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An aperture of f/64 on 8 × 10 format is roughly equivalent to f/8 on 135 format, in terms of depth of field (and light transmission), and that's still considered a sharp f-stop today. The fact remains that larger apertures would have been sharper at the plane of focus, but Group f/64 chose its name to emphasise that everything should lie within the depth of field, to satisfy its "straight photography" ethos. Blame Paul Strand.
Of course Group f/64 members didn't shoot only at f/64. Adams himself seemed to favour f/16 or f/22 when given the chance. He also said this, by the way:
"I am well aware of a compelling impulse of photographers to discuss, with collector's dedication, the equipment and materials they and their colleagues use, down to the smallest detail. I have never known painters to debate with such intensity the kind of canvas, paper, brushes, and paints used in their creative work. With photographers, however, such knowledge is traded in a kind of inner language of arcane significance. More meaningful would be discussion of such matters as the shapes, luminance values, and colours of the subjects. To know that an exposure was, say, 1/8 second at f/32 has small meaning unless subject luminances, their placement on the exposure scale of the negative, and negative development are also indicated…"
So there you have it, straight from the horse's mouth. The man liked a sharp neg, but he was also fussy about shapes, colours, and those infernal zones!
(The Adams quote above is from Schaefer's Ansel Adams Guide: Basic Techniques of Photography, Book 2. They're having a laugh with that title: the back cover boasts it has 352 illustrations and 37 graphs, and 20 pages are given to film testing procedures. It's a book for everyone who thought Adams was a bit light on technical matters.))
Edited on Aug 21, 2012 at 06:29 PM · View previous versions