Chromatic Aberration – What is it and How to Avoid it


Chromatic Aberration example.

In the photo above, you may notice that the colors on the left-hand side appear to be showing fringes of green and red along the sharp edges of the subject; this is what is called chromatic aberration.

What is chromatic aberration?

Chromatic aberration (also known as color fringing or dispersion) is a common problem in lenses which occurs when colors are incorrectly refracted (bent) by the lens, resulting in a mismatch at the focal point where the colors do not combine as they should.

To help understand this a bit better, remember that the focal plane is your sensor’s point of focus; where all the light from your lens should rejoin together to be correctly detected by your sensor. The thing is, depending on the construction of your lens, your chosen focal length, and even the aperture that you’ve used, certain wavelengths (colors) may arrive at points before or after where the focal plane sits.

What is chromatic aberration and why it happens.

When this occurs, you end up with the telltale color fringing around edges in your photograph; and although you can remove low levels of chromatic aberration in Photoshop and Lightroom, the reality is that each extra moment you spend on touching up a photograph is one moment less you have to get something else done!

OziRig Cheetah Chromatic Aberration Comparison

Why does chromatic aberration occur?

Chromatic aberration happens because your lens acts as a prism; bending light depending on the various properties of the glass, and much like the triangle-shaped one made famous by Pink Floyd, colors passing through it are split at different angles.

Why does chromatic aberration occur.

Remember that light is actually made up of several different wavelengths (colors). So, for your camera’s sensor to detect the combined color of light, your lens needs to make all wavelengths of that particular ray hit the exact same point on your sensor.

This sounds simple, but you need to take into account the fact that various wavelengths (and thus various colors) will be striking your lens all at once and that each of these rays will behave slightly differently depending on the glass that it is passing through.

The feat of engineering required to correctly align all of these different light rays is usually achieved by the manufacturer’s use of a lens array. In fact, if you were to pull your lens apart, it wouldn’t be surprising if you found upwards of 16 lens elements all designed to correct for various things along the light’s journey between your lens and your sensor.

OziRig Lens Elements

Unfortunately, this is also where chromatic aberration tends to rear its ugly head. Hidden within the design of these lens elements are defects – either in the glass or the design of the lens itself – which under specific conditions may cause your photos to exhibit this type of aberration.

I’m not trying to say that you need to have a pro-level lens, in fact, the key point to keep in mind here is that all lenses suffer from chromatic aberration in one form or the other. What matters is whether or not your lens exhibits visible chromatic aberration, and whether in your particular case this is a deal-breaker or not.

Avoiding chromatic aberration defects

Chromatic aberration can actually be effectively removed in post-processing if you are shooting in RAW. However, good practice states that you should try and remove issues in-camera first, rather than creating more work down the line.

The good news is that if you are stuck working with a lens that exhibits some form of visible chromatic aberration there are several easy-to-understand strategies which can help you to remove or minimize the visible effect of it in your photos.

Avoid high contrast scenes

OziRig CA Cheetah High Contrast

Chromatic aberrations tend to flare up in high contrast scenes. Particularly guilty are shots against white backdrops, landscape shots against a bright sunrise, or, as in the example of this Cheetah, where the light source is behind the subject.

This means that sometimes there’s nothing to do except try and reframe your shot. Swap your backdrop out to something which better matches your subject’s primary color, or wait for more favorable lighting conditions. If you absolutely must capture this shot as-is, then swap over to RAW and get your fingers ready for the possibility that you may need to do some touch-ups in post-production.

Check your focal lengths

OziRig Chromatic Aberration Focal Length

Although it’s nice to have access to a wide range of focal lengths, the fact is that most zoom lenses will exhibit various aberrations at the shorter and longest extremes of their focal range. So being able to choose a different focal length will usually help to remove the issue of visible chromatic aberration.

Likewise, using a zoom lens at a wide angle will usually introduce not just chromatic aberrations but various other defects in your image. Instead, consider choosing a prime wide angle lens to handle the job, or, perhaps more practical for your case, make a panorama at a focal length that does not exhibit the chromatic aberration issue and then join the photos in post-production for a flawless result.

Stop down your aperture

OziRig CA Aperture

Although this will depend on the exact type of lens you are using, stopping down your aperture will usually help to play down the noticeable effects of most lens defects, including chromatic aberrations. Remember that you may need to consider dropping the shutter speed or boosting the ISO to compensate for the light loss if working in a non-studio setting.

If you have access to lighting or flashes, then be sure to experiment with the effect of boosting and adding in extra light.

Reframe your subject to the center of the image

OziRig Rhino CA Recrop

Chromatic aberrations tend to occur more frequently as you move further away from the center of the frame. This is generally as a result of the curvature of the lenses within the barrel. Therefore, being able to reframe your subject closer to the middle may help to reduce, or even completely eliminate, issues with chromatic aberration and other lens-based defects.

This means that you may need to crop your image after shooting to achieve the desired frame, which may be an issue if you absolutely have to maintain every pixel in your photo. If, on the other hand, you are working with small prints, or digital distribution, then the differences between resolutions are not as noticeable until you step down significantly.

So understanding chromatic aberration, how to avoid it, and what you can do about it will help you improve the final quality of your images. If you have any other tips or comments please share them below.

Read more from our Tips & Tutorials category

Joshua Burke is an avid photographer, videographer and constant tinkerer who loves getting his hands dirty with camera and photo rigs. Check out his collection of professional photography tutorials on OziRig Academy or keep in touch via Twitter. He currently bases himself in the beautiful city of Medellín, Colombia. Se habla español :)

  • Aleks

    more same examples i found here

  • MJ

    I just can’t see it, as much as I try.

