Digital Outback Photo
- Photography using Digital SLRs

 

Workflow Techniques #092

Sizefixer by Fixerlabs (Mac & PC)

review by Paul Caldwell

 
 

What is meant by the terms upsizing or interpolation? I am sure there is a formal definition, however in simple words, upsizing or interpolation is the process of taking an image from one size say 12” x 18” at 300 dpi to 17.5” x 26” at 300 dpi. It is also possible to take a 12” x 18” inch image at 300 dpi and only change the dpi to 205 which will give you a 17.5” x 26”. However depending on your image and your printer, you may suffer considerable detail loss on the final print. Many stock agencies or printing shops will ask for work to be submitted to them at 300 dpi. There are many tools on the market to address upsizing. Some of these that come to mind are:

  • Genuine Fractals--(One of the oldest tools on the market)
  • S-Spline--(Now sold under the name of Photo Zoom Pro)
  • Qimage--(An excellent image tool with up to 10 algorithms for interpolation)
  • Adobe CS/CS2--(Now offers several options, Bicubic being the most common)
  • DOP upsizing--(excellent tool and offered for free on this website)

I have used all of these at one time and have consistently found that for the most part, there will be some detail loss as the image is upsized. This effect will be much more visible in parts of your image that contain fine detail. Many times upsizing will give an image a blotchy or blurred look, especially in areas of tonal transitions, and as this is enlarged, the effect will become more pronounced creating what I call the “watercolor effect”.

Upsizing works by taking an image at a certain dpi, then running an algorithm that will “guess” as to what the nearby pixels should look like once you have increased their size. This is because as you increase the image’s size, holes are formed and new pixels have to be created to fill in those holes. How the guessing works is very important and each upsizing software tool has it’s own unique solution for this. Terms like Spline, Bucubic, Nearest Neighbor all apply to mathematical methods of guessing as to what the new pixels should look like. This process tends to create a softer final image than the original so it’s very important to have some form of sharpening to work with, either during the upsizing or after or both.

There are as many opinions on upsizing as there are photographers. Some photographers feel their 6mp camera can produce excellent 20” x 30” prints with no need for any upsizing assistance. Yet others will state that “you can’t get to a 20”x 30” unless you are using a 39mp back”. It’s all dependent on your style, and what you want that final output to look like. What I can state, is that most images will require some upsizing to get to a 20” x 30” output and having a good software tool to work with is extremely important.

This is why I was so interested in Sizefixer when it was announced in 2005. I am always looking for new tools to assist in upsizing. I have been surprised over the years that more development work has not occurred in this area. Sizefixer was created by the same company that created Focus Fixer: Fixerlabs. Their main website is www.fixerlabs.com. Here is a quick description, by the numbers on Sizefixer.

1. There are two versions, Sizefixer SLR and Sizefixer XL.
2. Sizefixer XL is Mac only, Sizefixer SLR is Mac and Win.
3. The XL version allows for upsizing to sizes beyond 23” x 33.”
4. The SLR version allows for upsizing up to 23” x 33.”
5. Currently it is a stand alone program with no plug-in support.
6. It will work with both 8 or 16 bit images.
7. It uses a new proprietary algorithm called “super resolution” which is designed to upsize an image up to 16x of the original without loss of sharpness.
8. It has an excellent user interface which allows you upsize an image or a crop from an image.

Working with Sizefixer

The main interface of Sizefixer looks like this.

NOTE: this review is based on the Windows version of Sizefixer SLR. The Mac version will operate basically the same, however the interface will look different.

As you can tell, the overall interface is not busy, and you only have a few options to consider. The main interface screen offers a large preview window on the right 2/3’s of the screen and on the left column, you will find a menu bar. Across the top left you will see “File, Processing, Views, Settings and Help”. In the middle you will see a series of tabs labeled “Size, Super Resolution, USM, Edges +, and Output”. Towards the bottom left you will see a bar titled “Process this image.” To start working on an image, go to file?open, which opens a standard browsing dialog. Sizefixer’s interface makes it easy to select an entire image for upsizing or to crop a portion of an image and then upsize the crop. For the purpose of this review I will be working with upsizing an entire image.

Once you have selected an image that you wish to work on, the view will change. You will now see that Sizefixer has opened the image into the large preview screen on the right and on the left side you now see the current size settings for your image. The view is a 100% view and not a print size view. Fixerlabs is working on adding the print size view as an option.

NOTE: When Sizefixer loads a new image, the program defaults to 300 dpi and gives the dimensions based on 300 dpi even if your image has a different dpi.

