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Monday, 15 July 2013

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The larger the format, the less important it is because I'm just, just look at the results. They are amazing, but the reason 35mm lenses are so expensive is because it's difficult to draw out detail out of such a small format. Sharpness becomes increasing important as you go down in format size. THIS IS NOTHING NEW! We as photographers know this already.

Until recently I've never had a sharpness problem with any lenses, but I just had a disappointing experience with the Fuji XF 18mm! Of course Thom Hogan had already analysed the issue, but I took a flier when I found a good price. Even at f/5.6-f/8 the edges (not even corners) were significantly soft - it didn't quite ruin any photos for me (I didn't put critical elements so near the edges), but bad enough that I won't use it again, and am currently selling in favour of the 18-55mm zoom.

If you were a fuji shooter I'd really like to know if you'd find this lens sufficient, or if my standards are too high! I'm surprised a modern prime lens was so poor in this aspect!

Agree with most of this. For me the most important quality of a lens is its "dependability" - by that I mean the confidence you have in the lens to reproduce what you have in mind without having to think about it. This is probably the main reason I dislike zoom lenses - too many parameters/combinations to come to terms with when making shooting decisions.

The trouble with these sharpness debates is that photographs are measured by objective parameters such as resolution, accuracy and sharpness nowadays, instead of taking account of more subjective qualities. People want lenses to be über-sharp and tend to look for very large apertures - it looks as if anything narrower than f/2 isn't good enough -, which probably means they buy lenses merely on the basis of technical specifications.
This is wrong. As I learned with one of my mentors, a 90-year old former professional photographer who likes to shoot graffiti and posts them on Facebook (believe it or not), it's capturing the moment that matters. The important thing is to convey the feeling of an unique, unrepeatable moment, no matter whether the image is sharp or not. Adriana Lestido, an important photographer from Argentina, likes to shoot out of focus pictures for increased emotional effect. She believes photographs need to have life, and this technique of hers is the way she conveys life to her pictures.
So is sharpness unimportant? Not really. The eye reacts negatively to unsharpness. But do we really need those pictures where sharpness is so exacerbated that makes the picture look just unnatural, so that it looks as if the main subject has been juxtaposed? I'd say we don't.
Lastly, and about the Zuiko 17mm-f/1.8, I got into a curious debate on a famous photography website some time ago. This lens seems not to be the last word in sharpness, which triggered some infuriated comments. I'm eagerly expecting to read your findings, even though the 35mm furore is not really my cup of tea. I prefer standard lenses for street photography: 35mm is just too wide. I don't know how people started to believe 35mm is the ideal focal length for street photography, but surely it was not with HCB, who used to shoot with a 50mm lens.

Yes to be sure a lens could be damned with faint praise: "it is sharp corner to corner". And to be surer there is much more to it.

I just picked up my Canon 24mm Tilt Shift (as mentioned in a previous dispatch). I bought it for work (read technical) purposes. Before committing I read all the reviews I could and looked at the MTF charts (sharp... blah, blah, blah) but none of that prepared me for the first image that appeared on my monitor: I nearly fell of my chair. Sharp, yes, but much more: the images have "presence" much in the same way a good Hi-Fi system delivers music. This however depends on the quality of the music and the recording.

I am going to have to stop analysing this lens...and start tilting at windmills.

I like to say when comparing lenses or cameras and the resulting images that:

"there's a difference but it doesn't make a difference."

In your example of the NEX6 v. A99, I bet if you showed the same print from each camera to a same person, one print on Monday and the other print on Tuesday, they'd think it is the same picture and would be just as likely to say "wow".

Peter F.

There's no such thing as "too sharp" or "too much contrast" when it comes to lenses. If you're willing to correct geometric distortion or vignetting with software, why not sharpness or contrast? Also, who gets rid of lenses? Really?

[I said "once." Pre-digital. Once upon a time.

And, I wish I had a dollar for every lens I've gotten rid of...[*sigh*] --Mike]

Guess it depends what you're doing. Right now i am involved in photographing with an assistant---who turns out to be as good as I am, thank the lord!--nearly 2,000 artworks from an artist's estate. due to the vagaries of the shooting environment (don't ask) we've had to use several lenses, including 2 excellent zooms.

