I use a Canon EOS Rebel T3i (600D) with the kit lens. I have experimented a lot with different settings and modes, but I feel like I have wasted many good shots that could have looked amazing, if only they were a little bit sharper.

I use auto-focus on most of my pictures and make sure to choose the right focus point, but all of my photos are still a little bit out of focus. When I zoom in, I can see that the pixels are not very crisp or well-aligned.

I am not sure if this issue is caused by my equipment or skills.

up vote 61 down vote accepted

Technique is typically at fault with "fuzzy" images 99% of the time with someone new to interchangeable lens cameras (ILC) with only a low-cost kit lens.

The lens is not the problem. Low end kit lenses are limited, and they are cheap, and there are much nicer lenses around, but how you use one is more likely to be the fault than what glass is in the lens. People will often blame the lens because they assume basic mastery of technique, or because that's simply easier than questioning whether it might be a lack of knowledge/expertise, and because there are so many online discussions where people denigrate the lowly kit lens. But kit lenses are surprisingly good—especially for the cost—if you know how to use them. All you have to do is look at any Kit Lens challenge to see this.

Here are a couple of issues you need to resolve, as any or all of them could be involved in your images.

Handholding Technique

Nine times out of ten when I see someone shooting with an ILC, they're not holding it correctly. If your left hand is cupped around the left side of the lens, pinkie closest to your subject, you're doing it wrong. You want your left hand cupped under the lens/body, palm up, with your pinkie closer to you. You can still operate any lens rings with your thumb and forefinger in this position. And now your left hand is braced to support all the camera/lens weight, rather than having the camera torquing against your right hand. This is a far more stable hold that allows you to use slower shutter speeds.

Aperture Extremes

Aperture is a balancing act. On the one hand, the wider the lens is open, the more light you get, and the lower your ISO setting and the faster your shutter speed can be. However, any lens used wide open is at its weakest point. Most lenses perform markedly better stopped down 1-2 stops from wide open (the EF 50mm f/1.8 II is especially guilty of this). Chromatic aberration, vignetting, and softness can all be improved simply by not using the lens at its maximum aperture. A ton of your shots with your 18-55 are @55mm, f/5.6. Stop it down to f/8, and you'll see a bit more sharpness. And using too small an aperture—especially with today's pixel densities—can see diffraction making things softer, too. So, probably not good to use apertures smaller than f/16 unless you've got a good reason to.

Also, not shooting wide open gives you more depth of field, which in turn gives you more leeway with the autofocus accuracy. A 50mm f/1.8 II at some subject distances, if wide open, yields a DoF that can be measured in millimeters. Any slight movement of the subject or camera could throw the focus off. Trading off some background blur for better focus is often worth it.

Misfocus

This isn't actually as common a cause of fuzziness as most people assume; the first assumption most beginners make whenever something's fuzzy is that it's a focus issue. But when you let the camera's autofocus system take over, the problem is that the camera isn't smart enough to know what the subject of the image is, and direct the focus there. Learning the different autofocus modes (like face detection and eye-AF) and when to use them, how to select autofocus points or zones, how to AF track, and how to half-press and recompose are your weapons, here.

If it's an issue of misfocus, check the rest of the frame to see if anything else was in focus. With your wave shots, you'll notice that sections of the waves are crisp and in perfect focus, while other parts outside of your depth of field are not. If you'd stopped down to a smaller aperture (say, f/11), more of the wave would have been in focus.

Also, don't expect miracles in low light. Cameras need more light to "see" by than your eyes do. It's normal for autofocus systems to hunt in dark conditions. Your flash can send out more light for focus assisting, or you can use liveview and 10x magnification (if your camera's on a tripod) with manual focus when the autofocus fails you. Pay attention to the autofocus confirmation "green dot" in the viewfinder.

Minimum Focus Distance

If you came from the P&S/smartphone camera world, you're probably unaware that most lenses can only focus so close (this is why macro lenses exist). Small sensors mean equally smaller lenses, with very short focal lengths which equates to very large DoF, and very good near-focusing capabilities. When you jump up to an APS-C sensor, and your lenses get commensurately bigger, so does this minimum focus distance. The EF-S 18-55 cannot focus on anything closer than the 25cm. Your fuzzy close-up portrait demonstrates this. You'd need a macro lens, or the poor-man's macro methods (close-up filter, extension tubes, reversed lens) to shoot closer.

Shutter Speed Too Slow

Shutter speed can affect you more if you're using a longer lens, but even with IS, there's still a lower limit, and this assumes that you have good handholding technique to begin with. If you're shooting single-handed, if you don't know how to brace your feet or time your breathing, you'll need a higher shutter speed. 1/30s is a typical threshhold, and there's a rule of thumb about 1/focal_length or faster. Some folks would multiply that by 2, or throw in the crop factor as well. @55mm, that would mean using a shutter speed around 1/100s or faster. And that's with a stationary subject. With a moving subject, to "freeze" the motion and avoid blur, you may need an even higher shutter speed, and how high depends on how quickly your subject is moving.

