Saturday, January 31, 2015

Photo ReSizing with ACDSee Ultimate 8

Any more, most photographic software offers a bewildering array of options for almost every function available.  Some of these functions we use rarely, or not at all.  Others, we use on a daily basis.

Above, the first test photo
For me, one feature I use on virtually EVERY photo is resize.  I don't print much any more, and I never print anything that wouldn't fit comfortably on the typical home wall.  So the resize option of 'Enlarge' isn't something I care that much about.  The default output of my m43s camera, the E-M10, handles those print sizes quite readily.

However, I DO post to the internet photo sharing sites like Flickr & Google, and the photo technology sites like Digital Photography Review.  I have a continual need to downsize my photos for easy upload, and to not cause a display bottleneck when people want to view my photos.

So resizing to a smaller image size is something I do quite a bit.  And my current favorite software, ACDSee Ultimate 8 (and ACDSee Pro 8 and ACDSee 18) offers no less than eight (8 !!!) resampling methods.  

Above, the second test photo

They are, in the order listed by ACDSee:

  1. Box
  2. Triangle
  3. Bi Cubic
  4. Bell
  5. B-Spline
  6. Lanczos
  7. Mitchell
  8. ClearIQZ
The default resampling method appears to be Lanczos.

ACDSee also offers some good advice for resampling in the ACDSee Ultimate 8 Help file.
A Screen Print directly from the help file.  Get to KNOW it!
I began to wonder, is the default sampling method of Lanczos any good?  Why is it the default? What do the other methods do?  And are there times when I should be using something else?  So I did some research and some testing both with down sizing and with up sizing.

It turns out this is not the simple 'try them all' and pick one sort of test.  My research led to an enormous number of scholarly works complete with mathematical formulae and other 'thinky' stuff.  Image resizing will remain bewildering, I'm afraid!

I tried to cherry pick the stuff that seemed relevant to some dumb-ass photographer,  and when I boiled it down, my descriptions seemed to look pretty much like the descriptions found in the ACDSee help file.  So to save my typing I'll just show you a screen print of that section in the help file.

However, there are some interesting notes that ACDSee didn't put in there.  I'll list them for you.

  • Box - When reducing image size, it averages and merges the sampled pixels together. So the smaller the reduction, the more pixels will be averaged together. 
  • Triangle - As near as I can tell, this is the same thing as Bilinear.  I'm not sure what the name change denotes.  If so, This will cause a situation where the closer a sampled pixel is to the source pixel, the stronger influence on color the sampled pixel will have.  As a result, we can expect to see a more . . . global averaging of color (i.e. some color shift, some times)
  • Bi Cubic - Nothing to add.  It does its job, I guess. 
  • Bell - It can result in a high degree of blurring. If I've read those research papers correctly, it sounds as if the mathematical algorithm used in this resampling technique might also be used in noise control as well.
  • B-Spline - Seems to be used a lot in animation for a smoother flow.
  • Lanczos - can cause a haloing effect around edges, but considering how important edge sharpness is in human vision, this is not automatically considered a negative.
  • Mitchell - Seems to be related to Lanczos.  Consensus seems to be that it is good for enlarging photos.
  • ClearIQZ - I can't find anything on this, it seems to be unique to ACDSee.  It is possibly a proprietary feature of ACDSee, I don't know.  I did find some years old forum posts from a variety of sources that seem to be quite enthusiastic about its ability to enlarge photos.
Edit added 4/8/2015 to clarify sizing terminology: On my first test, I used a slightly noisy, available light photo.I reduced the image to 66%. 

