Tutorial: Sharpness – Part 2

The list continues from Part 1. Note that the image posted here isn’t really extraordinary in any way; I have simply chosen it because I have nearly the same shot taken with the Sony A7R2 and the Canon 6D and it is great for showing the difference between having an AA (anti-aliasing) filter and not having one.

  • Stabilizer – Having a stabilizer in the lens (or sensor based stabilization) will help to ensure that you get a sharp shot if you’re shooting by hand with no tripod. The rule is to shoot at a shutter speed that is at least 1/focal length. So for example, if the lens is at 50mm you would want a shutter speed of at least 1/50 of a second or faster. Keep in mind, turn the stabilizer off if you’re using a tripod; the motor of the stabilizer will introduce vibrations and ironically lead to a less sharp photo.
  • ISO – Using a low ISO value keeps the photo from getting noisy (or “grainy” in film terminology). This helps keep the lines of edges clean and retains a sharp look.
  • Pixel Count – Not too much to say here, more resolution can help make things look sharper.
  • Apparent Sharpness – If you make one part of the image sharp and the rest blurry, the sharp area will seem extra sharp.
  • Software/Editing – You can increase sharpness in programs such as Lightroom or Photoshop, either through the sharpness slider or through contrast or clarity. Keep in mind that it is hard to make a photo sharp that isn’t. Also keep in mind that applying too much of an adjustment can make editing artifacts appear.
  • Contrast – It’s simple, more contrast makes things look sharper. The Clarity tool in Lightroom has a nice effect too.
  • Clean Lens/Filter – This seems obvious, but make sure you keep your lens and filters clean or you will lose sharpness. Also, if you’re using filters, get a decent one; it doesn’t make much sense to buy an expensive lens and put a bad filter in front of it. Be careful when your camera is a different temperature than the environment (either from going from inside to outside, or from shooting for so long that the camera heats up). This can cause fogging on the lens.
  • Sensor Size – This isn’t the same as megapixels, it’s about the physical size of the sensor. A smaller sensor will give more depth of field. This causes problems for wildlife or portrait shooters who want to blur their backgrounds, but can help landscape photographers who want to do the opposite.
  • Lens Quality – Like it or not, sometimes gear makes a difference. If you’re out shooting with a cheap lens and your shots just aren’t quite sharp, go down to a local camera store and test a more expensive lens; there will be a difference. Particularly in the corners. The most difficult situations for landscape sharpness are when you have something really close to the camera and a distant background; the item in the foreground will be close to the corners.
  • Focal Length – Something to keep in mind is that as the focal length of your lens increases, your depth of field gets smaller/shorter. For example, if you use a long zoom lens to take a photo of an animal the background will be nicely blurred.
  • Sensor/AA filter – Staying on the equipment theme, most sensors these days are pretty good. If you want extra sharpness look for a camera without an Anti-Aliasing filter, also called an AA filter. This slightly blurs the image to avoid a problem called moiré, a strange effect that occurs on patterns or lines. This doesn’t occur often in nature and many manufacturers are starting to leave these off of their sensors. I have found such a striking difference that I probably won’t buy another camera with an AA filter if possible.


Here is a photo that I took with both the Canon 6D and Sony A7R2 when I first got the Sony and I was testing it out and comparing it to my previous full frame camera. This is the 6D shot. Both were shot with roughly the same focus point (and the same sharpening applied in editing) and I’ve indicated which area I’m comparing (red square) in the crops below…


Here is a crop of the Canon 6D shot showing the detail of a sensor with an AA filter covering it.


Sept16_2015_A7R2 (65)-edit-edit
Here is a close up of the rock in the Sony A7R2 shot. I think the difference in sharpness is quite striking.


Well, that’s it for the sharpness information for now, I hope it has helped some of you. If I’ve missed anything feel free to email me at theburntpixel@yahoo.ca.


I post to the blog about once a month, so if you want to get an alert when there’s a new post just scroll to the bottom of the page and click the Follow button.

– Patrick




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