How To Find Your Lens’ Sweet Spot: A Beginner’s Guide to Sharper Images

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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:

  • How to find your lens’ sweet spot (for sharper images)
  • Why you should shoot in Aperture Priority mode (and how to use it)
  • How to perform a test to get your sharpest image every time
  • How important is your lens’ sweet spot? Notice the difference

Mid range aperture sharper than wide open

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.

First, take a look at your lens

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.

Lens aperture range

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

Robin Parmar

By Robin Parmar

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.

Take control with 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.

Sharp images shot in lens sweet spot

Mid range f stop sharper than small f stop

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).

Switching from Automatic to Aperture Priority Mode

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).

Aperture priority on canon mode dial

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.

Main dial canon

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.

Aperture setting on canon LCD screen

Perform a Lens Sweet Spot Test

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.

Mid range aperture sharp image low light

Find your lens sweet spot for sharper images

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!

Mid range aperture for sharper images

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.

Tips for capturing your sharpest images:

  • Shoot in Aperture Priority mode
  • Choose a mid-range aperture (usually f/7 to f/10)
  • Use a tripod and a remote shutter release (or your camera’s self-timer) to reduce camera shake
  • Take a series of shots at f/7 through f/10 when a sharp capture is especially important

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.

Read more from our Tips & Tutorials category

Dena Haines is a photographer and content marketer. She blogs about GoPro and action camera photography on Click Like This. Check out: 32 Cool Things to Do with a GoPro.

  • Penny Goodstein

    I am relatively new to non-automatic camera photography and I am trying to learn about my camera. I followed the article, using my Canon 18-135 mm lens (my favorite). I put ISO on A (automatic.) I tried shooting in AP mode. Every picture came out WAY overexposed. What did I do wrong?

  • DavidR8

    Did you have any luck sorting this out Penny?

  • Penny Goodstein

    no. I tried several lenses, thinking perhaps it was the lens. EVERY time I try to use AV mode it comes out blurred and overexposed.
    Up to now I have taken a shot with automatic, then switched to manual and played with the settings. I have gotten some good shots that way. I like changing the aperture, but AV isn’t working for me.

  • DavidR8

    Interesting.
    When you set up a shot, where is the indicator the exposure meter in your viewfinder?
    Is it on the + end of the scale?

  • Penny Goodstein

    It is. I didn’t notice that before. How do I correct that?

  • Penny Goodstein

    It is. I didn’t notice that before. How do I correct that?

  • DavidR8

    I don’t know what model Canon you’re using so it’s a bit hard to give exact instructions. Basically you need to adjust the exposure compensation.
    I recommend digging out you manual and looking in the section dedicated to Av mode for some guidance or in the index for something like “exposure compensation”.
    It will be pretty easy to do 🙂

  • Penny Goodstein

    THANK YOU! I found it in the manual.

  • bundle of joy

    @fedeopfinger:disqus it is a good suggestion for pure focal distance http://bundleofjoy.co.in/

  • mushtak

    thanks dear these tips help me lot to improve my photograhy. i want to learn some more of these kind of tips. is there any book which have these kind of camera skils?

  • Akbar

    When to use Aperture f10 to f22

  • Stephen Walter

    It’s really even easier than that. On my Cannon T6s, F stops are measured off in 1/3 increments. All I need to do is roll the wheel till it clicks 3 times and I have moved one full stop. For those who are mathematically challenged, this is truly the fool proof way to go.

  • Richard A. Phillips

    Landscape.

  • natureexplorer2

    Thank you for this info.. I really thought this Aperture was my best spot to work in. IThe only trouble Im having is the high ISO,,,up to 5000 which gives the photo a lot of white noise. It is 4pm here but a lot of shadows. Would I be able to fix all the white noise in corel paint pro or should I set the highest Iso setting? Thank you

  • siddhesh pawar

    Plz give me simple calculation method and how to do this….?????give me some lense example and how to do wid image focus n all techniques

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  • Ana

    Thank you for such usefull information. And what about distance of model i shoot with a non zoom lens , for example 105mm with f 2.8?

  • New Girl on the Block

    For all you nay-sayers out there, let me just remind you that if you already know how to use your camera, this article wasn’t written for you. But it was written for me! Key words: A BEGINNER’S Guide . . . Beginner — that is me! I don’t mean to sound argumentative or disrespectful. And honestly, I envy those of you who can just read your manual or a book and grasp how all of this works together. But aperture . . . shutter speed . . . ISO . . . all of that HAS been overwhelming to me. And ‘sweet spot???’ I’d heard of it, but had NO idea what it meant. I’m not a linear learner, but I am a visual and hands-on learner. And an article like this is a nugget of pure gold for someone like me. So thank you, Dena Haines, for giving me a handle on a new concept in this (for me!) EXTREMELY informative and helpful article. You put it in terms I understand, and once we understand, it’s easy!

  • Susan Hurt

    What about starting in manual mode, setting the f stop at the “sweet spot” and then adjusting shutter speed and ISO as needed?