But the Sigma 85 f1.4 is so far and away superior to the other lenses (one a Zeiss...)---well, the difference is stark. I've been shooting these other lenses for 2 years very happily, but in this project we will now do anything we can to shoot with the 85.

So, for things that need super critical focus, the sharp lens is it, da bomb. But this 85 is a portrait lens....and i wonder if it is hyper sharp for that. So, Mike, it depends....still. And BTW---that's why you shoulda stuck with the NEX 7: I have shot it in tandem with my A850, and have been surprised how well it does, although the A850 exceeds it.But this is a little unfair---apsc vs. FF, and if you'll recall, when the A900/850 first came out, there were a lot of comparisons between them and MF images, and this is true for the D800.

I think this thing about sharpness has become an obsession with many due to the nature of digital files and their square pixels. Attempting to make the round peg of film grain fit the square hole of digital, so to speak. However, there are several photographers I could name where blur is an essential tool for their signature work.

Sharpness is a bourgeois concept.
— HCB
It totally ruins the art and heart in photography and makes it a quantifiable and measurable opportunism. It is the concept widely used as the line from the gospel, that offers salvation and place in heavens even for the untalented and gear snobs.

I think sharpness AND composition go hand in hand.. if you have both then its a killer image in my opinion. Sharpness is one of the only things in photography that seperates the pro's from any other average photographer in that the pro can afford the better quality kit..

south wales wedding photographer

I couldn't care less about sharpness. We all know the old tune, better to have a fuzzy image of a sharp concept, than a sharp image of a fuzzy concept. Ultra sharpness is rarely a significant quality of a great photograph (sattelite images of non existent weapons of mass destructions not counting). So I agree with you Mike, the standard on 90% or more of current lenses are more than good enough to make great photographs. But of course, some are into photography because they love the gadgets, not because they want to make interesting images, and MTF charts and such then becomes somewhat important.

Journalistic style photography and landscape photography require totally different lens characteristics, but interestingly enough, neither really require biting centre sharpness.

Stopping down a D800 (or a Pentax 645) already costs you a little resolution but what matters is even sharpness and illumination across the whole frame. Since landscapes are normally printed large, small flaws and noise simply become more obvious.

Journalistic work on the other hand is more about good central subject isolation and contrast at wider (faster) apertures (and such subjective qualities as "character"). As most documentary style work is not printed at poster size, overall resolution is not as important as relative sharpness (subject and background).

So there is no right answer for everyone. It depends what you shoot and how big you print.

Although I completely agree with you I do think it's somewhat application dependent. For my commercial architectural and art reproduction work I want the sharpest, most aberration free lens I can find/afford.

I doubt that there is such a thing as a lens that is too sharp. Rendering qualities aside, if a lens is able to transmit all of the detail in its field of focus, then it is doing what it is supposed to do. Problems of excessive sharpness arise in post-processing, where it is possible to exaggerate sharpness and detail to the point where the image takes on an unnatural quality. On the other hand, if it is the photographer's intent to produce unsharp images, that is an aesthetic choice that can be accomplished either by defocusing the lens or softening the image on the computer. It has nothing to do with a lens's inherent sharpness.

Mike's point about his M43 images looking perfectly fine until they are compared to those from his FF cameras is proof that sharpness and detail do matter, even if other qualities matter as well. For those who care about producing "ultimate" image quality, this is important. For others who do not care, it isn't.

I find practically all lenses sharp enough for my purposes (street photography, urban documentary, portraits, events, abstracts). What I look for most is compact size, decent manual focusing ring, low flare, pleasing color rendition, and non-distracting bokeh. As contradictory as it might sound to some, I'd rather have a lens that renders well than a lens that is simply "sharp."

You know what the old violin teacher taught: "Just because you paid for the whole bow doesn't mean you have to use the entire length of it."

Sharpness, as I wrote the other day, is one attribute of a lens among many, to be used judiciously and, if that's you aesthetic dish, sparingly. But there is no substitute for it if it's lacking.

Obesity may be a health hazard of epidemic proportions in the industrialised half of the world. But we must not forget that, for 99.5% of its history to date, hunger was humanity's problem, not over-abundance.

So with sharpness: just because good lenses have become abundant and affordable, and good sensors have mitigated many of film's problems, we must not diss sharpness: generations of photographers (including mine and, presumably, Mike's) have yearned for adequate lenses they would be able to afford.

