BetterPhoto Q&A
Category: New Questions

Photography Question 
Howie Nordström
BetterPhoto Member Since: 3/11/2005
 

How to make pictures with CLARITY?


There are lots of great galleries here at BetterPhoto showing pictures that are super clear. A quick look through past winners and finalists shows this point. What does it take to get pictures this clear?

While not being hazy, I feel that my pictures just seem to lack that clearness. My minimally educated and very amateur guess is that it has to do with the following: using a tripod, great lenses, a good photographic eye, proper use of noise and sharpness filters (i.e. unsharp mask, noise filter, smart sharpen, noise ninja, etc.).

At this point I don't have Canon L glass or the like, but I am (for the most part) using a good tripod, taking BetterPhoto classes to improve my skills, as well as trying to follow instructions in Kelby's and Willmore's PS CS2 books.

I would like to elevate the quality of my pictures. Any input, recommendations, suggestions, and tips that you all can give me on the subject is most appreciated. TIA!

/howie


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9/23/2005 3:02:30 AM

 
Daniel Diaz
BetterPhoto Member Since: 4/20/2005
  Since you've mentioned all of the possible requirements for clarity, I'm stumped. The only thing I can suggest is to use unsharp mask again after you resize for the web, also apply your noise filter as your last step. Personally I use Neat Image but NN is just as good.


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9/23/2005 3:17:26 AM

 
Daniel Diaz
BetterPhoto Member Since: 4/20/2005
  Ok Howie, I just came back from your gallery and it's quite impressive and veary CLEAR!!!. I would say you're doing a great job with your photos. I'm not sure if your re-sharpning after you resize for the web, if you're not try it, you'll be pleasantly surprised.


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9/23/2005 3:21:52 AM

 
Howie Nordström
BetterPhoto Member Since: 3/11/2005
  Thanks Daniel. I am doing the sharpening after resizing for the web. What's interesting is that I recently read in Photoshop User and Willmore's PS CS2 book that the noise filter should be used before resizing the image, and that sharpening should only be done after resizing. Do you use the noise filter as the last step to remove any latent noise that appeared with the final sharpening?

BTW, your photos - SANJAY and Welcome! - illustrate my question. Those two shots are, IMHO, quite clear and clean.


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9/23/2005 3:35:58 AM

 
Daniel Diaz
BetterPhoto Member Since: 4/20/2005
  Thank's Howie, I understand what these books teach but from my own experience I belive the noise filter should be the last step, here's why. When you do any editing in photoshop, you will be adding noise and artifacts regardless of what other people preach, I find using the noise filter last helps smooth out these artifacts and noise. I also resharpen my original pix first then resharpen again after resizing, try it this way and see if it suits your needs.

Regards
Daniel Diaz


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9/23/2005 4:30:57 AM

 
Terry  R. Hatfield
BetterPhoto Member Since: 1/4/2003
  I Have Never Used A Noise Filter,When You Try To Edit For Noise You Lose Clarity Most Of Your Shots Look Great Howie!Try Shooting At Lower ISO's
Your Image "Destination Unkown" Was Shot At 800 ISO? Statues Dont Move, Your On The Right Track Just Cut Down On Unnecessary Filters:-)


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9/23/2005 4:46:26 AM

 
Howie Nordström
BetterPhoto Member Since: 3/11/2005
  Thanks for your input Terry. You certainly have a bunch of great shots. I'll keep the 'minimist' thought in mind!


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9/23/2005 11:58:40 AM

 
Melissa  L. Zavadil
BetterPhoto Member Since: 2/26/2005
  I think you are doing awesome! Love your gallery! :)


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9/23/2005 7:35:50 PM

 
Sherry S. Boles
BetterPhoto Member Since: 2/28/2005
  Howie,
I just visited your gallery. Your images look very clear to me also (much clearer than mine).
I wanted to thank you for asking this question. I had been wondering the same thing!


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9/25/2005 9:46:08 PM

 
Alisha L. Ekstrom
BetterPhoto Member Since: 1/30/2005
  I have been wondering the same thing as well, but LEARNING that the LENSE has A LOT to do with clarity.

