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06-19-2016, 10:53 AM - 2 Likes   #1
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The Lighthouse - A Beacon on the Shores of the Isle of Sharpeness

I must admit, I grow ever and increasingly (and this is not new) tired of the "which lens is sharper" questions found in so, so many forum threads. The K-1 full-frame promised being delivered, now the Cult has been reinvigorated, with endless musing and pontificating over which lens is the sharpest *across the entire frame* and which are not and therefore "garbage" (a term actually used recently to describe an excellent piece of glass).

I create this thread in hopes that many here might offer musing and reflection contrary to The Isle of Sharpness.... a beacon in the dark. Because I really believe this silliness and infatuation feeds little but consumerism and that it strands newer photogs (and some old) on the rocks, leaving them broken on the reef. In the era of 4K TV this is near impossible to escape, more than ever before I would reckon... But what are your thoughts?

"Sharpness way past the point of necessity is a problem with digital technology, and a primary reason why I have not embraced it outside of my "day job" work. Too many people have made a fetish of sharpness, misguidedly thinking it to be the main characteristic of a good photo -- the fools. This Cult of Sharpness has resulted in our being awash in a sea of harsh, sterile and souless images.
This is a perfect example of why I still use genuine B&W film. There is just something about silver-halide emulsion that reminds me that it is the genuine article; the ideal that the newer technology still tries so hard to emulate.
Come out of the dark cave of pixels and sensors ... Come back out into the silvery light."
-Andre Easter

06-19-2016, 11:17 AM - 1 Like   #2
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What matters most to me is how pleasing an image is overall when viewed at typical viewing distances and sizes. Subject, composition, light are of primary importance... also how a lens renders and transitions from in focus to out of focus areas - the quality of the bokeh. It can help too if aberrations aren't too intrusive, both in terms of post-processing time required and how they may affect the image overall. But sharpness... sure, it's nice to see things really crisp at 1:1 reproduction, but by the time you're viewing at 1:3, a lot of that advantage is lost anyway. I'd far rather have a lens with interesting and pleasing rendering than one that is super-sharp. If it has both, great

Last edited by BigMackCam; 06-19-2016 at 11:54 AM.
06-19-2016, 11:30 AM - 1 Like   #3
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The only sharpness that counts for me is the printed result or the displayed result at the typical viewing distance. I have been using SLR cameras (all Pentax BTW) since 1961, and the only thing that counts is the viewed result. Pixel Peeping isn't my bag.
06-19-2016, 05:40 PM - 1 Like   #4
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Good luck with your quest. I admire your stand and agree with you. However, I will be amazed if you do not start getting some strong responses from some on this forum.

Not long ago I posted (with my tongue firmly in my cheek) this silly scenario:
I was out walking today and came upon a shot I would have liked to have taken. Unfortunately I had a prime lens on the camera and it was not correct for the situation. The result was no photo.

While returning home, I became confused. I didn't know whether I should be upset for missing the shot or thankful that I didn't have a zoom on the camera which would have resulted in an inferior image (everyone knows the IQ of a prime is superior to that of a zoom).

So here I am in a conundrum somewhat similar to the age-old question "Is it better to have loved and lost than never loved at all?"

I guess my quandary could be phrased thusly: "Is it better to have clicked with a lesser image quality than never to have clicked at all?"

Alas, any time I get philosophical, I get confused. Your thoughts are welcome.
Amazingly enough, the issue immediately turned serious. Actually, my post was taken seriously, and I was excoriated for not having the correct prime, for not buying a quality zoom, for not taking the photo, etc., etc. I was amazed and twice responded with an explanation that it was sarcasm, a joke.

So, I will be watching closely to read the responses you receive to your proposal for a beacon of sanity. I wish you well, and you can count me as a member of the lighthouse crew.


06-19-2016, 05:45 PM - 1 Like   #5

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QuoteOriginally posted by chickentender Quote
Because I really believe this silliness and infatuation feeds little but consumerism and that it strands newer photogs (and some old) on the rocks, leaving them broken on the reef.
I think it also leads to boring, sterile and bloated lens design. Look at the likes of the Sigma's 'Art' series, Sony's new FE-G primes, and the Zeiss Otus' - sure they're insanely sharp and for all intents technically perfect, but they're the size of a small cargo ship, and the hyper-reality clarity you get from the results is in no ways evocative.

That's probably the best lesson shooting film has taught me - sharpness matters, but not in the way and not as much as you think. Funnily enough, in one of Ken Rockwell's few moments of sensibleness, he's been saying this for years...

**edit** As for your search for a 'lighthouse' against the encroaching dark, I give you MS Optical (goggle it). Designed straight from the mind of an eccentric Japanese genius, made by hand, he even draws up the optical formulas with a pen No wide-open, across the frame sharpness here, but so much class.

Last edited by nickthetasmaniac; 06-19-2016 at 05:51 PM.
06-19-2016, 06:28 PM - 2 Likes   #6
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Good luck in your quest.

Hope you've seen my poll....
#2 the 35-80 21% and #5, DA 18-55 , 5%

SO one quarter of the folks expressing an opinion favoured the IQ of the kit lenses over the more expensive zooms and primes. Even when pixel peeping 10% still preferred the kit lenses to the DA 35 , Tamron 17-50 and Supet Tak 35, ƒ3.5.

Meanwhile the much maligned 18-135 got 21% of the uncropped vote and no lens got more than 28%.

The mistake is, people think because a lens is sharper on a few test charts, they think they'll like it more. But in blind tests, nothing is further from the truth. Other factors besides overall sharpness as rated on the charts count for more. And sure I know you love your Super Tak 35 ƒ3.5 or DA*35 2.4, but there's a 21% chance according to the numbers, you'd like the 18-135 more.

