How important is sharpness? Recently I noticed, in my business, not so much. Of course, some shots, group portraits in particular, require a certain level of detail preservation edge to edge. Yet in most cases, at least for me, sharpness is second-place to aesthetics, and thus I will most often choose to photograph at the widest aperture I can.
Whenever we read a lens review, it almost seems as if the one thing a huge part of potential buyers care about the most is its “sharpness”. While that is quite understandable with older fixed focal length, and especially zoom, lenses, where the so called optimal apertures between f/4 and f/11 had to be used to resolve as much detail as possible, the way I see it, resolving power is slowly reaching its peak (a sort of a “speed limit”, if you like, when it doesn’t matter how much potential top speed or horse powers you car has, because the top speed allowed is quite enough), after which any kind of additional sharpness will most likely be meaningless. The reason is simple – these are not “f/8 and be there” days anymore. Modern lenses are just that good.
I took the shot above using my 50mm f/1.4G wide open at f/1.4. Check the 100% crop – if you look past the low contrast B&W conversion and high amount of grain added during post processing, there’s plenty of sharpness there and the lines are well defined where they need to be, without looking over processed.
Of course, I don’t discard sharpness when it’s possible to obtain – that involves clever use of fast lenses and remembering certain rules – but in this particular image, I’m a lot more worried about the possibly too large amount of negative space on the left side of the image rather than the levels of detail I destroyed on purpose by adding grain in Lightroom 4.
Here is the exact same image without the grain effect applied in Lighroom 4, just so that you can see what a modern 50mm f/1.4 lens can do at its widest aperture in a real life situation with the usual editing I apply to my images.
Would that be enough for you? How important do you find sharpness is to you? Let us know in the comments section below!