Can a lens be too sharp?

Discussion in 'Leica and Rangefinders' started by kirktuck, Jul 19, 2001.

  1. I've been shooting 3 of the Leica 50's recently, the 50 Summilux, the current version of the Summicron, and most recently the previous version of the Summicron. While the current Summicron is blazingly sharp, I mostly shoot people ( http//www.kirktuck.com) and I've found the newest Summi a bit biting at around 5.6 or f8. Didn't realize it was so clinical until I picked up the previous version. That lens is sharp but at the same time just a bit smoother.
    Such a thing as too sharp? Any other shooters notice these difference? With landscapes, products, details, etc. the most current lens is very three dimensional. Am I just conditioned to accept as correct the softer look from previous generations or what?

    <p>

    Vaguely conflicted in Austin.
     
  2. Interesting question... I believe the answer is a definate "No."
    However, I also do not believe sharpness is the only consideration
    important in selecting a lens. I switched to Leica's as my 35 of
    preference primarily because of the range and smoothness of tonality
    expressed by the optics; secondarily however I was also impressed by
    their resolving power. Generally speaking, you give up tonal range as
    optical contrast increases, but resolution increases with contrast.
    As these lenses offered me a terrific balance of both great
    resolution and broad tonal range, I fell instantly in love. So, I
    think on balance you have to look at the trade-offs, and decide which
    traits will give you the image you're looking for. If tonal gradation
    is more important than resolution, then yes, some of the earlier
    Leica lenses are indeed better choices.
     
  3. Kirk,

    <p>

    I have always suspected that in terms of absolute sharpness Leica has
    designed its premier optics to appoach perfection in both the areas
    of spherical and chromatic abberations however, they do not over-
    correct for spherical abberations.... allowing some "residual"
    signature to the glass that gives it good background bokeh. I have
    some foreground "out-of-focus" shots with my 75 lux and I can attest
    that the lovely bokeh of the background OOF shots is reversed in the
    foreground OOF shots. The newer generation of lenses incorporating
    the ASPH advantage go a step further in the correction of spherical
    abberations and vignetting (as attested by the excellent wide-open
    performance of the 21, 24, 35, 90 ASPH lenses) but this is at the
    expense of that little bit of spherical abberation that gives the
    Leica lenses their "soul". For sure, the look of the current Leica
    lenses is much better than the current Nikkors (where Nikon has
    chosen to over-correct for spherical abberations) but compared to the
    older generation of Leica lenses you trade one thing for another.
    Edge to edge sharpness for more "complexity" of the bokeh. It is
    certainly hard to quantify (its more subjective) but compare a F4
    shot from a 35 Summicron (non-ASPH) to one from a current 35 Cron and
    you'll see a minute difference. It may be inconsequential to some
    and the tradeoff for uniform field sharpness may be a good one. But
    that older 35 Cron has just the right amount of sharpness and "cream"
    for me. I feel the same way about the 50 Cron.

    <p>

    Luckily for me... I was able to source out a previous incarnation of
    the current generation 50 Cron. (With the rigid lens shade and tab).
    I can't wait to get my hands on it and behold its bokeh!!!!!
     
  4. Hi,Kirk:
    Such a thing as too sharp you said?
    You bet it ! And you don't need to trust me on this respect. Ask the
    ladies; they know better . . .
    Have fun !

    <p>

    -Iván
     
  5. Its funny because I also noticed that the current version seems
    sharper than the last generation tabbed lens, even though all the
    experts say the glass is suppose to be identical. I like my lenses
    super sharp for the most part, but also have a few vintage lenses
    that offer a slightly different look. I especially like to be able to
    get high sharpness at large apertures- that look where what little is
    in focus just jumps right off the page. The screw mount 50 f3.5 Elmar
    has a nice quality to the images and it is still sharp, just not as
    much so as the current lenses.
     
  6. Current version of the 50 Summicron seems sharper that is--I failed
    to mention what lens I was talking about in my above post.
     
  7. Sharp is good because then you have a choice, if you want sharp
    you focus until it is sharp.
    And if you want soft, you unfocus a bit.
     
  8. Hi,

    <p>

    When I first bought the 75/1.4 I took it with me to dinner. My wife
    was next to me and my best friend and his wife were across the table.
    We ate around 7 PM and it was a cloudy; the late afternoon light was
    a little bit harsh. I popped off about ten shots of my best friend's
    wife who was across the table from us. Afterwards, I had the prints
    developed and gave them to her.

    <p>

    She saw every wrinkle in her face with the 75/1.4. Although she is
    not really that old, it freaked her out and put her on a fast track
    for plastic surgery (eyes). So the lens was too sharp for her, but
    not for the plastic surgeon. In retrospect, the lens was most likely
    too sharp for my best friend.

