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Thread: Sharpness in images.

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    Sharpness in images.

    Hello,
    My name is Rory and I live in Somerset. I am not an expert photographer but have been interested in photography for a long time. I have a Canon EOS 450D and although I am generally very satisfied with it's performance, since becoming interested in bird photography I am looking at ways to improve the sharpness of the images I take. Whist I appreciate things like camera steadiness affect sharpness I'm unclear to what extent the camera specification do. In particular the image sensor size and the number of pixels - currently 22.2 x14.8 and 12.2 effective pixels. If I upgrade any camera feature's will this improve the sharness and ability to enlarge the image? If anyone has got any advice about this matter I would be most grateful to hear it.

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    Re: Sharpness in images.

    Hello Rory and welcome to CiC. I hope this will be the first post in a long involvement with the forum and that we'll see some of your images on here as well as you taking part in discussions and asking questions.

    First up, so that you don't continue to get people asking you what your proper name is, because most us use that on here, you can go to Edit Profile and enter your proper name under 'Real Name'. Then it will appear underneath your Username in all your posts. You can also enter your location so that it does the same, just as in my details alongside this message. Then we all know where everyone is in the world.

    Second up, these threads will, I hope, prove helpful fro when you get into posting up some of your work:
    HELP THREAD: How can I post images here?
    How to Get Effective Feedback for your Posted Images

    If you're unclear on forum ettiquette; there is a Code of Conduct in the FAQ here

    And so to your question .................

    You've clearly worked out that shutter speed is the single most important factor in getting sharp images of things on the move. Beyond that, the fact is that all modern-day DSLR are more than capable of producing the goods so far as image quality is concerned. I wouldn't even factor in thinking about the camera body, sensor, pixels etc into the equation.

    Of far more importance is the quality of the glass you've got mounted on the front. What lens(es) are you using? That's where the real quality factor comes into consideration.

    Of course, if you are cropping heavily, you are going to affect quality. So as well as the quality of the lens, a question is - Have you got a lens long enough to do the job you want?

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    Re: Sharpness in images.

    Hi Rory,

    In addition to Donald's fine comments, I'd also add that correct sharpening of images during post-production is another "biggie" (it makes a far bigger difference than - say - the difference in sharpness between a medium quality lens and a high quality lens.

    Generally, optimal sharpening requires at least 3 passes (capture, content/creative, and output) - I've written a little bit about it here if you're interested.

    Hope this helps.

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    Re: Sharpness in images.

    Rory - Colin is absolutely correct in what he writes.

    In what both of us say, we are assuming that you are shooting in RAW as opposed to JPEG. If not, we would always encourage a serious amateur to switch and start shooting in RAW format. This means that you are in control of the the image, not the camera.

    Apologies if you already know all that and are shooting RAW. But, thought I'd mention it just in case.

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    Re: Sharpness in images.

    Quote Originally Posted by icteridae View Post
    ...I am not an expert photographer but have been interested in photography for a long time...
    Sounds a bit like me. Your camera is one up on mine though, I have a 400D.

    Sharpness...

    Work on the rubbish in rubbish out principle. If the image is not sharp when you capture it no ammount of tweaking will fix it.

    1) Donald rightly suggests a good lens is vital. You've already worked out that birds have a habit of moving very quickly so a fast shutter speed is necessary to freeze their motion. Birds also tend to be a bit shy and keep their distance, which requires a long telephoto lens to prevent them from being a dot in the middle of the frame. Long lenses can be tricky to hold still so a tripod is another worthwhile investment.

    2) Think about where the camera is focussing. If you leave it on full autofocus the camera's best guess at the points of interest may not be the bird. Set the camera to use just one of its AF points and try and get that to lock on the bird's eye.

    3) Set the camera to capture both RAW (and JPG) files, that means you shouldn't use the 'idiot modes' as they only capture .jpgs.

