Remeber, Sharpness is not everything !

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Ned-B
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Re: Remeber, Sharpness is not everything !
In reply to Adam Aitken, 6 months ago

Adam Aitken wrote:

Ned-B wrote:

"I’m always amused by the idea that certain people have about technique, which translate into an immoderate taste for the sharpness of the image. It is a passion for detail, for perfection, or do they hope to get closer to reality with this trompe I’oeil? They are, by the way, as far away from the real issues as other generations of photographers were when they obscured their subject in soft-focus effects."

Henri Cartier-Bresson

Love the quote Ned. Of course Cartier-Bresson was after a different kind of perfection - capturing a moment that seemed spontaneous in composition. I am fascinated by how black and white photographers created depth and contrast and learned how to produce the illusion of sharpness. Our generation are just getting spoiled by the technology and the ease with which we can change color, contrast hue, add any filter we like etc. Many have forgotten about texture, contrast, depth of field, and the actual soul of an image, its meaning, its associations and suggestiveness. Super sharpness in an image can impress, but without the other aspects it is just - technical.

Adam A

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Adam,

Great points! My other favorite quote is by Ansel Adams..."there is nothing worse than a sharp image of a fuzzy concept." I think the beauty of early cameras was they were quite simple leaving most of the decisions up to the photographer. Today we've become so obsessed with the gear that we fail to develop the most important tool we have and that's our "eye". Determining your composition and isolating the subject matter is as important as knowing how your lens at a given aperture will render the image. Sharpness in most cases is simply a way for us to focus the viewer's attention or pull them into the photo so they immediately understand our point of view.

Two quick examples. Here's a photo from the '70s which I took in the Boston Public Gardens. The bible was the central element from my perspective and everything else just fell into place after I focused accordingly since I knew how my 50mm Summicron would render DOF, contrast etc. Is it sharp enough? I think so.

Here's another example from today. The tulips on our dinning room table finally opened up and I liked how this scene looked in the early morning light. I had my classic SMC Pentax-A f/1.4 50mm on the K-3. This was shot wide open. Is it sharp enough? Considering the overall mood I wanted to create, I think it's fine.

Probably too simplistic advice for those that are gear-dependent, but I agree with the OP and suggest that sharpness is only a small part of the fun and challenge in capturing images...whether it's film or digital:)

Cheers,

Ned

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leopold
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Re: Remeber, Sharpness is not everything !
In reply to Ned-B, 6 months ago

Ned-B wrote:

Adam Aitken wrote:

Ned-B wrote:

"I’m always amused by the idea that certain people have about technique, which translate into an immoderate taste for the sharpness of the image. It is a passion for detail, for perfection, or do they hope to get closer to reality with this trompe I’oeil? They are, by the way, as far away from the real issues as other generations of photographers were when they obscured their subject in soft-focus effects."

Henri Cartier-Bresson

Love the quote Ned. Of course Cartier-Bresson was after a different kind of perfection - capturing a moment that seemed spontaneous in composition. I am fascinated by how black and white photographers created depth and contrast and learned how to produce the illusion of sharpness. Our generation are just getting spoiled by the technology and the ease with which we can change color, contrast hue, add any filter we like etc. Many have forgotten about texture, contrast, depth of field, and the actual soul of an image, its meaning, its associations and suggestiveness. Super sharpness in an image can impress, but without the other aspects it is just - technical.

Adam A

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Adam,

Great points! My other favorite quote is by Ansel Adams..."there is nothing worse than a sharp image of a fuzzy concept." I think the beauty of early cameras was they were quite simple leaving most of the decisions up to the photographer. Today we've become so obsessed with the gear that we fail to develop the most important tool we have and that's our "eye". Determining your composition and isolating the subject matter is as important as knowing how your lens at a given aperture will render the image. Sharpness in most cases is simply a way for us to focus the viewer's attention or pull them into the photo so they immediately understand our point of view.

Two quick examples. Here's a photo from the '70s which I took in the Boston Public Gardens. The bible was the central element from my perspective and everything else just fell into place after I focused accordingly since I knew how my 50mm Summicron would render DOF, contrast etc. Is it sharp enough? I think so.

Here's another example from today. The tulips on our dinning room table finally opened up and I liked how this scene looked in the early morning light. I had my classic SMC Pentax-A f/1.4 50mm on the K-3. This was shot wide open. Is it sharp enough? Considering the overall mood I wanted to create, I think it's fine.

