Scanned Film Sharpness

I finally had one of my images from Yosemite printed in a larger format (9″ x 16″) and found that the print was nowhere near as sharp as I thought it would be. I started going through the reasons that an image would lack sharpness:

  1. Focus – I was assuming that this was the issue, but then I realized that I had focused at infinity for the shot (across Yosemite Valley).
  2. Camera Shake – I was using a tripod and mirror lockup. I’m pretty sure that this isn’t what happened. I also checked the other shots in the same series and they have similar sharpness problems.
  3. Lens – I have read that no lens is sharp throughout the entire aperture range.

I assumed that the problem must be with lens sharpness, so I set up my camera and took the same shot of my house at each different aperture. I was using a stable tripod, mirror lockup, a cable release, and there was no wind. I scanned the developed film and found something interesting.

All of the images were equally sharp, or more accurately, each image was equally UN-sharp. Here is a sample of the shots at 100% zoom:

80mm lens at F2.8:

80mm lens at F8:

80mm lens at F22:

After further research, I found that all scanners (especially running at 4800 dpi) have issues with sharpness. I could see where it could be an issue when trying to approximate an analog film process using digital. Back in the day, there would have been several parameters in play even after the film was developed:

  1. Sharpness of the image
  2. Grain of the film
  3. Aperture used on the enlarger
  4. Type of paper used for printing
  5. Developer used for the paper

Now with this information, I know that I need to really sharpen the image before printing. I was hoping to find a setting for sharpening that would work in all cases, but that never panned out. I guess I’ll just have to work with each image on its own. Here’s a side by side with the sharpened version:

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