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ALL ARTICLES, PHOTOGRAPHY TIPS

NO MORE BLURRY PICTURES: MY COMPLETE GUIDE

If you have a reflex camera and your pictures often look blurry, I have prepared this article which includes some basic and advance notions to let you take tack sharp photos all the times.

Often, I hear photographers, professionists and novices, saying that the low quality of their photos and the lackness of sharpness is just a question of cheap and poor low-budget lenses or camera. Although sometimes this can be truth, many times i have realized that the poor quality was just their fault, being not capable of correctly using their equipment as they should have.

After learning and following these tips, year after year i have reached the right skill to develope high quality works with cheap equipment, a quality that some years before, at least for me, with the same equipment, i wasn’t able to achieve

BEFORE BEGINNING:  DISCLAIMER

Before reading the article it’s important to understand that, due to different cameras brands, your personal knowledge level, and other critical factors, the informations reported below could not always apply to you or to your equipment.

It’s very important that before and after reading my guide, you always refer to your official instructions manual for the correct usage of your camera to avoid any damage.

I am not affiliated with any camera brands, and my tips, which come from my practical experience, should not be considered in any case as officially recognized by any camera brand.

In consideration of this, in any case, be always responsible of your equipment, follow your instructions manual carefully, and always refer to your assistance in case of problems

 

THE ARTICLE IS MORE “NIKON” BASED…..KEEP IT IN MIND

Just a last note before beginning…I own a Nikon D7000 with which i am extremely happy, therefore I usually talk in a Nikonian language….should you have another brand, please try to get some help from Google, to understand how my instructions can be readapted d to your camera brand as well….

 

LET’S BEGINNING

The article is divided into short paragraphs, each one talking about a specific issue which you can encounter during your experience causing a “blurry result”.

Although some paragraphs titles could let you believe that you already know everything about that argument, I still invite you to read them all entirely

 

RECOGNIZE THE LIMITATIONS OF THE AUTOFOCUS ON REFLEX

I have understood during time that most photographers are too much confident about the capability of autofocus system on reflex cameras. Instead, It’s one of the most limited features, and as long as you are unaware of its limitations, you will always come back home with bad out of focus shots.

Personally, i believe that the very first step to be conscious of your camera limits, is recognizing the 2 different autofocus systems available and their aspects.

They are respectively called Phase Detect (PDAF), and Contrast Detect (CDAF). Please keep in mind those 2 terms. You will find them many times through out the article

  • Phase detect (PDAF): autofocus system is used when you focus through the viewfinder
    • Pros:
      • incredibly faster
      • better dark focus capability
    • Cons:
      • less accurate
      • susceptible to uncalibrated lenses and bodies
      • susceptible to artificial lights
      • susceptible to light glares and counterlight
  • Contrast Detect (CDAF): autofocus system used when you turn on the LCD display to focus
    • Pros:
      • very accurate
      • no problem with artificial lights
      • a bit more reliable with repetitive patterns subjects or counterlight/light glares situations
      • if you use it in conjuction with the LCD zoom function, it greatly helps in manual focusing
    • Cons:
      • slower than PDAF (except in some cameras, especially compact cameras or micro 4/3)
      • struggles while focusing in the dark

 

PDAF

NOTE: as per today (June 2014) Canon has released some brand new reflex cameras like the 70D where even the screen autofocus uses the Phase Detect, although it seems integrated with the sensor instead of being separated, a property which should make it more reliable as i have read on some websites, thanks to the fact that it is perfectly aligned with the sensor. Keep this in mind before following my tips and check your camera specifications to understand how to act

THE IMPORTANCE OF AN ACCURACY TEST BEFORE USING NEW REFLEX BODY OR NEW LENSES

This is a foundamental step for correctly using Phase Detect.

Basically speaking, for technical reasons i don’t want to explain to not complicate your reading, the Phase Detect is extremely sensitive to lenses misalignment. Furthermore, due to mass production and price reduction, i suspect many brands have reduced the accuracy with which they produce their equipment. Due to this, nowadays is quite common to buy a lens which can result misaligned with your camera body.

Keep in mind that the problem is exacerbated whenever you use a wide apertures which creates deep blur effect, commonly referred to as bokeh, because in this case, due to the very limited amount of depth of field, it’s more evident when you have badly focused. In turn, if you shoot a landscape at f.11 or f.16, being the depth of field very wide, you couldn’t notice the problem, although that doesn’t mean your lens is properly calibrated, but just that you have unconsciously masqueraded the problem

It is also foundamental to remake the test everytime you buy a new body or a new lens

The market is full of expensive tools to do it more professionally. However, if you are low in budget, you could do the same for free in a more homemade, old fashioned way, or even by bringing your equipment to your assistance center

HOW TO MAKE THE AUTOFOCUS ACCURACY AND CALIBRATION TEST:

There are several chances to make it. Choose your favourite one and be responsible for what you do

Remember that there’s no need to do this test with CDAF, which presents a great accuracy all the times and it doesn’t suffer in anyway of lens misalignments

FIRST CHOICE: THE OFFICIAL NIKON INSTRUCTIONS

If you want you can follow the official instructions by Nikon reported here which include all the steps to do both the accuracy and the eventual calibration procedure.

