Frequently Asked Questions


I use the Unsharp Mask filter for sharpening my photos. What advantages does FocalBlade have?

The Unsharp Mask filter, which is available in many image applications, has some disadvantages that Focal Blade doesn't have. Unsharp Mask amplifies color noise which becomes very obvious if you compare the original and sharpened version at 200% or 300% magnification. FocalBlade does not increase color noise when sharpening. Even more, you can reduce it with the Color Noise sliders on the Fix tab sheet.

A second problem of Unsharp Mask is that the Radius slider doesn't only increase the radius, but also dramatically increases the sharpness. So changing the Radius slider also forces you to readjust the Amount slider every time, which can be annoying. In FocalBlade if you change the Radius slider, you don't have to readjust the Sharpen slider, because the Radius slider doesn't increase sharpness.

Unsharp Mask does not sharpen with high intensity at radius values below 1.0, which FocalBalde does. At a radius of 0.1 pixel Unsharp Mask does not even apply a visible sharpening effect anymore whereas FocalBlade can still sharpen at full intensity. FocalBlade even sharpens at a 0.0 pixel radius, which is in fact not an absolute zero radius, but a 0.05 value.

Another weak point of the Unsharp Mask tools is its Threshold slider. It can easily produce artifacts if you aren't very careful with it. These artifacts might not be very visible for the untrained eye, but if you take a closer look you can easily see them. If the image contains noise, it will be even more obvious. FocalBlade doesn't need a threshold slider because it sharpens the edges and the surface differently. So FocalBlade doesn't produce any artifacts like Unsharp Mask and gives you much more control over the sharpening. Additionally, the Threshold slider of Unsharp Mask doesn't apply any sharpening to some parts of the image while other parts are sharpened at full extent. FocalBlade on the other hand lets you apply different sharpening intensities to different image parts.

Another problem of some Unsharp Mask filters is that they sacrifice quality for speed. They use an algorithm that renders faster, but produces a less accurate sharpening result. FocalBlade doesn't use an imprecise algorithm for radius values below 6.1 pixels and therefore provides the best possible sharpening quality without sacrificing speed.

FocalBlade offers much more convenience and control over the sharpening process while avoiding the side effects of the Unsharp Mask tool.

What is the difference between FocalBlade and Photoshop's Smart Sharpen filter?

The Smart Sharpen filter in Photoshop is an enhanced version of the Unsharp Mask filter. In addtion to the Gaussian Blur option of Unsharp Mask it also offers a Lens and Motion Blur option. The Lens Blur option produces a finer sharpening and the Motion option is meant for reducing motion blur. FocalBlade does not offer an option for reducing motion blur, but on the other hand Smart Sharpen is not as effective for recovering photos with motion shake as many photographers would wish.

You can also reduce the sharpening effect in shadows and highlights in Smart Sharpen. Whereas Smart Sharpen offers three sliders for adjusting the shadows or highlights, FocalBlade offers only one. That is because FocalBlade defines shadows and highlights according to the tonal range whereas Smart Sharpen creates a mask for defining them. Basically you have more control over removing the sharpening effect from shadows and highlights in Smart Sharpen, but on the other hand it is also more complicated, because it is hard to judge the effect of the additional two sliders. Unfortunately there is no shadow/highlight mask display available in Smart Sharpen, which would make it easier to use.

There is one disadvantage of Smart Sharpen compared to Unsharp Mask: it does not render as fast as Unsharp Mask. FocalBlade is also not as fast as Unsharp Mask, because it performs much more sophisticated operations, but FocalBlade is still much faster than Smart Sharpen. When working with very large images, you will learn to appreciate FocalBlade's faster rendering compared to Smart Sharpen.

Smart Sharpen has similar problems as Unsharp Mask: The Amount and Radius sliders are not truely independent of each other as in FocalBlade, which also means that with lower radius values you are not able to sharpen as strongly as with higher radius values. The Lens Blur option is usually the better choice in Smart Sharpen, because it lets you adjust lower radius values stronger. The "More Accurate" check box of Smart Sharpen produces finer and stronger sharpening, but also amplifies noise even more. All in all, Smart Sharpen is not able to achieve as strong and artifact-free sharpening effects (especially at lower radius values) like FocalBlade.

Smart Sharpen neither offers the following essential feature of FocalBlade: auto sharpening, multi-pass workflows, edge/surface sharpening, multiple radius sharpening, halo suppression, softening surface areas, color noise reduction, color protection, softproofing, split views, preview tab sheet, grain and other special effects.

