Shooting 2-3 stops from wide open is the sharpest lens resolution we can achieve. This is the sweet spot that the lens engineers designed for. If you are shooting everything at f/11 – f/32 on that $1600 Nikon or Canon L lens, your also throwing away all the fantastic detail and resolution that these engineers slaved to create.
The second trick is from the days of school. We had these two CIA tech guys give us a lecture on film and lens resolution. They took a $20 plastic Kodak 110 Instamatic film camera and a custom cut 110 sized sheet of Kodak Tech-Pan film and made a very sharp 16″ x 20″ print. We were all surprised how clear the image was from that thumbnail sized negative. The CIA method was based on very high resolution film, careful film development, shooting at the camera lenses sharpest F/stop resolution, and on a tripod with a shutter release.
Today I still use their methods but with a modern digital camera, let me explain further. The D2x has a DX sensor that is smaller than a FX or full-frame sensor. If I use full-frame film lenses then the 3/4 size sensor is only capturing the sharpest 75% center of the lens. We all know that camera lenses suffer at the edges. Full-frame lenses project an image circle that is 25% larger than a DX sensor and so we are only using the sharpest and most distortion free area of the lens.
All my lenses are from the old Nikon film era days and are the last and best versions of the AF prime lenses. These lenses when used at f/4 – f/8 are performing at their highest resolution. Nikon and Canon engineers design lenses to perform best at 2-4 stops from wide open. So If you are shooting everything at f/16 – f/32 on that $1600 Nikon or Canon L lens, your also throwing away all the fantastic detail and resolution that these engineers slaved to create.
An added bonus of these older lenses is that they can be readily found in the used department at local camera stores for much less than the current versions. This applies to both Nikon, Canon, and 3rd party lenses….so buy them for a song now before others figure this out. And later when you get that new full-frame Canon or Nikon, you are already set and do not have to reinvest in all new full-frame lenses. Before buying a lens, ask if it is full-frame or for the smaller sensor.
My final note is on how my studio flash system fits into all this. My strobes have a very fast flash duration at the power levels I use. My strobes are 1600 watt/seconds each, but not because I need that much power. Rather I shoot at F/4 – F/8 and thus the flash duration at that low power setting is extremely short and produces less camera blur (if any) when I hand hold the camera.