I will not bring up Cartier-Bresson's dreadfully misquoted "Sharpness is a bourgeois concept" — let's be grateful for small mercies.

>> Decent lenses owned by committed enthusiasts for good cameras, though, are just almost always good enough.

"Comitted enthusiasts" is the key variable there. Given the right subject matter, most of the TOP faithful could take a photo that does it justice with either a camera phone or an uncelebrated point & shoot. The quality of images on eBay or facebook are probably more indicative of a different standard of what's acceptable than technical limitations.

Yes Mike, it depends and other factors as you have mentioned - color rendition, microcontrast, bokeh, DOF, etc does matter too.

For example, I shoot with 90/2 APO or older Summicron wide open for portraits. I don't think you want the sharpest lens for that. However, I took one with a D300 and Leitaxed 50/2 R of my little boy, it came out pretty sharp but I love it. It depends on the subject too.

I not a fan of smaller sensors, I do not use my GF1 anymore. However, I got a good deal with a RX100 few days back and been playing with it - still learning. Funny enough, I find it a little fuzzy for my taste haha!

I love the D800E for B&Ws and low light. I haven't seen that moire that people are talking about. Amazing camera on a tripod with the right lens.

I prefer medium formats but when I am heading out for my walk I take one of my handy 135 film bodies. Cheers!

"...I would say no."

And you would be mostly correct. Relative sharpness and clarity across the frame is more important than absolute sharpness for most applications. Sharpness is still important for many scientific and technical applications of photography, generally outside of amateur circles.

One point not yet noted is the relationship between today's lenses and the camera. Unlike film cameras today's digital cameras have the firmware to mitigate for a lens's design compromises, assuming they can recognize it electronically. Images captured on my NEX 7 with an extremely expensive Leica 24mm Summilux generally, and sadly, pale compared to those captured with the 24mm Zeiss E-Mount. That's why the amateur obsession with adapted lenses is more about the joy of experience than the actual results.

This brings to mind some discussion from the Leica forums concerning the "clinical sharpness" of some of the newer APO/ASPH lenses vs the "smooth sharpness" of the older & Noctilux lenses. I know very experienced photographers who prefer the earlier (ie. Mandler) lenses with their residual spherical (under-) correction to the newer super-corrected high resolution offerings. They take photos that result in great looking prints. As pointed out above, some of the greatest photographs (with any format) have less sharpness but are known for their content, which can still be very subjective. Compare a paint-by-numbers copy to the original Mona Lisa.

Are we having this discussion again? Come on let's move on.

I eagerly await your review of the new Olympus since I have recently moved over to m4/3s world. And yes I plan to gt the sharpest optics I can afford, they are essential to maximize new sensor technology and small size yet I wouldn't mind having a Kodak 300mm portrait work alike in my bag or perhaps an Ektar work alike. Software can't make those looks.

"My underlying aesthetic is that I don't like to have anything distracting me from the image."
I couldn't agree with that statement more. I have taken to buying older lenses to use alongside my pro lenses and the one thing that sticks out is that the pro lenses are good but offer no character. I have even taken to (pet) naming my older lenses based on their character, like my Dreamagon, a 16 blade 240mm Enna lens that wide open gives a beautiful rendering of skin and background, true it's not sharp in todays standards, but not everything needs sharpness, especially portraiture. However you can also find older lenses that are very sharp. Maybe new lenses need to have more character rather then advertising how much sharper my lens is over yours. For some work it is a necessity but for others a hindrance.

People forget that you can have as many arguments that you want concerning "bokay", "presence", "feel", etc. about what a lens is doing, but professionals need to know that something totally works a certain way, so that they can then forget about it. I want the sharpest edge-to-edge lens, with the least amount of vignetting and contrast drop, and the best construction, in any lens I buy, and then I never have to even think about it again. I can make a lens unsharp with filters, or God forbid, on the computer, but within reason, I can't make it sharper (even electronically without adding effects).

It reminds me of the old joke: "I like mild climates, when it gets cold, I can put on a jacket, but in hot climates, once you're naked, what else are you going to take off."

You can make the best lens worse, but a bad lens ain't gonna get better....

Reading the 10 sharpest post and comments, I thought of what the old guys at the camera store used to say about Leica lenses, back in the day when old guys hung out at the camera store:

"Always sharp, but never too sharp."

