Yet Another Sharpness Sort of Question
Hi all. I know some of you are probably completely sick of hearing people talk about not being able to get sharp pictures but I am going to possibly bore you one more time because I am getting frustrated.
Let me start by saying a few things: firstly, yes, as far as DSLR's go, I am an absolute beginner. I am an avid reader, have great books on how to get good pictures and stuff like that, but well recognize that you don't become a good photographer by reading books. I certainly don't find the time to get as much practice with my setup as I wish I could.
So what do I have: A D80, an 18-200 f/3.5-5.6 VR, a 50mm f/1.8, an SB600 flash, gitzo 2530 tripod, Markins base and M20 ball head, and RRS quick release plate and L-Bracket.
I have tried everything I can to get really sharp pictures. I use the tripod, I set the custom parameter to delay the picture so the mirror can go up first, I use the wireless remote, I turn off VR, etc, etc.
Yet still I can never seem to get really sharp pictures. The pictures I take are not terrible, they're just not that great. And I am not talking about composition because I know that will only come with time.
I guess I should ask specific questions where possible: I know that the 18-200 VR is not considered top quality glass but I thought when I bought it that it was high enough quality that I would get really sharp pictures with it with some practice. That doesn't seem to be happening. Even when I use the 50mm f/1.8 lens I still don't seem to get pictures of the quality I would expect from this gear.
Do you pros think it is still just my lack of experience that causes this? I mean I certainly admit I am new to all this but I think I am doing all the things I read about doing (tripod, remote shutter release, etc, etc).
I guess I need some words of encouragement and/or advice because I really don't know where to turn next to help myself realize the true potential of this rig (or perhaps to set my expectations realistically as to what to expect from this rig).
It is hard enough just trying to figure out things like should I shoot raw or jpg, should I use Capture NX, should I use LightRoom or Adobe Bridge/CS3 (I happen to have all of these products). But I know all this post processing confusion I am having doesn't mean much if I don't like the pictures I am taking to begin with.
I have no aspirations to be a professional. I do not take hundreds of pictures a day or a week and probably won't ever. I take pictures of my family, places I go on vacation, scenery when I'm driving around with my wife, people at my parties that I throw at my home, and other such unglamorous things.
I don't even know exactly what I am expecting anyone to reply to me about in this thread but I just know that my frustration level is mounting and I have reached the point where I am thinking of just selling the whole thing and going to back to a simple point and shoot. I really thought I was going to enjoy getting into photography as a hobby and I think I am still interested in that but I need to lower the frustration level somehow and I'm not sure how.
Advice, suggestions, words of wisdom??????????
Thanks everyone .... I am sorry if this sounds like I'm just dumping but I don't know anywhere else besides this forum where I could say these things and have a halfway decent chance of getting some well intentioned advice or counsel that will help me.
San Francisco Area Nikonian
#2. "RE: Yet Another Sharpness Sort of Question" | In response to Reply # 1
PhilsFrontier Registered since 12th Jun 2007Wed 29-Aug-07 01:46 AM
I agree its hard to say without a sample photo. There is so many variable that go into getting sharp photos. I know that my 50mm 1.8 is tack sharp at f4. Usually around 2 stops from wide open is a good aperture for getting the sharpest possible picture. Of coarse shutter speed comes in when you are handholding, but on a tripod(sounds like you got yourself a good rig)you should be able to do whatever...within reason. I keep my tripod as compact as possible to minimize vibration and maximize stability. Also keep in mind the wind plays a significant factor if the shutter speed slows. I would say try taking a picture in a controled environment(inside-with no wind) Maybe use a family member as a test subject, set up your nice tripod rig, focus on their eyes, I would use the flash. Shoot in full manual, 2 stops down from wide open, bump shutter speed up to 1/125 or 1/200. Set ISO to 100.
If you can't get a sharp and detailed portrait with that technique using the 50mm 1.8 something could be wrong. Also see if you have better luck with manual focus as this may give you a hint as to what/if any the problem is.
I appoligize for the long-winded respons
Phil D80 18-200VR, 50mm f1.8, 18-135mmDX, Manfrotto 190xpro Tripod, 488rc4 Ball Head, Lowepro Nova 4 aw bag
I Love Matrix Metering
#4. "RE: Yet Another Sharpness Sort of Question" | In response to Reply # 0
Rob, sorry to hear this is giving you the utter s....s and please don't take what I say to heart, but I think, just the thought of the word or letters DSLR conjure up a perfect photo for some. In reality under a lot of circumstances there is little difference between a pic from a DSLR and a P&S. (I can hear a few coming out of the jungle for this one)
For Instance. My son was heading off on a central australia trip and was adamant he was taking my D80. Fat chance I said. So I dug up a little Panasonic 4mp p&s and went outside into the lovely sunshine and pinged off around 20 frames with both P&S and D80, downloaded to PC, renamed em and mixed em up before getting him to pick which ones he thought the D80 took. He managed to pick one by chance and was then content to take the P&S realising there was more to a shot than just the camera. (I didn't mention low light capability ect. ect. to him) but he was happy believing he had a good setup and came home with really great shots.