Probably it’s the best way if you own a Nikon camera. I suppose the same applies also to other brands, but obviously, you will find some difference in the camera controls and settings names, reason why if you own a Canon or other brands, you should try to search for further help

“HOW TO USE THE AF-TUNE FUNCTION BY NIKON”

 

SECOND CHOICE: BRING THE EQUIPMENT TO THE ASSISTANCE CENTER

At least for me, when i went to the assistance to tell them that i found some misalignment, they did a test again for free to understand if the camera and lenses needed a recalibration or not (yes it needed it, i was right)

So, possibly, whenever you buy a new equipment, bring it immediately to your assistance center and ask them to make a calibration test to ensure that your new toy is perfectly calibrated with every lens you own. I strictly suggest you not to wait so longer to do it, otherwise, if you simply start to use and work with your equipment, you could seriously come back home disappointed after discovering that your camera or lenses were uncalibrated.

 

ALTERNATIVE CHOICE: MY PERSONAL HOMEMADE TEST

There’s another alternative choice for those who don’t want to take the car and visit the assistance center. You can make a test at home, at your own risk

There’s nothing special in my test, and of course is not the official one. However, i can say that i have been able to find some misalignments with it, which have been also recognized by my support when i asked for help, as proof of its goodness.

The main advantage in using it, as said, is that you don’t need to bring the equipment to assistance, but in turn you must be a little bit good in doing it. It could be furtherly useful if you find the one by Nikon reported above to be more tricky

Feel free to try it if you like it, as long as you are conscious that it’s something “homemade” and “unofficial”, although for me, it worked well all the times (i have had always a double confirmation by Nikon assistance whenever i have found misalignments with my test)

Let’s proceed:

  1. go under sun light (Phase detect is extremely susceptible to artificial light and it can mislead the final result, confirmed by my Nikon support)
  2. ensure that the sun is above your head or behind you, not on front (Phase detect is also very susceptible to frontal light, thus producing misleading results, confirmed by my Nikon support)
  3. mount your favourite lens (let’s say 18-105)
  4. put your camera on a tripod
  5. turn off the stabilizer
  6. ensure to enable the “single point autofocus mode” and select the middle point through the viewfinder
  7. use the Aperture Priority mode and choose the smaller numeric aperture value you can, or, as Nikon suggests, one stop more (let’s say f1.8 or, with one stop more would be f2.8, or still, 3.5, with one stop more would be f5.6)
  8. if you can, turn on the “exposure delay mode” to slow down the mirror movement to avoid misleading shaking effect
  9. turn on the self timer, set at 5 seconds, to avoid hand shaking effect which can mislead the result, or, as an alternative, use an external remote control
  10. put the minimum focal lenght, let’s say 18mm
  11. decide a subject at a short distance. An optimal subject should be:
    1. very well contrasted with areas of high contrasted colors
    2. be on the same plain, like a newspaper page or a car plate
    3. be free of fine detailed textures, repetitive patterns or reflections
  12. turn on the LCD screen and increase the LCD zoom as much as you can on the subject with the + button on your camera, to improve your capability to manually focus with naked eyes
  13. turn off the autofocus
  14. manually focus on the subject by using the ring on the lens and the LCD zoomed at maximum as per point 11, or, if your lens doesn’t allow it, as a last resort use the autofocus but through the display and not through the viewfinder (Contrast Detect)
  15. take the picture
  16. now turn on again the autofocus if you have turned it off to manually focus as per point 13/14, or keep it turned on if you have already done it to use the Contrast Detect as per point 13/14
  17. move a little bit the autofocus ring randomly to force autofocus to misalign. If you can’t use the ring, as a last resort put a second subject at a shorter distance like a finger, focus on it by half press the button, and than remove it
  18. now focus on the main subject and take the shot by using the view finder (Phase Detect)
  19. repeat 1-17 points this time with a mid subject distance
  20. repeat 1-17 points this time with a long subject distance
  21. repeat 1-20 points this time with a medium focal lenght (es. 50mm)
  22. repeat 1-20 points this time with the maximum focal length (es. 105mm)
  23. If you have a very wide focal lenght range lens like a 18-200mm, consider to make the same test for more intermediate focal lenghts instead of just a minimum, a medium, and a maximum one
  24. repeat 1-23 points with ALL your lenses combined with ALL your cameras bodies
  25. repeat 1-23 points with many different subjects for a more redundant and more reliable result