There are a lot of qualities beyond sharpness one needs to consider. One of the most expensive lenses I ever owned was admirably sharp, but it had a kind of edginess to the sharpness that grated on my eyeballs. I went from proud new owner to ebay seller in about 6 months.

Personal preferences aside, I have wondered lately if there are any really bad lenses left in the market, at least for interchangeable lens cameras. Even the "Brand X" jobs seem to be pretty decent and sometimes really good.

On another note, I'm also doing a FF vs. 4/3 comparison. I've been very happy with m4/3 and 4/3 since 2005, until a few months back when I started shopping for an upgrade. I realized there was no way I'd be happy until I at least tried full frame. Honestly, I don't think anyone looking at finished prints could consistently tell the difference, but I see a real difference working with the files on-screen. So, do I put up with a larger, heavier and much more expensive system for a difference that only I can see? Don't know. I'm two months in on the experiment and plan to go one more month before I commit.

I've been telling seminar audiences and workshop students for a number of years now that sharpness is way overrated. And then I follow on by saying, "Sharpness won't get you published. Content will get you published."

Part of why the focus on sharpness is misplaced is that the differences in sharpness so many obsess over are often masked by other lens properties such as field curvature (particularly problematic at infinity) and focus shift—I'd add the absence of these to your properties of "well behaved" lenses.

That said, I find one benefit of sharper lenses is that they make it easier to strike a satisfactory balance between sharpening and noise control at higher ISOs. Trying to sharpen up a high-ISO picture shot with a "dull" lens often just aggravates noise: detail is less distinct and so more readily overwhelmed by noise, and shapening/noise-reduction tools struggle to distinguish between them. Sharper lenses allow for higher levels of sharpening with correspondingly more aggressive (sharpening) masking and/or stronger noise reduction to keep noise in check; alternatively, they allow for less aggressive sharpening and correspondingly weaker masking and/or noise reduction without the image looking soft.

Personally, I have few complaints about sharpness with my kit. I have some excellent primes for m4/3 and even the kit lenses are adequate (even if they look bad in comparison), but see my comments on the Panasonic 14/2.5 below. I recently aquired the $299 Canon EOS M with 22/2, and the lens seems very good indeed. Maybe I've just been lucky…

I'll be interesting in your impressions, Mike, of the "very constroversial" Olympus 17/1.8.

One final remark on "well behaved" lenses: it's not the just lens, but how the lens interacts with the sensor. Some combinations of lenses and sensors can be problematic. To take an example that's been getting much attention on the dpreview forums, some lenses (mostly Panasonic) have a tendency to exhibit purple fringing and/or flare on Olympus bodies but not Panasonic bodies. This apparently results from combination of factors: Olympus bodies have relatively permissive on-sensor UV filters compared to Panasonic bodies, and some lenses are not well corrected in the near-UV spectrum. On my Olympus E-M5, the Panasonic 14/2.5 exhibited strong purple-fringing in the corners (making its soft corners look especially unsharp), but others reported no such problems on Panasonic bodies. I can confirm the findings from dpreview forums that adding a Wratten 2A (pale yellow, strong UV) filter makes the purple finging disappear. (Anyone interested in this issue should really head over to the dpreview forums to read up.) In a different case, I seem to recall that some M-mount lenses had corner resolution problems on the NEX-7 but not on the 16MP NEX cameras.

Its easy to confuse sharpness and resolution, but while related, they aren't the same. Resolution is a purely physical measure, usually measured today by the modulation transfer function (MTF). However, sharpness is a perceptual function in which resolution plays a role, but other factors can be involved, such as edge and color contrast, shape of objects, and dynamic (e.g. grayscale) separation. While a number of papers have been published on methods to measure sharpness directly, I don't know of a good perceptual scale having been developed as yet.
But how much does it matter for most photography? Many photographs can be too sharp, like some portraits. Others, especially in technical fields such as microphotography usually need all the sharpness they can get. In the end, its all really about the photographer's vision of what the image should be.

