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Monday, 19 September 2011


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Have you tried comparing to Photoshop's Smart Sharpen with the Lens Blur setting?

What a coincidence, I was just thinking of searching the web for some sharpening software/techniques to use on some images that I will print this week.

I really never seen a software doing a substantially better job than photoshop's smart sharpening tool + some masking work, but I will try FocusFixer.

I would like a software that was smart enough to use different amounts of sharpening depending on the characteristics of the different areas of a image (for example to use a less aggressive sharpening to tree branches against a sky avoiding sharpening artifacts).

Mike, since we're at plugins, you might want to try Topaz Labs deNoise tool, it's the best noise reduction tool I've ever used and it will make wonders to your GF1 images. I had a E-P1 with it's similarly noisy sensor and a sensible use of this plugin cleans the images quite well without making them look artificial. And after taking the noise down a bit the images will sharpen a lot better too.

I use Nik Sharpener Pro 3 because it lets you target the output (halftone, for example) and resolution for sharpening. But, I agree, as a general sharpening tool, Photoshop's unsharp mask or smart sharpen works very well these days.

(low voice)
look up Focus Magic
and stop worrying about USM, it's not worth the waste of time and aggravation...
(/low voice)
This has been a community service message: no fiduciary self-interest, just a VERY happy customer.

But it's only available in a 32-bit version ...

I wonder how Lightroom 3 would do with this. There is a selection tool and sharpening can be applied therefore to the selected area only. It may not be as powerful as unsharp mask, I don't know.

Peter F.

Pointless to point out, probably, but I think the unsharpened version was best. It wasn't unsharp enough to warrant any significant sharpening especially if the full image were to be the final output. Then, tack sharp images are becoming kinda "meh" to me lately.

Well since she has different tones and contrast and looks a lot lighter relative to the rest of the photo I'd say you did some dodging on her.

Also the first picture doesn't really look sharp. It looks like a blurry picture that has been sharpened. Now this might work for a (small) print, but you can almost always see it on your monitor.

If you could also compare them all to Nik Sharpener Pro, that would be great...

And how do these two compare to Photoshop's Smart Sharpening? Inquiring minds need to know...

Woe upon those who do not compare the results in their final output form (low-res for web, as prints, or as a series of 1's and 0's), for the sucking in will truly be in vain.

Hi Mike. I think you are using too much Radius (0,7 or 1 is better) and you are applying the filter to the color image (is better to apply the filter only in the luminosity face of a layer), that will end with a less color shift on the borders. I think that with PS and a mask you have the option to apply the sharpen only to the face and some more but not on the wall, the pattern that the sharpen are making is not natural as film grain. Just my two cents.

What bothers me more than sharpening in this photo is the ugly color fringing in her face...

In the real world if you had used a smaller aperture, the problem may well not have existed. Then again in the wet darkroom such problems would not have existed, as they didn't exist, or did they?

Am getting too old, cause every new form of image manipulation software seems to think it is always better/gooder than some other peice of software.

Maybe the software between our ears should be not be struck down quite so soon; a rational thought perhaps?

Dare I admit that I'm stuck on the sharpening tool in Camera Raw? I work with the image at 200% and am very happy with the results. I find it a lot easier to work with that unsharp mask. If I use unsharp mask these days, it's to tweak things gently at the end. But then "tack sharp", to me, is so 2006.

This is where you ask for someone else to do a guest piece comparing various available programs (not me, sounds like death by a thousand sharpeners).


Just for the record, I'm using the Panny 20mm on an Olympus body, and I'm seeing the same kind of results. I think it's the lens. I recently talked with a friend who's moving to digital (a Canon G series) from a film Leica. I told her that micro 4/3rds was worth a look just to use this lens. Before leaving for my last trip I did some lens tests against the 14-45 kit lens using the formal version of the GBC (girlfriend, backyard & cat) protocol - (GBC on a tripod) and there was just no comparison in feel or microcontrast or rendering or whatever you like to call it.

To me, the USM version looks better at 100%, and even if I preferred FF version the difference is not enough I'd pay money for it. (Like Carl, I resist the urge to look at 300% images though I admit FF may look a hair better at that size.)

