Criticism of Orb Zone Theory

Criticism of Orb Zone Theory


Orb Zone Theory was proposed and tested by ASSAP (Association for the Scientific Study of Anomalous Phenomena). According to Orb Zone Theory orbs occur from dust or other particles in the area. When these particles are close to the lens of the camera, far in front of the focal plane, and sufficiently illuminated, the particles appear as orbs. This is due to a known camera phenomena called circles of confusion. Here is a great video illustrating circle of confusion.

The Definition of Orbs Is Too Broad

Deer UFOIn ASSAP’s publicized research of Orb Zone Theory, orbs were classified as “typically white (though colours can vary), typically pale (though can be bright), typically spherical (though can be other shapes) and typically caught on compact digital camera.” 

This definition is exceptionally broad. Lens flare could also be categorized by an orb under Orb Zone Theory yet ASSAP knows lens flare can create orbs independent of circles of confusion. This is problematic as Orb Zone Theory should include a specific set of characteristics for which it becomes a valid explanation. This was not defined in  the publicized research or any pages I could find on ASSAP’s website. 

Aside from lens flare other causes of Orb objects include eye shine and reflection like the reflection of the S5 Wrong Color UFO 4eyes in this trail camera photo. And yet another possibility is a light source behind the focal plane like this picture I took of street lights. The Orb-like appearance of these street lights is caused by circles of confusion, the same explanation used in Orb Zone Theory, yet this is a clear example of orbs captured beyond the focal plane. Orb Zone Theory claims this is not possible, at least not with dust. But then the definition of orb as applied to Orb Zone Theory should include mention of dust or a particle. 

Even dust on the lens or in the camera mechanism can create black artifacts which can be called orbs under some conditions. 

Now I’m sympathetic to this problem. Creating accurate classifications for orbs to differentiate explanations is difficult. But I believe it is quite necessary. Without left on right limits on when Orb Zone Theory is a valid explanation, it can be applied even when inadequate thus running the risk of classifying truly paranormal orbs as explained. 

Disproving Blooming

ASSAP concluded that their testing disproved Blooming as a potential explanation for Orbs. This was based on conducting counts of orbs in photographs conducted in an outdoor environment. Photographs were taken with a variety of cameras with various megapixel counts. Blooming contends that Orbs appear more frequently with higher megapixel cameras. The key issue here is ASSAP had no control over orb production. They relied on multiple trials and analysis using the Chi Square test to disprove Blooming.

ASSAP made efforts to control dust caused by experimenter movement, but since the experiment was conducted outside a number of variables like minute changes in air currents could have altered Orb counts of photos. Preferably the test would be conducted in a controlled environment where orbs were artificially created with a particle like salt, flour or something similar. These particles could be counted then dispersed in front of the camera while it takes a photograph. A count would reveal the how many of the particles were picked up as orbs.

The statistical analysis is only relevant if the distribution of dust in the environment was random. If external factor significantly influenced the occurrence of dust, the results would be invalidated. Unfortunately there is no way to determine this. The best solution is to use a sealed environment with direct control over orb production. 

As a final note blooming is certainly possible and issues with this have appeared with more expensive cameras in the last few years. See the Alternate Explanations section below for details. 

Haunted vs. Non-Haunted Test

ASSAP also concluded that there was no difference in the appearance of orbs in a Haunted location versus one that isn’t Haunted. According to the testing procedure: “A haunted building was selected that was known to be associated with orb photos that have been theorised to be both paranormal and non-paranormal by past researchers… The events manager of the location, herself a paranormal researcher, was asked to select two rooms. One room with an ongoing history of paranormal phenomena was chosen for the experimental conditions. One room with no known history of paranormal activity was selected for the control conditions.”

Testing one location should not be considered as a definitive result here. Ideally we want to see this repeated at multiple locations. Furthermore the lack of a clear definition is important here too. Orb Zone Theory only explains dust and similar particles creating orbs before the focal plane. Of some charged energy created an orb, as some paranormal investigators claim, would this be counted under explained by Orb Zone Theory? That’s unclear. My concern is Orb Zone Theory can only explain Orb phenomena in limited context yet no efforts have been made to qualify or quantify the limits of that context. 

Future Testing

The ASSAP testing of Orb Zone Theory was a good start but future testing should involve greater control over variables and explore the factors that affect the appearance of orbs in photos. Future experiments can explore how orb appearance changes with different particle reflectance, different particle size, varying particle distance to camera, and various lighting conditions at the orb. 

These results can be used to determine a rough estimate for the size of the Orb zone based on focal length, camera sensor size and lighting conditions. This can help guide the development of a better definition for orbs that can be explained under Orb Zone Theory

Possible Alternate Explanation

x-10 White Orb Issue

Fuji X10 White Orbs.                        From:

I recently ran across old articles citing a problem with Fuji X10 cameras. The cameras would produce white orbs in photos under low-light conditions. Fuji eventually fixed the cameras by replacing the image sensor. You can see example photos of this issue here. Originally the Fuji X10 listed for $599.99 and still sells for $458 on Amazon. If a high-quality camera suffered from this issue due to a CCD defect, I have to wonder if compact digital cameras a fraction of the price might be influenced by this defect. Circles of confusion may only be a

Blackmagic White Orbs From:

Blackmagic White Orbs From:

partial explanation. 

I found another instance where white orbs were appearing on video of the Blackmagic Pocket Cinema Camera. This problem was resolved by adjusting the settings of the camera. A Blackmagic Design representative claimed the issue was due to blooming in overexposed areas of the frame. 

Sea Salt Orb Test

Sea Salt Orb Test

This brings up an interesting issue, does Orb Zone Theory or blooming explain solid white orbs? Check out my own orb photo using sea salt. In this photo you can see some of the sea salt orbs are solid white orbs while others are grey and partially transparent. One question the ASSAP study failed to answer is whether these solid white orbs are actually related to blooming.

Photographers use the term Backscatter to describe “light from a flash or strobe reflecting back from particles in the lens’s field of view causing specks of light to appear in the photo. This gives rise to what are sometimes referred to as orb artifacts. Photographic backscatter can result from snowflakes, rain or mist, or airborne dust. Due to the size limitations of the modern compact and ultra-compact cameras, especially digital cameras, the distance between the lens and the built-in flash has decreased, thereby decreasing the angle of light reflection to the lens and increasing the likelihood of light reflection off normally sub-visible particles.” Source: Wikipedia. This does not conflict with Orb Zone Theory but does imply that particles may be seen closer to the focal plane if sufficient light reflects off of the particles and back into the camera. Should these particles be classified as orbs too? Under the current definition they would.