Tag: processing (page 1 of 1)

DXO Deep Prime

Software powered by AI or machine learning appears to be the coming wave in image processing. Skylum – makers of Aurora and Luminar – Topaz Labs and Corel all emphasise the role of AI in their recent advertising and Adobe, with rather less fanfare, is developing and expanding its library of ‘neural filters’ for Photoshop.

My knowledge of how this technology works is close to zero but as far as my limited understanding goes what makes these apps different from ‘traditional’ approaches to processing is that they are ‘trained’ through analysis of vast numbers of images – Adobe claims their Super Resolution feature is trained on millions of images. (As an aside, this suggest to me that the only ‘intelligence’ at work here is the human intelligence of those creating this technology and that ‘machine learning’ is a much more apposite term.)

Many of the AI powered features highlighted in recent advertising appear to function like slightly more sophisticated versions of existing filters, or are designed to process images in ways that I have no interest in – creating flawless skin, replacing or reshaping eyes, or dropping in a completely new sky. Beyond the headline features, though, machine learning is creating some genuinely interesting and useful capabilities. I’ve already assessed one of these in two previous posts on Adobe’s Super Resolution, and a couple of days ago I downloaded a trial version of DXO’s Deep Prime, an AI powered denoising utility which is part of their PureRAW stand alone program. Here are my impressions.

First, I found a nice noisy photograph. The picture was taken in the evening by the B&O canal in Georgetown in Washington DC. While I intended to work from the original untouched RAW file I did eventually decide to boost the exposure because the original was very dark. The picture was taken with a Sony Rx100 at 1/6th of a second and f4 while stabilised on the handrail of the bridge I was standing on to get the shot. ISO was 3200. The image below is a JPEG exported from the Sony ARW file with no adjustments other than the boost to the exposure and Lightroom’s default colour noise and sharpening settings turned off. As you can see there is plenty of noise in the image. (For a closer look in each case right click on the image and ‘open image in new tab’.)

From the original Sony RAW file

Bringing the file (or multiple files) into DXO PureRAW is straightforward though you can’t do it directly from within Lightroom. Either open PureRAW and click on ‘add photos’ or right click directly on any photo in File Explorer and select ‘open with’ DXO PureRAW. The interface is extremely simple:

Once the photo is loaded click to select the photo/s to be processed, click on ‘process photos’ and choose some basic options from the dialogue box. There are two other denoising options available but I can’t think of any reason why you would choose them over Deep Prime. You can also choose to output the processed file as a JPEG rather than DNG, but again I don’t know why you would do that since the whole point of the feature is that you can denoise using DXO technology and still complete the rest of your processing in Lightroom. Choose your detination folder and click on ‘process’. On my laptop (6th gen. i7 2.6Ghz, 16GB RAM, GTX 960M GPU) processing took around 1 minute and 50 seconds and the original 20MB ARW file ended up as a near 72MB DNG file. (I believe the size increase is down to the output file being a linear DNG file, but needless to say I don’t understand what that means.) Once processing is complete you have an ‘export to…’ option which brings up a list of installed compatible editing software.

Make your choice, click on ‘export’ and DXO will launch Lightroom and take you to the import dialogue.

The key question of course is whether it is any good. My answer is a qualified ‘yes’, but I will let you judge for yourself. Below is a JPEG from the DNG created by Deep Prime after processing. I think the programme does an excellent job of removing noise, though it does introduce some softness. That said, I don’t think I could get close to this level of denoising with Lightroom, and certainly not without introducing considerably more softness in the image.

From DNG after processing in DXO Deep Prime

Fortunately, PureRAW has another trick up its sleeve which draws on DXO’s more conventional processing for lens correction. The programme downloads DXO lens correction modules and applies these to the image when processing. If you don’t have the appropriate lens module installed you will be asked if you want to download it when you add a new image. In my sample image, applying both the lens module and the denoising produces a largely noise free image which retains, or in this case exceeds, the sharpness of the original. The difference between the images with and without lens correction is clearly visible, particularly in the structure of the crane and the text on the banners attached to it. That said, further editing in Lightroom does require careful use of the sharpening, texture and clarity sliders after lens correction has been applied since I think the lens correction is something of an over-correction. (Again, right click and select ‘open image in new tab’ for a closer look.)

