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

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


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

    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

  • 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


  • 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

  • Grace2034

    I currently benefit around $6k-$8k /a month on the internet. If you are ready to do simple freelance task for few hrs /a day from your living room and make solid benefit for doing it… This is a task for you…


  • 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.

  • 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

  • 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.

  • 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!

  • Very nicely explained.. Everyone can understand this so easliy.

    Do the same camera’s can have different sweet spot ? For example :- all people using Canon 1200D will have the fixed sweet spot ?

  • himanshu

    sweet spots will vary based on the lens you use, rather than the camera itself. Moreover if you use zoom lenses, then sweet spot will also vary based on the focal length being used.

  • TomDibble

    You don’t need to consult charts to figure out how to add two stops to an f/stop. You just multiply by 2. Multiply by 1.4(14…) to get from one f/stop to the one above it, multiply by 2 to go up two stops.

    If you care why: a “stop” is a doubling (or halving) of light reaching the sensor. Shutter duration is directly proportional to the amount of light coming in (twice as long == twice as much light), so to add a single stop you multiply by two (two stops multiply by 4, three stops multiply by 8, etc). ISO is, by definition, also proportional to light coming in (or rather, the light needed to get a specific reading from the sensor), so one stop will be 2x the ISO, three stops 8x the ISO, etc. F-stop, however, is the ratio of the focal length to the aperture diameter, which is linear, while amount of light coming in is proportional to area, which is why you have a square root in there. So, for f-stop, one stop is added by multiplying by the square root of two, two stops by the square of the square root of two (ie, “two”), three stops by sqrt(2) * 2, four stops by 4, etc.

    You might need a chart to move up one f-stop, or especially half f-stops, but you definitely don’t need it to increase by 2, 4, 6, or 8 stops.

    Alternatively, your camera will easily allow the f-stop calculation. It is often a setting in the “custom function” part of the menus to switch between 1/3rd stop and 1/2 stop intervals, but if you know that setting is 1/3rd (for example) then clicking “up” three times will increase/decrease the light coming in by one f-stop.

    A better method than the “rule of thumb” approach is to actually measure how sharp your lenses are at different apertures. Make sure focus is set well each time (consumer lenses will often have inconsistent autofocus results, especially if they have been banged up a bit over the years). Paste a black and white target to the wall (a newspaper page with clear text will do, or you can download a focus target and print it out). Set your tripod up so that the target is small but not tiny in the screen (about 50x focal length, although longer lenses can cheat that and go to just 20x); a 50mm lens would be about 8 feet back. Alternatively, set up at about the distance you would normally use to shoot with that lens (the 50x focal length is because focus tends to “even out” from a bit before that out to infinity, but if you are more often shooting super-tight portraits then you should get data similar to the scenario in which you normally shoot). Then, starting either at the “wide” (lowest aperture) end or the “narrow” (highest f/#) end, take a picture (or two), change the aperture a third or half stop, take another, etc. The “fun” part is then loading all these up into Lightroom or Photoshop and determining which is the “sharpest”. You can do that by hand or use a tool to assist you; surprisingly I haven’t been able to quickly find any tools out there to just “find the sharpest image of the stack” which don’t cost thousands of dollars, but a tool like FastRawViewer with its “focus peaking” function would likely make short work of the task.

    Alternatively, if you have a professional (or aggressive enthusiast) photographer friend, they would likely be happy to run your lens through software like Reikan’s FoCal Pro to precisely measure the “sweet spot” aperture by taking multiple shots of a stationary target and determining the sharpest aperture (also, focus consistency and other lens-quality factors). They won’t likely be able to calibrate the accuracy of your camera+lens (camera bodies are registered as a part of the license), but so long as they have registered a camera which can accept your lens they should be able to use it.

    Using that software, I’ve found some pretty non-rule-of-thumb data about my “consumer” lenses.

    I have a cheap years-old Tamron 19-35 that has a wide-end sweet spot at f/4.5 at the sweet spot, 2/3rds of a stop above its f/3.5 “wide open” setting, and f/6.3 on the 35mm end, just 1 stop above the “wide open” f/4.5. My 18-55mm kit lens peaks at f/5 wide, f/8 tele, which are both exactly one stop from the “wide open” settings of f/3.5 and f/5.6. Going the opposite way, sharpness on my “nifty fifty” 50mm 1.8 has a local maxima at 2.8 (1 1/3 stop above wide open), but doesn’t really peak until f/7.1, FOUR full stops above wide open. On the other hand, my Canon 70-300 IS USM peaks at 2 stops above wide-open (which means the wide end needs f/13 to get peak sharpness).

    So, I think the lesson is this: the “rule of thumb” of wide*2 f-stop is reasonable, and will probably get you at about 90-95% of the maximum sharpness, but you would do better to run simple a/b tests on your own to find the actual sharpest aperture (which is likely to be a range on a zoom lens) as well as determine just how “critical” the difference between “wide open” and “maximum sharpness” is for that lens.

  • TomDibble

    Not entirely. The f-stop number is the “focal ratio”, which is the ratio of the focal length of the lens (ex, 50mm) divided by the diameter of the entrance of the lens (say, 9mm). 50/9 is 5.6. At f/5.6 on a 50mm lens the apparent aperture is 9mm across. The same f-stop on a 300mm lens would be achieved by an entrance diameter of 53.6mm, which is pretty darned wide.

    What this means is if you had a “simple lens” with a focal length of 300mm, the “opening” would need to be 53.6mm across. In a simple lens, that “entrance pupil” is essentially the width of the glass of the lens.

