Getting RAW files sharp

ConnieR

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I generally shoot RAW + JPG, because I shoot a mix of subjects, some of which I need right away, and some of which I can "play with" the processing later to get the best possible image, especially with landscapes. When I import to LR, I convert the RAW to DNG.
Anyway, I never can seem to get the RAW files to be as sharp as JPGs, no matter what settings I use. If I sharpen too much, I get a lot of noise, and over-sharpening artifacts, but if I back off, the image just doesn't look sharp at all. I know a lot of people advocate not comparing the RAW files to the original JPGs, and I'm not necessarily trying to duplicate the JPGs, but I do like to use them as a reference for sharpening. So eventually I just give up, and process the JPG as best I can, and use that file. It seems like a waste spending all that time to get an otherwise brilliant image, but I can't use it because I can't get it properly sharpened. I don't want to export everything to Photoshop all the time, although if I have to do a lot of cloning, or adjustments to one part of the image only, I do export to Photoshop.
 

Packhorse-4

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Connie - Hang in there... let's see what we can do to "Sharpen" your skills. :mrgreen:

I'll make some assumptions that you have a properly exposed image taken at an ISO your camera can comfortably handle. As you mentioned, you have a JPG image to compare it to that you are satisfied with.

Open one of your RAW images in the Develop Module and drop down to the Detail panel. I start with the Noise Reduction, but the order in which you complete your edits doesn't really matter in LR. Let's say you are at an ISO of 400 - you may need some modest Color and Luminance channel noise reduction. Zoom in to a 1:1 ratio or even a 2:1 ratio and take a look in the shadows for noise. When you are happy with your adjustments, take a look at the image in full screen (F) to get a good look at the overall image. (Press F again to exit Full Screen).

Note: The amount of Noise Reduction you apply will have an impact on your overall image sharpness. High amounts of Noise Reduction will make your images softer.

Ok, moving up to the Sharpening Sliders... There are no "fixed" settings I can give you for your image, but there are a few guidelines depending on your subject. For portraits, you can start with the Radius slider at 0.8 and for landscapes you may want to bump the radius up to 1.2.

Next, move up to the Amount slider and press the Option or Alt key while moving the Amount slider. This gives you a B&W image that will help you see the contrast between light and dark for sharpening. You can do the same with the Detail Slider to fine tune the Amount setting.

Finally, move down to the Masking slider. This is a real gem in Lightroom. The Sharpening mask will help you keep your sharpening on the edges where you want it and not on the large smooth surfaces (like skin) where you may not want it. Again, holding down the Option or Alt key will let you see the Sharpening Mask as it is created on the fly as you move the slider. When the slider is on the left you should see the mask as all white which is essentially - No Mask & Everything is sharpened the same. Slide it across to the right (While holding down the Option or Alt Key) and you will see the mask appear on your image with the black representing areas that will not get the sharpening applied.

If you haven't done so already, import the JPG into LR as well to do a side by side comparison. In the Library module, select both images and press C to compare. After some practice, you should find you can get a similar sharpening, if not better, using a RAW file and the tools in LR.

Writing this all out makes it sound (or look) more difficult than it really is. Jump into an image and really mess around with the Detail panel to get a good feel for what the sliders are doing to refuse noise and sharpen your image. You should try a few images (Bright light with Low ISO; Moderate Light with Mid ISO; Low Light with High ISO) to see how the settings need to change.

I hope this serves as an introduction to the tools available in the Detail panel.
 

JimHess43

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After you have done all that John has suggested, you might consider creating presets so that you don't have to go through that every time you want to sharpen a raw image. You can have presets for different ISO settings. Then, if you find that one of those presets is used more often than others, you can change your default settings so that those sharpening settings will be applied automatically whenever you import new images into Lightroom. Then if necessary, you can hit one of those other presets for special situations.
 
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Another thought. It may not just be Sharpening that you need. You don't say what equipment you have, but if you have a reasonable body and lens I'm surprised that you need a lot of sharpness to match RAW and jpeg.

The Clarity (otherwise known as "local contrast enhancement") and Vibrance sliders can make a huge difference to the apparent sharpness and" pop" of an image.

Dave
 

Bryan Conner

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Great advice given so far. If you want to really understand, and take control of, raw image sharpening, I recommend reading either The Digital Negative by Jeff Schewe, or Real World Image Sharpening with Adobe Photoshop, Camera Raw, and Lightroom by Bruce Fraser and Jeff Schewe. I have both of these books and have found them indispensable in my quest for optimal sharpening.
 