In my example, Sizefixer has loaded the image into the preview as a 300 dpi image with dimensions 6.50” x 9.0”. Immediately to the right you can tab between inches and centimeters. Below the width and height settings is the resolution box. It will start out at 300 dpi, however you can change this depending on how you want to work with the tool.

NOTE:, depending on your input image, you will want to experiment with various dpi outputs. I have found many times I prefer output from Sizefixer at less than 300 dpi. It should also be mentioned that Photoshop will refer to an image in units of ppi (pixels per inch) instead of dpi (dots per inch). For example, if you upsize an 8x10 inch 300 dpi image up to a 16 x 20 inch 300 dpi in Sizefixer, when you open the image in Photoshop, it will be a 16 x 20 inch image at 300 ppi.

On the left menu column you will see two small radio buttons:

You can choose either of these options, I prefer the top one. If this option is checked when you change the dimension for width, the corresponding proportion for the height will be selected. If you choose the lower option, then you have to enter amounts for both the width and height. Here are the steps I follow to upsize an image with Sizefixer.

1. My image example is one half of a 1DSMKII tif (I will give the reason for this later). It has opened into Sizefixer with a default view of 8.7” x 11” at 300 dpi.

2. Now I have changed my output height to 17.5” and my output width changed automatically to 13.81”. I entered the 17.5” and when I hit enter Sizerfixer changed the output width to keep the proportions of the image intact. This is because I have the top radio button selected.

NOTE: when you made the change in the size, the image preview on the right also changes and shows the new image at the larger size. You can also view the output dimensions box and see the increased percentage from 100%. In this case my new image is 158% of the original. This is a very important check, for as you start to approach 200%, I feel that you will start reaching the point where final image quality will start to suffer due to softer output.

If I wanted to, I could just hit the “process this image” button at the bottom of the screen and Sizefixer would upsize the image with quality approximately the same as Photoshop’s Bicubic algorithm. But that’s not what you want to do, as the next step is where the magic starts to show.

Move to the “Super Resolution: tab. You will see a box that says, “Use Super Resolution” and when checked you will get a screen that looks like this:

The super resolution setting is what makes Sizefixer unique. On their site there is mention that they are using technology that allows a 1:1 pixel view during the upsizing process that was until recently only available to NASA. I can state that it is different than anything I have worked with.

NOTE: if your image doesn’t contain exif information that shows the aperture and focal length setting, then you will get a “view” error on the super resolution tab. It is also important that the Camera Make and Model be present, however if you don’t have these loaded, a drop down box will appear and Sizefixer will allow you to select them. If you shoot any of your work with non Canon glass, you will need to pick up an exif editing software package if you wish to use the super resolution setting on these images

At the Super resolution box, you have 4 output quality settings:

  • Draft
  • Fastest
  • Good Quality
  • Very Good Quality

Below these you will see settings for Radius and Threshold. These two settings control the amount of sharpening that is processed during the super resolution stage. I have found that if the threshold is any higher than 0 and you have any noise in the image, the super resolution process will accentuate that noise to unacceptable levels. On the radius, I will adjust it depending on my image. NOTE: as you adjust the radius and threshold, Sizefixer will repaint the preview based on these settings. It will take some time to process especially on the Very Good Quality setting. The preview window will also repaint if you switch between the 4 output quality settings.

I recommend starting with the Very Good Quality setting but make sure you preview the image. Sizefixer’s super resolution setting will start to halo rather quickly depending on the radius you have set. This is especially true with light halos.
Once you have found the settings that you feel work best there are three other tabs to consider.

1. USM

I believe this is a standard USM process and I have not used it, primarily because I feel that enough sharpening is provided in the Super Resolution setting. Also it appears that this USM works across the entire image equally so solid areas like sky or water will get sharpened along with the rest of the image. If you do choose to try it, the preview window will show the changes.


2. Edges +

This tool is designed to enhance edges even more than the super resolution setting. I have tried it a couple of times leaving it at the tool’s default of 70% and have yet to see any difference with my upsizing work. Again if you select to use it, the preview window will reflect the changes.

3. Output

The last tab is for output and allows you to select where your upsized file will be placed. If you make no change, Sizefixer will place the upsized image in the folder where the original image was. The new upsized image will contain “_upsized” at the end of the file name.

Notes on Results from Sizefixer

I would recommend that when you are finished with the selections that you click on the “view” tab on the top of the screen and select “close all views”. This is because considerable processing power is needed just to create the previews. Once you have everything set, just hit the “Process This Image” tab.

