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242 Messages

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9.1K Points

Tue, Apr 12, 2011 11:16 AM

6

Lightroom/Camera Raw: Cutting edge sharpening and noise reduction

Many, many Lightroom and ACR users rely on third-party products to add sharpening at various stages in the editing process and to remove noise.

These products are pricey and this generally tends to impede a smooth workflow.

While it's great that these others have capitlized on this niche for a number of years, I think it's time for Adobe to take back the cutting edge in the areas of sharpening and noise reduction.

Responses

1.3K Messages

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22.5K Points

10 years ago

At the risk of another "Thanks to the leadership of Comrade Napoleon, how excellent this water tastes!"..... Since Lightroom 3, many many photographers no longer need third-party sharpening or noise removal tools!

4.5K Messages

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76.3K Points

10 years ago

Lightroom's color noise reduction is really, really good. Some of the others provide more control, but none produce any better results except maybe after a bunch of fiddling. I'm not quite as impressed with the luminance noise reduction as the color, but still, its very good, and integrates very nicely with Lightroom. I mean, besides being very convenient, I think the results complement the new process version very nicely. Also, Lightroom's sharpener is top notch.

Where Lightroom falls short of an external solution, is not in the quality of the algorithms employed, but unlike in Photoshop as example, Lightroom lacks the ability to apply noise reduction locally and lacks the ability to apply sharpening locally *with different settings*.

If you haven't compared Lightroom's noise reduction to noise ninja or some of the others - you should - I think you'll be pleasantly surprised. Likewise for 3rd party sharpening tools.

Nik and some others, have a sharpening paradigm that separates the sharpening into 3 types:

1. Capture
2. Creative
3. Output

Whereas Lightroom only has two:
1. In Lightroom
2. Output

But I don't think the results are any better, except that Nik's can be applied locally with different settings. (Both of Lightroom's sharpening types are excellent)

Summary:
------------
Some of the biggest effort that went into Lr3 was in improving the noise reduction and sharpening, and I think Adobe did an outstanding job. I think the only thing left in this regard now is to add NR to the locals, and allow different sharpen settings to be used locally. I mean, there is always room for improvement, but Lightroom is already at the cutting edge in this regard.

Final thoughts:
------------------
When I hear people say "I still use Lr2 - Lr3 just doesn't have enough features to warrant an upgrade", I just think to myself: "them poor, poor beastards...".

Champion

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882 Messages

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19.2K Points

10 years ago

Rob, through develop settings applied in the import module, it is perfectly possible to add Capture sharpening, and apply creative sharpening with the clarity and sharpening adjustment brushes...

4.5K Messages

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76.3K Points

I realize that people have defined the global sharpen settings (e.g. as set via import preset) as a "capture sharpening", and defined local sharpening as "creative sharpening" - in answer to the 3rd party packages having more types. But all of that is just a word game to me. A true capture sharpening is one that has different settings than the creative sharpener, and is applied before other settings. Local sharpening in Lightroom only allows one to vary the amount applied in painted regions, and Lightroom only applies sharpening in one stage of the rendering pipeline. Don't get me wrong - I adore Lightroom's sharpening - prefer it in fact over multi-step sharpening - its simple to use, fast, and works just as well, or better, IMO. I often wish I could vary the settings in the local application of it - but, one version at a time ya know...

PS - Lightroom's Clarity Rocks! - but I don't think of it as sharpening, despite being complementary... I realize too that some applications that allow extreme sharpen settings, emulate clarity using their sharpeners, but that's a kludgy work-around for apps that have not implemented true clarity like Lightroom has.

Champion

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882 Messages

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19.2K Points

Rob, the sharpening in Camera Raw, and thus Lightroom as been originally developed thanks to the help of Bruce Fraser, that came with the concept of three pass sharpening. When he passed away, it is his friend and colleague from Pixel Genius, Jeff Schewe, that took the consulting gig on sharpening for Camera Raw... BTW, Jeff is the one that also writes the newer versions of Bruce's Real World Sharpening... (I am not writing this to naysay what you state, but I doubt that Jeff would let a sub-par sharpening workflow exist in Lightroom...

