Adobe has released Camera Raw 4.1, and rather than a small update just for new cameras, this one is major. New features and new functionality are showing up in a long awaited upgrade of Camera Raw’s sharpening controls, a new control called Clarity, enhanced noise reduction and two new defringing controls in lens correction. All told, there is a surprising amount of “new” in Camera Raw 4.1.
[Editor's note: it should be noted that Jeff Schewe was personally involved in the development of Camera Raw 4.1. This article is not an independent review of Camera Raw 4.1 but an explanation of the new tools. Jeff explains at the end of the article how he came to be personally involved. It should also be noted that all the figures contained in the article are available at full size by clicking on the image. You don't need to click on EVERY image-just those you want to see full sized. PSN regrets that fact that our story formatting requires inline images to be so small]
On the main panel, only the new control called Clarity is visible and I’ll cover that new control later. The big news is the new sharpening functionality in the Detail panel of Camera Raw 4.1 (as shown below).
Camera Raw 4.1 Sharpening
As with previous versions of Camera Raw, you need to be at a zoom range of 100% (one image pixel for one screen display pixel) to see the effect that the sharpening controls will have on your image. This is an important note as you can change the controls but you won’t see any feedback of what the controls are doing to your image. It’s even more important now that there are more controls in Camera Raw 4.1.
Click Image to see full sized image
There are new slider controls for the sharpening;
Amount: as you might expect, Amount is a volume control that determines the strength of the sharpening being applied. It runs from 0 (zero) meaning no sharpening is being applied (this is the default amount set for non-raw images) all the way up to 150. At 150, without adjusting other controls, your image will be pretty much sharpened to death. But it’s because the other controls will alter how the sharpening is applied that the amount goes to 150.
Radius: radius is how many pixels on either side of an “edge” the sharpening will be applied. Camera Raw 4.1′s radius controls goes from a minimum of .5 pixels to a maximum of 3 pixels.
Detail: during development, the team tried to come up with a better name for this, but the word “detail” is at least descriptive. Similar in concept to USM’s threshold (but totally different in application and function) Detail varies how the sharpening attacks your image. If you run Detail all the way to the right (100 setting) CR 4.1′s sharpening will be very similar to Photoshop’s Unsharp Mask. Not exactly, but similar. Running Detail to the left does a halo dampening on the sharpening. Setting Detail all the way to the left (zero) will almost completely pin the sharping edge halo. This is “new tech” and pretty cool.
Masking: as the name suggests, controls an on the fly edge masking creation that will reduce the sharpening of non-edge areas while concentrating the sharpening on edges-which is a principle of “capture sharpening”. The fact that Camera Raw is creating an edge mask on the fly is very way cool. One should note, however, as with Camera Raw’s Fill Light, setting the Masking control above zero will cause a bit of calculation to be done. By default the Masking is set to zero-meaning no masking and no mask being built.
A hidden preview of each new control is available in 4.1. On Mac, hold the Option key while adjusting a slider. On Windows hold the alt key. On the figure above, holding the option key shows a preview of the luminance data in your image and this is relevant because sharpening is being done not on the color data but luminance data.
Holding option/alt in Radius shows the effect edge width that the sharpening will be applied to. The “default” Radius setting is 1.
As shown above, here’s the preview of Radius set to .5 pixels. Shown below the Radius has been set to the max of 3 pixels.
The figure below shows a preview of the effect of the Detail control while set at the default of 25. Detail is the brainchild (based on a suggestion by Thomas) of Mark Hamburg, founding engineer on Lightroom who worked with Thomas Knoll and the Camera Raw team of Zalman Stern and Michael Jonsson during the development of Camera Raw 4.1. The halo suppression of the Detail control allows you to apply more sharpening without creating ugly light/dark halos around edges. There are some other neato things going on inside of Detail but 1) I don’t really understand them and 2) I can’t talk about them. The best way to see what’s going on is to use the option/alt preview and then examine the effect after setting.
The two following previews show the effects of Detail set all the way to the left (zero immediately below)…
…and Detail set to 100 as shown below. With a Detail setting of 100, the halo dampening is turned off and the resulting sharpening is rather similar in effect to Photoshop’s USM. But this is only to give a frame of reference-the settings are not a one-for-one match.
As shown below, the Masking is set to zero by default, meaning there is no edge mask being built or applied. It would have been nice to develop the ability to auto-select the correct edge mask settings based upon the image itself, but there wasn’t time-this is something you’ll need to set for yourself.
Shown below is Masking set to the middle setting of 50. The edge mask is being created on the fly from the image itself. This ability to dynamically create edge masking is another offshoot from Mark Hamburg who was inspired by Bruce Fraser’s writings (more about Bruce’s role at the end).
