Should I trash the Bronica and buy a Hassy? Sharpness issues abound. Help!
I've spent the last ten or so years honing my photography skills, learning about good composition, negative densities, various developers, the Zone System, and the like. One problem has persisted throughout. Despite my efforts, I just can't seem to get a print (or negative) that is simply "tack sharp". A portrait printed to 8x10 from a 6x6 negative where you can literally make out each and every eyelash.
Over the years as my skills and process have matured, I've begun to eliminate the usual suspects. I'm shooting a Bronica Sq-a with either an 80mm or 150mm lens. I've shot hand-held as well as on a tripod - when shooting hand-held I've always aimed for a shutter speed number that is just above the focal length of the lens or greater. I've developed both in-Jobo, AND (lately) by hand, using Rodinal 1:50 semi-stand.
Lately I've even tested Tri-X 320 to ISO 800 with excellent tonality - I thought for sure at at this speed, shooting in diffuse outdoor light, the problem would be solved. Alas.. it has not been.
My last photo shoot has been the most frustrating. I've shot portraits of my father, again in diffuse outdoor lighting, with Tri-X 320 rated at ISO 800. The shots were all taken hand-held, at F/8 - F/11, 1/125 - 1/250. Surely that should be enough to "freeze" a portrait!? After all, back in the day when I was an assistant to a New York wedding photographer, F/8-8.5 @ 1/250 (albeit with flash) was the configuration of choice! Now I know that flash photography is an entirely different animal. However, depth-of-field is depth-of-field, regardless of the light source.
The images gotten from the Dad's shoot were "acceptably sharp" and had "adequate" depth of field (this forever relative to their degree of sharpness). However, there were still NOT "tack sharp". To better illustrate what I mean by "tack sharp" allow me to "borrow" an image from a fellow apug'er:
THIS, is TACK SHARP.
Why haven't I been able to get this? I mean, at this point I'm pretty much through blaming myself - technique or lack thereof. I'm certainly shooting at high-enough shutter speeds, and as for DOF, I'm always on the last third of the aperture ring. I know from experience that Jobo-processed negatives are always "mushy" compared to those hand processed in Rodinal. Gone is the Jobo, and I've been shaking the can! I know to use the Pro-series line of Bronica lenses - the "PS" and NOT the "S". What have I left out?
The only remaining variable, save for the camera/lenses is the film. I've always shot HP5 and now Tri-X. Could it be that the resolving power of the film simply isn't there? I highly doubt this, but in my quest for razor sharp negatives, I'm hell-bent on leaving no stone unturned.
If it's the camera/lens - please, if you know of anything like this, just say so. It'l be painful, but I won't hesitate for a moment to replace the gear. I'm proud to say that I'm a fully recovered "gear junkie". But nevertheless, tools are tools and I'd be heartbroken if having the wrong tool would leave me treading water for the next ten years!
You won't gain shatpness by switching camera systems, that's for sure!
I've used a Bronica ETRS for many years, (Both PE and E lenses) and my main "sharpness problem" has been finding something to focus on when enlarging. I use mostly slower films - 25 to 00 ISO, and the only thing I can use for focus is eyelashes. And the tiny blonde hairs on the back of one model...
Try a finer-grained film (Ilford FP4+ springs to mind, or PanF+, or even EFKE R25), and develop it in any acutance developer. Try something else than Rodinal too...
-- Ole Tjugen, Luddite Elitist
Did you make side by side comparisons to state that this was a happy setting of your lens' diaphragm? Or did you follow the "last third" myth because everyone else was saying so?
Originally Posted by iserious
And keep in mind that nothing will be more "in focus" than the point which REALLY IS "in focus" - whatever the DOF table may say.
Last edited by Marco Gilardetti; 04-21-2006 at 06:51 AM. Click to view previous post history.
I know a chap who does excellent portraits. The chap is a camera.
(Tristan Tzara, 1922)
Good points from Marco here - try a slower film, at f:5.6 or f:8. The lenses are great, but at f:11 and above the lens makes very little differense.
And don't believe in DOF tables - what's in focus is critically sharp, the rest is only "acceptably sharp" if you happen to agree with whoever made the tables.
After doing a direct comparison, I've stopped using the hyperfocal technique for anything.
-- Ole Tjugen, Luddite Elitist
I used to have a Bronnie (SQA-i) that now belongs to a friend of mine (Tom A).
It delivers Tack Sharp Negs from all thats been put through it, also HP5+.
Can you determine if your negs arent sharp ?
Are your enlarger, -lens and -technique good ?
Are your negs contrasty or soft, dense or thin ?
It could be that the lens you own is a dog. Try another one out if you can. Maybe even another system. Read Barry Thornton's "Edge of Darkness". That man is a sharpness freak and although very basic there is a couple of good points in his Book.
You could also wisit his site.
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I would echo Soeren's recommendation to read "Edge of Darkness." I got pretty much nothing to show from a week long trip photographing waterfalls in Michigan's UP last year due to unacceptably soft negs from a Hasselblad system, which launched me on a quest for super sharpness. I worked my way through Thornton's book step by step, examining each and every part of the process of producing a fine print, and changing many things. With a number of changes I am now satisfied with the technical quality of my prints again.
Just put it on a tripod and take some images during the middle of the day. This will elimnate your questions about your system.
art is about managing compromise
It's the light, not the camera.
The main reason this shot is so sharp is because it was made in a studio with strobes (probably just one light in a square softbox, camera right--read the catchlight in the eyes). He shot at f:22, for pretty full DOF, but on 6x7 that's not so excessive as to cause a diffraction problem. Strobes take care of all camera shake and subject movement issues, so strobe shots will always have this sharp look unless something else is terribly wrong.
What David said.
Sharpness is just an effect.
Weston demonstrated the conditions for sharpness long ago:
1. The light must reveal the detail in the subject
2. Do not compose in adjacent tones.
Sharpness is the sensation of seeing fairly large objects in strong contrast to their setting. Look at Weston's pictures: he used lenses which were generally awful by any measurement, and made exposures deeply into the realm of diffraction. All they had going for them was clarity of vision, and simplicity of purpose.
Miles from a Westonian image, this picture of Appuger Dante Stella was made with a long lens, wide open, on fast film. Only the eyelashes are focussed, yet the tonal contrast sells the image as 'sharp' even if most of it is out of focus.
Am I responsible for the picture ? Nikon ? Rodinal ? No.
Dante didn't shave that morning. Thanks, that helped.
But that 8 foot square window at my back, and the brilliant, low, morning sun, ripping through it, was responsible.
"One of the painful things about our time is that those who feel certainty are stupid,
and those with any imagination and understanding are filled with doubt and indecision"
I thought Rodinal was *THE* accutance developer? And as far as the film is concerned, do you feel that Tri-X lacks the resolving power to yeild the sharpness I'm looking for?
Originally Posted by Ole