322 Messages

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7.5K Points

10 years ago

I whole heartedly agree that since the introduction of the improved NR capabilities in LR 3 ... My Nosie Ninja and other plugins have been collecting dust ... as far as output sharpening ... I have several PS actions using Photo Kit Sharpener in both full automated actions and some that allow me to fine-tune in a semi-automated process upon export from LR ...

The definition of "Cutting edge" can vary as much as the number of folks who use the term ... for me, while I would always welcome improvements ... what LR 3 currently in the area of NR and sharpening offers is quite sufficient for the vast majority of the images and the desired finished output I work with ... though I do understand other folks may have different needs and desires to that end ...

4.5K Messages

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76.3K Points

Good point about output sharpening. I think Lightroom's is very good, but it doesn't afford much control... - How would you compare it to PhotoKit?

PS - Yeah, the term "cutting edge" is really marketing mumbo-jumbo.
Mine's cutting edge, yours isn't - nah-nah-na-nah-nah...

322 Messages

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7.5K Points

Well ... the sharpening algorithms in LR are from the folks at Pixel Genius that make PhotoKit Sharpener ... the big difference is ... especially with output sharpening ... there is not as much flexibility in the choices or creative application of the sharpening ... using the PK plugin in PS you can adjust the opacity, add/edit masks as to where and how the sharpening is applied ...

For the most part ... PK Sharpener is pretty much idiot proof for global sharpening by offering great definition without creating unwanted halos and artifacts ... as long as you steer away from the extremes ... which is why I think it does such a good job in LR with the limited application of the effects ...

4.5K Messages

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76.3K Points

10 years ago

Thanks Butch.

242 Messages

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9.1K Points

10 years ago

"what LR 3 currently in the area of NR and sharpening offers is quite sufficient for the vast majority of the images and the desired finished output I work with"

This is exactly the problem. What do you mean by vast majority?

Let's say LR is good enough for 95% of your images. I have 50,000, so that means it's not good enough for 2,500? What would you say if the crop tool only worked on 95% of your images, or only 95% of your images got demosaiced properly?

I'm just asking, because I really don't know much about sharpening. I blindly use LR, which is why I want it improved so I don't have to buy PhotoKit, but I have a few more questions:

(1) Output sharpening in LR has only three levels: Low, Standard and High--Is that enough for your best images?

(2) Instead of having separate Capture sharpening and Creative sharpening, they've merged them into one (or maybe eliminated one). Not important for your best images?

(3) There are no meaningful presets; you're on your own figuring out the Amount, Radius and Detail. You don't need any help with that? (I do!)

(4) You don't want to apply different sharpening settings locally etc.?

If you answer in the negative to any of these questions, then you're going to have to go out and buy PhotKit or, dare I say, another cutting edge sharpening tool. Cutting Edge takes care of the 5% difficult photos and holds your hand with the confusing settings, among other things.

LR 3 is much better than LR 2 in this regard. You know what that reminds me of? Over here in the states ever since the 1980s or maybe even earlier, we've been bombarded by soap/tooth paste/detergent/rat poison--you name it--commercials that go along these lines:

New product X gives 700% shinier hair/whiter clothes/better teeth/fewer rats. And I always scratch my head, why didn't they tell me until now that Old product X was such junk? LR 2 is history. Long live LR 3 (or Napoleon).

4.5K Messages

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76.3K Points

10 years ago

I'm gonna let Butch answer most of this, but my .02 regarding above items:

(1) Low, Med, + Hi is all I've needed so far, even for my best images. But, like so many things, somebody has taken it further, so you can fine tune, for different media, and what have you. Summary: The output sharpening quality is excellent, it just doesn't afford many options for fine tuning. Which most of the time is a blessing, but there is the 5% (or .1%, or...) when IF you knew how to operate the controls of that jet-airliner-of-a sharpener, you may get closer to pixel perfect for special requirements...

