It seems like all photographers can talk about these days is how sharp this lens is versus that lens. I miss the days when blurry photographs were charming.
Do you remember those days? If you are about my age, all anyone would let you use for photography was a disposable camera that you would take to the local drug store and in one hour, have processed and printed in duplicate for only $5 with the coupon you got off the seal from the prints envelope you got from your last roll. In those days, blurry, out-of-focus photographs were par for the course. Assuming they were not so blurry that you would ask yourself “what even was this supposed to be,” there could actually be an endearing quality to ever-so-slightly blurry images. Right? Perhaps it’s just me; however, I don’t think it is.
People that shoot film today (like myself) should know what I’m talking about. There is a “magic” to film, right? What exactly do people think that “magic” is? I bet just about anyone who shoots film would choose one of a small number of attributes. "Every shot is so much more important when you are stuck with only 36 exposures per roll” and “there is a much more tactile feel to shooting film” are the two most common responses that I hear. For me, however, the charm of film comes from the photos that are perfectly imperfect. By that, I mean that there are photos that slightly miss the mark of being sharp or are framed the way you wanted, and it is from these shortcomings that you end up with something more reflective of the real world.
All Joking Aside
I do love a nice and crisp photograph. Who doesn't? Even for most photographers shooting film, we often gravitate to 120 or even 4x5 for the added resolution. I would even go so far as to argue that for an 8x10 print, 645 negatives with Portra 400 can achieve an indistinguishable level of sharpness compared with digital work. That said, even with medium or large format, not every shot is perfectly in focus, and given the inability to see the image immediately after you take it, there is a non-zero chance of your image being just ever so slightly out of focus. I would argue that those are often still some of my favorite images.
I am currently test driving the sample Sony a7 IV (review coming soon) as well as a sample Sony 70-200 f/2.8 Mark II, which achieve absolutely stunning levels of sharpness even shot wide open. In nearly every test I’ve performed, I've tried to push the limits of these two pieces of gear, and yet, the images are still superbly sharp. And it isn’t just the insane amounts of detail rendered by this combo. The focusing is insanely fast and nearly 100% accurate, which means that gone are the days of delightfully out-of-focus photographs. Such is life. I suppose there are always manual focus lenses for that!
What are your thoughts? Does near 100% accuracy in focusing start to make things feel a little boring? Are you too a fan of the occasional out-of-focus photograph?