It seems to be generally accepted that a sharper rendition is a more accurate renditions, but this may not be true. A year or two ago I stumbled upon, somewhere on the internet, a digital-vs.-film test that took one step beyond the others. First there was the usual comparison of enlarged segments of resolution charts, and the digital images, as usual, had much clearer edges of the bars in the charts. The tester then scanned the original resolution chat, examined that scan at high magnification, and made an interesting discovery... at magnification, the edges of the bars on the printed chart weren't perfectly sharp--what showed was ink squish and ink bleeding at the edges--and the seemingly softer image captured on the film was actually a more accurate rendition of what was printed on the chart. (I have no idea what the URL for that test was, whether it's still out there.) It seems to me that in the world, perhaps knives and razors have truly sharp edges, but walls and leaves and people don't, and those edges have interesting qualities resulting from the different ways that light plays on them. For me, film captures something of those edges more interesting and more accurate than the perfectly "sharp" edges captured in digital images.

And, don't forget, because sharpness is measurable and reviews sell lenses, lens designers are probably favoring sharpness over other aspects of how the lens draws a scene. So, we may well be getting lenses that are worse in other aspects that we can't exactly describe and measure.

Which brings me, again, back to the idea of trying to find ways to shoot a number of lenses using their full frame on the same sensor in front of the same scene, so that we can see the (no doubt subtle, but no doubt real and important) differences between lenses. It's easy to do on M43, but that uses only the center of the frame of the lenses, and quite possibly won't really show the differences very clearly. Hmmm; one could use the Metabones "speed boosters" (but one would have to buy them for multiple mounts, and they would add another layer of variable to the study).

"Fuji Mike": I shot with the Fuji 18 and wasn't particularly impressed with it. The Fuji 18-55 zoom on the other hand, rocks! It's a VERY good lens. Also focuses notably faster than the 18. I think it's better at 18 mm than the 18 prime is.

TOP editor Mike: You'll like that Oly 17/1.8; I have that lens for my OM-D, and it's a real sweetie. You particularly like the focus ring that pulls back to enable manual focus and reveal a DOF scale. Very similar to the wondrous Fuji 14 mm prime, actually, which unlike the Fuji 18mm, is an AMAZING lens.

People obsess too much about lens sharpness (and many should start with their technique), but the difficult question is, which lens is suitable for me and my style? Lenses have so many different properties and nuances and then we get to tactile matters too, like size and focusing. I have used plenty of lenses, but only a few that I think are truly general, truly offering the sort of look I want in a large variety of situations. But YMMV, there are many different photographic styles, although I don't think I ever met a photographer who didn't talk about lenses.

Kenneth, I wouldn't generalize too much about adapted lenses; it surely is for many about the experience, but my by far number one lens on Nex is adapted (a Zeiss 35 Biogon), both due to tactility and image quality.

I agree in part and disagree in part. On the one hand, it could be said that the advent of digital has made resolution a more important consideration in choosing between similarly specified lenses because so many other aberrations are digitally correctable. For that reason, I tend to look at resolution results first whenever I read lens reviews. On the other hand, you are correct that many lenses are probably "sharp enough" for most uses. Still, sometimes I want the option of printing fairly large, and differences in the corner sharpness of various lenses can become apparent in big prints. For certain images, that difference may matter, so I'd rather have lenses that don't force me to worry about corner sharpness.

Thanks for this article. In my youth and photoclub days I was trained to care a lot about technical details (like whether a photo had all 8 zones), and it’s surprisingly difficult to untrain.
So I need all the help I can.

I just got the new more compact Panasonic 14-140mm 3.5, and I love it. I just need to get rid of the remaining regret that I can’t have a universal lens and the sharpest one at the same time.
But I’ve consistently come home with the most pictures I like when I’ve had a superzoom on the camera, so I want to honor that. And the Pana is clearly better than both the Nikon and the Pentax 10X’ers I’ve had. (The former was quite soft near edges and long settings, and the latter clearly so at wide ones.)

With the Olympus E-PL5 and this lens (using the len’s IS is much better) I have a suprisingly light weight and pretty compact walk-around camera, which covers almost all of the many and varied compositions which always jump into my eyes when I’m out. (I also always use the whole range of a superzoom when I use one.)

