Photo Acute Studio

Update:

On my first review of Photo Acute Studio I was not convinced of the Super Resolution processing. I downloaded and installed a new version (2.83) today. I wanted to use it to align 4 high ISO images (ISO 400 with the Rebel XSi) so I could stack the images and perform a noise reduction.

The good news is that the software now supports more cameras, including the Camera-Lens combination I used for these images. Unfortunately only 4 lenses are supported for the Canon 450D, but I am hoping more will come soon.

I ran another superresolution test, and this time the results are quite good. In the image below, you can see the original image (left) and the superresolution image generated from 4 hand-held images. The superresolution image clearly shows more detail and smother lines. Both images are enlarged beyond 100% resolution.
Superresolutin Processing

This corresponds to approximately 48 Megapixels from the Rebel XSi. If we shoot images from a tripod, we can minimze the cutting area and thus get slightly larger images.


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SceneThe crime scene is not even cold when our hero rushes the surveillance tapes to the lab where a computer geek takes the blurry images and renders a crisp image of the suspect. We are all familiar with similar scenes from TV. The process of Super-Resolution makes it possible to create detail where there was none.  Software uses small changes in each successive image of the video stream to calculate an image with much higher resolution.

Now, the same techniques are available for photographers as well.

Photo Acute Studio is the first commercially available solution for photographers offering Super-Resolution processing. The software is an image stacker that takes several images of the same scene to increase resolution, reduce noise, enhance dynamic range, increase depth of field, or remove moving subjects.

The software comes in three flavors; Portable, Standard and Professional with prices of $19, $49 and $119 respectively. The versions differ in the supported camera and lens profiles. DSLR users need to buy the Professional version while everybody else can get the Standard version.

1. Super Resolution

Its claim to fame is without doubt Super Resolution. I am always exploring ways to boost the maximum print size and increase detail of my upsized pictures. Super Resolution is one way to increase detail. Images are easier to capture than those for panoramas are and the process is easier to control.

Super Resolution processing only works on cameras with supported camera/lens combination profiles.
I took my test images with a Canon 20D (supported) and a Tokina 12-24mm ultra wide lens (not supported) at the 24mm end (good). I manually selected Canon 20D and Canon EF-S 18-55 lens to do my tests. This may not be the ideal combination to test the full strength of the software. During the next weeks, I will update this with images from a fully supported combination.

Results

I have never been good at pixel peeping. Alain Briot used to say, the proof is in the pudding, or in our case the print. Looking at the preview window of Photo Acute, I can see a difference between the original RAW file of the Canon 20D (left) and the processed file consisting of 6 identical (handheld) RAW files (right):

Super Resolution Results 1

The jaggies in the middle of the rock are gone on the right side.

If I blow the original RAW file up to 17.5 Megapixels with ACR 4.4 and compare it to the DNG file generated by Photo Acute at the exact same resolution, I do not see much difference (the Photo Acute version is on the right).
 

Super Resolution Comparison 2

Both pictures received the same amount of sharpening in Photoshop. 17.5 Megapixels is more then twice the original resolution (hence the smooth appearance).

Conclusion

Super Resolution works, maybe, even for still photography. Unfortunately, profiles for the exact camera / lens combination need to be available for best results. I think the creators of Photo Acute Studio could do a better job constructing profiles to support a larger variety of Camera / Lens profiles (like my shiny new Rebel XSi or my Tokina ultra wide lens). I am certain that they could get the support of the photography community to supply them with an endless stream of test images. I certainly would not mind if it means getting all my equipment supported. I also think their website could use a forum. I often find it more effective for users to help other users and it would be a great way to leverage the community to gain access to test images.

Since I performed my tests with an unsupported Camera / Lens combination I will recreate the test and check again. As neither my Tokina 12-24mm nor my Canon 24-85 USM are supported, I am pretty much left with the 70-200 f/4 L or the kit lens.

2. Focus Stacking

Despite the cumbersome and expensive use of the Scheimpflug principle (T&S Lenses, View Camera), focus stacking is the only way around limits to Depth of Field (Diffraction). By combining photographs of the same scene but with different focal distances, I can create a virtually infinite depth of field.
I ran two test cases and compared the results to combineZm.