It might be a good time to take note of ACDSee's resizing terminology.  When I select a percentage that I want to reduce the image size TO, for example, 66%, I am saying that the new image size should be 66% of the size of the original.  I am not saying that I should reduce the image size BY 66%.   This means a 66% reduction in size will be larger than than a 33% reduction in size.  Conversely, an enlargement to 133% results in a smaller image than an enlargement to 166%.  At times, I have found it easy to confuse even myself as to what I have told ACDSee to do. End of Edit

Below, is a comparison of the 3 methods I judged the best reduction results:

It may not be clear at the small size of this photo, but I judged the Box sampling method to have yielded the best reduction results, over all.  My reasoning was, while all the methods resulted in some blurring, I felt Box did the best at retaining the 'flavor' of the noise pattern and that resulted in a slightly greater illusion of detail.

However, this is not to say that Box is the clear winner.  I wondered if a more conventionally exposed image would yield the same results. So I selected a close up image taken outside in bright sunlight.  I figured this would help determine just how good detail is retained in a photo and would help with judging any color shift that might occur.

The good news is, that none of the methods resulted in significant color shift, though the better results tended to add more contrast to the image, which can shift our perception of a difference in color.

Below is a screen shot comparing the 3 reduction methods I judged the best. These are also reduced to 66%.

Here, I felt Lanczos did the best, though the differences in quality of the three are minimal.  Mitchell was probably closest in terms of color rendition, but I felt the slight added contrast to the Lanczos version tipped the detail retention to Lanczos (but just barely).  None of them are "bad" though.  If your photo requires a bit more color accuracy, you might want to consider Mitchell.  I felt ClearIQZ did a fine job but didn't really do any better than Lanczos.

But What About Enlarging?

In spite of the fact that I rarely NEED enlarging, and that ACDSee doesn't even recommend enlarging photos, I found this to be a most interesting part of this issue.  I note that my research indicates that Mitchell and ClearIQZ should be particularly good at enlarging an image. This time I enlarged the bug photo to 166%.  I saw no value in trying to enlarge an inherently noisy available light photo.  It seems like needless cruelty to such an image to me!

This time, ClearIQZ and Mitchell DID have the advantage, I think.

Mitchell did the best in color rendition, but I felt ClearIQZ did a better job with detail.  Plus, if you look at the areas near the stars I embedded in the photos, you will see a slight posterization in Lanczos and Mitchell.  Clear IQZ has smoothed out that posterization even compared to the source tif file.  Normally you wouldn't want that sort of change in a photo, but if you are printing BIG, that might be an issue for you.  Color could be adjusted after enlargement if you need perfection in a big print.

My Analysis

First off, my research indicates that the people who develop graphics programs are WAY smarter than we think!  This is some serious intellectual stuff they are dealing with.  I think I found the dividing line between the concepts of 'clever' and 'smart'.

ACDSee's decision to make Lanczos the default option in their resizing function makes sense to me.  A newbie will get a reasonably well resized photo without having to worry about a spectacular failure.  BUT, a more experienced user might well decide to use something else depending on intended use.  I was particularly impressed with the enlarging capabilities of Mitchell and ClearIQZ.  And I was surprised that the older Box sampling method did so well with the grainy available light image.

ACDSee's caution against resizing seems like it came from another era.  The quality of the enlarged photos seemed pretty darned good to me.  Even the weakest ones, while a bit blurry, seemed . . . not awful.  (But I didn't actually print any of these, to be fair).

For casual resizing to some websites, I will likely use Lanczos.  It's good enough, and so easy to use in ACDSee Products.  But I'm pretty sure I will start to consider Box, Mitchell, and ClearIQZ for critical situations.

Wednesday, January 28, 2015

Olympus Viewer 3 compared to ACDSee Ultimate 8

I recently saw an Older video comparing the default output of  Olympus Viewer 2 to Lightroom 4. 

Click to see original video

In it, the poster, came to the conclusion that OV2 should be used for initial raw conversion, then export a tiff file for import into Lr4.  While the default output of OV2 came closer to what a finished jpg would look like, 

But I was curious about the newest OV version of OV3 (Which comes with every new Oly camera, BTW).  For the last 2 years or so, I have been using ACDSee Pro, and now am using ACDSee Ultimate 8, which I like very much for orf files.

