Get Sharp with the Nikon D800

D800e test image (full frame view) shot with Nikon 24-70mm f/2.8 AFS G Nikkor. 1/200s @f/11, ISO 200.

The Nikon D800 has a 36x24mm (FX format) sensor with 36-megapixel resolution. How do you get the best quality from this amazing sensor? By using good technique and properly sharpening your images, of course. If you shoot JPEG with the D800/e, you’re doing yourself a disservice if you want to make large prints (or crop). In my initial testing, I’m seeing that the sharpening halos produced by the in-camera sharpening algorithms (Nikon Picture Controls) are a little too large to bring out the finest details. So, how should you attack your D800 images? I’ve taken a look at sharpening routines in three different programs: ACR 7.1/ Lightroom 4, Capture NX2, and Aperture. When you sharpen properly, you’ll be amazed at what pops out of the RAW files from the D800!

Before you begin, do keep in mind that no amount of sharpening is going to produce great results unless you’ve got a properly focused image and a well-supported camera. If you had camera shake or subject motion from a slow shutter speed, there isn’t much you can do.

Sharpening Options and Tools for Nikon D800/e files

In-camera sharpening Settings

In my opinion, the in-camera sharpening function with the D800/e isn’t worth using. First, you can’t change the sharpening halo size (radius), which is a little too large to get fine details. Secondly, there are no mask/threshold/selective tools if you use this option. Note that you’ll only see in-camera sharpening applied to JPEGs or images processed in Capture NX2 when it is enabled. I set my in-camera sharpening setting to 4 on my cameras to facilitate image review on the LCD. Do not turn off in-camera sharpening in your D800! If you do, all your images will look soft during playback on the camera LCD.

Once you bring the image into your RAW converter, you can either disable in-camera sharpening via Picture Controls (Capture NX2 or View NX2) or not worry about it as it is an ignored setting (all non-Nikon RAW converters).

If in-camera sharpening is turned off, your image will look soft on your LCD during playback (1:1 view).
In-camera (Picture Control) Sharpening produces halos that don’t bring out the finest details (1:1 view).

Keep in mind that the goal of image sharpening is to produce a clean image without artifacts when viewed at 100%. Moreover, much of sharpening is content-specific. If your image has lots of fine details, you can bring those out; something that is great for landscape images. On the other hand, bringing every tiny detail into sharp relief on a portrait might not be the best idea. Over-sharpening can also enhance moire or other artifacts in your image, so you need to be aware of techniques that let you apply sharpening selectively.

Nikon Capture NX2

In Nikon’s Capture NX2, the first thing I do is disable Picture Control Sharpening (set it to 0). I then normally start with a USM setting of 30/7/3 and adjust from there. However, I found that with the D800e files, I needed to do two rounds of sharpening. The first round used a High Pass Filter (in Overlay blending mode), with a radius of 1 pixel. I set the opacity slider to 85% so I wouldn’t over-cook the image. This filter applies mild sharpening to most “normal-sized” details. I then chose to add an Unsharp Mask (USM) step with a very small radius (1%), and I maxed out the Intensity Slider at 100%. When you use extremely small radius settings in USM, the halos are significantly suppressed, allowing you to use very high intensity settings. These settings delivered a significantly sharper image than the original (as-shot JPEG).

Custom sharpening in Capture NX2 produced this image (1:1 view). Notice that the halos are not visible compared to Picture Control (in-camera) sharpening.
Sharpening settings for my D800e image in Nikon’s Capture NX2. Further refinement is possible with Control Points.

Keep in mind that if you use Capture NX2, you have the power to selectively restrict your sharpening settings by using Control Points. This can help reduce edge artifacts between skies and other objects.

Learn more about selective sharpening with Capture NX2 here.

Adobe Camera Raw/ Lightroom 4

Adobe Camera Raw 7.1 and Lightroom 4 both use the same RAW conversion engine. If you bring your file into one of these applications, you’ll be able to adjust sharpening with four sliders: Amount, Radius, Detail, Masking.

I found that using the following settings worked well to bring out fine details without creating any obvious artifacts:

  • Amount: 70
  • Radius: 0.8
  • Detail: 33
  • Masking: 30
I used the Detail Slider and Masking tool to get a good image with ACR (click to enlarge).

Again, the concept here is similar to what I did with Capture NX2. I used a sharpening setting that by itself would bring out “normal” details, followed by use of the Detail slider to enhance fine edges. The Masking slider is important as it helps to prevent artifacts in clean areas like skies.