  • DLS

    I found that the best way to avoid chromatic aberration is to not use crap lenses. Buy lenses that produce low enough fringing so lightroom or camera raw have no problem correcting at any focal length.

  • Absolutely! Buying great glass is always the best way to avoid these types of issues. The original photos were all donr with L-series lenses so I actually needed to introduce the CA in photoshop.

    Even on my A6000 and the basic kit lens, Lightroom has presets for the lenses which automatically counter the CA that is introduced.

    But you’re 100% on the mark; if you can afford better glass then do it. High zoom range kit lenses (looking at you; 30-200mm f5.6 kits) tend to be the worse since they try to do everything. Primes are usually the way to go.

  • Guest

    No worries; it may be a little difficult to notice until you start to recognize the characteristics.

    Check out the left side of the leopard, particularly in the shadows; you’ll notice that that side of his body has a purple line across it.

    That’s chromatic aberration. Usually you’ll see it just on the outlines and it gives it a kind of red and green “glow” like those old stereo 3d images.

    Sometimes its more subtle than that; sometimes it’s a very big “glow”.

  • Hey; no worries! It may be a little difficult to notice until you start to recognize the characteristics.

    Check out the left side of the leopard, particularly in the shadows; you’ll notice that that side of his body has a purple line across it.

    That’s chromatic aberration. Usually you’ll see it just on the outlines and it gives it a kind of red and green “glow” like those old stereo 3d images.

    Sometimes its more subtle than that; sometimes it’s a very big “glow”.

  • Unfortunately non-crap lenses usually have a higher price attached and spending more money isn’t an option for everybody. It’s good to know some tips to avoid the problem to make the most of lower quality gear.

  • tom

    not necessarily.. buy prime lenses the less the glass inside the lesser the chance of chromatic aberration,

  • Glen Robinson

    Hi, I really want to buy the Canon EF 24-105m lens, but a friend has told me it is quite bad for CA. I like the lens because it is constant aperture throughout the zoom range. Cameron Bryce, who writes occasionally on, though not very often, has said elsewhere that this is a great video lens. Has anyone any experience with this lens please?

  • G’day Glen,

    Zoom lenses tend to exhibit issues at their longest lengths, particularly at wide angle and ultra-wide angle which is their major downside.

    Check out this website over here which has a really great graph showing what to expect:

    You’ll see here that the chromatic aberration is much more noticeable at 24mm, with a nice balance at 70mm.

    Depending on your aperture and the exact focal length you shoot at, you may see visible CA which will need to be corrected in post.

    Does this make the 24-105mm a bad lens? No, not necessarily, but you might be better off getting a dedicated prime or a ultra-wide zoom (16-35 comes to mind) and then a second lens that covers the portrait to tele length (50mm+) if your budget works out.

    If not, and you must stick with the 24-105, well, don’t stress too much, there will just be a little bit of post-processing which needs to be done in SOME cases at SOME focal lengths and at SOME apertures.

    You can also check out this great video over here that shows some test footage:

    If it looks like absolute trash to you, then don’t buy it, otherwise if you like the look of the footage, by all means feel free to take your friend’s advice as subjectively as you take people’s taste in food and art 🙂

  • Depends what you are able to justify doing; Rokinon make some amazing manual prime lenses with some really nice focal lengths.

    Heck, even the Sigma Art sets (19mm, 30mm, 60mm) are some of the nicest lenses I’ve seen; and they are all under $250!

    The thing is, though, it depends on whether you have room in your bag to take all of that with you, and whether you have the time to swap lenses out and possibly avoid missing your shot (if you’re doing anything with events).

    In this sense you’re right; unless you have money to spend on a lens that exhibits less issues then you have to get around it using these types of techniques or via post-processing.

  • This is the reason that DxO marks tend to be a lot higher for primes; because the fact that zooms have a lot more glass in them and try to do more things means that they are, by necessity, not going to produce the same quality of image as something that is fixed to do just the one thing… i.e: by trying to be the jack of all trades, they fall flat.

  • You can’t see the aberration? or the difference?

  • marco vila

    I!!! I bought a Tamron SP 24-70mm F/2.8 Di VC USD and it cames with this problem… i send it to the manufacturer warranty and when it cames , it was better but it still have this problem… i use a Nikon D600… i paid a lot of money for this lens and now i am sorry … I am the owner of a bad copy and now i have to send it back… if they recognize the problem… although i have a 70 200 and a 90mm at the same manufacter and with this two i am very happy… they are almost perfect… it’s a shame that lens like this at this price level… comes with defects… and we have to loose timing solving problems like this… sorry about my english!!! 😉

  • teila

    Expensive glass like the Canon85mm f/1.2 or Zeiss 100mm f/2 will also experience CA under the right (and all too typical) conditions. The way to minimize the chance of this happening is to compensate for it when you know you’re shooting in conditions ripe for it. It’s that simple 🙂

  • Sarah Bauer

    Thank you for this! I have a telephoto lens that has really bad chromatic aberration when it’s zoomed in at maximum or close to maximum distance, which, unfortunately, means that I have to choose between having a weird-looking background or having to crop the photo on the computer and ending up with a lower resolution.

  • Sarah Bauer

    Okay, I’ll just pick some money from the money tree in money orchard. >.>

  • Sarah Bauer

    Serious question, are you colorblind?

  • Vala Grenier

    I did a headshot outside a week ago with my nikon 85mm 1.8 and the chromatic aberration was so bad I thought the fabric behind the white outer layer of the jacket was green. Looked at the same jacket shot in studio with a different lens and nope, black. I took the image back into LR and the lens profile adjustment did almost nothing. I had to go into the manual chromatic aberration settings to get rid of it. But other shots outdoors in autumn show no visible ca. Demonstrates you can’t assume anything 😛

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