ConnieR

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Thank you all. I've tried a lot of different settings, with no luck. I do have the Real World Sharpening book Bryan Connor mentioned, and I read the whole thing practically trying to find a solution. My ISO is low, and I haven't applied much noise reduction. I would like to upload a side by side example of a small part at 100% so you all can see what I mean. By the way, I'm using a Canon G9, not a DSLR. But it usually takes pretty good pics at low ISO, in good lighting.
The first screencap is the side by side at 1:1, the second is the sharpen settings I used. (Although I tried out a lot of different combinations). The left side is the rAW, the right side the JPG. As you can see, the RAW file is already starting to get over-sharpening artifacts, and is not as crisp as the JPG.
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ConnieR

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Also, can someone with a calibrated monitor tell me if the photos look "washed out"? They look washed out on my laptop, but on my desktop, which I just calibrated, they look too warm, but a lot brighter/ more vibrant. However, I don't know how good my desktop monitor is, because looking at a monitor calibration chart I found online, I can distinguish all the stops for both black and white point on my laptop, but not on my desktop.
 

Jimmsp

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I wouldn't call these washed out. However, I think there is a bit of difference between the two photos where changes in contrast/clarity/vibrance could make a big difference in what you see.
 

AndreasM

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Regarding the brighter shells I agree with Jimmsp that an adjustment of contrast and clarity should do the raw image some good. Strangely though, the little red shell already looks to me more "contrasty" and sharper on the raw image. The sand on the other hand looks very fuzzy on the raw image.

A not very likely, but possible explanation could be an incompatibility between camera and Lightroom. For example Lightroom 4.4 had a bug concerning CA in combination with my Samsung NX300, which made the raw images also a lot less sharp than the JPGs.

And if you still use Version 3 of Lightroom: (I started with version 4, so I don't know, but) Maybe the sharpening skills of Lr weren't that good back then?

If you would like to upload the two original images somewhere. Maybe someone gets an idea when he/she can look at the pictures in detail and try sharpening him-/herself.
 

Jimmsp

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I'd be happy to look at the raw with LR 5; you could post that on Dropbox, or the like, along with the jpeg. I'll admit that my LR sharpening skills are far from perfect. I tend to use Topaz Detail for my creative sharpening.

But I won't get a chance to try until Weds am US time.
 
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You might also want to experiment with slightly higher noise reduction settings, which would allow you to push the sharpening without sharpening the noise too much. Don't forget the Clarity tool can also make things look sharper.
 

sizzlingbadger

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Lightroom has two stages of sharpening, the Develop panel and during export. The sharpening in the Dev panel is really to compensate for the digital capture of Bayer style sensors. The export sharpening is automated and uses the export size settings to sharpen the image. So you can't really compare the ooc jpg to a raw file within LR. You have to export the raw as a jpg and then compare them.

Having said the sharpening in LR is pretty basic and you have little control over it at export. I tend to switch off sharpening completely in LR and use Photoshop to sharpen properly.
 

ConnieR

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You might also want to experiment with slightly higher noise reduction settings, which would allow you to push the sharpening without sharpening the noise too much. Don't forget the Clarity tool can also make things look sharper.
I'll try that. Thanks.

Lightroom has two stages of sharpening, the Develop panel and during export. The sharpening in the Dev panel is really to compensate for the digital capture of Bayer style sensors. The export sharpening is automated and uses the export size settings to sharpen the image. So you can't really compare the ooc jpg to a raw file within LR. You have to export the raw as a jpg and then compare them.

Having said the sharpening in LR is pretty basic and you have little control over it at export. I tend to switch off sharpening completely in LR and use Photoshop to sharpen properly.
I don't want to have to export all my photos to Photoshop, though. I'll try comparing a JPG exported from the original RAW.

Regarding the brighter shells I agree with Jimmsp that an adjustment of contrast and clarity should do the raw image some good. Strangely though, the little red shell already looks to me more "contrasty" and sharper on the raw image. The sand on the other hand looks very fuzzy on the raw image.

A not very likely, but possible explanation could be an incompatibility between camera and Lightroom. For example Lightroom 4.4 had a bug concerning CA in combination with my Samsung NX300, which made the raw images also a lot less sharp than the JPGs.

And if you still use Version 3 of Lightroom: (I started with version 4, so I don't know, but) Maybe the sharpening skills of Lr weren't that good back then?