So I decided to compare OV3 to ACDSee Ultimate 8.  Note that this information applies to ACDSee Pro 8, as well.  Compared to OV2 and Lr 4, the differences are MUCH closer to each other than OV2 and Lr4.  I made the default versions exported them to tif files and then compared them side by side in ACDSee Ultimate 8.  OV3 has this same 'side by side' feature, I could have used it, but I know ACDSee better and selected it by default.

Above, the ACDSee  version is on the Left, while the OV3 version is on the Right.  Notice that the two are very similar, though the OV3 version has a tad bit more contrast and has some noise control added to the final image.

Above, the difference in increased noise control and detail sharpening between ACDSee Ultimate and OV3 is pretty clear.  If you don't want to do any post processing, OV3 offers a pretty good default image, overall. But if you think of the out of camera image as a starting point, you might not want to see the detail sharpening and noise control added at this point.

Above, there is greater highlight detail in the ACDSee version than there is in the OV3 version.  There is nothing "wrong" with the OV3 version, it's just that it has made certain assumptions about what you want in the final image that you might have to undo if you are using OV3.  ACDSee offers a bit more of a blank slate, I think.

Above, I 'cheated' a bit, and selected something other than the 'default' values for OV3.  Instead I changed the "Picture Mode" in OV3 from "As Shot" to "Natural".  This brings the OV3 version much closer to what ACDSee offers as the default version.

Above, however, OV3 still seems to add a bit more contrast and NR to the image than ACDSee does.  

My analysis

I think you already know what I think.  I prefer the ACDSee version as a starting point for further editing.  On the OTHER hand, for those situations where the default values are 'good enough'  OV3 is more than adequate.  Although I would ask you why didn't you just shoot jpgs in the first place!  That will give you the same thing!

As far as flexibility and power goes, I think ACDSee Ultimate 8 has it all over OV3.  I found OV3's user interface 'reasonably' easy to figure out, but I found the controls kind of 'jumpy'.  In other words, I could make BIG changes with the controls pretty easily; but once I had to start worrying about small changes and moving the controls in small, controlled increments, OV3 became very difficult to use.  If you need fine control, I don't think you will be all that happy with OV3.

That being said, OV3 is a rather good product, especially since you get it for the cost of an Olympus camera.  If you are careful, you can do very good work with it.  But I think most people will prefer to eventually move on to something else.

Thursday, January 22, 2015

Windows 10 - What Does It Mean For Photographers?

Open Your Wallets!

I've been thinking about Microsoft's decision to 'give' away the new version of Win10 to all existing Win7 users and above. They have taken great care to describe Win10 as a service, and promise to support that version of Win10 as long as the PC on which it was installed continues to work. To me, that clearly indicates Microsoft intends a subscription based business model. The 'giveaway' is the free sample designed to get you used to the idea that the service has value.

Let me state up front that no one would be happier than me to be wrong on this. But do ANY of us really think the changes in the software industry will leave us with MORE money at the end of the month?

As a result, I've been thinking about what this means to me, to software publishers, and the relationship I have with those publishers. Let me be clear, I have no problem with Microsoft or any other software publisher making as much money as they can on their products. I don't care if the world perceives that profit as being "fair" or not. All profit is fair because it is the combined result of people making the decision that a product is worth buying.

However, in a world where everything is a subscribed service, there is a limit to how many 'services' any given consumer household can pay for. I personally believe the spreadsheets 'proving' how much money a subscription business model can bring in are optimistic. I won't go into all the arguments, we've all heard them. But I will say we all have a number in our head that tells us how many non-essential subscriptions are too many for our respective households and when we get close to that number, we get ever more reluctant to go over that number.

If people are 'subscribing' to maintain their computer operating system (with possibly multiple computers), will they then consider an Adobe subscription extravagant? Will they find traditional upgrades, in general, too expensive or too frequent?

