I’m always on the lookout for photography tools that are easy-to-use and help me turn good photos into great ones.
Nik Software’s Sharpener Pro 3 ($199.95), a plug-in for Aperture, Lightroom and Photoshop, does just that, which is probably why I find myself utilizing it pretty much any time I do a photo shoot.
With two sharpening modes, RAW and Output, NSP3 is built to handle all your photo sharpening needs. If you’d like to handle all your image sharpening from start to finish with NSP3, you can turn off your camera’s sharpening features and use NSP3’s RAW mode. Or, if you’re like me and your camera generally does a good job at handling sharpening tasks, NSP3’s Output mode works wonderfully to enhance photos that have already been pre-sharpened by a camera.
Regardless of which mode is used, NSP3 provides ample photo-sharpening control. It’s easy to sharpen your overall photo, set control points (which let you sharpen circular areas at sizes you specify), or for even more granular control, use a Photoshop brush to paint sharpening settings onto your photo. I often use the control points and brush when I’m trying to highlight unique features, like a person’s eyes or face -they’re extremely useful.
NSP3 also provides several kinds of sharpening effects. You can use these effects alone, or for more dramatic results, in tandem. The Output Sharpening Strength works like an opacity control, allowing more or less “sharpening” effect to show through depending on how you set it.
The Local Contrast control adjusts contrast throughout your entire image, and the Focus control sets the amount of adaptive sharpening applied (basically Nik’s sharpening algorithm at work). But the Structure control, which controls details and textures, is by far my favorite as it always delivers the most pleasing results. Depending on the look I’m going for, I generally play with all the sliders until I find a combination that looks good, and then I save it as a preset so I can apply those changes to future images.
But sharpening control and effects aside, I think what most endears me to NSP3 is the quality of the sharpening it provides. I’m not sure what kind of magical algorithm lies under the hood of this software, but I find NSP3 consistently brings even my drab photos to life — textures become richer, facial characteristics become more saturated with detail, scenery becomes more colorful and defined.
I am continually delighted with the vibrance NSP3 brings out in my photos.
In a world where many photo utility plug-ins don’t work as promised, or create effects that no one would actually want to use, NSP3 is a wonderful standout. Its usefulness abounds, and with all the time it saves, I think it’s a worthwhile addition to any photographer’s workflow.