (Nikon’s 70-200mm f/2.8 VR Zoom) used on my Nikon D300 camera versus the same lens used on a full-frame Nikon D3X and Nikon D700. I was surprised to see such a difference in the test results.

I don’t pretend to understand all of the measurements, but it’s interesting to compare familiar specifications such as resolution, distortion and vignetting. DxO provides explanations of the other terms on their Learn More page.

Caveats and Advice

My D300 takes excellent photos with the 70-200mm lens, but DxOMark indicates that it would do even better on either of the full-frame cameras I’ve chosen for this comparison – scientifically  speaking anyway.

That makes sense, but keep things in perspective: a low score doesn’t necessarily mean poor quality. Use the scores for comparison, but don’t make a purchasing decision based solely on this data. In the real world, a relatively low-scoring lens or camera  can still take top-quality images.

I’d recommend completely ignoring the star rating in the  Lens Use Case Scores section. Here, DxOMark attempts to fill us in on the best uses for a particular lens. Unfortunately, their recommendations are way off base. They will tell you that both the Nikon 70-200mm and my favorite walk-around lens, the Nikon 50mm f/1.8 are “not applicable” for travel or landscape photography. Apparently, their criteria in these categories does not match mine: I’ve successfully used these lenses for both of these types of photography.

The Lens Peak Score seems like a good indication of a “sweet spot” for each lens. DxO says that the peak score is the optimal combination of focal length and aperture. In photographic terms, that would be the setting that results in the best resolution.

For the Nikon D300 with 70-200mm lens, DxO reports the peak score is at a focal length of 70mm and aperture of  f/5.6. For my 50mm f/1.8 lens, f/2.8 is optimal. This information could be useful in the field. I could see using these optimal settings when image sharpness is my main concern.

Check out some of your favorite lenses on the DxOMark site. Compare them to other lenses you’d like to add to your bag. But don’t forget to look for full reviews and, if you can, get some hands-on experience before you buy.

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