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What is sharpness setting on camera for?

Tom B. , Oct 12, 2003; 11:11 a.m.

On digital cameras (at least on the Pentax Optio 550/555) there are 3 parameter to set in the menu for how photos are taken (not counting resolution etc): sharpness, color saturation and contrast.

I understand color saturation and contrast. I understand why I would like to adjust them.

But I do not understand sharpness. Why would I like to set the the sharpness to anything else than the sharpest? If I want a softer picture I can use the soft filter. The soft filter is easy to use, and I can be used both when taking photos and when in playback mode to produce a soft copy.

If I take a sharp picture I can always use the soft filter in the camera or a photo manipulation program on my computer to create a softer copy. But if the original photograph is too soft, I cannot manipulate it to create a sharper copy. Thus, I would conclude that the sharpness should always be in the sharpest position.

However, it does not make sense for the manufacturer to include a setting that should always be at one of the extreme positions.

My conclusion is that I do not understand the sharpness setting in the menu system of the camera! What is it really?

Thank you in advance for enlightening me! /Tom

P.S. I am waiting for delivery of the camera and have only read the manual, so I have not been able to experiment with this setting.

Responses

Ellis Vener , Oct 12, 2003; 11:58 a.m.

All digital imagining systems are inherently "soft" this has to do, as I understand it, wit hboththe physics and mechanics of the imaging systems. What "sharpenign does is to increase the differences the imaging processing software detects between the edges of the pixels. A lot of sharpness is good for subjects that we mostly perceive as hard edged --such as he dege of a building against a sky; and less sharpening is wanted for subjects we perceive as smooth --such as skin.

My best advise is to shoot some tests of different subjects in different light and then decide what works best for you.

My sharpening routine is to turn off all in camera sharpening, and then use a three step sharpening routine (see <a href = http://www.pixelgenius.com>; PhotoKit Sharpener</a> in Photoshop: capture sharpening (which I set dependent on the capture device -- scanners (and format) or cameras) Custom sharpening : which I'll apply to the lips and eyes in the case of a portrait, but not tothe broad areas of skin. And the final step is output sharpening which is tuned to the waythe image is goingto be used: inkjet printing, on the web, in a magazine or brochure.

Tom B. , Oct 12, 2003; 12:49 p.m.

Do I understand you correctly: The sharpness setting on the camera is how much sharpening the digital image processing software in the camera applies to the image from the sensor ?

In that case I understand the reason for the setting.

I thought it was the other way around: That the sharpness setting of the camera was how much softening the digital image processing software in the camera applies to the image from the sensor.

And I could not figure out why you would like to do softening as a default action on all photos taken.

(I understand that you want to soften some photos like portraits, but I think that is better done in the digital darkroom, than when first capturing the photo with the camera.)

Thanks,

/Tom

W J Gibson , Oct 12, 2003; 01:35 p.m.

What about the options in camera with saturation and contrast?

Ellis Vener , Oct 12, 2003; 05:54 p.m.

Do I understand you correctly: The sharpness setting on the camera is how much sharpening the digital image processing software in the camera applies to the image from the sensor ?

Yes.

In that case I understand the reason for the setting.

Good.

I thought it was the other way around: That the sharpness setting of the camera was how much softening the digital image processing software in the camera applies to the image from the sensor.

And you are incorrect in that assumption.

And I could not figure out why you would like to do softening as a default action on all photos taken.

It is my romantic sentimentalist Prussian Yiddish Cossack soul (the sound of ancient call of the winds howling across the steppes from the Volga to the Elbe swirling down over the Danube is ingrained in my DNA and drives me mad with schmaltz) that commands me to do this. For this reason I also make sure all of my images have a lovely rosey color tone and fuzzy borders.

Richard Wong , Oct 14, 2003; 02:42 a.m.

I've experimented with several digital cameras, and found that normal works best. Usually when the photo is shot technically perfect, unsharp mask is purely optional when using photoshop. The photos are sharp enough even without the unsharp mask. When you set the cameras on highest sharpness/hard or whatever it might be called, things look terrible. They look blatantly digital. The definition lines are so thin that they almost overlap. Soft setting is okay too if you're planning on usually photoshop. Which is usually necessary with most digitals in my opinion.

Jon Winters , Oct 14, 2003; 11:17 a.m.

I disable the in-camera sharpen and do by hand when converting the RAW images to JPEG or TIFF. The in-camera pre-sets might be right some of the time... doing it by hand gets it right every time.

Pablo S , Oct 16, 2003; 08:29 p.m.

Hi Tom. The "sharpness" you can adjust in camera or in photoshop is really a subjective sharpness. Sharpening the image actually reduces the detail rather than increasing it (although unless you zoom 100% or 200% your subjective impression will be that of more detail). For this reason, the minimal sharpening setting will give you images that appear to be very soft but yet contain more information, meaning that you have more freedom to postprocess later. A very strong sharpening together with jpeg compression may lead to some bad artifacts in the image. These are the resons why you may not want the maximum sharpness.

I suggest using a moderate to normal sharpness setting, and then fine-tuning the sharpness using USM in PS (or any graphics editor). Regards, Pablo.

Shawn Kielty , Oct 20, 2003; 07:08 a.m.

Richard Wong , oct 14, 2003; 02:42 a.m. said:

"Usually when the photo is shot technically perfect"

Hmmmm .... I had never considered that a possibility. Is techically perfect really a possibility?

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