As you advance in your post production training, you learn that programs such as Photoshop often provide more than one route to the same destination. However, even though more than one tool in the software can perform the same function; some are more powerful than others. This is true of the “Levels” and “Curves” adjustments layers found in Photoshop. A clearer understanding of each can help you decide when to use one or the other in your workflow. Unmesh Dinda from PiXimperfect is back with another insightful breakdown to enlighten you on this very topic.
Summary: Curves is a more powerful tool than Levels. In the same way that a scientific calculator can perform all the functions of a basic calculator and more; Curves can provide all adjustments that the Levels layer can and then some.
A Closer Look
The big difference is that while “Levels” give you simple and broad adjustments, a “Curves” adjustment layer allows for more precise edits. “Levels” is all you need if you want to expand the dynamic range in your image. However, if you want to focus on a particular area of your image, such as the highlights in the skin of your subject, “Curves” is better suited to that task. You can do this by selecting the hand tool to create your S-Curve in the layer.
This is a level of precision is not attainable through the less sophisticated “Levels” adjustment. On the other hands, your edits will impact the entire image if you only use the slider in your “Levels” adjustments.
Knowing distinctions such as these will only refine your post production skill and set your work apart from those who don’t take the time to invest in a nuanced understanding of their software.