10 Steps to success in high performance photography
The following article is meant to be a ten step
guide to images that are significantly sharper than average ones. Images
that exploit the enormous optical potential of Carl Zeiss lenses, their
ability to produce photos with phenomenal sharpness and impressive information
content. This is the ten step method used by Carl Zeiss applications specialists
to shoot the high resolution demo photos
which challenge today's sharpest color films to their very limit.
Select a high performance optic! If you don't, all subsequent steps are a waste of your time and effort.
Attach your high performance optic to an adequate camera. To be adequate, the camera needs to have an all metal die cast housing, strong and large bottom plate with tripod thread preferably located under the center of gravity. If the camera has a detachable winder or motor attached underneath, you may want to take it off for better rigidity of the whole system. Do not simply assume that your camera is in perfect condition, rather have it double checked for correct back focal flange distance, and – in case your camera is an SLR – for perfect alignment of mirror and focusing screen in relation to the film plane.
Place your camera and optic in a very rigid way onto a very stiff tripod and head, preferably with virtually no elasticity. Photo tripods usually prove insufficient for real high performance photography.
You may wish to use a carbon fibre television tripod instead, with a fluid head featuring adjustable damping devices. Balance your camera properly on the fluid head, adjust the counterbalance dial for the weight of your camera and lens, choose high values on the damping system dials (e. g. 5 to 7 on a Sachtler "Video 18 Plus"), and do not fasten the brakes! This is the special trick with fluid heads: Use their damping systems, originally invented to enable the cameraman to perform smooth pans, to absorb equipment vibrations triggered by the shutter, instead. These vibrations could otherwise reduce or even destroy the optical resolution of fine structures.)
Select a high performance film like Kodak Ektar 25 Professional or Kodak Royal Gold 25 (color negative), or Kodak Technical Pan (black & white) or Fuji-chrome Velvia (color transparency) and make sure it will be processed adequately. Films like the ones just mentioned offer a resolving power of 150 line pairs per millimeter and beyond.
Use the split field indicator for focusing. Make sure the aperture is wide open. You may want to use accessories – small telescopes like the Carl Zeiss MiniQuick® 5 x 10 T* with 5x magnification are pretty handy for this task – to enlarge the center of your viewfinder image during focusing.
Prefer f-stop settings in the region of 5.6 to 8. (To close the aperture down further will cost too much resolution due to the unavoidable phenomenon of diffraction (At f/8, diffraction will limit the resolution to 200 line pairs per millimeter or below, at f/5.6 the diffraction limit is at 280 line pairs per millimeter; see CLN 2). To open up the aperture more may cost too much resolution due to thermal expansion effects, film curvature due to moisture and temperature (The Real Time Vacuum System in the Contax RTS III does away with this problem). Mechanical tolerances due to wear and tear, rough handling and other influences like residual warpage of the focusing screen also recommend to open up no wider than 5.6 or 8.)
Use the mirror pre-release feature, if your camera has it (Every camera that has it, needs it. The opposite is not true! Not every camera that comes without, can achieve high resolution photos.)
Wrap your hands around the camera to absorb most of the vibrations that occur upon opening the focal plane shutter (you may not need a cable release at all). If your camera system gives you the freedom to use either focal plane or central shutter – like the Hasselblad 200-series cameras or the discontinued Rolleiflex SL 66, when combined with central shutter lenses – prefer the central shutter because of its inherently lower vibration levels.
Take written notes of all parameters and settings (like: "Carl Zeiss Distagon 28 mm # 7.500.123, @ f/8, Contax RX # 10.531 @ 1/125, in Av-mode, Mar 3, 1998, focusing done with split field indicator for license plate in center of image, damping on fluid head: 7 on vertical, 5 on horizontal, license plate on truck 350 feet away, character line width on license plate: 3/8 inch.")
Select a lab that is very quality conscious about equipment and materials and uses high performance optics in printers and enlargers. The best optics ever used in a lab for enlarging are Carl Zeiss S-Orthoplanar 4/60 and Carl Zeiss S-Biogon 5,6/40 for prints from 35 mm originals and Carl Zeiss S-Orthoplanar 5,6/105 for prints from medium format originals. These optics were originally developed for the extreme resolution demands of microdocumentation (beyond 150 line pairs per millimeter) and are, at magnifications of 10 x to 70 x, far superior to even the very best enlarging lenses currently available.
Understanding and using these techniques will surely give you a better appreciation of the extremely high limits which Carl Zeiss has spent so much effort designing and manufacturing into their lenses. More than ever before, extremely careful and deliberate technique must be
used to obtain the results of which the equipment is capable.
Camera Lens News No. 4, spring 1998