Best Sharpening Software

Discussion in 'Digital Darkroom' started by d_young, Oct 8, 2011.

  1. I have been researching post processing image sharpening software. It appears, there have been some advances in image sharpening programs, with some photographers favoring one program verses another, for various reasons or applications. Im looking for an up-to-date review and in particular,'s feedback on their experience "actually" using or comparing sharpening software programs.
    A few that I am considering are: PhotoKit Sharpener, Nik Sharpening Pro, and FocalBlade. Right now, I am
    leaning towards PhotoKit.
    Your personal experience with these programs and feedback is appreciated -
  2. I just use Photoshop® Filter>Sharpen>Smart sharpen or do something similar in ACR.
    Sometimes people (even I) post things that are way oversharpened. Like make up, if you can tell it's been done, it's been done too much.
  3. With CS5, ACR sharpening is way better than it was in previous versions--completely different algorithm than in previous versions. The best I have used for raw is maybe DxO but I don't know that it is that much better than ACR. If you sharpen your RAW file "enough to pull it together", I find that PS sharpening is all that is ever needed later in the process. Over sharpening does seems a much bigger problem than under sharpening.
  4. Well, I use Nik Sharpener Pro. Not that it sharpens better than any other program/method but the interface is so user friendly that it makes clicking and seeing different sharpening strengths a breeze. Plus, with their U-Point technology I can apply different sharpening looks to specific areas of the image without having to make selections or masks. There are a few things on my wish-list about the program but they are minor and relate only to the way I work with the interface not the quality of the sharpening.
  5. ... and the best perhaps is to have a sharp lens, precise focus, and fast shutter motion blur free pictures to start with. While software sharpenning helps salvage or improve pictures, nothing beats the good quality original.
  6. Frank, even with all those obvious thing .. you still need a 3 step sharpening to get the best out of your file. I have shoot with a Zeis lens on a Canon 5D and even if its the sharpers lens on earth, a good smart sharpen over a raw file is what my images need... even if the original is more than perfectly sharp and in focus.
    If you know what you are doing and why.. Photoshop is all you need with one of those 3 method (or a combo of them) Smart Sharpen, HighPass or USM (for local contrast enhancement).
    If you are not sure, or feel the need for a external plugin.. PK Sharpener or Nik are 2 excellent tools to add to your arsenal. I do all my sharpen with the 3 filter already in Photoshop.
  7. My vote is for PhotoKit Sharpener 2. It is extremely versatile and I like that it is applied as layer with a mask already
    prepared so you can easily control exactly where it is applied and dynamically adjust the intensity of the effect.

