You know the situation when an image that looked sharp on the camera’s LCD and the image editor’s thumbnail isn’t as sharp as it could be when opened up at 100%? We’ve all been there and normally the photo may end up in the recycle bin, but there may be a solution - FocusFixer’ from FixerLabs, now at version 1.4.
FocusFixer, to use the manufacturer’s ‘blurb’, explodes the myth that once an image has been blurred the information is lost. The vast majority of the information is still there in a blurred image – it’s just not in a form that looks good to us. If you know how the image was blurred, this can be used with the information in the image to reverse the blur - to make it sharper.
Unsharp masking cannot do this - it attempts to remove blur by blurring the already soft image and subtracting this from the soft original. This perceptual trick often looks ok, but very effectively enhances noise - precisely not what you want. FocusFixer produces superior results on soft images as well as those with more obvious focus blur, it simply puts the light back where it belongs to give you a sharper image.
To test the program I used a shot of a blue tit feeding on a fat ball. This is the full frame image:
From this I cropped down to this version:
The shooting conditions were (according to the EXIF data) 1/8sec at f/11, using a 70-300mm APO lens at 300mm. A Manfrotto 055B tripod, cable release and the camera’s mirror-lock were also used. The photo was taken through a double-glazed kitchen door window. These were definitely not the ideal shooting conditions for a fast-moving, never-still-for-a-moment, small bundle of feathers like a Blue Tit. I like a challenge!
However, a few moments in FocusFixer and the image becomes:
All the detail appears and the textures in the bird’s feathers come to light.
One of the clever bits about this software is its ‘LenFit’ technology which uses the EXIF data in the image file to alter the ‘de-blurring’ (my word) algorithms to take into account the characteristics of the camera and lens used to take the image. This is clearly evident when I go to use FocusFixer in my Photoshop CS Filters tab. When the plugin window opens, the last ‘Deblur’ amount used remains on view. Even before selecting the camera used for the shot, the improvements can be seen. But, dial in your camera and model, apply the ‘Deblur’ slider and the whole image comes to life.
This is the FocusFixer plugin window used on this image
Here is something that is infinitely superior to USM and, in my opinion, High Pass Filtering. It is very simple to use, due to its uncluttered interface, and is available on both PC and Mac platforms. Download the free trial and try it on one of your existing images… 0.2 or 0.3 of ‘Deblur’ just adds something a little bit more…
To close, I would point out one little niggle I had with an earlier version has been fixed. When you opened a new image and went to apply FocusFixer, you had to select the camera Make and Model each time. In other words, the Make and Model drop-down lists couldn’t be left to a specific camera model. I raised this as an issue with FixerLabs and I am pleased to report that their development team have incorporated my suggestion that the product ‘remembers’ my camera so I don’t have to select it each time I open a new image.
What happens now is that when I select ‘FocusFixer’ in PS, it automatically selects my camera whilst getting the lens data. The EXIF data now identifies the camera used and shows it in the interface panel.
Visually, the difference between this latest version and its predecesor is very subtle; it’s a single line of text stating that “EXIF suggests ‘xyz’ camera” with the users ability to override this decision if required. But the impact on the workflow is very positive and very significant.
Various new camera models have been added and further ‘tweaks’ to the actual software have been incorporated
What matters is that ‘FocusFixer’ remains a ‘must have’ product in my opinion.
FixerLabs have demonstrated that they are a ‘dynamic’ Company, prepared to be guided by their customers and they are to be commended since we have not had to wait long for this significant update.
FocusFixer is in my opinion, infinitely superior to USM or High Pass Filtering and I commend it to the house.
FixerLabs ‘FocusFixer’ website is here - www.fixerlabs.com/pages/fixer.html
From their site is a very good link to an excellent ‘How To Use’ site, albeit I have to say that I am not enamored of the 5”x4” example pictures used but the technique and application aspect is covered well… This can be found here - http://gregrob.ca/photoshop/focus/
Test and photos by Mike Otley
About the author
Mike has been a keen amateur photographer for many years and for a short period (18months) in the late '80's was a 'card-carrying' Freelance Photo-Journalist with work published in all the mainstream major 'Dailies' as well as magazines. In the intervening period, he moved into IT and Product Marketing and the photography fell back into just taking 'happy snaps' etc. Mike has also been involved in Digital Imaging since the mid-'90's but only got his first digital camera in '99. Recently purchased his first dSLR and is now 'working up' to getting a decent portfolio together with the intent of returning to earning his living with a camera once more. Some of Mike's work can be found at his 'Trial Site' at www.avsofbracknell.co.uk/MOP.