Howie your gallery is great!!! Your images are VERY crisp & clear!!


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9/25/2005 11:21:38 PM

 
Sherry S. Boles
BetterPhoto Member Since: 2/28/2005
  Alisha (or anyone else who can answer),
What about the lense? Is it a certain lens, the quality of the lens?


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9/26/2005 12:50:23 PM

 
Craig m. Zacarelli
BetterPhoto Member Since: 2/3/2005
  i too have seen some awsome shots here and on other sites.. by awsome I mean very sharp and clear.. shots I cant seem to get... im not talking awsome as subject, lighting or that sort of thing.. but just very claer and razor sharp! I understand that the lens has allot to do with it, like the difference between the basic kit lens and a great piece of "L" glass but... I have also seen images shot with the same set up I use but they just look amazing where allot of mine lack that certain "pop"! Im beginning to think its me and im doing something wrong. I understand that camera shake has allot to do with it but I cant be dragging a tripod or even a mono pod all around with me, its just not feesable at times, could it be shutter speed? or arperature?? I try to shoot wide open with a fast shutterspeed but I do get about a 4 to 1 ratio of throw aways to keepers. Thank god for PS..at least I was able to save some otherwise usless shoots by doing something "out of the ordinary" to them in PS.
Craig-


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9/26/2005 4:35:30 PM

 
Elisabeth A. Gay
BetterPhoto Member Since: 4/2/2004
  One of the things I learned in a course on BP last year was that when you edit your photos you should convert them to TIFF first, as that format retains more information. I did find that when I did that my pictures looked sharper. And of course, all of the other stuff too - tripod, ISO, shutter speed, unsharp, all help!


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9/26/2005 4:52:20 PM

 
Craig m. Zacarelli
BetterPhoto Member Since: 2/3/2005
  but what if you wanted to convert to jpeg for posting on places like here at BP? I have seen some amazing pics... perfectly clear and sharp! I uderstand that a good or great lens will help but ive also seen some shots with the same equip. I use...
go figuer huh?
-Craig-


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9/26/2005 7:55:12 PM

 
Daniel Diaz
BetterPhoto Member Since: 4/20/2005
  I use a cheap lens, and all my shots are hand-held, if you try my method as mentioned above, you should get good results. Try it out and see if it works for you. Cheers!!!


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9/27/2005 2:24:05 AM

 
Forrest C. Wilkinson
BetterPhoto Member Since: 5/15/2005
  Craig,
Yes, the lens does have much to do with it, probably the most to do with it as far as equipment goes. But when it comes down to it, it's not the lens that gives you that "pop" it's the use of photoshop correctly and taking advantage of every known method of editing. Lenses will give you the razor-sharpness that you are lacking, but they wont give you the vibrant, contrasty, color that you really want in a picture, so in the long run, the better editor will get the better pictures. Ever wonder why every picture in a newspaper looks good? Because they have a good PHOTO EDITOR on top of having great photographers, learn everything you can about editing.


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9/28/2005 3:21:24 PM

 

BetterPhoto Member
  May I suggest some literature by an all time great. Ansel Adams' series of three instructional books, 'The Camera', 'The Negative' and 'The Print'. They are not light reading, but if you want to be better, you absolutely CAN NOT go wrong.


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9/28/2005 5:49:13 PM

 
Howie Nordström
BetterPhoto Member Since: 3/11/2005
  It appears that my first list covers the basic essentials for good pictures, and out of them the lens and processing are extra key. I can also mention that I do shoot RAW (the only thing that ends up as a jpeg is what is posted on the web, which are double checked for sharpness after resizing). I'm suspecting that tack sharp photos come, to some extent, as a natural result of clarity.

It is the clarity aspect of my question that I'd like to focus on. To pick just one of many great galleries can Heather McFarland's shots be used as examples of clearness.

Would someone mind explaining further what is meant by 'learning the lens'? I've noticed that some of my shots are looking clearer, crisper and with better color, even when I open them for the first time in Camera Raw, and I really have no explanation. Perhaps it just is a learning experience -- familiarity with the lens, better exposure, composition, or ?? -- but I'd like to be more conscious of what I'm learning.

