What does it mean: This Lens is Soft

Golf007sdGolf007sd Posts: 2,840Moderator
edited December 2013 in Nikon Lenses
Many times we hear or read photographers say: "This lens is Soft." Well I thought it would be worth bring back a topic that was covered many years ago, so that perhaps it will yield itself educational, thus allow us to have a good healthy conversation. For those that are willing to have some input, please provide some images to go with your explanation is possible.

Roger Cicala from Lens Rentals: "This lens is soft" and other myths.
Post edited by Golf007sd on
D4 & D7000 | Nikon Holy Trinity Set + 105 2.8 Mico + 200 F2 VR II | 300 2.8G VR II, 10.5 Fish-eye, 24 & 50 1.4G, 35 & 85 1.8G, 18-200 3.5-5.6 VR I SB-400 & 700 | TC 1.4E III, 1.7 & 2.0E III, 1.7 | Sigma 35 & 50 1.4 DG HSM | RRS Ballhead & Tripods Gear | Gitzo Monopod | Lowepro Gear | HDR via Promote Control System |
«1

Comments

  • PB_PMPB_PM Posts: 3,968Member
    I think it is a very subjective topic. As Roger comments, sometimes it is user error and subject movement.
    On another account softness also comes into play with lenses that are optically poor (Nikon 28mm F2.8D/AF-S 24-120mm F3.5-5.6G VR), or have different characteristics. Some lenses are simply not designed for edge to edge sharpness.
    If I take a good photo it's not my camera's fault.
  • PapermanPaperman Posts: 468Member
    A lens is soft if it is not sharp . Now let's see the fancy explanations :)
  • PB_PMPB_PM Posts: 3,968Member
    :D Looks soft enough for me.
    If I take a good photo it's not my camera's fault.
  • Golf007sdGolf007sd Posts: 2,840Moderator
    edited December 2013
    Right now I'm looking at a magazine that has many models showing of all kinds of products: cars, swimsuits, jewelry; all ranging from 1/4 page to full page layouts. They show the models half to full body; most I would say are taken @ f5.6-f/10. At this print size the level of sharpness the lens used gets the job done, but it is not mind blowing. At this print size I fine the color and overall image itself more appealing to me.

    So when we speak of softness, how relevant is the manner of output, and how it effects the audience appeal in accepting the image?
    Post edited by Golf007sd on
    D4 & D7000 | Nikon Holy Trinity Set + 105 2.8 Mico + 200 F2 VR II | 300 2.8G VR II, 10.5 Fish-eye, 24 & 50 1.4G, 35 & 85 1.8G, 18-200 3.5-5.6 VR I SB-400 & 700 | TC 1.4E III, 1.7 & 2.0E III, 1.7 | Sigma 35 & 50 1.4 DG HSM | RRS Ballhead & Tripods Gear | Gitzo Monopod | Lowepro Gear | HDR via Promote Control System |
  • JakesGTJakesGT Posts: 38Member
    Sharpness of a lens gets more evident as the print gets larger. I also know it depends on who is looking at it. I may look at one of my photos and say "that's a reject, it's soft" where my mom may say its perfect. And I think most softness does come from focus issues like the article stated. Recently however with all the megapixels is where we can see that the sensor is outperforming the lens
  • WestEndBoyWestEndBoy Posts: 1,456Member
    PB_PM said:
    Looks soft enough for me.

    Are you talking about the one on the left or right PB_PM?
  • TaoTeJaredTaoTeJared Posts: 1,306Member
    edited December 2013
    So when we speak of softness, how relevant is the manner of output, and how it effects the audience appeal in accepting the image?
    The output matters a great deal, so is the the process or manor you export the image, blow it up etc. Magazines are very forgiving due to the printing process and our expectations. Take this vs fine prints: Fiber based vs glossy papers, poster sized vs 8x10, FB vs online gallery.

    What matters more is the objective of the image and the "prime" subject. Is the subject rain/snowfall or a dust storm, lack of crisp sharp image is not an issue. If it is a singular fall leaf hanging from a branch, then yes the edges and veins need to be sharp. I would say most portraits are better off looking smoother than having crisp pores, unless it is for acne medicine.

