idiot genius

Sharpness Doesn't Matter.

Sharpness doesn’t matter.

Or at the very least, it shouldn’t be the most important question.

Full disclosure:

I'm a functional illiterate when it comes to finite technical details in photography; but I have the basic visual faculties to see what’s in front of me. Every time I trawl any forum where lenses are discussed, evaluated and ranked, the discussion always drifts to “how sharp is it? Or which lens is sharpest?” I used to read these threads, get invested, argue, and fiend over finding the “right” equipment. With limited exception, I’ve given up caring much about sharpness. Sharpness is a dumb concern, most of the time, and rarely matters much for most photographers in practice.

The first question I always ask when talking about sharpness, resolution or negative size, is “how big are you printing or displaying?” Like my complaint in my “your cellphone is all the point and shoot you need article” I’m going to repeat it here, again, “are you really posting or presenting your work anywhere aside from Instagram, on a 6.5” at the largest?” and the answer is usually a flat “no.” So what’s the purpose of caring or getting caught up in how sharp or “correct” a lens is?

Failing the need question on the basis of print size, let’s move on to content. How often does one really consider or need a ultra-highly resolved image down to the finest details? Or how often does ultrafine detail play into your imaging? If you’re a commercial photographer, or you work a lot with finite texture, and need to render images a specific, highly controlled way, this is understandable. However, how many people do you know who work with film, or really even digital, that are working on subjects like this? There’s a handful, sure, but do you? Is that really what you care about in photography?

Some lenses are just duds. They are bad, they make inferior pictures, with little upside like amazing bokeh or some other unintended but amazing effect. Likewise, there are some magic lenses, but they’re becoming exorbitantly expensive. Outside the maybe fifty odd “vintage” lenses that are “legendary,” it doesn’t matter, provided you don’t get a dud; A 50mm, is a 50 is a 50; some have better maximum apertures, and their renditions may vary, but they all essentially take the same photo. I feel like the lenses that prove the rule for me, are modern autofocus lenses, which have no discernable character, and have profiles in Lightroom that can fix base defects in seconds, you can essentially “fix” any two cameras and lenses to look next to identical in seconds.

I do not understand the need for sharpness or why the need for scientific accuracy is so dominant, film or digital. If I might offer up alternatives to “is it sharp” -- “will this lens do what I need it to?” “does the lens’s rendering actively compliment the aesthetics and subjects I’m trying to get?” “will it fit the arcane or special/specific need I need to render my vision?” -- rather than ask the bland, superficial, and ultimately pointless question of “how sharp is this lens?” My concluding questions, are “Is sharpness important?” and “why is sharpness important to you?”

Anyway, if you’ve enjoyed this essay, or any of the content on my website, consider buying a zine in the shop.