The Fujifilm X100V has a new feature called Clarity. It actually first appeared on the X-Pro3, and it’s also on the new X-T4, but the X100V is the first camera that I’ve used with it. I’m always very happy whenever Fujifilm gives us new JPEG options, as it allows me to more accurately achieve the look that I’m after in-camera. I can create better film simulation recipes when I’m given more tools, and the X100V indeed has some new tools.
If you’ve ever done RAW processing, you’ve probably seen a Clarity tool within your software of choice. Maybe you use it all of the time, maybe you’ve never touched it. What exactly Clarity does with each software is slightly different, but the gist of it is that it increases mid-tone contrast, while (mostly) leaving the highlights and shadows untouched. This makes the image appear more contrasty while not blocking up shadows or blowing out highlights. Because Clarity often adds micro-contrast (contrast to fine lines), it can make an image appear to be sharper and more finely detailed than it actually is. Some software programs include sharpening within Clarity. Too much Clarity can often make a picture look unnatural and “over baked”.
I like the idea of having a Clarity option on my Fujifilm camera, but I was really unsure of how it would look. Is it actually a good tool? Does it produce pleasing results? Where should I set it on my camera?
In the manual Fujifilm states that Clarity increases or decreases “definition” while minimally altering highlights and shadows. The camera has the options of -5 to +5, with 0 being the default setting. Let’s take a look at some examples to see what exactly this new feature does to photographs.
You can see from the photographs above that there’s a noticeable difference between Clarity set at -5, 0 and +5. There’s a significant contrast difference between the three pictures. Even highlights and shadows are affected. The first picture looks “soft” while the third picture boarders being “over-baked” with too much definition. Let’s take a closer look at some crops, and add -2 and +2 while we’re at it.
When you look closely, you can appreciate using minus Clarity for softening skin. At -2 there’s a small difference, but by -5 there’s a big difference. The X100V has a new lens, and it’s sharper, especially when wide open. Some people (myself included) appreciated the softness of f/2 on the old X100 series lens for artistic effect, but the X100V is tack sharp across the board at all apertures. However, -5 Clarity will give a similar softness at any aperture as the old X100 lens does at f/2. Portrait photographers might especially appreciate selecting a minus Clarity option, and somewhere in the range of -2 to -5 seems to be nice.
On the other side, +5 Clarity is definitely too much for some circumstances, particularly portraits. Even +2 might be pushing it in this case, although the results are acceptable in my book. I find that minus Clarity is better when skin is involved, but you can use plus Clarity for more dramatic portraits, although I’d limit it to no higher than +3, unless you’re trying to accentuate something like wrinkled skin and a greying beard, in which case up to +5 might be acceptable. Outside of portraits, I like adding Clarity, and I find that +2 or +3 is a good range for me.
Here are some more examples:
The difference between -5 and +5 Clarity is pretty significant, but the in-between differences aren’t huge. It’s difficult to notice a plus or minus one difference. Going up or down two spots is a bit more obvious, although if you’re not closely comparing side-by-side examples you might not pick up on it. I think you’re perfectly fine selecting any of the Clarity options, but for portraits I’d consider using minus Clarity, unless you’re want a dramatic portrait look. For everything else adding a little Clarity helps the picture to pop more. I personally like Clarity set at +2.
Because Clarity adds contrast and does affect highlights and shadows, if you go higher than +3 Clarity, consider decreasing Highlight and Shadow by one to compensate. Also, if you go lower than -3 Clarity, consider increasing Highlight and Shadow by one to compensate. The X-T4 can do .5 Highlight and Shadow adjustments (please, Fujifilm, update the X100V to allow this, too), and that’s probably closer to what you need to compensate for the increased or decreased contrast due to selecting the far ends of Clarity. Just be aware that when you change the Clarity setting, you are changing the picture’s contrast.
Something that I need to point out is that when Clarity is set to anything other than 0, it takes the camera longer to save the file. Fujifilm actually recommends setting Clarity to 0 and adding it later by reprocessing the RAW files in-camera. If you need to shoot quickly, this might be a good option, but if you’re not in a hurry, I’d just set it to what you want it to be so that you don’t have to change it later. Yes, it does slow you down, but if you’re not in a hurry, it’s not a big deal.
In my opinion Fujifilm did a good job of implementing Clarity on the X100V. It’s a useful tool. Those who appreciated the softness of f/2 on the older models will appreciate using minus Clarity on the new model. Those who want to add just a little more punch to their pictures will like using plus Clarity. Each situation might benefit from a Clarity adjustment, and you’ll have to decide which setting is the best for the scene. Whether it’s adding or subtracting Clarity, this is a feature you’ll find me using often. Fujifilm’s inclusion of Clarity on the X100V is something that I’m extremely happy with.
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