Are pictures today sharper than back in the day?

Discussion in 'Adapted Lenses' started by super8man, Jul 12, 2013.

  1. super8man

    super8man Mu-43 Regular

    Jun 17, 2013
    I took out both my E-P2 and E-PL3 with a Canon 20mm f2.8 and a Konica Hexanon 50mm f1.7.

    Obviously, these are some seriously old lenses. Not that that means the lenses are not good, on the contrary. But on the flip I was wondering if I am now getting much sharper images than the lenses originally produced on film (Kodachrome, Agfa, etc).

    Just curious on other's thoughts on this. Me, I am tickled pink at my results. Just loved these lenses.


  2. Matero

    Matero Mu-43 Veteran

    Jun 22, 2013
    Well, I don't know how serious you have been in the film area, but IMHO you (and rest of us) are getting sharper images nowadays. If you didn't develop your films by yourself and you didn't had well controlled and calibrated process you lost definately some sharpness in your pictures.
  3. cmpatti

    cmpatti Mu-43 Veteran

    May 8, 2011
    Berkeley, CA
    If "back in the day" refers to the days of darkroom prints enlarged from film, I think there is no question that today's systems have far better sharpness/resolution. Back then, my primary system was a medium format rangefinder. Back then in order to maintain adequate sharpness, I seldom enlarged more than 5x. Now with mFT, I am comfortable enlarging to 15x20, which is about a 30x enlargement.

    I don't so much attribute this to the difference in quality or sharpness of the lenses, however. I think it has more to do with problems with film, paper, and optical enlargement. For example, when I moved to digital prints of scanned film negatives, I found that I could print much larger than I was able to in the darkroom.
  4. super8man

    super8man Mu-43 Regular

    Jun 17, 2013
    Yes, I have done some homebrew developing and enlarging, always enjoying the process and my results (B&W only). I was thinking along the lines of: here we are using lenses from the 1970s and now enjoying superb sharpness that was never really enjoyed due to various limitations of the 1-hour film lab, 3x5 prints, etc.

    I am glad that I listened to the users in this forum and picked up the Hexanon 50 f1.7. The adapted lens listings on this forum are invaluable.
  5. dadadude

    dadadude Mu-43 Regular

    Jun 12, 2013
    San Carlos, CA
    My first post on this forum. As a person who has been in the graphic arts and pre-press for 35 years I have seen and reproduced thousands of images in various formats through the years. I think imaging today is pushing the boundaries of image detail and "sharpness" to the point where it can be both both destructive and detracting. We get so many images provided by clients these days that think more sharpness is always better. It obviously isn't. When I shoot I try and emulate film as much as is possible. I like a more analog feel. I'm not saying hyper sharp isn't great to see at times, but I feel way too much attention is paid to the sharpness of lenses over color, contrast and how the lens handles DOF. Don't get me started on post production....
  6. I think that images have more resolution today....

    But... IMO in photography, there are so many other factors that are far more important. The best analogy I can come up with is food. Real cuisine vs chains that mimic it. Chain food tends to be overly salty, sauced, and spiced. They distract from the lower quality in the preparation and quality of ingredients. Real cuisine is a work of art which achieves perfect balance across the board from the raw ingredients, skilled prep, to the subtle hints of spices.

    I resisted digital for a long time..... but alas... it was the convenience of digital that won me over (not resolution/tech/etc). I simply don't have the time to maintain and work a darkroom.... before kids, I could spend 6 hours in there with nothing but enlarger, chemicals, and some music. So now... its lightroom w/ Nik software for me.

    Sharpness is an illusion.
  7. entropicremnants

    entropicremnants Mu-43 All-Pro

    Jul 16, 2012
    John Griggs
    The biggest problem with old lenses isn't the sharpness of the design generally -- though that can be an issue with a high-res small sensor. In fact, the center of most lenses is the sharpest point and with adapted lenses we are always shooting in the "sweet spot".

    But the coatings on old lenses often can't cope with the high reflectivity of digital sensors. So in some lighting situations contrast can be more of an issue than sharpness due to light bouncing around between the sensor and lens elements.

    I have slides from old lenses using very low ISO slide film and sharp lenses that are very high resolution indeed. Print films that we use are generally much grainier and that tends to visually mask to some extent how sharp the lenses are.

    People using adapted lenses from the 1930's have reported that they many are super sharp. Even without computers, some lens designers did incredible work.
  8. MarylandUSA

    MarylandUSA Mu-43 Veteran

    Jul 3, 2013
    Poolesville, Maryland
    Paul Franklin Stregevsky
    Sharpness ain't everything

    In one of his 1970s columns, Herb Keppler recalled how, as a young apprentice, he had just read about a newly announced Leicea lens. With excitement in his voice, he described to his master why the lens would usher in a new day for their profession: It had a higher modulation transfer function. It had a flatter field. It had--

    The master interrupted him. "Ah, I see. So this new lens, it will be sharper. But will it reveal more truth?"
  9. " I think imaging today is pushing the boundaries of image detail and "sharpness" to the point where it can be both both destructive and detracting. "
    I agree. I am not sure that creating images offering better resolution than the human eye is always necessary. What I see on the internet is that everybody is after these hyper sharp images that may be true to life but not necessarily realistic from a human's point of view. Everyone seems to forget that blur, motion, depth of field, soft focus, etc. are all tools available to the photographer to create an image.
    Anyway, I agree that images are sharper these days. I have already stated many times that my E-P1 delivers comparable or better sharpness than the medium format cameras and films I was using 20 yrs ago. Of course, this is not just the lens and sensor, it is also the software and finally the printer, but it is all part of the process.
  10. MarylandUSA