(2) The proof is in the pudding. I experimented with the Nik Sharpener, which retails for about 2/3 what the whole of Lightroom costs, and my results ranged from maybe a tiny bit better, to definitely a whole lot worse. Nik divides it into 2 because there needs to be two whacks at sharpening IF you aren't applying the sharpening in a fashion that is consolidated with the rest of the settings for optimal application. So, for Nik, having the "before settings are applied / after other settings are applied" tiers makes more sense than it does in Lightroom. Also, Lightroom's PV2010 process produces a very finely detail-sharpened image to start with...

(3) There are two presets:
1. Portrait
2. Landscape
I agree there should be more, but the problem is:
- Not all portraits are optimally sharpened using the portrait preset.
- Not all landscape shots are optimally sharpened using the landscape preset.
It really is a kind of thing that needs to be learned from experience, and is also subject to personal taste. Rough Guidelines (everybody disagrees with these):

- Crank up the radius to make up for photos shot with a crappy lens, not properly focused, having a little camera shake, or just seem to need it... Conversely, you can lower the radius if the picture is already very sharp to begin with, and/or you want a finer look...
- Down-throttle the detail on high-ISO shots, or when textural detail detracts instead of enhancing an image. Conversely, up-throttle to bring texture out of areas that would otherwise look too smooth.
- Masking: set to zero if everything is in focus and you want it sharp. Set it high if you want most bokeh smooth-n-creamy, and want to sharpen only critical subject matter / edges... Conversely, zero it to give everything a more uniform look. Or, somewhere in between...
- Amount: adjust to taste - balance with the other settings.

And last but certainly not least: set global setting to complement what you end up doing with local sharpen enhancement. i.e. you can down-throttle the globals, then hand-sharpen critical areas, or up-throttle the globals, then hand-attenuate some areas.

Hot tip - Use a local of exactly -50 to completely mask all sharpening, but without blurring. Then when Lr comes out with lum. NR for locals, replace the -50 sharpening with NR, or just add some NR to those strokes too.

Another tip for sharpening detail in high-ISO shots: bring out as much detail as you can with the NR settings first, before you start cranking up the sharpen detail slider.

Personally, I default to 35 amount, radius 1.1, detail totally dependent on ISO (the others a little dependent on ISO too), ranging from 0-25. If I peep for very long at the pixels, I often end up cranking amount to 40 or 50, sometimes more but usually not much more. Maybe adjust the other settings too...

A surprising tip for bringing out ultra-fine detail:
Set detail to 0 (you heard me).
radius to .5 (lowest)
then crank amount most of the way up (if not *all* the way up).

Although, its counter intuitive to lower detail when what you want is more detail, the detail slider tends to sharpen coarser detail than the combination of smallest radius with exaggerated amount. Coarser if the radius is higher.

(4) You got me there. I do want to apply local sharpening with different settings... - That and the ability to fine tune the sharpen mask a bit and I'd be happy as a lark. Well OK, I'd need local NR too to be really happy, but de-sharpening at -50 is a surprisingly good substitute.

"Good enough for most of my photos..." - I hear ya, not very comforting when you're striving for total excellence. But truth be told, you can probably get better sharpening results by honing your skill with Lightroom's present toolset, than by buying a 3rd party tool that you don't really know how to use either... Put another way: until you've found the limits of the Lightroom sharpener, there's hardly much point in using another sharpener which has different limits.

Summary:
------------
Lightroom's sharpener is excellent, top-notch, cutting edge. Most of what you get by going outside is more control / more flexibility - the ability to fine tune... But if you don't know what to do with more control, it won't help...
More control of the Lightroom sharpener would be a welcome improvement, but an overhaul (of the sharpening algorithm) it does not need (it just had one).

Recommendation:
----------------------
Practice, practice, practice, ...
If you find the limits of sharpening in Lightroom, *then* buy a 3rd party plugin, and use it instead on "problem photos".

242 Messages

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9.1K Points

10 years ago

Thanks for the tips Rob!

4.5K Messages

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76.3K Points

You bet!

PS - I do think it would be good for Adobe to have better help for the sharpen controls. Not only are the explanations a tad brief, but even books and online info usually fall short, often resorting to: "adjust to taste" or "increase detail for more detail" type statements.

