tack sharp problem?


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Oct 5, 2015
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so i took my sisters family photos over the weekend as a favor and also so i can get practice on people other than my kids. while I'm very pleased at how they turned out, i can't seem to understand why they aren't tack sharp. or maybe i'm just being picky after seeing photos from a medium format camera and how crisp photos can be. does this photo look blurry? my sister wants to use it for her christmas card but i am concerned it may come out blurry when printed. i took the photo at ISO 320, f/5, 1/160 ... with my 50mm pancake lens and i was standing probably 8-10 feet from them. thanks for the feedback!


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Looks sharp to me. Certainly sharp enough for 4x6/5x7 Christmas cards!
FYI: I know you hope to get immediate response from your posts, but please do not re-post the same question twice. Thanks.

Ok...a few comments here. There are just my own personal opinions, so please take them as such.

First and foremost, I noticed the comment about "medium format", so consider this; even in digital terms, those Phase 1 backs for medium format Hasselblads can run up to $20,000 for the back alone. They're not only higher megapixel images (current models are in the 70+ mp range), they are (typically) much higher quality pixels than you see in consumer level DSLR's. Then of course you have the lenses...compare a Hasselblad lens to a common Nikon or Canon lens and most people would choose the Hassy without a second thought. There's a REASON such gear is sooooo ungodly expensive, where as your average consumer DSLR is often in the $1000 range. In essence, you're trying to compare a "working man's Chevy" to a Ferrari...they're NOT going to perform the same.

Now that's NOT to say that you can't take really sharp images with a DSLR...many people do every day. First and foremost, there's the gear...which (in this post at least), you've told us very little about. There are a few things to consider here - if your shooting digital, is your sensor dirty? What kind of "pancake" lens are you using (i.e. brand/model)? I don't consider myself a lens snob at all, however better glass can sometimes make a difference. You said you used 50mm...most people usually prefer something in the 80 - 120mm range for portraits. Then we can look at your stats...you said you shot this at 1/160 sec - did you use a tripod? Without a tripod, 1/160 can be a little slow for hand held portrait work. Depending on the brand/model of body, I might have bumped up the ISO a bit more to get a little faster shutter speed. You said f/5...that's a pretty shallow DOF for portrait work (especially at just 10 feet away). The point here is that ANY/ALL of these issues can contribute to your images being less than "tack sharp".

Now, as far as the image itself goes, as spiralout already said, if you're just looking to use these for 5 x 7 Xmas cards or something, I suspect everyone will be quite pleased. Remember, your sister's family is less likely to have the refined eyes of a seasoned photographer (unless of course they're all photographers themselves). Looking at the image here on my monitor, while I'd be reluctant to try a large poster sized print, I suspect that shot would even make a nice 8 x 10 for most people (and with a bit of work in Photoshop, you could likely push it even larger than that). It may not be "tack sharp", however it's sharp enough...and that's a distinction worth considering. Just because a given image isn't "tack sharp" doesn't mean it's specifically "blurry" either. It's easy for a lot of people to get wrapped up about the wrong thing, but unless you're planning to use this shot for the Macy's holiday catalog or something (and even there it would probably be fine), I -really- wouldn't sweat it at all. If I had to nit pick that image, the sharpness issue would be WAY at the bottom of the list...my only real nit is just the expression on the face of the kid dead center...everyone else has pleasant, fairly relaxed smiles, but that one kid almost looks like he's snarling at the camera a bit (no offense to you or the kid). For the intended use, I think that shot is just fine.

Again, just my own opinions, but I hope you find them helpful.
I would suggest part of the problem that makes the photo seem to lack sharpness is the poor quality and direction of the light.
The subjects don't 'pop'.
We can't see their eyes as well as we could because their eye sockets and eye whites are dark.
The light was coming from a high angle and the entire scene is lit with the same light.

Having the people to close to the background also diminishes 'pop' or separation.

Moving them 10 feet or more from the background and using some modified off camera flash (OCF) to light them a stop or so brighter than the background would add 'pop'.
Plus by using OCF you have control of the light quality, direction, and height.
We can modify the light quality of flash by using umbrellas, diffusers, reflectors, softboxes, etc.

I would not have used a 50 mm lens to shoot a group posed that wide, unless I could not get further from the group to use a longer focal length - like 200 mm. If I didn't have sufficient room to use a longer focal length I would have used a different location.

I don't consider a 50 mm lens to be a 'portrait' lens and I wish others would recommend focal lengths much longer than 50 mm for doing portraiture. 50 mm gets recommended so often in the internet age because most camera makers offer an inexpensive 50 mm prime lens.
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