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Nikon D90 with nikon 50mm F1.8 clarity and sharpness query

Sun P , Oct 19, 2009; 02:15 a.m.

Hello experts,

Hope you all had a great weekend! Well I did :)
Okay, so thanks to all of you now, based on all the research advice and suggestions from you and the posts on photo.net, I am really enjoying my new Nikon D90. I love the manual controls and learning a lot. I am also shooting purely in RAW and am amazed at the flexibility I get to correct my faults before generating a Jpeg, thus enhancing image quality. I do see a difference.
However, based on some test shots over the weekend, I am back with an older question about clarity and sharpness I had posted, this time with some statistics hoping that you can advice and help me out.
This is the photograph taken by me,

Now, this weekend I was trying out my new Nikon D90 and nikon 50mm 1.8D for some portraits with studio elinchrome 200W/s *2. Now some information of the photograph
1. Taken by placing the camera on a tripod.
2. Triggered using ML L3 remote
3. Aperture F8, Shutter 1/125, 50mm F1.8D
4. Subject not moving
5. Out of the camera, converted to JPG using lightroom without any modifications to the file.
6. Two elinchrome 200W/s at minimum light setting (Both the same) one placed at the left 45 degrees and 45 degrees down. The other softbox in front flat on subject.
7. ISO 160.
My problem is that, I still for some reason do not see the image as a professional level "3 dimensional" one. I guess that did not make sense :), but what I was trying to say is that I have seen images which are amazingly clear, sharp(I know I will get killed for using that word :) ) , clear and clear. The whole images look really lively and real. I know a lot can be done in photoshop. But I wanted to know is that the only way, An example of "clarity" can be seen on this photographers site
I mean the photographs are so clear(not necessary sharp, but every strand of hair, literally the retina of the eye, etc is so clear, and 3 dimensional(If that made sense)!!!!
1. IS this where the limitations of lower end cameras come and the higher end cameras come into picture.
2. Or is this what differentiates a consumer level lens from a Professional level lens.
3. Is this a mistake of lighting
4. Is the subject not proper, meaning there is no makeup etc
I mean, I have tried everything from tripod, right aperture, faster shutter speed as per max sync, subject not moving, etc etc.
What do you experts think? I have not even seen a Professional level lens let alone touching it, so I have no experience with that kind of lenses and camera bodies. The only lens apart from my 50 1.8 that I have used is the 18-55 nikon non vr Kit lens which I had with the d40 and no longer do.
The reason why I ask is that, if this is where the full frame camera, professional level lenses etc come in, then I guess, I might as well start planning and budgeting. If not, Please help!

Like always- Thanks :)


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James Symington , Oct 19, 2009; 07:11 a.m.


It is going to be 2 things in my opinion. Getting the lighting just right is one of them but probably even more important in this context is your sharpening strategy. Just getting it done in-camera will not be good enough to get to the level of the link you posted. You will need to do capture sharpening just to pep up the file, you will need to selectively sharpen parts of the image (often the eyes only) and then you will need to sharpen again to output it ot screen or print etc. The sharpening issue is a surprisingly vast and knotty one and you will need to read and practise much. A good start is to read postings by a chap called Patrick Lavoie on photo.net. He can be blunt but he does this kind of thing for a living and what he says is spot on.
It's not your lens - at f8 it will sing provided you have exact focus on your subject's eyes which it does not appear to be on your Facebook link. Also at f8 you may have too much depth-of-field to get a really good 3D effect going - try f4 for example or perhaps wider even.
Here's a very casual shot taken in natural light of my little daughter yesterday. Handheld on a D700 with the 50mm f1.4 G at f1.8 I think. Focused on her left eye and the only part of the image I sharpened were the catchlights on her eyes from the window.

James Symington , Oct 19, 2009; 07:20 a.m.

oops here it is


Kevin Delson , Oct 19, 2009; 09:21 a.m.

1. IS this where the limitations of lower end cameras come and the higher end cameras come into picture.

Great questions Sunil. You are approaching your photography as many who became excellent shooters in the right way. Asking is it me or the equipment is a good start. Many of us "artist" types hate to admit it's us, and we get frustrated when we can't get what we want; ahh but we persist until we do. 9 times out of 10 it is our own fault.
1) No; your D-90 will produce excellent professional results within it's own limitations as long as you use excellent lenses, controlled lighting and good technique. The last two we can devote a lifetime of learning to.