Update: I just looked at the Lightroom help for the sharpen controls, it has improved since Lr2.0 - worth a read.

Champion

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882 Messages

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19.2K Points

Rob, the online help files can be enhanced by user feedback. If you have some tips techniques, or links on the topic that you think deserve to be added, do so, and add a comment in the online (or AIR) help files!

4.5K Messages

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76.3K Points

After poking around some more, I have to say: there really is a wealth of help info for Lightroom (including sharpen settings). I wish I used these resources more when I was first learning. Note to self: Remember to use (and contribute to) Lr 'Help'. Note to others (especially newbies): Remember to use Lr 'Help'...

Tnks,
R

173 Messages

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3.8K Points

10 years ago

I agree wit the OP. While LR's sharpening is "good," it's strength and single radius limitation can be barely adequate for creative needs.

Take a look at Topaz Detail to see what creative sharpening can be.

Would love to have something approaching that kind of power and flexibility in LR.

4.5K Messages

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76.3K Points

"...single radius limitation..."

I miss not being able to adjust detail differently for different things too.

4.5K Messages

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76.3K Points

Topaz Detail is one of my all time favorite plugins.

But, Lightroom has some strong detail enhancing abilities too.

Lightroom has the best "midtone clarity" enhancement tool of any I've tried - it does its job of "coarse sharpening" without exacerbating noise. Granted, its a "one-size-fits-all" design (no controls).

I *wish* Lightroom supported the tone curve as a local (and fill-light/highlight-recovery), but one can bring out intra-shadow detail with a local that sets brightness way down (maybe even all the way down), and exposure as high as necessary to compensate.

Similarly, intra-highlight detail can be enhanced simply by lowering contrast locally in highlight areas (adjust exposure to compensate if need be and maybe drop brightness down a tad too).

Don't get me wrong - I'm not opposed to more/automated/better detail enhancement controls in Lightroom - quite the contrary. And, I'm sure Adobe is familiar with Topaz Detail. I'm just sayin' "until then, its worthwhile knowing how to get the most from the present toolset..."

These "extreme" techniques can sometimes make a photo look artificial, but so can Topaz Detail...

322 Messages

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7.5K Points

10 years ago

I think the point here is ... for those +/- 5 % images that are going to need a bit of TLC in final output sharpening ... are more than likely also going to be candidates for other steps in the process as well that are currently not available in LR ...

Many of the images I use the PK sharpener plugin (or sometimes Topaz Detail) within PS, also need CMYK or Lab conversion ... extensive skin retouching, masking, and/or extensive localized corrections for color, tone, texture, etc. ... that LR currently cannot do as well as it be accomplished in PS ... so it makes sense not to do the final output sharpening within LR ...

I was merely pointing out ... that while maybe not as infinitely controllable as other options ... the sharpening glass in LR is more than half full vs. half empty or lagging behind ... and in it's own way already IS cutting edge ...

Sometimes for a great many images ... less is more ... all too often if a tool doesn't have extravagant options and a myriad of sliders and settings ... it can be perceived as inferior ... I just don't think that is the case in this instance ...

Don't get me wrong ... I am sure sharpening tools will improve with LR in versions to come ... I also encourage the development and will welcome those improvements ... though I don't see that I am being short changed by what is included in the current iteration.

173 Messages

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3.8K Points

"I think the point here is ... for those +/- 5 % images that are going to need a bit of TLC in final output sharpening ... are more than likely also going to be candidates for other steps in the process as well that are currently not available in LR..."

Sure, but because of the limitations on Creative Sharpening and Cloning, that percentage is far higher for me.

242 Messages

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9.1K Points

10 years ago

Butch-do you ever do your output sharpening in LR?

322 Messages

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7.5K Points

Sure do ... for the vast majority of images that are standard color prints and/or online usage ... I use other methods as per the destined output as in CMYK offset printing, canvas wraps, etc.

