Sharp Lens or Skilled Photographer?

Kind of reminds me of of the Memorex slogan
"Is it Real or is it Memorex"

Lens sharpness is the biggest sales hype of lens performance. You'd think lens sharpness related to creating sharp photographs, although that's not the case. Camera company marketing and sales departments benefit from this mistaken belief because it makes people think if the buy that new super duper gizmo lens, they'll instantly turn into John Shaw (John Shaw is a professional nature photography icon . He has done photography on all the continents, from the North Arctic to South Antarctic).

Sharpness is simple to test and evaluate, so magazines Indulge inexperienced photographers with pages of multicolored graphs and charts. Honestly, these people would start making far better photos if they spent their time learning to take impressive photos with the equipment they already have instead of fretting over if they have very latest and best photography gear.

A photographic lens, if properly used, will always create crisp, clear and sharp images. Even back in the middle 1800s lenses had the capability to produce sharp photos. The science of optical design predates photography by many years. Why some photos don't turn out sharp is rarely related to the lens.

It's 2011 already, and sharpness is the absolute last thing you should be worrying about when choosing a lens. Even the bottom-end DSLR and compact point and cameras lenses are much sharper than very expensive lenses were just a few years ago, while every one of them are sharper than the ability which most digital camera's have to resolve the fine details.

Still Lake
Still Lake

On page 244 of Ansel Adams autobiography he is quoted as saying on June 3, 1937 "Any good modern lens is corrected for maximum definition at the larger stops. Using a small stop only increases depth...", as a reply to an appeal by Edward Weston for lens suggestions, . Ansel was suggesting to him to stop fretting over lens sharpness, since every lens he was considering was sharp. This was back in the 1930s. Today even the sub-par lenses, including plastic the all plastic ones on most through-away cameras, turn out sharp images when properly used. it's embarrassing at the lenses are improperly used just to show up its limits in a some lens review. I've been around photography long enough to have expertise to make just about any camera or lens produce terrible results by incorrectly using it and then enlarge the resulting photos for everyone to look at.

As someone who breathes eats, and lives photography,  it's really embarrassing every time I read this type of an article as this a completely wrong way to go about writing a constructive review, but it's just the type of review that people who like to read reviews look at. it bears saying again "Lens sharpness has hardly anything do with anything. It gets a lot of attention as it's easy to show tests and analyses.

Still Waters
Still Waters - Shot with a Sigma 18-200 - f/8, 1/150s, 20mm


If you want create impressive interactive color graphics in 3-D, all you need to do is obtain some graphic software, photograph a few subjects and let the software generate pages of impressive looking graphs and charts based upon whatever you feed it. Now here's the big issue: the charts don't even show as much information as series of actual images show an experienced photographer, while these charts only reveal what little is obtained with a few controlled sample images that were fed into the software

Back during the 1950s, a optical lens was just a tube that had no elictrical communication with the body of the camera. Even the diaphragm was manually opened & closed for every photograph! it wasn't until the 1960s that "Automatic" diaphragms became common. You'll see many old manual lenses with the word "Auto," because back then automatic diaphragms became the big thing during the 1960s. Prior to that, testing the optics of a lens' in sterile a lab made a lot of sense.

Today, testing sharpness of a lens does not have relevance that it did the 1950s! Optics now only play a small part in any camera's system, while the lens optics are so superior that lab testing has become irrelevant unless you happen to design lenses. Instead, we should be more interested in the way a lens functions as a portion of a much bigger system of aperture control, shutter speed, exposure control, autofocus, vibration reduction, zooming,, distance information, and more.

While most of today's lenses won't work unless they're attached to a camera body, optics tested in a lab without a camera no longer has any meaning to photographers. Lenses tested on a cameras that they are used on has much much more meaning, which has thrown a wrench into the magazines testing schemes since they are no longer able to put a single lens through a laboratory test and have any readers that care.

Know the Limitations

I always want to know the limitations of every part of my camera system allowing me to work around any shortcomings. When I know a wide-open lens is a bit softer (most are), then duh, I want to know how far i must stop the lens down to get incredible photos. So, it's the impressive results I want; discovering it's limits is simply a path to getting that impressive outcome.

The first thing I always do when I get a new lens or camera is to force its limitations. When I find those limitations, then I note it (the very reason this website began), and then go take pictures and never fret about it anymore.

Unfortunately, many people make an attempt to test one of their lenses, however they become disillusioned and mistakenly believe their lens is defective, when all they've uncovered is its limitations, or more times than not, limitations within their own testing technique. Look hard enough and you'll find every products limitations, although anyone with one of today's digital cameras can uncover them.

Only a moron will find something's limitations, and and then get into a complaining trap about it. Every artist has duty to find the limitations of their tools so they are able work around them. Astronauts didn't do their moon walk by sitting around on their... whining about the many reasons they couldn't.

Why Lens Sharpness is not all that important

Even back in the film days, a majority of the people thought small 8x12" were "enlargements." Many times they thought they were checking sharpness by examining 4x6" "jumbo" prints. This was always ludicrous, as it's quite easy for even the worst 35mm camera to make crisp 8x12" prints.

Most camera gear, at all times has been way better than people's capabilities to use it. Making those large prints usually mislaid more sharpness from shoddy enlarging techniques than any limits of the lens that shot it. A majority of the people still haven't the faintest... about just how decent even the most simple equipment is today.

In the "good old days", we nearly went blind staring away at film using loupes (typically 8x ~ 22x) plus microscopes (30x and more). In today's world, anyone can view 100% digital images on their computer screen or the LCD of their camera, which is a minimum of 30x magnification even from the lowest DSLR resolution. Similarly, anyone can disclose all these significantly magnified images on the Internet. (30x is just how much bigger the image is on-screen compared to the initial image acquired by the lens.)