Really, no-one would want the terrible iso capability of the p&s but quite a few even now have some kind of in-camera VR, so just maybe that is all you need, which would be quite disappointing seeing as you have outlayed so much on gear.
Most of my image problems are due to poor technique,(can't hold the bleeding thing still enough) and although I'm not that mad on post processing, from what you read, even the pros work on their pics.
I guess what I am getting at here is that unless there is a problem with either camera or lens, maybe your expectations were a little high. And there is good argument also for that considering what a $500 p&s can do against something four times as expensive.
illegitimis non carborundum.
#5. "Take a deep breath..." | In response to Reply # 0
Hang in there.
Just about every person who is new to DSLR's, and who is being honest, go through what you are experiencing.
Let me give you an example... I shot Minolta products for years..still have three slrs. Then I took a long break from photography as other interests evolved and came back when digital, and my newborn daughter arrived. I cycled through a few Olympus compacts and a point and shoot Nikon (which I still use). The Oly's were great camera's. Fantastic IQ, easy to carry..almost dslr quality but lacking some of the flair and control I wanted.
In came the D80. Now mind you, I have been shooting since high school..almost twenty five years ago, and I enjoyed some fantastic high IQ over the years. When I moved to the D80 I knew I would be in for a learning curve that would include a fair amount of frustration with technical aspects of the new camera, lens decisions, peripherals and of course image quality. There's a lot to learn. Keep in mind the advent of technologies like Program modes and VR make is seem as though we should point and shoot, but none of these advancements can replace good technique. And good technique is learned, it needs to be practiced.
I think of this art somewhat like golf. I am not a good golfer. I don't suck, but I don't have any trophies. When I play, as infrequent as that is, there inevitably will be one or two shots that make me want to come back and play again (or not put my bag on ebay). Amidst the learning curve in photography (I bought the D80 in April this year) I experience the same and I'd expect so do you and most others. I don't expect every shot to be tack sharp, but i do expect that my ratio of good to bad shots increases the more I shoot. And it is. There is always one or two images on my card that keep me coming back and the number increases. So will yours.
A few thoughts I can offer you...
Manage your expectations. If you're going to be shooting once a month you will likley frustrate yourself because your learning curve is stretched out.
Firmware is more important than hardware. No question all this gear is cool. Technology rules. But the pros can out-shoot me everyday..them using a pin camera and me using their D2x. It's not which lens or body they buy but their knowledge of how to use it that we need to learn.
Practice. You have a lot of control with the D80 that you don't with a P&S. This is good and bad. You need to learn what the controls do and when to use them. Don't expect your images to be tack sharp like the pros who have their camera's in their hands all day, every day unless you are shooting as often as they are.
Progress.. not perfection. Give it some time and recognize where and when you make progress instead of dwelling on how far off you are from where you want to be.
Study what the pros do. One really easy way to gain knowledge is to listen to the Nikonian Image Doctors podcasts... I found them of tremendous help.
Keep it simple. Take baby steps. Jumping right in to birding shots at night, in RAW, on Manual exp with spot metering using a 300mm lens handheld is a sure fire way to kill your enthusiasm.
You have a good foundation in equipment...now go out and use it, a lot. you may just need to "update your firmware" to match your hardware.
If any of this seems over the top then the point and shoot might not be a bad thing. My CoolPix takes some great shots!!
D300, D700 and a lot of other stuff
#7. "RE: Take a deep breath..." | In response to Reply # 5
#10. "RE: Take a deep breath..." | In response to Reply # 7
Wed 29-Aug-07 05:38 PM
I just shared my experience...
Yesterday I went out to a local bird santuary and landed a few images that are above and beyond any I have so far in overal image quality and sharpness...it just leads me to believe it will all come in time..the equipment is very capable, the operator needs some practice.
Glad it helped you.
D300, D700 and a lot of other stuff
#12. "RE: Take a deep breath..." | In response to Reply # 7
stephenmhooker Registered since 04th Apr 2006Wed 29-Aug-07 06:34 PM
Ditto! I too have been dealing with some of the frustrations of going digital, leaving my F5 behind and wondering what happened to all those "perfect" crisp images!
Also, not shooting as much as I used to with school and work going strong.
Sound, solid advice!
Sometimes I think everyone forgets to slow down, work through it...and practice, practice, practice!
