Have you noticed that the sharpness of shots coming out of your camera can vary quite a bit from image to image?
Earlier today I was looking at some of the shots I took over the weekend and noticed that even though on one shoot I didn’t change lenses and that the lighting conditions and scene didn’t change much that the sharpness of my images varied quite a bit from shot to shot.
One shot would be crystal clear and the next would have a murkiness to it.
What was going on?
There are many many factors that can change the sharpness of an image but as I analyzed my shots I realized that the one that seemed to be coming into play in this situation was the aperture I was using in shots.
In the middle of my lens’ aperture range the shots were sharp – but at both ends (particularly when it was wide open – where the numbers are smallest) the shots got a little blurrier).
Most lenses have have a ‘sweet spot’ or a range in their aperture where they work at their best and produce the sharpest images.
Tangent– when I had tennis training as a child my coach spent a lot of time talking about the ‘sweet spot’ on my tennis racquet. It was a spot that would give me ultimate power when playing a stroke and my coach spent a lot of time helping me to learn to hit balls there. In a similar way – if you learn to know where a lens’ sweet spot is you can use it more effectively.
In many lenses this sweet spot is one or two stops from the maximum aperture. So on my f/4 lenses I tend to get sharper results in the f/5.6 to f/8 range (or even smaller).
How to Identify Your Lens’ Sweet Spot
Of course the sweet spot varies from lens to lens and it is worth doing some analysis of your images – here’s how I do it when I get a new lens.
- Take your lens out for a photo shoot and make a concerted effort to shoot at it’s full range of apertures – ie switch your camera to aperture priority mode and then take multiple shots of the same scene at different apertures.
- When you upload your shots onto your computer and scan through your shots pay attention to your EXIF data – particularly the aperture settings.
- As you scan through your shots (look at them at 100% resolution) you should notice some that are sharper than others. Check what aperture these shots are taken at and you’ll begin to get a feel for where your lens is at its sharpest.
Does this mean you should avoid shooting outside your lens’ sweet spot?
No – that’s not the point of this exercise. There will be times where I’ll need to shoot with my lens wide open (for example in low light or where I want to have a small depth of field) – however it is worth knowing what the consequences of doing so will be – it is about knowing the strengths and weaknesses of your gear and shooting in a way that brings out the best in it.