    Once you've got your good quality input then you can turn to what Colin mentions and look to post-processing tweaks.
    1) Don't over enlarge, i.e. don't try to crop out what was a distant bird that only filled a small part of the frame, you run the risk of pixelation (mind you a 450D should give you plenty of resolution before you hit that limit).

    2) You won't get the sharpest shots if you use the .jpg that comes out of the camera. You will be able to tweak them a bit and probably improve them but to get the best your camera is capable of you need to work with the RAW (.cr2) files. There are good tutorials on this site but spending time experimenting is the best tutor. Just remember NOT to overwite the original .cr2, that would be like trashing your film negative. As long as the original .cr2 remains unchanged you can fiddle with it as many times as you want.

    Ken

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    Re: Sharpness in images.

    Dear Donald,
    Thank you for your most informative reply. Can I confirm that you think that ugrading the camera body from Canon 450D to say, a 550D with more pixels, would not improve my ability to get sharper pictures? The two lenses I've got are :-
    * Canon zoom lens EF-S 18-55mm 1:3.5-5.6 IS
    * Canon EF-S lens 55-250mm 1:4-5.6
    Are these suitable?

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    Re: Sharpness in images.

    Dear Colin,
    Thanks for your post. I have read your item debunking the myths about noise reduction and sharpening and found it helpful although I'm not sure I understood all of it. I am a bit of an learner with regards to processng images. Currently I use Fastone Image Viewer tools and a very old copy of Photoimpressions. Do you have any recommendations re a simple but effective program better than these?
    Thanks again

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    Re: Sharpness in images.

    Dear Donald,
    No I'm not using RAW as a matter of course ( it seems to take forever to load up on my computer) but have been trying it out taking photos with the jpeg/RAW option. Comparing the two images I couldn't see much difference.What am I missing?

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    Re: Sharpness in images.

    Dear Ken,
    Thanks for all the good advice which I shall be trying to follow it in the future. I do have a tripod and I will endevour to try to use it more often. With regards to RAW images, I have read somewhere in the past of a conflict of opinions regarding the merits of using jpegs and RAW files with professional photographers apparently divided over the matter. Have you got any thoughts on this matter?
    Sorry to everyone about my replies bunching up but the fast resposes to my original question took me rather by surprise (that and the fact that my internet connection was down for nearly a day. Good old BT!)

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    Moderator Donald's Avatar
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    Re: Sharpness in images.

    Hello again, Rory.

    Hopefully you're getting an idea of the sort of helpful and constructive responses that people on here are willing to give.

    As to your responses to my comments ...........

    Quote Originally Posted by icteridae View Post
    Dear Donald,
    Thank you for your most informative reply. Can I confirm that you think that ugrading the camera body from Canon 450D to say, a 550D with more pixels, would not improve my ability to get sharper pictures? The two lenses I've got are :-
    * Canon zoom lens EF-S 18-55mm 1:3.5-5.6 IS
    * Canon EF-S lens 55-250mm 1:4-5.6
    Are these suitable?
    You are correct about the body. There would be no real gain in you changing from a 450 to a 550.

    On the question of lenses. What you have is fine for 'general purpose' photography. However, I think most folks who are in anyway serious about their bird photography would say that even 250mm is too short. That doesn't mean you would be able to get some good bird shots. But to work towards consistently higher quality bird shots, I think you would need a longer lens - sat at least 300mm and one that has a faster speed than f5.6.

    But I would say that is something to work towards, if indeed your interest in bird photography develops. The important thing is to master the equipment you have now. As Colin said in his post, the biggest issue is not the lens, but the sharpening you do. Which takes us to ...........

    Quote Originally Posted by icteridae View Post
    Dear Donald,
    No I'm not using RAW as a matter of course ( it seems to take forever to load up on my computer) but have been trying it out taking photos with the jpeg/RAW option. Comparing the two images I couldn't see much difference.What am I missing?
    What you are missing is your ability to be in total control of the process. When you shoot in JPEG, the camera is making a whole lot of decisions about how the picture should look and applying those. So, it's making decisions for you, such as sharpening. It then destroys a whole lot of the data on the file.

