What's the cause of the slight softness in this photo?


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Jan 11, 2010
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A few days ago I took this shot:

I know, not the best composition-wise, since I just took it to illustrate the particular species of moth captured by this plant. However, something that does bother me about this photo is the slight softness/cloudiness, and I can't figure out what's causing it. It's easier to see when the shot is viewed full-size. The moth's head looks a bit blurry, even though it was focused correctly. Even the sharpest parts of the plants tentacles are a bit soft.

The lens is Canon's 100mm f/2.8 macro, the original version, not the IS one. It's in immaculate condition because I always keep either a lens cap or a UV filter on it (though I took the filter off for this shot), so unless it's the actual glass itself I don't think it's the lens. The sensor on my camera could be cleaner though, judging by the dust specks in my shots - could that be the reason?

The photo was taken at f/16.0, which if I'm not mistaken, is supposed to be this lens's "sweet spot".
I'm not sure I see any softness. Although from Flickr, I can't zoom in.
Thanks for the reply, maybe I'm just imagining it! When you click on the image, you should be able to navigate to the 2000 pixel version I uploaded by clicking on "View all sizes".
I'd say the left end of the wing is simply OOF.
On another thought, did you use a tripod? I see the shutter speed was 1/200, but macro shots can sometimes be as bad as long telephoto shots in magnifying any movement.

I do see some areas that are sharper than others, so it could be a dof problem. Even f16 at macro distances can have a pretty shallow dof.
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When I looked at the original it looks like the same softness throughout the photo to me.
Thanks for the replies everyone. I'm starting to think I'm going crazy now! Hahaha. But I swear it's not as sharp as it should be, here's an example of what I'm talking about. The first image is a 100% crop of the photo above, on the area that has the sharpest focus. It still looks soft to me. You can see that some of the tentacles are out of focus because they are too far away, and others are out of focus because they're too close - so in between those two extremes, there should be places that are tack sharp, right? I don't see any, it all looks a bit soft to me.

Here's another 100% crop taken at approximately the same level of magnification but at f/14.0 instead of f/16.0, and this one looks sharper to me.

Does anyone else see it? Or am I still just going crazy and seeing things that aren't really there? :lol:
Does anyone else see it? Or am I still just going crazy and seeing things that aren't really there? :lol:
I see dead people.
Naw..the picture is fine. Don't freak out about it.
I went and looked at your Flickr post and the only softness that I can see is because a few parts of the image are OOF. I wouldn't lose any sleep over it - looks fine to me - you have the fine detail in the "threads" or whatever they are along the bottom of the photo, if it was soft, I doubt that you would see them as clear as they are. I would say keep up the good work.


Tripod? If not, what was the SS? In macro/closeup photography, even the slightest movement of subject or camera is noticeable.
Thanks for the replies everyone, I guess it's mostly in my head or so slight other people don't notice it? Hahaha.

Both shots are handheld at 1/200 sec, which is the fastest I could use with the flash. I think you might be on to something, since the first crop I posted was taken outside on a breezy day, and although it didn't seem like anything was moving, it definitely could have been. The moth was also still alive and vibrating its wings trying to escape from the plant (don't feel bad, it's an invasive European species here in California and got itself stuck), which also could have created the softness. The second crop I posted of the flowers was taken inside my house with no wind (but still handheld).

I really need to get a tripod...

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