Now that the test is over, upload your pictures on your computer and compare them one by one at 100% of size, not just at screen size. If you find that the sharpness over the main subject of your manually focus pictures, or those taken with LCD Contract Detect in case you missed the manual ring, are both so much more precise than those made with PDAF, than you could have some misalignment problems, both back focus or front focus

Should you detect a misalignment you have a couple of choices:

  • the best thing would be to ask to your assistance center so that they will take care of it
  • As a second option, If you have a camera with AF TUNE function (this is the name for the Nikon version, check if you have an equivalent one for your brand), and you feel confident with it (do it at your own risk), you can try to calibrate this parameter a little bit and repeat the entire test. Basically the AF TUNE allows you to tell to the camera to focus a little bit more backward or forward to compensate the misalignment

 

AN ALTERNATIVE “AF TUNE BASED” METHOD TO CALIBRATE YOUR CAMERA:  THE “DOT TUNE TEST”

Instead of relying on continuous testing to perfectly find the best af-tune as suggested in the previous paragraph, i have found on the web a method called DOT-TUNE, which more or less, requires the user to find the edge values in the AF-TUNE on both positive and negative ranges (AF TUNE is a scale from -15 to +15), among which the PDAF is still capable to focus and produce the “beep” sound and to show the green confirmation dot. Once you find these edges, you must choose an average number, and that will be your calibration value.

Let’s make an example:

Let’s say that you move the AF TUNE back and forth and find that your camera produces a beep only from -8 to +1, and after that it refuses to focus at all. Well, the perfect value to calibrate your lens will be around -4

However, i don’t want to furtherly explain it, and, instead, i prefer you to refer to some useful resources to understand how it works and how to use it

Here is a link to a post on the Fred Miranda website:

http://www.fredmiranda.com/forum/topic/1187247

Here is a link to a video on Youtube which explains it:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7zE50jCUPhM

 

IMPORTANT NOTES ABOUT MY TEST AND THE AF TUNE FUNCTION

Please, in case you have considered to use my test or the DOT-TUNE test, ensure to read these notes before proceeding:

NOTE 1: please, keep in mind that AF TUNE is a very delicate function. It has some limitations too. The first one is to not exaggerate. Values greater than -7 or +7 should be considered excessive, and in case you need to go beyond, it would be better to give up and bring the lens in assistance, especially if it is still under warranty

NOTE 2: AFTUNE allows you to only set one value per lens. Therefore, if you find that the level of misalignment is different along the focal lenght of a specific lens, there’s nothing you can do on most cameras (consider, however, that some expensive cameras, allow you to set specific values for specific focal lenghts on the same lens instead of just 1 value per lens). For example, if you find that at 18mm the misalignment is acceptable, let’s say around -1, while at 105 there is a -6 misalignment, you can only put -3 as a “middle way” by accepting the compromise, or bring the camera to assistance and ask them if they can solve the issue or if you are forced to accept and live with it

NOTE 3: as specified above, the test is valid only if made under sun light. Artificial lights tend to fool the Phase Detect, and back or front focus issues in this case should be considered normal. A Nikon technician confirmed this on the phone. From my test, i have found that PDAF it’s very problematic especially under very warm light with wide aperture lenses, like the case of using a 35mm f1.8 under the lights of a city in the evening or that of an house desk lamp. In my case, if during sun light i just need a -2 calibration on this lens, in the night or with the light of a desk lamp, I need to push the AF TUNE to -7. As said above, it’s normal as is

NOTE 4: Nikon recommends to use the AFTUNE as less as possible. This is an extract from the official D7000 manual

“AF tuning is not recommended in most situations and may interfere with normal focus”

NOTE 5: when you buy a lens, try to ask for a test directly at the shop with your personal camera body, so that before giving away your money, you can immediately see if the lens is good or not for you. If you buy the lens online, in some countries you are even allowed to keep the product for some days, during which you are still free to send it back. In this way, you have all the time to check it and eventually ask for a money refund. Read the selling terms and conditions of your favourite online shop and see if they allow you to do it. Useless to say, the same is valid if you decide to buy a used lens. Ask to the owner if he allows you to make the test before giving him your money

NOTE 6:  as already stated, a calibration is valid only per lens/body pair. So, should you change the body, it’s better to repeat the test from scratch

NOTE 7:  I want to stress this point one more time. Remember that this is always a homemade test, thus it’s not 100% precise, plus it requires some skill to be executed. If you are a novice or feel unconfident, simply, take ALL your equipment and ask to your assistance center for a lens and body check just after you have bought them to be sure they are calibrated before you start to use them

 

A FURTHER LENS MISALIGNMENT ISSUE: UNBALANCED CORNER SOFTNESS

Before proceeding i would like to conclude the discussion about lens misalignments by spending some last words regarding a second problem which is related to the corners of your pictures

Basically, for the same reason of lens misalignment, it can also happen that you find different and unbalanced blurness level along the 4 corners, or, in different terms, you can find that a corner is exhaggerately more blurred than the others

Keep in mind however, that a generic and correctly balanced corner blurness it’s normal, especially at lower numeric aperture values like f3.5

HOW TO CHECK FOR IT

Do the following:

  • put a newspaper perfectly perpendicular in front of your camera. Be careful that is completely flat, otherwise the result would be compromised
  • mount the camera on a tripod
  • take a manually focused picture by applying all the recommendations of the previous test, including using a smaller numeric aperture value (at greater numeric aperture value, starting from f11/f16, the problem is less visible)
  • repeat the test at different focal lenghts
  • repeat the test with more flat objects for a more redundant result

Now check the picture on your monitor at 100% of the size and compare the 4 corners to see if they are equally sharp or not

Should you find any incongruence, you can decide to live with it or to contact your assistance.

