Is sharpness and IQ overrated?

Discussion in 'Native Lenses' started by majordude, Jan 14, 2013.

  1. majordude

    majordude Mu-43 Regular

    Dec 28, 2012
    I have the 12-50mm kit lens and a few others... all inexpensive primes from Oly.

    From reviews, all these lenses are "fair to mediocre". None are sharp, fast or distortion free.

    But reviewers are doing 100% crops, running the lenses through electronic analyzers and basically comparing them to $4000 Leica glass by expecting so much.

    But most of us post pictures on the web and aren't blowing the photos up to 36" x 48" movie posters.

    Anyone agree?
  2. heli-mech

    heli-mech Mu-43 Top Veteran

    Mar 9, 2012
    Vancouver Island, Canada
    Real Name:
    Yes and no. Yes you can take some fabulous photos with those fair to mediocre lenses, especially when talking under 8x10 prints. No its not overrated once you need to do allot of cropping. Downsizing can hide/overcome allot of lens deficiencies but once you start cropping you cannot downsize as much.

    It is far easier to remove unwanted details in pp than it is to add them, so you certainly don't need the sharpest lenses but it never hurts.
  3. Dalton

    Dalton Mu-43 Veteran

    Jan 24, 2010
    Portland, Oregon USA
    Real Name:
    Dan Ferrall depends...

    If you very, very, rarely print anything larger than 8x10 inch prints, then some things will go unnoticed like CA, relative sharpness, and a few other lens issues. But, that isn't the total "picture" either. There is this thing called "micro contrast" which tends to improve with lens IQ as you move to the higher cost, more complicated lens designs. There is this thing called "bokeh" which tends to improve with the higher cost more complicated lens designs.

    Perhaps the best thing to do is to try and do your own side by side testing if you don't trust the abundance of lens review sites explaining why they believe a lens like the Olympus 75mm has a very nice "bokeh" signature compared with other lenses which can offer a similar focal length either within the zoom range or prime focal length. The Panasonic 25mm f1.4 has a nice "bokeh" signature to many who tend to favor using that particular lens. The older 14-35, 35-100, and 150mm Olympus SHG lenses are legendary for their "bokeh."

    It doesn't end with bokeh and micro-contrast. There are many other optical characteristics unique to each lens design.

    The number of things to consider in selecting your lens arsenal are unique
    to your particular style and content of photography subject material along with your budget constraints. Some people buy only a small number of lenses that have optical characteristics that meet their specific needs. There are 4/3rds users who have a GX1 body and just the 20mm f 1.7 Panasonic and the 75mm f 1.8 Olympus lenses. That is quite limiting in a lot of ways but, the overall optical IQ coming from that combination is very good. Some people get the 12-50mm Oly and the Panasonic 45-200 and are quite happy.

    In the end each photographer has to evaluate for themselves what they will maintain as their camera gear available for use at any given time.

    As you have likely read many times throughout your Internet browsing experience, the best camera gear combination is the gear you have with you when you are out and about. Enjoy the wonderful craft that photography can be.

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  4. ~tc~

    ~tc~ Mu-43 Hall of Famer

    Oct 22, 2010
    Houston, TX
    If IQ is overrated, sell your m43 gear and just use your phone.

    Thought so.

    Everyone has a certain IQ need - whether by the size they will print/display at, the "feel" of the image, etc. Its a whole lot easier to tone "down" the IQ in post than it is to attempt to recover details lost forever
  5. majordude

    majordude Mu-43 Regular

    Dec 28, 2012
    I guess I zig when others zag.

    I remember every single one of my English teachers saying, "Never start a sentence a conjunction." And then I read Hemingway and Fitzgerald and realized that those teachers were more interested in effort than results.
  6. Uncle Frank

    Uncle Frank Photo Enthusiast

    Jul 26, 2012
    San Jose, CA
    Real Name:
    Most lenses will do fine at f/8. Faults will become more obvious at wider apertures. Which inexpensive primes do you own?
  7. majordude

    majordude Mu-43 Regular

    Dec 28, 2012
    I've probably taken photos more people have liked on my iPhone than I have liked on my old OM gear.

    It's telling the story that is more important than the machine used to type it.
  8. majordude

    majordude Mu-43 Regular

    Dec 28, 2012
    Rokinon 7.5, Oly 17 f/2.8, Pan 14... plus Oly 40-150, and the 12-50mm.
  9. rnagoda

    rnagoda Mu-43 Veteran

    Jun 12, 2012
    Pittsburgh, PA
    Real Name:
    I'm picking up what you're laying down, and - yeah - I agree with you on a certain level. It really is the product and not what you used to make it, so if you had a board with a hole in it and some film and managed to make compelling images, then that was all you needed, right?

    Me, on the other hand, while I don't fall into the pixel-peeper camp by any stretch of the imagination, I do fall into the "likes shiny things" category and definitely have way more equipment than I would ever "need" to make good photographs. It reminds me of another engrossing hobby that I have - guitar effects pedal building. The common joke amongst those guys is that it sucks to have to stop building great sounding pedals and actually play the guitar every once in a while! I feel like there's some of that going on in the photography world as well.
    • Like Like x 1
  10. napilopez

    napilopez Contributing Editor

    Feb 21, 2012
    NYC Area
    Real Name:
    Napier Lopez
    I think Dalton put it excellently.

