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Are you tired of blurry images?
It’s time to learn how to capture sharper images by finding your lens’ sweet spot. This will give you more confidence, save time, and help you take better photos.
In this article you’ll learn:
In the above images of the clock, the one on the right is sharper. Look closely at the words and at the leaves behind the clock. The f/9 image is sharper throughout because it was shot in my lens’ sweet spot. The f/3.5 one was not.
In this beginner’s guide, we’ll use an entry level zoom lens as our example. Most kit lenses (the basic lens that comes with a DSLR) generally shoot their sharpest at the mid-range aperture settings. To determine the mid-range of your lens, you’ll need to know its widest (or maximum) aperture setting. It is located on the side, or end, of the lens and will look something like this 1:3.5-5.6.
For example, here it is on my Canon 18-55mm zoom lens.
This means that when my lens is zoomed all the way out, its widest aperture is f/3.5. When zoomed all the way in, its widest aperture is f/5.6.
The rule to finding that mid-range sweet spot, is to count up two full f-stops (aperture settings are called f-stops) from the widest aperture. On my lens, the widest aperture is f/3.5. Two full stops from there would bring me to a sweet spot of around f/7.
Use this chart to count your f-stops
There is some wiggle room in the mid-range, so anything from f/7 to f/10 will capture a sharp image. Once you know the mid-range of your lens, you can do an easy test to get your sharpest image. To perform the test you’ll need to shoot in Aperture Priority mode.
Shooting in Aperture Priority allows you to choose the aperture setting you want, which gives you more creative control than Automatic mode. By controlling the aperture setting, it’s much easier to get a sharp image, and because your camera still chooses the ISO (if you are set to Auto ISO) and shutter speed automatically, it’s very easy to use.
You’ve probably heard that apertures like f/16 and f/22 are best for keeping everything in focus. While that can be true, focus does not always equal overall sharpness. Choosing a mid-range aperture will give you sharper images throughout. You can improve them even further by reducing camera shake with a tripod and a remote shutter release (or your camera’s self-timer).
Here’s an example of how shooting in your lens’ sweet spot will give you sharper images.
In the above split-image, the f/9 image is sharper than the f/22 one. The needles and shadows are not as soft or blurry as in the f/22 shot (look at the crispness and sparkles in the snow too).
To take your camera out of Automatic and put it in Aperture Priority, just turn the large Mode Dial to Aperture Priority. This is what that looks like on my Canon (on Nikon and other brans look for the A).
Automatic mode is the green rectangle; Aperture Priority mode is the Av (or A on a Nikon). Once your camera is in Aperture Priority mode, turn the smaller Main Dial (shown here on the top of my Canon) to choose your f-stop.
As you turn that dial, you’ll see the f-number changing on your screen. In the next picture, it’s set to f/9.5.
Once you have your camera set up on a tripod, performing a sweet spot test only takes a couple of minutes. To begin, put your camera in Aperture Priority mode, then compose your shot and take a photo at varying apertures. Start out with the widest, then click that main dial a couple of times (to the right) and take another. Keep doing that until you’ve taken seven or eight photos.
Upload your photos to your computer and zoom in on them. You’ll quickly see which aperture settings gave you the sharpest overall image.
This next photo of my daughter was shot using natural light. Shooting in my lens’ sweet spot gave me a pretty sharp image, even in this low light setting.
The close up of the mugs shows the advantage of shooting in the lens’ sweet spot. Whenever you want to make sure you get the sharpest capture possible, take a shot at each mid-range setting f/7, f/8, f/9, and f/10.
Getting Your Sharpest Images
Now that you know your lens’ sweet spot, it’s time to practice. I hope you’re as pleased with the results as I’ve been!
I love shooting in natural light, and learning how to capture sharper images in low light has made me so much happier with my photos.
But don’t stop here. Keep playing with settings in Aperture priority mode. It’s awesome to get images that are sharp throughout, but there’s a lot more to aperture than that.
Learn more about aperture and depth of field here.
Do you have any lens sweet spot tips to share? Please do so by commenting below.