The Relentless Pursuit of Insanity

Our obsession with lens sharpness is a photography tradition that dates back to my earliest days. 

Whether you pick up an old issue of Popular Photography from the 1970s or peruse today's online forums, you'll read photographers debating the clarity of one optic versus another.

As we evolve as artists, we know that there are other aspects of an image that are just as important, if not more. Color, gradation, composition, exposure, and yes, emotional impact are elements that should not be overlooked. And we're fine acknowledging those, that is, once the sharpness question has been answered, and we're secure with the quality of our lens.

I'm thinking about this as I prepare a review for the new Pentax KP DSLR with its host of premium AL lenses. You know, the ones with the pretty metallic red trim. I spent a big part of the day yesterday trying to determine if they were indeed worth their price tag. And what criterion was I using to judge them? Yes, sharpness.

High magnification, pixel peeping sharpness.

This put me on the rails to insanity. As I tweaked menu settings, aperture, stabilization, and focus accuracy - not only for the Pentax, but for the comparison cameras as well - I found myself lost in the tiniest corners of the frame, wired on coffee, with nose pressed up against the computer screen trying to focus my watery eyes at 11:30 pm with my only company being a pair of fighting cats somewhere behind by backyard fence.

"Stop it!," I yelled at them, then closed the door behind me and returned to the work table.

My laptop only had 6 percent of its battery remaining.

"Time to go to bed," I thought.

The next morning, I decided to look at the test images as I would a normal photograph. Not at 400 percent magnification, but as a full screen image on my laptop. 

They were beautiful. All of them. I adjust the tones a bit as I normally would, and they responded like a thirsty plant soaking in a cup of water.

I don't know what gets in to us sometimes. Why are photographers so plagued by technical obsession? The image could be boring as hell, but if that street sign in the distant background has legible type, we're somehow OK.

I went back to my notes. Lens sharpness: Good. Case closed.

I then posted a few of the shots online. They are interesting. I'm getting some nice comments.

And not one word about sharpness.