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Photography Question 
Lena Antaramian
BetterPhoto Member Since: 3/16/2009

Cure for 'Soft' Photos?

  Fatherly love
Fatherly love
Aperture is 2.8, shutter speed 1/400, standard picture style
© Lena Antaramian
Canon EOS 40D Digi...
I've been shooting with Canon 40D and 24-70 f/2.8 lens for some time now and realize that rarely do my images come out tack sharp. Do you have any suggestions on what to do? I do focus on an subject (the AF red light goes on) but the images are still soft. I tried increasing shutter speed - sometimes to 200 or higher and they are still not tack sharp! Any suggestions? I am sure that I just don't know how to use my equipment because I've seen others produce very sharp images with the same camera/lens.
Any advice is really appreciated!

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4/14/2009 5:29:49 AM

John Rhodes
BetterPhoto Member Since: 2/24/2005
  Lena, your photo is nice, but, as you say, soft. Notice the edges of the ears look sharp, but the features further back look soft. This is called shallow depth-of-field, where part of the image is sharp and areas in front and behind are not in focus.
The solution is simple - your aperture needs to be stopped down a little. I suggest you shoot this at f/4 to f/5.6 to increase the sharpness just enough. Don't stop down too much or the background will also be too sharp and distracting.
If you can practice "aperture bracketing" by shooting a similar scene with f/2.8. 4, 5.6, 8, .... to see the effect.

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4/14/2009 6:38:44 AM

Dennis Flanagan
BetterPhoto Member Since: 12/31/2005
  At the same time, when taking the photo, make sure your primary point of focus is the eyes, not the ears.

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4/14/2009 10:05:30 AM

Carlton Ward
BetterPhoto Member Since: 12/13/2005
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Carlton's Gallery
  Hi Lena,
You've received some great advice. Just to add: A rule of thumb for lenses is the lens will be its sharpest about 2 stops above its fastest aperture. So if you have a f/2.8 lens, it may be sharper at f/5.6
I know this is true for some of my lenses, but again it's just a guideline. Every lens has its own characteristics as there are variances between the glass/optics and assembly that make the lens. If you have (3) 24-70mm lenses, there will likely be little differences between each of them.
Experiment a bit and see where your lens is its sharpest.
Have fun!

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4/14/2009 11:27:59 AM

Roy Blinston
BetterPhoto Member Since: 1/4/2005
  I know what you mean about your pics being "soft" with the Canon. I noticed this the first time I switched from a Fuji camera about 8 years ago) to the Canon 20D then the 5D and have just bought the 50D. I am also using expensive glass ($4,000 lens) but it is still soft. I also stop down my apertures but it is still soft. I think it is a characteristic of Canon cameras. I have heard other people mention this also.

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4/23/2009 9:24:34 AM

Mark Feldstein
BetterPhoto Member Since: 3/17/2005
  As Carlton said, every lens, in essence, has a "sweet spot" kind of like a golf ball. My experience has been a bit different than his, however, in that I usually find my lenses sharpest at f8.5-f11, once in awhile at 11.5 but it depends on the lens and format I'm using.

Also, your shutter speed of course, are critical AND so too is the way you support your camera, whether hand held or on a tripod or monopod.

Generally Lena, I think you should be able to produce portrait images of individuals and couples that are tack sharp at f8.5-f11.0 and 1/125th of a second or below at even 1/60th. Now, I have no problem hand holding the camera and working at that speed, but that takes some practice. Generally those f-stops, using the depth of field preview, will produce sharpness, focusing on the eyes or nose, from the
face, eyes, ears and hair. Most of the portraits on my website were shot without a tripod, on tri-x pan film at f 11.0 and 1/125th of a second in both 35mm and medium format. I use mirror lock-up on the medium format cameras to prevent mirror slap that jars the camera. I also don't use more than a 105mm on 35mm and 150mm tops on the medium format. I also don't punch the shutter release but gradually push it down to prevent shake too.

Others may have some difficulty achieving sharpness even when holding their breath when releasing the shutter gradually, so I always recommend a tripod or even a monopod. AND find your depth of field preview button and learn how to use it. That will tell you whether your image is sharp before you start blasting. Also, for film fans, locking the lens down at the designated f-stop helps prevent camera shake.

The other problem I didn't see covered here is how the image gets processed. If it's film, shoot on slower emulsions that produce finer grain, say 100 ISO negative or transparency film. For digital fans, don't over pixelate. That produces soft images as well. And keep the size of your finished prints appropriate to the format you shot them because over enlarged prints viewed at close range look soft as well.
Take it light ;>)

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4/26/2009 12:05:13 PM

Bunny Snow
BetterPhoto Member Since: 11/16/2004
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  Do you have the same problem with other low dispersion lenses? Or, is it just with the 24-70mm f2.8 lens?


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4/27/2009 9:47:41 AM

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