    It depends, both on the needs of the photographer, and how you define "overrated". Some people don't need the sharpness provided for the 75mm. Heck for video, sometimes you want imperfections.

    I for one, in both video and stills, love the look of lens flare. It adds an ethereal element, emphasizes the beauty of light. Yet normally flare is seen as a "flaw". JJ Abram's star trek is an example of using flare for style. It may be too much for some people, but at least it has character.

    The question of technical perfection vs flawed character comes up most often for me when shooting portraits. The 45mm f1.8 is an incredible lens for its price. Yet sometimes I literally feel it's too good, and I'm drawn towards my flawed Canon FD 50mm f1.8. it doesn't match the center sharpness of the 45mm until at least f2.8, has significant ghosting at f2 and lower, and flares a lot more easily. And yet, I still like it.

    For most landscape applications, I prefer technically better lenses, except in the rare case I'm trying to create character with a lens rather than capturing the natural light.

    As a general rule of thumb, I prefer technically better lenses, because a lot of things can be done in post nowadays. However some things, such as flare characteristics, microcontrast, and especially bokeh quality, are virtually impossible to replicate in post.

    At the end of the day, it's all about what suits your needs and the image you are trying to create best.
  11. dixeyk

    dixeyk Mu-43 Hall of Famer

    Aug 9, 2010
    Yes and no. It really depends on what your expectations are. I don't find that camera bodies make that much of a difference for me. When it comes to building my system I tend to focus more on lenses than anything else. Having said that, I think that the skill of the photographer has as much impact on the quality of an image than does any bit of equipment (body or lens).
  12. Just Jim

    Just Jim Mu-43 Top Veteran

    Oct 20, 2011
    Technically high standards are fine. Broken and busted lenses filled with issues are also perfectly fine. Weird aberrations can be more pleasing as long as they are well noted and used exceptionally. Different tools, different uses, different purposes.
  13. edmsnap

    edmsnap Mu-43 Veteran

    Dec 20, 2011
    Edmonton, Alberta
    What reviewers are these?
  14. Luckypenguin

    Luckypenguin .

    Oct 9, 2010
    Brisbane, Australia
    Real Name:
    No, for two reasons.

    Firstly, I want to be sure that (as long as I get things right as well!) any camera I use is capable of producing an image that is sufficient to display in a large wall print. The chances of an image being printed that large are very low since I have a lot of images and limited wall space, but I don't want the few that I do choose to be potentially comprimised by the hardware that was used to shoot them.

    The second reason is that the technical aspects of image are not totally independent of image content and composition. Sometimes an image NEEDS sharpness or dynamic range or something else to tell the story better.
    • Like Like x 1
  15. feilb

    feilb Mu-43 Regular

    Dec 4, 2012
    I absolutely agree. I'd rather have a lens with great bokeh than great sharpness. The intangible je ne sais quoi over objective sharpness.

    That being said, a sharp lens never hurts :)
  16. dhazeghi

    dhazeghi Mu-43 Hall of Famer

    Aug 6, 2010
    San Jose, CA
    Real Name:
    Basically yes. For most people, most of the time, lens quality is not a limiting factor.

    Even up to 13x19" prints, I doubt most photographers examining from a reasonable viewing difference can tell the difference between photos shot with a $100 kit lens or a $1000 prime (assuming it was shot at a typical aperture).
  17. majordude

    majordude Mu-43 Regular

    Dec 28, 2012
    Well, honestly, I am appalled by Oly's lack of quality and optic engineering since I grew up on the original OM series. I honestly don't think that Oly would have released any of the M.Zuiko lenses 30+ years ago. They had higher standards back then. The specs we are seeing always came from third party manufacturers like Sigma, Tokina and Tamron... but you knew that you were sacrificing quality for price.

    But, for what most of us do now (present images on 72 dpi monitors) it gets by.
  18. feilb

    feilb Mu-43 Regular

    Dec 4, 2012
    Yep. A terrible lot of lenses we've got from old Oly now! :wink:
  19. flash

    flash Mu-43 Hall of Famer

    Apr 29, 2010
    1 hour from Sydney Australia.
    Real Name:
    You forgot the smiley face.

    Or you're living under a rock.

    Or you don't get out much.

    Or you haven't looked at the Olympus lineup since the EP1 was released.


    • Like Like x 1
  20. flash

    flash Mu-43 Hall of Famer

    Apr 29, 2010
    1 hour from Sydney Australia.
    Real Name:
    Very few photos that stop me in their tracks do so because of optical perfection or brutal sharpness. There's nothing wrong with a sharp lens. But it's a long way down the list of things that make an image great, at any size.

    It's also amusing when someone goes on about MTF curves, resolution, diffraction and chromatic aberation and yet they don't own a tripod and a cable release.

    • Like Like x 4