Microsoft Will Be Competing for Your Upgrade Dollar!

I wonder if it is time for the photographic software publishers to explore an environment where they don't have to compete for the same upgrade dollar as Microsoft?

It might be time for all software publishers who rely on Windows, to consider their position. Will the number of Windows installations rise or fall? Will installations of alternative operating systems become more popular? Or less popular? I know that ever since Win 8 came out, I have been considering a move to either the Mac or Linux OS. I'm far from making a decision, but I AM thinking about it. More importantly, I wonder how many people are there like me?

As a retired Teradata DBA, I have the advantage of knowing Linux reasonably well. I am far from an expert, but I have had Ubuntu and Mint variations of Linux installed on my personal computers from time to time. I like Linux but I don't like most of the photo applications available. AfterShot Pro is the only commercial photo application for Linux that I know of, and frankly I don't find it all that compelling. ACDSee Pro is better. As is Lightroom and CaptureOne.

As near as I can tell, most of the photo apps for Android and Chrome are simple minded toys aimed at phone camera jpgs produced by 13 year old girls. Even the Android version of Lightroom is stripped down.

The Immediate Future

The truth is, for people who consider themselves serious photographers, the immediate future is likely to be costly. All of a sudden, you will have to decide between paying for the new Windows subscription and the photo software subscription (or conventional upgrade cost).

Now I have no doubt that eventually market forces will work to alleviate this issue. But for the short term, expect to spend some money!

Monday, January 12, 2015

Where did Great Grandma GO?

Photo Organization - Stuff you NEED to Know, but Probably Didn't Think About.

Note: the illustrative screen shots are of ACDSee Ultimate 8, and are relevant to ACDSee Pro 8, as well.

The Organizer section (The "Manage" tab) of ACDSee Ultimate 8

A Logical Progression

Organizing your photos is not usually the first issue you need to address as a photographer. Most of us don't even think about this sort of thing until we realize that finding our stuff has become a major headache. At that point, we post a message on our favorite photo forum website asking other people what THEY do for organizing and WHAT SOFTWARE do they use?  

Understanding Your Search Needs.

I believe this is the worst first step you can make to get yourself organized  photographically. Instead, I recommend that you first THINK about what it is you need to organize and WHY.  If you don't understand your organizational goals, how will you know when you've met them?

Do you tend to search most on events, on categories of photos, how you originally shared your photos? Understanding this information is priceless, it not only controls how you organize your database and keywording system, it can even control WHICH software you buy to do it. Anyone who tells you that one, and one only, software title can handle anything you want to do with the greatest level of efficiency possible is an idiot. Do not trust their advice.

Work backwards. Understand your most common search, and the 2nd and 3rd most common searches as well. Then try to break down the data you need to know in order to do a fast and an efficient search.
  • Is the data you need most, dates? What kind of dates? Date taken? Date Edited? Date Sold?
  • Maybe the data you need is actually Events. Do you need to search on "The Lee Wedding" or "Aunt Mary's Birthday party"?
  • Perhaps what you need to search on is a given photo's status and place in your over all workflow such as "Imported but not passed culling status", or "Editing in progress", and "Completed", or "distributed".
  • Geo tagging? Do you need to search by location? IF so, how accurate does that data need to be? Do you Need "latitude & longitude", or is a place name enough? (i.e "San Antonio, TX and NOT San Antonio, Chile")
  • Maybe you need to know which photos have a model's release attached.
  • If you know at this point, that you are going to need keywords, try to identify the major keywords you will need to search for.  The goal isn't to identify them ALL, but instead to identify the major ones and to identify any hierarchies of key words and/or categories you might need.  For instance, you might need a category of "Vacation Destinations", and within that category, you might decide that there are keywords like "Caribbean", "Canada", "Europe", etc.  You may also feel the need for keywords like "Beach", "Mountains", or "Urban".  You need to ask yourself if, for your needs, if "Beach" is a valid subset of "Caribean" or if it should stand alone as a separate entity.  There are no wrong answers, just what constitutes YOUR needs.
 The point is, until you know what you will be looking for, your choice of software is irrelevant, and your proposed database design is useless. Another important point to remember is that you might have multiple search goals.  For instance, you might need a date search and an event search; the important thing is to make sure you understand what you need.