2. Or is this what differentiates a consumer level lens from a Professional level lens.

The 50mm 1.8 is actually used by many professionals, they just would prefer to NOT admit it. ;)
It is one of Nikon's best kept secrets..cheap, sharp and fast.

3. Is this a mistake of lighting

Yes. Mistake might be the wrong word, but it is the reason the result is not what you hoped for. Some may consider this MY opinion, yet I'm sure many will agree, lighting is everything! Even the word "photography" means (light) and (stylus or paintbrush).
I can't describe every possible lighting situation or setup, no one can. Looking at your image though I can conclude you did not "control" the light. You have a subject against a white wall and I'm guessing there are other white walls in the room. There is a lot of "light spill" from the wall I see as well as the ones I can't see. This "bleeding" of the light makes it almost impossible to control contrast, shadows and color.
While it's ok to shoot a portrait this way, you will not attain the image quality (color & contrast) in the photos you referenced on Lisa's web site.
My suggestion to you if you haven't already done this, is to get a lighting cookbook. While the setups are a cookie cutter approach, you will soon see how light is controlled, modified and manipulated to the photographers advantage.

4. Is the subject not proper, meaning there is no makeup etc

Sure; makeup often is used in portraiture to make the person look better than they actually are. Television personalities require this as habit. Do you think those cover girls really look that good in person w/o their makeup? LOL
We all don't have makeup artists at hand, so we imporvise and overcome with either a solid understanding of HOW to light a subject to either accentuate features or hide the features. This is accomplished with lighting and posing techniques..or, PhotoShop. ;)

You're on the right track asking these questions. Continue to look at others work you admire and analyze the light, the pose.
"How'd they do that?" is a great way to learn if you try to figure it out on your own.
Baby steps Sunil. Trying to use 2,3 or 4 flash heads with varios mosifiers will only confuse you as you will be unable to kow what is causing what.

Control the light.

Les Berkley , Oct 19, 2009; 10:29 a.m.

Sunil. I can get VERY sharp 8x10 prints from a D70. Sharpness is a funny thing. Our perception depends on many factors. For example, I think that the Lisa Person you reference does an excellent job of softening skin while holding sharpness in hair, eyes, etc. This gives a huge boost to the apparent sharpness of an image--local contrast is key.

Take an image into Photoshop. Apply Unsharp Mask with settings Amount=20 Radius=60 Threshold=0. You haven't actually 'sharpened' anything--the radius value is way to high--but you have increased the local contrast. Notice how much sharper the image appears. Now apply Smart Sharpen with Amount=150 and Radius=.5 Watch the details pop out at you. (Note. These settings are not magic--just good starting points with 12mpx images. Experiment.) Now revert the image (File-Revert) and apply the same settings on a copy of the background layer. Add a Hide All layer mask and 'paint in' the sharpness with white paint on the Brush tool at low opacity (try 30%). Have fun, and I agree with the previous poster. Stick to one light and a reflector at first. Learn to make the light do what you want it to do.

Andy L , Oct 19, 2009; 10:42 a.m.

I don't think makeup would be necessary here - the skin tones aren't getting washed out and the facial hair is giving good definition to the shape of the face.

The suggestions you've got so far have been good - do everything you can with the lighting, this isn't bad but it's maybe a bit soft for what you're looking to do - and work with sharpening when converting you raw file. Doing no adjustments at all in the conversion is throwing out the opportunity to do some important improvements. Now, keep in mind that this is nowhere near as good as it would be if you did it to the raw file instead of the jpg and spent more than 2 minutes on it, but here it is with some sharpening, levels and selective color saturation (bringing the skin tones up half a notch and the shirt down a notch, because the levels adjust made it very vivid).

minor edit

CC Chang , Oct 19, 2009; 12:13 p.m.

Did you shoot RAW and covert it using Nikon's ViewNX or Capture NX? RAW images converted by these Nikon softwares are a bit sharper than those converted by 3rd party software. The images from D90 are known to be a bit soft (may be due to the use of a strong AA filter?), although that does not bother me that much. If you apply a touch of sharpening, you can easily get very sharp pictures. All my pictures look much sharper when displayed in Flickr. This is in part due to the fact that your pictures are smaller in Flickr, and Flicker may do something to your pictures to make them look sharper on screen. Someone who knows Flickr can comment on that.

