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03-27-2012, 07:03 PM   #1
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Question about film versus digital sharpness

Ok, although not a beginner here's my comments and question.

I don't know why I was thinking this today but I was. Maybe the answer is obvious, but not to me.

When shooting film, I found the negatives and the prints generated from them to be generally very sharp when returned from the lab. Assuming of course I got the focus right.

This applies even going back to the eighties with my Chinon CE-4 and 50mm lens.

On my K-5 I find that the photos are softish unless I add sharpening (Lightroom 3). This applies with Raw and Jpeg. The Point & Shoot cameras seem biased to adding a lot of sharpness.

Therefore, unless sharpening is added in the camera or in the computer is the digital sensor LESS sharp than the image recorded on a piece of film?

Both have 'grain', either silver halide crystals or pixels.

Comments, answers anyone?

03-27-2012, 07:42 PM   #2
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I don't have any specialized knowledge on this, but as with a bayer sensor every "pixel" is an interpolation of 4 physical pixels, of which each is also used to interpolate the neighbouring "pixels", this makes for a built-in smoothing by concept. In fact this means, without processing you never see sharp contrast edges.

I understand that, with film, a kind of "chemical interpolation" is working, but the results are not the same.
03-27-2012, 08:28 PM   #3
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It's my (possibly incorrect) understanding that with decent film (ISO<400 or so), the image resolution is limited by the optics - that is, the film records what is imaged on it with contributing measurably to the deterioration of resolution. (Assuming the film is correctly processed.) A digital sensor, even the highest-resolution commercial sensor, is not a match for that. Yet.
That being said, it is also my understanding that even 2- and 3-Mbyte sensors can yield very sharp images, just not too large a final print. The softness associated with "out-of-camera" images is more associated with the manufacturers' decisions regarding default processing of the image.
03-28-2012, 12:24 AM   #4
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I experienced the same problem and was told that all pics taken on digital camera's need to be sharpened especially when taken with Pentax. Don't know how true that is

03-28-2012, 02:15 AM   #5
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Interesting replies from all of you.

I noticed that some of my P & S cameras can return very sharp images, on one of them I don't think you can even change the sharpening settings.

It seems to be that digital sensors are not as 'sharp' out of the box without some software 'sharpening'.

It's one of those questions that suddenly 'hits' you at a strange time, at least it did me.

Thanks from everyone who replied.
03-28-2012, 08:05 AM   #6
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Camera sensors have an anti-alias filter in front. This filter prevents moire patterns by blurring the image. Hence the need for sharpening.
diglloyd.com blog - Fuji X-Pro1 Sensor Design ? No Anti-Aliasing Filter for Sharp Images
03-28-2012, 08:22 AM   #7
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QuoteOriginally posted by johnyates Quote
Camera sensors have an anti-alias filter in front. This filter prevents moire patterns by blurring the image. Hence the need for sharpening.
diglloyd.com blog - Fuji X-Pro1 Sensor Design ? No Anti-Aliasing Filter for Sharp Images
Thank you for that.

I always thought that it seemed rather odd that my 35mm could achieve sharper images. It's not my eyes, the digital images ARE less sharp right out of the camera.
03-28-2012, 08:26 AM   #8
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I think there are two specific points to consider, first, prints out of my camera did look really sharp when printed 4x6, and even those negarives looked sharp when scanned at 2880 DPI and printed again at 4x6. what disappointed me is when I zoom in perhaps by 50% on my 22 inch monitor, so effectively printing the same negative 40x60 inches, they don;'t look so good any more.

Similarly, printing many of my digital shots at 4x6 inch they look equally sharp to my eye as the old film shots, but again, i am not always satisfied when looking at them on my 22 inch monitor. The sad fact of life is, we look much more closely at our digital pictures than we did at film prints.

03-28-2012, 08:53 AM   #9
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QuoteOriginally posted by Lowell Goudge Quote
I think there are two specific points to consider, first, prints out of my camera did look really sharp when printed 4x6, and even those negarives looked sharp when scanned at 2880 DPI and printed again at 4x6. what disappointed me is when I zoom in perhaps by 50% on my 22 inch monitor, so effectively printing the same negative 40x60 inches, they don;'t look so good any more.

Similarly, printing many of my digital shots at 4x6 inch they look equally sharp to my eye as the old film shots, but again, i am not always satisfied when looking at them on my 22 inch monitor. The sad fact of life is, we look much more closely at our digital pictures than we did at film prints.
That's true, most of us were happy to look at the 4x6 or maybe 5x7 whereas now we magnify everything.