ACDSee Ultimate 8 Selection by Calendar Date

Setting the Desired Design Rules

Once you have done that, you are ready to design your theoretical database. Since I am writing about ultimately selecting commercial or open source and other free photo organizational tools, many, if not most, true database design issues will be decided by the developers of that software. So, for our purposes this is really just some more questions about how you want the physical database to behave and display your data for search and display purposes.  In other words, how do you want your software to work?

  1. Now that you know what you want to search for, you now need to how you want to search for that info. For instance, do you want to enter a keyword in a text based search window? Do you want to select data from a pre defined drop down window? For dates, would you like to click on a day in a calendar and see all the photos that meet that date criteria or is the above mentioned search window enough?
  2. Will you NEED boolean logic (i.e. I need "This", but not "That") or will some other method that provides a functional equivalent without boolean logic going to be adequate.
  3. Do you need to keep Imported but unculled data physically separate from your work in progress, or your completed photos?  Would a flag of some sort be enough, logically?
  4. Is the built-in database of your theoretical organizing software going to be enough to store your database enough for you, or, will some of the data need to be embedded within the data portion of the photo image file itself?  If so, what data needs to be permanently embedded in the photo?
  5. Will you be shooting jpg, raw, or raw converted to dng? Do you know what sort of data can be stored in the data fields of those file formats?
  6. Will you need to have a tightly integrated backup process for your images and the database, or will this be handled by external third party software (not really a question for the database design, but it wouldn't hurt to think about your back up medium and disaster recovery needs at this point)

Software Selection

NOW you can start listening to other people!  Now is the time to post a question on your favorite photography forum as to software.  However, you need to assume everyone who posts an answer is only telling you half the story. They are either assuming your needs are exactly like their own, or they are pushing their favorite software for reasons unknown to you and will not tell you the REAL problems they have encountered.  You will always get the most suggestions for Lightroom.  So many, in fact, that you will begin to wonder if any other software ever gets used.  

Trust me! Other software DOES get used, and other software is every bit as good as Lightroom.  Different design philosophies, and user interface to be sure, but just as good, nonetheless.  

Posts detailing problems a user had with a given piece of software has value, but only limited value.  You probably don't know at this point if that particular problem is going to be a problem for you. So I would suggest if the software intrigues you, make note of the problem and test it out once you download the trial software.

Either way, all you  really want from them are some name of candidate software and a rough idea of what they cost in relation to each other.  Then I would suggest downloading 2 or 3 trial versions of the most likely candidates and installing them at the same time.

Create a small database of the same 5 or 6 photos in each software, add the database elements for each photo to each database and test out the searches you know you are going to need with certainty for each one sequentially but within the same testing session.  You want to get a feel for how each piece of software works with the same data.

This will be an interesting learning experience for you.  Not only will you get to test out what it is you think you need (and if you REALLY need it), but you will be able to compare the software with data and photos you KNOW you will want to be able to find.  

My advice is to take notes so you can remember stuff. Personally, I use a PC based notes software called "All My Notes" 

I really like AllMyNotes, It is a tree based notes taker but with a LOT of options not found in most inexpensive notes software.

Sample view of AllMyNotes

If one of the candidates totally fails your test and is unsuitable, then uninstall it and then download and install a 4th or 5th candidate software and compare it to the others installed.  Delete the ones you know you won't be buying and keep testing. Eventually you will know which software is right for you.  Buy that one.

That's it.  It takes a little work to find the software you like to use and which fits your needs.  But a logical planned approach will make it as easy as possible.