Do these images look soft?

Discussion in 'Beginner Questions' started by raaj, Jul 8, 2009.

  1. I'm new to digital photography. I have a Nikon D80, and I have a suspicion that it's producing soft images, but I'm not sure. Before I take it in to be checked, I'd like your opinion; I may be expecting too much. The following images were shot with the Nikkor 50mm f/1.4D lense at f/8, ISO 200, and on a tripod with cable release. The images were shot in RAW, converted to TIFF (no compression) then saved as TIFF (LZW). I'm using Photoshop Elements 2, but the images were NOT altered any other way. The shutter speeds are a little low, but there was absolutely no wind or other sources vibration. Also, I get similar results at higher shutters. I included the whole image (reduced) as well as a crop (not reduced) of the area that I was focusing on (manually).
    Image 1A and 1B were shot at 1/15s shutter
    Image 2A and 2B were shot at 1/125s shutter
    Image 3A and 3B were shot at 1/10s shutter
  2. I only checked a couple but don't see any "sharpness" problems. That's pretty much what raw files should look like without editing. Leaves the photographer plenty of room to interpret each photo to his/her satisfaction.
    I routinely shoot raw and maximum quality JPEGs side by side with my Nikon D2H. I use near-maximum or maximum in camera sharpening for JPEGs. There's a huge difference between the appearance of the raw and JPEG versions, as there should be.
  3. Camera's fine. So's the lens. Quite good, actually.
    The crops include areas outside the plane of sharpest focus, which could be part of what you're seeing as ``soft.'' Even at f/8, you can quite clearly see that the petals of the flower go from out of focus at the bottom of the cropped frame to in focus somewhere around the bottom third of the frame to out of focus at the top. The center of the flower is just behind the plane of focus, which is why the whole enlargement appears just a tad soft.
    But...if you were to enlarge the entire frame as much as you enlarged that crop, you'd have a 30" x 40" print. If you had nailed the focus (and if the subject matter were worthy), I think that would result in an absolutely stunning 30" x 40" print. And, as you should be able to tell from the reduced version, there's plenty of sharpness there to make a great 8" x 10" print (again, ignoring aesthetic questions) even without all the extra ``pop'' standard post-processing would get you.
    Congratulations, you've just learned the perils of pixel peeping.
  4. I've found with flowers when you are that close (and probably the same with the last pictures, that F8 will do fine for buds, but for whole flowers, you need at least F11 to get the whole flower in focus, and still throw out the background. Even at F11, when you are that close, the edges of the flower could be soft.
  5. Congratulations, you've just learned the perils of pixel peeping.​
    Couldn't say it any better myself. For what its worth, these are about the same as what I get out of my D80 and 50mm f/1.4. In fact, it might even be sharper if your particular lens sample beats mine. Viewing an image at 100% was a very discouraging event for me the first time I did it. In the cases where the camera settings and subject are optimal, I expected (hoped) everything to be razor sharp.
    But this is the nature of the beast, how the miniscule sensors on the CCD pick up the data. It may not be razor sharp at 100%, but the large amount of pixels used to capture the image make it rare you'll ever actually use the image at 100%. Instead you'll have the luxury of 'zooming out', allowing the pictures to appear razor sharp.
    I found that it's easy to lose perspective on a computer screen. These days resolutions are so high and cameras have so many megapixels to them we don't think twice about an image thousands of pixels aside. But the truth is you'll almost never see the that large and up close in real life. It's quite amazing how much noise and sharpness can drive you bananas on a screen at 100%, and how little it effects a picture printed out on an 8" x 10". This is why you'll hear the biggest advantage of extra megapixels isn't clarity, but the ability to crop (and still print large).
  6. Thank you all for your comments.
    It's very comforting to know that I don't have a defective camera, and that I'm not doing something terribly wrong. I actually thought the image could be razor sharp at 100% pixel view on the screen.
    I've been playing with "sharpen" in Photoshop, and it's seems to be able to do wonders with a decent image. I will also try higher f stop and see if I can improve the original RAW image.
    Thanks again,
  7. I don't know that I've ever seen a ``razor sharp'' 100% crop from a DSLR, and I've certainly never seen one straight from the camera. Out of the camera, yours is not quite as good as it gets, but it's really close.
    I don't think you'll see much, if any, improvement by stopping down more than f/8. You're already quite close to being diffraction limited at f/8; while stopping down more can bring more of the image into focus, it might be at the expense of the sharpness you already have. It'd be a great thing for you to experiment with, though, considering the price of film.
    Instead, I think you need to work on your focus technique. The focus plane is a fraction of an inch in front of the center of the flower, for example, which isn't helping you. That kind of shot is actually hard to do with a 35 mm camera; what you really want is a tilt / shift lens so you can shoot wide open with the focal plane parallel to the base of the flower. Done right, the whole flower would be in focus (or very close to it), and everything else would be out of focus. (You'd also want to remove the dead twig, find a more interesting composition, etc. -- but that's another story.)
    Be very careful when sharpening in Photoshop. It's essential; you must do it for quality images. But it's so terribly easy to over-do it.
    There are countless guides out there for how to sharpen images. Spend some quality time with Google and you'll see what I mean. But the basic idea is to sharpen in stages for specific reasons.
    First, you want to sharpen the image right out of the camera. This is to restore some of the acutance lost by the antialiasing filter on the sensor. You want a small radius, a fraction of a pixel, and a relatively high amount (usually in the 250% range). Most important is to avoid, at all costs, any signs of artifacts. There should be no halos around high-contrast lines. With that caveat, though, you want the highest amount the image will tolerate. Every image is different, and some will take more sharpening at this stage than others.
    Next, you want to do all your sharpening for effect. This is a matter of taste and will often require masking -- you might want to sharpen just the eyes and eyelashes while perhaps even applying a blur to the background. It's at this stage that you can go wild...but still use caution. Over-sharpened images are hypnotic for the novice but quickly become tiresome to even most amateurs.
    Lastly, you'll very likely need some sharpening for the final output. If you're putting images on the Web, scaling down the image will soften it significantly, but just the right amount of sharpening will really make it pop. Again, don't overdo it, but view the reduced image at actual size and play with the sliders until you like the way it looks. Again, you might want to apply the sharpening just to specific areas.
    Sharpening for printing is a bit more complicated. Depending on your printer, drivers, and the like, you might need to sharpen. Or you might not. If your images look good on screen but your prints are soft, try viewing the image at 25% (without scaling the actual image) and applying enough sharpening to make that look good. Personally, I find that a high-quality printer profile does much more for my prints than sharpening, but you'll need to experiment with your equipment to find what works best for you.
  8. Wow! Thanks Ben. I was aware of avoiding halos and over sharpening, but I didn't realize that there was so much more to sharpening. I will definitely try what you've suggested, as well as doing more research on this.
    You're also right about focusing, I haven't got the hang of it yet. I've experimented with trying to get perfect focus, and I've noticed that two images that I thought were focused exactly the same came out visibly very different.
    Back to more practice....
  9. Okay so I am going againts the grain here, but I think they look a little soft. I think picking a point of focus is really important and when you check focus check that spot. I also think you can take Ben's advise and sharpen a bit it post production, but you have to use a light hand or it looks sharpened...

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