Capture Sharpening in Version 1.1

by Michael Clark

So, now that we have the fancy new sharpening sliders in Version 1.1 of Lightroom, the big question is what are the magic numbers to dial in for capture sharpening for your camera. The defaults are as in the image below: Amount = 25, Radius = 1.0, Detail = 25 and Masking = 0.

detail_1.jpg

Before we get into the tool itself lets define a few things. There are three generally accepted forms of image sharpening:

Capture Sharpening: Sharpening applied to a RAW image that has had no in-camera sharpening. Basically because cameras have an anti-aliasing filter in front of the lens to slightly blur the image and avoid artifacts such as moiré and some other color issues we need to introduce a small amount of sharpening in the RAW processing to counteract this blurring effect and bring the image back to where it should be.

Creative Sharpening: This is basically sharpening used as a creative rendering of the image, and is sometimes only applied to parts of the image instead of the entire image.

Output Sharpening: Output sharpening is the last step in a workflow used when you resize an image for output to the web, print or for a slideshow. This is usually a much stronger amount of sharpening so that the images look nice and crisp when printed or for web output. Whenever you resize an image some of its apparent sharpness is lost and depending on the paper it might need an extreme amount of sharpening. An example of output sharpening is the sharpening options in the Print Module.

Now, let's get back to the big question. During Photo Arts Santa Fe this past weekend here in Santa Fe, New Mexico I had the opportunity to ask Tom Hogarty of Adobe about the new sharpening sliders and their relation to capture sharpening at a Lightroom seminar. The word is Adobe has gone in and tweaked the setting so that for each camera the defaults are just about right for capture sharpening. To clarify, the default of 25, 1.0, 25 and 0 maybe appear to be the same numbers for every camera but they correspond to different amounts of sharpening based on the camera model. So a Canon camera which has a stronger anti-aliasing filter would have a stronger amount of sharpening applied (with the default settings) than say a Nikon camera which has a slightly weaker anti-aliasing filter.

What this boils down to is that you can pretty much leave the sharpen settings at their default for capture sharpening if you don't want to mess with it. Because of the Detail slider it seems that the capture sharpening is a little more focused on the edges and not the fine details which is very nice for skies, skin and other parts of an image you wouldn't want to introduce sharpening to - and in effect extra noise.

Of course, the new sharpening feature can be used as a creative tool as well so it is a capture sharpening tool plus a little more. If you have portraits you may want to accentuate sharpening in the eyes but not on the skin. In this instance the use of the Masking slider can really help out and give you a capture sharpening and some creative sharpening as well.

In my experimentation, I have found the defaults to be very good with my Nikon D200 and D2x. I have decided to decrease the Radius from 1.0 to 0.5 for my images just because I wanted to have a finer sharpening effect and not overdo it with the capture sharpening. I might change back to the defaults depending on my subject and with more experimentation but for now those are the numbers I am using with a D2x, my main camera.

For a very in-depth and complete explanation of the new sharpening sliders check out Martin Evening's sharpening article over at Lightroom-news.com:

http://lightroom-news.com/lightroom-11-update/sharpening/

We now have a much improved and vastly more powerful set of sharpening sliders than ever before in the RAW processing stage of an Adobe product. They are fairly complex so reading Martin's article would be a good idea - but once you get the hang of them they are very useful. Please note, I did not intend to write an in-depth blog post on how the sharpening sliders work per se. Only to comment on their use for capture sharpening and the relevant settings for that use. There are much more knowledgeable and qualified Adobe experts than I who have written excellent tutorials on the sharpening sliders like Martin's article above.

That's it for this session. See you next week....

Adios, Michael Clark