Blowup; Making BIG Pictures From Little Files Page 2

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Enlarger PRO from Bearded Frog (www.beardedfrog.com) gives photographers the ability to crop large sections off digital images and still permits making "full-size prints." The third and current release of Enlarger PRO offers powerful photographic enlargement capabilities yet is easy to use: Just select your input image, select an output file name, choose your enlargement factor, and click the Process button. Enlarger PRO does the rest. It can't invent detail that does not exist in the input image but the Frog-in-Chief explains, "We are able to use our algorithms to keep sharp areas of the image remarkably sharp and retain the texture and feel of more subtle areas."

Genuine Fractals 5.0 is a major step forward in interface design and functionality. While previously you had to save the file in Genuine Fractals' proprietary .stn format, then re-open it and scale it to the new desired size, it's all a one-stop operation now.

As I was finishing this story, onOne Software (www.onOnesoftware.com) launched a public beta of Genuine Fractals 5.0 that offers compatibility with Photoshop CS3 and PowerPC and Intel-based Mac OS computers. Genuine Fractals 5.0 has an improved scaling algorithm to deliver "even better results than before" and offers improved batch processing support for scaling multiple files in one step. Genuine Fractals 5.0 gives users the option to sharpen a file during the scaling process. It has built-in film grain controls, giving you the option to add simulated film grain after a file has been scaled. Genuine Fractals 5.0 supports 8- and 16-bit RGB and Grayscale images as well as support for CMYK and Lab Color modes. Anyone who purchased Genuine Fractals 4.1 or Print Pro 4.1 on or after December 18, 2006 will receive a free upgrade to Genuine Fractals 5.0.

The Blind Test
My test file for this comparison of scaling products was a portrait of a young model, Carolina, which was made at a Shutterbug photo workshop in Miami. During the workshop, I loaned all of my memory cards to students and kept a tiny 16MB CompactFlash card for my use. When the opportunity came to make a series of studio portraits of Carolina I could only make a few photographs using an Olympus E-20N at one of its smallest resolution settings and an 8:1 compression ratio. This resulted in a tiny 293K file that was more suitable for e-mail than making prints for reproduction.

My test image file was a portrait of Carolina made using studio lighting and a 4-megapixel Olympus E-20N in Manual mode. Exposure was 1/125 sec at f/8 and was captured at the camera's lowest resolution (1280x960) with maximum compression, producing a tiny 293K file.

Like Photoshop itself, all of the software used to enlarge this photograph is available for Mac OS or Windows computers. I tested the Mac OS versions because that's the main computer I use for imaging, and that is reflected in all of the screen shots. To test the effectiveness of each software I scaled the 3.2x4.2" file up to 11x14" using a Power Macintosh computer running OS 10.4.8. Then I made a set of borderless prints with an Epson Stylus Photo R1800 inkjet printer. Before printing I made sure that all the ink cartridges were full, replacing two with brand-new cartridges. Then I ran Epson's test utility making sure the heads were clean. All prints were made on Epson's Premium Glossy Photo Paper during a single session.

When I laid the prints on a countertop the first thing I noticed was that the print made with Enlarger PRO was slightly warmer and contrastier than the others. It looked great but lacked the smooth tonal gradations of the others. At 11x14" the image quality of the other prints were so close together that I decided to make a set of four 13x19" files/prints. At 13x19" all of the prints were still incredibly close in quality but Genuine Fractals 5.0 and PhotoZoom Pro 2 were clearly the best by a tiny amount and PhotoZoom Pro 2 was better literally by an eyelash.

Wanting other opinions, I showed the set of 13x19" prints to many other people. Some were pros, others were amateur photographers, and some were those everyday people that Sly sang about. The prints were viewed under real world conditions, varying from daylight to tungsten to fluorescent to a mixture of all three. When asked what print looked best, most pros narrowed it down to a choice between the Genuine Fractals 5.0 and PhotoZoom Pro 2 prints. While admitting a final decision was difficult, the pros generally chose Genuine Fractals 5.0, while other photographers' choices produced no consensus between the two finalists. What was most surprising is how many people liked Photoshop's Bicubic Smoother print!

Keep in mind that I was running a beta version of Genuine Fractals and this was the result obtained with one particular image file. As companies strive to constantly improve their products imaging software is a fast-moving target, so I recommend that you download trial versions of any program that's of interest and try it with your own photographs.

Acknowledgement: All prints used in the prints made for the blind tests were made on an Epson Stylus Photo R1800 inkjet printer and I would like to thank Epson and Walt & Company for providing all of the ink and media used in producing all of the prints used in this testing.

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