    If you shoot in RAW what your doing is not making a photograph. All you are doing is capturing the raw data. It's then up to you to turn that into a finished picture on your computer.

    If you compare a JPEG and a RAW file at quite a large size on your computer, you will see that there are huge differences.

    I'd really urge you to read these two tutorials. They explain it all much better than I can:

    This one is about Understanding RAW files

    This one is about understanding JPEG and TIFF files

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    Re: Sharpness in images.

    IMHO, there is no real argument about JPEG vs. raw. Some pros use JPEGs if they need a lot of images fast, but unless you are doing a very large volume of images, I can't see any reason to use JPEGs. Raw files have all of the data captured by the sensor. JPEGs don't. They are 8-bit and compressed. As a result, they give you much less flexibility in editing, they allow you less room to recapture clipped parts of the image, and they are more prone to artifacts from editing. In my own workflow, I generally only produce JPEGs for posting to the web or to send to a lab for printing (which I don't do very often). If there is a reason to save a rendered image, for example, for editing software that needs it, I save in a lossless format, like TIFF or PSD, not in JPEG.

    Another way to think about this is that the digital capture is like a negative. It needs to be developed. When you shoot JPEG, you are choosing a pre-set algorithm to do all of the developing before you see the image, kind of like, in the old days, taking your film to the drugstore and picking up prints the next day. True, you can edit the JPEGs to some degree, but not as well as with raw images. When you shoot raw, the camera is giving you ALL of the data it collected and letting you decided, based on the particular image, how you want to develop it. So, you can not worry about what camera style or white balance you chose. You can look at the image on your monitor and decide what is best.

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    Re: Sharpness in images.

    Hi Rory,

    I was only half joking when I said "Sounds a bit like me" in response to your first post. I reckon you're about where I was a year ago. I'd read loads of stuff, much of it here but there seemed to be too many options and I ended up with information overload. Cue a bit of a pause and a rethink.

    I decided to abandon fanciful plans for top flight lenses, a flashy new monitor for the PC and clever software (NB I'm not PC shy, I work with them), realising I needed to slow down and give the whole thing a KISS, as in Keep it Simple, Stupid.

    I invested in a mid-range 16Gb card so I could go click crazy (didn't want to slow down too much ) and set the camera to capture RAW & JPEG. I installed Google Picasa to catalogue the files and used Canon's own Digital Photo Professional (DPP) software for editing. Yes, that is cheap, 20 for the CF card and 0.00 for the software.

    I set about learning about how the digital sensor coped with different lighting conditions, e.g. when would parts of a picture over expose? and how I needed a higher shutter speed than I might think because the crop factor means the old 1/focal length principle requires some extra maths.

    Although I was capturing RAW files I reviewed only the JPEGs. What options were there within DPP? What did they do? How sharp could I get my pictures? Did my lens(es) perform better at certain f stops?

    I still have a looooong way to go but now, about 1000 pictures later, I'm beginning to explore RAW. Already I can get sharper output, because I can control how both how the RAW is initially sharpened (so called capture sharpening) AND how it can be subsequently tweaked (so called content/creative sharpening).

    Next I will invest in a better lens, I know that will help further. Then I'll need a new monitor for my PC. After that it will be better software, probably Adobe Lightroom and Adobe Photoshop Elements. Perhaps I'll get to this stage by this time next year.

    Which is a lot of words to say, take your time.

    Ken

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    Re: Sharpness in images.

    Quote Originally Posted by icteridae View Post
    Thanks for your post. I have read your item debunking the myths about noise reduction and sharpening and found it helpful although I'm not sure I understood all of it. I am a bit of an learner with regards to processng images. Currently I use Fastone Image Viewer tools and a very old copy of Photoimpressions. Do you have any recommendations re a simple but effective program better than these?
    Hi Rory,

    If there is anythig you'd like me to explain more, just ask ... educating & helping people is what we do here

    Photography is a multi-part process; the initial part is the preparation; thinking through the best settings (shutterspeed / ISO / aperture etc) - thinking through the equipment (lens selection / tripod? / flash? lighting? / composition) - then the actual capture - then the post-processing of that capture into the final image. The BEST image will come when a shot is planned well - executed well - and processed well ... so folks really need to give attention to all of these areas.