Any other specifics re. equipment, editing, or other for getting clear shots???

/howie
(...not really frustrated but rather eager/anxious to bump up [greatly increase :) ] the quality of my photographs.)


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9/29/2005 5:13:20 AM

 
Daniel Diaz
BetterPhoto Member Since: 4/20/2005
  Fstop value is another thing to consider, generally Lenses will vary as to what the sharpest Fstop value is. On average F11-F22 will give you the sharpest and most clarity right out of the camera. That's what I use for most my macros!!!


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9/29/2005 5:37:23 AM

 
Forrest C. Wilkinson
BetterPhoto Member Since: 5/15/2005
  Good photographers who take the type of pictures that heather does look up facts on the lens they are using. Notice that, although her camera isn't the greatest, her lenses are the top of the line Nikkor lenses. If you use Canon, then use Canon L lenses, try the 17-40mm f/4 lens (minimum focal distance 28cm). If you want macro, use the Canon 100mm Macro. If you want action or a multi-purpose lens, I would reccomend the 70-200mm f/2.8 L without IS. Then, find where the "sweet-spot" of the lens is, you can find this on the web. Notice that 99% of Heather's pictures are taken at an aperture of above f/11, this is commonly the best spot of the lenses. Even when you are taking something where there is no background, use a high f/stop because the picture will have more clarity. After getting the higher clarity, editing will do the trick easily. As a general rule, don't shoot wide open or anywhere close to wide open if you have that choice.


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9/29/2005 5:00:46 PM

 
Craig m. Zacarelli
BetterPhoto Member Since: 2/3/2005
  I think forrest hit it right on the head... The sweet spot, I was reading that the sweet spot is usually found about 4 stops before its maximum f stop.

I know what Howie means of clairty... I cant seem to achieve it, but I may be being too criticle of myself! I saw a post the other day on another site, some guy bought the canon 24-70 "L" and posted a test shot of someone... the shot was so clear and vibrant you could read the printing on his golf shirt, the small printing they do just on the left of the chest. It was so clear.
Craig-


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9/29/2005 7:01:37 PM

 
Sandra 
BetterPhoto Member Since: 10/31/2002
  Howie,
There are lots of GREAT Galleries here and yours is one of them.
Sandra


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9/29/2005 7:18:16 PM

 
Sherry S. Boles
BetterPhoto Member Since: 2/28/2005
  There are some great responses here... Thanks to those who are sharing!


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9/29/2005 9:13:10 PM

 
Howie Nordström
BetterPhoto Member Since: 3/11/2005
  Sandra, thanks. :)

Forest, why do you recommend without IS? I currently have the Canon EF 28-135/3,5-5,6 IS USM (which apparently has a sweet spot of f/8 -just looked it up). Of course, every shot that's taken with a tripod renders the IS useless since it's turned off, but for those occasions when I don’t have the tripod then the IS is nice to have. Does IS negatively affect the lens in some regard when it is turned off?

I've been looking at (read: drooling over) several possible 'L' lenses, three of which have IS:

Canon EF 16-35/2.8 L USM
Canon EF 24-105/4 L IS USM
Canon EF 70-200/2.8 L IS USM
Canon EF 100-400/4.5-5.6L IS USM

There are of course alternatives without the IS:

Canon EF 24-70/2.8 L USM
Canon EF 70-200/2.8 L USM

…Another question: it appears, after a little googling re. sweet spots, that prime lenses offer the best quality images. Does it mean that lenses with a large range (i.e. 100-400) will have less quality than say 70-200? One website mentioned that the picture quality is not affected by the large zoom range when using 'L' lenses. Since my style of shooting doesn't for the most part require really large apertures (and since I'm learning that such apertures don't provide the best clarity) I probably don't need a 2.8 lens, but if there's a detriment to the large 100-400 range then it's not a good buy in the long run. Thought?