However, would it be true to admit that most digital photos do need an additional level of sharpening applied either in camera or in computer rather then just leaving them as is for print or web use.
03-28-2012, 08:57 AM   #10
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QuoteOriginally posted by mtansley Quote
I noticed that some of my P & S cameras can return very sharp images, on one of them I don't think you can even change the sharpening settings.
Small-frame P&S digicams produce very sharp images because they typically have very short and not-real-fast lenses. For instance my Olympus 770-SW has a 1/2.33" sensor (diagonal= 7.7mm) with a 6.7-20.1mm f/3.5-5.0 lens, FF-FOV-equivalent to ~38-114mm. At the short end (7/3.5), DOF is nearly infinite. At the long end (20/5), DOF is still pretty thick -- prefocusing to 10m gives DOF from 5m to infinity. With such focal lengths, damn near EVERYTHING in an image is sharp -- until the image is enlarged too much.

And that's the trick: Almost everything looks sharp if it's displayed small enough. Another example: My first still digicam (over a decade ago) was a Sony DAC-P20, with maximum 1216x912px (1.1mpx) output, and a fixed 6/4.5 lens, FF-FOV-equivalent to 42mm (normal). I sometimes shot it in its 3:2 mode for 1216x811px images. I also shot B&W film (I forget exactly which now) in an ancient Kodak Monitor 6x9cm folder. I made contact prints from the MF negs. I printed B&W images from the P&S at the same size, 6x9cm. Same-size prints, vastly different resolutions -- but mounted together, they're indistinguishable except under a magnifier.

As mentioned, those 'sharp' film snapshots were generally not printed large, nor on detail-revealing slick paper -- textured paper masks many flaws, eh? A 4x6in / 10x15cm print doesn't reveal a lot. A larger print can be mounted behind matte glass or plastic to soften details. Much sloppiness can be hidden. Those pixels aren't easily peeped.

Last edited by RioRico; 03-28-2012 at 11:04 AM.
03-28-2012, 09:09 AM   #11
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Interesting, no real difference then between the two until they are enlarged.

When I see very sharp photos on the web (PF Picture Gallery) or others, many times they will have been sharpened artificially to look their best then.
03-28-2012, 02:41 PM   #12
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I've noticed the opposite. Shooting digital has revealed to me just how poorly my negatives were developed for many years. My first DSLR was a Minolta Maxxum 7D. When I first started viewing those images on my computer, (taken with the same photography skills and lenses I used on my Maxxum SLR's), they immediately appeared sharper.

Digital has allowed for me to learn more about the performance limitations and "character" of individual lenses faster and to such an extent, that my photography has improved because I'm now starting to factor in known lens performance when out shooting.

I still shoot film about 15% of the time though. I'll never give that up.
03-28-2012, 02:50 PM   #13
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This is done on purpose. The mfgs. know that the P&S crowd wants out of the camera sharp and contrasty images so the settings are defaulted to such an outcome. They also assume that the DSLR crowd expects to do more of their own processing and the defaults tend to be less so than with a P&S. You can up the contrast, sharpness and saturation for JPGs if you want and they will come out much more like what you saw with the P&S. Keep in mind w things though: it is much easier to add sharpness, contrast and saturation after the shot than take it away, and, a DSLR at the same selected f-stop (although they don't really equate to the same thing) will also have much shallower DOF due to the larger sensor size, and you may be noticing some of that too.

QuoteOriginally posted by mtansley Quote
Interesting replies from all of you.

I noticed that some of my P & S cameras can return very sharp images, on one of them I don't think you can even change the sharpening settings.

It seems to be that digital sensors are not as 'sharp' out of the box without some software 'sharpening'.

It's one of those questions that suddenly 'hits' you at a strange time, at least it did me.

Thanks from everyone who replied.
03-28-2012, 03:03 PM   #14
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My standards of what is sharp have gone through the roof since I started shooting digital. Going through the old albums makes me cringe. This is a K-5 image unsharpened. I can take this image to 12 x17 no problem. Try that with a film image.

03-28-2012, 09:05 PM   #15
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QuoteOriginally posted by msalicat Quote
I experienced the same problem and was told that all pics taken on digital camera's need to be sharpened especially when taken with Pentax. Don't know how true that is
Pentax tends to leave the post processing to the software rather than removing the details in the camera by default. You can make the Pentax output match the competition, but I prefer to selectively reduce detail myself rather than have the miserable little processor in the camera do it.

There is nothing that ever beat ISO 25 Kodachrome for sharpness, except ISO 10 Kodachrome. The detail is there. That image is in fact limited by the optics you take the image with. My K10 (10 Mp) is still capable of producing images that can easily be printed at 24x36 inches without excess manipulation and that can be examined closely at ISO 100 with a tripod, but K25 could be printed up to 4 feet by 6 and still appear sharp from 3 feet away. No contest
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