With the super resolution setting on a 1DS MKI or MKII image you can expect the process to take at least 1 hour. You will get a process bar on the center of the screen that is fairly accurate in telling you how long the current process has taken and approximately how much longer is left.

NOTE: on the Windows version of Sizefixer SLR, you have to cut a 1ds MKII or MKI file in half as the current software will not complete on a single file. My 1 hour processing time for a 1dsMKII file includes processing both halves of the image. I don’t believe that the Mac Version has this problem.

Sizefixer will take as close to 100% of your machine’s processor as it can. I don’t believe the Windows version has a multiprocessor kernel, so a 2 way box won’t speed up the upsizing process. I have used Sizefixer on the following two machines.

1. P4 3.2 Ghz 4 GB of ram
2. P4 1.8 Ghz 1 GB of ram (laptop)

The 3.2 Ghz machine and the 1.8 Ghz laptop processed the files in about the same time. The 3.2 Ghz machine will allow me to work with other programs while the upsizing process was running whereas the 1.8 Ghz laptop is pretty much strained untill the Sizefixer process is finished.

NOTE: I strongly recommend not having a screensaver program running while Sizefixer is running. If the screensaver kicks off, there is a chance that you may not recover the machine until Sizefixer has finished. Photoshop will actually run OK in the background as it tends to need more memory than anything else. From what I can tell Sizefixer takes very little RAM to operate. You will see occasional slow downs in Photoshop when it needs to grab some processing power.

Once your image has finished it may need extra sharpening. I have found that the DOP Toolkit sharpening software is an excellent companion to Sizefixer output as it allows you to control the sharpening with an edge mask and has built in haloing controls. Overall the upsized output from Sizefixer is very impressive. I have used it with great success on images ranging from a Nikon D1 all the way to the Canon 1ds MKII.

Issues/Concerns

During my testing I did discover some issues.

1. Slow processing speed.
2. Problem with larger camera files such as the Canon 1ds MKII or MKI.
3. Vibratory Haloing (called also "ringing") with Super resolution setting.
4. Noise issues with Super Resolution setting.


Slow processing speed

I feel the software needs some performance tuning to allow it to run faster. I can remember the first versions of Neat Image and how slow they ran, however now Neat Image processes files extremely fast with amazing accuracy. I realize that with the Super Resolution setting the tool is doing a 1:1 look at pixels but there is room for improvement as it doesn’t seem that Sizefixer takes advantage of hyper-threading with Intel Processors. (note my processing times when comparing a non hyper-threaded laptop to a 3.2GHz hyper-threaded desktop).

Current Issue with larger Camera Files

When working with Sizefixer SLR for Windows on Canon 1Ds and 1DsMKII files, I found that upsizing using the super resolution setting at “Very High Quality” will develop an error and not complete. I know that the Mac version doesn’t have this problem so I feel that it’s possibly a porting issue. To work with these larger files you have to cut the file in half, upsize the halves, then reassemble them in CS. I first communicated with Fixerlabs about this back in December of 2005, and they are working on a fix.

Vibratory Haloing (called also "ringing") with the Super Resolution Setting

Of all the issues, this is the most serious. Repeatedly I have found that in certain conditions, while using the “Very Good Quality” or “Good Quality” setting in Super Resolution, certain parts of the final output will contain what I am calling “Vibratory haloing” (technical term is more likely "ringing"). This mainly shows up with situations where you have a dark object being upsized against a lighter background. The Vibratory Halo’s that are created will be clear and extend out from the object in layers, creating an illusion of vibration. An example of this haloing is shown in the crop below. On the left you will see a crop of an image where this problem manifested itself in the smaller branches against the blue sky. The entire image is shown on the right. Look closely and you can see the clear haloing that seems to create a vibratory effect.

The problem will be even worse when there is more contrast between the dark and light objects. The next example is a image of an old car taken with a snowy background. Look at the two crops I have provided.

In the 1st crop you can see a lot of the vibratory haloing effect against the edges of the car door and all the various limbs. In the 2nd crop the back seat springs really show the effect. If you do any sharpening on the image the effect is intensified.

I have found no way to control this. If you turn off all sharpening in the super resolution process, the Vibratory halos will still be seen. After much experimentation, I found that if you select the “Draft” setting under super resolution, the problem is not seen, however with the “Draft” setting you will not get the best results from Sizefixer. So for now, if you have an image that may have subject matter that might be affected by this problem, you will need to run the super resolution process twice. Start with the “Very Good Quality” and then rerun the same upsizing using the “Draft” setting. Combine the two outputs later on in Photoshop.