Depth of Field Expansion - Focus Stacking

Photo Acute performs very well for static images (left) but has some trouble with movement (the branches and leaves of the tree in the wind).

Below are 100% crops of one image.

Original Problem AreacombineZm Problem Area

The left image is a crop from a single input image. The leaves moved in the wind and both combineZm and Photo Acute “created” new leaves. I should expect this, since software cannot know the difference between the background sky and an unsharp image. It would be nice to mask areas with movement and tell the software to use only one image as the source for the combined output image.

Photo Acute Problem 1Photo Acute Problem 2

Photo Acute also crates new leaves. The image on the right looks much better. I selected the Tripod option during processing, telling Photo Acute that the camera did not move during the sequence.

The advantage of Photo Acute Studio over combineZm is the correction for camera movement, which makes it much easier to capture images with different focal points.

3 Noise Reduction

Noise Reduction

Most image stacking tools are fairly good at reducing noise. Photo Acute Studio is no exception. I took a series of 6 handheld photographs with my 20D at ISO 3200 (H) and ran them through Photo Acute Studio. The result is seen on the right part of the image.

Conclusion

Photo Acute Studio is the only tool available for Super Resolution processing. It offers many other features as well and it performs well in most disciplines. If you are looking for software to enhance your images and to fix common problems (dynamic range, depth of field, distortion), Photo Acute Studio is an excellent deal for the money. It is easy to use and the results are well worth the $119.

I consider focus stacking and noise reduction excellent freebies. Combining all of it under one GUI is very convenient and saves time but the freeware program combineZm can do the same. The real advantage of Photo Acute is its way of automatically aligning the images correctly, thus enabling you to stack exposures that were shot hand held. Other tools cannot compete as easily.

HDR is also a good feature to have, especially in combination with Super Resolution. Typically, I would shoot two exposure-bracketed photographs of a scene. This gives me enough pictures to perform Super Resolution processing while at the same time boosting dynamic range. Although the software works as a stand-alone HDR processor, I prefer the level of control Photomatix gives me to do just HDR.

Photo Acute can also fix image distortion, which is yet another cool feature. Since I am still using an old PTLens plugin that I downloaded ages ago, I do not have much use for this feature. Today PTLens is not free anymore and Photo Acute seems to do a good enough job on it.

The real power of the software comes from the combination of all of the above. You can simply take a series of exposures without the need for a tripod. Then you can combine them, thereby (maybe) increasing resolution while reducing noise and increasing dynamic range all at the same time. Or you can conveniently focus throughout the scene without having to worry about moving your camera too much, which is a real challenge for other focus stacking tools.

I saved the real killer feature for last. Removing moving subjects is yet another trick that this tool can do. Three years ago, I stood at the top of Machu Picchu, with the fabled Inca city at my feet. Hordes of tourists crawling all over the ruins spoiled my photo fun somewhat when I had an idea. I put my camera on a tripod and took a series of photographs spread out over several minutes. I intended to stack them in Photoshop removing people by selectively covering layers. Until today, I still have not done this, since I just do not have the time. When Adobe announced such a tool in their Photoshop CS3 line I was very excited, but then I found out that their image stacker costs me an upgrade to CS3 Extended ($350 more than CS3), which I did not consider a good investment.

Now, Photo Acute offers exactly the feature I have been looking for during the past 3 years as part of their Studio Package. Imagine yourself taking photographs in a busy park in New York City. Taking one shot after another you can then make everyone disappear and bedazzle viewers with an empty park in the busiest city on earth.

You can download a fully functional trial version. It will add watermarks to your images but has all the bells and whistles of the full version for functional evaluation: Photo Acute Studio Download

I really enjoyed working with the software and I will most likely have a few more articles about it as I find out new things.

 

Learn more about High Resolution Images

I like it...

But not necessarily in love with it. Main reason is and Im sure no software does this flawlessly but I do alot of Architectural/landscape shots which often include clouds. I love clouds! Clouds move. This has been so evident in the processing with Photoacute its sort of frustrating. The blur even on a small scale takes away from the "feel". I like HDR but I like the realistic looks not the artsy approach. Photoacute provides this but the clouds in many of my shots look cartoony. Plus my camera isn't supported so I can't benefit from the super reso.