On the whole, these plug-ins remind me of the various snake oil products we used to see back in the film-and-developer days: fine-grain juice, extra-speed juice and the rest. In my earliest darkroom days I got sucked into quite few of these. Luckily I caught on pretty quickly and decided to concentrate on getting the most from one film in one developer. Worked for me for many years, and I didn't have all those cans and bottles cluttering up the darkroom.

For me, that carried over into digital. For the most part things work better when I stick to doing the basics well than when I go out trying to buy a magic bullet.

In my opinion, both the FocusFixer and the unsharp mask version look oversharpened. I never understood the need for output sharpening. Maybe it is just my darkroom experience where this wasn't an option (I did see a bunch of Howard Bond's unsharp masked darkroom prints and once the initial WOW was over, I thought they looked oversharpened as well).

I have always felt that the point of sharpening is to get the image to look good, not just as sharp as possible. I have also never found anything I like as well as a very low radius unsharp mask (something like 0.3 radius, amount 200-300, threshold 0). I do use sharpening in Lightroom more because many of my photos don't go through Photoshop anymore, but I much prefer the unsharp mask.

I also agree with Carl, anything over 100% view is pretty useless. When using the Sony A900, I actually find it more useful to look at results at 50% than even 100% (although I still look at things at 100% more than I should).

"All Hope Abandon, Ye Who Enter Here!"

I see someone has been to the Talk Like a Pirate Day website. ;)

Mike said: "All Hope Abandon, Ye Who Enter Here!"

I weren't expectin' to see TOP participatin' in International Talk Like a Pirate Day today, but I likes it. Yarr!.



I'll put these as questions, though I have my opinions:

1. re 300% zoom, what exactly does the monitor view at that level correspond to? It can't be pixel resolution (100%) or printer output. So I'm with your friend at limiting peeping to close work on actual pixels, and never as a guide to actual experience of the image.

2. re Threshold setting Zero - indiscriminate sharpening of every tonal difference, including every noise pit, as an "edge" - why not tone down the noise with a little bit of Threshold?

My guide on this has been Bigelow:


I'm sure a lot of people know this trick, but I've found it a useful way to use Unsharp Mask. Load up the filter, put the amount to 500%. I know it looks horrible. Slowly up up the radius until the details you want sharpened are extremely exaggerated and the smaller ones that you don't want (noise, grain, wrinkles) aren't. Then bring down the amount to a low percentage until you get a pleasing amount. For 3000x2000 to 4000x6000 images, I find I'm often around 10-20 pixels and 10-20%.

Long story short, instead of low radius, high amounts, try high radius, low amounts. Of course, after this, you can do a second pass of sharpening with a small radius if you want.

Another cool trick is to apply the sharpening in luminosity mode. Either apply Unsharp Mask to the image then immediately select "Fade Filter..." with Luminosity mode set, or duplicate your image in a new layer, run Unsharp mask on that, and set the blending mode to Luminosity. This prevents you from sharpening color noise too much.


>taken with the GF1 and 20mm ƒ/1.7 lens.

However, the picture EXIF says


Did you forget which camera was used?


Topaz Labs has two sharpening products that are quite interesting. InFocus does deconvolution something or other deblurring. It is a hard program to use, a lot of effort and trial and error, but the results can be magical.

Detail allows you to sharpen small, medium, and large details independently of each other without creating halos. It also has a deconv. deblurring slider, but with a much smaller maximum radius.

I've recently been using InFocus as part of restoring some old photographs printed on textured paper. Use box blur to remove the texture, then Infocus to bring back the detail that was blurred out. Surprisingly effective!

My sharpening technique...

I duplicate the layer then apply a "High Pass" filter set at about 5 to 8 pixels to the duplicate layer and then use either a hard or soft light blend mode with the original layer and set set the opacity of the duplicate layer to the desired strength.

If I desire I can then go back and selectively erase portions of the duplicate layer to remove portions of the high pass filter.

"It appears that now I am practically obligated to compare FocusFixer V2 with Photoshop CS5 Smart Sharpen, am I not?"

