Many leading photographers and instructors have commented that the tripod and cable release are the handiest accessories ever devised for improving picture sharpness.That fact can be proven with just about any combination of camera and lens. But what about lens shades? It seems obvious that eliminating the flare caused by bright sources of light that aren’t part of the picture, will increase contrast and therefore apparent sharpness.
In the motion picture industry, camera operators, through their assistants, have gone to great lengths to make certain that lenses are effectively shaded by using various types of matte boxes and hard matte inserts (black panels with windows cut for specific focal lengths) to effectively exclude any light that lies outside of the picture area. In such situations, the time and expense of taking these extra steps is rarely an issue given all that is at stake (not to mention that sufficient technicians are available to make all of this happen).
For the serious still photographer working alone, going to such extremes may be impractical. If working in remote areas, just the weight of such elaborate equipment would be a burden. Some manufacturers have offered lightweight compendium shades for medium-format cameras, complete with slide-in hard mattes. For those of us using view cameras, however, these may not be entirely effective because adjusting movements requires repositioning the win- dow to avoid vignetting. To be accurate, compendium shades with some adjustments designed for view cameras have been produced. One that comes to mind is a model from Calumet that was designed for its venerable C-1.
For years, I’ve been toying with different ideas for making an adjustable shade that could be adapted to the variety of lenses I use, but all I could come up with involved fabrication that was pretty complex. What I really needed was something simple and inexpensive. This would allow me to quickly set up some tests and confirm, once and for all, that a better shade would result in greater negative density range and increased local contrast in the lowest zones. If inconclusive, it would be back to my hat and dark slide.