--
BTW, when I look at pictures, oddly, I care much less. I remember judging some pics in the large and good photo club I was in when I was a teen. One photo I really liked, though it clearly wasn't sharp. Two members, the youngest, poo-poo'd it because of that. I said it didn't matter, I just liked it. (It was a snap of a woman on a bicycle. No masterpiece but there was just something about the tones and composition that I liked.)

my "holy grail" of image making has been, since I started in 1968, the "look" of a well exposed contact print. Of course i was way too lazy to use the 4x5 I bought enough to matter. So i suffered through with 35mm and then digital with an occasional dive into medium format.
But I gotta say that this D800 and decent prime lenses has me giggling with the print results!
Does the sharpness matter to anyone else? nope but i do this for fun, I am of the school that one gets the best image possible for the intent of the photographer. If that means soft focus great! I have a good friend and superb photographer that shoots 90% with lens babies on her 5DIII so what? They are gorgeous photos! I have another that uses nothing but the 28-300mm zoom on his D800 and does great work(ken burns used one of his images for the national parks book) It doesn't need to be an argument or even much of a discussion, ITS ABOUT THE IMAGE AND WHETHER OR NOT IT "WORKS" just sayin' have fun.

Sharpness is a bourgeois concept.
— HCB
It totally ruins the art and heart in photography and makes it a quantifiable and measurable opportunism. It is the concept widely used as the line from the gospel, that offers salvation and place in heavens even for the untalented and gear snobs.

Well said, both of you.

... at least if we are talking competent photographers and reasonable gear. ... I have just been editing a set of photos for my commercial web site (Domai.com, soft nudes), from a photographer I only use because he gets some models I really like. Because the man just can't shoot! Even with modern digital cameras' high sensitivity, he consistently gets a healthy percentage of pictures so unsharp that they are unusable! (He also seems to be completely unaware of whether he holds the camera level, even when a sea horizon is in the frame.)

It may not matter in fine art, where there are no rules, but in commercial work for the general audience, there are technical minimums to pass.

It took me two years to get over 'sharpness' as a yard-stick for 'good'.

My most used lens professionally is that dark horse Tamron 90mm macro. When I told the shop assistant I would use it for Beauty photography he balked and said it would be too sharp. I discovered then that sometimes people use the term to describe boudoir or glamour photography rather than the type of hair and cosmetics advertising that I do.

Anyway, it is in fact "too sharp" for some uses. I tend to grab my Minolta 50mm when agencies send me new girls to photograph (I call it a test roll can you believe) because while sharp where it needs to be, it does not have the harsh detail rendition of the Tamron, and I don't budget photoshop time for a test roll.

But it does annoy me that online reviews of lenses mostly ignore sharpness and other factors when stopped down. I often need to shoot f11-22. It's also a sad fact using an A850 that lens reviews made on the Sony's are few and far between.

Dear Mike,

I know this won't get posted for days and days, but what the hey…

I'm substantially in agreement with what you said and what Ken Tanaka said. Sharpness is overrated by photographers and uniformity counts for more than absolute sharpness. Note that I said “overrated”. I didn't say unimportant. Too many photographers, though, give it an overwhelming primacy that it simply does not deserve.

I'm talking in broad generalities, here. Some photographers make photographs where high absolute sharpness is almost never important. Others make lots of photographs where it's critically important to the aesthetic impact of the photograph. Which is true of many lens characteristics. I care almost nothing about good boke, for example, because almost none of my photographs are especially dependent upon it. Yeah, there's one on my website that would be a complete fail if it weren't for the superb boke of the lens… but that's one of out of how many hundred? For some photographers, it's vitally important.

My response to “I want the lens to be as sharp as absolutely possible,” would be “and what are you willing to trade for that?” Too many photographers seem to forget the lens design is an exercise in trade-offs. A good-looking lens is one that appropriately balances the trade offs. If you're hell-bent on reducing one image flaw to effectively zero, you're at risk of amplifying others unacceptably.

On the other hand…

An argument can be made for high sharpness in a lens because (a) you can always throw away some later and (b) it is extraordinarily difficult to improve upon sharpness after the photograph has been made. Better to have a brilliantly sharp lens with serious lateral chromatic aberration, which is trivially and invisibly correctable in software, than vice versa. So, all trade-offs aren't created equal.

On occasion, you'll see a lens design turn up that is superbly sharp and also looks extremely good in all other image qualities ... and also isn't the size of a mortar and the price of a new car. I've owned two such lenses in my time. Proof of existence that it can be done, but they are the exceptions rather than the rule, which is why we treasure them so much.


pax \ Ctei
n[ Please excuse any word-salad. MacSpeech in training! ]
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My sharpest lens is my tripod.

