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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).
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.
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.
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