    MarylandUSA Mu-43 Veteran

    Jul 3, 2013
    Poolesville, Maryland
    Paul Franklin Stregevsky
    I think I read somewhere that to the human eye, the amount of depth that's in focus is equivalent to a normal lens at f/5.6. If that's true, hyperrealists of the f/64 persuasion are missing the point.
  11. janneman

    janneman Mu-43 Veteran

    Dec 6, 2012
    Jan (John) Kusters
    Comparing 20x28 inch (50x70 cm) prints from medium format colour slides printed on Cibachrome in the '80 with same sized prints from a Nikon D80 a few years ago I was was shocked at the amount of detail the digital provided. I am not sure 'sharper' is the right word, but amazing detail. And yes, it gets to a point of being distracting; both prints were landscapes, both had some distant birds in the sky that were not intended. Luckily it was also easier to clone out the bird in the digital...

    Do not compare pictures from any camera with 'what the eye sees'. What we see is not an image from the eye like a camera, but a construct of our brain. The actual image our eye casts on the retina is surprisingly bad; just a very small sharp spot in the centre, most of the picture is blurry, colour degrades into black and white as we get further away from the centre. The reason we do not see this is because the brain adds up visual information from different moments and directions into one general image. It works a bit like making a HDR image from several shots in post processing.

    As for depth of focus of the human eye; the eye works a lot like a camera; the darker it gets, the wider the pupil (aperture) and less depth of field. This is the reason old guys with reading glasses like me need more light if we try to read something without our reading glasses; more light is more depth of focus...
  12. cmpatti

    cmpatti Mu-43 Veteran

    May 8, 2011
    Berkeley, CA
    That may well be true, but it's not the way our brain perceives the information coming in from our eyes. Just try evaluating your eyes' "bokeh." Not easy.
  13. Interesting topic. When I first got into digital photography, I was amazed at how much emphasis was put on sharpness in describing a quality lens and all these techniques to get tack sharp photos like mirror lockup especially when I thought back to our days in film.

    Not saying you can't get really sharp images with film but, for most part because of grain and film processing, some of the best film images were never as sharp and didn't contain as much detail as some of the photos produced today with cheaper lenses and cameras in my opinion. Yet, those were still good images.

    I think today's trend in digital photography has trained us to expect razor sharp details and anything less we see as soft and not a good capture unless we feel it was done for creative purposes.

    Really though, there are many images that probably don't need to be tack sharp because of their use. If they are only being printer on 4x6 and 5x7 paper from low quality printers or being shown on the web in less than half the original resolution, we are probably dissing some really nice pics in our photo libraries. :cool:
  14. entropicremnants

    entropicremnants Mu-43 All-Pro

    Jul 16, 2012
    John Griggs
    Agreed. Made that very same point about print films in particular.

    I much prefer a lens with a smooth rendering over one with nervous bokeh. That said, I also value sharpness so that when I need it, it's there.

    But, as several photographers of the past have opined, sharpness is overrated in terms of it's contribution to a photograph as art.

  15. Dave Jenkins

    Dave Jenkins Mu-43 Veteran

    Sharper? Probably. Better? Definitely not. As someone's sig on this forum reads, "All the photos you admire were taken with equipment not as good as that currently available," or words to that effect.
  16. Petrochemist

    Petrochemist Mu-43 Top Veteran

    Mar 21, 2013
    N Essex, UK
    I think it's highly doubtful that this is true.
    The eyes depth of focus is highly dependant on light levels, and is very much centred on the image seen. But the eye is constantly moving/refocusing so it's effectively carrying out focus stacking/HDR panoaramic stiching.

    I can now only focus from about 1' to infinity with/without normal glasses which I think is somewhat better than a standard lens manages at f22.
  17. super8man

    super8man Mu-43 Regular

    Jun 17, 2013
    Well, to be fair, "everything" should be in focus. As humans, we are only interpreting life with our vision as well as with our cameras. But, even without us observing, everything out there should be in sharp focus. (read this as humorous, not trolling).

    And strangely, we generally agree a picture with bokeh is often more likable than a picture taken at f64 or similar when everything is in focus...and yet, everything "should" be in focus if it were to be accurate. But then again, if there are no humans to observe something, does it exist and if it does, is it in focus or blurry?

    I think my questions have been answered, today's cameras are making full use of the abilities of older lenses as best as they can direct light to the sensor. And I still find it interesting that the newest lenses apparently are built a built lazily when it comes to CA and how the camera cleans that up in post.

  18. drd1135

    drd1135 Zen Snapshooter

    Mar 17, 2011
    Southwest Virginia
    Human vision is far more of a video camera than a still shot. We have a pretty small area of maximum clarity we use and then scan around . I have always believed that a still photograph is really not how humans really see the world, which is on reason that photography as much art as science.
  19. RoadTraveler

    RoadTraveler Mu-43 All-Pro

    Nov 23, 2012
    Interesting observation.
  20. Iansky

    Iansky Mu-43 All-Pro

    Dec 26, 2009
    The Cotswolds, UK
    To me, I still prefer to look at a large 20x24" print from a medium format/large format camera using film than one shot on digital.

    Analogue film with its emulsion characteristics and grain patterns/size have to me a nicer finish than a digital image that is razor sharp especially with larger prints that are viewed between 6-12' away, they have a more physical characteristic than digital.

    A lot of digital images do appear to be oversharpened and I myself have been guilty of this in the past whereas with analogue sharpness is defined when the image is shot and remains as such providing the processing is correct.

    Challenging and interesting question and one that will have differing opinions between those who started in wet labs and analogue, and those who have only experienced digital - both work and deliver but both deliver a differing degree of end result.
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