"You can simply take a series of exposures without the need for a tripod. Then you can combine them, thereby (maybe) increasing resolution while reducing noise and increasing dynamic range all at the same time."

Is why I do like her, just hate to think I will have to start removing clouds to benefit from the increased resolution that I have not found comparable in other software I've used.

Post processing

Thanks for the feedback Chris.
Every process has its limits, but if you have a clearly defined horzion, you could just overlay the pictures in photoshop and draw a gradient mask. Usually it takes just one photograph to have a correct exposed sky and another to have a correct exposed landscape. Instead of HDR processing, try to overlay them (digital graded neutral density filter). You can even draw a more sophisticated ND gradient map to suit a different shape horizon.
This technique doesn't work well with foliage.

Will take hold of your

Will take hold of your advice, as I do have Photoshop Elements (your advice will work under that format right? sure). Recently transitioned into the Photoshop family as I tend to shoot RAW and have been happy with the work flow of Silkypix. Purchased Elements to take advantage of the tone-mapping to take my work further into HDR without the cartoony look (Silky doesn't do it for me or maybe I haven't crossed that learning curve progression).

I will try what you have offered. Still I am drawn to Photocute. Don't ask why I have no answer. I have gotten some wonderful results and equally not so fascinating. I agree ("It is easy to use and the results are well worth the $119") though when Photoacute is "on" it's "on". Maybe that's the addiction. Banking/Gambling for that wonderful result?

Nonetheless, I will continue to watch Photoacute progression. Thanks again.

Photoacute workflow

other than photoacute, do you use a regular image edit program to compliment and finish up an image?
what are the required finishing touch up steps, before as well as after image completion?

Photoshop

I use Photoshop for RAW conversion and editing. Sometimes I use Silkypix Pro for RAW conversion. I use Photomatix and HDR Photostudio for HDR photos and Irfanview for quick and dirty web optimization and as my viewer.

on a 12mp file, what might

on a 12mp file, what might be max. mp super resolution is capable upwards? (around 50mp?) what's the main technique behind super resolution? various different iso settings (or pics) with a tripod on a static scene?
are there recommended focal lengths or particular lenses that work best? is super res unique to this software or can also be mimic in photoshop?

Superresolution

I believe it was in the order of 40MP for a 12MP file, but I need to investigate again.
I am not an expert on the technique, but I believe that the software can recognize the little differences between images and use those to calculate detail. This means you do not want to put your camera on a tripod but shoot handheld. Each photograph will be slightly different so that the pixels do not exactly overlap. Thus each picture contributes a little bit more information.
The technique comes from video surveillance, where subject movement can be used to enhance the resolution.
I do not believe that you can create this in Photoshop yourself, but maybe someone will come up with a plugin. However I believe that the math is fairly complex, which is why PhotoAcute Studio is the only software I know of that can do this. You can download a trial version and test it yourself.
Superresolution only works when your camera/lens combination is supported, which means they already did a lot of work profiling the equipment used.

so in getting an average

so in getting an average 40mp file from this super resolution technique, how do you best go about overlapping an image shooting handheld? does panoraoma technique somehow fit in?

I assume thy are performing

I assume thy are performing some sort of feature difference minimization. Basically looking when the difference between the two images is minimal.

When taking various

When taking various overlapping pics, should you move the camera off angle, from top, bottom, left, right?
(this way you can image stack a scene) Or continuous shots in one handheld position?

If you wanted to stitch a scene, then 3-7 shots on one frame shot, then repeat again on a different frame?

Batch mode

They have released version 3 with batch mode!
http://photoacute.com/studio/download.html

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I bought the software on a recommendation from a friend but so far I haven't had any success with it. Couple that with the total lack of support and I don't think this stuff is worth the price.

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Photo Acute Studio is the only tool available for Super Resolution processing. It offers many other features as well and it performs well in most disciplines. If you are looking for software to enhance your images and to fix common problems Photo Acute Studio is an excellent deal for the money. Nice information, photographers should use this software for better photos.
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