    I find that most who think an image isn't sharp, doesn't understand DOF or lens design and point to areas where a) it is outside the focus area DOF, b) unrealistic to believe it should be sharp, or can't fathom "user error".
    Post edited by Golf007sd on
    D800, D300, D50(ir converted), FujiX100, Canon G11, Olympus TG2. Nikon lenses - 24mm 2.8, 35mm 1.8, (5 in all)50mm, 60mm, 85mm 1.8, 105vr, 105 f2.5, 180mm 2.8, 70-200vr1, 24-120vr f4. Tokina 12-24mm, 16-28mm, 28-70mm (angenieux design), 300mm f2.8. Sigma 15mm fisheye. Voigtlander R2 (olive) & R2a, Voigt 35mm 2.5, Zeiss 50mm f/2, Leica 90mm f/4. I know I missed something...
  • donaldejosedonaldejose Posts: 3,144Member
    Some wisdom from KR on the subject of sharp or soft lenses:

    "While amateurs waste time worrying about lens sharpness, pros know that lens sharpness has little to do with making sharp pictures."

    "Most gear has always been much better than people's abilities to use it."

    "Sharpness is the most overrated aspect of lens performance. Lens sharpness seems like it ought to be related to making sharp photos, but it isn't."

    "Sharpness is easy to test and analyze, so magazines oblige less experienced photographers with reams of colorful charts and graphs. People would make far better pictures if they spent time learning how to make great photos with what they already own instead of worrying about their tools."

    "No matter how sharp a lens, as soon as you move the smallest amount away from the plane of best focus, it gets softer. No mater how sharp someone's eye may be, their ears and tip of their nose will be in poorer focus than the eyes. These will be as out-of-focus regardless of the lens you use."

    "Many great photos use deliberate unsharpness to express their points, and if you look at sales and auction prices of photos as art you'll see that the fuzzier ones sell for much more."

    "Your creative input to a photo makes far more of an imprint on the image than any small, and often invisible, difference in sharpness from one lens to another. Sharpness. Just get over it."

    All true. However, I must admit I am a sucker for a lens with high sharpness test numbers.
  • acroshawacroshaw Posts: 4Member
    That is a brilliant quote, totally agree! I am a portrait photographer tho, so edge to edge sharpness doesn't bother me one bit. Just wrote a very quick review of the tamron 24-70, this is a lens that is definitely not soft, at least not in the centre, here's an unsharpened close up:)
    image
    also, we tend to see softeness only when shooting at the limits, so at f2.8 it's common, but at D800 resolutions you can sharpen soft images very easily, so is it really an issue? Good technique is probably more important , although to get razor sharp images on a d800 I would say you need great glass and tip top technique?
    Back in the canon days I had the Sigma 85mm 1.4 , again, soft in the corners but sharp in the centre, and to me, that's what matters:)

  • MsmotoMsmoto Posts: 5,396Moderator
    I have used lenses which either I could not focus or they had problems I could not handle. Many of the shots i take may not be sharp. And, in one phase of my editing I look at the image at 200% and if not sharp there, it is almost always thrown out.

    I think in most cases it is my error which creates a "soft" image.
    Msmoto, mod
  • donaldejosedonaldejose Posts: 3,144Member
    My wife keeps saying "I don't like your camera, it shows too many of my wrinkles!"

    How many people use some amount of Gaussian blur to add softness in post processing?
  • ChasCSChasCS Posts: 309Member
    In the old days, before all the editing tech, the aging actresses would request they're shots are done with a nylon stocking stretched over the lens face. It helped "mask" the age and character lines.