You're not. In finer textbooks the world over (I presume, for sure here in the US), you'll find the wonderful and useful phrase "…left as an exercise for the reader." Don't spoil the fun for the rest of us. You've led us to water, so let us drink.

Fortunately for many of us, cans of worms are currently only available in 32bit versions.

"Also the first picture doesn't really look sharp [snip]...."

As I tried to point out in the text, you're not looking at the picture--you're looking at a little 800-pixel-wide JPEG of the picture. Because large files don't translate to small ones exactly, I actually did a few things to the small file that I haven't done to the large one, in order to make it "mimic" the large file somewhat better. But they're not the same.


Erm...I like the unsharpened one better.

You haven't tried high-pass sharpening? I tried that once and never looked back. Easy peasy, or whatever they say.


"I see someone has been to the Talk Like a Pirate Day website. ;)"

ILTim and Patrick,
It's not pirate-speak, it's Dante, from the Rev. H. F. Cary's 1814 translation of the Divine Comedy:

Through me you pass into the city of woe:
Through me you pass into eternal pain:
Through me among the people lost for aye.

Justice the founder of my fabric mov'd:
To rear me was the task of power divine,
Supremest wisdom, and primeval love.

Before me things create were none, save things
Eternal, and eternal I endure.
All hope abandon ye who enter here.

Such characters in colour dim I mark'd
Over a portal's lofty arch inscrib'd:
Whereat I thus: Master, these words import.


I did. Thank you. I should have checked. I fixed the post now.


Oh good lord why am I here, reading all this? I need to get on with things, with working on actual, paid-for pictures, but instead here I am, installing trial versions of a couple of Topaz Lab's plugins and wondering about utilizing a couple of the other tricks mentioned... Thanks a lot Mike!

Dear Folks,

"Sharpness has two components-- resolution (how fine the detail is) and acutance (how "edgy" an edge is).

USM, "high pass filtering" and some third-party plug-ins like, I believe, Detail and Nik Sharpener ,enhance edges to improve acutance. They don't alter the amount of fine detail in the photograph. Most commonly, they are used to improve edge rendering in prints... and most photographers use them to excess.

Smart Sharpen, Focus Magic, Focus Fixer and Topaz InFocus are deconvolvers-- they increase the amount of fine detail in the photograph by reducing the size of the blur circle.

In general, if what you want is a genuine improvement in fine detail, they are much superior to acutance increasers. I never use USM over Smart Sharpen.

For small radii, 1 px and down, there's little difference between the deconvolvers-- they all look very good. In fact, I run Smart Sharpen on every digital photograph that isn't too noisy (deconvolvers enhance ALL fine detail, signal or noise) with a radius of 0.3-0.5 px. It substantially improves the fine detail in any photo made with a Bayer array (the presence or absence of an anti-aliasing filter is largely irrelevant).

At larger radii, the third party plugins work better than Smart Sharpen. I think Focus Fixer has the best maths, but Topaz InFocus has some very useful controls, like Suppress Artifacts, which goes a long way to solving that signal vs noise problem I mentioned. Also, it has the only decent motion-blur remover aside from Focus Magic (the one in Smart Sharpen is horrid beyond words). In fact, Focus Magic's is by far the best, but you have to be running an ancient configuration to use it these days.

As for screen viewing, I agree with Carl. I find that 50% scale does the best job of previewing how a print will look to me, especially the balance between detail and noise/grain. My prints typically come out at 300-500 ppi; if yours run substantially different, a different viewing magnification may work better for you.

pax / Ctein
-- Ctein's Online Gallery http://ctein.com
-- Digital Restorations http://photo-repair.com

I now use Aperture. If I can't get what I want in Aperture, I delete the file and make plans to go take the picture again. For once in a lifetime shots, this doesn't work, and I live with that.

My tolerance for computer futssing is now about 10 minutes and decreasing. If I can't figure out what to do in 10 minutes or less, I throw out the picture. This won't work for others, obviously, and this may be unfair to some of the pics I take, but I live with that too. It's not that I don't want to get better at, I just can't stand sitting there doing it.

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