Learning the hard way is still learning, right?
#6. "RE: Yet Another Sharpness Sort of Question" | In response to Reply # 0
How are you judging sharpness? At 100% on your screen?
If so remember that you are looking at a huge enlargement at close range. Sharpness is better judged at 50%.
After you resize you image for on screen viewing or printing you still need to apply sharpening. I like the smart sharpen tool in Photoshop for my final sharpening.
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#8. "RE: Yet Another Sharpness Sort of Question" | In response to Reply # 0
Yes, the D80 is my first serious digital, and I went through much the same sort of thing. Bright sunny day, auto-focus on far mountain -- fuzzy pic.
Took it in to the shop, looked like fool when salesman took camera outside, focused on far building and took shot -- sharp pic.
This, with 20+ years of photography experience on everything from 4x5 to 35mm.
What I have since found is that on the D80, if you use auto-ISO and Program (P) mode, the camera will ALWAYS opt for the widest aperture. That AND the auto-focus isn't absolutely 1000% perfect. Only now, looking at this forum, do I find that this is a typical experience.
I now use aperture priority mode only, since all of my work is still photography. Were I shooting action, I'd use shutter priority mode.
I'm not sure I'll use Program mode for anything, but if I do, I will make sure I pre-set the ISO, not use auto.
That has resolved the focus issue for me; if it works for you, great! If not, well, nothing ventured.
#9. "RE: Yet Another Sharpness Sort of Question" | In response to Reply # 8
Wed 29-Aug-07 04:48 PM
Thanks to those who have responded. I have gotten both some good mental counsel as well as some good technical advice. Regarding some of the responses I have received, I look at the pics at around 50% and I do output sharpening using one of several methods depending on how I edited the picture in the first place. But each of these steps is new to me so I realize there are so many variables: RAW vs JPG, capture sharpening, which product to edit with, noise reduction, output sharpening, etc.
Also, I struggle with camera settings. Not that I don't understand them. It's that I don't know whether to use them or not. So many opinions on AUTO ISO. It seems like it would be good for a beginner but I am starting to wonder if that's true. AUTO White balance vs setting white balance specifically for each picture. Matrix metering, center-weighted metering, spot metering.
Don't get me wrong, I wasn't looking for a camera that did everything automatically for me. I want to learn to use different settings for different pictures. I just didn't know it would be so convoluted trying to figure out which ones to use. 40ms Shutter delay or no shutter delay, VR or no VR, and more and more. I guess that's the part that has been frustrating me because I am very technically competant and have also read much material: Thom Hogans eBook, Scott Kelby's books on digital photography, Photoshop, and Lightroom, Jason's book on Capture NX, Understanding Exposure, etc ,etc. I guess I thought after all that I would have a distinct plan for how to shoot (settings) and how to post process. But I feel like all I have is more questions and more confusion when I get ready to try to take a picture.
At any rate, more opinions and comments are welcome and thanks to those who have already responded to me. I guess I will just keep trying and keep reading, and ask questions here when I need to.
San Francisco Area Nikonian
#11. "RE: Yet Another Sharpness Sort of Question" | In response to Reply # 9
Wed 29-Aug-07 05:46 PM
I'll go back to the suggestion to take baby steps...
Consider this... I struggled with WB for a while. Sunny, shadow, flash Auto... I decided to try Pre-Set using an expodisc filter and compare it to the other settings for a week. Making no other dramtic changes. I found that my WB was spot on with the Pre-set as opposed to a constant struggle with the other settings. I stuck with it.
Then I isolated the Program modes versus A, S and M... No other changes. I've decided that for me, the Scene modes are a waste of real estate on the D80 dial. I have no use for Program or Auto. It's M most often, and A & S the balance of the time. But it took a week or so of isolating this decision..
Then it was auto focus modes.. I have settled on two ways to do it.
Now it's RAW or JPEG. I'm finding that this decision impacts WB so it's going full circle but I'm making progress.
If you try changing too many things you never know which change had impact.
D300, D700 and a lot of other stuff
#21. "RE: Yet Another Sharpness Sort of Question" | In response to Reply # 11
#22. "RE: Yet Another Sharpness Sort of Question" | In response to Reply # 21
Fri 31-Aug-07 12:41 PM
>What did you settle on for focus?
My images are split between the obligatory family fun stuff and wildlife..
For general shooting, I use AF-S, Auto Area...but often use AF-C, Single and a narrow center spot if I am chasing my daughter around..I keep the Function button set to AF area mode in CS16 to be able change quickly.
For wildlife I have settled on a unique combination of settings as recommended by JonK and the Image Doctors..
-Start with Dynamic so you can move the focus point around as needed so you are able to recompose without losing focus;
-Set to AF-C;
-Next (this is key!) decouple the focussing from the shutter release by assigning the AE-L / AF-L button to AF On using CS18.