As a workaround, you can use a greater numeric aperture value like f.16, which, thanks to its greater depth of field could masquerade the defect, but it’s something i don’t recommend, because many times you could need different apertures, and with such aperture values, you could even begin to get some diffraction (read the paragraph below dedicated to “diffraction”)

FULL ORIGINAL SAMPLE IMAGE:

8273660863_d12ede1f82_o

SIMULATION OF THE PROBLEM:

THE UPPER LEFT AND BOTTOM LEFT CORNER RESULT MORE BLURRED THAN THE OTHERS

Immagine

 

FURTHER MISTAKES AND PROBLEMS WITH THE REFLEX AUTOFOCUS SYSTEM

Now that you know how to check for misalignment, is time to proceed further by understanding some other issues you can encounter due to its limited nature or your mistakes

Please read them one by one carefully and always refer to your instructions manual and to your assistance in case of doubts

 

BECOME FAMILIAR WITH THE AUTOFOCUS SINGLE POINT MODE AND LEARN TO USE IT

Usually, when you take the camera for the first time, you couldn’t realize that you have different autufocus aiming points available on the viewfinder which can be selected with the cursors or even automatically managed by the camera itself, although the latter option is terribly misleading. Infact, the camera is not intelligent enough to understand which is the subject of your pictures, and often, it can happens that the background is in focus, and that your subject, a human for example, is blurry (the same doesn’t happen with human if you focus from the LCD with Face Detect function, which has born to solve this issue for novice users).

Cattura

So, check your camera manual and learn how to activate the Single Point Mode. Once you enable this function, you must learn how to use it. In particular, proceed as follow:

  • be sure that the center point on the viewfinder is selected. It is the most used one and it’s the best one for this example procedure
  • aim the point to the subject you want
  • half press the button. You will hear a beep to confirm the camera has focused
  • keep the button pressed, and do not release it for any reason
  • compose your picture as you like more
  • now shoot by pressing more deeply the button

In conclusion, although your subject is on one side of the camera, using this technique you can be 100% sure that the focus will be on your subject and not elsewhere

ENSURE TO DISABLE CONTINUOUS AF MODE IF YOU DON’T NEED IT

The autofocus, in case of fast moving subject, allows you to select a mode for which, when you keep the button half pressed, instead of producing the confirmation beep, it continuously focus on it. However, if you have accidentally enabled this function, it could bring you to out of focus pictures, because you will be unable to apply the technique explained in the previous paragraph, for which once you half press the button on a good and well contrasted subject, the autofocus becomes “locked”.

Check your manual to understand how to disable the continuous AF mode, and please note that learning how to use it for fast moving subject is beyond the scope of this article, reason why in this one i have only pointed out “why” you should disable it

PROTECT THE LENS WITH YOUR HAND WHILE FOCUSING IN COUNTERLIGHT

The autofocus, like a real human eye, gets dazzled when you take pictures in counterlight. Having the sun in front creates some beautiful light effect, however you must pay attention while shooting in this manner.

Using the well known lens hood included in the package to reduce “flare” is not enough in most cases, thus if you don’t pay attention most of the times you will get lot of back or front focused pictures (with Nikon i have found lot of front focus problem in counterlight).

However, i must say that Contrast Detect is a little bit less susceptible to this issue and more reliable than Phase Detect

The trick to use is very simple, and after many tests I have come to the conclusion that it works greatly.

Here are the detailed steps to shoot in counterlight with the viewfinder (PDAF):

  • Ensure you have selected Autofocus Single
  • Put a hand in front of the lens as you would do with your eyes when you look at the horizon and feel dazzled, by leaving uncovered just the center point of the viewfinder used to focus (don’t touch the lens with your fingers anyway)
  • find a nicely contrasted subject around you to focus.
  • Now half press the button to focus and keep it pressed all the time
  • Leave the hand from your lens to clear the view from it
  • Compose the picture as you like
  • Shoot!

That’s it! Easy and effective! The most important thing is to put the hand in front of the lens while autofocusing, and to select a nice subject. Other subjects, dark, or full of reflections, although you still hear the confirmation “beep” from the autofocus, could bring you to out of focus results.

