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 focus magic sharpened image of blackberriesReview of Focus Magic (64 bit)

Sharpen and fix camera shake - an old favourite returns

Back in 2005 Keith reviewed a Photoshop plugin called Focus Magic - one of our earliest reviews on the site. It worked wonders in sharpening images and removing modest amounts of camera shake.

Over time however, it ceased to work with the latest versions of Photoshop and Keith reluctantly looked elsewhere.

However it's available now for 64 bit working and Keith has been looking at welcoming back an old friend - how does it fare against newer solutions?

There are more examples and details in the original review - just remember that what took half an hour to run then, runs in under a minute now...

Update: Nov 2013 - Now also works with PS Elements 12 onwards, on the Mac

Image Blur

As someone who rarely has a tripod with me when travelling, I have to accept that I'll occasionally get a bit of camera shake in images, even though I'm lucky enough to have very steady hands and use image stabilised lenses at longer focal lengths.

The amount of blur may be only a few pixels, but it can easily show up as an overall softness in a big print (one reason I -do- use tripods for most of our commercial work).

There are two other types of blur I'll consider looking at (note I don't say 'fixing'). One is out of focus blur, which may come about for a number of reasons, but is generally something that really should not come as a surprise to me in an image.

Secondly, there is a softening of images from re-sizing (for web display) or when printing. This is often called 'output sharpening' and there are a number of ways of doing it. I've written elsewhere about some of the subtleties of print sharpening and how it forms an integral part of my printmaking workflow. The return of Focus Magic, for me, means that what was one of my favourite tools for sharpening images for the web is easily accessible again.

What do you get with Focus Magic?

The version I'm looking at is V4, which adds a few performance improvements over the earlier version. I note that it runs with a lot of different Windows applications (including a standalone version), and on the Mac also runs on the excellent Graphics Converter program, which I've known for many years.

There is a downloadable demo version of the software available (with a limit to the number of images you can process) that I'd suggest you try. If you've an earlier version, there is a free update - the plugin costs $45.

There is a good range of tutorials on the Focus Magic web site - these are well worth studying, since whilst the plugin works very well, there are limits to what can (currently) be recovered.

Using the plugin

The plugin is launched either in shake-reduction or sharpening mode - I'll look at the camera shake removal first

The plugin window shows the whole image and a small preview window, showing the before and after versions at 100% zoom.

plugin control panel

The preview is fixed at 100%, so some experience of analysing image detail in this way is essential.

Remember that all kinds of 'issues' can show up at 100% if you are not careful - many are simply not worth bothering about. I always remember that only other photographers view my large prints in fine (magnified) detail, and they are not a group prone to ever buying prints ;-)

To have a look at the plugin, I went out to the garden and took some shots of this year's blackberry crop. An exposure of 1/15th of a second and moving the camera should give some blurred shots...

sample photos with camera shake

Fixing motion blur needs you to decide the direction of blur and its amount.

Point reflections that spread into lines make this easier.

In the example below, a four pixel shift at an angle of 85 degrees makes quite a difference.

4 pixel camera shake correction

A ten pixel shift in the image below is shown at 1600% magnification.

Move your mouse over the image to see the corrected version.

detailed view of 10 pixel camera shake correction

There is a bit of judgement required as to what settings produce the best looking results.

A simple linear shift such as shown above, is relatively easy to adjust, but note that any rotation of the camera means that the blur will vary in different parts of the image.

I'd also suggest turning off any sharpening in your RAW processing software, if you are going to experiment with shake removal on an image.

The correction process can also affect out of focus areas on your image in unwanted ways, reducing 'smoothness'.

One way around this is to only apply the correction to parts of the image.

The plugin doesn't return its results on a new layer, so before applying it, I've duplicated the image as a new layer. This new layer is then processed with Focus Magic. The important 'sharp' bits are then 'painted' in with a layer mask applied to the layer.

Move your mouse over the image below to see selective shake correction.

  • I'd note that this image is far beyond what I'd normally consider saving!

Focus Magic can produce some quite impressive results in extracting detail (car number plates for example) from poor quality images.

As ever - a better photo at the start will generally make for a better looking image, but it's nice to know that Focus Magic gives that extra little bit of leeway.

Blur removal (sharpening)

Almost any image can benefit from some sharpening.

The key skill is deciding how much... and to what parts of the image.

The clear blue sky in the image below really needs no sharpening at all, but the intricacies of selective sharpening are not for this review...

The plugin will attempt to make a guess at optimal sharpening, which is generally good although it may seem a bit strong when viewed at 100%

If images are for web use then it may be worth turning down the amount of sharpening. I look for obvious sharpening halos, but its a judgement call - there is no such thing as a correct amount.

The sharpening method can be varied to cope with different image sources.

If you are printing, remember that ink on paper softens images, so what look overly sharpened edges at 100% will look just fine.

Experiment with different settings. Effective use of a plugin like this requires an understanding of what it is you want to achieve.

The image below was the one shown at 1600% magnification above.

It's had a 10 pixel shake corrected, and then reduced to 720 pixels wide.

Move your mouse over the image below to see how a 11MP 'shake corrected' image, reduced to 720 pixels wide, benefits from a 1 pixel sharpening.

Conclusions

Good plugins, to my mind, don't try and do too many things. It makes them easier to learn and understand, and then get the most out of.

Focus Magic 'fixes' images in certain ways and does a very good job of it.

It's much faster than when I first tried it in 2005 [Original Focus magic review], and now makes full use of the multiprocessor hardware I'm running. If I had a minor grip, it would be that the plugin window size is fixed. A full screen (or simply larger) version would work perfectly well on today's hardware.

My main use for the plugin is for output sharpening, but it's helped with the odd hand-held shot too, where a 2-3 pixel shake may have taken the edge off an image.

I know it's best to 'get it right' in the camera, but it's nice having a second chance with some shots.

There is a good range of tutorials on the Focus Magic web site - these are well worth studying, since whilst the plugin works very well, there are limits to what can (currently) be recovered.

I'd also suggest looking at the product comparisons on the Focus Magic web site. Whilst I've not carried out such exhaustive checks, I'm quite inclined to believe the picture samples there.

With Focus Magic V4, it's just gone back into my 'essentials' tool box.

Discuss this review with Keith below or on Google+

  • Review first published August 2013

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Software plugin

System Requirements (V4) - Download page

Mac

OSX 10.6+ (Older PPC versions available)

Windows

Win 95 - Windows 8

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