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