NOTE: Of course if you prefer, you could simply turn back, focus on something at the same distance while keeping the sun on your side or on your back, than turn again in counterlight and shoot. or, if you are using a very narrow aperture like f.11, you could even disable the autofocus, put the ring of the lens at infinity (8 symbol), and shoot. However, this could be really boring, unprecise, and unconvenient, and i personally prefer more this technique.

 

AVOID TO FOCUS ON REPETITIVE PATTERNS OR OBJECT AND SURFACES WITH STRONG LIGHT GLARE

Objects with strong reflections, repetitive patterns and texturized surfaces are tremendous. They makes the autofocus crazy as also officially confirmed by Nikon on their website autofocus FAQs, although i must say, from my test it looks like Contrast Detect is less susceptible to the problem than Phase Detect. Some examples are:

  • Flowers fields
  • Textures
  • Buildings with very close glass windows in sequence
  • Tree Foliage
  • light reflecting puddles
  • light reflecting cars bodies

To solve the problem ensure to follow one of these tips:

  • focus on a better subject
  • focus on subjects without strong reflections
  • focus on a different subject which is outside your composition but still at the same distance by applying the technique explained in the paragraph about the AF Single Point mode above.
  • use the manual focus function
  • try to limit any risk by using a narrow aperture like f.11 which increase the depth of field and masquerades the problem

Please check this useful link by Nikon where it officially explains all these tips:

Nikon Tips on using Autofocus

 

ALWAYS TRY TO FOCUS ON HIGH CONTRAST OBJECTS ON THE SAME PLAIN

When you focus, It is very important to find a nice object with nicely contrasted elements. Focusing on smooth color surfaces, on the water, tree foliage, flowers field, and in general on confused subjects without clear contrasted elements will bring you to bad results.

The same is true if you choose a point composed by 2 areas at a different distance, like for example, the edge of a table with a distant background.

Concluding, a nice object to focus on is one with 2 contrasted colors and one whose areas of contrast are on the same plain

EXAMPLE: the eyes of a human are a typical good example of this. Black in the middle, white around (so well contrasted), and on the same plain

Look at this picture to better understand what i’m talking about. Red squares, bad focus points, green squares, good ones

9327905439_fb18bd1ca9_b

Please check this very useful link by Nikon where it officially explains all these points: 

Nikon Tips on using Autofocus

 

USE THE LCD LIVE VIEW WHEN POSSIBLE

In case you are taking a very important shot which includes a static and relaxed subjects, like in the case of a common landscape, it would be nice to rely on the Contrast Detect, more reliable and precise than Phase Detect. However, if you feel bored due to its slowness, or just in case the LCD is not enough visible, be free to decide what’s better for you

Due to this aspect, it’s important to keep always in mind, however, that using the Live View is not just a question of taste and comfort, but also of reliability.

 

CHOOSE THE CORRECT EXPOSURE SPEED

Choosing the right exposure speed is foundamental and the right choice can avoid to make your pictures blurred due to handshaking

NOTE: choosing the right exposure for fast subjects is beyond the scope of this article. Instead, i would like to concentrate on the resolution of the exposure handshaking problem

Over time i found this trick very useful and i want to tell you what’s all about. Someone has even written about it in some books, and i can confirm is tremendously useful, especially if you pretend a very good sharpness when you print your pictures at very big sizes

  • Rule: When you select a focal lenght, than keep the exposure speed in a range of a value which is at least double the focal lenght or greater
  • Example: if you are using a 50mm focal lenght, ensure that the speed will be at least 1/100, or even greater. If you are using 70mm, ensure the speed will be 1/150 or greater (more or less)

 

WHAT TO DO IF YOU NEED A SLOWER SPEED DUE TO INSUFFICIENT LIGHT

If you are facing a situation with poor light which requires a speed which is smaller than the one recommended in the rule above, and you can’t take advantage of a higher ISO value or a wider aperture for any reason, you could proceed as follow:

if you are able at least to keep the speed value equal or half of the focal lenght (Es: 50mm, speed in the range of 1/25 or 1/50) do these points (altogheter):

  • be extremely steady
  • turn on the stabilizer
  • hold your breath while shooting

 

If you are unable to do so, and the speed is even smaller than the half of the focal lenght (Es: 50mm, speed less than 1/25, like 1/10, 1/5 and so on), do this point:

  • no way, just use a stabilizer

So, concluding, as long as the speed is kept above the half of the focal lenght, more or less you can still take a handhelded shot, otherwise, you should use a tripod

NOTE 1: it’s a common mistake and a wrong belief in my opinion to think that there’s a standard minimum handheld tolerable slow speed, which, for most people, is considered to be around 1/60. In my personal experience, this is wrong.  The minimum speed as written above, mostly depends by the focal lenght. Thus, with 20mm i could easily shoot at 1/40, while, of course, i couldn’t do the same with a focal lenght of 300mm which would require a speed around 1/600 (more or less)

Probably, the reason for such wrong belief is that one of the most used lens of the past has always been the 35mm, for which, in fact, 1/60 represents a double value, thus corresponding to the rule i explained

NOTE 2: It’s another wrong belief in my opinion that the rule i have explained has no reason to exist anymore. This idea is born from the fact that most people tend to see pictures just in a “monitor size” and to print them with a very small format, and from the fact that today cameras have so many megapixel that the sensor is capable is enough to compensate for the loss of resolution due to handshake blurness. However, the lack of sharpness due to incorrect exposure will be become extremely visible if you make a big print, no matter how many megapixels you have, although they can surely help a little bit.

