It's quite a teeter-totter the manufacturers have been striding. Blurring the picture, by optical or digital means, won't cure everything, though it will cure a lot. But how much must you blur an image to make it seem sharpest?
Pentax made their decision, which we'd call a good one. The *ist D's performance at 1600 speed is so satisfactory in part because noise is held down. We'd expect the *ist D used at more standard speeds-around 200, say-to be capable of output to 11x14 on the published page.
Dealing From A New Deck
The traditional balance between sharpness and anomalies such as aliasing is being rethought, however. Sigma brought it up afresh, with the SD9 and SD10 cameras and their Foveon imagers free of blur filters. Kodak and Nikon seem to be in on the game too nowadays, and we've been hearing gasps-our own included-at how sharp some digital pictures are.
The balance between blurring and aberrations is an executive decision, but it's based on what the market will bear. But if the published reviewers (including ourselves) are any indication, the increase in sharpness blows-away little concerns like linear or color aliasing.
Blurred versus unblurred is becoming a trend. The industry's waiting to see how it plays-out, as an ongoing story in its own right. How about a removable blur filter? There are reasons why manufacturers would be afraid of such things, but also, it's not completely without precedent already.
Two different classes of camera may be in the making, for two sets of users, those who require extreme detail, and those who require correct-looking lines. The second group have been the market presumed by most manufacturers, but we'll see where this new, undeclared, only-now-becoming-visible trend leads.
For the meantime, the *ist D joins the camp that uses the blur filter, which includes all the cameras heretofore highly regarded for the detail of their 5- to 6-megapixel pictures. We'd call this Pentax about normal for the group in terms of sharpness, showing its best work with the 80-200 f/2.8 Pentax zoom. This is an enormous lens physically, its apparent size magnified by the diminutive dimensions of the camera body, though the rig as a whole was a pleasure to handle. With a slightly larger buffer (whose capacity seems to be three shots in RAW mode) the Pentax *ist D could be almost the perfect companion- capable, attractive, and so nice to hang-out with.
Don Sutherland has sold cameras across the counter, shot with them as a pro, and written about them for more than 30 years. His first article predicting the future of digital photography (1976) is becoming truer and truer. Don is a photo historian as well as futurist, and is author of the immortal slogan, "If you have one foot in the future and one in the past, you understand the present perfectly." Email Don at firstname.lastname@example.org.