Lately I have tried recording some video using my old Canon. While I achieve decent results during macro shots and while filming human beings, I have noticed that foliage and distant objects in wide shots often lacks sharpness and are quite fuzzy/messy overall. Last couple of days I have filmed outdoors in strong sunlight implying ISO of 100-200, and while I have seemingly tried all possible combinations of shutter/aperture I can't seem to be able to get crisp foliage and distant objects. Here I can note that I have not tried other focal length that 17mm yet, due to the fact that I want the nature shots to be wide. After some testing I can conclude that it does not seem to be a problem of focus. I have not yet been able to conclude is the problem can be related to camera shake - however while placing the camera on a rail or table the results do not seem much better.

My setup is:

Canon 550D

Canon EFS 17-55mm 2.8 IS

Handheld/handheld while placed on natural surfaces

1920x1080 25 fps

AF during shoot: disabled

Movie exposure: manual

Links to sample footage displaying the problem: (Imgur might slaughter the quality a bit, but it should be good enough as example)

Crisp flowers (55mm): https://imgur.com/hfSabRz

Washed-out foliage (17mm): https://imgur.com/xLltIob

Is it possible to improve the results using my current setup? If not, what parameters should I look for in alternative equipment?

A final note is that I have tried photographing same foliage using same camera and while the result is better than video recording, the results are still somewhat fuzzy in comparison to shots of proximate objects on same focal length.

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    Welcome! Did you use a tripod for either shot? Have you tried turning off the IS on the lens? – Michael Liebman Oct 19 '20 at 0:28
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    Thank you! I did not use a tripod for either shot, the flowers are completely hand-held, foliage is with camera resting on a rail, but still hand-held. IS was on during both shots, a valid point to try without it. – NoobPointerException Oct 19 '20 at 19:22

You are most likely observing Optical Aberration - see https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Optical_aberration and also https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Defocus_aberration. Haze is also likely a contributing factor, see https://photo.stackexchange.com/questions/93585/are-there-tools-used-to-remove-heat-haze-or-other-atmospheric-conditions-for-lon.

The further back you are from the subject, the more light dispersion / scattering you're going to be getting from the subject. Closing the aperture as much as possible will help (so long as there's enough light remaining for the sensor to get an image), if you test this, you should be able to see visible differences in sharpness between aperture fully open and aperture almost closed.

Haze you can probably do less about, you're basically talking about scattering of light due to imperfections in the air - adding more distance between you and the subject is also adding more imperfection. The stack exchange post above suggests use of different filters to assist, that's not something I've tried. I mostly film theatre productions indoors, and there's a definite image quality difference the closer I can get to the stage. But usually I'm stuck at the back (the show is primarily for an audience, not the video guy), and everyone accepts that shooting an extra 20m to 40m through haze in a theatre is going to result in an image that isn't quite as sharp as what we could get up close.

  • Thank you for your input, these are definitely interesting points. Due to work I will probably have to wait until the weekend to record some video in good light again. I will get back after testing minimal possible aperture to provide information on if it did the trick. I have already tried a similar test, but might have not pushed far enough, I can try increasing ISO to 400 or 800. – NoobPointerException Oct 19 '20 at 19:32
  • After further testing I was able to improve the quality slightly, mainly though reducing aperture - but was unfortunately unable to get a really crisp image. I feel, however, that smaller aperture does not guarantee improved sharpness. I guess rule of thumb is simply to avoid having aperture wide open or at other first aperture stops. – NoobPointerException Oct 25 '20 at 10:39
  • Reduced aperture will just give you improvement over fully open aperture, it's what will improve your sharpness if moving closer isn't an option. But it's not going to fix the light dispersion as much as moving closer to the subject does, and you'll still be fighting the effects of haze as well. It's helpful info to know why you're getting the image you're getting and how things work (for some shots you might even open the aperture to specifically get that effect), but moving closer if you can is always going to be the correct solution, if possible, if sharp focus is the priority. – Peter Barton Oct 25 '20 at 12:19

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