Aperture

Aperture has sharpening controls in two places: RAW Fine Tuning and Edge Sharpen control modules. I started by setting the Sharpening sliders in the RAW Fine Tuning module to bring out standard details. I then added an Edge Sharpen module and set it to try to bring out the finer edges in the scene. For me, Aperture’s sharpening settings are a little different (at least numerically) from the other tools I’m accustomed to. Nevertheless, I still got a good result.

I used both RAW Fine Tuning and Edge Sharpening to sharpen the image in Aperture (click to enlarge).

Other Sharpening Tools

Depending on your workflow, you can also enhance your images further by “contour sharpening.” This technique brings out large shapes rather than fine detail. Contour sharpening tools include:

  • Clarity slider (ACR/Lightroom)
  • Definition slider (Aperture)
  • Large Radius High-Pass Filter (Capture NX2 and Photoshop)
  • Nik Software Sharpener Pro 3
  • Tonal Contrast Filter (Color Efex Pro 3 & 4)
  • Detail Extractor Filter (Color Efex Pro 4.0)

 Comparison of Sharpening Methods

All three RAW converters did an excellent job of sharpening D800e images, when used properly. With each tool, you can combine a standard sharpening routine with enhanced edge/detail sharpening to really bring out a lot of detail from these RAW files.

Adobe’s Masking slider really helps prevent halo artifacts around high-contrast edges, but you do need to be careful when cranking up the Detail settings as you can sometimes see strange “crispy” artifacts. USM in Capture NX2 works very well, but produces halos if you’re not careful. These halos can be removed by manually applying Control Points to clean areas in your image (i.e., skies) where you want to suppress sharpening artifacts. Aperture’s settings were slightly more obtuse to me, because they didn’t include an obvious threshold or masking option. However, I still got a very sharp image with it.

Keep in mind that in any of these tools, you can usually add in additional sharpening locally via brushes or other selection tools. That way, you can apply the fine-detail sharpening only to the areas that really need it while keeping other areas clean and artifact-free.

Save 15% off all Nik Software products by using coupon code JODELL at checkout. (USA/Canada residents)

40 thoughts on “Get Sharp with the Nikon D800”

  1. Super… ask and I receive, in less than 24hrs no less. I was pretty much there on the High-Pass, but was way off on the USM. I was using the old D700 formula, but with higher Radius and higher Threshold. Will do some post this weekend with your new formula. Thanks Jason!

  2. Jason

    When sharpening in ACR/LR4 and you are after fine detail try using a smaller amount and more detail. For example, amount 50, radius 0.7, detail 85. The detail slider uses deconvoluted sharpening when set to greater than 50, which minimizes halos. You should not require much masking if you are shooting at lower ISO on the D800/E. Also, low ISO is a key to getting sharp images on the D800, as in any camera. The settings you posted are more suitable for portrait photography, although in that case you would want to bump the radius up over 1.0.

    Regards
    Rory

  3. Hi Rory-
    I experimented with a lot of settings… keep in mind that this was a D800E file (no anti-aliasing filter), so I was getting weird artifacts in the image with strong Detail Slider settings. I imagine that with a regular D800, you could boost the Detail slider further.

  4. The 100% view I posted has minor halos, but isn’t a representative area. There were other places in the image (around the stop sign and street light) where halos were noticeable.

  5. How does this compare with Lightroom settings for other cameras. What would you have recommended for a D300 for example.

  6. Eliot-
    Sharpening settings depend on two things: 1) The strength of the AA filter and 2) your subject. You’ll find that one size fits all settings won’t get you very far. You need to work on sharpening for content (i.e., fine details vs. shapes) depending on what your subject calls for. I don’t have any LR sharpening settings for the D300… but I do recommend setting the radius slider to 0.8 and working from there.

  7. Hi Jason
    Thank you for your thoughts,I have the D800 and process with Capture NX2,I find with all my images a touch of the Nik Tonal Contrast filter works great, I always use the Tonal Contrast on all my Landscape Images.

    Have also been processing with Lightroom 4,is their any setting in Lightroom that would give you the same result as the Nik Tonal Contrast without converting to Tif and using a plug in.

    Regards Syd.

  8. The only control remotely similar to Tonal Contrast in Lightroom is the “Clarity” slider… but it’s not the same as Tonal Contrast. Some of the filters in CEP are really quite special, and Tonal Contrast is one of them.

  9. Jason: do the settings you list for NX2 apply to the D800 as well or are they solely for the D800e? Thanks, Richard

  10. Dear Jason,

    When I open a D300 nef picture in CaptureNX2, and I open the develop-list, and then I open the camera settings, I can change the white balance, the picture controls etc.
    On the other hand, when I open a D800 nef picture, and I open the develop-list and then I open the camera and objective settings, there is no more possibility to change the white balance, the picture controls, …
    Could it be I’m doing wrong something?
    Thanks a lot!