Probably too simplistic advice for those that are gear-dependent, but I agree with the OP and suggest that sharpness is only a small part of the fun and challenge in capturing images...whether it's film or digital:)

Cheers,

Ned

Hi Ned,

good points and examples, Ansel Adams would be even more concerned with the sharpness obsession of now, i was obsessed with that but now i think i'm more ZEN about it. I'm now putting more emphasis on other points and size and weight are 2 important now .

Thanks.

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leopold
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Re: Remeber, Sharpness is not everything !
In reply to EHDesigns, 6 months ago

EHDesigns wrote:

A good discussion. So if all else on the IQ front is equal (call it "character"), then would a sharper lens be better? Or are sharper lenses not capable of passing the "character" test? Or have we just not yet seen a sharper lens that measures up?

Like other have said, it depends on the use you will need for a certain lens. For a Macro lens they are already very sharp, even if one is sharper than another one the difference will be minimal, but other characteristic like WR, focus limiter or quick focus will be high on my list of consideration.

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leopold
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Donald
In reply to Donald B, 6 months ago

Donald B wrote:

leopold wrote:

Just wanted to talk about something that is now too much valued in lens testing and peoples priority when buying a new lens or comparing lenses.

Sure i like sharp lenses but when buying a lens sharpness is not the only thing i look at. The lens need to be sharp enough for my needs and taste. Bokeh, rendering, color rendition and flare are other aspects that i look in a lens. Vignetting, distorsion and CA are not as much of a problem now.

There is no point in owning "THE SHARPEST" lens if all the other charactheristics don't meet my needs or taste !!!

Not forgetting also as a side points ... size and weight.

I have photos taken with my kit lens on my Sony NEX-3 that were accepted by my Stock photo agency and they are quite severe, so when good technic is used and you know the limit of a lens then you can just concentrate on your composition.

Discussion is open now

where's some evidence of your claim (photo) ? don't be shy ! LOL....

here's mine taken with my favourite lens for shooting dance schools Sigma 18 200mm love this lens.

cheers don

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Good shot !

Here is one for you taken with my NEX-3 and the kit 18-55mm:

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leopold
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brecklundin
In reply to brecklundin, 6 months ago

brecklundin wrote:

leopold wrote:

Just wanted to talk about something that is now too much valued in lens testing and peoples priority when buying a new lens or comparing lenses.

Sure i like sharp lenses but when buying a lens sharpness is not the only thing i look at. The lens need to be sharp enough for my needs and taste. Bokeh, rendering, color rendition and flare are other aspects that i look in a lens. Vignetting, distorsion and CA are not as much of a problem now.

There is no point in owning "THE SHARPEST" lens if all the other charactheristics don't meet my needs or taste !!!

Not forgetting also as a side points ... size and weight.

I have photos taken with my kit lens on my Sony NEX-3 that were accepted by my Stock photo agency and they are quite severe, so when good technic is used and you know the limit of a lens then you can just concentrate on your composition.

Discussion is open now

Amen brother...it all goes to create a lens with character.  I remember an episode of Murphy Brown where the photographer character, Frank, was completely distraught over losing a particular lens, a lens that he had a special relationship with that he grew to love over the years of use.  It was Frank's "lucky lens" and no other lens was ever going to replace it.  That has long stuck with me about how to evaluate a lens.  It's all there.  To me that describes anything from a favorite hammer that fits your hand just right to a lens which fits your vision of a shot.

I just don't get the idea of needing cookie cutter sameness out of each and every lens in the bag.  I don't want anything like that, I want lenses to be different with strengths and weaknesses.  Like you mention it is knowing those limits which allow you to get the most from a lens.  And honestly sometimes I want a lens that won't give a perfect shot under given conditions because it's a look I have in my head.

The differences you talk about are what I call "character" of a lens.  And trust me I HATE some lenses I've owned.  Could be the highest rated glass around but to me it could be dull as dishwater.

Nice post Leopold...well stated.

Interesting story, i have some lenses that i really like. My DA14 is a lens that gets so so review for it's corners sharpness/distorsion/field curvature ... call it like you want, but i really like that lens for shooting at it's minimum focusing distance, it really shines there!

Thanks.

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leopold
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Andrew
In reply to andrew britten, 6 months ago

andrew britten wrote:

Not necessarily disagreeing, but where are these sharp lenses that are no good?

cheers

AB

It's not that the sharpest lenses are all bad but putting too much emphasys on buying only the sharpest lens and not considering it's other qualities.