This gives you the best of all focus choices.. You now focus using the AE-L/AF-L button in a pseudo "release priority" mode; if you press and hold the button it will activate focus in AF-C mode and continuously update the focussing (essentially AF-C), if you press and release the button, it will lock focus on your target (essentially AF-S), and you can then use the shutter release to capture only. So you get both modes without having to change settings via the menu or top panel buttons. And if something moves in front of your target you don't risk losing focus.
It's a little awkward at first, and easier on the D200 or D2x's since they have a dedicated AE On button closer to the command dial, but after trying it I see I like a whole lot!
D300, D700 and a lot of other stuff
#13. "RE: Yet Another Sharpness Sort of Question" | In response to Reply # 9
Hi Rob I did a small article or post a few months back because I went thru the same thing. Here's the Link to it give it a read and see what you think.
Hang in there we will get you enjoying your D80 in now time and I understand I used a F100 and still use a lot of MF Nikon's like my FM3a and kept thinking man I do better with a manual focus EM than this thing but it has really turned around.
Read my D80 sharpness post Here.
Share, Learn and Inspire
I will use film until the last roll and last lab are gone. Go Navy
#15. "RE: Yet Another Sharpness Sort of Question" | In response to Reply # 14
KJCos Registered since 23rd Apr 2007Wed 29-Aug-07 08:15 PM
I don't really have any advice for you, but just wanted to say that I have definately been where you are now.
I knew my D80 was going to be a steep learning curve for me, but once I took it out of the box and really started shooting, I got more and more frustrated because I wasn't able to do anything I thought I would be able to do.
I got to the point that I was sure my camera was malfunctioning, after all, I couldn't be THAT bad, could I?
I found Nikonians, and although I don't post a lot, I pour through all the different posts in the areas of my interest. I've learned so much and although I'm still struggling with the camera at times, I've stopped being so hard on myself and now enjoy learning to use it. Every time I learn something new I get excited all over again and go back and look for something different to conquer.
I guess I'm just trying to say take a deep breath, relax, take those baby steps and have fun learning how to use the D80. Once you get rolling, you'll start picking things up a lot faster.
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#16. "RE: Yet Another Sharpness Sort of Question" | In response to Reply # 14
WD4MLA Nikonian since 10th Nov 2002Wed 29-Aug-07 11:57 PM
What settings have you tried? The Auto settings is not the best one to get good results. Are you in auto, one of the pre-set modes or have you branched out from that?
I just bought a new laptop with the Brightview screen and there is a world of difference in the sharpness of my photos between it and my old PC. Lots of things come into play.
Great Smoky Mountains
of North Carolina
#18. "RE: Yet Another Sharpness Sort of Question" | In response to Reply # 16
Thu 30-Aug-07 02:14 AM
I am using mostly M mode, not AUTO or PROGRAM and definitely not any of the SCENE modes. I recently got an HP w2207 monitor and have it calibrated with a Spyder 2.
San Francisco Area Nikonian
#20. "Its not that hard" | In response to Reply # 18
laslo Basic MemberThu 30-Aug-07 03:55 AM
>I am using mostly M mode, not AUTO or PROGRAM and definitely
>not any of the SCENE modes. I recently got an HP w2207
>monitor and have it calibrated with a Spyder 2.
To me it seems like you are working too hard but something is missing in your technique or you have a defective camera. Please post a link to a full size image or crop with the exif and let us see if we can give you more specific help. You should be able to get sharp images with the D80 and a decent lens.
#17. "RE: Yet Another Sharpness Sort of Question" | In response to Reply # 0
Rob, Jerry (WD4MLA) makes a great point here about the monitor. I couldn't believe the difference changing from the old analogue monitor to an LCD which was calibrated. It wouldn't matter how good a photographer you were if something was out there and you wouldn't be the first to have the problem.
illegitimis non carborundum.
#19. "RE: Yet Another Sharpness Sort of Question" | In response to Reply # 17
two hour lunch Registered since 19th Sep 2004Thu 30-Aug-07 02:24 AM
Rob, my suggestion is to practice on photos that do not matter -- put in a silly movie and take photos of your toes, the tv remote, the lamp, your dog. Try different settings.
Ditty outdoors -- grab a beer and plop down on your front step and shoot the tree, your neighbor's car, your toes, the cat.
It's fun, free, and great practice. It's frustrating to take photos that do not meet your expectations if they are important photos. Do not do what I did -- I took my spanking new first DSLR and trotted off to my inlaws 50th wedding anniversary party.
Hang in there.
Two hour lunch
Lead me not into temptation; I can find it myself. Rita Mae Brown