242 Messages

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9.1K Points

10 years ago

The 5% number is just a number I threw out because Butch said LR is great for the vast majority of images. I was being generous assuming that meant 95%. And frankly, I only care about maybe the top 1% of my images, so LR needs be on target just about all of the time. Plenty of people don't have access to Photoshop and want to get the best results out of LR.

For me LR hasn't delivered because (i) not enough guidance is provided; I do feel that I am shooting in the dark, even after reading the help files and (ii) there is no preview for output sharpening--and only three levels--more shooting in the dark.

Maybe by the time I've mastered it I'll come to a conclusion that I don't need Nik or any other plugins. What I do know right now is that many photo editors I respect rely on something else--for both sharpening and noise reduction.

Btw, noise reduction really depends on the camera and the ISO. At ISO 200, LR is fine. I am not crazy about the high ISO noise reduction of LR 3, and believe it or not, when editing JPGs from my digicam that I took in 2002 I switch to LR 2 for much better results. Odd.

4.5K Messages

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76.3K Points

10 years ago

"For me LR hasn't delivered because (i) not enough guidance is provided..."

Come again? - There is *tons* of guidance provided for Lightroom - what the heck you talkin' bout?

"What I do know right now is that many photo editors I respect rely on something else--for both sharpening and noise reduction."

My guess: mostly people who developed their workflow in Lr1 or Lr2.

Which software do you prefer over Lr3 for NR?

242 Messages

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9.1K Points

10 years ago

No, those folks are not using LR1 or LR2, although I sure would have a lot of respect for anyone with the confidence to do that :)

I am experimenting with Topaz Denoise.

I still want a good Capture Sharpening tool and a good Output Sharpening tool. Maybe Nik?

(PS: I'm still not sure whether the conventional LR sharpening sliders are Capture or Creative...)

4.5K Messages

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76.3K Points

"No, those folks are not using LR1 or LR2" - I didn't mean *still using*, I meant they developed their workflow before Lr3 (when lightroom did *not* have such good nr/sharpening), then kept using their pre-existing workflow/toolset along with Lr3. - It was a guess based on the fact that I think Lr3 NR + Sharpening is very good.

I compared Lr3 to Topaz DeNoise and Noise Ninja (I own both), and both are now gathering dust... YMMV (I used to use external processing for most high-ISO shots that I cared about).

Likewise, I've compared Lr sharpening to a number of expensive 3rd party tools - didn't buy any of them:

1. Results on average weren't much better.
2. To achieve better results required a lot more fiddling.
3. Workflow more complicated and big tifs.

Dont get me wrong - there are plenty of people who learned what they like and are willing to endure more complicated workflows and big files to achieve their goals. - more power to them, and more to you too if thats what works for you.

PS - I am not an Adobe fanboy/defender. I truly believe Lr NR/sharpening is great, the main drawbacks being:

- NR is global only (local de-sharpen as a work-around).
- You get only one set of sharpen controls to work with for the whole photo (but you can up/down-throttle locally).

4.5K Messages

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76.3K Points

"I still want a good Capture Sharpening tool and a good Output Sharpening tool. Maybe Nik?"

Nik is well respected and has the distinction that it can be applied via U-point selection. - But I'm really no expert...

"(PS: I'm still not sure whether the conventional LR sharpening sliders are Capture or Creative...)"

These are mostly buzz-words - I wouldn't get too hung up on them if I were you. Lightroom consolidates all settings and applies in an optimized fashion. Since other sharpeners can't do that, they tend to let you have a whack in the beginning, then again at the end - could be considered a limitation masquerading as a feature.

4.5K Messages

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76.3K Points

10 years ago

Bottom line (for me):
-------------------------
- Could NR & Sharpening be improved? - Yes, in the ways I've mentioned, and probably others.

But to say its 2nd class technology is just not true, IMO.

I would be very surprised if NR is not available locally in Lr4, but ya never know. Whether sharpen controls will be available locally or not, I couldn't guess.

I suggest issuing a more specific FR, once you identify, specifically, what it is about Lr sharpening that you find lacking. And another FR to remedy shortcomings in NR, once you can describe them. This FR is too general to vote for.

Cheers,
Rob