    D800, AF-S NIKKOR 80-400mm f/4.5-5.6G ED VR, B+W Clear MRC 77mm, AF-S NIKKOR 24-120mm f/4G ED VR, Sigma DG UV 77mm,
    SB-910~WG-AS3, SB-50, ME-1, Lexar Professional 600x 64GB SDXC UHS-I 90MB/s* x2, 400x 32GB SDHC UHS-I 60MB/s* x1
    Vanguard ALTA PRO 263AT, GH-300T, SBH-250, SBH-100, PH-22 Panhead
    Lowepro S&F Deluxe Technical Belt and Harness ~ Pouch 60 AW 50 AW & 10, S&F Toploader 70 AW, Lens Case 11 x 26cm
    FE, NIKKOR 2-20mm f/1.8, OPTEX UV 52mm, Vivitar Zoom 285, Kodacolor VR 1000 CF 135-24 EXP DX 35mm, rePlay XD1080

  • donaldejosedonaldejose Posts: 3,144Member
    I remember the nylon stocking trick! There was also the use of diffusion filters screwed into the front of the lens and even petroleum jelly smeared around the edge of a filter.
  • PhotobugPhotobug Posts: 4,536Member
    My wife keeps saying "I don't like your camera, it shows too many of my wrinkles!"

    How many people use some amount of Gaussian blur to add softness in post processing?
    Amen. I have heard this from my wife's sister who is very vain about her appearance. The crowfeet drive her buggy and the excessive makeup drives me crazy.
    D750 & D7100 | 24-70 F2.8 G AF-S ED, 70-200 F2.8 AF VR, TC-14E III, TC-1.7EII, 35 F2 AF D, 50mm F1.8G, 105mm G AF-S VR | Backup & Wife's Gear: D5500 & Sony HX50V | 18-140 AF-S ED VR DX, 55-300 AF-S G VR DX |
    |SB-800, Amaran Halo LED Ring light | MB-D16 grip| Gitzo GT3541 + RRS BH-55LR, Gitzo GM2942 + Sirui L-10 | RRS gear | Lowepro, ThinkTank, & Hoodman gear | BosStrap | Vello Freewave Plus wireless Remote, Leica Lens Cleaning Cloth |
  • PapermanPaperman Posts: 468Member
    edited December 2013
    KR writes for beginners/those new to photography. Though what he wrote maybe true for that inexperienced group of photographers, there is also a large group of photographers that can differentiate between actual lack of sharpness originating from lens and the softness due to shallow DOF- camera shake-maximum aperture losses or other user errors.

    KR should try getting sharp photos with the Nikon 28mm f2,8D ( also mentioned by PB_PM above ).
    Post edited by Paperman on
  • MsmotoMsmoto Posts: 5,396Moderator
    edited December 2013
    Every female deserves some cleaning up of the skin. We do not like the wrinkles to show unless we are in special character. And, we like to think we are a lot younger looking than we may be. Why do you think plastic surgeons do face lifts?

    If one looks at most of the females in my portrait snapshots, e.g.,

    http://www.flickr.com/photos/fantinesfotos/10736066346/sizes/o/in/set-72157631907569594/

    This lady was the mother of a racer. The trick is to maintain the sharpness in the hairs…, eyelashes, etc.
    Post edited by Msmoto on
    Msmoto, mod
  • PhotobugPhotobug Posts: 4,536Member
    Msmoto...excellent picture. The eyes are great. Nice sharpness in the eyes and hair. Well done.
    D750 & D7100 | 24-70 F2.8 G AF-S ED, 70-200 F2.8 AF VR, TC-14E III, TC-1.7EII, 35 F2 AF D, 50mm F1.8G, 105mm G AF-S VR | Backup & Wife's Gear: D5500 & Sony HX50V | 18-140 AF-S ED VR DX, 55-300 AF-S G VR DX |
    |SB-800, Amaran Halo LED Ring light | MB-D16 grip| Gitzo GT3541 + RRS BH-55LR, Gitzo GM2942 + Sirui L-10 | RRS gear | Lowepro, ThinkTank, & Hoodman gear | BosStrap | Vello Freewave Plus wireless Remote, Leica Lens Cleaning Cloth |
  • JuergenJuergen Posts: 315Member
    Every female deserves some cleaning up of the skin. We do not like the wrinkles to show unless we are in special character. And, we like to think we are a lot younger looking than we may be. Why do you think plastic surgeons do face lifts?