Therefore, it’s very important, to understand “how much sharp” your picture is, by checking it ALWAYS at 100% of size and not at monitor size.

 

USE THE EXPOSURE DELAY OPTION

In addition to the previous paragraph, in many situations, when the speed become as low as, more or less, 1/40 on short focal lenghts and 1/100 on long focal lenghts, (keep in mind however that this speed vary from lens to lens as i saw from my tests), the internal mirror of the camera, that beautiful thing that makes the “clak” sound when you shoot, can produce some vibrations and ruins your picture.

To avoid this, there is a simple trick. Activate the “exposure delay option” if you have it on your Nikon camera, or check for something equivalent in case you own a different branded camera

exposuredelay

What it does is to rise up the mirror, wait a longer instant than it usually does, and than take the shoot to avoid the vibrations, although it should be noted that the shot will require a longer waiting time, reason why, this trick it’s not the best if you need to be faster. In this case, don’t worry and shoot.

Check your manual to understand how to activate it.

 

TURN THE STABILIZER OFF IF THE EXPOSURE SPEED IS ENOUGH HIGH

I want to start this paragraph by immediately pointing out that what i am talking about is NOT the common problem of using the stabilizer on the tripod.

I’m going to talk about it in the next paragraph. In this case we talk about handhelded shots.

This is one of the most infamous but still one of the most unknown problem among many photographers. The logic behind this problem is:

“the lens stabilizer is a great thing. Why should i turn it off? it could always help me if i leave it on”

Wrong!

The stabilizer, in case your hand are better than it and very steady like a tripod, could ruin your pictures. I know what you are thinking…..

“How it is possible? it is made to reduce the blurness not to make it!”

Wrong again!

If the speed of the exposure is enough to take a picture in respect of my rule of thumb explained in the precedent paragraph (so around double the focal lenght), if you still keep the stabilizer turned on, it will make your pictures completely blurred. I can guarantee that, at least, this happens with many different VR I and II Nikon lenses as I found in my handhald tests on different bodies with different Nikon lenses, in particular the 55-200VR and the 16-85VR.

In particular, there is a precise range of speed at which this happens. I have found that more or less, this happens when the speed is double the focal lenght in the range of 1/50 and 1/400. A speed greater than 1/400 is enough fast to masquerade the issue

However, my friend has confirmed me that it is happening also on his Canon lenses, although i didn’t have the chance to test it personally

Have a look for yourself to this phenomenon. Following are 4 handhelded images, 2 with VR turned on at exposure speed of 1/160 and 1/100 and the same 2 with VR turned off.

As you will see, the 2 handhelded with VR turned off, strangely, are better

STABILIZER OFF (NIKON VR) WITH EXPOSURE SPEED OF 1/160: GOOD RESULT (100% CROP)

VR OFF (1)

STABILIZER OFF  (NIKON VR) WITH EXPOSURE SPEED OF 1/100: GOOD RESULT (100% CROP)

VR OFF (2)

STABILIZER ON  (NIKON VR) WITH EXPOSURE SPEED OF 1/160: BAD RESULT (100% CROP)

VR ON (3)

STABILIZER ON  (NIKON VR) WITH EXPOSURE SPEED OF 1/100: BAD RESULT (100% CROP)

VR ON (4)

WHY THIS IS HAPPENING

Generically speaking, i personally suppose that the stabilizer is something that is continuously moving to prepared to compensate for your strong handshake. However, if you are very steady almost like a tripod, its compensation movements could become an enemy instead of an aid

HOW TO AVOID IT, A RULE OF THUMB

Simply speaking, do not use the stabilizer as long as the exposure speed value is higher than the focal lenght that you are using. Otherwise, when the value becomes the same or even slower, turn it on.

Example:  let’s consider a picture at 50mm. Keep the stabilizer off as long as the exposure speed will be, 1/100 or greater. Turn it on when it becomes 1/50 or lower

That’s it!

