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on Apr 24, 2013 in Friday Thoughts

“Is It Sharp?”


Is it sharp? This incredibly important question is asked of me almost hourly as photographers look for filtering on what they should and should not buy. It’s pretty simple, we must have a sharp lens because we must have a sharp image. We can never forget that the second element the mind’s eye seeks out is sharpness. At the same time, one of the prime reasons we delete a file is because, it’s not sharp. So sharpness is very important to our visual communication! The main tool we use to achieve sharpness is the lens. So it’s ability to resolve what we focus on as sharp logically makes the lens very important. And for this reason, we spend alot of money, many spend countless hours shooting charts and reading reviews on the web, and send poor Moose emails asking if the lens he is shooting is really sharp. To the last part, I can answer with some simple logic. While you wouldn’t know it by how much I blog, I actually do have a photography business and one that after 30+yrs, is still going very strong and growing. That is because I deliver to my clients in part, a very sharp image. No sharpness, no clients, no business and, no blog. So the lenses I depend on have to be sharp, it’s real simple business.


Yes, I’ve heard, read and been sent many a lens report telling me the lens I’m shooting isn’t sharp. That’s because those folks snuck into my office and tested my lens for me. Really? I think Adobe’s “new technology” preview at Photoshop World tells the story more accurately. Adobe is working on a future technology called “anti-camera shake” that when boiled down takes care of an ancient photographic issue I call pilot error. Simply, the camera wasn’t held still when the photo was taken. This causes an unsharp image that is not the lenses fault. In all of my years, I’ve only seen three lenses that were themselves unsharp. All the rest of the problems put before and lenses sharpness where in fact, pilot error. Either in the capturing of the photo or in the post processing of the image. I’ve been pounded of late with the question if the new 80-400AFS (top image) and even more, the new 18-35AFS (bottom image) are really sharp lenses. The 80-400AFS question comes from the lens is replaces. The 18-35 comes from its price. Photographers by their very nature are, well, let’s say skeptics to be polite.


Yes, the lens used is a very important part of the sharpness equation, there is no doubt. I bigger and more important of that equation though is the photographer! There is only one time you can sharpen a pixel and that’s when you focus the lens. And to that you can add DOF, depth of focus which most call depth of field. How can you truly measure if a lens is really sharp? To be honest with you, I don’t know the perfect, 100% technical answer. For myself, the 24×30 print has always been my measuring stick along with the checks from our clients. I want to leave you though with this thought. How many photographs have you seen in print that were not sharp? I’ve seen a lot which begs the question, is sharpness as life or death as some make it out to be? Can a photograph tell it’s story is the image isn’t tack sharp but just sharp? Sharpness is important, don’t get me wrong but I just don’t think it’s worth having a heart attack over worrying if the lens you have or want to be is the “best.” If you, the photographer behind the lens is doing their best, then that lens will be the best. That is guaranteed!