Does Clarity adjustment provide better results than Sharpening?

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November 14, 2014 at 10:30 am  •  Posted in Q&A, Tips & Techniques by  •  0 Comments

Since I use Photoshop to convert my RAW captures, I have access to a Clarity slider in Adobe Camera Raw that seems to make my images much sharper. (Interestingly enough, this feature is also available in-camera with my new Nikon D810.) Are there benefits to using a high Clarity level vs. a high level for Smart Sharpen before converting Raw files to TIFF?

Loretta R.

It’s important to understand the difference between Sharpening and Clarity, Loretta. The sharpening utility in Adobe software is very versatile, providing options for the level of Amount, Radius and Detail, as well as a Masking tool. You suggest that you’re using a high level of sharpening on your RAW files, but I recommend keeping that to a minimum. Instead, plan to do more sharpening much later, after setting the final image for the desired print size. Excessive sharpening can create halos along edges in a photo and that will degrade image quality. (For general hints on sharpening, read my previous Q & A “How can I get a more natural-looking effect?“)

When modifying a RAW capture in a version of Adobe Camera Raw that provides a Clarity slider, it's worth setting this feature to a high level for images that benefit from an increased perception of sharpness. This is preferable to setting a high sharpening level when working on a RAW capture. © 2014 Peter K. Burian

When modifying a RAW capture in a version of Adobe Camera Raw that provides a Clarity slider, it’s worth setting this feature to a high level for images that benefit from an increased perception of sharpness. This is preferable to setting a high sharpening level when working on a RAW capture. © 2014 Peter K. Burian

In any event, the Clarity tool in Adobe Camera Raw also available in Lightroom and some other software, including DxO Optics Pro 9 and Nikon’s latest programsallows you to set a desired level of intensity in a minus to plus range. When you set it to a positive amount, Clarity works by increasing overall contrast (especially in mid-tones) without creating halos. This can definitely increase the perception of sharpness, snappiness and the definition of intricate detail. Unless you use more than a +50 level, I doubt you’ll experience problems, except for excessively high contrast that might be unsuitable for certain types of images.

If you own a Nikon D810 or the new D750,  you can set the level of Clarity in-camera; it’s one of the overrides available for any of the Picture Controls (styles). This is preferable to setting a high level for Sharpness when you want extra snap in your images. © 2014 Peter K. Burian

The Nikon D810 was the first DSLR to provide an in-camera Clarity option (one of the overrides in the Picture Control styles). The company has not provided a full description of the technology used for this feature, but in my tests, it definitely increased mid-tone contrast to make fine detail appear sharper. Frankly, I got the best possible results when setting in-camera Clarity to +1 over the default level while setting Sharpness at -1 below the default in the Standard style. To my eye, this produced better results than setting +1 above the default for Sharpness. Since this is a subjective judgement, I recommend conducting your own experiments while you’re shooting with your D810.

 

 

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