This is much more work than most people are going to want to do. I mentioned this to Fixerlabs and their comment was to watch for over-sharpening during a raw conversion. Generally I always have some sharpening turned on during raw conversions but went ahead and tried some images that were not sharpened at all. I found that there are still situations where you will get the vibratory haloing. As of 02/20/06, I don’t know if Fixerlabs has either agreed that this problem exists or if they are working on any fix.

Noise issues with the Super Resolution Setting

Pure and simple, I feel that the super resolution sharpens noise, even with the threshold set to zero. Make a note to look at your images before you run any type of super resolution on them for if there is noise in parts of the image, this noise will be picked up and grossly resized. This is another reason not to sharpen your image before using Sizefixer unless you use a selective sharpening tool like the DOP EasyS Plus Sharpening Toolkit .

Conclusion

 

Well I am sure you asking, is it worth it? Can I justify the up to one hour wait and having to cut my images in half to work with this tool? In one word YES.

I have found that the output from Sizefixer more than justifies the extra time. Sizefixer is the first upsizing tool I have found that allows me to get to the same degree of final output as I get from stitching. I started to include comparisons between various upsizing tools but I realized that you really can’t tell much when viewing such comparisons on a CRT or LCD screen. Many people use different screen resolutions and no two people will view the same output the same way. This is why I strongly recommend that Sizefixer release this software in a demo version. Currently the only way to get a demo is to send Sizefixer your image and pay them to upsize it. They will send you the final output back and you can deduct the cost of the upsizing from your final bill for the software. Instead of this process I feel a person should have the ability to test/demo the software in their own environment. This is the standard demo process that most companies offer and one that Fixerlabs offers on their other products.

I have been working with Sizefixer since mid November 2005 and have used it to upsize over 100 different images. I have found that I can get excellent results from a 2.74mp D1 shot all the way to a 16mp 1DSMKII file. Each time I have found that the output from Sizefixer has amazingly accurate details. Even with the issues that have been pointed out, I prefer the output enough to develop work a-rounds to overcome these problems.

Pros
Cons
Software has the ability to upsize images with extremely detailed results
Slow processing time when using the Super Resolution option
Excellent user interface
Vibratory Haloing issue
16 bit support
High price point for entry SLR version
Versions for Windows or Mac
Windows SLR Version has a problem with large camera files
Ability to upsize an image up 16x from the original
  • The cost of Sizefixer XL (currently only available for Mac) is $335.00
  • The cost of Sizefixer SLR for Mac and Win is $185.00

Reply by FixerLabs

We got the following note by FixerLabs:

"All the Issues/Concerns discussed in Paul's review are being addressed by work on SizeFixer and we plan to release an update as soon as we can to address:


1 Speed - our prototype is about five times faster,
2 Fix bug on PC SizeFixer SLR for large files,
3 Edge artifacts ("Vibratory Haloing" or ringing) is suppressed automatically,
4 Noise amplification does not occur
5 Free 30 day trial
6 Minor bug fixes, and suggestions from current users.

Updates are free to existing owners."

 

 

 

If there are any questions, you can write me at the following email address, pcaldwe@aristotle.net.

My work with landscape photography can be viewed at either of the following websites:


Digital Outback Photo is a registered affiliates for FixerLabs. If you plan to buy these products use these links as you help support Digital Outback Photo.

Buy SizeFixer SLR (Mac & PC)

and

SizeFixer XL (Mac OS X only)


 

 

This is one of the many techniques we will teach during the 2006 Summit. We will also work with you 1 on 1 and help you with your own images and with how to use this technique, and many others, in your own work. Click here to read a detailed description of the 2006 Digital Fine Art Summit. Joseph Holmes will join the Summit 2006 as a guest instructor means you can ask this world class printing expert directly.

About the Fourth Annual Photography & Fine Art Printing Summit

The 4th Photography & Fine Art Printing Summit will take place November 10th to 13th, 2006, in Page, Arizona. Seats are limited. In addition to studying color management and color spaces, we will also do field photography in stunning locations such as Antelope Canyon, Lake Powell and Horseshoe Bend, as well as study Raw conversion, Photoshop processing, image optimization, printing. We will also conduct print reviews of your work created during the Summit. Find out all the details of this unique learning and photographing opportunity on the 2006 Summit page.

 

 

 
 
 
   

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