    Gery

  11. Gery-
    The first thing to do is make sure you’re using the latest version of Capture NX2, which I believe is 2.3.2
    I assume you’re opening NEFs straight from the camera, and not via Lightroom or another RAW editor?

    -Jason

  12. Thanks a lot Jason, it’s OK now.
    I have Nikon transfer on my desktop. I did never use it, until now, with my new D800. When copying the pictures like before, with the Windows Explorer, it’s is all like before.
    Thanks again.

    Gery

  13. I have tried Nikon’s NX2 and PhaseOne Capture One shooting with D800 on location in Europe. I work only with RAW files and need the best image quality one can get. Time is not important – I usually spend the whole day to shoot just one perfect picture anyway. Let me tell you – I am very disappointed in NX2 – Capture One wins hands down every time: images are way way sharper, much better color, contrast and B/W.

  14. Your recommendations for D800 sharpening work very well. Also, thanks for the explanations.

  15. Hi Jason,

    Thanks for this and other reviews. I would be really interested in your answer to eugenius’s observations with Capture One Pro. I know you published a blog in 2011 basically saying the major raw converters potentially gave very similar conversions – has anything changed? I ask this because I’ve heard comments about better micro contrast and overall sharpness with Capture One Pro 6, plus better skin tones. There was also the D800(e) review on dpreview, which showed sharper details at default settings with capture one pro 6 over the other raw converters (DxO Optics Pro 7, ACR 7 & Capture NX2). Are you able to get the same sharpness results with Nikon Capture NX2 as with Phase One’s Capture One Pro 6?

  16. Mike-
    I really haven’t used Capture One in a really long time, so I don’t have a good answer for you. Capture One is definitely known for its skin tones, as it is designed for medium-format studio captures.

  17. Thanks for the reply Jason.

    I downloaded the dpreview D800E landscape raw file, used in their raw converter comparison for the D800/E review, and applied your high pass and USM sharpening recommendations for Nikon Capture NX2 to that file. I compared the result at 100%, side by side with the dpreview jpegs (which were made at default settings), and found your settings to give a significantly sharper result, not only for NX2, but also better than ACR 7 & DxO Optics Pro 7 defaults.

    Capture One Pro 6’s default seems a tad sharper still, but only because of the higher overall contrast in its image, compared to the NX2 and others. Also the Capture One Pro image had much more false colour in the white window frames than NX2. I think with equalization of overall contrast, there would be little, if any, difference between the two raw converters on sharpness, but with NX2 having fewer problems with false colour.

    It may be that more sharpness can be squeezed out of Capture One Pro than from its default setting, but the sharpness obtained with NX2 under your settings now seems sufficient. I think it would have been more useful if dpreview had tried to get the best out each raw converter rather than simply present the defaults, and I’m also sure seasoned users of the other 2 converters will claim they can be improved, as well. Overall, I now now feel happier about sticking with NX2 and investing in your guides & videos, especially as you have other recommendations that improve things further. I may go for the trial version of Capture One Pro to further test the claimed quality differences; checking out skin tones, and B&W conversions. However, I’m not sure if I want to spend time thoroughly familiarizing myself with 2 raw converters to no advantage; so your articles have been very helpful in this regard.

    Thanks again!

  18. Hi Jason,
    Recently I bought D600 and found some problems with sharpnenig.
    Therefore let me ask a few questions:
    1. What are your recommended sharpening settings in CNX2 for D600 (for High Pass Filter and USM). I guess they might be similar to those for the D800 but would expect some corrections due to the different pixel count (24 vs 36 MP);

    2. Up to now I was always satisfied with the result of jpeg files converted from NEF in CNX2 or directly via ViewNX for the web (with use of option Output / Email).
    All files from my D70s as well as D300 where ready to put them on the web and maintained the sharpness very well.
    When I do the same with my new D600 I observe evident drop in sharpness that occurs in the process of resizing.
    I guess it has somenthing to do with the resizing ratio for D600 vs D70s or D300 with much lower pixel density.
    Do you know how to avoid this sharpness drop ?

    3. Should I apply new 2-step sharpening routine i.e. the first step while developing NEF file in CNX2 and the second applied to the resized jpeg file to be used on web or email ?

    Will be gratefull for all your comments on that subject that arised with buying the Nikon D600 camera.
    Thanks in advance

    Marek
    P.S. I still enjoy and frequently use your Photographer’s Guide that I bought in October, 2006 (exactly 6 years ago – time is passing very fast…..)

