Years ago I was at a photo seminar, and the presenter – either John Shaw, Tony Sweet or Bob Krist (I think it was Bob but it was a long time ago) mentioned that he thought we were looking at our digital files too closely. He referred to the fact that in the film days, looking at our negatives or slides under a loupe only gave us about a 10-25% zoom factor, and that if it looked sharp under a loupe it was probably sharp enough.
I’ve always heard (and practiced) that sharpness with digital files is best evaluated at 100%. That was especially true back in the days of Unsharp Mask in Photoshop. But now that we have newer, higher-resolution sensors, I’m not sure that needs to be the case any more. Once in a while I look at my photos think that they don’t look as crispy sharp as they should. Is it the lens? Is it my technique? Is my new whiz-bang camera a piece of junk? Is it my eyes? Am I looking too close? But the finished digital files and prints come out consistently good, so it hasn’t been too big of a worry.
A couple of weeks ago I was aimlessly wandering through my Lightroom catalog and looked at some of my recent photos taken with the Fujinon 16-80 f4. Although I’ve been consistently pleased with the lens since I got it, I convinced myself that some of them looked a little soft, especially at the edges and the corners, and I wondered about the lens. So I went back and sorted my photos by camera and lens, looking at photos I’ve taken with some of my older lenses including my primes, and found that they all look really good but all about the same. The primes are more consistently sharp, but that is to be expected. That is a good reminder to use my primes more!
I often reminisce about the Fujinon 18-55 f2.8-4 that I sold to my son along with my old camera bodies, referring to it as “the lens that made me decide to go with Fuji” when I moved away from Canon gear. He graciously agreed to lend it to me for a week or two, so I have been using it to take some walking-around-the neighborhood photos. But you know, as good as it is, it isn’t significantly “better” than the other lenses I own. I do love the more compact size, as it is closer to a prime weight-wise. But it isn’t significantly better image-wise. But then I remembered that old saying and decided to back the zoom off to 50%. Lo and behold, they all look pretty darned good! So I’m wondering – am I looking too close?
In case anyone wonders, I wrote off the 16-55 2.8 years ago as being too heavy and too expensive, regardless of how highly rated it is. It would be defeating the purpose of downsizing from the heavy Canon gear.
Another thought I had was about monitor resolution. I’m using a good but old ASUS Pro Art monitor that I’ve had for about 8 years. It’s nothing fancy, especially compared with the newer 4K and 5K monitors out these days. Is it possible that my monitor is not able to sufficiently resolve the files, or that a newer better monitor would show that detail better? Or would I be just as perplexed as I am now but several hundred dollars (or more) poorer? It’s new territory for me, but if anyone has insight I’d love to hear it.
In the mean time, I’ll keep my zoom at 50% and be glad that the finished output still looks excellent!
These photos, by the way, were all taken with the 18-55 and in-camera JPEGs with the stock Fuji Velvia profile. No adjustments in Lightroom other than output sharpening. For whatever that’s worth!