almost called this week’s column “Become a sharpshooter,” but decided that was
just a little naff! Photographically speaking there is an enormous difference
between sharp and soft. Those terms are the ones reserved for describing whether
the final print is well focused. We speak about ‘sharp’ focus and ‘soft’ focus
and everyone knows what is meant.
Forgetting all about Auto-Focus (AF) problems and camera
shake for the moment, the deciding factor on whether or not you get sharp
pictures will depend upon the quality of the optical glass in the lenses you
use. Unfortunately quality costs money - like most consumer items. “You get what
you pay for” works in photography just the same as it does in the red light
I came across this fundamental truth when I was becoming
despondent with the sharpness of my final prints many years ago. Even putting
the camera on a tripod had not helped. Asking around in my photographer
acquaintances led to my being loaned a very battered and well used Nikon FM2n,
with a prime Nikon lens.
I took this “old” camera away and shot a multitude of photos.
Off to the darkroom and guess what? Every one was as sharp as a tack. I had
learned an important lesson and went and purchased some second hand Nikon
equipment, and have never regretted it since. In fact, old FM2N Nikons were
still part of my camera equipment until the digital revolution.
So what was the difference? Well, the end result will always
rely on super sharp optics in the lens department. If they are not spot on,
neither will your photos be spot on. The actual exposures are close enough for
just about any camera these days with the latitude in the processors being so
wide, so the other differences now will come down to ease of use, or user
friendliness. Simple mechanical cameras, like the FM2, have simple operations
too. These new electronic cameras with their “menus” and other operations I do
not consider to be user friendly. It is easier to push a lever, surely. However,
perhaps it might just be that I used to be resistant to change!
The important lesson from all that is that to get good
results you need a camera that has good optics. There are plenty on the market
these days, and although the Nikon brand may be my favorite, there are other
manufacturers which have equally as good quality glass at the front.
Unfortunately, the results from these great cameras can become poor if you put a
cheap “after market” lens on it. Good lenses are expensive, but the end result
is always worth it.
Having mentioned AF problems earlier, a few words on this
again. While AF is now almost 100 percent universal, it still is not 100 percent
foolproof. One of the reasons for this is quite simple. The camera’s magic eye
doesn’t know exactly what subject(s) you want to be in focus and picked the
wrong one! The focusing area for the AF system is a small circle or square in
the middle of the viewfinder, so if you are taking a picture of two people two
meters away, the camera may just focus on the trees in the far distance that it
can see between your two subjects. Those trees are two km away, so you end up
with a print with the background sharp and the two people in the foreground as
soft fuzzy blobs. The fix is to focus on one person, use the ‘focus lock’ and
recompose the picture.
Finally - camera shake. Cameras are supposed to be operated
with two hands, not one. The practice of holding the camera in one hand and
raising one, two and three fingers on the other can only lead to camera shake.
Don’t do it. If you must tell your subjects that you are about to trip the
shutter, do it by saying the words “one, two, three” - not by waving your
fingers in the air.