  19. Marek-
    Although I do not have a D600 to test, my basic rule of sharpening still applies… sharpen for image content. That is, an image with lots of fine details will need sharpening with a small radius to bring out those details.
    The hybrid sharpening (USM and High Pass) I’m employing for the D800 helps bring out both fine details and moderate ones without overdoing it.

    I don’t thing the standard “in-camera” sharpening settings will give you enough control over the D600 files.

    As for resized JPEGs, you should ALWAYS re-sharpen them using a mild USM or high-pass setting with a very small radius to offset the softening that occurs during downsampling.

  20. Jason,
    Thanks a lot for all your explanations.
    I have already tried your suggested routine and it seemed to work just fine. While re-sharpening of resized JPEG’s I made use of High Pass filter with radius 1 pix and opacity set to 65%. The resulting photo looked much better.
    This is however additional step in PP that I hadn’t to apply with files from my D70s. Anyway, thx again

    Marek

  21. Thank you Jason, very useful stuff to have a starting point!
    I think however that USM 100/1/5 and HPF at 1px, in NX2, is best suited for D800E, but perhaps a bit weak for standard D800: I see it a bit less sharp than jpeg on-camera sharpening. How would you adjust it for vanilla D800?
    Thank you again
    FAS

  22. For a D800, which has an anti-aliasing filter, I’d use a higher USM radius (try 4%) and back off on the amount slider.

  23. Thank you very much for quick reply… something like 40 or 50/4/5, close to D3 settings? And for high-pass, do you think that rise to 2px is too much?
    Thanks again
    FAS

  24. Thanks so much for the great info, Jason. I want to make sure I understand the order of the steps for sharpening D800E raw files in Capture NX2:
    1. set picture control sharpening to zero
    2. apply the high-pass filter sharpening
    3. apply USM sharpening

    The reason I ask is because of your comment about applying USM of 30/7/3 first. I’m assuming that wasn’t meant to apply in the case of D800E files? Thanks again!
    Sarah

  25. Sarah-
    You are correct in your interpretation. I normally just use the 30/7/3 setting, but with the D800e I use HPF followed by USM instead.

  26. Hi Jason,

    Thanks for these sharpening settings for the D800E. Would you be able to provide an update on how the D800E changes procedures elsewhere in your guides? Things like: settings for print output sharpening & structure. Do you use tonal contrast with the E, and what do you find to be the best settings; any tips for SEP2 & HDR2, etc?

  27. Hi all. I’m on a D800 in Lightroom 4 and would like to know more about the radius. Why do you all use such small radius? Paired with a high amount value I find that it just introduces a lot of noise like qualities. Most of the time I’m wondering why the radius doesn’t go above 3px in Lightroom. Given the large images of the D800 isn’t it natural that the radius should come up compared to lower resolution cameras. Right now I’m sharpening an image where a wooden door takes up about 30% of the entire scene. To really bring out the details and lines in the wood texture I’m finding myself going above 2.5px radius. Why did Adobe only make it go up to 3px? Am I misunderstanding something?

  28. Johan-
    LR sharpening is primarily intended as a “capture sharpening” step to mitigate the AA filter on your camera. Most of the time, this means using small radii to minimize the appearance of halo artifacts. However, you can also use the Clarity tool at low levels to bring out larger details. It is similar to High-Pass sharpening when used at low amounts.

  29. Hello Jason, all of your information about NX2 has been so helpful. I am just discovering your website. I am shooting with the D700 and was wondering where I can find the formula for sharpening on this camera?

  30. Hi Janet-
    Although my “base settings” are a good starting point, I currently recommend sharpening an image based on it’s content. For example, you’d sharpen a landscape much differently than you’d sharpen a portrait. For most shots in CNX2, I’ll use 30/7/3 USM as a starting point. From there, I’ll modify the settings, and use local application of sharpening (via Control Points or brushes) to dial in just the right amount.

    I’d consider taking a look at my video “Sharpening Techniques for Capture NX2,” available at www.luminescentphoto.com/webstore

  31. Roman-
    See my earlier response. I use the same settings (USM 30/7/3) for the D700 as I did with the D3. However, a custom sharpening approach is always preferable for your best work.

  32. hi

    Really nice coulors here, they remind of the old ferrania coulors in 24-36 film.
    Can you tell what you have done with Picture control in d800 to make this tone in the coulors.

    Best regards
    Povl

  33. I just use Standard Picture Control. If you are using Lightroom, you’ll need to change the camera calibration settings to “Camera Standard” instead of “Adobe Standard.”

  34. Hi
    Even late I thank you for your reply.
    I have been away, but since I use lightroom, I will change the PC to camera standard.
    Best regards
    Povl F

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

332,098 Spambots Blocked by Simple Comments

HTML tags are not allowed.