Understanding optics and sharpness in photography
Lloyd Chambers’ series of subscription-based photography websites are valuable tools for any photographer interested in better understanding the mechanics and optics of digital photography, especially for those delving into landscape photography or large format printing. Specifically, Lloyd offers remarkably in depth reviews of lenses, sensors, and tools associated with the trade (including hard drives, photo software, tripods, etc), while also providing incredibly thorough tutorials on how to make sharp images.
Given that nearly every other image on the site is a 100% crop at the pixel level it’s all too easy to characterize Lloyd as a “pixel-peeper”, a term often used to deride photographers who are more interested in the sharpness of their image than composition or subject or color. Having graduated from a fine arts program I fully understand the importance of the formal elements of photography, and likewise I believe most photographers would be better suited with a lesson in composition and color than a lesson in field curvature, sharpness and optics. But I also believe that developing as a photographer necessitates a technical understanding of your tools, and that Lloyd’s reviews are a fantastic resource for exactly that.
Diglloyd Advanced Photography, and Making Sharp Images are book like in length, but are frequently updated, which explains the subscription system Lloyd uses to fund the site. It also means that in the fast paced world of photography the content remains fresh and relevant.
Advanced Photography focuses predominantly on reviewing equipment available today (with a heavy focus on professional quality Canon and Nikon gear). Be warned that his recommendations favor image quality over cost. However, for the amateur photographer who is looking to make an investment in lenses, or for the seasoned pro who is looking to switch systems, Lloyd’s reviews are invaluable. Like any reviewer, he has a particular slant given his background, specifically focusing on photography centered around a tripod which allows him to achieve maximum image quality (not necessarily flexibility). Many of his reviews favor focus accuracy over autofocus speed, and lens sharpness over lens character. His reviews represent a specialized subset of photography, but much of the technical information will be as relevant to the wedding photographer as it is to the landscapist.
In contrast to his reviews, Making Sharp Images is much more skills oriented. It focuses on developing methods that can be used to achieve maximum sharpness and image quality from your equipment. The site offers in depth tutorials on subjects ranging from diffraction, refraction, haze, focus shift, axial and lateral chromatic aberration, moire, mosaicing, field curvature, and depth of field. He also has a great tutorial on how to test a lens. Lloyd, himself, has said that Making Sharp Images is his most valuable resource, and it is easy to see why.
At the end of the day, gear does matter to some photographers, and for them Lloyd’s sites will remain a valuable resource.06/25/12
(Michael Zhang from Petapixel has tackled the "Gear Doesn't Matter" issue as well, and it's a worthy read. --OH — editors)