    In your case I think you need to learn to get the best out of what you have; the 450D would not be my first "weapon of choice" (I find the ergonomics of the xxxxD and xxxD series cameras leave a LOT to be desired), but then again, I wouldn't want to use a 550D either. Both are just fine in terms of pixels (we end up throwing over 90% of them away a lot of the time anyway), but things like auto-focus performance is going to be pretty much "hit and miss" if you're talking about BIF (birds in flight). If you're talking about "stationary birds" then the quality of your shots are going to depend on things like how much you can fill the frame with the lenses you have, and whether or not you can arrest subject movement and camera shake by getting a high enough shutterspeed (if you're hand-holding the camera - and shooting 250mm - then you need to be shooting at no slower than 1/400th of a second.

    The lens you have isn't fantastic, but it's not "beyond redemption" either (I'm assuming that like most, you don't have the budget for a Canon 7D, EF800mm, Wimberley head on a Gitzo tripod, and a fast PC running Photoshop CS6!) - if you'd like to take a RAW shot of something (preferably on a tripod) I'd be happy to process it in Photoshop for you to see what I could get out of it in terms of quality and sharpness.

    In terms of post-processing, Photoshop is the "gold standard". There are cheaper options like Photoshop Elements, and even free options like GIMP ... but all assume that you have a PC with enough grunt to run them; not sure what you have available to you, but if it's slow then sometimes adding a lot more RAM can make a huge difference.

    Hope this helps

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    Re: Sharpness in images.

    Eventually you do need better glass. At risk of going low-tech here, your best bang for a few bucks would be an investment in a couple of bird feeders. Let them come to you. I just taped some newspaper to a window to create a "blind" I can shoot through without scaring them and, voila!

    Don't buy the cheap-o bird seed mixes either. That just attracts dingy sparrows who scatter and waste seed. Put all black sunflower in one, and put a mix of peanuts & raisins in the other. I also have a finch "sock" that helps keep the big feeders free for the big birds. Since I upgraded the "buffet" in this way, I have an entirely different class of feathery diners. Regular cardinals, bluejays, nuthatches, tits, a woodpecker, goldfinches, etc...
    Last edited by Scott Stephen; 13th May 2012 at 03:24 AM.

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    Re: Sharpness in images.

    deleting duplicate post ...
    If you can think in an organised way, and I worked as a sole charge Photo Librarian many years back, I cannot understand why people using PCs and Windows buy anything extra becuase with Windows Explorer, or Directory as it was called before, you have everything you need to store your files. I also have Irfanview Thumbnails to visually search ... whatever that's me :-)

    I also have been using Paint Shop Pro for years now and currently the X4 version is selling for US$60 plus P&P and probably duty into the UK. It serves me well and I have no inclination to use any of the miriad of programmes that have come out since :-) It may not handle RAW as everybody is telling you to use, for the usual arguments, I don't know as I don't shoot RAW. It has always seemed a can of worms for marginal improvements with different systems and life is too short for me with twenty years more if I'm incredibly lucky :-) So don't let me put you off, everybody uses RAW :-)
    Last edited by jcuknz; 13th May 2012 at 08:09 AM. Reason: deleting duplicate posting

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    Birds and the camera

    There seems to be two approaches to this subject ... birds are small and far away so you need long lens to bring them close ... trouble with long lenses is that you may have to take out a second mortgage to afford them.
    The second approach is to work with what you have and attract the birds to you. There is one person I know who showed us the 100-300 lens he uses when he attracts the little beasties to him. 300 is not much different to the 250 which you have though his is likely to be faster for low light in the foliage.
    I organised a feeding table outside my room [ like Scott did ] and used a 70mm to get near full frame shots of blackbird sized birds which came to feed in winter. DSLR to bird about 18<24".
    A subset of the second approach is to use a hide as bird photographers used to do before all these wonderful, but sadly expensive, lenses were invented for the select few who can afford them.

