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I recently purchased a new wide-angle lens to replace my previous primary lens, and have been very pleased with the initial results.  The new lens is so sharp and has such better control of chromatic aberrations compared with its predecessor in my camera bag.  Needless to say, I am pleased.  This recent equipment upgrade has also motivated my thinking about sharpness in photography.  I realize this is a topic to with I (too) often return.  However, this time I have been pondering the historical treatment of sharpness in nature photography.

I began in nature photography about 7 years ago, when John Shaw’s print books were still relatively new and Galen Rowell’s death was still felt by many in the photographic community.  I read many of these gentlemen’s books, as well as the works of a number of other gifted and knowledgeable nature photographers.  Never do I remember anyone giving significant attention to the concept of sharpness beyond:  (a) use a tripod, (b) use the sharpest lens you can afford, and (c) use the finest-grained film (i.e., Fuji Velvia).  Indeed, since (a) and (c) were often given as assumptions, the written discussions often appeared to focus on lens choice.  I do not think anyone today would seriously argue with this point that the lens is the ultimate arbiter of image quality.

What was entirely absent from the discussion was which camera was sharper than the others.  Everyone seemed to shoot one of a few choices of chrome, be it on 35mm or large format.  The issue was how steady one could keep the camera and on how well they could focus (hyperfocal distance not withstanding).  Diffraction was something understood to be a tradeoff with depth-of-field.

Today, the landscape is different.  The molecular composition of film offered amazing potential sharpness in the emulsion.  This was not true of the original digital sensors.  Digital sensors were more obviously limited in their sharpness than was film up until the past year or two with the 20+MP cameras.  There are therefore now more issues to consider when debating sharpness.

Yet, at the end of the day in the real world, color is still color.

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  1. […] think a lot about matters related to image quality; I am especially intrigued by diffraction (see here and especially here for my previous relevant comments).  Diffraction seems to be a big deal these […]

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