    <p>

    Eddie
     
  9. I agree with Yip that "sharp is good because then you have a choice".
    However, I prefer to soften up, for female/child portraits, using a
    vaseline-smeared filter or stocking mesh. I like it better than
    defocusing. YMMV

    <p>

    Regards,
     
  10. I don't think a lens can be too sharp. It's like saying can a single
    malt be too smooth? It is easy to soften the image either with a
    diffuser while shooting or softening during printing. It is more
    dissapointing to miss details when you wanted them because your lens
    is not sharp enough.
     
  11. John:

    <p>

    You should be able to "behold its Bokeh" tomorrow evening!
     
  12. Old rule of thumb.....never make photographs of women with lenses
    younger than they are....:).

    <p>

    Or as 'blad users, do the Softar thing.

    <p>

    Cheers.
     
  13. Hi everybody,

    <p>

    And what do you think about sharpness of the Summicron 90mm Apo Asph
    for women portraits? If you have no attention to their make up ...
    difficult moments !!
    Best regards, Alain
     
  14. I've got both the 11817 and 11819 (latest w. pull-out hood), as well
    as both versions of the 50/2-R lens. If you shoot them at f/2 or
    f/2.8 the lower contrast of the earlier lenses is evident, and in
    very big enlargements you can see a drop in the recording of
    extremely fine details also. Perhaps that contributes to the
    smoother look in more usual enlargements. From f/4 on down, I
    confess I can't see any difference in these lenses.
     
  15. Everytime I have run a trial in order to compare lenses, I have to be
    honest, I found no objective differences between them. Last time was
    comparing a Rollei 35T versus 50mm f2 Leica R. I don't mean that there
    are not differences, I mean that I couldn't detect them using Velvia
    and a x6 loupe (in this forum has been said that at least x20 is
    necessary in order to pick up differences). I believe that my trials
    were not appropriate although I used a tripod and the same conditions
    in both lenses, but I also believe that my trials are similar or even
    maybe better than the ones made for others. Thus it amazes me how
    easily some people can detect differences between lenses in sharpness,
    colour rendition and another endless number of variables. I should
    concede that I am a bit thick, anyway, I am not the enemy, I am a
    Leica user but I like to be objective.
     
  16. In therory I think a lens can never be sharp enough, and agree with
    the comparison to single malt scotch (it appears from this and
    previous posts that Leica users are really helping the Scottish as
    well as the German economies) :) That being said, for a lot of the
    work I do (fine-art nudes) I find myself resorting to my coated Elmar
    50mm. Softening under the enlarger (mentioned in previous post) just
    does not give the soft, gentle quality some of the older Leica glass
    gives. Leica is now (in the R series) one of the few manufactures that
    does not produce a 'soft' or 'defocus' lens - there are instances
    where things can be t
     
  17. After reading the responses here, I think I see that there are two
    distinct questions here. Can a lens be too sharp? Probably not.
    Can a subject matter be rendered with too much detail? Definately
    so. I usually use a Tiffen Soft EFX 3 with my 90 Elmarit for close
    up portraits of anyone over about 12 years old. It still gives nice
    sharp eyes but blends the skin tones just enough so it gives a more
    natural look without resolving every pore and wrinkle. There has
    been some talk that a lens can be too contrasty and coupled with many
    of todays higher contrast films, leads to an unattractive image that
    misses a full tonal range. Other optics experts say this is not true-
    a lens can not be too high in contrast. About the current 50 seeming
    to be sharper than the tabbed version, one Leica dealer told me he
    thought Leica was always improving their coatings, even though the
    glass formula of a certain lens was unchanged. That could certainly
    explain an increase in contrast at wide apertures.
     
  18. Thank you very much Andrew, I preciously note it.
    Best regards, Alain
     
  19. If you think a lens is too sharp for certain application, and a soft
    filter does not provide the soft and sharp effect, then get a cheap
    UV filter, on the center of it, put a little vaseline, about a dime
    in diameter, they may do the trick. The center part of the lens
    is always the sharpest. Blocking the axial ray with slightly opaque
    material soften the lens slightly.
     
  20. Hello Martin,

    <p>

    Good idea, I also note it. Thanks.
    And best regards, Alain.
     
  21. Some people seek out the older lenses because of the beautiful
    character: softer, smoother midtones, slightly diffused highlights,
    etc. But talking to most photographers about lens character is like
    talking about the character of a Steinway piano to a pop keyboard
    player--the nuances have been steamrolled over in the noise.
     
  22. Peter, can you imagine Mozart playing in a modern pop keyboard, I´m
    sure he would remind himself, furthen than noise the ability of an
    artist is what makes an instrument worth.
     

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