How does FocalBlade compare to the sharpening options of Adobe Camera Raw?

Camera Raw offers four sharpening sliders called Amount, Radius, Detail and Mask. The Amount slider of Camera Raw offers a maximum sharpening intensity of 150% whereas FocalBlade can sharpen up to 2000%. 150% is not sufficient for sharpening for print. The Radius slider of Camera Raw is limited to a range of 0.5 to 3.0 whereas FocalBlade offers radius values between 0.0 and 32.0, which means that it can produce much finer as well as much wider sharpening effects.

The Mask slider of Camera RAW allows you to gradually apply the sharpening to the edges only, but you cannot adjust the edge mask itself. Even worse, the Radius slider does not only influence the sharpening radius, it also makes the edge mask wider at the same time. FocalBlade allows you precisely fine-tune the edge mask with various sliders and also makes it possible to sharpen the surface areas with a different sharpening intensity and radius.

Lower values of the Details slider of Camera RAW suppress halos, but at the same time also remove the sharpening from surface areas, which makes you ask why this task is not left to the Mask slider in the first place. Too much halo suppression in Camera Raw additionally makes the sharpened edges look aliased and pixelated. FocalBlade on the other hand does not produce a pixelated look when suppressing the halos and also lets you suppress white and black halos independently. FocalBlade offers two slider pairs for halo suppression, which allows more precise and effective adjustments.

FocalBlade additionally contains several other features that are missing in Camera Raw, e.g. removing the sharpening effect in shadows, highlights and certain colored image areas, using multiple radius values and suggesting sharpening values.

Camera Raw can only be applied to image files and not to images opened in Photoshop. As a consequence you cannot apply it to layers, record its settings in actions, use it as a smart filter as it is possible with FocalBlade. So you can only use Camera Raw sharpening at the beginning of your workflow whereas FocalBlade can be used any time in your workflow.

How does FocalBlade relate to other special sharpening methods?

FocalBlade uses a sharpening technique that is similar to Unsharp Mask, which is best suited for sharpening photographic images. However, FocalBlade's sharpening is much more sophisticated than that of conventional Unsharp Mask tools.

Some tools force you to apply sharpening two or three times per image. With FocalBlade you can decide yourself if you want to sharpen each image once, twice or three times. If you decide to sharpen only once, you can save quite some time and avoid accidentally oversharpening the image.

Another technique is called Deconvolution and is extensively used in astronomy and microscopy. These deconvolution methods aren't very suitable for normal photos and are in fact deblurring and not sharpening methods. They reduce blur, thus increasing the visual information in images, but they don't produce optimum photographic sharpening results.

Other techniques try to reduce the gradients around the edges in photos in order to improve the sharpness. They can be helpful for a few photos, but they can easily corrupt edge lines and reduce the photographic quality of the photo thus giving it a painting-like look. FocalBlade on the other hand sharpens photos effectively while keeping the look of the photos natural.

Is it better to deactivate in-camera sharpening if I know that I will use FocalBlade later?

Digital cameras only have limited processing capabilities. They don't apply sophisticated sharpening methods to avoid blocking the camera for taking another shot. In-camera sharpening can be especially destructive on high-ISO shots that were taken in low light conditions, because in-camera sharpening unnecessarily amplifies the ISO noise.

It is generally recommended to switch off in-camera sharpening or at least reduce it to the available minimum. Unfortunately many low-priced digital cameras don't offer any option for influencing the in-camera sharpening. In such a case you have to live with the result or buy a more expensive camera. Switching off internal sharpening also lets you take more JPG photos with the same memory card, because file sizes of photos without sharpening are much smaller.

Should I use a one, two or three-pass
sharpening workflow with FocalBlade?

Whether you choose to sharpen your image once, twice or even three times is mainly a question of taste and your personal requirements. In many cases sharpening your images only once will do just fine and save you time. Multi-pass sharpening is not a must, it is an option. You have to decide yourself if multiple sharpening benefits your workflow and the end result.

Sharpening more than once can make sense under the following conditions:

1. You are working with a RAW file and want to pre-sharpen it to get a better feel for the final result.
2. You need to sharpen the same image for different output devices, e.g. web and print or different printer types.
3. You want to dramatically resize your image and minimize the softening effects of the process by sharpening the image before and after resizing.
4. You want to apply different sharpness effects to different image areas.

