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where is the sharpest f-stop for landscape?

Chi Siu , Feb 19, 2009; 03:37 p.m.

I just went through wiki for f-stop just to reassuring myself. I have been thought using to use smaller aperture for sharpness, so I always stay at f16 or f22 when taking landscape shots with long exposure. On the other hand, the content in wiki describes the sharpest aperture is at the medium opening like f5.6-f8. Older lenses at f/11. Is it true?


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Matt Laur , Feb 19, 2009; 03:47 p.m.

This is going to depend on what camera (format) you're using, the focal lengths involved, the distances involved, etc. But the short message is: when you're stopped down to f/16 or f/22 on, say, an APS-C format digital camera, you're actually introducing diffraction, which robs you of some sharpness. Without anything else to go on, I'd say f/8 or f/11. But where you focus it (distance-wise), and the focal length of the lens will have a lot to do with the results, too. Well, that and good tripod technique!

D N , Feb 19, 2009; 03:48 p.m.

Very few lenses perform at their peak at either extreme of aperture settings. I find that f8-f13 is often "best".

Evan Goulet , Feb 19, 2009; 03:50 p.m.

It really will depened on the lens and format of camera you are using. Even within a given model of lens, there may be some slight performance differences between individual lenses. The best thing to do is to go out and try a bunch of different apertures, focal lengths, and focus points. Take good notes to go along with EXIF (assuming digital), and you will reach a conclusion that you know is pertinent to your lens/camera combination.

Rob Bernhard , Feb 19, 2009; 03:57 p.m.

Not only does it depend on the factors already mentioned but it also depends on the size of your final output.

Use the aperture you need to achieve the DoF and shutter speeds you want.

Ross Murphy , Feb 19, 2009; 04:00 p.m.

In basic terms, yes. However I usually have no problem at f11 and some times higher

Mike Earussi , Feb 19, 2009; 04:03 p.m.

The best way to find out is to do your own testing and then decide for yourself, as it varies from lens to lens and from person to person. Personally I use the widest f stop I can because I don't like the lower contrast and resolution diffraction always introduces.

Mark Sirota , Feb 19, 2009; 04:13 p.m.

It also depends on your subject matter and requirement for a deep depth of field.

John DeMott , Feb 19, 2009; 04:40 p.m.

There are two different concepts being discussed here--sharpness and depth of field. As a rule of thumb, a lens will be sharpest (the in-focus areas will be rendered with the greatest clarity and resolution) somewhere around two stops down from wide open. As you begin to stop down further, some of that sharpness will be lost to diffraction effects. In modern DSLRs, diffraction typically starts to be a significant issue somewhere past f/11. Larger format cameras begin to experience troublesome diffraction at smaller apertures while small format cameras like point and shoot cameras may begin to see diffraction at fairly wide apertures.
Depth of field refers to the depth of the zone (near to far) in which the image appears to be in focus. Depth of field will increase as you stop down, but at some point you will lose the practical benefit of the increased depth of field as diffraction becomes more and more of an issue. That is, the zone of focus will continue to increase but the softness from diffraction will make it seem like it is out of focus.
In a traditional landscape photo, you are interested in rendering as much of the scene sharply and in focus as possible. The particular aperture that will give you that result will necessarily be a compromise, depending on the scene and the particular lens and camera you are using. If you are using a lens with a maximum aperture of f/2.8, the sharpest result for that lens might be f/5.6; and if you are photographing a subject, like a rock wall, that is all at the same distance from you then f/5.6 might be your best choice. But if you have a scene stretching into the distance, you may need to stop down to get it all into focus, even if that means compromising a bit on sharpness in some parts of the scene.
With landscape shots, it is usually easy to shoot the same scene multiple times on a tripod, using different settings, so you can determine what works best. Bear in mind that some of the differences are subtle and may be evident only when you take a photo with a high quality lens and view it at very large sizes. If you take a shot hand-held and print it at a small size, changes in critical sharpness may not be visible at all.

Chi Siu , Feb 19, 2009; 05:58 p.m.

Thank you so much, all of your answers lead to one last question. I shoot medium format using a hassy 503cx w/ 80mm f2.8, if I use f/5.6 or f/8 in this case instead of f/22, then I can't get the long exposure time that I want. What can I do to obtain both sides?

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