Saturday, September 8, 2018

Topaz AI Gigapixel - tested

When Topaz came out with their AI Gigapixel (AIG), image resizing product, I was sceptical. Firstly, I had tried many resizing products in the past and had settled on one that worked quite well (within the accepted constraints of resizing). Could AIG, do better than what I was already using? I doubted it.

My first attempt was not good. AIG crashed on first use and clearly didn't want to work with my graphics card. I walked away disappointed but not altogether surprised. I told myself that, anyway, it probably wouldn't have been any better than what I was already using.

I must be a glutton for punishment because when the email arrived announcing an improved 1.1 version, I downloaded it and tried again. This version included a CPU mode, which bypassed the GPU on my graphics card. That should, at least, allow it to run.

It did run, and the first output looked surprisingly good. So I devised a stricter test - I took a 24MP DSLR image and downsized it, in my normal editing program, to 6MP (half the width and height). I then put the 6MP image through AI Gigapixel at 200% to bring it back to its original size. I could then compare the original 24MP image with the enlarged 24MP AIG image and see how different they were.

The AIG image was sharper than the original. AIG obviously adds some sharpening during the resizing process. To compensate, I added some sharpening to the original file so that they were more directly comparable. What I was really looking for was a loss of detail and fat 'jaggy' edges in the enlargement. At 100% I could not see any difference between the two files. Definitely, not the result I was expecting.
Screenshot - Original 24MP file on left - 6MP file enlarged to 24MP on right (click to see full size) 
The screen-shot above is taken at 200% magnification and contains both in focus and out of focus items. The original image is on the left and the AIG resized image is on the right. I am still struggling to see any significant difference between the two images. Not quite believing what I was seeing, I repeated the same test on other images all with a similar result.

As a final test, I took an image from a different camera - a compact with a 1/2.3", 16Mp sized sensor. I enlarged the image by 200% in my image editor, using the bicubic sampling method and then enlarged the same image in AIG and compared the results. The screenshot below, is at 200% magnification and the results are quite surprising - the AIG image has much finer detail (particularly at the edges), texture seems to have been replicated rather than enlarged, and image grain has been suppressed to a far greater extent, leading to a much cleaner image that would be difficult to pick as an enlargement.
Screenshot - Bicubic enlargement on left, AIG enlargement on right (click to see full size)
All my tests with AIG have been at 200% enlargement because that is what I would normally use. But AIG can enlarge up to 600% (though the results may not be so acceptable). The shrink-enlarge experiment indicates that AIG could be an effective substitute for a camera sensor with four times as many pixels (16MP becomes 64MP) or for a longer focal length lens. AIG produces significantly better results when compared with either a standard bicubic enlargement or previous industry-leading enlargers.

US$99 does seem a lot for a single task piece of software. But when compared with the cost of a camera with a larger sensor or a lens with a longer reach, AI Gigapixel may well be a reasonably priced alternative.

Tuesday, September 4, 2018

Lenovo N23 Yoga Chromebook

Lenovo N23 Yoga Chromebook

A few weeks ago, when our daughter's ten-year-old DEL laptop had a fall and met an untimely end, our three-year-old Acer Chromebook got moved on and a new Chromebook took its place - the Lenovo N23 Yoga.

At NZ$481, the N23 Yoga isn't the cheapest Chromebook around though it was cheaper than our old Acer Chromebook had cost three years ago. We chose the Lenovo, based upon its excellent reviews, physical flexibility (it is a Yoga, after all), ability to run Android apps and its price. We have not been disappointed.

Chromebooks make great family computers. As I write this, I have another family member's Windows 10 laptop sitting on the table. It is only a few weeks old and was driving the user crazy because it had slowed to a crawl. On inspection, it seemed to have slowed because it had started a Windows update. I let it run its course and the update eventually took about six hours - this is not a problem Chromebook users experience.

Having a Chromebook that can run Android apps is a huge advantage. No longer are users limited to a relatively small number of Chrome apps and cloud services, but a vast array of Android apps can be installed and used locally just as you would on a phone or tablet. Nearly all my photo editing is done on a desktop, but, when not in the office, it was great to be able to edit pictures on the Yoga using the Android app "Snapseed" rather than having to upload the picture to a web service and edit it in the cloud.

The Lenovo comes with an ARM processor (as did the Acer). Booting from cold in the morning takes less than 10 seconds and during the day it is instantly 'on' from standby. The battery lasts about 8-10 hours of actual use. Fold the touch screen into tablet mode and it effectively becomes an 11.6inch Android tablet (though a rather heavy and thick tablet). With 4Gb of RAM and 32Gb storage, the Lenovo is no slouch either - even with several Chrome tabs open, it flys along at a more than acceptable pace. The keyboard is a typical chicklet 'button' type, though it is good and responsive and I can keep up a good typing pace.

Chromebooks are great for non-technical users or as a spare device and the Lenovo N23 Yoga is a great Chromebook at a reasonable price.