From DNG after processing in DXO Deep Prime with lens module corrections

So, why a qualified yes? Two reasons – one minor, one major. The minor one is cost. In the current offer period which runs until the end of May you can get DXO PureRAW for $89.99 / €89.99 / £79.99 but after that it reverts to the full price of $129 / €129 / £115. That’s quite expensive. For comparison, Topaz Labs standalone AI tools are mostly between $80-100 full price. Given that PureRAW is clearly aimed at the vast number of Lightroom users I suspect they could drop the price and sell many more licences than they will at the current price.

The major reason is that DXO PureRAW does not work with Fujifilm X-Trans sensors. It is possible to add a Fujifilm RAF X-Trans file and run the programme but the result is an image that looks like it was taken with a lens smeared with grease, as with the image below shot with a Fujifilm X-E2 at ISO 6400. Since processing this file – which is more than 50 percent bigger than the RX100 file – only takes around ten seconds I imagine it is just running it through some bog standard, default noise reduction process.

I have seen some reviews expressing a preference for more control over how the denoising is applied. I can understand why, but I’m happy to have something that doesn’t require yet more choices and decisions from me before I run it. If anything, I would prefer to have an option to dial back the impact of the lens correction which seems (in this module for the Sony RX100) to be a little aggressive.

From the original Fujifilm RAF file
From DNG after processing in DXO Deep Prime

If you don’t use Fujifilm cameras with X-Trans sensors, or if you have a lot of images shot on older less capable sensors, then DXO PureRAW might be worth it for you, despite the price. For people like me, who mostly shoot Fujifilm X-Trans, the calculation is different. Do I have enough noisy images from older non-Fuji sensors I want to clean up? Do I shoot enough with non-Fujifilm cameras? I like the program but I’m not quite convinced I need it.

Finally, here is the first image after processing in Deep Prime and some further processing in Lightroom.

Adobe Super Resolution And Film

Given how well Adobe’s Super Resolution feature worked on digital images I was curious if it would deliver the same results on scanned film negatives, so I tried it with two photos – one shot on Ilford Delta 100 and another on Ilford HP5+. While I normally scan my own images I used scans done by the local store where I get my film developed. I believe they use Noritsu scanners.

Below are the original and enhanced images from the scanned TIFF of the Delta 100 negative. The original is 3999 x 2666, while the enhanced is 7998 x 5332. As with previously enhanced images I think the outcome is excellent and the larger jpeg is essentially indistinguishable from the original. In particular I don’t see any negative impact from the detail enhancer on the grain.

Original 3999 x 2666
Enhanced 9828 x 6552

The next shot is with the grainier Ilford HP5+, but despite the grain I got the same excellent outcome. The original scan is 4917 x 3276, while the enhanced image is 9828 x 6552. As well as being able to print bigger an additional benefit specific to film scans is that instead of trying to stretch my scanner to the limit on resolution, I can now scan at a slightly lower resolution and then upres using Super Resolution. As with previous posts you can download the images and make your own comparison. Right click on the image and select ‘open file in new tab’ to get around WordPress’s image scaling.

Original – 4914 x 3276
Enhanced – 9828 x 6552

Adobe Super Resolution

Exceptional. I think that’s the only word I can use for Adobe’s new Super Resolution feature. I tried it this evening with an old favourite from my 10MP LX3 which, when cropped to taste gives me an 8.1MP image.

I chose this image to see how well Super Resolution worked and the results are spectacular. I won’t bother with crops and comparisons. Instead look at the two images below – the first is a JPEG from the original RAW file as edited in Lightroom. For the second I saved the edited file as a DNG, opened it in Bridge and applied Super Resolution via ACR. (This slightly convoluted route is necessary since Super Resolution is currently only available in ACR but will be coming to Lightroom eventually.) The end result is a file that is twice the pixel length and height, and four times the overall area, coming in at 32.3MP.

Original – 3479 x 2319
Enhanced – 6959 x 4639

I’ve compared the two closely in Lightroom and I can see no reduction in quality in the enlarged file. The file I chose has been heavily edited and I suspect this feature might work better still when applied to the initial unedited RAW file. When it does finally arrive on Lightroom it should be possible to apply it to the RAW file then paste existing adjustments from the history panel onto the new, higher resolution file.

The two versions of the image above are full size so feel free to download and compare directly for yourself. (To get round WordPress’s irritating practice of scaling large files, right click and choose ‘open link in new tab’ to get the original full size image.)

