Sharpness Settings

Sharpness Settings … Hard Vs Soft

Full sized images can now be seen here.

I’ve seen some talk from time to time at Dpreview and other forums about the in camera sharpness settings, and what people seem to prefer, especially for the PP work.

I have always shot all my Fuji cams with the Sharpness setting on hard. I prefer the image from the camera in this format as it generally means less Post Processing sharpening is required. This then leads us to the conclusion that the  image should no suffer unduly from noise.

So I set up a little test, one that anyone with a tripod can do, to see what if any difference there is in the image. I used HR mode to 800ISO. SN mode to 1600ISO and P mode 1600 and 3200 ISO.
These are the modes that allow you to change ISO to these levels as does manual and the PASM modes.
A couple of things to note. HR mode wont allow higher than ISO 800 to be set manually and to be honest I never shoot at anything over ISO800 if it can be avoided. SN mode allows a manual ISO setting up to 1600 and for a comparison I have added a shot at 1600ISO set to soft.
All the following images are straight from the camera other than the two that have been edited, but the original of them is also listed for comparison. The size has been changed due to the file size limit at Picasa. Anyone wanting a full sized version need only drop me a note here and I will add them to one of the galleries.

HR Mode
ISO 800
Sharpness = Hard

To start this off I have a ISO 800 HR image, shot in Hard mode. Its a pretty good image in that there isn’t stupendous amounts of noise and detail is pretty good. All the images were shot using spot metering under a incandescent light bulb. WB was set to auto. Exposure compensation was set to 0.0. However Exif data shows the camera compensated to +0.33 Ev on two images. Something I wasn’t aware it could do and at this point I’m not sure it did or whether ExifGui didn’t report the data correctly. However this wont and didn’t make for a huge difference to the images, but rather just lifted the light levels slightly. Remember we are testing for noise and sharpness.
In the above image we are concentrating on resolution/detail in areas 1 & 2. In areas 3 & 4 we are looking at noise levels. This is especially tricky in area three. The banana bowl is a very light red wine color and the color is apparent in the shadow it casts, making the difference between actual shadow color and chroma noise hard to distinguish.

Next up for comparison is our SN mode ISO 1600 image shot in soft setting. Its not bad but you may already see where the results may be heading.

SN mode
ISO 1600
Sharpness = Soft

Next up we have P mode at ISO 1600 followed by the same settings with sharpness changed to hardness. Are you seeing a trend yet?

P Mode
ISO 1600
Sharpness = soft
P mode
ISO 1600
Sharpness = Hard

Now we come to the ISO 3200 images and this is where things go change markedly.

P Mode
ISO 3200
Sharpness = Soft
P Mode
ISO 3200
Sharpness = Hard

This final set is of the ISO 3200 images both having been processed to exactly the same amount withPhotoscape.

Identical amounts of sharpening were used on both images, with contrast changed to suit. Noise reduction settings were a mid level noise reduction, and that’s the extent of the PP work.
P Mode
ISO 3200
Sharpness = Soft Edit version.
P Mode
ISO 3200
Sharpness = Hard Edit version
Conclusions:
 
So what if any conclusions can we draw from this. The most obvious of course is don’t shoot over ISO 800 and you will get nice images, that don’t suffer from noise or severe loss of resolution.
At ISO 1600 I could see myself printing that image as processing would help in improving it.
At ISO 3200 I wouldn’t be printing anything unless I had to. How ever when viewed at web size or printed at 6 x 4 they would still look reasonable.
You will have noticed by this stage that the chroma noise is still well controlled in either sharpness mode at ISO 1600 but degrades rapidly at ISO 3200. Given the size of the sensor that’s not too surprising and even then the images are still workable to some extent. No doubt heavy processing in Photoshop would help in this.
What is clearly evident in these images though is the amount of detail/resolution that is lost if the camera is set to soft sharpness. The most obvious point in the image to see this occur is the paper towel roll. It has a diagonal check pattern in the paper. In the images where soft sharpness has been used the detail in this area and the bar-code on the central orange is virtually non existent.
There is considerably more detail in the Hardness sharp images and this is the key element here.
Just as you cannot return detail to an image that has badly blown highlight areas, you cannot regain detail if it isn’t recorded.
So what does this mean. In real terms most images shot at lower ISO levels wont show a great deal of difference between them. Once you increase the ISO you immediately sacrifice detail for a slightly softer/smoother looking image.
Where the sharpness set to high comes into its own thought is at lower ISO and Macro. The difference in images shot this way can be the difference between shots like this.
Shot in
EXR HR 3:2, Tone =Mid, sharpness = Hard, color = Mid
WB =Auto, ISO100. If shot with sharpness soft settings I may well have given up a small amount of resolution in this image.
Original image
Post Processed Image.
For me at least, detail and resolution are the keys to getting as much into the shot as you can. Thats why I primarily shoot in EXR HR mode, its giving the best in resolution and output from the EXR Jpeg engine before I even have to do any Post processing.
As can be seen above noise is not really a factor in these images as it remains constant no matter what mode you use.
Some may prefer shooting in EXR DR to gain a little more out of the shadow/highlights available and doing so can be very beneficial to the overall image. bear in mind though that in EXR DR you are giving up a small amount of resolution to gain the extra dynamic range so you will want to be shooting in the best light you can.
There is another technique I employ which helps overcome the Highlight/Shadow issue without leaving my preferred settings.
This will be the subject of the next article.
For now give it a go and see how much difference you note from doing a simple test like the one above.As a footnote to the above, you might find that Setting the Sharpness to mid (Standard) is more to your taste and provides you with a best of both worlds scenario. Those that prefer to shoot in soft mode are by far the more prevalent of those considering this method when post processing. An even larger amount of HS20 owners in all likelihood haven’t changed from the default (standard) settings.
As with all things photographic, its all a matter of taste and what suits your method best. But for those of use who value crisp, highly detailed images, then I suggest you give the settings for sharpness another look.

Happy Snappin’
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