A few weeks ago I purchased and read a compilation of Henri Cartier-Bresson's writings and thoughts on photography, The Mind's Eye. While reading it I came across a passage where he touched briefly on sharpness. To provide some context, this was published in 1952:
I am constantly amused by the notion that some people have about photographic technique - a notion which reveals itself in an insatiable craving for sharpness of images. In this the passion of an obsession? Or do these people hope, by this tromp l'oeil technique, to get to closer grips with reality? In either case, they are just as far away from the real problem as those of that other generation which used to endow all its photographic anecdotes with an intentional unsharpness such as was deemed to be "artistic."
I know that the context is not directly applicable to that of the pixel peeper, but I find it funny that even in 1952, when Cartier-Bresson wrote this piece, there were people more obsessed with the sharpness of an image rather than what the image was perhaps portraying or perhaps questioning the quality of an image because of what some might consider a trivial aspect. When looking at the work of a number of prominent photojournalists, especially Cartier-Bresson, it was more important to get the picture than it was whether focus was tack sharp or if there was grain (now noise). Granted when you need to be quick certain details cannot always be perfect, but it's still something worth thinking about. The minor improvements in quality of one lens over another won't make you a better photographer. They'll certainly make your wallet lighter but better? I don't think so. Obviously Mr. Cartier-Bresson, one of the greatest photographers ever (despite his own protestations to the contrary), seems to have thought so decades ago, as well.