    But, you may note, we don’t have an aperture at the entrance to the lens (which would be hard to vary), but instead buried deep inside. We are also not dealing with a simple single-element lens in our SLRs, but multiple lenses in series forming a compound lens. There is a magnification factor between the front lens and the aperture location, such that the 53.6mm “apparent aperture” may be achieved with a much narrower actual opening.

    But the important bit is that we are dealing with a diameter, not an area. The amount of light coming through an opening will be proportional to the area of that opening, and thus proportional to the square of the opening. To double the light coming through the opening, you make the diameter about 1.414 times as big (multiply by square root of two).

    The 1/N is called “relative aperture”. It isn’t used anymore, with f-stops used in almost all applications instead. There is no specific value of it other than that it is the ratio of the aperture diameter to focal length, instead of the focal length to aperture. As I understand it the “f/N” notation is used to remind the user that a larger number means a smaller diameter and less light, and has no other significance.

  • TomDibble

    The article points out that the sharpness is apparent in the lettering of the face of the clock (which appears to be in the focal plane so maximal sharpness in both captures).

    But, yes, you need to balance sharpness at the focal plane against depth-of-field concerns: getting a narrow DoF for portraits and similar photos, and also getting a very deep DoF for landscapes (unless you use a focus-stacking technique so you shoot at maximum sharpness and stack multiple different-focal-plane captures together in post for a single very-deep DoF photograph).

  • TomDibble

    Completely agree, which is why “experiment” is a critical piece of advice. How much will going a full stop below the “sweet spot” aperture affect the output, versus doubling ISO or decreasing shutter duration by half? You will only know what is the best approach in a given situation if you understand the tradeoffs and have seen them in action. And you’ll only know if there are tradeoffs if you know what that “sweet spot” actually is (ex, if you have a lens with a sweet spot at f/2.8 and are debating about going a stop down from f/4 with increased ISO or decreased shutter speed, you’ll likely make a wrong decision).

  • TomDibble

    I’ve found that a good beanbag is a better short-stabilizer tool than a small flexible “tripod” like the gorrillapod. You travel with an empty bag, and fill with rice or nut shells or beans etc when at destination. Provides absolutely fabulous stabilization of a camera and lens, far better than a “travel” tripod or I’ve been able to get from a gorillapod. Won’t cling to the side of a tree as easily though.

  • TomDibble

    The camera does not determine the sweet spot, as himanshu pointed out. I’d also add that even different copies of the same lens can have very different sweet spots (as well as other focus/sharpness values) due to the complex interplay of manufacturing tolerances.

  • TomDibble

    “Aperture Priority” (Av on Canon, A on Nikon) does allow the camera to do some work for you. But I don’t think it keeps you from understanding the variables going into the picture; you just don’t need to experiment to get a good light metering starting point, not re-experiment when lighting conditions change. You do need to understand that, with Aperture set, if you decrease shutter duration you are going to need to increase ISO (which the camera will dutifully do for you when you turn the dial assuming you are in auto-ISO).

    Before metering was built into cameras, we would use a light meter to evaluate the scene. We would then look up the appropriate A/S value for the ISO of the film in our camera, and add stops from there (add a stop with aperture, remove it with shutter). Then metering came into the camera which would give confirmation if the set A/S combination was “correct” for the loaded film.

    In both cases, if I was trying to get a specific sharpness or depth of field (which is to say, almost all the time), I’d start with an aperture value I wanted, then move the shutter duration up/down until it had moved as many stops from the reading as the aperture had (external light meter) or until the internal light meter said things looked about right (with whatever compensation I wanted to add because of the scene being backlit, whatever).

    I don’t mind letting a computer do the grunt work there. I know what the target aperture is, and I will start with the lowest ISO setting. Computer in the camera: make the shutter speed work. Is the shutter too slow? Instead of having to roll up and waste the rest of the roll of film in the camera and load more sensitive film, I just click a dial once to increase the ISO / lower the shutter duration. Alternatively, I tell the computer: make the shutter speed work, but increase the ISO if you need to so that the shutter is above 1/1000th of a second, with just a few clicks of buttons on the camera. Then I don’t even really have to pay attention to the shutter speed, because I know it will always keep it fast enough, and only need to keep an eye on how high it decides to increase the ISO to keep proper exposure.

    I mentioned changing conditions, real or imagined. Generally speaking, the light meter in the camera is pretty darned smart about changing light conditions, but if I know that it is going to be an issue – ex, trying to maintain proper exposure of someone’s face with varying angles of shooting them in a long white gown in front of dark/light backgrounds – then I set things up in Av mode, then flip the dial over to M keeping the calculated settings.

    Now, of course, the exposure meter is often wrong. It always has been, even when it was a little tool we held up in front of the camera. The difference is that now, we can see that it is wrong, and accurately dial in exposure compensation to correct it, an instant after we press the shutter. Is that “cheating”? *Shrug*. Probably so. But do I care? Should anyone?

    I’ve been doing this for enough time that I have long since gotten over the hipster glorification of doing that grunt work. Let the computer do the simple calculations. I’ll concentrate instead on getting a good photograph.

  • TomDibble

    I would sacrifice sharpness by opening up the aperture rather than introduce noise by increasing ISO, almost always. That said, perhaps you should take advantage of all that “free film” in your digital camera and try both ways? Do that often enough and you’ll have a very good feel for what the right tradeoffs are – what ISO should trigger you moving the f/stop down instead of staying at the sweet spot, etc.

  • P. Prabhakar

    Stacking is something I didn’t know about! Learning everyday!!

  • Raquel Pinto Ribeiro

    Thank you so so much for such helpful and well written article. You got me to fully undestand this concept.
    Thanks again.

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