I promised I would re-visit some of my Picture Profile stuff. I thought I would start with this one as it is one of the least well understood settings. It’s effects are quite subtle, but it can mean the difference between a noisy picture and a clean image, but also between a sharp image and a soft image, in particular in areas of subtle detail or low contrast detail such as foliage, grass and textures.
Crispening is a part of the detail correction circuit. It does not in itself, as it’s name suggests (at least on an EX of F3) make the image “crisper”. What it does is control the contrast range over which the detail circuit operates. Basically it sets the threshold at which detail correction is applied to the image, which in turn can make the image look a little sharper or less sharp. The apparent sharpness itself is controlled by the Detail Level and Frequency controls.
Why is this useful? Well it allows the user to choose whether to opt for a cleaner looking image or a sharper looking image. An important consideration is that this adjustment does not change the actual resolution of the image or the noise level of the camera, but it does make subtle details in the image more or less enhanced and as noise is also a subtle, even if unwanted detail within the image it will also make noise more or less enhanced, thus more or less visible.
In the first illustration I have drawn an imaginary video waveform signal coming from the camera that contains a mixture of noise and both subtle and more obvious picture information. The bigger the up/down change in the waveform the more obvious the change in brightness (and thus contrast) on the monitor or TV would be. Throughout the image there is some noise. I have indicated the noise level for the camera with a pair of red lines. The EX1 and EX3 is a moderately noisy camera, not the worst, nor the best for an HD camera, but pretty good in it’s price range. So if we can do something to make the noise less obvious that would be desirable in many cases. Crispening can help us do that. Crispening ONLY has an effect when you are applying detail correction to the image. It sets the threshold at which detail correction is applied. The default setting on an EX is zero.
If we reduce the crispening setting, lets say to -60, it REDUCES the threshold at which detail is applied which generally makes the pictures look sharper. Looking at the second and third illustrations you can see how if you reduce the threshold too much then detail correction will be applied to even the most subtle changes in the image, including the image noise. The little black spikes I have added to the diagram illustrate the way the detail “enhancement” will be added to both noise and subtle contrast changes as well as larger contrast changes.
This will make the pictures look more noisy, but… and this is important… it will also help bring out subtle low contrast textures in foliage, skin, fabrics etc. A area where perhaps the EX1 and EX3 don’t do terribly well.
If you want a clean image however where noise is less visible, then raising the crispening level to a high positive value, lets say +60 will increase the threshold at which detail correction is added, so signal changes will need to be bigger before detail correction is applied.
With a high positive number the image will look cleaner and less noisy, but you will loose some enhancement in textures and low contrast areas as these will no longer have detail correction applied to them. This can lead to a slightly muddy or textureless look to tress, grass, skin and fabric.
The real problem areas are the subtle textures and low contrast areas (circled in orange) where the true image detail is barely above the noise level. It’s very difficult to bring these out without increasing the appearance of noise. Unfortunately there is no clear answer to how to set the crispening level as it will depend on what you are shooting and how much noise you can tolerate. I tend to have crisping set between +10 and +30 for most things as I do tend to do a fair amount of grading work on my footage. When you grade noise is often the limiting factor as to how far you can push the image, so I like to keep noise under control as much as possible. For green screen and chroma key work I push crispening up to +40 to +60 as this helps me get a cleaner key, especially around subtle edges and hair.
If I am shooting exteriors and scenics with lots of foliage, grass etc then I will sometimes go down to -30 as this helps bring out the subtle textures in the leaves and plants, but this can make noise a little more pronounced, so it’s a trade off. And that’s what Crispening is all about, trading off subtle textures and detail against more visible noise. Ultimately only you can make the choice as to which is more important, but the Crispening level control gives you that choice.