/howie


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9/30/2005 2:29:14 AM

 
Craig m. Zacarelli
BetterPhoto Member Since: 2/3/2005
  Hey howie, can you post the web site with the sweet spot for the 28-135 IS? I just bought that lens this week and havent had much of a chance to try it out, save for shooting my desk at work... and my feet.. and my book case!lol
Thanks !
Craig-


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9/30/2005 5:44:32 AM

 
Daniel Diaz
BetterPhoto Member Since: 4/20/2005
  That's it, here's a secret in post processing. Unsharp mask settings.
Amount 500%, Radius 0.4 pixels, and Threshold 0%. Now go to edit and fade unsharp mask to 60-70%. After resizing to BP size, repeat these steps.
Now go try it!!


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9/30/2005 5:56:18 AM

 
Howie Nordström
BetterPhoto Member Since: 3/11/2005
  Craig, have a look at this google search for 'Canon 28-135 IS USM sweet spot'. You'll get several good links.


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9/30/2005 6:02:29 AM

 
Craig m. Zacarelli
BetterPhoto Member Since: 2/3/2005
  AWSOME!
Thanks Howie!!!
Craig-


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9/30/2005 6:54:19 AM

 
Debby A. Tabb
BetterPhoto Member Since: 9/4/2004
  Howie,
your gallery is absolutly wonderful!!!
again and again-WE are our own WORST critic.
Sit back and enjoy all the GOOD things about your work:
we should all spend a little time to make that list,
of what we feel we did right and what we like about a image-
instead of just making the "what I want to change about this Image" list.
Keep up the wonderful work,
Debby


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9/30/2005 7:03:59 AM

 
Howie Nordström
BetterPhoto Member Since: 3/11/2005
  Thanks Debby. Yes, agreeably, we are often our worst critics. I certainly wouldn't display images that I was not pleased with. There are some that I enjoy more than others. The point of my questioning arose from the desire to improve. If we ever think that we can't improve well, then, we won't. While appreciating others images I also try to see what I can learn from them, what the photographer has done differently than what I find myself doing, why I feel the image works or doesn't work, and what makes an outstanding photograph outstanding. One of common aspects to great work, that I've noticed, is clarity –thus my reasoning for the original question was not so much 'what I want to change' but rather how can they be better. :) Thanks again!


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9/30/2005 7:22:21 AM

 
John G. Clifford Jr
BetterPhoto Member Since: 8/18/2005
  Sharp photo how-tos:

• Shoot in RAW mode if your camera supports it. Otherwise shoot in TIFF mode if your camera supports it. Otherwise, shoot in the highest quality JPEG mode that your camera supports.

• Shoot at the highest resolution your camera supports, at the lowest ISO speed that will give you sufficient shutter speed.

• Most lenses really sharpen up once the aperture is reduced at least two stops from wide open, e.g., an f/2.8 lens starts getting really sharp at f/5.6. Most dSLR lenses start becoming diffraction limited between f/11 and f/16. For maximum sharpness, shoot between 2 stops less than wide open and f/16. Or, more simply, shoot at f/8.

• For most photo purposes (unless blur is intentional) shoot at a shutter speed that is at least as fast as the reciprocal of your focal length, e.g., if you're zoomed out to 200mm, shoot no slower than 1/200 of a second.

• Use a tripod if at all possible, else use a monopod, rest your camera hand on something, or lean against something (techniques listed in order of preference/usefulness)

• Learn to practice "follow through" after you press the shutter, and intentionally hold the camera still until well after the shutter fires.

Post-processing sharpness tips:

• Immediately save any non-TIFF format files in TIFF format before any editing. This will preserve the maximum amount of detail that your camera generated. Only save to JPEG if necessary, i.e., for submission to BetterPhoto.

• If you can, work in 16-bit color mode while doing edits, color corrections, etc.

• Sharpening is always the VERY LAST thing that you do. If you're going to resize photos, resize them first, then sharpen. A photo that is sharpened at one size and then up-sized or down-sized will not be as sharp as a photo that is resized and then sharpened. Save your photos after your final efforts but before sharpening... and get in the habit of a quick sharpening of the newly-opened file before printing.

• Using any noise reduction filter will reduce sharpness. Sometimes a little more noise is better than a little less sharpness.

