Photo sharpness is really down to the lens quality at the core, but also incorporates camera settings as well. Sharpness can also be adjusted post shot through photo editing applications such as Lightroom. In any case, sharpness is important in a photo.
What is blur in an image? Well, fundamentally it is a loss of detail and focus. Throughout the entire process of taking a shot there is always the risk of losing detail. Your lens may be less perfect than you imagine it to be when it comes to capturing detail, either because they are not perfectly sharp or not perfectly in focus. However, there are more physical reasons why your image is not returned as sharp and as detailed as you like.
Sharpness begins with the lens and without optics with clarity and detail, then we cannot expect to receive a fantastic shot. However, we also need to use that optical hardware appropriately, and skilfully use it to capture a scene with very little movement from both the subject and the camera itself. We have touched on this somewhat already when we considered shutter speed. The faster the shutter the less motion you are going to incorporate in your shot, especially if handheld. This is why it is often the best idea to use something to keep your camera steady such as mounting it on a wall or preferably a tripod if you have one. A tripod is just as important as the camera itself, so if you are starting photography as a new activity, then it is recommended to purchase one, and these need not be expensive.
If you are using jpeg compression, the camera itself will decide on sharpness for you. Remember that jpeg’s a developed images whereas RAW requires development/processing. However, what a camera automatically decides is not always best, so developing your RAW photo may provide better results.
If you use RAW format, you will notice that the images tend to be darker, flat and soft in appearance. This of course is because the images have not been developed yet. Once you have adjusted the sharpness, that softness will not be present. However, this of course does not include shots where you have purposely blurred the background.
If you have read online reviews about cameras, sometimes they can be unfair because a user may complain about loss of focus and sharpness. In reality, it is more often than not, owing to a lack of skill and knowledge. Granted, there are different quality variations within makes and models of camera, but more often than not, it is how we operate them that truly applies. We need to master focusing, using the correct aperture, and as mentioned, using a tripod in certain situations. Some manufacturers of camera over sharpen images particularly in automatic modes so that the consumer is rewarded with an appealing result. Therefore, before writing a review about your new camera, it is often a good idea to be patient and develop the required skills first.
One of the problems with the cameras automatic and self-deciding approach is that it can often over-sharpen the boundaries between elements of your image. This may produce an overly decreeable edge or outline around the shape of the subject. This of course, produces a photograph that is literally spoilt. Another problem is that blemishes on a portraiture may be more noticeable than in reality. In this case, your subject having seen the photograph may feel somewhat awkward about themselves. Some cameras have a special portrait mode that eliminates blemishes on a persons face, particularly with smartphone cameras. Over the age of forty, we oftentimes require one of those! Another issue is that over-sharpening can result in noise. When I say over-sharpening, this is not only with the cameras automatic sharpening, but with manual sharpening as well. A user may over-sharpen an image and when reviewed, noise is likely to be present. If you are manually sharpening an image, do not simply drag the slider all the way to its extent, as this will more than likely return a noisy image.
So allowing the camera to decide on sharpness is not always advisable, because it applies a sharp focus globally and does not take into account the nature of the photograph and the elements in it. This is why manually applying sharpness is far more advantageous.
Manually Sharpening an Image for Photo Sharpness
If you are sharpening an image manually using a RAW image file, it is advantageous to leave this until last. Firstly, work on contrast, colour and other elements first. Then once this is achieved, fine tune the sharpness according to the processed image. You may also need to consider how your image will be presented, on printed paper, viewed on the web or viewed through an LCD screen or monitor.
You may also have to sharpen certain areas of your image more than others. For instance, some objects have a smooth edge by nature, whereas another object in your shot may have a more harsher or sharper edge.
When sharpening an image yourself through a photo editing application, it is best to view the image at 100% or its actual size. This will assist you greatly in achieving the correct sharpness for the shot.