Orquid "Phoenix"

Orquid "Phoenix"

by ceinmart

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When I shoot with high zoom (above 3X on my point-and-shoot camera), the sharpness of the picture seems to come down. Is it a feature of all cameras or is it due to higher sensitivity to camera shakes during captures in higher optical zoom regions?

Some of the photos in the higher zoom range are pretty good, usually the ones of scenery — so I I feel it can not be a camera problem.

I have a point and shoot camera with 6X optical zoom. Does the same thing happen with other types of cameras with high-zoom telephoto lenses?

Are there any other things to be taken care of when we shoot with higher optical zooms?

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4 Answers

up vote 10 down vote accepted

There's two things at issue here.

The first is zoom range, which is the longest focal length a zoom lens has divided by the shortest. That is, a lens which goes between 25mm equivalent focal length and 150mm is a "6x" zoom lens. This terminology is usually reserved for point and shoot cameras; for SLR lenses, one usually gives the actual focal lengths instead. High-zoom-range lenses require more design compromise, and it's likely that that compromise results in relatively weak performance at the extreme ends of the range. So that could be part of it.

Second is the issue of camera movement. Higher focal lengths — "more telephoto", or as you say, in the higher part of the zoom range — show a smaller portion of the scene magnified to the same size, and that means that small movements in the camera translate into larger movements in your photo. This means the effect of camera shake is much more pronounced the more you zoom in.

You can easily demonstrate this to yourself by simply looking at the live-view screen (or viewfinder) as you turn the camera slightly — at short focal lengths you can see a small change, and zoomed-in you can see that the whole scene changes with just a little turn. This same effect magnifies very small movements as well, increasing blur.

There's a particular compromise that most point and shoot cameras and superzoom lenses have which makes camera shake more of an issue when zoomed in. Specifically (as @Itai points out), these lenses usually provide a more-limited aperture at higher zoom. This means less light, which means either boosting the signal (higher ISO), resulting in more noise, or else longer shutter speeds — making it more important to reduce camera movement.

There's not much to be done about the first except to be aware of the strengths and weaknesses of your equipment, and to avoid using the higher focal lengths in situations where the weaknesses are most obvious — like in low-light.

For the second, simply keeping your camera more still will help significantly. You can get better results with improved technique and awareness of your motion as you press the shutter, but a tripod or other support will be even better. You'll also want to make sure that image stabilization is enabled in your camera if available — and make sure it has a chance to activate by half-pressing the shutter and waiting a second before firing.

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The only possible cause which you can do something about is camera shake. This is best done by using a tripod. Other less stable camera support exists if a good tripod is too heavy for your needs.

There are other possible causes which you cannot do anything about without changing your camera:

  • Optical characteristics of the lens. It is simply possible that the lens performs less well at the telephoto end. This even happens in DSLR lenses of lower cost or long zooms.
  • When you zoom in, the maximum aperture becomes smaller in all current P&S and you may hit the diffraction limit of your camera.
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Hmm. I don't think the physical aperture gets smaller, so I don't think diffraction should get worse.... –  mattdm May 25 '11 at 15:20
    
@mattdm diffraction may get worse, because diffraction limit depends on relative aperture (which is worse in tele end of a variable aperture lens), not physical. –  Imre Sep 27 '11 at 18:50
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As stated previously, use a tripod or secure it on something stable will help.

What I also found quite useful is using a remote trigger, wireless or wired, can improve your stability.

If you do not have, or can not afford one of these, a nice simple way to improve this a bit is to use your self timer, if you have one. This will eliminate the little "shake" that your finger will cause by pressing the trigger, this might sound like a small difference, but remember that your camera is very sensitive to movement.

Hope this helps.

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1) make sure it is not camera shake that is causing the photo to blur

2) sharpness is an important quality measure of a lens in professional photography. A few things affect sharpness:

  • how well made the lens is
  • did they use any ultra expensive glass (like UD elements etc)
  • do they have high tech coating
  • the optical design

And by optical design I mean how they arrange the group of "glasses" that sit inside the lens. Generally, a zoom lens with a large zoom range is a design that is known to sacrifice sharpness for the extra zoom. So you will almost certainly see the sharpness of the photo varies greatly along the entire zoom range, unless you invest in an expensive lens which use all kinds of technology to improve the sharpness.

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