Anyway, as anyone who knows me already knows, I'm not a big spender when it comes to camera gear. That's mostly a financial consideration, by the way, I have nothing against owning great cameras and lenses, but I've rarely had the funds to do that. But there is one thing I demand of most of my photos: ultimate sharpness. And that is why I'm so frequently disappointed by my images: I simply don't own the high-end lenses that I need to do the type of work I know I'm capable of--and it's intensely frustrating at times.
Take, for example, the shot above. I did everything I know how to do to make a sharp photo. I used a moderately heavy-duty tripod, used a fairly good (not great) Nikkor lens, was careful to clean the front glass and the filter and used a self-timer to activate the shutter so that I didn't jiggle the camera (using the timer is a good idea, by the way). And yet, the photo is not nearly as sharp as I'd like. I've examined about two dozen frames from that day and I'm simply not sure where the fault lies. I was shooting at ISO 400, which should not be a noise or quality concern. And for most of the shots (not this one) I shot at a very small f/stop (f/22 on most shots) to get good depth of field and, again, I use a tripod for everything. I rarely shoot without a tripod.
There are several possible things that can make a photo unsharp:
- Using a poor-quality lens
- Using too small an aperture (even though this provides more depth of field, it may also cause optical issues and most lenses are sharpest at their middle aperture, around f/8 or f/11)
- The camera was jiggled during exposure, even if you are on a tripod (a camera strap blowing in the breeze may have been the issue here, but I don't think there was a breeze)
- Using too high an ISO can introduce "noise" that can soften an image
Anyway, perhaps I'm too critical (I'm not) or I just screwed up in some way. But I hate unsharp images. It has been an issue with me since I was 10 years old. I do sharpen images in Photoshop (using the unsharp masking tool, but in a somewhat complex way that a friend showed me) and it helps. But when I look at my old 4 x 5-inch negs and see what real sharpness is, I know when an image falls short. That brings up another issue: sensor size. Bigger sensors are better.
So, I'll continue to fight this battle. And if I win the lottery or if book publishers ever stop screwing me out of royalties (don't ask), I'll buy better gear.
But I know one thing for sure: my next digital SLR will have a full-frame sensor. The bigger the sensor, the bigger the pixel and the bigger the pixel, the less I'll whine about sharpness. Please feel free to leave comments.
I'm thinking of self-publishing my next book, by the way--if you have any experience in ebooks, let me know how you did.
Photo notes: This shot was shot nearly wide open at f/4.5 and so has very little depth of field, but is, oddly enough, sharper than the images shot at f/22 or f/25. It was exposed for 1/6 second at ISO 400.