We seems to be missing a point here regarding software correction. Agreed that vignetting is, as I understand it, a lossless process, however correcting for distortion requires interpolation, and thus introduces unwanted (by me at least) artifacts. I applaud the introduction by the manufacturers of lenses which trade off low cost against the possible necessity of such corrections - as long as this doesn't start a race to the bottom which sucks in the traditional high end makers (are you listening Carl...er Zeiss?). I agree with the above comments re having the best performance one can afford and softening/reducing contrast/etc to taste. There are horses for courses and kit lenses remind me of all-weather tires: whoops, shoulda put on snow tires. Too late!

My own experience is that people viewing prints really don't notice sharpness all that much. I can tell that when I put a 40x60" print from a 6 MegaPixel camera up on the gallery wall next to 40x60" print from a 36 MegaPixel camera and no one looking at them notices any difference! If I tell them (especially if they are a photographer) they will get up close and see what I am talking about. But they have to be able to go back and forth to make the qualitative judgement.

Twenty years ago Herbert Keppler, editor of Pop Photo, said (paraphrase) " Any lens made since the early 1980's, when computer optical design and multicoatings became the norm, are better than 98% of the photographers using them"

It's still true.

The importance of sharpness and shot discipline lies with the subject.
If you are doing a landscape then break out the Zeiss glass and a majestic tripod.
If on the other hand it's a portrait of me, I would prefer Charlie Weaver at the controls, after cocktail hour with a Holga preferably during an earthquake.

Mike - could your sense that all contemporary lenses are adequately sharp have something to do with the way that you only infrequently use zooms? I'd never encountered a lens that wasn't subjectively sharp enough when shooting with primes, but then I impulse-bought a cheap consumer long zoom, and, especially at the long end, it was very much distractingly unsharp. I'm not saying this is a problem for all inexpensive zooms at all focal lengths, but I suspect it is may be just common enough that it's something many hobbyists encounter from time to time, and it may be what's driving a lot of online sharpness anxiety.

I found your comment about not noticing the weaknesses of micro 4/3 unless shooting with a "full-frame" camera at the same time to be interesting, and different from my own experience. I frequently use my M9 together with my E-M5, and when the "Panaleica" 25mm is on the latter, I find it holds up really well. Granted I usually use the two cameras together when shooting bands in dimly-lit clubs at high ISOs, but I'm a firm believer in micro 4/3 now.

Jimbo's got it right....

Digital correction isn't absolutely free, no. On the other hand, it may well be cheaper than optical correction. It depends on the lens design I'm sure! It has to be analyzed on a case-by-case basis, and you have to consider both final image quality, and final price.

I'm pretty sure that it's a hugely good buy to correct a number of things digitally and put the freed resources into other areas, or sometimes into lower prices. People shooting other kinds of photos, or just with other preferences, will reach other conclusions from me, and that's right and proper.

We have a wider variety of lenses available, from more makers, than ever before in my life, and the best of them are much better than what was available 40 years ago, too. (I speak nearly entirely from a 35mm->DSLR perspective here, too.) Imagine telling a 35mm photographer in 1970 that you're deciding between the Zeiss, Leica, or Schneider lens for your small hand-held camera!

Well,

IMHO there is only one half decent lens. The Leica 0,95 Noctilux....no use photographing with anything else as some other popular sites always prove. Now I don't own a Noctilux 0.95 and I bet most of you don't either, so what we are doing is totally pointless.

Greets, Ed.

That new Sigma 18-35mm f/1.8 looks to be quite something.

Upon hearing Sigma had a new 30mm f/1.4 coming out, I put my old version up for sale immediately. Won't miss those iffy corners. The plan was to see if the new version was improved, more even sharpness across the field, and then likely save for that. But then the 18-35mm appeared.

If the hype's to be believed, it's sounding like it's better than a whole load of primes (missing APS-C ones, in the case of Nikon). In the same way that the Nikkor 14-24mm f/2.8 is often said to be. The kind of qualities that might cause some full-framers to ponder about picking up a cheap APS-C camera body. Not a small lightweight though.

Of course the, "stunning" (SLR Gear), "remarkable" (DP Review) sharpness will play no part in my, or others, decision to purchase such a lens. Ahem. Well, it does have other good points...

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