Consider using physical stabilization as well for very slow shutter speeds: a tripod, monopod, or beanbag can make a big difference. Also, for macro shooting, everything is magnified--camera shake or subject motion included. 1/focal_length might not cut it the closer you get.

Postprocessing & Pixel Peeping

Don't pixel peep to judge sharpness, unless you're a lens tester :). Look at the image overall. Asking for ideal razor-sharp perfection on every pixel in any image is a big big ask. Very few lenses are up to that task, and certainly not a kit lens used wide open with bad technique.

Also be aware that P&S cameras, smartphone apps, and most photographers enhance the sharpness/contrast/saturation of an image through processing. Don't expect straight-out-of-camera JPEGS—unless you've asked the camera to add these things—to look as sharp/contrasty/saturated as images around the web that were shot RAW and post-processed with care and skill.

See also: Why am I having trouble getting sharp results with my new dSLR...?

  • 4
    Amazing answer. – makakas May 5 '14 at 19:52
  • flickr.com/photos/105969533@N05/10469033005/in/photostream <-- Clearly is the handholding you can see in the reflex. – Rodrigo May 6 '14 at 1:02
  • and in that specific photo, it looks like the subject or camera may have moved after focussing – drfrogsplat May 7 '14 at 3:00
  • @drfrogsplat More likely to have been closer than the MFD. – Michael C May 29 '16 at 3:44
  • 1
    With that said, the original 18-55 was slightly soft and misfocused noticeably under certain circumstances (maybe with close subjects?). Or maybe it was just mine.... – dgatwood Jun 4 '16 at 8:01

With the exception of the alley photo, which is either a focusing error, motion blur, or there was a lot of condensation on your lens (had you just moved from a cool dry place to hot, humid area?), most of the photos on your flickr stream are reasonably sharp and about what I would expect for the T3i with that lens. The photo of the person in the sunglasses may also have a little bit of motion blur since it was shot at 1/80 sec.

Not even the most expensive camera/lens combos are always perfectly sharp when zoomed in to the pixel level. Especially if the camera was hand held at the time of the shot. When you take an 18MP image and view it at 100% on a 23" HD (1920X1080) monitor you are enlarging the photo to the equivalent of a 54X36 inch print!

Since the sharpest photos in your Flickr stream are the ones with the fastest shutter speeds, and the blurriest ones tend to be the ones with the slowest shutter speeds, I would consider investigating ways to keep the camera more stable while shooting. Using good posture, breathing correctly, and holding the camera properly will go a long way towards that end, but the best way to insure your camera doesn't move during an exposure is to place it on a secure mount such as a sturdy tripod.

See also How can I hold my camera steady?
Focus problem vs. motion blur vs. camera shake - how to tell the difference?
How can I take crisp sharp shots without an expensive lens?

  • I was actually looking for similar guides but had little luck finding some good ones. – makakas May 5 '14 at 0:42
  • The sunglasses photo has a very sharp focal plane that is about 5-10cm behind the glasses. Look at the hair above/below the left side of the face towards the back of the head. The camera or subject has just moved after focussing. – drfrogsplat May 7 '14 at 3:05
  • It looks to me more like the nearest part of the subject is too close to the camera and closer than the MFD. – Michael C May 29 '16 at 3:46

Most of them seem ok. Pixel peeping is always going to end up revealing that some pixels aren't perfectly sharp, even on professional level cameras with professional optics. The only real focus issues I see is that the focus point on the flag shot was the sky rather than the flag, so the flag is out of focus, but the sky is well focused. On the shot with the sunglasses, you appear to be within the minimum focus distance and so the lens is unable to achieve focus.

On top of the detailed answer on top of this page, there can be two (rare) cases for out-of-focus images, linked to the Autofocus :

  • your step-by-step motorized lens is too imprecise for the perfect focus. This appears only in the case of very shallow depth of field image (such as a tele photo of a close object), but it can happen.
  • your AF is not properly set for your given lens, leading to back focus or front focus. That is, the system focuses not exactly where it should. High-end DSLR have a setting to compensate for that, on a per-lens basis.

Might be skills. Using auto-focus is fine, but I would suggest choosing your focus point manually.

IMG_1586

Taking a picture of the flag pole is hard to judge because of the focal plane not being parallel due to you looking up at it... You would need a tilt-shift lens to get it right

Miame alley

I'm not sure what the subject is? so if I were taking it I would have shot at F/11

wave

both pics look okay, but I didn't download and examine close up

love

the focus looks spot on to me

love #2 w/

the woman looks like the camera selected the focus point and decided to focus on the hair.

life

looks fine

scenery

unsure of focus point...? I would have probably shot at F/11 and not higher as to avoid softening from hitting the diffraction limit of the aps-c sensor.

family

The picture looks great and shot at the same F/# as the last picture... Could be the last just focused on the wrong thing....

funky dog

I would have shot at a lower f/# so I could get my iso down to iso 200 or so... it's not like having the legs in focus adds anything to the picture anyways...

img_0433

looks okay, but didn't download.

a

looks fine... not sure of the EXIF info because the exposure info is not present from what I can see...

