Focus magic review
– because you don’t always get it right
A tool to fix minor focus and camera shake problems
Keith rarely takes a tripod with him when shooting his own personal landscape work (unlike our professional architectural photography). Normally this is not a problem, but sometimes you can get a bit of camera shake. We are talking of hand held shots at 1/10 second which is pushing things a bit!
Keith reviews the results from some software that uses sophisticated mathematics and lots of number crunching to improve things.
Note – this article dates from 2005 – In 2013 Keith reviewed the updated 64 bit version of Focus Magic
Unless I know I’m going to be shooting in low light conditions I rarely have a tripod with me when outdoors.
The image I’m going to show was taken in a narrow box canyon at Ouray in Colorado.
By the time I came across it I just wasn’t going to walk the half mile back to my car to get the tripod.
Conventional wisdom says that the minimum hand held exposure you can get away with is 1 divided by the focal length in millimetres (i.e. 1/100th second for 100mm focal length) Of course an image stabilised (IS) lens will help here — my 70-200 gives an extra 3 stops or 1/25th second for the above example.
The picture shown was shot at 16mm, so no less than ~1/15th second. I could increase the ISO setting of the camera for a moderate increase in noise, but I wanted the blurring of the water, So 1/4 second it was. I took several pictures, several of which would have given good 8″x10″ prints, but I was looking for one which would do a 27″x17″ print.
Well the print works – several people already have a copy on their walls and nobody has spotted the slight lack of sharpness in some parts. There is that old adage that the customer is always right…
I tried Version 3, the Photoshop plugin version for Mac OS X. Windows users can also use a stand alone version of the software. (download demo here)
The picture below shows a very small section of the frame at 100%, in fact it is more than this, since I used CS Camera RAW to upsample when doing the RAW conversion (see Keith’s article on why use raw for more info).
The shake is visible as an offset of several pixels on various highlights.
The key to using the software is to estimate the direction and magnitude of the shake. The dialogue below shows how easy it is to adjust, with a live preview. Note how small the sample area is relative to the full image.
Notice you can alter the amount of the correction and also perform some noise reduction (not used on this image)
There is a comprehensive and well thought out web site at http://www.focusmagic.com/ where you can see examples and download a trial copy of the software. This review only covers the camera shake correction part of the software. The software also provides correction of out of focus images, however this is one area where I’m likely to rule out a whole image for further work (it is also quite rare if you are reasonably careful) I have tested a few images with the focus side of Focus Magic and it is a good tool for that vital shot that you couldn’t repeat.
Note added – the sharpening is actually very good, often producing markedly better results than using standard unsharp masking. It is also very good for sharpening images for the web (1 pixel radius 25-100%)
The picture below shows a portion of the rocks before and after processing.
The corrected version will appear if you put your cursor over the picture. If you click on the image and hold down your mouse button, you can also see the result of using the blur removal tool as well.
One more big plus is that it works with 16 bit/channel images as well as 8 bit.
It takes quite a bit of experimentation to get the right settings, but there is feedback in the settings window.
Even a perfect image would not be dramatically sharper than the result – I’ve not used any additional sharpening on the images in this review. You should also remember that the correction is for a single movement of shake (a straight line) and that your actual shake may be a curve for example. Don’t forget that you are looking at images at 100% magnification and different settings may make for a better print. All prints need some sharpening anyway, so what looks excessive on the screen may be fine as a print.
The processing involves an awful lot of calculation. For a very large 16 bit image like I was using, you could be waiting half an hour or more for the result.
Notes added — No longer a problem with my 2005 G5 Mac – the s/w was initially tested on a 400MHz G4
[by 2013 easily 15-20 times faster with the 64 bit version on an 8 core Mac Pro]
It goes without saying that you should get pictures without shake in the first place. It’s unlikely you will get quite as good results from the software. I was really pushing it to get a result from the image the size I was using.
- Oct 2005 – I regularly use Focus Magic as part of my raw workflow, using it to apply slight sharpening to freshly converted raw images before resizing them by a significant amount. I’ve written an article covering this and other aspects of the technical side of producing many large prints for an exhibition.
- 2012 – Unfortunately, the software has not been updated for a while but will still work under OSX 10.6 and 32 bit versions of Photoshop.
- 2013 – New version, works just fine. it’s faster too.
As far as I’m concerned, this is an important part of my image manipulation toolkit. The fact that I could get excellent results on such a huge file came as a pleasant surprise. It turned what would have been a good 8×10 print into one that could comfortably be printed much larger.
I suspect that some people might have difficulties with the concept of using this much processing on an image. OK, so they would have had a tripod, they would have done it properly in the first place. But in the real world you don’t get it right every time… Focus Magic is well worth a look.
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