• If you are really concerned about noise, learn to use layers or masking in your photo editor (or get an editor that supports these features) so that you only de-noise the areas you want, e.g., sky, and not the entire photo. Or... get a better camera with a larger sensor (that's why 6 MP dSLRs produce better photos than 6 MP digicams).

Hope these tips help you increase sharpness with your camera.


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9/30/2005 11:40:34 AM

 
Susan Patton
BetterPhoto Member Since: 6/1/2004
  Thanks so much to everyone for sharing. The information is invaluable to me and I'm sure many others.


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9/30/2005 1:41:04 PM

 
Forrest C. Wilkinson
BetterPhoto Member Since: 5/15/2005
  Howie,
To your post about the lenses. As far as the zoom range goes, the more the range of the zoom, the less the company can concentrate on getting both sides of the lens to look good. Now, the 70-200mm has a constant f/stop which tells you that the lens is constructed well from end-to-end (and you can read the reviews). Without a doubt, the 70-200mm f/2.8 Canon L lens is the best zoom telephoto lens that Canon makes. Now prime lenses, while some may argue have limited use at times, are goint to be built for the best photos at their specific focal lengths. I will also tell you the reason I reccomend no IS is because it is an expensive feature that is nearly useless, although you might get the impression that it is. If you have the option (as you do with the 70-200mm, it is more logical to not get it, it's not worth the 1000 bucks, and it doesn't improve your clarity.) I have experience with the lenses you mentioned, so let me respond to each one.

Canon EF 16-35/2.8 L USM: Excellent lens, landscapes and portraits are very good with this lens. It's top competition is the Canon 17-40mm f/4 lens, I would say that the 16-35 has a slight edge, but the 17-40mm is very close if you'd rather save the money to spend on another lens.

Canon EF 24-105/4 L IS USM: This is another excellent lens, it provides some depth between the wide-angle and the telephoto but is not entirely necessary. Rarely do a I shoot a shot between 40-70mm, which gives me no need to buy another mide-range lens. Your decision, look at the focal lengths on some of your pictures.

Canon EF 70-200/2.8 L IS USM: In my opinion, this is THE best lens that Canon makes, with f/2.8, there is little need for the IS, I wouldn't waste your money. The sweet spot is f/11-18, this is my favorite lens, and is a great combo with the 20D

Canon EF 100-400/4.5-5.6L IS USM: Probably my least favorite of the lenses you have here, this lens has some problems with clarity at both ends. I am definitely not a fan of the push/pull zooms, the autofocus and manual focus isn't easy to use, I would reccomend the 70-200 and a prime lens, either the 300 f/2.8 or the 400 f/2.8.

Canon EF 24-70/2.8 L USM: Between the 24-70 and the 24-105, there are only slight differences in clarity, maybe a little edge to the 24-105, but as I said, there aren't a lot of pictures in this range. Portaits are wider, so are landscapes, and sports is telephoto.

Canon EF 70-200/2.8 L US: As I said, this is the lens I like to use for sports and landscapes sometimes, it is my favorite, it is a MUST HAVE.

Also do realize that whether or not you want to use any aperture below f/8-11, you are going to, at some time or another, use the f/2.8; I would recommend having a low f/stop, except on wide angle lenses, where it doesn't matter all that much. Please let me know if I can help you in any other way. Hope my input helps, let me know what lens(es) you end up buying and how it goes. Good luck!


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9/30/2005 10:43:53 PM

 
Howie Nordström
BetterPhoto Member Since: 3/11/2005
  Forrest, thank you for your lens feedback!!! You certainly have helped solidify many thoughts.


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10/1/2005 11:50:23 PM

 
Craig m. Zacarelli
BetterPhoto Member Since: 2/3/2005
  howie, maybe you need to use a filter? I can get some really hazy photos with out one. A UV have, a really good, multi coated one might help. Also try a neutral density filter or polarizer.
just a thought!
Craig-


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10/2/2005 10:30:15 AM

 
Howie Nordström
BetterPhoto Member Since: 3/11/2005
  I have UV filters on my lenses to protect them. However, it's my understanding that the extra glass can be a detriment to quality. I'm now experimenting with not using them.


