Shooting Myself In The Foot

Example picture - red box crop shown in detail below
Example picture - red box crop shown in detail below

I have to confess that, ever since buying my EOS 7D, I’ve not always been entirely happy with the sharpness of JPG images I’ve had out of it.

The trouble is, it wasn’t consistent. Sometimes shots were fine, others were either just not sharp at all, or there would be a much smaller depth of field than I would have expected from any given lens/aperture combination. It was particularly bad in backlit and low light situations, with wide angle lenses. The
17-85mm f/4.5-5.6 IS USM was bad, and so was my L-series 24-105mm f/4 L IS USM – which was disappointing, as it is supposed to be professional quality glass. I even thought about selling it at one point and going for the 24-70 f/2.8 L USM instead (a luxury I can’t afford right now).

Most of the time the results from my 60mm f/2.8 EF-S USM macro or 100-400mm f/4 L IS USM were fine – but a limited DoF is not unexpected from these lenses – particularly for the macro at wide apertures and the zoom at the 400mm end – shallow DoF is a feature the wider aperture/more telephoto you get anyway.

I borrowed a friend’s identical 24-105mm and had a go with that – the results were inconclusive – no better, no worse. I was scratching my head as to the cause and was convinced that my older 30D didn’t produce such “mediocre” shots from JPGs.

Then last week, the 7D went kaput and I had to go back to using the 30D again for a couple of days. No, I wasn’t imagining things – it did seem sharper than the 7D with the same lenses! When the newer model came back, I gave it a run out again yesterday and still the same results – especially in low light, there just wasn’t the sharpness in JPG format.

So I did some digging… and then got a hunch. I was unable to test it thoroughly until today, when we had some decent sunshine. And much to my chagrin, I discovered I’d been shooting with the “default” sharpening set to 0. Yes, a big, fat zero. It should have been set at 3 (and on a possible scale of 0-7, that’s quite a big difference).

100% crop - in-camera sharpening set to 0
100% crop - in-camera sharpening set to 0
100% crop - in-camera sharpening set to 3
100% crop - in-camera sharpening set to 3
100% crop - in-camera sharpening set to 7
100% crop - in-camera sharpening set to 7

How had it been changed? I’ve no idea! I had to go digging around in the manual to even find how the setting was altered (scene modes), and then dig some more on the internet to find what the default should have been. Sure enough, the truth hit me in the face. So, I’ve been taking images for the last 8 months which could and should have been lovely and sharp, but instead – at best – were OK, at worst – were unsable.

Part of me is kicking myself for not finding out sooner, and the other half is hugely relieved to have finally found the cause. Boy, am I stupid. But at least I’m honest enough to own up to it… 😳

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