Some people may claim that sharpening an image more than once increases its print quality, but that is a myth. In fact if you sharpen an image more than once, the risk of degrading the image increases. FocalBlade offers various features for keeping sharpening artifacts low, so using its two- and three pass workflows is no problem. With two or three pass sharpening there is also a higher tendency of oversharpening the result, because you do not see the final result until the last pass. But you can master this risk with increasing experience.

Basically you can achieve the same sharpening result in FocalBlade whether you use one, two or three sharpening pass. However, using similar settings with one, two or three passes may still produce slightly different results on the same image. That is because with a two/three pass sharpening approach you usually apply the sharpening passes to different image sizes whereas a one pass sharpening is applied to the final image size only. The image scaling can additionally amplify or weaken the sharpening a bit and depending on the used image scaling algorithms you get a more or less sharp scaling results. Additionally the three pass approach involves a creative part which can be quite individual. So you usually get the most consistent results with one pass sharpening and the most individual results with three pass sharpening.

I often work with CMYK images. Should I apply FocalBlade in CMYK mode?

It is generally better to do as much image processing as possible in RGB rather than in CMYK mode. CMYK was developed for printing purposes and is highly dependent on the print profile, whereas RGB is more independent and offers advantages for image editing. FocalBlade and other image processing tools often achieve higher quality results on RGB than on CMYK images. Additionally FocalBlade misses two features in CMYK. So better keep your image in RGB as long as possible and only switch to CMYK at the end of your workflow. If it is not possible otherwise, you can also apply FocalBlade in CMYK mode.

I have some bad quality photos with a lot of noise that I want to sharpen. Can FocalBlade help in this case?

If you have a noise reduction tool, please try it before using FocalBlade. Also correct the colors, brightness and contrast of these photos before using FocalBlade. Even if you don't do that, FocalBlade can still help, but you have to do some manual adjustments in FocalBlade to get a better result. One method is to use FocalBlade's Soften slider from the Manual tab to suppress noise or at least keep it from getting too visible when sharpening. With the Shadows slider from the Fix tab sheet you can avoid sharpening the shadows where most of the noise is located. You can also reduce the value of the Surface Sharpen slider on the Manual tab or set the Surface combo box on the Auto tab sheet to a more moderate setting to keep the noise down.

If your image is too noisy or contains too many artifacts, there is no tool that can help you. Then the only way to improve image quality is to size it down to e.g. 50% or even 25% of its original size.

I want to sharpen some of my JPG files again with FocalBlade...

There are three problems. If your JPG files are already sharpened by another tool, you may decrease the image quality when sharpening them again. If the images were oversharpened, you can use FocalBlade's Soften slider (while setting the Sharpen sliders to zero) to decrease the sharpening effect. If they are only weakly sharpened, you nevertheless have to use a very light sharpening setting in FocalBlade. If halos become too visible, you can use the Halo sliders from the Fix tab sheet in FocalBlade to suppress them.

A second problem is that a high JPG compression may produce white halos in images. These halos are usually made even more visible by the sharpening process. FocalBlade lets you suppress these white halos with the halo sliders on the Fix tab sheet. A third problem are the 8-pixel blocks that are produced by JPG compression. They can become quite visible when sharpening, too. FocalBlade lets you suppress them with the help of the Soften slider.

So it is generally better to use a very low compression or high quality setting for your JPG files if you know that you may want to sharpen them later.

I want to create a master image for various print sizes and papers. I would therefore like to save the sharpening on a layer rather than apply it to the image. Is this possible and if so, how does one accomplish this?

You can duplicate the background layer as a new layer and only apply the sharpening to it. You can use a new layer for each paper type, but for different sizes you should better save different files. The disadvantage of this method is that the file size is getting larger with each new layer.

Another option is to save the FocalBlade settings as a preset file that has the same file name as the image plus the paper type as a suffix. For example if the image is called IMG_1001.tif, the print size is A4 and the paper type is photo glossy paper you can save the preset files as IMG_1001_A4_photoglossy.fbp. But it would be better to create standard presets for different sizes and papers, so you don't need to create a new preset file for every new image. The advantage of this method is that you don't need to save big files. You just need to open the original image and apply the sharpening again by opening the preset file in FocalBlade.

You can also turn a layer into a smart object in Photoshop and apply FocalBlade to it. That way you can non-destructively change the FocalBlade settings any time you want. The disadvantage is that you will be creating even bigger files than when using regular layers.