As shown below, when set all the way up (100) only the edges will be receiving any sharpening-the flat non-edge (sometimes called “surface”) will be severely reduced. Both Masking and Detail can be combined to optimize where and how sharpening is applied to the image-and this is why Amount goes to 150. Increasing the edge mask and reducing the Detail will substantially lower the total effect of the sharpening on an image. I will take a degree of credit for convincing Mark to allow the setting to go to 150-originally it stopped at 100 as the old Camera Raw sharpening did. But by fine-tuning the Detail and Masking, I found settings above 100 that were actually useful. Although truth be told, I’ve never actually found an image that could really look good at 150 (all the way up) regardless of the other settings. But it’s nice to know 150 is there if I ever find an image that needs it.
As shown below, setting Amount to 150 is “not recommended”. The image here is at a 200% zoom.
Based upon this image’s particulars, the figure below shows what I feel is optimal sharpening for this image. Remember, the new sharpening controls are not designed nor intended to be all the sharpening that an image may need. Camera Raw 4.1′s sharpening is intended only to be “capture sharpening” that follows with Bruce Fraser’s Sharpening Workflow concept. The intent is to do only the initial “global” sharpening required to optimize an image for further processing. As such, the design is to do “less” than “more” while preserving the ability to edit the image further down the line.
The figure below shows a screen shot of the processed image at 100% zoom in Photoshop. I think (and we are still testing this approach) that contrary to the old “make it look crunchy at 100%” of the past, the new approach is to make the image “just right” at 100% in Camera Raw & Photoshop. It’s an easier and more visible approach that allows for further work down-stream such as creative sharpening and output sharpening. Stay tuned-I’ll have more info on this in the near future.
The figure below shows the image at a 25% screen zoom in Photoshop. While not exact, this is at least a bit more realistic in terms of predicting what an image may look like when printed.
Noise Reduction in Camera Raw 4.1
Thomas Knoll and the Camera Raw team wanted to make improvements in the demosaicing and noise reduction capabilities in Camera Raw 4.1. And while not as revolutionary as the new sharpening, there is indeed an evolutionary improvement in both the demosaicing and Luminance noise reduction. Now don’t get too excited…the new noise reduction is not designed to completely replace 3rd party specialty tools such as Noiseware or Noise Ninja. So, you won’t see magical results running noise reduction on ISO 6400 images and have them look like they were shot at ISO 100. There’s only so much you CAN do within the raw processing pipeline-and only so much you actually want to do.
By default, Camera Raw’s Luminance noise setting remains zero. Also, as with the sharpening settings, to see the effect of Luminance noise reduction you will need to be zoomed to at least 100%-although looking further zoomed in will give you a better idea of what the noise reduction settings are actually doing.
The figure below shows the Luminance setting at 50 on an ISO 1600 Canon 10D image. Careful examination between these figures will show you the effects at zero, 50 and 100.
The figure below shows the maximum Luminance noise reduction setting of 100. The noise reduction tries to preserve edge detail while wiping out super high frequency noise. But there will be artifacts between edges and surfaces (non-edge areas) where the lack of noise reduction may be noticable.
It’s easier to see the results of the noise reduction when zoomed into 200% or more. The three figures below show zero, 50 and 100 Luminance noise settings.
The figure below shows both Luminance and Color noise reduction settings at zero. You can clearly see the magenta/green color noise that is common with higher ISO digital captures due to the amplification in the analog to digital process.
The figure below shows what I deem to be optimal Noise Reduction settings. While it doesn’t make this ISO 1600 capture look as good as one shot at 400 or 200 ISO, there is a useful decrease in the noise.
The image below is a screenshot of the processed image at 100% inside Photoshop. Noise is clearly still visible but the processed shot is better than what one could have achieved with Camera Raw 4.0. But looking at the image at 100% inside Photoshop does not really show you what the image would look like printed.
The image below is a screenshot of the image at 25% zoom in Photoshop. The screen dithering at 25% is a more accurate prediction of what the sharpening and noise reduction would look like when printed.
Defringe controls in Camera Raw 4.1
One of the long standing problems with many raw processing applications is how to handle near specular sensor flooding. This flooding seems to add either purple, red or magenta colors in the areas surrounding hot specular highlights. New to Camera Raw 4.1 and found under the Lens Correction tab is a drop down menu selection for Defringe (as shown below).
There are three options; Off, Highlight Edge and All Edges. As with Sharpening and noise reduction you really only see the effect at 100% zoom or higher.
The image below shows a section of the water with lots of specular reflection and the dreaded purple fringes. These fringed edges are not the result of chromatic aberrations-they happen because the photosites immediately around the spots that fill to clipping tend to be effected because of the demosaicing process and partially because these photosites get a degree of photon overflow.
Selecting the Highlight Edges removes most of the color additions caused by problems in the demosaicing but there may still be a degree of fringing.
Setting to All Edges essentially removes all the fringe effects as shown below. It can have an effect on color saturation in the areas where the defringing is going on so this is something you will want to evaluate on an image by image basis. But for those image such as this example where the color fringing is obvious and a real problem, these new Lens Corrections do a really, really good job.