I remember the day I got my very first Nikon 14-24mm f/2.8 lens, the soft brick walls looked pretty horrible. I got past it, and went to Yosemite the very next morning to do some shooting, and acquired some of the best photos to date. How can that be? Simple really: walls have nothing in common with real scenes, and no one ever shoots f/2.8 in good light. stopped down, it's a wonderful lens, even the corners at 14mm. In poor light, where perhaps you might use an f/2.8 aperture, corner sharpness isn't all that important as the subject is typically dark there anyway!

When I talked with the people at Nikon, we laughed at how Nikon had to recreate an already exceptional lens just for the people who were using it improperly would be happy. There was never any complaints in film days as only professionals owned the exotic Nikon 16-35mm f/2.8 lenses. Naturally Nikon is more than delighted to create a new and more costly lens, although we still wonder why people, other than designers of lenses, fret so much over this.

In the real-world of photography, natural causes do more to mess up a photograph than any deficiency in lens sharpness. Tests for lens sharpness are unlike photos from the real world due to a test doing everything possible to do away with any un-sharpness source. In a laboratory, there's nothing moving while the scene is most often flat. Only amoebas use cameras for photographing flat test charts; more intelligent just go out and shoot for best results! In a real world, everything moves, while nothing else is flat. If there's nothing flat, then there's only one point in precise focus while the other points are out-of-focus.

Wolf moving at a pretty fast pace
Panning the camera can achieve a motion blur for moving subjects. The wolf was moving at a pretty fast pace, as you can the point of focus was on his head.

A sharp photograph needs clear atmosphere, good lighting, inducing your subjects to sit still in the best focus plane, plus a photographer with an imagination. Inprecise focus, depth-of-field, plus camera or subject movement are the biggest reasons photos are seldom as crisp as they might be. Imperfections in lenses are almost never important in actual photography.

The sharpest lenses from Nikon and Canon are their 600mm f/4, 500mm f/4, 400mm f2.8, and 300mm f2.8, ED or L series lenses. Just take a peek at their respective MTF graphs, In actuality they do have nearly perfect accomplishment. However, it's unfortunate, but longer lenses have more between them than creating a sharp photo. Long lenses not only display paper-thin field depths, although their biggest hurdle to being sharp is our atmosphere! Even at practical a distance, heat shimmer is magnified by long telephoto lenses so much that most often it's a huge sharpness hurdle. However haze and fog over long expanses doesn't help matters, either. Long telephotos become subject to the identical sort of things that perplex astronomers, which they call "seeing conditions."

However, no actual perfect plane of focus may exist, because most lenses contain meridional and saggital (imagined) perfect focus plans which diverge. Perfect focus planes are typically different for unique colors, all this hocus pocus just means that no single real perfect focus plane exists anyway.

Does Anyone Care?

Seasoned photographers stay away from important and sharp, contrasty component along a picture's edges as these type of details draw the eye out from the image. Photographers in particular avoid having anything in the distant corners. A winning photo keeps the onlooker's eyes affixed to the scene staying within the picture. Facets around the edges pulls the eye away from the scene and weakens the image.

When lenses are softer along the sides or in the corners, it's typically away from any region in which you'd like to have anything sharp.

Focus Depth

When using a long or normal lens, it's not too likely anything off in the corners and the same distance will be in focus anyway. it doesn't matter how sharp the lens is, the instant you move the slightest distance from the best plane of focus, it becomes softer. it doesn't mater how in-focus someone's eyes may appear, the end of their nose and their ears will become less in-focus than their eyes. These will never be in-focus no matter what lens you use.

Learn to Properly Use Your Lens

Know your camera's and lenses limits, and operate within them. For the majority of lenses, this means stopping down two stops from wide open to eliminate any lingering vignetting and aberrations, and stay away from the smaller apertures because of diffraction.

There are people that go ballistic when their lens will not do something that it was never built to do. Although people believe they have a faulty lens sample, where in reality all that's going on is that the're trying too hard and discovering the limitation of that lens.

The only lenses with the capacity for photographing test charts that are flat are macro or the Nikon micro lenses. All the other photographic lens are designed for acquiring photos of moving three-dimensional subjects. Squander away too much time fretting over corner sharpness and you will die at a young age.

Normal or telephoto lenses seldom have any sort limits, but even in 2011 zooms and ultra-wide lenses can still be soft when you look in the corners closely at too much magnification.

It's typical for ultra-wide zoom lenses to have corners that are terribly soft while shot with wide-open aperture. The solitary ultra-wide zoom that's ever been tested that has corner sharpness at f2.8 on the wide end is the Nikon 14-24mm f2.8. So big deal, when a wide lens lens is shot at a full aperture, it's because it's too dark, while the corners in your scene are probably not lit anyway.

Get to know your the limits of lenses and work with them. The actual difference in the sharpness between different lenses is the scope of circumstances where a lens functions well. Learn the circumstances where your system functions well, and shot it there for impressive images.

We all know how crucial focus is to obtaining clear sharp photos. Some combinations of camera and lenses, such as the Nikon D300 with the Nikon 60mm micro, don't get along' and decline to focus while in some situations. Yet, the Nikon 60mm lens is ultra-sharp for photographing test charts, although ir would be unfortunate it failed to focus and you lost your shot.

This is the primary reason experienced photographers buy more for expensive camera gear. Not due to it working any better, as a matter of fact cheap lenses are often sharper under idyllic situations than more costly lenses. Seasoned photographers will pay more for certain camera gear as it lets them to get dependable results over a wider range of time and situations, not because it functions any better within a laboratory under perfect conditions.

I'm still working on this page, more to come . . . .

New Article Sep 26, 2011

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