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I am not sure why, but I get a lot of very soft images from my Canon 6D + Canon 24-105L lenses. Light conditions could be perfect, focus is ok, shutter speed is 1/500, but result image looks like it was taken with 1/10s from running car. I am able to get sharp images only with high contrast scenes like this one https://www.flickr.com/photos/129964238@N04/46789874022/in/photostream/lightbox/ . Examples of soft images are here https://www.flickr.com/photos/129964238@N04/? (I haven't made any adjustments, just converted raws to jpgs using Lightroom).

So I brought my equip to service center and asked them to check it for front/back focus and other optical issues. I was told that no adjustments were needed. But as for me something is definitely wrong.

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    Is the term "diffraction limited aperture (DLA)" in your photographic vocabulary? – Michael C Jan 22 at 20:24
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    Can you select a single soft image from which to judge? – Hueco Jan 22 at 22:05
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    Do you use a tripod? (I made the mistake to let the IS/OS/VR on while i used my new tripod the first time, so many photos didn't come out so well) Btw. "just" converting raws to jpeg in Lightroom could also include a sharpening by default. – Horitsu Jan 23 at 6:06
  • Possible duplicate of Why are my photos not crisp? – mattdm Feb 8 at 13:40
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There seem to be a couple of things going on that are affecting your results.

  • The images you describe as "looks like it was taken with 1/10s from running car" almost all seem to be shot at f/9 or narrower. Most lenses tend to be sharpest about one-two stops or so narrower than wide open. At 24mm, the EF 24-105mm f/4 L IS tests sharpest at f/5.6, and even f/4 is slightly sharper than f/8. The EF 24-105mm f/4 L IS II is also sharper at f/5.6 than f/8, but f/4 is not. By f/11 you are also past the Diffraction Limited Aperture (DLA) for the EOS 6D. At 50mm and 70/75mm, f/5.6 is still the sharpest in the center fo the frame, but f/8 is better on the edges at the expense of a bit of center sharpness.
  • The default, in-camera sharpening settings are probably a little weak for the degree of scrutiny with which you are examining your images. If you are pixel peeping at 100% on 23" HD (1920x1080) monitor, you're looking at the equivalent of a section of a 60x40" enlargement! You'll need to apply a bit more sharpening from the in-camera defaults for that. If you are importing the raw files to Lightroom and exporting them without any additional editing, your default sharpening settings from within Lr are being applied. Since Lr's default processing options are user selectable, only you can answer what those are for your implementation of Lr.

Although it is hard to tell for sure, the image you like also seems to have been taken from a tripod or other sturdy support (it's 1/30 with a 40mm FL). Some of the others appear to have been taken in locations to which you may or may not have taken your tripod with you. You'll almost always get a sharper result with a tripod than without one.

Beyond that, neither of the 24-105/4 L lenses are known for being razor sharp. The EF 24-70mm f/2.8 L II is considerably sharper at 50-70mm. Then there are prime lenses.

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I find all your images sharp as expected given lens and aperture. Focusing is in place. Diffraction kicks in a bit due to narrow aperture but nothing disturbing to me. What really bothers me is sensor saturation. The second image suffers from being light deprived (not solely due to the clouds !).

On sensor saturation

Since the 2 photos require a similar shooting approach, let's try to analyze the EXIF metadata below.

On the photo you like

  • Focal length : 40mm
  • Aperture : f/7.1 - trade-off is below par. Best sharpness is at f/5.6 for this lens and large depth of field is not required here.
  • Shutter speed : 1/30 - Handheld limit reached (IS may have been activated.)
  • ISO : 400 - Minimum ISO for proper exposition given the aperture.

The maximum sensor saturation is reached as we cannot go below 1/30. ISO noise remains low at 400 but could have been even a bit lower at ISO 250 by opening at f/5.6. Overall, the settings are balanced enough to reach maximum sensor saturation. As the scene is low contrast, the colors are vivid and details pop. Also the highlights are near blown, ETTR is achieved.

On the photo you don't like

One of the second photos EXIF, they all share about the same characteristics.

  • Focal length : 40mm
  • Aperture : f/9.0 - justified as a compromise for maximum depth of field and sharpness.
  • Shutter speed : 1/1250 - Handheld limit not reached yet (1/40 given the focal length, use a tripod to go below).
  • ISO : 500 - Base ISO not reached (ISO 100).

If the ISO was dropped to 100, the camera would have given a Shutter speed of 1/250 for the same Exposure Value. The difference is that your sensor would have been exposed 4 times longer. Longer exposition will translate into more image details. Overall, the settings used here a far from optimal for maximum sensor saturation. It emphasizes the image flatness and fuzzy details. Also, highlights are nowhere near blown. ETTR is not achieved there, the sensor would also benefit of a Exposure Compensation bump.

Lacking sensor saturation translates into softness in area with similar tones (e.g. grass, lake, rocks, dead trees...) making the whole image look flatter. Sharpness and post production cannot do anything to this problem. Once acquired, sensor data cannot be changed. In the future, be sure to drop the shutter speed to the lowest possible to make full use of your sensor and lens. If you are shooting RAW, ETTR improves sensor saturation even further.

On sharpness

Another difference between the 2 photos is the angle between the subject and the plane of focus. As landscapes are generally a more horizontal subject than the jewelry panel. You might want to focus stack your landscapes to have a greater resulting depth of field. 3 images would suffice : focus at bottom of the frame then, focus at 1/3 of the frame, last focus on infinity or farthest object before sky. It also helps against diffraction as it requires less depth of field per take.

On gear

If after trying getting better sensor exposure, you are still unsatisfied about the lens rendition (sharpness, diffraction, fidelity...) it may be time to switch gear. Generally, prime lenses can be sharper and transmit more light nuances as they are built for a specific focal length and application only. The best ones can be multipurpose. Reading reviews of your lens, it seems that it is not appreciated for its sharpness but for its versatility (24-105 is indeed a steep range for a high quality trans-standard zoom; more than a 70-200 or 100-400 telephoto zoom IMHO).

Or you can deal with it for now. Learn your gear limitations and how to bypass them. You'll learn a lot of knowledge and it will make your next acquisition a wiser decision.

The positive point is that you are critic to your own images and trying to get the best from your gear. Keep that attitude going !

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