the perceived sharpness of lenses

Discussion in 'Miscellaneous Equipment' started by David Brown, Jan 26, 2014.

  1. David Brown

    David Brown Subscriber

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    Recommended reading:

    http://theonlinephotographer.typepad.com/the_online_photographer/2014/01/sharpness-of-lenses.html

    "The "cult" of lens "sharpness" and quality evolved in parallel to the miniaturizing of film formats. It's very difficult for most lenses to look bad contact printed, or enlarged 3X; the smaller the film got, and the more it was enlarged, the more the characteristics of the lens were exposed; so along with the interminable push for more sensitive and finer-grained films and developers, the "cult of lens quality" emerged."

    "Never be blinded into thinking that good tools = good work. The world is full of photographers who churn out sharp but wretchedly poorly-seen pictures. They can break their own arms smugly patting themselves on the back for owning the latest apo-this or aspherical-that, but regardless, Johnston's eighth law still holds: crap is crap."
     
  2. chip j

    chip j Subscriber

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    I did notice, in a side-by-side comparison, that the Contax Triotar 5X loupe had way more vivid color than the Leica 5X loupe, though the Leica was a little sharper. (I bought the Leica because it had attachments for viewing film strips & slides by holding them up to a light table, rather than bending over the table.
     
  3. ntenny

    ntenny Member

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    Good stuff. I couldn't really find anything to disagree with, and that's an area in which I'm usually pretty resourceful.

    None of that is to say that lenses aren't fun, or aren't different, or that the differences between them don't matter for photographic use. But the desperate pursuit of specific metrics like sharpness does seem like it's largely a function of smaller formats. The LF folks will pay terabucks for certain lenses, but it's for some sort of perceived fairy dust that in most cases is resistant to lab analysis. No one knows how to measure just what that je ne sais quoi of a Dagor is, right?---which doesn't stop us.

    -NT
     
  4. RalphLambrecht

    RalphLambrecht Subscriber

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    simply but well put.AAsaid:there is nothing worse than a sharp picture of a fuzzy concept;and HCB said sharpness is a bourgois concept.I say:sharpness is not clearly defined and often confused with resolution or contrast.what is it in your eopinionand why is it so important?:munch:
     
  5. snapguy

    snapguy Member

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    Well...

    So then, lousy tools make great work?
    I agree that some people go off the deep end with their search for the "best" lens or whatever. The best is the one that works for you. But the article makes it sound that trying to get it right is some kind of grave error.
    By the way, in Nihongo (Japanese), bokeh mean off in the head, bonkers.
     
  6. ntenny

    ntenny Member

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    I didn't get that sense from it at all. To me the article seemed more to be pointing out how absurdly far up the diminishing-returns curve some people are inclined to go, and the extent to which we use objective measures of "quality" that don't actually say much about how the picture at the end of the workflow looks.

    I think it's from "boke" (暈け), "blur". The h is supposed to prevent Anglophones from pronouncing it to rhyme with Coke.

    -NT
     
  7. benjiboy

    benjiboy Subscriber

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    What you point a lens at I.M.O. and what your pictures say ( if anything ) is much more important than the acuity of the lens they were taken with.
     
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  8. Poisson Du Jour

    Poisson Du Jour Member

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    Says it all. However, if one has the skills and knowledge and experience, I see nothing wrong at all with drawing a bead and unloading both barrels with the best equipment you can afford — provided you have years of experience to form a judgement as to how your work may be improved e.g. would a better quality lens allow for a bigger enlargement? Is chroma and astigmatism too visible in the cheap lens that came with the camera? Is spherical aberration now too much of an irritation to let it continue? What else? If a photographer can realistically satisfy himself with qualified answers, go for it. Then there is the geek: a photographer with little to no foundation skills and little experience yet spends and spends and spends on extravagant equipment but shows little investment in producing quality images (very common with digital shooters) — resulting in thousands and thousands of — frankly, bloody awful images, destined for the proverbial "digital black hole", never to see the light of day. I don't see this with analogue photographers. But I still see this bokeh bullshit leading to bunfights over who's lens is better than another! It is suggested people concentrate on the quality of their photography rather than quaint terms to impress and befuddle.