I have many, many images taken on 10MP sensors, generally good enough for a 12″ x 8″ print, and plenty of images cropped to that size or smaller. This feature means I can now print my smaller and cropped images at much bigger sizes without any loss in quality. It also means the 24MP sensor in my X-T2 is effectively an 96MP sensor!

So, here is an image from my 24MP X-T2, slightly cropped to 22.4MP. The end result after applying Super Resolution is an image that is 88.4MP with 11,585 pixels on the long edge, meaning I could comfortably produce a three feet wide high quality print.

Original – 5791 x 3861
Enhanced – 11583 x 7722

Note also that this is a Fuji X-Trans file. Adobe applied their machine learning technique to produce a version for Bayer sensors and then did it all over again to produce a version for the relatively few of us using Fuji X-Trans sensors. As a Fuji user having learned to live with occasional frustrations with software that doesn’t always play nice with Fuji’s unique sensor technology I hugely appreciate Adobe’s commitment from the off to make this available to Fuji users.

Again, to get round WordPress’s image scaling, right click and select ‘open link in new tab’ in the pictures above to see the full size image.

My first digital camera was a Canon A520 with a small 4MP sensor. At that time I was using my photographs to illustrate my blog from Albania, Our Man in Tirana. This was back in 2005 – 2007 when the internet was not quite as zippy as it is these days and I generally resized my already small files to 800px or 1000px after editing them in Picasa, then deleted the originals. Some of these pictures are not bad but I have done very little with them, since at 800px they are not much use for anything.

So I tried Super Resolution on a few of these old jpegs and was pleasantly surprised. Here are a couple of images enhanced to 1800px for the first and 2048px for the second. They are not great but that is more a reflection of the limitations of my sensor back then and these compare very well to my ‘originals’. At 1800px I can at least display these at a reasonable size online and could even get a 6″ or 7″ print out of them. I have around 1,700 images from that old camera and I’m looking forward to reviving a few of them.

This image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is IMG_4730-Enhanced_1.jpg
Enhanced 1800 x 1440
This image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is IMG_4731-Enhanced_1-3.jpg
Enhanced 2048 x 1566

My initial impression is that this looks like a genuinely revolutionary step up in processing capabilities. The only down side is that on older, slower computers this may not work so well since it does use a lot of computing power. My laptop was state of the art five or six years ago when I got it and has a good i7 processor, 16GB of RAM and a separate graphics card, all of which help. That said, despite a message telling me processing of these images might take five minutes even the biggest of them from the X-T2 0nly took 45 seconds.

You can read more about the Super Resolution feature on the Adobe blog.

Then and Now

As a photographer, what do I do now that I did not do when I was starting out? Or, to put it the other way round, what do I no longer do that I once did? Here are seven things off the top of my head accompanied by some random photographs that have no direct relation to the words but which happen to appeal to me today.

I don’t chimp. Partly, this is because as I get older and my reading vision declines I find it harder to see anything on those tiny screens, partly because I have more confidence in my ability to shape the picture the way I want, and partly because I have more confidence in the combination of my judgement and the camera’s technology to deliver a well exposed image. Mostly it’s because while I’m looking at my little screen the world is happening and I’m not paying attention and that’s how to miss great pictures. There’s time enough for chimping on the big screen once I get home.

I don’t look for approval. While I have never been overly obsessed with this, there was a time when I posted on social media and photo sharing sites hoping that people might see my pictures and say nice things about them or at least click a button to indicate their approval. Then I deleted everything, closed the photo sharing accounts and got off social media. Now I post my pictures on my blog and on one forum I’ve been posting to on and off for about ten years. This is because…

I don’t worry. If I like a picture it’s a good picture. If the rest of the world thinks it’s rubbish, the rest of the world is wrong! Of course affirmation is nice but maturing as a photographer means maturing in your ability to judge the worth of your own images. If the worth of your images is determined by the opinions of Facebook or Flickr users you will never develop the capacity to judge your own work. If the worth of your images is determined by technical considerations you are prioritizing what is secondary.

I’ve stopped looking for the ‘Lightroom killer’. Like many Lightroom users I have, from time to time, considered alternatives that might more perfectly meet my needs. I have discovered that many so called ‘Lightroom killers’ are laughably inadequate by comparison. Only Capture 1 is in the same league. Instead of looking for the perfect software, I’ve spent my time getting to grips with the full potential of Lightroom. One of the key things I have learned in the process (photography pun intended) is how to use that great potential with subtlety. Not every image needs to be bludgeoned to sterile perfection.

