Deadly goings on in our garden this morning as a Sparrowhawk captures a small bird. The prey was still very much alive at this point and screeching. The reason the hawk was standing like that was to defend itself as all the birds in the garden were dive bombing it in little squadrons to try to get it to leave. Meanwhile the poor sparrow wasn’t being finished off quickly and was very loud.

So I went outside with the hope of either getting the hawk to move off with its prey or leaving the prey behind. It picked up the sparrow and flew down under a tree, then over the wall and out of the garden – followed by lots of small birds trying to scare it away.

Front Element Dust – One Man’s Quest

Maybe others have done this before, but I want to relate a little story of how I solved an issue with my Fujinon 18-55mm and a persistent blob of dust on the inside of the front element.

I had this big piece of dust on the inside front element of the lenses. This didn’t adversely affect the image in any way but was annoying me. I believe it was a dust mite, it even seemed to move around a little and would come towards the edge of the lens when I shone a torch there. But I could not shift it completely, it kept returning to the front element.

I read some advice about killing mites in lenses by freezing. So I sealed the lens in a ziplock bag and put it in the freezer for a few hours. I didn’t release the lens from the bag until it had returned to room temperature. Whatever the dust blob was it didn’t move again after this. But it was still sat there in the middle of the front element. I had killed the beast but not shifted it.

Now I’ve seen all the pictures of smashed front elements still taking pictures. This wasn’t really about image quality, but about something of mine not being how I wanted it. I get that. This was a slightly obsessional thing. And while I have no plans to ever part with this excellent lens I could hardly sell it with a corpse of an invading entity sat their bang in the middle of the front element.

So just now I was looking at this blob of dust and my thoughts went in the direction of the ultrasonic vibration some cameras use to remove dust from the sensor. Many modern cameras shake the sensor at start up and shut down to remove particles of dust. What if made the front element of the lens vibrate? Would that help? What should I use to vibrate the lens?1

I tried my Phillips rotary shaver first. But the damn thing was too smooth. It didn’t vibrate much. I held the body of the shaver against the edge of the lens’ filter ring. No luck. Then I remembered that my beard trimmer vibrated much more as it used reciprocal motion rather than a rotary movement. I fetched that, held the side against the filter ring and fired it up.

Within seconds that pesky blob of dust fell away harmlessly into the corrugations of the inside of the lens barrel. It had been smote by my silly idea. I’m not sure If I’m trying to pass on advice here. Warn you not to be so silly with your gear. Or just sharing something that made me laugh. But there you go, an ad hoc method of removing persistent front element lens dust.2

1No sniggering at the back there.
2I accept no blame for you damaging equipment, or for your significant other asking what exactly are you doing with their vibrating device.

Camera Gear Forums & Obsession With Sharpness.

It is mad how much stock people put in sharpness. On camera gear forums it seems to be the aim for many people – they’ll post what they think is an amazing shot – because it is sharp, not because of the composition, light, subject etc. People rate lenses and cameras on how sharp they are as the primary factor. I think it’s all bonkers.

Back when I used to have a little film camera and all my prints were 6×4 I don’t remember anyone talking about sharpness. Being in focus yes, but nothing more. But now folks can look at 100% images on large monitors they become obsessed with the pixel sharpness, throwing away images that would make pretty large prints before sharpness was an issue – even if sharpness actually is one.

But that’s gear forums for you. Go somewhere more about the end product and there’s less focus (no pun intended) on sharpness. Go to places that are about the art of photography – sharpness much less of a thing there.

Enthusiast forums go mad for sharpness. And good gear gets ignored despite many good qualities merely because its sharpness isn’t the main attribute. Meanwhile I see plenty of professional work in advertising, magazines and online that isn’t razor sharp and looks looks amazing. Other factors being more important to those pros.

I see it as a similar thing to the PC overclocking community. People build PCs to compete to achieve high overclocks, not because they will play games very well, but just for pure effort of building a machine they can clock so quickly. They have fun, it’s fine, but a PC much slower will do for any real world jobs.

Similarly folks build dragsters for the same reason. They want to reach extreme horsepower and speed over a quarter mile. These cars have not much other use, they aren’t even good racing cars, except for the short straight sprint of a drag strip. But they are competing to create massively overpowered vehicles for the sake of it.

And on gear forums people will buy gear and compete for the very sharpest of images. And this is totally okay as long as you realise that it’s a competition about sharpness and not photography. If people want to compete in that way then let them – they are having fun. But it’s got very little to do with art. And just like those dragsters and overclocked PCs, people look for a level of sharpness that is way beyond what most people need for practice everyday use.

Camera gear forums the camera equivalent of those hobbies. And that is totally okay. People compete, get very obsessed, and argue about gear. And the currency by which they measure isn’t horsepower or MHz, but sharpness. That’s how the game there is played.

Almost all digital cameras on the market today will give you a sharp enough image in a 6×4 print (and much larger really) that sharpness is just not an issue. People go looking for flaws and on a 24″ monitor at 100% they’ll always find them.

I used to be there too. But now every day and in every way, I’m getting better and better.