    Having said that, these days instead of using the Capture Sharpening part of PK Sharpener 2 I mostly use the capture Sharpener (detail controls) in Lightroom 3 and use the creative and output sharpening modules in PK Sharpener 2.
  8. The two challenges I always face when sharpening are:
    - The final image may be for monitor display or for print, and each may be in different sizes. The permutations of these requirements would need different sharpening techniques for optimal results. An ideal sharpening tool would have user friendly settings for each of these requirements.
    - An ideal sharpening tool would also make it *easy* to *automatically* produce several results bracketing around the chosen settings. Much like bracketing exposure on a camera. The user can then compare the results and choose the best one.
    I have yet to come across a tool that will do these. Doing them manually takes a lot of time.
  9. Sharpening in Lightroom 3 is quite good, and it has built in output sharpening, which is nice if you are printing yourself. That is enough for many of my images. Photoshop has numerous sharpening procedures. I often create a smart object and try a number of different filters (unsharp mask, smart sharpen, high pass), picking the one I like best after I see them. I have never thought it necessary to buy additional software for this.
  10. - The final image may be for monitor display or for print, and each may be in different sizes. The permutations of these requirements would need different sharpening techniques for optimal results. An ideal sharpening tool would have user friendly settings for each of these requirements.​
    Exactly. Its spelled out here:
    I have yet to come across a tool that will do these. Doing them manually takes a lot of time.​
    Depends on if you have to do this in Photoshop or if you own Lightroom (the later is about as automatic as you’ll find.
  11. The advantage of sharpening software over a sharper lens is that the software can be selectively applied to different regions of the image (as can softening). CS5 along with Nikon VNX is very powerful. It is not just about rescuing marginal images. Back in the days of film the choice of film and developer controlled the crystal structure and grain sharpness. Sharpening software goes far beyond that. It is just another powerful tool in your image toolbox. There is no need to be confined by the physical limits of camera and lens. The only limitation should be your imagination.
  12. Thanks so much for the responses. Really helpful information. I forgot to mention that I am using Windows XP but will upgrade to Win-7 soon. I have Photoshop CS5 and use Bridge and ACR often, but found DPP renders color better (for me). I use DPP sharpening tools for the first step in capture sharpening. Since the affect is global on the image, I am not applying it heavily. I like the idea of "targeted" sharpening on certain parts of the image. Not having a lot of time to spend with masking, a sophisticated but user-friendly program that allows application of creative sharpening to selected areas sounds appealing.
  13. I use PK Sharpen 2. I have no idea whether it's "the best." But it's very good. My pet sharpening peeve is over-sharpening and I get none of it with PK Sharpen as long as I'm careful with Creative Sharpening and use it sparingly.
  14. I am really considering what everyone has posted including masking. I did a test:
    1. Opened a RAW image in DPP as 16bit tiff (shot with EOS 5D MII) and converted to 8 bits (28.2 mb).
    2. I created a copy background image (layers panel).
    3. I ran a photoshop smart sharpen filter on the copy.
    4. I added a layer mask to that copy and filled it with black, painting in the areas that needed sharpening.
    5. I flattened the image and checked the image size, which was 28.8 mb.
    I had thought that creating a background copy doubled the size of the image and might have some residual "bad" effects on the image. But this process seemed not to increase the size of the image and added no visual side affects that I could find?
    This process did seem to work. The PK Sharpener package seems like a good program. Any thoughts whether PK might be a better solution than this?
  15. doubling the background is in fact doubling the file size, but only when you are keeping the copy not flatten. When you flatten your file, all is back to normal.
    This have nothing at all to do with quality and it doestn do anything else to the file.
    As you say and see, you can do all of it with Ps alone.. the external plugin will help people who dont know how to do it, or will give better result for those again that are not sure about the number to put.. and for some it will also speed up there workflow in a simple way. Theres not much a external plugin can do that Ps cant do.. other than producing good result fast for those with less experience, and for that, it is a good idea.
  16. While looking at all the fancy expensive stuff, the greatest lesson I learned since going digital 12 years ago was to look at the stuff you already own and learn how to use it.
    Frankly, the best, most dependable sharpening program I've used has been in DPP, the software that comes with Canon cameras, which I'm using more and more on the front end of my processing. The issue that it took me 10 years and $1,000 in software to finally figure out, was that DPP is an excellent processing program. The downside is that it has so many keystrokes to do the simplest thing, I never exercised the patience to measue the actual quality of the finished product. Frankly, once you tolerate DPP's keystroke sludge, you skate through RAW photos, retouch and especially sharpen quite efficiently, with enough competence to sell to stock photo services and slick magazines.
    Granted both the CS5/6, Elements RAW programs, especially in midrange, have excellent sharpeners. But they cost a lot of money with the upgrades and now $50 a month subscriptions. But now, I ask, so what? DPP upgrades regularly, and the upgrades are free.
    You can stop reading here, but to collect on some of my years of experience:
    When it comes to sharpening, newbies often mistake HOW to sharpen with WHY they sharpen. In fact, too many photographers are just trying to get their shots in focus! That's not the reason to sharpen.
    So here are some things to reduce the nuisance blurs that are impossible to correct and leave you blaming your sharpening program.
    1 -- If you have time, take your haze or UV filter off the lens before shooting. Only the absolute BEST filters ($100 to $300) deliver nearly undetectible fuzz. The rest, you might as well smear Vaseline on your lens. I've even gotten to the point where I buy used filters for $5 or $10 out of clearance baskets, knock out the glass, then put the rings on the lenses. Then I just stop losing my lens caps. My photo sharpness improved immensely after that.
    2 -- If you have time, use a tripod. I almost sent a camera in for repair because I got so much blur, even on a monopod, even at 500 to 1,000. And handheld was regularly disasterous. I found out by accident, I have low-level distonia in my forearms, wrists and hands which causes a minor tremor in my hands that I can only see when I'm trying to see it. You may not have distonia, but holding a camera steady for precise shots is the stuff of legends in photography lore or almost impossible for normal humans. And Image stabilization doesn't help undetectible tremors that protract to earthquake shakes after a few yards -- trust me.
    3 -- Trust nothing. Once when shooting a macro assignment in a petri dish in the back room of a hospital morgue, I actually found that shooting between 2 a.m. and 4 a.m. was the best for sharp photos -- despite the bodies watching me -- because there were fewer cars on the stret. Yes. The semi trucks going by when shooting something the size of a pin point, caused enough ground tremor to send a blur through a camera -- even though I bought a $1,200 tripod that weighed a little less than the Titanic. Switching the shooting time 12 hours improved performance exponentially.
    3 -- Shoot in Tv and spot-meter your subject. Faster shutter speed is better for rescuing sharpness than deep apertures.
    4 -- Use the right camera. My Mark II is a Cadillac when it comes to great photos of any ilk. But when it comes to quick-draw, fast focus, IS-friendly rapid fire, my 7D is a Corvette, even with really long lenses.
    I guess the short answer, get the best photo by learning to use your equipment and the software that's made for it. You'll save a lot of money and headaches trying to find the ultimate sharpening tool.

Share This Page