There are some aspects to the magazine business that may not be instantly apparent to some readers. The first is that repetition is mandatory if you're going to serve the entire readership. Different readers come in with different levels of expertise. Not everyone learns everything the first time they read it (truthfully, hardly any of us do). Also, there's a significant turnover in readership from year to year, so the article you wrote two years ago is going to be news to quite a few people today.
For those reasons, articles on the basics, which can bore long-term and experienced readers, have to be part of a magazine's stock in trade.
This is going to be one of those.
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This is not specifically about the Nikon D800 and D800E, even if they do provide the talking points. It applies, in general, to any camera between 28 and 50 megapixels.
Sharpness isn't an either-or phenomenon. It exists on a continuum, where each contributor of unsharpness plays its part. Recommended practices aren't absolutes, neither obligatory nor guarantees of success. They just make things better.
If this sounds vague and unhelpful, consider the number of people who took Nikon's technical recommendations for getting the most out of the D800 as gospel. Nikon recommends using a tripod. That's a good idea. Is it necessary, all the time? Absolutely not. It's quite possible to get pixel-perfect sharpness handheld; you just need to use a short enough shutter speed*. How short? That depends on you. A good starting point, if you're using a 50mm lens, is 1/125th sec. Really, though, it depends upon your technique, skill, and practice.
Long lenses are tricky because they shift the balance point away from the camera body. With my Pentax 67, I could handhold the 105mm lens at 1/60th sec. easily; with care I could go down to 1/30th. I needed 1/250th sec. and above with the 300mm lens.
I found all of this out by trial and error. That's the way you'll find out.
Nikon provides a list of lenses that they think perform especially well with the D800. But, just as with tripods, they are recommendations, not marching orders. When you're down in the ƒ/8 range, it's hard to tell most good lenses apart. I'm not talking about exceptional, rare and costly lenses. Yes, there will be nuances that separate out the exceptional, but they will be subtle and slight, even with mondo megapixels. So, where do you see the big differences for your money? At the wider apertures. Exceptional performance at low f-numbers is usually what you're paying the big bucks for.
Finally, diffraction is not the big bugaboo people try to make it out to be. Yes, somewhere between ƒ/5.6 and ƒ/8, it will start to subtly degrade sharpness. Note the emphasis. The effects remain subtle until you get below ƒ/11. They don't get really serious until you're pushing ƒ/16 and smaller. That's all you need to know about it. Really, truly.
Let's put this all in a historical perspective. In 35mm terms, the new Nikons are capable of resolving 70–80 line pairs per millimeter. That's really, really sharp, it's more than twice what was considered "acceptable" sharpness in 35mm film photography. But it's not unbelievably, extraordinarily sharp. Film photographers managed to achieve this, handheld, with lenses mortals could afford, and they had to live with two handicaps digital photographers don't: poor film flatness and no image stabilization.
If they could do it, you can do it. Just practice, and learn your and your equipment's behaviors.
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Here's another aspect of the magazine business: there's no shortage of good ideas for articles. What there always is is a shortage of space, time, and creative energy. I throw away lots of ideas (so does Mike), not because they wouldn't make great columns, but because something else takes precedence. Or, at least, they get perpetually deferred, as something shinier wanders across my mental landscape.
That's been happening to my off-topic columns. The last two were four and six months ago, respectively. I mean, it's not like I'm obligated to write one of those a month, but I'm way behind. Meanwhile, teas, and starships, and graphic novels, and maybe even parrots, are clamoring for space. I'm going to indulge them through the end of the year, as kind of a holiday gift. I won't say every column for the next four weeks will be an "off topic" one; most likely I'll get distracted by some technological shiny along the way. I know my weaknesses. But I'll try for at least three out of four.
Until next time....
Ctein*Or flash with a short enough duration, in situations where it provides all or most of the exposure. —Ed.
Regular columnist Ctein sharpens you up every Wednesday on TOP.
Original contents copyright 2012 by Michael C. Johnston and/or the bylined author. All Rights Reserved. Links in this post may be to our affiliates; sales through affiliate links may benefit this site.
A book of interest today:
(To see all the comments, click on the "Comments" link below.)
Featured Comments from:
Hugh Crawford (partial comment): "My three tricks for sharper handheld slow-shutter-speed photos are: increase the polar moment of inertia of the camera by attaching a collapsed monopod or tripod to the camera, or just bolt a 2x4 to it. If you are using an eye level camera, try to have the camera make firm contact with your head. Holding it upside down with the body pressed against your forehead works. I used to have a small block of wood with a accessory shoe attached that I would put in the hotshoe of the camera so it would make firm contact with my head. You are effectively adding five pounds to the mass of the camera. Of course this works even better if you are a chicken (I'm not kidding; Google 'camera on chicken'). [Seriously, Google it. —Ed.]
"Waist-level viewing with a taut neck strap beats all the above. The best advice for handheld marginal shutter speeds is to shoot three-exposure bursts, then pick the sharpest one later. Usually it turns out to be the second one but not always.
"Tripods work best of course, the heavier the better. (Unless you are on a bridge or a dance floor, where handheld with knees bent works better.) Once upon a time the hot setup was to fill the center column of a Tiltall with lead. If you aren't using a heavy tripod usually exposure times longer than 1/2 second are sharper than 1/4th."