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Friday, April 1, 2005

What Is Sharpness?

A Deeper Understanding Of Sharpness Can Help Better Control It

What Is Sharpness? Sharpness is a critical issue for photographers. While we sometimes experiment with blurs, we mostly want our subjects to be as sharp as possible. The standard, reliable approach is to use a good lens and tripod.

You've heard that line before, and if you've been a longtime reader of Outdoor Photographer, you know how important a tripod is to getting the most from your gear. Quality lenses are very affordable today, so there's simply no excuse for unsharp photos

Let's delve a little deeper into sharpness, examining a number of issues that affect it, whether you shoot film or digital. Better understanding the issue can help you get the most from your camera and lenses.

Image Brilliance
A few years ago, you truly could see a difference in photographs shot with certain lenses. They had a crispness and brilliance that set them apart from others. The effect looked a bit like sharpness, yet a lens could have high resolution and low brilliance. For example, about 30 years ago, higher resolution and low brilliance could be found in some of the independent brands like Soligor. High image brilliance was particularly noticeable in Nikon and Leica lenses. Part of this came from a lens' ability to hold highlights.

This is no longer true. Modern computer-aided design and construction, low-dispersion glass elements, APO designs and other optical technologies have given every lens manufacturer the tools to make high-quality lenses with high image brilliance. The result is much sharper-looking images, regardless of the way a lens deals with a resolution chart. Even budget lenses have a level of brilliance that couldn't be reached at their cost 20 years ago.

Buying a quality lens isn't enough, however. Photographer John Shaw once told me of a workshop attendee who complained about the poor image quality of his Leica lens. John noticed the gentleman's technique—he never used a tripod. Leica lenses tend to be quite heavy, so this made it difficult to get the quality that had been built into this lens. John wanted to offer to take that"crappy" lens off the photographer's hands.


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