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What is a Lens MTF Chart & How Do I Read It?

MTF charts plot the performance and quality of a lens

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How to Read Your NIKKOR Lens Barrel

Understanding what all of those markings and designations on your lens really mean.

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4.3 Rating
Prime Lenses

What is a prime lens? Well, it's a lens that isn't a zoom. A prime lens has a fixed focal length which means…

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5.0 Rating
Caring for your Nikon 1 AW1 Waterproof Camera

Care and maintence for the Nikon 1 AW1

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4.6 Rating
How-To Take Great Photos at the Aquarium

Tips for photographing the fish and creatures that live under water

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Shooting Abstract Photos that Make the Viewer Guess

Sometimes showing just a hint of your subject can be more compelling…

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Macro Lenses

Reproduce objects up to life size using a Nikon Micro-NIKKOR Lens

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Popular Nikon Lenses for Shooting Video

Primer on popular NIKKOR lenses for HD video shooting

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4.2 Rating
Getting Started: How to Change a D-SLR Lens

Learn the steps to changing your camera's lens.

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4.5 Rating
Using legacy NIKKOR lenses with the Nikon Df

How to set the Df to accept legacy Non-Ai or Ai lenses

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4.0 Rating
Remotely taking photographs

Flexible wired & wireless remote shooting options expand your photo taking capabilities

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4.3 Rating
Polarizing Filters Add POW to Pictures

An Easy to Use Accessory, Polarizing Filters Bring out the Color and Definition in…

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4.3 Rating
How To Grow Your Garden Photography Skills

Taking great photographs of your own garden is easy with a few simple tips

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4.5 Rating
The DX and FX Formats

Understand the differences between the formats to determine which is the one for you.

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4.4 Rating
Bokeh for Beginners

Have your subjects stand apart from the background with this easy technique

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4.2 Rating
How to Choose Your Next Nikon 1 Lens

Go beyond your Nikon 1 camera's kit lens

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Mothers' Days: Good Timing and Great Locations Result in Memorable Maternity Photographs

Beth Wade discusses tips for…

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3.8 Rating
Hands On

Lindsay Silverman discusses autofocusing when using teleconverters

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4.4 Rating
Flash Photography the Easy Way

David Tejada's easy-does-it flash tips

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4.4 Rating
How to Photograph a Lunar Eclipse

Learn the techniques needed to shoot lunar eclipses from Mr. Eclipse, Fred Espenak

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4.2 Rating
Photograph the Classic Holiday Light Bokeh Effect

Tips for shooting lights as soft globes of color

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Getting Started: How to Hold Your D-SLR Camera

Getting sharper, more in-focus pictures can be as simple as learning how…

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4.2 Rating
Photographing Sports Indoors and Out

Capturing the action of a sporting event is easy when you follow a few simple…

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4.3 Rating
How to Photograph Lightning

Storm chaser Jim Reed offers valuable tips for making photos of lighning while staying safe.

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3.3 Rating
3D Focus Tracking

3D focus tracking automatically shifts the focus point to follow the movement of the subject. With the…

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3.3 Rating
Taking Close-up Photos

How do I take close-up photos of flowers and small objects?

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In a New York Minute: Images of a Long Weekend

Lindsay Silverman spends a weekend shooting with only one D-SLR and lens…

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5.0 Rating
Outdoor Pursuit

Bill Hatcher photographs the impossible—well, let's say the extremely difficult.

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4.1 Rating
Nikon 1 Advanced Camera with Interchangeable Lens System

Revolutionary camera system designed for today’s picture taker.

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4.1 Rating
New Directions: The D750 Inspires Creating, and Sharing, New Images

Lindsay Silverman shoots with the D750 DSLR

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3.8 Rating
You’re the Guest: How to Capture Unique Photos at a Wedding

Abby Liga discusses getting great photos when you're a…

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4.8 Rating
Caring for your Nikon 1 Waterproof Housing

Regular maintenence and care of the WP-N1/WP-N2/WP-N3 will ensure its…

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4.8 Rating
Family Photos—Capturing the Moments

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3.7 Rating
Chromatic Aberration

Chromatic aberration is a phenomenon in which light rays passing through a lens focus at different…

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4.8 Rating
Speedlight Tutorial: Day to Night Technique

David Tejada uses Speedlights to create the illusion of a night scene

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3.8 Rating
One Shot: Spin Doctor

Mark Alberhasky on why images may work in multiple ways

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4.6 Rating
The Challenge of Bird Photography

Moose Peterson tells why photographing birds in the field is well worth the challenge.

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5.0 Rating
A Nikon Ambassador's Photography in Cuba

Vincent Versace on photographing the culture and people of Cuba

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One Shot: The Forest and the Tree

Photographing the same subject different ways

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3.3 Rating
How to Film Using Autofocus, Rack Focus and Manual Focus Techniques

Focusing tips for HDSLR video shooting

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4.7 Rating
Joe McNally

Commercial photojournalist Joe McNally is a Nikon Ambassador. Learn more about his photography.

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4.6 Rating
Techniques: Flower Power

Focus Stacking for Close-Up Depth and Detail

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3.0 Rating
Taking Pictures at Dusk and at Night

How do I take pictures at dusk and at night?

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4.4 Rating
Benefits of Using the AF-ON Button for Autofocus

Three pros discuss using the AF-ON button for AF control

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For Memorable Family Vacation Photos, Focus First on Family

Tamara Lackey on taking great photos during family vacations

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One Shot: City Lights

Mark Alberhasky's silhouette of people against bright Times Square signage

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Using the D810A DSLR for Deep Space and Nebulae Astrophotography

Photographing Nebulae and other celestial objects with…

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4.1 Rating
Nikon Electronic Format (NEF)

Nikon's RAW file format contains all the image information captured by the camera's sensor.

