Image quality

Soft images

Written by Gail Bjork

It’s not uncommon for digital images to look soft. Here’s why.

Even when a photo taken with a digital camera is properly focused, the results may not look sharp. This is true when viewing the image at 100% on a computer monitor and also when it is reduced in size during the editing process.

The left image appears soft even when reduced in size. The right image is sharpened

The left image appears soft even when reduced in size. The right image is sharpened

Digital single reflex cameras are no exception. They generally produce even softer images than those taken by a compact.

Not all digital cameras produce soft-looking images however.

Manufactures increase in-camera sharpening in point-and-shoot models. They are made to appeal to novice digital camera users who typically have no interest in editing images.

In-camera sharpening settings

Some photographers want to control the degree of image sharpness themselves as they edit a photo.  They purchase intermediate or advanced cameras that have settings to control the amount of in-camera sharpening. The settings are typically High, Normal or Low levels of sharpening, or it can be turned OFF completely.

If you can control sharpening in-camera give it a try. Take a few test photos at different levels of sharpness to determine the setting that meets your satisfaction.

To help ensure photos are as sharp as they can be, follow these suggestions:

  • Take hand-held photos at shutter speeds of 1/60th second or higher. Slow shutter speeds cause camera shake and blur images.
  • When using a zoom lens, make sure the shutter speed is about equal too or higher than the focal length used. For example, when using a 200mm equivalent focal length, the shutter speed should be at least 1/250th second.
  • Increase the camera sensitivity (ISO) to obtain faster shutter speeds. The trade-off is that “noise” may appear in a photo, especially when light conditions are low.
  • Use a smaller aperture (higher f-stop numbers) to increase depth of field.

About the author

Gail Bjork

Gail Bjork, who is passionate about digital photography, is the owner and editor of Digicamhelp.Gail is the author of three illustrated ebooks about digital photography. A number of her photos and digital photography related articles appear at other websites.In 2006, a series of her photos, People in the Louvre, were exhibited at the Underground Photo Gallery
in Iisalmi Finland. Eight of her photos taken in the Florida scrub are on permanent exhibition at Parrish Medical Center in Titusville, Florida.Gail served twelve years as an elected member of The School Board of Palm Beach County, Florida, one of the largest school districts in the U.S. She has also been the editor of a small town newspaper and a free-lance writer. Gail and her husband owned and ran several small businesses.