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10/5/2005 8:13:42 AM

 
Christopher Budny
BetterPhoto Member Since: 10/3/2005
chrisbudny.com
 
 
 
Hi folks... Been following this thread and wanted to get any suggestions for capturing the sharpest photos for those of us in the "compact" (ie, non-DSLR) digicam world---I'm a month into using my first digital camera, a Sony DSC-H1 5.1mp 12x optical zoom. (Can take on a few conversion lenses, but I've not yet purchased/attempted that.)

I've just started using a tripod in the last 2 weeks (will take recommendations for that, too--mine is already too flimsy!) and that is a big a difference in the number of shots that I'd consider "acceptably" in focus. (Even though the camera has image stabilization.) I just feel like there are other things I should probably be doing, to ensure the most crisp focus available.

So, I'm including a shot here that I think is among the sharper so far, but I'd love to hear ideas. (Still reading through Miotke's BetterGuide!) [This picture started as a jpg on the Sony (no raw format avail.) then saved as .PSD, then resized as 72 pixels/inch, 500 pixels on the short side, with Resample Image:Bicubic.] Camera settings: f2.8, 1/1000th sec., ISO 64 (was set to Auto, I'm sure!) Daylight setting, -.3 exposure compensation. Thanks everyone!


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10/5/2005 6:05:27 PM

 
Christopher Budny
BetterPhoto Member Since: 10/3/2005
chrisbudny.com
 
 
 
Hi folks... Been following this thread and wanted to get any suggestions for capturing the sharpest photos for those of us in the "compact" (ie, non-DSLR) digicam world---I'm a month into using my first digital camera, a Sony DSC-H1 5.1mp 12x optical zoom. (Can take on a few conversion lenses, but I've not yet purchased/attempted that.)

I've just started using a tripod in the last 2 weeks (will take recommendations for that, too--mine is already too flimsy!) and that is a big a difference in the number of shots that I'd consider "acceptably" in focus. (Even though the camera has image stabilization.) I just feel like there are other things I should probably be doing, to ensure the most crisp focus available.

So, I'm including a shot here that I think is among the sharper so far, but I'd love to hear ideas. (Still reading through Miotke's BetterGuide!) [This picture started as a jpg on the Sony (no raw format avail.) then saved as .PSD, then resized as 72 pixels/inch, 500 pixels on the short side, with Resample Image:Bicubic.] Camera settings: f2.8, 1/1000th sec., ISO 64 (was set to Auto, I'm sure!) Daylight setting, -.3 exposure compensation. Thanks everyone!


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10/5/2005 6:06:12 PM

 
Christopher Budny
BetterPhoto Member Since: 10/3/2005
chrisbudny.com
 
 
 
Apologies---browser hiccup, didn't "take" the upload file!


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10/5/2005 6:13:57 PM

 
John G. Clifford Jr
BetterPhoto Member Since: 8/18/2005
  Hello Chris,

See my earlier posting about sharpness... everything there that is applicable to a digicam applies to a digicam.

Most people use the various modes (landscape, portrait, etc.) that digicams have. Make sure you choose the appropriate mode, and understand what each mode does. Landscape mode often gives the sharpest prints under good lighting conditions because it chooses a small aperture to increase depth of field. Portrait mode is usually just the opposite -- poor depth of field because the widest aperture is chosen.

From reading your post about your picture, it looks like you weren't in landscape mode, and instead were shooting wide open. That is probably why your image isn't as sharp as you want it to be. Select your lowest ISO and your highest quality image (usually raw or TIFF).

Also, when uploading here, use 480x720 as your dimensions to get the best results.


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10/5/2005 10:34:13 PM

 
Christopher Budny
BetterPhoto Member Since: 10/3/2005
chrisbudny.com
  Thanks, John. Unfortunately, perhaps the single biggest drawback to my camera (based on what I read here online) is that there is no Raw mode, nor TIFF! Anyway, I just set up my free gallery here, and posted a few pics tonite. I took your advice, and used 480 as my smaller dimension (letting the other dimension default.)


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10/7/2005 11:07:03 PM

 
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