Note: due to the nature of this post (comparing large files) it may load slow. Go get a coffee or something after reading this; it’ll give the images a chance to load (unless you have a fast internet; in that case, read on).
A few days ago I received an e-mail from Topaz announcing their newest stand-alone program, Topaz A. I. Gigapixels.
I’m normally receptive to anything Topaz offers because I like their free upgrade policy and I find a lot of what they offer useful and therefore, I want to support the company.
But . . . $99? For one program? A program that does only one thing? I mean, all it does is enlarge photos.
I almost blew the e-mail away but then curiosity — and trust in the company — got the better of me. So, I downloaded the free trial. And, I used it. And I had to write about it.
A little background . . . back in the day before all the wonderful technology we have today, before I even moved to digital, I occasionally scanned photos both to preserve them and to facilitate sharing them. Remember, this was in the infancy of the Internet and at a time when file sizes mattered both because space was limited and because the speed of modem was so pitiful that if I even tried explaining it to you, you’d never believe me.
. . . unless you lived through it . . .
Scanners too were not as sophisticated as today’s offerings and they too were . . . sloooww.
Anyway, if I scanned something like these next shots, that’s about the maximum size I would do . . .
The problem with those is that if you want to print them larger than their size (those are actual size) you’d be out of luck. Those were scanned from actual photos . . . 4×6 photos (the second was subsequently cropped).
Honest, people used to send in their film to a lab and wait a week or so to get back paper copies of their photos.
If interested, you can read all about scanning photos for high-quality output. By the way, the site I’m about to link has a lot of information . . . information photographers who are not yet at their peak expertise might want to read.
THIS link is the main page and you might find it interesting to peruse the topics.
THIS link pertains to scanning, enlarging, printing, and all sorts of information (just click on “NEXT” at the bottom of the page to go through all the information).
Anyway, back to the above photos . . . once I scanned the photos, I was interested in printing them in a larger format (this again was at a time when printers were limited . . . and enlarging photos through a lab ran a pretty penny).
As a reference, those photos were scanned during October of 2000. About the only software program I could then find that claimed to enlarge photos (and keep them from looking like crap) was from Genuine Fractals. Genuine Fractals was eventually purchased by onOne (now ON1) and rebranded Perfect Resize. Currently, the ON12018.5 RAW continues to offer the resizing algorithm (improved since the early days) as part of their software package.
Note: all of the photos below are clickable to get the full resolution photo. After you click, click again to zoom in and out. There’s also a gallery at the end with the option to see photos at full resolution.
Before I continue, let me say that while pretty good, those programs never quite fulfilled my expectations when it came to enlarging photos for the purpose of making large prints. Instead, digital came along and camera resolution increased to the point that today it’s almost ridiculous (unless you are a professional and measure your success by the size of your prints).
Here, then, is the 400% enlargements of the first photo using ON1’s enlarge function (4.7MB file).
It’s not bad.
But, if you click on it and then click again to zoom in at 100% you see it retains a lot of the noise of the original and even using their noise-reduction functions, it doesn’t improve much. I used Nik Tools Define to clean it up a bit more but this is as best as I could do without removing details and textures. By that, I mean that most noise reduction programs are limited because aggressive noise reduction gets rid of details and makes the photo look like it’s been sitting in a pan of water.
Here is the one-click result from A.I. Gigapixel without enhancements . . .
I mention enhancement because as good as it looks if you click on it and click again to zoom in at the pixel level you can see anomalies in the texture and grain of the image.
But, there’s a box you can check to automatically “fix quality and remove noise” . . . here’s what that does . . .
That. Is. Impressive.
Zoom in on the leaves on the trees, the bricks, the leaves on the ground.
Here is the other file:
Note, I should post process that file before enlarging it as it’s too bright but . . . let tell you, I’m impressed. I have tried enlarging many photos — usually after cropping — and I’ve never seen this good a result.
Here are a few additional before and after . . .
That’s my 1994 Suburban.
I should mention the end result is dependent on the quality of the original. For instance, one of the options when developing film was to have a non-glossy finish that had a texture resistant to fingerprints . . . but that texture scanned poorly.
It looks fine but if you click on it, you can see the scan picked up the texture. The 400% enlargement looks no better and is, in fact, much worse. I didn’t put the photo in here because it’s 27MB but if you want to see it, click HERE. I mean, it did a great job at enlarging the patterns and texture and if printed so as to be viewed from a distance, I presume it would look OK.
This is a scan from a regular photo . . .
Here are a few more examples I was impressed with . . .
I’ll put the rest in the gallery below. Remember, when viewing the gallery, you have the choice to view the original size (lower right corner) and then click to zoom in and out.
So what are my thoughts on this offering?
Tough call . . . here are the things I like and how I might use it:
- old photos I had scanned and that I want to enlarge
- newer photos at lower resolutions I might want to enlarge (my D100 photos)
- any photo I consider for printing (if and when I’ll have a printer again) in large format
- cropping current photos and enlarging for impact.
For instance, that’s a crop of a D100 photo and it’s about as large as I can present it before the quality of the image begins to degrade.
Here is a crop of the above . . .
Here are a few different enlargements I made after cropping the original really tight. Because I enlarged the RAW file, I did some light post-processing after enlarging it 400%. The second one could use a bit more processing and I need to play with the tool to see if it’s better to post-process before or after the enlargement.
Here are what I see as the negatives (or, at least cautionary) with this program:
- First, the price . . . it might be tough to justify unless you plan on using it often
- Second, it outputs at 75dpi – this doesn’t matter on monitors and phones but it limits how large a print you can make (your eyes top out at 240dpi as far as resolving actual ink drops). You can work around this by using other programs but it would be nice if it was included in the program. It also means you need to enlarge more than if it would retain the original 300dpi.
- Third, hardware requirements . . . they are quite hefty (HERE). I fall between “minimum” and “recommended” for my current set-up and my graphics card is not supported. It works and it’s acceptable as far as performance but Topaz doesn’t guarantee results for my hardware. That means if I have technical difficulties, they won’t offer support. Side note, my hardware is about six years old.
- Fourth . . . it won’t work miracles. I mean it’s very good, but if you expect small intricate details that are not well defined in the original to all of a sudden appear larger than life . . . well, they won’t. It can interpolate and generate data to fill in stuff but it cannot generate data out of nothing. If you can’t see a particular detail in the original, all that happens is that you can’t see the detail in the enlargement; only, it’s be easier to not see it. Remember, it just magnifies what’s already there.
Anyway, I’m still thinking about whether I really need it (want it). Realistically, it’s geared toward specialized applications but if you ever wanted to print something in the order of 3-foot-by-4-foot print (or larger) without resorting to using a large-format camera, this would do the trick.
Here’s the gallery of the above photos. To see the photos in their original size chose that option on the lower right. After you click on full-size, a new tab opens up with the photo and the cursor will be in the shape of a “+” sign inside a circle. Click to zoom in and out of any portion of the image.
That’s it. This post has ended . . . except for the stuff below.
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