Super Resolution At Last!

For many years, movies and TV have put forth the absurd idea that computer geeks working for the good guys can click a button to enhance a digital image or video and reveal crucial details that nail the bad guy. It’s a linchpin of unbelievable fiction, and it’s always been too good to be true. Until now.

In a recent update to Camera Raw and Lightroom, Adobe shifted the paradigm in digital imaging by introducing a feature that makes it possible to turn small fuzzy images into big clear ones. That feature is Super Resolution, and it represents a huge step forward in enhancing digital image files.

Found in the Enhance menu of Adobe Camera Raw and Lightroom’s Photo menu, Super Resolution provides a one-click solution to quadruple the number of pixels in an image to reveal details that may have appeared fuzzy in the original capture. This astonishing feat is accomplished via machine learning, and it enables photographers to turn little 12-megapixel image files into big 48-megapixel ones.

Super Resolution works best on RAW image files, though it can technically be applied to TIFFs and JPEGs as well. (The risk with the latter being amplification of JPEG artifacts.) By starting with the cleanest image possible, Super Resolution’s machine learning algorithm identifies the fine details that may not have been clearly rendered in the original image file.

The tool is ideal for upsizing images intended for larger printing than their original file size may allow or to provide for greater cropping capabilities when a small section of an image file needs to be singled out. This is especially useful for sports and wildlife photographers, for instance, who can’t get as close as they might like to their subjects—or in situations when telephoto lenses aren’t quite long enough to fill the frame with the subject’s important details. In these cases, Super Resolution can fill in those details in post-processing.

Putting Super Resolution to practice from Adobe Camera Raw is as easy as opening the image and then right-clicking it and choosing Enhance from the context menu that pops up. This opens the Enhance window, which provides a checkbox for Raw Details (which are automatically applied with Super Resolution) and one for Super Resolution. Click it and Camera Raw simply gets to work doubling each dimension of the image file (turning a 2000×3000 pixel image into a 4000×6000 pixel image, rendering that 6MP file into a new 24MP file). Also, note in the Enhance window that Adobe provides an estimate of how long it will take the application to upsize the image file.

In Lightroom, the process works the same way and the same Enhance window appears when Enhance is selected from the Photo menu, whether you’re in Lightroom’s Develop module or Library module.

Take a look at the examples shown here. These images reveal the level of detail visible at a 200 percent crop of the original image file, followed by the results achieved with help from the artificial intelligence of Super Resolution. At the same size, the Super Resolution enhanced image appears clearer than the original—rendering small text clearer and eliminating the appearance of jagged edges and artifacts from the original RAW image file.

What’s output from ACR and Lightroom is a new DNG file. One side benefit is that any other adjustments made in Camera Raw—say, white balance, saturation, contrast, sharpness, noise and color tweaks—will also be carried over into that new DNG raw file. That file can be further processed as any other raw file might be.

There’s one minor limitation on Super Resolution, which is that it can’t output an image larger than 65,000 pixels on its longest side, or exceeding 500 megapixels. “Gosh,” you might say, “how will I ever survive with just a 125-megapixel image file?” Fear not, as Adobe engineers have said they’re investigating ways to increase that file size limit in the future.

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