Sharpening Fuji files in Photoshop vs Lightroom / by Laura Daly

Fuji RAF files have been long plagued by sharpening "worms" when using the Camera Raw algorithms for processing.  At first glance the files look lovely, but when you apply any form of zoom to check and correct sharpness, the dreaded wormy artifacts appear.  Many people have suggested using other raw processors, such as Capture One Pro, Irident etc, but if you've already committed to Creative Cloud this is not the best option.  Many other people have suggested instead using Photoshop's sharpening filters to add sharpness.  Nothing I am about to say is new or has been discovered by myself, this is just me looking into the different options and deciding (based on my own opinion) which is the best for me.

#1 - the Problem

Worms.  Applying any sharpening using Camera Raw (either in Photoshop or Lightroom) will introduce strange wormy, painterly artifacts to your image.  It is ugly. 

Sharpness of just under 90 applied in Lightroom.  Why go to 90?  The details do seem mushy at sharpness levels less than this...

Sharpness <40.

#2 - Solution 1:  Raw filter in PS

This doesn't do a lot, probably because it uses the same algorithms and processing steps/approaches as it does in Lightroom.  Makes sense.  To apply:  import image from Lightroom; Duplicate background layer; Convert to smart object; Go to filter > camera raw filter > correct sharpness under the detail tab.

#3 - Solution 2: High pass filter

Usually the go-to method of sharpening for a good number of photographers. You can change the blend mode to change the extent of the sharpening, mask out less detailed areas etc, which makes this quite powerful. The actual sharpening effect on the file was not great though.  Sharpness was better, but details were still mushy, and not the best results of the three... To apply:  import, create layer as before; go to filter > other > high pass; lower the radius until only the outlines of your subject(s) are visible.  You will then need to choose a blend mode to incorporate this into the image; I chose overlay.  Soft light is a lesser effect blending mode, and hard light will give you the most extreme sharpening of the three.

#4 - Solution 3: Unsharp mask

Slightly confusingly named, this seemed to have the best effect of the three methods tried in my opinion.  This brought out the sharpness of the tree and leaves, and it did not produce any wormy issues in the grass and background.  To apply:  import as before; create duplicate layer as before and turn into smart object; go to filter > sharpen > unsharp mask.  I applied 150% amount, with the other two setting set at 1 (you could probably play around with this to get the effect you wanted).

#5 - Conclusions

Hopefully you can see some difference from the screen grabs above.  It is obviously clearer on my screen, but you might be able to see.  It is important to note that the worms are not as noticeable when zoomed out, but also the lack of sharpness does make a slight difference to the overall look of the image.  Whether this actually is important enough to you to take images into PS to sharpen will be down to personal preference....

Comparison of images post-sharpening.  Left: sharpened file from PS using unsharp mask; Right: sharpening in Lightroom at 95.

The improvement in sharpness and lack of artifacts on the PS sharpened image on the left is more noticeable in the grassy area at the bottom of the tree.