  • It is interesting how you choose F/# and ISO etc for each individual picture. I do understand what each of them do but are you familiar with any good guide that can give more in-depth of how to properly choose the right combination of settings? – makakas May 5 '14 at 0:45
  • 1
    I can tell you what I used "Scott Kelby's Digital Photography Boxed Set". Kelby gives you recipes for different shooting situations and he is popular enough that you can probably find all four of his books at your local library, so you don't have to spend any money. After that I took a lot of test shots and used Lightroom's organizational abilities to compare pictures so that I could feel comfortable with my camera (sensor size). – rob j crowe May 12 '14 at 13:46

Taking a sharp image can be affected by a couple of different things: where you set the focus, aperture, shutter speed, ISO, and how the camera is held. Try using a tripod or placing the camera on a steady surface to take a picture. Ideally you will see a dramatic change in image clearness, with all settings staying the same.

The basic concepts here are:

  • Depending on your camera, which focus point you use can make a difference. Typically you want to use only the center focus point for starters.

  • The smaller the aperture number, the more light will come in through the lens, giving the camera more information to work with in a shorter time.

  • The smaller the shutter speed number, the more time it allows light to come through, same idea as above.

  • High ISO settings make the camera more sensitive to light, so the camera can "see" light more easily, which takes much less time to take a clear picture.

  • How you hold your camera is extremely important. For most of the time you would not be using a tripod for the lack of mobility, so learning how to utilize your body as a tripod can be valuable.

Overall, read or watch some YouTube tutorials on photography 101 to understand the basic concepts of taking a photo. You should benefit much from it.

That one picture could be a focusing error, but I assume that the other pictures in the Flickr album were taken with the same camera and lens, and they all look a bit blurry - and not because of high ISO or too-small aperture.

I can't be certain, but my first guess would be a bad lens (decentered element). The easiest way to confirm that would be to borrow another lens (ideally the same model) and see if the pictures are better. If they are, the problem is with the lens - see if you can get it repaired/replaced by Canon's service. If the pictures are just as bad (but, presumably, not when the person you borrowed that lens from uses it) then there's something wrong with your camera or the way you're using it (unlikely, if you have experimented with different settings).

If you can't borrow a lens, just go buy a 50mm F/1.8 prime for the comparison. It's cheap and I can guarantee that you won't regret the purchase and want to keep it. In fact, go buy that lens in any case (or the f/1.4 one if you're willing to spend a bit more money).

Update: After reading the other answers, I still think there must be something not quite right with the lens. I'm comparing the pictures with these I just took using my Sony NEX-3N with its kit zoom - newer but also lower-end tech, otherwise very comparable (APS-C sensor, 16 Megapixel).

  • 1
    I was actually considering buying a lens like the ones you purposed, but I was too scared because I feel like an amateur. Also is it worth upgrading my camera? I am hoping to get sharp picture like the ones you see in National Geographic (Maybe a little over-ambitious). – makakas May 5 '14 at 0:41
  • 4
    Expecting to buy a consumer grade camera/lens and use it as a beginner to get results comparable to the photos published in National Geographic is about like buying a Toyota Camry and, with no training, expecting to go to an F1 Grand Prix and run competitively with the best drivers in the world driving the most sophisticated race cars in the world. – Michael C May 5 '14 at 4:43
  • I also think some of what you are seeing as "sharp" pictures in publications such as National Geographic has as much to do with composition, lighting, white balance, saturation, and other aspects of post processing as it does about the accuracy of focus when the picture was taken. – Michael C May 5 '14 at 4:47
  • 2
    @μακακας: you definitely need a better lens more than a better camera (and you can still use the new lens when you get a new camera). And those prime lenses are nothing to be intimidated by - many people consider them great for learning to be a better photographer, and a very common experience is that even beginners quickly prefer them over their much more expensive zoom lenses. – Michael Borgwardt May 5 '14 at 7:35
  • The 50mm f/1.8 prime was the first lens I bought after getting my Canon T1i when my first child was born -- and it's still the lens that produces the pictures I like most. 4 years later, I finally bought a new camera, but I can tell you that the problem in my pictures is generally not the hardware, it's me. – Michael H. May 7 '14 at 3:02

It looks like this image has focused on infinity and you are looking at a closer object.

Your Answer

By clicking "Post Your Answer", you acknowledge that you have read our updated terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy, and that your continued use of the website is subject to these policies.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.