Camera Lens Degradation

Do you know the flowering plant often called kangaroo paw (or toes)? The flower buds are these long, fuzzy rounded tubes that remind people of kangaroo paws (sometimes names for natural things can be fun and a little crazy). I have some in my yard. I walked by them the other day and for some reason the scattered open flowers caught my eye. They were pretty wild. 

My iPhone was handy, plus a strong close-up lens attachment, and since the sun was leaving the flowers, I grabbed it for the photographs. When I tried photographing the flowers, I immediately knew I had a problem. The wind was blowing, making the flowers bounce around, plus I was having trouble steadying the iPhone with its camera up this close. When you get close, any camera movement is magnified greatly. I also had little control over the iPhone’s shutter speed to maybe stop this chaos of movement. 

The result … the photos were blurry and unusable. Except for my blog! Anyway, a combination of camera movement during exposure, plus subject movement made the camera and lens look bad, even though it really was my fault.

Enlarged

Lenses are critical to our work as photographers. Without a lens, we cannot create a photograph with our cameras short of creating some pinhole camera with a body cap (it can be done), but even then, results are not that great (unless you want that effect). While lenses today are mostly quite good compared to lenses of the past, a distinctly “good” lens can be a joy to use.

 

Shot with same iPhone and CU lens on a better day.

Enlarged. The blur at the lower left is a lens aberration, not unusual with such gear.

The surest way to degrade the quality of a lens is camera technique that results in camera movement during exposure. This can be the result of holding the camera poorly, of punching the shutter button, of windy conditions that blow the camera, of vibrations from a car or other vehicle being transmitted to the camera, the use of too slow a shutter speed, not compensating for a telephoto or macro lens (both are highly sensitive to camera movement during exposure) and so on. 

All too often, I have seen photographs with camera movement that cannot be excused (though sometimes conditions can make it difficult to eliminate it entirely), but frankly, for a lot of photographers, this might not matter if they are only posting to Facebook. Small images often don’t show the sharpness problem of slight camera movement.

But much of the time, the blur due to camera movement is clear. It is amazing to me to see photographers spending a great deal of money on camera and lens, yet they allow their technique to cause camera movement, resulting in images no better than a cheap, entry-level camera and kit lens combination. And “allow” is the right word, because this is a choice. 

But a big problem on the Internet comes when photographers start commenting on lenses and even comparing them. From the photos, you can clearly see the camera movement degrading the image quality, yet the photographer posting this information will blame the lens for being of “poor quality.”

I once saw a comparison of a Nikon macro and a Canon macro where the “reviewer” said that the Canon was of slightly lower quality. Looking closer, I saw that the reviewer was looking at camera movement during exposure, not lens quality. This made the “review” worthless, though it may have influenced some photographers, “I know my Nikon is better than your Canon. I just saw this review …”

How do you know you have camera movement during exposure? One clear giveaway is little lines all going in a certain direction (of the movement) from point or round spots (especially sun highlights) that are not lines. Notice that all of the little highlights in the next image have a feeling of movement from top left to bottom right. 

Subject movement is similar, though you will often see the blurriness of the photo limited to a certain area compared to camera movement during exposure. The latter will always affect the whole photo. 

About Rob Sheppard

I'm Rob Sheppard and my mission is to connect people and nature through photography with celebration and joy. Nature photography, for me, is about finding ways to create meaning and joy in your photography and connecting people with the natural world. I consider myself a naturalist, nature photographer and videographer. I have been busy over the years creating many books related to photography, including Landscape Photography: From Snapshot to Great Shot, The Magic of Digital Landscape Photography, The Magic of Digital Nature Photography, and the National Geographic Field Guide to Digital Photography. A Nature Photography Manifesto and Reports from the Wild are available from Apple’s iBookstore. I get around as a speaker and workshop leader, and I am a Fellow with the North American Nature Photography Association. I was the long-time editor of the prestigious Outdoor Photographer magazine and presently am a contributing editor. My education was both as a photographer and a naturalist specializing in ecology and botany.
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One Response to Camera Lens Degradation

  1. Joie Gahum says:

    Great shot! Still practising with my roadeavour lens. Hope I can get some shot like that soon.

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