IMPORTANT NOTE: keep in mind that this explanation is valid for steady shot on a even steady ground. However, if you are in critical shaking situations like in a moving car, or in a moving train for example, or in general in situations where it’s easy for you to shake very much your hands, i recommend to keep the stabilizer turned on all the times, because in this case, it can really help without the exceptions explained in this paragraph

Further reading: The famous Thom Hogan in his article, talks about, more or less, the same thing, pointing out as well what i have said. This is his initial sentence:

“The first and most important rule of VR is this: never turn VR on unless it’s actually needed”

 

TURN THE STABILIZER OFF ON TRIPOD

This is the second situation where, for the same logic of the previous paragraph, you should keep the stabilizer turned off. I’m talking about when you are taking a picture on a tripod, otherwise, we can bet 100 bucks, you will be a sad man once back home.

Once again, for those who didn’t read the previous paragraph, the stabilizer with a camera on a tripod produces a countereffect by generating a bad blur effect, because it continuously oscillates to prepare to compensate your handshake, a movement which will never happen, because your camera is on the tripod, not in your hands.

You are adviced…..

STABILIZER

FOCUSING IN DARK LANDSCAPES

This is one of the most infamous problems of lot of cameras especially for those photographers who like to take night landscape shots

How to definitely solve it? You can still use the onboard function which, in case of Nikon, it is called “Built-in AF Illuminator assistant, which enlights a little bit the subject if it’s quite close to you

However, what you can do in case of distant subject? My idea is simple. Buy a laser pointer, aim it at your subject and focus, possibly by still using the manual focus function or the LCD Live View, and by using the Phase Detect only as a last resort. I’m afraid that the laser beam could fool the PDAF

I have personally tested it with the CDAF of the Live View with very good result

LASER

 

 

Another alternative is to put the ring at infinity symbol, the horizontal “8” on your lens focus scale, and ensure to select an aperture numeric value of at least f8.0 or greater, like f.11. Otherwise, with apertures like f2.0, at infinity you could find that the foreground is too much out of focus.

Moreover, the trick of the Infinity symbol is valid only in case of very short focal lenghts like 18mm or 35mm. With zoomed values like 200mm I absolutely recommend to avoid it

 

CHOOSE THE RIGHT APERTURE TO AVOID UNDESIRED BLURNESS AND DIFFRACTION IN LANDSCAPE SHOTS

Reflex cameras are famous for producing a greater blur effect on the background respect to compact cameras, which is great for portaits but a problem for landscapes. That is due to a different sensor and lens size, which permits a higher light divergence, thus producing a more limited depth of field

Just to clarify, depth of field is intended, more or less, as the extension of the area in which you perceive things to be in focus, which is influenced, in addition to aperture value, by other factors like the focusing distance (the closer you focus, the more the blurness you get), the size of the picture you are watching, the viewing distance of your displaying support like monitor or paper, your myopia level, and lastly your personal tolerance to what your mind consider enough sharp or not, a concept that i don’t want to explain in this article and that it’s commonly known as the “circle of confusion”)

Check this great link from Cabridge In Colour for a lesson about the Depth of Field and Circle of Confusion:

CAMBRIDGE IN COLOR: TUTORIAL, DEPTH OF FIELD

Due to this, if you come from the world of compact cameras, you could find that although with your old toy at f4.0 you could get great landscapes, with your reflex part of the scenery could be undesiderably blurry

Keep in mind that aperture is a scale ranging, depending by the lens properties, from f1.4 to f.36. The higher the number, the greater the depth of field

So, the logic, apparently, seems to be, if you want a perfect sharp shot from foreground to background, increase the aperture number as much as possible, because the higher value, the higher depth of field

That’s wrong…..

Often, especially if you are unaware of it, in the reflex world is very easy to face a second problem, known as “diffraction”

Basically when you exhaggerate with the aperture number, by narrowing too much the lens hole to increase at maximum the depth of field, something bad happens. The blades which dispose themselves all around the hole as much as they can to make it narrower, create a wide surface along which the light rebounces back, by creating, as a countereffect, a blurness along the entire picture

Imagine that people are exiting from a church in a very calmed and fluent manner, with the entire main door opened. Now imagine that someone closes the main door and leaves opened just a very small door. Suddenly, the situation can become crazy and extremely crowded and exiting from the church could become stressful, and someone could even think to turn back, sit down again and wait for other people to exit before doing it…..

well…..it’s the same for the light…..

You can furtherly check this link from Cambridge In Colour for a further explanation about the diffraction phenomenon:

CAMBRIDGE IN COLOUR: LENS DIFFRACTION

 

SO, WHAT’S THE CORRECT APERTURE VALUE TO CHOOSE FOR A NICE LANDSCAPE?

More or less, with all the exceptions of the case which you should personally experiment on the field day by day, a good reliable and very generic value, which is a great compromise between depth of field and diffraction, in my opinion, with most of the lenses out there, is f.11

After that, starting from f.16, you get diffraction in a gradual manner.

As said, you can start from that value, check the result, and see if you want to push the aperture a little bit more, especially if the subject you are focus on is quite close to you and you still want the background to be perfectly in focus

There could be even situations when, like in the macro photography where a very high numeric value of aperture is required like f.22, you can prefer a more depth of field at the cost of some acceptable diffraction, instead of a sharp “diffraction free” shot with a very limited depth of field.