  • Howz

    Exactly what I was wanting to say except you have put it out much better than I could have. This article is for me too a nugget of pure learning gold. Thank you “New Girl” and thank you Dena for this gem. My batteries are charged and so are my camera ones as well, and I’m off to practice.

  • Philnick

    Count me as another convert from Aperture Priority to Manual. The turning point was the inclusion of Live View in my DSLR and compact cameras, which freed me from the tyranny of automatic exposure by simply showing me what the result of my current exposure settings will look like. I’ve set up the controls on my camera so that I have dedicated knobs or dials for Aperture, Shutter Speed, and ISO.

    Why have to continually fight with the meter by adjusting exposure compensation whenever you re-frame your shot? Just adjust it to taste by eye and then ignore the backseat driver at the bottom of the screen saying “It’s too bright!” or “It’s too dim!”

    Particularly if you’re shooting RAW, you’ll have more than enough dynamic range to make the final tweaks in processing.

  • Ed Petranek

    When depth of field is important.

  • Fred Dusel

    f as used in f-stop means fraction. The number is the denominator of a fraction with 1 as the numerator.. The area of a circle is a function of the square of the radius of the circle therefore each denomination is a power of the square root of two.
    fred

  • Mike Rock

    Is this also true for macro photography??

  • KAH Photography

    For all those who are providing negative comments, If it isn’t of interest, then skip over it!

    I’ve followed DPS for the past couple of years through Facebook and the wonderful thing about DPS is that they provide information for everyone, beginners to professionals. Some articles I just glance over and others I read more thoroughly and sometimes grab the camera and give it a go! They cater to everyone so each article will interest different levels of photography! Sorry but they don’t cater to just one group and that is what makes this site interesting!

  • MickMJM

    Brilliant article thank you. I had heard of the sweet spot but never really explored it. This will help me get the best out of my zoom kit lens and my prime 40mm. BTW “New Girl” is correct, this is an article for beginners and all of the comments about the more advanced techniques are probably a bit off the mark.
    Thanks again for taking time to write and share this information
    Regards
    Mick

  • Jack Doy

    Well said that girl, I’ve moved on quite a bit since my early days of digital photography, I did some courses at my local adult college, I owe so much to one particular tutor, he gave two tips that set me on the right road, first get off auto, OK that’s an obvious one, more importantly learn the exposure triangle, from your comment I’d say you know that one but just incase you don’t here it is. https://digital-photography-school.com/learning-exposure-in-digital-photography/

  • Pundit78

    Fully zoomed in (telephoto), your max lens opening would be 5.6 meaning you could opt for 6.3, 8, 11, 13 and so on (smaller openings) if the lighting is too bright. Fully zoomed out, your max opening would be 3.5, even though you could reduce the opening to 4, 5.6, 6.3, 8, and so on.

  • Pundit78

    f3.5 is the max aperture (opening) at 18mm whereas f5.6 is the max aperture at 55mm. We say “2 stops down,” not “up” in going from f3.5 to f7 because that’s going from large opening to smaller opening. Same with going from f5.6 to f11.

  • Pundit78

    You have a really fast lens if its max aperture range is indicated as f1.3 (might actually be f1.4 or f1.8) to f5.6. Those numbers refer to the largest lens opening you get from fully zoomed out to fully zoomed in.

  • Rebecca Behrent

    You said it! Exposure triangle is extremely useful and I actually MADE one on a card that I keep in my camera bag to refer to. One side of the triangle is aperture setting (f/1.4-f/22), one side is shutter speed, and the final side is ISO setting. On the back are explanations of each and how they work together to produce photographs. But people can read more about it at the link you provided!

  • Rebecca Behrent

    I can see starting in auto when you are a real beginner, then graduating to the use of aperture and shutter priorities. Understand the functions and limitations of each setting first, then you’ll be ready to graduate to manual setting! And don’t forget to change your A/M button on your camera lens and camera body to M! Damage could occur otherwise!

  • Jack Doy

    That’s a great idea .

  • Rebecca Behrent

    I recently purchased a Nikon D7200 which I am still getting used to using. While the manual is helpful, I also bought David Busch’s book Nikon D7200 and find it is even more helpful, along with articles like this one, and also tips from people who post comments!

  • Rebecca Behrent

    David Busch has written a series of excellent books specific to different cameras. I recently bought a Nikon D7200, and then I bought David Busch’s book “Nikon D7200”. Much more helpful than just trying to go by the camera manual.

  • Rebecca Behrent

    I don’t know if you’re being snarky, but it’s one thing to read the article and remember all the information. The little triangle with its info I keep in my bag helps remind me.

  • Jack Doy

    No not snarky at all.

  • Sarah Garland

    This article is really helpful for beginners, but I am not sure if i’m happy shooting in AP mode. I was always told it was the lazy way of shooting. Don’t get me wrong, I have done it plenty of times, but I do not think I learned much about the camera shooting in this way. I think manual helps you understand the whole picture and why you are doing things in that way!

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