Better sharpening, more in Camera Raw 4.1

Adobe Photoshop Camera Raw 4.1 for Photoshop CS3 is now available for download (Mac | Win) from  In addition to supporting 13 new cameras, this release brings welcome improvements to sharpening and noise reduction.  Jeff Schewe has posted a great & highly detailed overview of what’s new. If you want the cheap n’ cheerful overview, here’s what the Read Me* file has to say:

New Control available in the Basic panel. Clarity adds depth to an image by increasing local contrast. When using this setting, it is best to zoom in to 100% or greater. To maximize the effect, increase the setting until you see halos near the edge details of the image, and then reduce the setting slightly.

Sharpening Improvements:
Additional controls available in the Detail panel. The zoom level must be set to 100% or greater in order to view the effects of these controls.

Adjusts edge definition. Increase the Amount value to increase sharpening. A value of zero turns off sharpening. In general, set Amount to a lower value for cleaner images. The adjustment locates pixels that differ from surrounding pixels based on the threshold you specify and increases the pixels’ contrast by the amount you specify. Press Alt (Windows) or Option (Mac OS) while dragging this slider to view the sharpening on a grayscale preview.

Adjusts the size of the details that sharpening is applied to. Photos with very fine details may need a lower radius setting. Photos with larger details may be able to use a larger radius. Using too large a radius will generally result in unnatural looking results. Press Alt (Windows) or Option (Mac OS) while dragging this slider to preview the radius effect on edge definition.

Adjusts how much high-frequency information is sharpened in the image and how much the sharpening process emphasizes edges. Lower settings primarily sharpen edges to remove blurring. Higher values are useful for making the textures in the image more pronounced.

Controls an edge mask. With a setting of zero, everything in the image receives the same amount of sharpening. With a setting of 100, sharpening is mostly restricted to those areas near the strongest edges. Press Alt (Windows) or Option (Mac OS) while dragging this slider to see the areas to be sharpened (white) versus the areas masked out (black).

* Hah–I will get someone to read the contents of a Read Me!  (Talk about an ironic name. Those things are like reader-repellents.)

0 thoughts on “Better sharpening, more in Camera Raw 4.1

  1. I’ve been using a “clarify” action based on Michael Reichmann’s Local Contrast Enhancement (my version uses a duplicate layer to allow an adjustable degree of “clarification”). But I use it at the end of my workflow, to add “punch” after I’ve made all the color and density adjustments but before any output sharpening.
    Is it actually better to do this at the beginning of the workflow, as part of raw conversion? Or would it make more sense to add it to Photoshop itself? (Forgive my ignorance if it actually is in CS3, since I haven’t yet upgraded from CS2.)
    [Good question. Lightroom PM Tom Hogarty replies, “Good point. It really depends on your workflow. If an image you’re working on isn’t going to receive a lot of attention in Photoshop, then why not make the adjustment at the raw processing stage. It saves time, is non-destructive and can be applied to multiple images quickly. If the image is going to receive a lot of tonal, masking, contrast, sharpening and other adjustments in Photoshop, then perhaps it’s better to use your current method. The proof is really in the pudding. Compare an image in your workflow with clarity applied at the raw processing stage with an image where your clarify method is applied at the end of the edit. I would agree with your assessment that regardless, it should happen prior to output sharpening.” –J.]
    It looks like the intent is to improve ACR’s feature set to the point where it can produce fully processed images for digital files that don’t need the manipulations available in Photoshop or in third-party plugins. “Lightroom Lite,” perhaps? It’s always good to have a choice of workflows.

  2. These new features are amazing, especially clarity. That leads me to a question I have: are these features going to be added to Lightroom as well?
    [Yep; a separate LR update will be forthcoming rather soon. –J.]

  3. Do I need to download this if I use Lightroom? Is this only for Photoshop CS3?
    [Nope–it’s only for PSCS3. –J.]

  4. The additions made in ACR 4.x have been fantastic so far. Vibrance and fill have been extremely useful in further refining photos I took last summer in Albania. It’s wonderful that all these new features can be integrated into all the proccessing I did with the earlier, smaller feature set. It’ll be interesting to refine them further with the new clarity and sharpening option.
    Any chance of a “Remove Distortion” option in the Lens Correction tab? It’d make a lot of sense to be able to handle lens distortion in the RAW conversion process rather than needing a Photoshop filter step. The vignetting control in Lightroom was one of the key features that made me switch from Aperture and this would be just as compelling and differentiating a feature.
    [Great suggestion, and one we hear often. It’s beyond the scope of ACR4, but I agree that it would be a great addition. –J.]

  5. John I like all the new improvements to 4.1 but why did they remove the Convert to Grayscale from the Basic Tab? It was really nice for those of us that process based on Grayscale tonal values. Now we are back to the old desaturate method.
    [Lewis, the checkbox was removed in order to fit within a 1024×768 screen res. You can still get the checkbox via the HSL/Grayscale tab. We should, however, at least add a keyboard shortcut (probably “V” as in Lightroom). –J.]

  6. “Hah–I will get someone to read the contents of a Read Me! (Talk about an ironic name. Those things are like reader-repellents.) “

    I don’t use Camera Raw (don’t have a camera that spits out RAW files) but the whole “ReadMe” issue (along with the apparently invisible-to-newbies PDF manuals and Help Files) is one I can only shake my head about every time I read a question posted to any application-centric support forum.
    It really makes me laugh when somebody will take the time to register an account and post a jaw-droppingly rudimentary question, then complain when nobody answers. It splits my sides when they complain about the lack of response after 6 hours or more. They could have read the entire contents of the provided materials by then.
    I sure wish I could come up with an unfailingly enticing carrot-on-a-stick so that people would feel compelled to at least skim the supplied documents. Smarter and wiser men than I have tried, and so far they’ve failed.
    [One word: Porn. Adobe manuals need to be chock-full of dirty biz… (hey, it worked for e-commerce, streaming video, etc.) >;-) –J.]
    So all of us who are inclined to help can look forward to many more years of that lovely refrain:

    “HELP!!!! MY ADOBE BROKE!!!!!!

  7. When will the changes to ACR4.1 sharpening be added to Photoshop CS3 USM or Smart Sharpen or a new Sharpen filter?
    [I’m working to gather details on what’s possible/advisable in ACR vs. inside Photoshop. I’ll share more info when I get it. Good question. –J.]

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