    In reflection, I'm happy that I learnt photography and honed my subject understanding with quite awful lenses before I moved up, and up, and up. I am at that point now that I feel my work will not benefit from any further investment in equipment.
     
  9. Alan Klein

    Alan Klein Member

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    I find my car drives better, and so do I, after I washed it.
     
  10. lxdude

    lxdude Member

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    You're kidding, right?

    The best tools in the best hands give the best results. The best tools in the worst hands make no difference.

    The best F1 race driver in the best F1 car will win races. The same driver in the worst F1 car might win. In either car, I certainly won't win, and if I try to keep up, I'll likely just crash.
     
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  11. lxdude

    lxdude Member

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    Right. Not right in the head is only one meaning of boke.
     
  12. Chris Lange

    Chris Lange Member

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    This is one of those articles that you write when you feel like you need to prove to your audience that you are unburdened by the ever-present weight of technology and that you are indeed more of an artist than Ken Rockwell, which anyone, or anything could be, without doing so much as emitting a small burst of flatulence.

    It's not exactly like anything on "gear theory" that's been written...well...practically ever is a new idea that isn't pure common sense.

    Hasselblads and Leicas don't matter, but they're nice machines, no one needs an asph summicron, and the much maligned original nikkor 43-86 really wasn't that bad, because hey, it still put an image on film and that's really all that matters when you need an establishing shot followed by a portrait in the space of 4 seconds.

    Anybody that actually comes away from one of these articles feeling like they "learned something" has bigger concerns than worrying about what lens to use. Common sense...
     
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  13. snapguy

    snapguy Member

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    driver

    Juan Fangio did not always have the best car and he was not always the best driver in the race but he knew how to push his car to the limit and keep it there before it blew up. He won a lot of races against better cars and better drivers.
    Bokeh nuts are bonkers or have you not noticed?
     
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  15. Wolfeye

    Wolfeye Subscriber

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    It's pompous to denigrate those whose desire for sharp images is paramount. I suppose you can try and convince someone that the sharp images he desires aren't worth pursuit, based on the accolades others heap upon works which do not embody sharpness. All ye learned men are certainly in the know.
     
  16. tkamiya

    tkamiya Member

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    No, you got the wrong Boke.

    Japanese language have some tremendous number of words that sound exactly the same or very much alike but have different meanings and are indeed different words entirely. When we write it in Romaji (roman alphabets), we just sound out the words, so you are forced to guess at the word depending on the context. The real words are written in Kanji. The Boke you refer to is basically an insult to call someone. It means "stupid." Bokeh as used in Photographic terms is "blur" or unsharp, if you prefer.

    I am a native speaker.

    As far as sharp image is concerned, I'm a big fan of sharp lenses. Heck, I go nuts over great equipment. But I also use vintage gear and I simply love them. In my own photography, I use whatever the set of gear that gives me the image I want in the way I want to express it. I'm learning more and more, it's my vision first, then gear that can realize my vision - not the other way around.
     
  17. lxdude

    lxdude Member

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    Exactly. His tools were secondary to his ability.
     
  18. ntenny

    ntenny Member

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    I'm not sure you and I even read the same article. Who said sharpness isn't worth while?

    -NT
     
  19. dorff

    dorff Member

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    For some images, sharpness and contrast are not that necessary, and may even be obtrusive. But one can always reduce contrast and sharpness afterwards when printing. However, some images simply look better with more resolution and contrast. Large B/W landscapes, for example. So buy and use whatever enhances your style of photography - simple as that. If you are in the competitive arena, then expensive equipment is sometimes the price of admission. However, I do not think that really applies to current analogue photographers to the same extent as it used to.