The word says it all…this new control (one that I’m very fond of since I personally begged and pleaded with Thomas Knoll to put in) is a hybrid of using USM at a low amount and high radius-called Local Contrast Enhancement in an article by Michael Reichmann quoting a technique mentioned by Thomas-and a technique called MidTone Contrast Adjustment taught by Mac Holbert of Nash Editions. Last year during the Epson Print Academy, the MidTone Contrast Adjustment tutorial was one of the most popular of the entire Academy.
Well, on a trip to Ann Arbor to work with Mark and Thomas on sharpening, I got Thomas aside and started working on him. “Thomas, this can’t be too hard to do, right? I mean you’re already doing adaptive image adjustments with Fill Light, how hard would it be to put in an adaptive contrast adjustment?” I asked. He giggled…(and that’s always a real good sign).
Several weeks later he said he had figured out a way to do it and it would be in an upcoming build-it was called “Punch”. And sure enough, it certainly DOES add punch to an image-but in a way you simply can’t do with a curves control because this adjustment actually uses the image itself to make a mask on which to apply the mid tone contrast adjustment. There is a story about how the name changed from Punch to Clarity, but I’m not sure if I’m supposed to tell it publicaly…
The figure below shows Clarity at zero (the default).
Here the Clarity has been increased to 50…
…and here all the way up to 100. This is an adjustment that doesn’t need to be previewed at 100% to actually see. But I do suggest you at least look at the image at 100% to see what it’s doing in various areas of your image and to get used to predicting what it will do for and to your images.
Here’s the image previewed at 100% zoom with Clarity at zero (well, ok, I screwed up the screenshot and Clarity is actually set at 1, but you know what I mean-it’s not really on).
In the figure below it’s set to 50…
…and here it’s set to 100.
In this figure below, I’ve set the Clarity to 30-which I think is just about right. I’ve found that almost EVERY image can do with some Clarity adjustment-I’ve kinda defaulted to about 10 as a basic starting point.
The figure below shows a 100% zoom crop of a screenshot with the image processed with the settings above and with optimized sharpening and noise reduction settings.
The figure below shows the processed image at a 25% zoom in Photoshop.
I honestly think that with the Camera Raw 4.1 update, it can be argued that Camera Raw 4.1 has now jumped to the top of the heap for raw processing software. The combination of radically improved sharpening, improved demosaicing and noise reduction, the new Defringe functionality and Clarity has made raw processing through Camera Raw 4.1 incredibly powerful and with the potential for the highest image quality.
With the new controls found in Camera Raw 4.0 that unify Camera Raw and Lightroom such as; Hue & Sat controls, B&W conversions, Split Toning, parametric curves and oh yeah, spot healing, I really think there’s nothing else out there that can touch the Camera Raw processing pipeline. And yes, call me biased. Since I had a small role in the development of Camera Raw 4.1, you certainly can’t call me an independent reviewer.
My involvement started last summer when Bruce Fraser, Seth Resnick and I traveled to Ann Arbor to speak at the Photoshop Soup 2 Nuts Conference. Bruce and I hooked up with Mark Hamburg to talk about improving the sharpening functionality in Lightroom and Camera Raw. Mark had been working on some interesting new directions but wanted Bruce to look at what he had done. Mark had viewed Bruce’s involvement as important since Bruce had pretty much designed the Sharpening Workflow that was embodied in PhotoKit Sharpener that PixelGenius released in the fall of 2003. It was decided by Mark, Thomas and Tom Hogarty that Adobe would hire Bruce as a consultant to work with Mark and Thomas and the Camera Raw/Lightroom team. Unfortunately, Bruce passed away last December before he really had the chance finish the consulting and see what Mark had developed. It was agreed that I would step in and finish off Bruce’s consulting. I did my best to add what I thought Bruce would view as important.
This is what Mark Hamburg said regarding Bruce’s involvement…
“Bruce Fraser was an invaluable source of insight and penetrating observations. He could look at sharpening results and tell you immediately what was good about them and what was bad about them. He acted as a great reference because he had a strong knowledge of everything that had been tried to date and the strengths and weaknesses of those techniques.”
May 29th, 2007
All of the new controls and functionality will also show up in a soon to be released update of Lightroom. While the capture sharpening has been substantially improved, we still won’t have the final leg of the Sharpening Workflow inside of Camera Raw/Lightroom. But we’re “working on it” (that’s about all I can say at this stage).
So, run, don’t walk to the Camera Raw product page and be ready to download the new Camera Raw 4.1 update-it should also show up in the Adobe Updater (I’m not sure which one will show up first). And if you’ve been on the fence regarding updating to Photoshop CS3, well, jump off that fence dude. Camera Raw 4.1 is big…big I tell ya!