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4.7 Rating
Outside Shots: Go Long

Tony Sweet on revealing the invisible in images

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Matthew Jordan Smith

Celebrity and fashion photographer Matthew Jordan Smith is a Nikon Ambassador. Learn more about his…

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4.2 Rating
The Sum of the Parts

Making Movies with the D5000

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Six Steps to Lighting Magic with Joe McNally

Follow lighting expert Joe McNally's instructions for easy flash photography…

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4.4 Rating
Let the Sun Shine In!

Bambi Cantrell's quick exposure tips in bright sunlight

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4.4 Rating
Versatile Views of the World of Wildlife:

Ron Magill field tests the AF-S NIKKOR 80-400mm f/4.5-5.6G ED VR lens

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Jim Richardson: Why Fast Lenses Make All the Difference

When You’re Constantly on the Move, Fast Glass Makes Tough Shots…

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Zoo and Wildlife Photography

Spend a day at the zoo with wildlife photographer Julie Larsen Maher

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Extra Added Attraction: How to Boost the Reach of Your Nikon 1

Mark Alberhasky on using the FT-1 and NIKKOR lenses on…

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When to Use Graduated Neutral Density Filters

How to use a graduated neutral density filter to decrease extreme light to…

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Macro Photography Tips: Photographing Insects and Other Small Creatures

A few quick tips on macro photography

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Cherie Steinberg: Capturing the Wedding Vibe

For Cherie Steinberg being a wedding photographer means wearing more than…

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What is a Lens MTF Chart & How Do I Read It?

Modulation Transfer Function or "MTF" is a measurement of the optical performance potential of a lens. MTF charts can give you a better understanding of the optical quality of various NIKKOR lenses, and can be useful references when researching, comparing and purchasing a lens. MTF charts can be found on the webpages dedicated to each NIKKOR lens on the www.nikonusa.com website.

A MTF chart plots the contrast and resolution of a lens from the center to its edges against a "perfect" lens that would transmit 100% of the light that passes through it. The contrast of a lens is important as this works in correlation to lens resolution.

Using a MTF chart is the preferred method for studying lens optical performance as they use theoretical equations to plot a performance graph and don't rely on subjective opinion, subject matter, camera features, software or other factors.

The y-axis (vertical axis) of a MTF chart plots the transmission of light through the lens with a maximum value of "1.0" which would indicate 100% transmittance of the light, although 100% transmittance of light is not possible because glass is not 100% transparent.

The x-axis (horizontal axis) shows the distance from the center of the image towards its edges. So, the "0" in the lower left corner represents the center of the lens and the numbers along the lower axis represent the distance out towards the edge of the lens in millimeters.


How to read a MTF chart

There are two groups of data plotted on a Nikon MTF chart: Sagital and Meridonial lines.

"Sagital lines" (the solid lines) represent the contrast measurements of pairs of lines that run parallel to a central diagonal line that passes through the middle of the lens from the bottom left hand corner to the top right hand corner.

"Meridonial lines" (the dotted lines) represent line pairs also positioned along an imaginary line from the center of a lens to the edge but these line pairs are perpendicular to the diagonal line.

There are two groups of test lines for each Sagital and Meridonial value: one group or line pairs at 10 lines per millimeter and a second group at 30 lines per millimeter. The lower line pairs (10 lines/mm) will generally be plotted higher on the graph than the more challenging fine resolution 30 lines/mm.

In general, the higher and flatter the lines the better. Higher lines indicate better contrast (10 lines/mm) or resolution (30 lines/mm) while a flatter (left to right) line shows that the optical performance is close to the same at the edge of the image compared to the center.

Below is a MTF chart for the AF-S DX NIKKOR 35mm f/1.8G lens. When measuring a lens' performance for a MTF chart, Nikon tests are carried out with the lens at its maximum (widest) aperture. The contrast of the Sagital and Meridonial line pairs at various points from the lens' center are read and plotted on the chart.

The MTF chart consists of measurement for the Sagital and Meridonial lines at both 10 lines per millimeter and 30 lines per millimeter. This produces a chart with 4 separate lines.

The red 10 line/mm (10 lines per millimeter) indicates the lens' ability to reproduce low spatial frequency or low resolution. This line indicates the lens' contrast values and the higher and straighter this line is the better; because the higher the line appears the greater the amount of contrast the lens can reproduce. 
The blue 30 line/mm (30 lines per millimeter) indicates the lens' ability to to reproduce higher spatial frequency or higher resolution; this line relates to the resolving power of the lens and again the higher the line the better.

The line starts on the left of the chart which represents the center of the lens. As the line moves to the right it indicates the edge of the lens, so you can see how the contrast and sharpness of the lens decreases from the center to the edge of the image.


Using a MTF chart to determine the bokeh effect of the lens

Another factor that can be read from the MTF graph is the 'bokeh' of the lens. Bokeh is a term used to describe the quality of the out of focus areas a lens produces. The bokeh effect varies between lenses and the effect is influenced by the quality of the lens elements used and the number of aperture blades in the lens design (more blades produce a better circle and therefore a better 'bokeh' effect). The closer the solid line and the dotted line are together, the softer the out of focus effect will be on a particular lens.


Lens performance

While a MTF chart can be used to compare two similar lens from the same manufacturer it can be difficult to compare across different manufacturers due to testing and display differences. Further, a MTF chart measures theoretical optical performance of a lens only. Many factors (camera imaging sensor, camera software settings, filters, subject matter, subject/camera motion, etc.) can greatly affect the final image quality so MTF charts should only be used as a starting point when comparing and purchasing a lens.

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