    Among photographers you will find some gear nuts, and between gear nuts a few photographers. Being interested in and fascinated by gear does not make a photographer less of a photographer. It is only when someone thinks better (or more expensive) gear will make for better photographs, when they could do nothing worthwhile with perfectly adequate gear, that the point of the article really is valid. But even then, why would I care what others pay for their gear and what they do with it? It is their business, and so is what I pay for, and do with, my own. This gear syndrome, and the response to it, has been around since the invention of technology.
     
  20. momus

    momus Member

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    Edward Weston used to make phenomenal images w/ crap gear. I, however, am not Edward Weston, so I need all the help I can get. I think the most important thing is to find a lens that has the character that you like for your style. There is nothing bad about having good gear, unless it becomes a silver bullet quest. More than sharpness, I like images w/ a sense of 3-D imaging to them, and smooth, but not too smooth, bokeh. Characteristics that are harder to find than you would think.

    I don't like the F1 analogy. They have dumbed the sport down to a spec series now, and innovation and creativity are discouraged. One car is not that different from another. Sad. It's all about tire management and fuel efficiency now. That ain't racing!
     
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  21. Gerald C Koch

    Gerald C Koch Member

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    I take exception with the term perceived sharpness when used with lenses. Lens resolution is an easily measureable and quantifiable property. There is nothing perceived about it. Now the sharpness of a particular print is subjective and the use of "perceived" is proper in this case.
     
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  22. MattKrull

    MattKrull Subscriber

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    A personal attack on KR is a bit of a non-sequiter in this discussion, but it made me laugh.

    The whole concept of gear and the quality requirements really is an odd one. I worked just fine for years only using a DSLR and the two kit lenses. Looking back on those photos I cannot fault the technology in any way. They are bright, sharp, technically amazing; artistically "small burst of flatulence" is probably a really good descriptor actually.

    I moved to adapted MF lenses not for their quality, but because I liked how they rendered colour (far less saturated than my kit lenses, with all the same settings) and how they felt in hand. I moved to shooting film because I enjoyed the feel of the cameras.

    When I added MF to the fleet, I went with a Bronica 645 instead of a Hassy 500cm. I have no doubt that a really skilled user can make the Hassy sing in ways the Bronica can't. But the Bronica was (comparatively) affordable, and I enjoy the feel of using it. I can't imagine I will ever take a picture where I'll think "Damn, this would have been so much better if only I'd had a Hasseblad!"

    And yet, for all this, when the chance came up to buy a 50mm 1.4 for my 35mm slr, I jumped on it. I use it instead of the 1.8 as my primary lens. And, just like the Bronica/Hassy situation, I doubt there will ever be a photo where the difference between the 1.8 and the 1.4 would show up in a meaningful way. Even though my 1.8 is relegated to back-up status, I will never sell it, I love it; but I use the "superior" 1.4...
     
  23. E. von Hoegh

    E. von Hoegh Member

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    Good tools = fewer limitations, all other things remaining equal. But you have to have a pretty high level of skill to take advantage of those good tools and use them to their limits.
     
  24. ntenny

    ntenny Member

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    Plus, "craft" skill and "art" skill aren't the same, though they often help to reinforce each other. It's that old "sharp image of a fuzzy concept" quote again. Conversely, sometimes the artistic intent demands something other than technical correctness; look at Nan Goldin. (Whether you like her work or not, and I usually don't, it's clear that the technical "failings" of her photos are intended as part of the content. I'm pretty sure she can take a sharp photo when she wants to.)

    -NT
     
  25. michael_r

    michael_r Subscriber

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    What a pointless article. I suppose maybe there was a point - the first few times it was said that crap is crap and chasing marginally better lens performance doesn't mean better pictures. But by now it is as old and tired as any lens test article.
     
  26. E. von Hoegh

    E. von Hoegh Member

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    Yes, it's a rehash of aticles I remember reading in the mid '70s. But, there is a point to lens sharpness and fine grain film with tiny negatives. I never realised just what a wonderful job 35mm does until I started using larger formats.

    I wonder how many of these seekers of the sharpest lens ever bother to use a tripod?