If you would like to upload the two original images somewhere. Maybe someone gets an idea when he/she can look at the pictures in detail and try sharpening him-/herself.
I'd be happy to look at the raw with LR 5; you could post that on Dropbox, or the like, along with the jpeg. I'll admit that my LR sharpening skills are far from perfect. I tend to use Topaz Detail for my creative sharpening.

But I won't get a chance to try until Weds am US time.
Yes, I do have LR3. I'll try uploading the originals to Dropbox. I probably won't be able to get to it for a couple of days, though. I hope nobody steals them when I post the link here!
 

ConnieR

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I got another idea. I wonder if maybe part of my problem is that the RAW file is too bright, so some details are blown out. Because the most noticable lack of sharpness is in the white shell just above the long striped pointy shell on the top left, and it sort of looks too light. I did lighten the exposure some in both, I usually silde the slider over until the histogram just hits the right edge. But maybe that wasn't necessary here?!
This image probably isn't the greatest anyway, but it's what I'm working on at the time. But I notice on a lot of different images in LR, that I get oversharpening artifacts before the image gets sharp. It just seems impossible to get clean sharp edges, without all that speckly stuff on the edges (like along the bottom edge of the long pointy striped shell). I've been using the high-frequency/ low-frequency tips for radius and detail in Bruce Fraser's book, but that doesn't seem to help, and I didn't see this problem mentioned in there.
 
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Why don't you upload the raw and the camera jpeg files somewhere (i.e. dropbox, etc.) and we'll have a play with it.
 
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Try Clarity +20, sharpening 35, 2.0, 45, 0, nr 25, 50, 0, 25, 50, 250 as a ballpark.

Bear in mind the JPEG would have sharpening and NR applied in camera, so you'd expect the raw file to start out softer.
 

ConnieR

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Try Clarity +20, sharpening 35, 2.0, 45, 0, nr 25, 50, 0, 25, 50, 250 as a ballpark.

Bear in mind the JPEG would have sharpening and NR applied in camera, so you'd expect the raw file to start out softer.
Yes, I know the Raw file starts out softer, but I should be able to get it to be as sharp after processing it. Tommorow I'll try those settings; I'm at work now. One question, though. According to Bruce Fraser's book, high-frequency images with a lot of details should have a lower radius, under 1.0. Wouldn't that apply to this picture?
 

Jimmsp

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I played a bit with the raw with LR 5.5.
I liked Contrast/highlights/shadows/clarity/Vibrance of +17,-43,+10,+36,+21
Sharpening 36,1.5,55,58
NR 27,50,37
and got
Shell Compare 1.jpg
I then let Topaz Detail give me, using the preset Light 2 setting
Shells compare w detail.jpg

I did nothing to the jpeg.

Normally I would have used a radius of 0.9 or 1.0, but when I used the black and white view, the 1.5 seemed the best.
 
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ConnieR

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Thank you Jim! I don't have Topaz Detail, but even without it you got much better results than I did! I only have LR3, so I hope it gets the same results, or similar. In fact, I don't remember seeing sliders for highlights/ shadows. I hope that feature is in LR3.
 
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Thank you Jim! I don't have Topaz Detail, but even without it you got much better results than I did! I only have LR3, so I hope it gets the same results, or similar. In fact, I don't remember seeing sliders for highlights/ shadows. I hope that feature is in LR3.

A new Process Version 2012 for raw files was introduced in Lightroom 4 which provided a change in the Basic Panel adjustment sliders, improved Sharpening and Noise Reduction. Lightroom 3 uses Process Version 2010.(introduced in mid 2010 and now a bit outdated)
You would need to upgrade to enjoy these new features.
 
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ConnieR

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A new Process Version 2012 for raw files was introduced in Lightroom 4 which provided a change in the Basic Panel adjustment sliders, improved Sharpening and Noise Reduction. Lightroom 3 uses Process Version 2010.(introduced in mid 2010 and now a bit outdated)
You would need to upgrade to enjoy these new features.
Oh, that's bad news for me, unless I can find LR4 cheap on ebay. :(
 
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According to Bruce Fraser's book, high-frequency images with a lot of details should have a lower radius, under 1.0. Wouldn't that apply to this picture?

Yup, but you're trying to replicate sharpening done by the camera using a higher radius. You can see the width of the halos along some of the edges on the JPEG when you zoom in.
 
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Oh, that's bad news for me, unless I can find LR4 cheap on ebay. :(

You'd probably find LR5 cheaper now, if your machine will run it.
 
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