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When you capture an image with a digital camera, there are several factors that contribute to a degree of softness within the image. This includes filters such as anti-aliasing and infrared cut-off that are placed in front of the image sensor, as well as the very nature of converting analog information, light into a digital signal. As a result, you might be tempted to turn on a little bit of sharpening in the camera to compensate for the softness inherent in a digital photo. For most photographers, sharpening in the camera won't do any bit of good.
The reason is that sharpening, along with most other in-camera settings that affect the appearance of the image, doesn't apply to raw captures. For most cameras, the only settings that affect a raw capture are the aperture, shutter speed, and ISO setting. A few cameras have other settings, such as a highlight priority mode that does alter the raw data to some extent. But the other settings that change the image appearance won't affect a raw capture. Let me give you an example of this. Here, I have an image that I captured in raw mode and I turned on sharpening in my camera.
I set it to its maximum value and I also increased contrast in the camera just to help exaggerate the effect in the final image. This is a raw capture and you can see the image appears very, very sharp. In fact, a little bit oversharpened, you might say. So I seem to have contradicted myself. I told you that sharpening in the camera does not effect a raw capture, and yet, here, we see a raw capture that does exhibit sharpening from the capture. But that's because I'm not actually looking at the raw data at the moment. Instead, I'm looking at the embedded JPEG.
And I'm showing you this just so that you can see the image was indeed captured with sharpening turned on in the camera. But I've configured Adobe Bridge to prefer the embedded JPEG image rather than taking the time to build its own preview for the image. That means we're seeing the JPEG that was embedded in the raw capture by the camera. And that JPEG image does indeed reflect the settings on the camera. So, in this case, that JPEG includes the sharpening and the contrast increase that I applied when the picture was taken. If I turn off this option and let Bridge build its own preview, you'll see that the image changes to a fairly significant degree.
You'll see that the softness comes back to the image and there is not much in the way of contrast. The JPEG image created by the camera and embedded as a preview in the raw capture did reflect those camera settings, but the raw is indeed, as we would expect, I think a raw capture with no in-camera processing. Since in-camera sharpening doesn't apply to raw captures, you'll need to apply sharpening to most images during the process of optimizing the image or preparing it for output.
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