For example i also use Canon gear, i recently bought a 70-200mm/4 L, i decided to buy the non-IS instead of the IS even if the IS is considered sharper. After asking on the Canon forums for some info on how they would perform with Extension tubes , the answers were that the non-IS performed better than the IS version with ext. tubes with better IQ and general rendition of the images.

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leopold
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Re: Remeber, Sharpness is not everything !
In reply to Unexpresivecanvas, 6 months ago

Unexpresivecanvas wrote:

If we only could ask Imogen Cunningham....

source: wikiimage -

source: http://noapathyallowed.com/2014/01/bremen-sie-selbst-nackt/

Interesting glowing photos!

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farnorthfocus
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Re: Remeber, Sharpness is not everything !
In reply to leopold, 6 months ago

leopold, I totally agree with your statement and reasons, also with all others who have contributed to this. My take on people who worry at the sharpness of their lens today is that they are too influenced by their "modern" TELEVISION. Let me explain. A lot of "new" photographers today were not bought up on film. They se the world through their flat screened HD "whatever"  be it television or computer. And rightly so the progression in electronic devices has enhanced the home viewing to such a degree that the "perfection" seen is taken by some as the norm and that outside their living room the world should be like that. I was bought up on film from the early seventies and have not had a television for twenty years (the devils pictures). Could you imagine if your eyesight was seeing that "electronic" degree of sharpness all the time in all circumstances , you would have such a headache life would be unbearable. All I ask for in a photo is to be in focus where I want it to be, to be as natural as I saw it at the time and to represent the scene as to be understood. One of my favourite lenses is the Voigtlander 24 F4 Snapshot Skopar, I use it on a Fuji XE2 (manually obviously) not the sharpest or fastest in the world of lenses but the joy it brings in results. My Sigma Art 35 f1.4 on my Pentax K3, thats the other end of the spectrum, its joy is in the clarity it gives, the sharpness has to be treated with respect and used accordingly.

visit www.farnorthfocus.co.uk

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Sheld
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Re: Ansel Adams, he could stop down to F/64
In reply to brecklundin, 6 months ago

brecklundin wrote:
....

I don't recall where I read it but there is a quote from Ansel Adams when he was asked to help design or was simply asked what needed to be done to make a "perfect" lens. His response was what sort of describes this issue. It was, and I am quoting from memory, "...no need, it has already been done..." or something to that effect.

Adams was saying that the lenses he had were already perfect. Look at his results and even though he was a master in the darkroom, it's hard to argue against the sentiment in that comment.....

Ansel Adams could stop down to F/64, where all lenses are exactly diffraction limited and more or less perfect. This is because was using an 8"x10" negative, and a tripod to allow slow shutter speeds.

We're shooting APS-C sensors, with complex zoom lenses, in color, where stopping down past F/8 limits resolution, for 16megapixel sensors. If you want to make Ansel Adam sized landscape photos on APS-C, you better have a darn good lens to begin with, stop down to F/8 (or maybe F/5.6), and damn well know your lenses characteristics, back focusing, curvature, distortion, CA's, all of that.

For shallow DOF portaits, a 300mm F/11 on 4x5 is about equivalent to an APS-C 50mm F/1.8.... it is easier to make a black and white lens work good at F/11 than it is to have a color lens at F/1.8, but I imagine large format shallow DOF focusing is really hard....

- Shel, my photos, http://www.sheltx.com/

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Russell Evans
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Re: Remeber, Sharpness is not everything !
In reply to farnorthfocus, 6 months ago

farnorthfocus wrote:

My take on people who worry at the sharpness of their lens today is that they are too influenced by their "modern" TELEVISION.

My take on people that worry at the sharpness of their lens today is that they are conscious of the detrimental affect higher ISO has and are looking not only at faster lenses to combat this, but also lenses that are sharper wide open to begin with.  For those that are looking at other features of a lens, I would say also that people concerned with sharpness are also looking at those features and are also trading off value in one for value in another, and that there is no 'us" and "them" as much as everyone in this thread have so smugly assumed.

Thank you
Russell

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Joseph Tainter
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Re: Remeber, Sharpness is not everything !
In reply to leopold, 6 months ago

This is a lesson I have recently come to learn. It is one reason why, for now, I am not interested in the K-3. Low noise and high dynamic range--all of which the K-5 sensor does so well--are more important to me.

Joe

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Cigarguy
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Sharpness is not everything! But it sure doesn't hurt.
In reply to Russell Evans, 6 months ago

When I was a high school student a long time ago in a galaxy far far away, I could hardly afford film and processing to feed my photography obsession never mind expensive sharp "pro" lenses.  Therefore I learned to stop down between F5.6-F11 and to shoot with a tripod.  As I grew older and was able to afford better lenses and better equipment this habit carried over.