As an example, when i take many macro shots, i tend to use f.22, although i am aware of the diffraction. After all, with just f.11, a macro shot would have almost a non existant depth of field, making the use of such value senseless, due to the fact that the more you focus close to you, and the more you are exponentially reducing the extension of the depth of field. With macro, this is something that happens even more dramatically…..

If you have further time, you can have fun with this great online tool by Cambridge In Colour with which you can precisely calculate the depth of field for the parameters you are using on your camera, including the subject distance and other interesting influencing factors

CAMBRIDGE IN COLOUR: DEPTH OF FIELD CALCULATOR

 

THE TRICK OF HYPERFOCAL DISTANCE

It is said, and greatly recognized, that, in case of landscape shots, there is a perfect distance by which, focusing on it, you can  get a even greater depth of field by maintaining the same aperture value

Therefore, deciding to focus on something which is 3 meters from you, or 50 meters for you, in a landscape shot could make the difference

As a rule of thumb, the hyperfocal distance is usually and easily found by focusing on something which is far 1/3 of the total distance of the landscape

Keep in mind however, that the hyperfocal distance has also a drawback. It tends to penalize subjects which are closer to you, by giving more emphasis to medium and in part high distance subjects. Therefore, it becomes useful if, in your landscape shot, there’s no a precise subject to emphasize. The same is not true if there is something in the foreground which requires a special sharpness level, more than the background, although it’s still a landscape shot, like a human being for example. In this case it’s absolutely better to focus directly on the human being.

However, instead of providing further explanations, i would prefer to suggest you another very interesting link always from Cambridge in Colour, where this phenomenon is very well explained

CAMBRIDGE IN COLOUR: THE HYPERFOCAL DISTANCE

ONE LAST POINT. CLEAN YOUR EQUIPMENT

It’s almost useless to talk about it, though i must say, i still find lot of photographers with their lenses completely dirty and full of fingers signs.

This, of course, is a great reason for getting some bad pictures

Moreover, despite the lenses, sometimes even the body could require some cleanliness.

Refer to your instruction manual or to your assistance to understand how to take care of your equipment, and once again

Cleaning your camera and lenses can be dangerous and you could even seriously damage your equipment, although it is something i recommend to do over time……..

you are advised…..

A LITTLE EXTRA ANNOTATION OUTSIDE THE ARTICLE SCOPE: THE BAD STORIES ABOUT THE D7000/D7100 AUTOFOCUS PROBLEMS

Some months ago i was in the boat of those blaming the Nikon D7000/D7100 Phase Detect for having lot of autofocus problems. Well, today not only i have completely changed my mind in favour of Nikon, but i can also guarantee that, 80% of the times, the problems are just due to unconsciousness of people…. I was unconscious too, but i was wrong….. it can be a bad utilization of the AF Tune, it can be the bad use of VR, or misuse of other functions, however, with my actual knowledge level, the D7000 has demonstrated to be a beast and a perfect camera, and that i was just a wrong guy

Trust me, if you are in trouble with your D7000 or D7100, don’t be angry, read my article carefully, leave me a message, and i will help to solve all your issues…..

And if you still don’t believe me, just reach me in Rome in Italy with your camera. We can have beer togheter, and try your camera personally.

I will help you to understand if you are making any mistake

 

CONCLUSION

Although some of my explanations and tips could appear strange, wrong, or even too much homemade, as a proof of their goodness, in the last periods i have been able to produce beautiful, sharp and crisp shots, without any sort of problem, whereas in the past, without these precautions, i was continuously in trouble.

Today whenever i make some “pixel peeping” through my pictures at 200% of zoom on the screen to check hedge to hedge sharpness, i just get incredibly happy of what i see

I have spent the last months in pouring my blood and sweat in doing hours and hours of deep test with my equipment, and today i must say, i consider myself among the happiest and fearless Nikonian D7000 photographers out there

Should you need any help or find any error in the article, leave me a message

Thanks for reading!

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Discussion

5 thoughts on “NO MORE BLURRY PICTURES: MY COMPLETE GUIDE

  1. Clicking the title in your message body brought me to a page on your blog that says Pagina non trovata, (page not found?) but I REALLY want to read this post. If you could direct me to it, I’d be most grateful!

    Date: Fri, 23 May 2014 16:13:24 +0000 To: karenmulhern@live.com

    Posted by SmallHouseBigGarden | May 23, 2014, 7:12 pm
  2. Your wealth of knowledge is unbelievable. Thank you for sharing all that you have learned and worked so hard to accomplish. I too have a Nikon D700 and have had several out of focus pictures lately. I am going to try all of your methods. Thanks again for all you have done to help improve the photography skills of others and to help those in need. May God bless you abundantly.

    Posted by kim | September 3, 2014, 9:01 pm

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