Razor sharp

I read several photography blogs, check out photo websites, watch tutorials and read gear reviews.  In doing so I’ve discovered the sub-culture of sharpness, people who revel in the clear, clean details that come from good glass, technique and post-processing.  As with any such group, some carry it way too far (the avid pixel-peepers who literally can’t see the picture for the pixels) but in general I feel the group as a whole is just a bunch of realists who firmly believe the essence of good photography is in-focus, sharp images.

I put myself firmly in that camp.

As such it frustrates me to read photographers extolling the sharpness of lens X, posting example images with suitable magnifications and doing so in a casual way that implies you can pick up these lenses at the drug store.  Many reviewers include a link to a site that sells lens X and generally I find a price that rocks me back.  It gets me to wondering – does more expensive glass really help make sharper images (all else being equal)?  It’s doubly frustrating for me as an Olympus user as I can’t simply run down to the camera store and rent lens X or I can’t find an adapter that enables me to mount lens X on my camera.  So how am I supposed to get an answer to my question?  Perhaps I’m willing to spend that much but blindly?  I don’t think so.

Well, at least until recently.  I did suck it up and buy an Olympus professional grade lens recently from a rental company getting out of the Four-Thirds format.  I trust their care for their lenses based on my own rentals from them so I felt the physical risk was small.  More of a risk to my pocketbook, actually.  What if it really takes more dollars to create sharper images?

In this case, more expensive glass does make sharper images.  Ouch and Wow at the same time.

I consider my technique pretty good to maximize sharpness:  tripod, mirror lock-up, delayed shutter release to let vibration settle down, aperture near the middle of the range.  Still, my go-to lenses just have never seemed to have that really crisp level of sharpness I want to achieve.  It isn’t a function of number of pixels or sensor size – they just don’t seem to resolve to the level I want.

This new lens certainly does.

I noticed it in my first test images – they just seemed to have that extra POP at first glance.  As I continued using the lens I started composing to deliberately test sharpness, just to see what would come through.  Not test targets or such, but rather real outdoor scenes with lots of detail (fractal detail as Ken Rockwell states).  Good grief, this lens really is sharper.

Today I made some images specifically to judge sharpness and I’m convinced – this lens is definitely sharper than my other lenses.  I’m not mooning over these images wondering, “how can I get that just a little sharper?”  I think a little sharper and this image would look unreal!

So, now the question to myself is what to do.  See if I can force most of my work through this lens or cough up more dough for other pro level glass from Olympus?  Or even switch brands entirely simply to get access to image quality I want?  As usual, a little learning ends up creating more questions than it answers.  At least I’m not wondering about the claims of those other photographers I reading!

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