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Old 06-12-2007, 18:51   #1 (permalink)
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Question How important is Lens Optical Quality for Portrait work ?

As Photographers we often banter on about how "sharp" a lens is, or the quality of the image the lens produces.

All good & well for most photography, but let me play devils advocate for a moment. Quite often people take portrait shots of people & then purposely soften the image in PhotoShop. If I look at my Noise Reduction plug in, the portrait setting has a -2 setting for sharpness. Famous Portrait Photographer Annabel Williams has stated in one of her articles how she hates sharp portrait shots, as they are unflattering to the subject,

So, if you take this in to account, is it really that important to have an expensive lens that produces super sharp shots for portrait work ? Would we be better spending the money elsewhere ?

What's your thoughts ?
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Old 06-12-2007, 19:19   #2 (permalink)
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Re: How important is Lens Optical Quality for Portrait work ?

I'm not sure I'd see this as a money saving area, look at the price of soft focus lenses!
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Old 06-12-2007, 20:09   #3 (permalink)
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Re: How important is Lens Optical Quality for Portrait work ?

But surely (in modern portraits at least), you want the eyes to be touchably sharp....so you'd need the glass for that?
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Old 06-12-2007, 21:57   #4 (permalink)
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Re: How important is Lens Optical Quality for Portrait work ?

I have heard macro lenses described as too "sharp" for portraits. That may have been the case with slides but softness is very easy to add in PP and selectively as well, with far more controllable results than the any of the old optical tricks.
Sharpening conversely is much better to get in camera first. I'd go for sharp glass and decide how soft you want on a shot by shot basis.
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Old 06-12-2007, 22:20   #5 (permalink)
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Re: How important is Lens Optical Quality for Portrait work ?

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Originally Posted by VinnyP View Post
I have heard macro lenses described as too "sharp" for portraits. That may have been the case with slides but softness is very easy to add in PP and selectively as well, with far more controllable results than the any of the old optical tricks.
Sharpening conversely is much better to get in camera first. I'd go for sharp glass and decide how soft you want on a shot by shot basis.
I have always totally agreed with this! You can always soften a sharp image but you can't always sharpen a soft image. In fact, with film a soft image is virtually impossible to sharpen adequately even using the traditional darkroom technique of what is now known digitally as USM.

Give me the sharpest image any day and then I'll decide if I want it softer.

Sharpening a soft image is a rescue botch, softening a sharp image is a creative decision.

Cheers

Les
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Old 06-12-2007, 22:41   #6 (permalink)
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Re: How important is Lens Optical Quality for Portrait work ?

I have to second Vinny's opinion: shoot for sharpness and then post-process if you want or need to soften the image. I always aim to get the eyes in sharp focus since they are (normally) the first thing that a viewer is drawn to. Here's a good example



Now, even though I'm shooting wide open at f/1.4 to avoid distracting background and foreground elements, his eyes are still razor-sharp. If I'd gone for a softer overall look by using a different lens, I wouldn't have been able to get the critical sharpness where I wanted it to be.
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Old 07-12-2007, 06:20   #7 (permalink)
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Re: How important is Lens Optical Quality for Portrait work ?

Quote:
Originally Posted by Les Meehan View Post
You can always soften a sharp image but you can't always sharpen a soft image. In fact, with film a soft image is virtually impossible to sharpen adequately even using the traditional darkroom technique of what is now known digitally as USM.

Give me the sharpest image any day and then I'll decide if I want it softer.

Sharpening a soft image is a rescue botch, softening a sharp image is a creative decision.

Les
I totally agree with this.
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Old 07-12-2007, 11:41   #8 (permalink)
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Re: How important is Lens Optical Quality for Portrait work ?

I would prefer a sharp image to start with. In the example below, the model has very smooth skin so I did not soften but would, if I thought it necessary. The file was RAW so it would normally need some sharpening. I just selected the hair, eyes, lips and the flower and sharpened with Smart Sharpen.

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