Yes sharpness is not everything but if and when you need/want it, there is no substitute.  You cannot make a lens sharper but you could always soften it.

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Ian Leach
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Re: Remeber, Sharpness is not everything !
In reply to leopold, 6 months ago

After reading all the replies to this post I can see why some of my posts don’t gel with many here. Sharpness may not be everything but for me it outweighs all the others. With modern software you can get pretty much any look you like and fix many of the common lens issues, but you can’t fix soft images or edges. I want to start with a sharp image and decide what to do from there.

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Petroglyph
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Re: Remeber, Sharpness is not everything !
In reply to Ian Leach, 6 months ago

Ian Leach wrote:

After reading all the replies to this post I can see why some of my posts don’t gel with many here. Sharpness may not be everything but for me it outweighs all the others. With modern software you can get pretty much any look you like and fix many of the common lens issues, but you can’t fix soft images or edges. I want to start with a sharp image and decide what to do from there.

I haven't yet been able to add the sharpness I thought a shot needed in post to satisfy me.  But contrast, correct white balance and many lens corrections work well.  Flair is another hard one to fix in post as are non symmetric distortions.  So if a lens controls flair well, has easy to correct distortions, delivers pleasing bokeh and is very sharp I'm satisfied.  When I read a lens review I'm looking to those four things I'd say.  My main lenses that I've kept over the years have these four characteristics.

Cheers.

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Les Lammers
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Re: Remeber, Sharpness is not everything !
In reply to brecklundin, 6 months ago

brecklundin wrote:

leopold wrote:

Just wanted to talk about something that is now too much valued in lens testing and peoples priority when buying a new lens or comparing lenses.

Sure i like sharp lenses but when buying a lens sharpness is not the only thing i look at. The lens need to be sharp enough for my needs and taste. Bokeh, rendering, color rendition and flare are other aspects that i look in a lens. Vignetting, distorsion and CA are not as much of a problem now.

There is no point in owning "THE SHARPEST" lens if all the other charactheristics don't meet my needs or taste !!!

Not forgetting also as a side points ... size and weight.

I have photos taken with my kit lens on my Sony NEX-3 that were accepted by my Stock photo agency and they are quite severe, so when good technic is used and you know the limit of a lens then you can just concentrate on your composition.

Discussion is open now

Amen brother...it all goes to create a lens with character. I remember an episode of Murphy Brown where the photographer character, Frank, was completely distraught over losing a particular lens, a lens that he had a special relationship with that he grew to love over the years of use. It was Frank's "lucky lens" and no other lens was ever going to replace it. That has long stuck with me about how to evaluate a lens. It's all there. To me that describes anything from a favorite hammer that fits your hand just right to a lens which fits your vision of a shot.

I just don't get the idea of needing cookie cutter sameness out of each and every lens in the bag. I don't want anything like that, I want lenses to be different with strengths and weaknesses. Like you mention it is knowing those limits which allow you to get the most from a lens. And honestly sometimes I want a lens that won't give a perfect shot under given conditions because it's a look I have in my head.

The differences you talk about are what I call "character" of a lens. And trust me I HATE some lenses I've owned. Could be the highest rated glass around but to me it could be dull as dishwater.

Nice post Leopold...well stated.

I bought a used collapsable 50mm Summicron M about 40 years ago for $80 or so. That particular lens had a special rendering that was unique. I still think about it. Sharpness across the frame is a modern thing and way over rated.

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Russell Evans
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Re: Sharpness is not everything! But it sure doesn't hurt.
In reply to Cigarguy, 6 months ago

Cigarguy wrote:

Therefore I learned to stop down between F5.6-F11 and to shoot with a tripod. As I grew older and was able to afford better lenses and better equipment this habit carried over.

Unfortunately a tripod is not welcomed in a lot of places. Then there is that most of what I want to capture are life events where setting up and taking down a tripod is simply not possible due to time constraints, or simply not done in order to not to be an inconvenience to the people I am with. It's not habit or lack of habit, it is that I'm not going out to shoot alone the majority of the time I'm shooting.

-Thank you
Russell

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Cigarguy
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Re: Sharpness is not everything! But it sure doesn't hurt.
In reply to Russell Evans, 6 months ago

Russell Evans wrote:

Cigarguy wrote:

Therefore I learned to stop down between F5.6-F11 and to shoot with a tripod. As I grew older and was able to afford better lenses and better equipment this habit carried over.