    If one looks at most of the females in my portrait snapshots, e.g.,

    http://www.flickr.com/photos/fantinesfotos/10736066346/sizes/o/in/set-72157631907569594/

    This lady was the mother of a racer. The trick is to maintain the sharpness in the hairs…, eyelashes, etc.
    I have found a very interesting photoshop tutorial about this. It shows a method on how to clean the skin and soften it, without loosing or manipulating characteristic features of the model.

    Essentially you are separating the large skin structures and the fine details on different layers. You then can shape them individually and always remain in full control of the final image.
    The goal is to retain the skin pores, clean them up, but soften the large structures like wrinkles.

    But key is, that you need to start off your (any) post processing workflow with a tacky sharp image in order to have the freedom to choose what and where you apply softening to.

    Here is the link to the tutorial. Unfortunately it is in German, but maybe for some of you it is interesting to just follow the workflow. I actually tried it with a portrait of my wife. It really works fine and gives a more natural look rather than just ironing the skin.



    Jürgen
    D4, D800E, Nikon 1 J2, 600 f/4, trinity, PC-E 45, PC-E 24, 105, 50 f/1,8g, 85 f/1,4, Sigma 150-500
  • spraynprayspraynpray Posts: 6,027Moderator
    My wife keeps saying "I don't like your camera, it shows too many of my wrinkles!"

    How many people use some amount of Gaussian blur to add softness in post processing?
    100%. I don't use plug-ins or external editors for this, I just brush -ve clarity over the necessary areas in LR. I use it with a restricted flow and only do the minimum as I hate the 'plastic skin' look.
    Always learning.
  • MsmotoMsmoto Posts: 5,396Moderator
    @Juergen

    I have not gone to Photoshop as I like LR5.3 and in spite of all my friends almost demanding I use Photoshop, I have not gotten there yet. Maybe I am too old…. :-O
    Msmoto, mod
  • donaldejosedonaldejose Posts: 3,144Member
    edited December 2013
    Great photo msmoto! Love the sharp eyes!

    Portrait Professional does an amazing job on both skin and eyes. You can vary the strength of the effect with easy sliders.
    Post edited by donaldejose on
  • MsmotoMsmoto Posts: 5,396Moderator
    One must remember I come from the days when we did this in the darkroom with a host of various paddles, holes, rubbing the image in development and other tricks. I still do not want a "program" doing my work. Many of these alter subtle characteristics which remove the flaws from the individual.
    Msmoto, mod
  • JuergenJuergen Posts: 315Member
    @Juergen

    I have not gone to Photoshop as I like LR5.3 and in spite of all my friends almost demanding I use Photoshop, I have not gotten there yet. Maybe I am too old…. :-O
    I am struggling. It is definitely not something you can be learning by doing. I got myself a CD tutorial which starts at the basics. I hope I will be getting better and faster with it as time goes by.
    I think it can be very rewarding. Something for cold winter evenings I guess :-)

    Jürgen
    D4, D800E, Nikon 1 J2, 600 f/4, trinity, PC-E 45, PC-E 24, 105, 50 f/1,8g, 85 f/1,4, Sigma 150-500
  • JuergenJuergen Posts: 315Member


    Check out Emily Soto here. I love her photos but they aren't sharp.

    http://www.emilysotoblog.com/category/magazine-editorial/
    Nice photos, thanks for posting the link.
    At least the facial and the upper body portraits are showing exactly what I mean. The fine skin structures are still visible. Some show pores and even small facial hair. But the larger skin structures like mimic wrinkles are masked.
    To be able to achieve that in post, I believe, one should start off with a sharp image.

    But hey, who am I. My models usually have feathers, lay eggs and I want them sharp. :-)

    Jürgen
    D4, D800E, Nikon 1 J2, 600 f/4, trinity, PC-E 45, PC-E 24, 105, 50 f/1,8g, 85 f/1,4, Sigma 150-500
Sign In or Register to comment.