    Murphy's Law tells me and it seems correct that as you get greater reach 'they' know this and stay further away.
    In practical terms though the numbers sound wonderful the actual improvment is not as much as one thinks.
    I have 950mm 'reach' with my bridge camera and a telephoto adaptor so to a degree been there done it :-)

    For birds in flight I discovered recently with my M4/3 14-140 [ 28-280 Angle of View] that having the zoom enabled me to find the bird and zoom in on it, not as much as I'd like, and it worked much better than trying find a flying bird with 950 reach ... hopeless :-( .. so there are pros and cons and I'm sure I'm a long way from having the answers :-)

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    Re: Sharpness in images.

    Quote Originally Posted by jcuknz View Post
    If you can think in an organised way...
    Umm, that's the problem. It is not something most people do when it comes to storing files on a PC but to go into that is a whole new thread.

    Ken

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    Re: Sharpness in images.

    Quote Originally Posted by icteridae View Post
    With regards to RAW images... Have you got any thoughts on this matter?
    Quite a bit has already been said but everyone knows a picture is worth a thousand words. This image compares two identical crops. On the left, what my 400D produces as it's native, untweaked JEPG output. On the right what I was able 'develop' from the 400D's RAW file using only Canon's own DPP software.

    Sharpness in images.

    Ken

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    Re: Sharpness in images.

    Thanks to everyone for their interesting and illuminating comments. I am certainly swayed to take RAW files more seriously and will be investigating and experimenting with this format sustantially in future - thanks particulary to Donald, Colin, Ken (impressive comparison photograph),and Dan for their comments. I do, however, have sympathy with jcuknz's view that " It has always seemed a can of worms for marginal improvements with different systems and life is too short for me with twenty years more if I'm incredibly lucky". I, like jcuknz, am no spring chicken. I do have an old copy of Photoshop Elements. I didn't continue with it after initially trying and finding it a bit complex for my use at the time. I think I will give that another go when exploring RAW
    Scott's jcuknz's and other's remarks about bird photography have all been stimulating and useful and I am going to try several of their ideas. I have also absorbed the idea that a good lens is important and thought about the possibilty of obtaining one "at least 300mm and one that has a faster speed than f5.6."(Donald) The only query I have left is what lens? I wondered about the relative merits of fixed focus/zoom, used/ new, cheaper/expensive. If anyone has any comments on this matter I would be very pleased to hear them.
    Thanks again,
    Rory.

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    Re: Sharpness in images.

    With due respect to 'stuck' it didn't take me very long to improve the jpg to better than the RAW image. To me the major problem with the shot is that the whites are 'blown' which means it is unsatisfactory IMO.[That may be my uncalibrated LED monitor] I suggest better to start with a correctly exposed shot. I have my camera permanently set to minus 1 stop EV and even that doesn't stop things like this happening to me from time to time. If you do look at the histogram you should if the camera provides it check the graph for each colour as yellow [daffodils etc ] is bad in this respect .Blowing and loosing resolution while the foliage looks great.

    The picture does re-inforce my view that in a well lit subject there is no need for RAW and until one gets very skilled in using it it is likely to lead you astray and you can go much of the way with a jpg file. Now if it was a high contrast subject it could be a completely different matter.

    An early copy of Elements is likely to be fairly basic, it didn't start to get useful until about version six or seven. But you need to practice and practice with editing. When I got Paint Shop Pro before Elements came on the market I nearly threw in the towel during the first month but the only alternative was Photoshop at about four times the price so I hung in there. I suggest you get a new copy of Elements, 10 I think, and hang in there with it, it is worth it. I was about 70 when I started with PSP.
    Last edited by jcuknz; 15th May 2012 at 11:11 AM.

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