Unfortunately a tripod is not welcomed in a lot of places. Then there is that most of what I want to capture are life events where setting up and taking down a tripod is simply not possible due to time constraints, or simply not done in order to not to be an inconvenience to the people I am with. It's not habit or lack of habit, it is that I'm not going out to shoot alone the majority of the time I'm shooting.

-Thank you
Russell

Sure I see your point but a super sharp lens will not take away from any of that.  As for me, 90% of my shooting is landscape and I've found over the years that mountains and glaciers don't move that fast.  Shooting people would be very different of course.  Some days, I'd rather not use a camera for shooting people.

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James O'Neill
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Well put ...
In reply to brecklundin, 6 months ago

brecklundin wrote:

andrew britten wrote:

Not necessarily disagreeing, but where are these sharp lenses that are no good?

I don't recall where I read it but there is a quote from Ansel Adams when he was asked to help design or was simply asked what needed to be done to make a "perfect" lens. His response was what sort of describes this issue. It was, and I am quoting from memory, "...no need, it has already been done..." or something to that effect.

Adams was saying that the lenses he had were already perfect. Look at his results and even though he was a master in the darkroom, it's hard to argue against the sentiment in that comment.

Here the issue is not that sharpness is bad, it's not, but in evaluating a lens it is not now, should never be and really until modern times never was the sole criteria in judging a lens.

As to the issue of too sharp portraits are a great example. Too much detail can actually make an image less interesting as much as camera shake or missed focus. There are times when you don't always want or need bleeding edge crispiness in a shot. You can add sharpness to edges in post to give the perception of sharpness but going the other way never has worked out well for me...then again I stink-on-ice in post processing.

I've actually bought one Pentax's 85mm-Soft lenses (mostly out of curiosity). The 77 is so sharp I can't do beauty shots with it, unless I soften a lot in post.

And know I am not arguing against sharpness as a portion of the criteria to evaluate a lens. I mean it has to capture enough detail to give you something with which to work, right? But it doesn't need to be perfectly sharp.

Also when i talk about sharpness of a lens I am generally referring to across the frame. Almost all modern lenses are excellent to outstanding in the center at one or more apertures. It's this across the frame thing where it becomes a creative tool. I feel, personally, that less sharp towards the corners makes for a creative rather than documentary/clinical tool.

As you say, sharpness is one characteristic among many. We get more and more obsessed with measuring things, those which are easy to measure get extra attention.

If we look at the lenses used to take the great pictures of the 20th century, their quality is below what todays amateur expects.

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Russell Evans
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Re: Sharpness is not everything! But it sure doesn't hurt.
In reply to Cigarguy, 6 months ago

Cigarguy wrote:

Russell Evans wrote:

Cigarguy wrote:

Therefore I learned to stop down between F5.6-F11 and to shoot with a tripod. As I grew older and was able to afford better lenses and better equipment this habit carried over.

Unfortunately a tripod is not welcomed in a lot of places. Then there is that most of what I want to capture are life events where setting up and taking down a tripod is simply not possible due to time constraints, or simply not done in order to not to be an inconvenience to the people I am with. It's not habit or lack of habit, it is that I'm not going out to shoot alone the majority of the time I'm shooting.

Sure I see your point but a super sharp lens will not take away from any of that.

Using a larger aperture will and having that larger aperture be as sharp as possible is where the meat of the argument is. SR helps of coarse. A sharp lens also means better AF as the AF system is just as dependent on the lens as the sensor output. If you want go a step further and get into the artistic ramifications, is it illogical to say it is easier to compose a photo when you can see the detail in the scene through the viewfinder clearer? Easier when the light isn't all that good? Where does having a sharper lens do harm?

Thank you
Russell

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leopold
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Russell
In reply to Russell Evans, 6 months ago

Russell Evans wrote:

farnorthfocus wrote:

My take on people who worry at the sharpness of their lens today is that they are too influenced by their "modern" TELEVISION.

My take on people that worry at the sharpness of their lens today is that they are conscious of the detrimental affect higher ISO has and are looking not only at faster lenses to combat this, but also lenses that are sharper wide open to begin with. For those that are looking at other features of a lens, I would say also that people concerned with sharpness are also looking at those features and are also trading off value in one for value in another, and that there is no 'us" and "them" as much as everyone in this thread have so smugly assumed.

Thank you
Russell

With the performance of high ISO of DSLR we are not as much in need of speed, but at the same time with that performance at high ISO photographers now try photos in dimmer light than ever !

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