What's truly insane is that the folks going on about edge to edge sharpness etc. have never done a blind test to see if they even prefer the way those lenses render. Just from the numbers , it's pretty easy to see, a lot of people are pushing lenses they don't know they like, because they read a couple of reviews and saw a couple of test charts. And as pointed out earlier in the thread, many of them will become abusive if you point that out.

In my tests, the only lens that tested poorly was the FA-J 18-35, a lens I paid 99$ for and bought only in case I bough a K-1 as it's an FF lens/. The Tamron 17-50 did poorly, but there was some kind of AF issue messing with the lens that day. Several days later in another test it wast at the top of the class.

When someone says they value "sharpness," the obvious answer is, based on a bit of blind testing where 70% did not favour the rendering of the technically sharpest lens, the correct answer to that would be "that's statistically unlikely."

Last edited by normhead; 06-19-2016 at 06:48 PM.
06-19-2016, 09:44 PM   #7
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QuoteOriginally posted by normhead Quote
the much maligned 18-135 got 21% of the uncropped vote and no lens got more than 28%
it's maligned because it defies the cost to performance maxims and once someone dismisses it as beneath them, it will take an act of God to chance their mind. It's not the best lens for every situation, but I'll repeat myself and stamp my feet and say it should be in every Pentax APS-C owner's kit.

I know this isn't to everyone's taste, but this is one of my favourite photographs, mainly because its sharp and soft in all the wrong places (taken with the sharpest lens I own) and it usually (not always) gets a couple of oohs and aahs. Frankly, getting any kind of an emotional reaction from my pictures is a struggle, but why take pictures if no one else looks at them?

06-21-2016, 03:56 AM - 1 Like   #8
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Oh the never-ending quest for sharpness uh? Not me. I know from looking at other people's pictures that there are more important things than just sharpness. In its place it's great, but if it's all you're after you are likely to take boring pictures. I would rather take an image that gets some emotional reactions and sharpness isn't the main factor there. Is sharpness important? Yes. Is it the most important thing? Hell no! My 18-55mm DAL is hardly my "best" lens but I have still managed to take some of my best images with it.
06-26-2016, 04:19 PM   #9
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I worry much less about sharpness and perfect exposure these days, despite (or perhaps because of) most of my cameras having no meters and certainly no autofocus. I finally figured out that it's the content that matters, and so now I worry about that instead!

06-30-2016, 01:29 AM - 1 Like   #10
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It's definitely the curse of easy enlargement thanks to the quality of today's digital cameras and computer monitors. I like to stop myself from pixel peeping by imagining my physical photo in a gallery - if it looks good from viewing distance it's a good photo, and nobody's going to wander up and stick their nose against it to find out how 'sharp' it is.
06-30-2016, 02:55 AM   #11
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It was as much a syndrome before digital when people used the latest multi coated lens and high resolution film.

The alternative school was using single coated low contrast lenses for an even earlier period signature.

Like an auto Tukumar...
06-30-2016, 03:15 AM   #12
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it's another manifestation of the tyranny of the measurable, a quasi-scientific cult that screws up most things it touches.
06-30-2016, 04:39 AM   #13
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Am I missing something here .... what has all this got to do with "Pentax film SLR discussion" ?
06-30-2016, 06:24 AM - 2 Likes   #14
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All I have to say is:

1) Most lenses are better than most photographers.
1a) That's definitely true in my case.
2) I misread the title as Bacon on the Shores of the Isle of Sharpness, and now I'm hungry.
06-30-2016, 11:09 AM - 2 Likes   #15
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Original Poster
QuoteOriginally posted by Ray-uk Quote
Am I missing something here .... what has all this got to do with "Pentax film SLR discussion" ?
Sharpness applies to and has/is discussed in numerous forms in every section of this site from film processing to lens discussion, digital editing to sensor technology. Many here in this sub-forum do not necessarily seek the newest, sharpest glass and as well often have a range of experience that goes back decades, balancing old and modern workflows and methodologies.... and not coincidentally, have opinions (as I reckoned) that may differ greatly from those that peruse other areas of the site more regularly... which is why I posted the topic here.
What *doesn't* all of this have to do with Pentax film SLR discussion?

---------- Post added 06-30-16 at 11:12 AM ----------

QuoteOriginally posted by jcdoss Quote
All I have to say is:

1) Most lenses are better than most photographers.
1a) That's definitely true in my case.
2) I misread the title as Bacon on the Shores of the Isle of Sharpness, and now I'm hungry.
Now I'm hungry too and will never view the title the same. Thanks a lot.

---------- Post added 06-30-16 at 11:23 AM ----------

I realize this has been an issue long before the mass shift to digital, but it has become increasingly prevalent and I see the manifestation of it in photography work shown in every facet of the market today from fashion to weddings to products to sports. I just posted in a related discussion on another site about work I was viewing last night...

I was just looking a local photog's portfolio page who shoots mostly digital, some hybrid work a bit of film. Overall I think he's quite talented, very much so - there's quite a bit that is far from my aesthetic preferences but that wasn't here nor there though really. I was browsing through much of the work found on his website and literally had to stop because it was making my eyes feel strange - almost a vertigo sensation... Everything was so, so unnaturally sharp - razor sharp - perfectly so, not "oversharpening" as it were - to the point that nothing looked right. The depth was disorienting and I literally had to close his album pages and do something else. The images were perfect. They were beyond "sterile" (a word that gets thrown around quite a bit in this subject) - they were cutting my eyes somehow. In short I REALLY did not enjoy any of it....which was sad because overall his attn to light and composition were for the most part excellent, very much so, but I couldn't stand it. It was too perfect - ultra high-contrast - too sharp - un-viewable for me personally.

Last edited by Eyewanders; 06-30-2016 at 11:23 AM.

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