FocalBlade 1.0

What if you infused Photoshop CS2’s Smart Sharpen and Smart Blur filters with X-ray superpowers that allowed you to actually see the edge masks used in each? You’d have something akin to FocalBlade 1.0, The Plugin Site’s answer to your everyday sharpening (and blurring) needs.

Designed for both amateur and professional photographers, FocalBlade offers a host of sharpening methods for images of differing content and quality, as well as a slew of blurring techniques perfect for special effects such as glow or soft focus. It gives you more precise control than Photoshop—such as the ability to sharpen edges and surfaces separately—or you can have it apply sharpening automatically. Amazingly, this plug-in allows you to view the sharpening mask as a negative.

Even if you’re a seasoned sharpening pro, FocalBlade’s ease of use, level of control, and zippy performance warrant taking the plug-in for a spin.

FocalBlade’s modes vary in the number of controls they provide and the sharpening methodology they employ. Each mode presents at least one of three possible tabs: Edges, Surface (the uniform areas that have similar color and brightness), and Fix. The Edges and Surface tabs let you select exactly what you want to sharpen or blur. The Fix tab helps reduce the black or white halos commonly introduced by normal sharpening techniques.

Initially, you’re asked (via dialog box) to set FocalBlade to Novice Mode, which bases automatic sharpening on three settings: degree of sharpness desired; how much the surface of the image is sharpened in relation to its edges; and the size of the image’s details (portraits tend to have medium to rough details, while photos of distant objects may have finer details). If you’re new to advanced sharpening techniques or dealing with low-quality photos, the Novice Mode is for you.

The Sharpen mode works like traditional Unsharp Mask filters; it includes familiar Sharpen and Radius sliders and a Method pop-up menu. And because sharpening intensity is independent of the radius, you can enter a radius value of 0.5 pixels or fewer. This particular mode doesn’t distinguish between edges and surfaces, so it’s not useful for photos with noise or artifacts. The Sharpen Edges mode is similar, but it sharpens only the edges. FocalBlade suggests this mode as an excellent choice for photos of landscapes or objects with flat surfaces.

The Selective Sharpen mode contains all the controls of Sharpen mode, with independent settings for edges and surfaces (so it’s great for pictures of people). The Selective Sharpen Pro mode goes a step further with a Mask Display that lets you view and fine-tune the edge mask for precision control.

A similar array of modes exist for blurring and deblurring (a way to refocus rather than sharpen) photos. Expert Mode lets you do anything you darn well please, in both the sharpening and blurring realms.

Simply mouse over any control in any mode, and its description dutifully appears in the bottom right corner of the interface. And because a photo’s medium matters, FocalBlade thoughtfully includes easily accessible Screen and Print buttons in every mode.

Macworld’s buying advice

Both photographers who need a simple sharpening solution and those who need precise control should give FocalBlade 1.0 a spin. The Mask Display option alone is worth the purchase price. With multiple techniques suitable for almost any image, FocalBlade could quickly become your one-stop answer for image sharpening and blurring.

[ Lesa Snider King, founder of TheGraphicReporter.com, is a freelance writer, chief evangelist for iStockphoto.com, and graphics goddess of David Pogue’s Missing Manuals (Pogue Press, O’Reilly). ]

Activating the Mask Display in any Pro or Expert Mode lets you see and tweak the edge mask used in sharpening and blurring photos.Here’s what this image looked like before sharpening in FocalBlade’s Expert Mode.And the image after sharpening.

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