You can make your images pop by the use of a blurry background and by using a lens that render images with higher contrast. The Nikon 17-55 is known to be able to do this and give the images a 3D look.

Kari Vierimaa , Oct 20, 2009; 03:39 a.m.

Les' sharpening tip is good. That alone will do wonders for your web images.
James' Katherine portrait is very good for practising. Try Smart Sharpen 12, 60, 0 and 0.4, 150, 0. Alternate between that and original and you should see similar eye/hair pop effect as in Lisa's Flickr images.
Be careful though. It's very easy to become blind to overprocessing. Not all images need enormous pop and some images just look freaky with sharpening / contrast maxed out... make your eyes water after couple of minutes, look of today for sure.

Just don't upload anything too large to Facebook (over 640px long side or what was it?) or it'll never be sharp and 3D. Always make sure you know how and when your gallery manipulates images.

Kari Vierimaa , Oct 20, 2009; 04:39 a.m.

As far as only image quality is concerned D90 and 50/1.8 are professional tools. Longevity, af, continous shooting speed, etc. are different matters.
D700 / D3 / D3X + 85/1.4 would be better in absolute terms, sure, but worth that enormous sum of money for your application..? Furthermore, your example was shot at f8, by then any good lens has already maxed out its potential and perhaps actually losing some of it's resolving power in the center. Difference between $120 50/1.8 and $1200 85/1.4 would be rather academic.
There's a huge price increase for that last bit of quality and while larger format can give you more calm, 3D and life like results the difference between aps-c and 35mm is more like subtle than night and day and without proper skills pretty much non-existent.

Work the lights and post processing. It'll be fine.

Reminds me...

But I wanted to know is that the only way, An example of "clarity" can be seen on this photographers site

Have you tried Lightroom? It happens to have a slider labeled "clarity". ;)
Seriously though, it's an excellent app for RAW shooter, makes everything a breeze. There's a free trial.

Sun P , Oct 22, 2009; 12:37 a.m.

Hello Experts!
Thank you for helping out and providing advice. Apologies, I was travelling for the last two days, so could not respond before.
So before anything, One thing that I got from most the replies is that use of Photoshop would be required after a certain limit depending on the look you want. I have never used software sharpening, but since now most of you have mentioned this, I am going to learn that and try it out! This is something new I have learnt.Thanks
James - That photograph you posted was amazing for two reasons. Firstly, because your daughter is very adorable and beautiful! secondly, because thats "EXACTLY" the kind of image I was talking about. I guess, I now need to try out selective processing/sharpening of images. Your photograph is so real, three dimensional, sharp and pops the subject. It looks like your daughter will come out of the photograph anytime, compared to the one I have taken which I feel is dull, flat, 2 dimentional and boring.I did try using wider apertures (on a pet cat just for trial yesterday) and did get some amazing results by using unsharp mask. Thanks!
Kevin- You caught my mistake immediately! I remember, for this photograph, I started with one light and took the photograph, I guess because of the single direction of light the shadows etc were making the subject more dramatic, however, I just put another strobe/softbox in front and both lights were at the same ratio(1:1) and suddenly in the LCD (which was set to brightness +3- a mistake), the whole photograph had a glow. When I read your comment about spill light, now I understand what that glow was :)! I sure think its time to invest in a good light book. I am also going to go back to the 1 light setups before using the second.!
Thanks Les and Andrew! I tried the unsharp mask. I am currently on Photoshop 7 so smart sharpen is not there. Hopefully soon I should be upgrading, so I will try that out. I was not sure about the parameters in that. like Radius, threshhold etc, what they do. After googling a bit. I have a little more knowledge. I tried it out and it did make a difference.
Chang, I only have View NX which came free with my camera. I used Adobe lightroom 2.5. and now thanks to advice on Photo.net, I only shoot RAW since the last couple of weeks and am loving the control one gets!!
Kari, Yes, I use Light room and also the clarity slider now a bit ever since I started shooting RAW!! I sure do love it.
These responses have been helpful because, it has given me some new information that I used over the last two days and do see differences. Its just that mental block or lack of knowledge initially as beginners, I always saw that sharpen filter in photoshop but never went there, thinking that we need to get crystal sharp images from the camera. and using that filter might degrade the image quality. look etc!
Thanks to all of you for taking time out!!!
I hope the week is going great for all of you!

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