Digital Anarchy Samurai Sharpen for Video review

Video footage is often a little soft and sharpening details can make a world of difference. I tested Samurai Sharpen for Final Cut Pro X. This Digital Anarchy plug-in allows you to use parameters that let you easily isolate specific areas of the footage and only sharpen those areas. It’s precise and simple and also available for After Effects, Avid Media Composer and Premiere Pro.

Sharpening video in Final Cut Pro X isn’t hard. There’s a sharpen filter listed in the default Blur category of plug-ins, but that one is very much a take-it-or-leave-it affair. Applying the Final Cut Pro X built-in sharpen filter often results in over-sharpened edges with ugly halos.

You can’t sharpen only significant features in your video clip with Final Cut Pro X’s built-in sharpen filter. Samurai Sharpen, on the other hand, is an edge-aware sharpening filter. This means it’s able to enhance important details like eyes, while not affecting areas like skin, which you don’t want sharpened. I tested Samurai Sharpen for Video after having gone through their excellent tutorial movies (Youtube).

Samurai Sharpen for Video
Large screenshot of Digital Anarchy’s Samurai Sharpen for Video with ON/OFF views.

The first thing you’ll want to do is crank up the amount and play with the radius to get an initial sharpening of the areas you want the plug-in to affect. This first step works in much the same way as any other sharpening filter, including the ones you find in image editing software.

Once you’re happy with the initial result — looking only at the areas you want to sharpen, you can start dealing with the details. To handle the sharpening amount and effect on those areas you really want to keep smooth, Samurai Sharpen has several lines of defence. The first and probably most important of these are the shadow and highlight masks. These are entirely slider-operated in Final Cut Pro X so they’re dead-easy to use.

By turning on the mask and sharpening previews, you can quickly dial back sharpening in those areas that you want to protect from the effect. This also allows you to protect noisy areas, which is very important as sharpening noise usually results in even uglier noise. The masks prevent the noise from becoming crispier and therefore more outspoken. In the bright areas, the masks prevent highlights from getting blown out.

With the Blend effects inside the plug-in you can lighten shadow areas and darken bright areas that still show a halo. This effectively blends the two sides of an edge together more. Blending does sacrifice some of the sharpening, but it prevents the edges from looking unnatural. Blend parameters also prevent over-sharpening of objects that were sharp in the first place. With the Blend sliders you can fine-tune these areas.

Finally, you can also use a layer mask you have prepared in another application as a mask for Samurai Sharpen. This would allow you to for example track a moving area you don’t want to sharpen as much as the rest of the objects in the frame, turn it into a mask and drag it into the Samurai Sharpen mask well. This mask can be inverted too.

Samurai Sharpen for Video costs about €93 ($99).