I’ve abandoned processing gimmicks. No HDR, no selective colour, no AI skies or photo-shopped moons. When I process now my goal is to end up with something that looks like what I saw, or imagined I saw. To paraphrase Dieter Rams, ‘good processing is as little processing as possible’.

I keep my gear small and simple. Thankfully I’ve never been overly afflicted with Gear Acquisition Syndrome, though in the past that didn’t stop me looking. Now, I don’t even look. I have a Fujifilm X-T2, a camera from 2016 which in digital years in practically vintage. I have two lenses for it – an 18-55mm zoom that came with my previous Fuji and a 35mm. The less I have, and the less I switch cameras and brands, the better I know my camera and lenses, the more familiar they become, the more they ‘disappear’ into the background and allow me to focus on the one thing that matters.

I print. Even the biggest, brightest, most hi-tech display on the planet can’t equal the pleasure of a print. This is partly because I have yet to see a display that matches the complexity and subtlety – that word again – of a good print, but mostly because the best display in the world can’t match the tactile joy of a print in your hands.

I’m sure there are many more but those are the ones that I’m conscious of and that come to mind when I try to think about the ways my approach to photography has changed.

Lightroom Classic

I’ve been using Lightroom since version 2 which I picked up back in 2009 I think. Lightroom – now Lightroom Classic – is currently on version 10.1. Along the way I’ve had my gripes and complaints. In the early days it was mostly to do with missing features. With more recent versions the big issue is speed – or the lack of it. I also did my share of complaining when Lightroom finally went all in with the subscription model, though I do find the intensity of the hostility that this move generated a little excessive. From time to time I have also experimented with Lightroom alternatives, but every time I come back to Lightroom.

Partly this is down to familiarity. I’ve been using Lightroom for more than a decade now. It’s second nature to me. The Lightroom alternatives, try as they might to replicate Lightroom visually, all have a steep learning curve to use to their full potential. I’m not sure I have the time or energy to for that.

Mostly, though, its down to the simple fact that there is only one viable Lightroom alternative. Over the years I’ve seen no end of articles purporting to introduce the next ‘Lightroom killer’. I’ve tried most of them and while the best are very good they still have some way to go until they can match Lightroom while others aren’t even close. The only genuine alternative in my view is Capture One.

I have downloaded the thirty day trial for almost every version of Capture One over the years and always been impressed but Capture One precisely because it is so capable has the steepest learning curve of all when transitioning (even though with more recent versions Phase One has tried to make the transition easier.) That it was also quite expensive also put me off. Last year, though, I got an email from Phase One offering the full version of Capture One Pro for $90 per year on subscription. Normally Capture One is $20 per month or $300 for a perpetual licence so I signed up on the basis that I could use it for a full year then decide if I wanted to keep it. Better yet, a closer reading of the offer revealed that the $90 price was not just for one year but also applied to annual renewal. I was a little sceptical but this year my subscription did indeed renew for $90. I have no idea how long this will last since I assume at some point Phase One will raise the standard price, but at least it means I can run Capture One alongside Lightroom without feeling I’m wasting money.

Despite slowly learning the ways of Capture One and appreciating some of its superb capabilities Lightroom remains my default choice and I don’t foresee that changing. Only if the price of either Lightroom or Capture One were to jump would I consider choosing between the two. Even then I would probably stick with Lightroom. For all the gripes it remains very reasonably priced at $120 per year bearing in mind that also include Photoshop and a handful of other Adobe products like Portfolio and Spark. Lightroom’s latest release has brought yet more capability to local adjustments with the option for localised hue adjustment. Used together with the colour range mask it is now possible to fine tune the hue of a specific colour in a localised selection. No other application I know of offers that degree of detailed control.

So what about the Fuji ‘worms’? If you are not a Fujifilm user you will probably never have heard of this. Even if you are a Fujifilm user you may not have heard of this. Without going into detail some uses have an issue with how Lightroom renders RAW files from Fuji’s X-Trans sensor. I’m on of those Fujifilm users who has never seen this as an issue, which I think is the case for the great majority of users. If you are interested just take a deep breath and search for ‘Fujifilm worms’.