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Can a dreaming AI fix low res digital photos in the edit?

Can a dreaming AI fix low res digital photos in the edit?
From TechCrunch - December 21, 2017

Can a deep dreaming AI transform low res photos into crisply detailed high res images?

Lets Enhance is an Estonia-based startup thats using a so-called hallucinating AIdeep neural network to power a freemium photo upscaling service. On its website it claims the learning software hallucinates missing details to make image look natural.

It launched the online tool at the end of October, garnering a bit of early press coverage.

I tried it out at the time but results seemed mixed and it was hard to judge how useful it might be without a proper use case to test it on.

So I bided my time and this month happened to find myself with just the sort of digital photo challenge that I thought the service might be able to help within that photos I wanted to gift as framed prints didnt have a great resolution for producing a decent sized print.

Low res photo problems? AI to the rescue!

One of the photos was just a fun smartphone snap. But others were a bit more high stakesbeing from a wedding.

And after attempting (unsuccessfully) to source their full res versionsattendees photos having been collectively shared after the fact via iCloud; and no one could apparently remember who had taken the specific shots I was after (or on what device)I decided to run them and the more casual portrait through Lets Enhance to see if I could boost the resolution and have a chance at turning them into gift-able prints.

The service is freemium and caps the number of photos you can run through it per day. It also locks out at 10 free photos total before youre pushed towards one of its subscription plans. But as I only had a few shots to upscale I was able to run everything through the freemium gate without needing to sign up for a subscription or buy a cost bundle (which they also offer).

Each photo you upload to Lets Enhances AI gets returned to you after seconds (or maybe up to a minute or two) of processing time in three versions, reflecting the different stages applied to try to AI-enhance it. So per photo you get three files back, which are given the following labels: Anti-jpeg, boring and magic.

The anti-jpeg version of the image does not upscale the actual sizeit just appears to lightly polish out some compression artifacts. Though I found its results to be pretty subtle, at least on the shots I tried and comparing original vs anti-jpeg images on a screen.

The boring and magic techniques always upscale the image by 4x so Iwas able to turnfor examplea 520KB digital photo file with a resolution of 8981600 into 21.8MB with a full 34926400 pixels. Soin theory at leastthe upscaled version could be printed poster sized.

The results from the boring and magic techniques applied to this particular portrait photo seemed visually impressive on screen. Though the portrait was taken at a fair distance and its cluttered graffiti stairwell background is probably a pretty forgiving canvas for concealing upscaling imperfections.

To my eye there wasnt a huge difference between the two processing techniques when applied to this photothe magic version produced a very slightly fuzzier result. But again, for this particular shot either file would probably have yielded a fine framable print.

The photos from the wedding were definitely a lot more challenging.Two of the original shots appear to have been taken with a smartphone camera of fairly standard quality, so while they look nice on a screen their low resolution of just 1024577 meant the max size you could reasonably expect to print them would be a tiddly ~4-inches.

After cropping one of these shots to remove an incidental bystander and upscaling via Lets Enhance the image came back with a resolution of 34082304. So at least technically large enough to produce a decent sized print.

An added challenge with the second image was that it had been taken at a distance, in portrait orientation, and I wanted a close up of the faceswhich meant major cropping into a smaller landscape format and an attempt to focus on what had been pretty remote details to start with.

After upscaling and cropping I got an image with a resolution of 21821684. Again, in theory, a small print could work at that resolution.

However the AI upscaling had produced an effect that was definitely a lot more vaseline screen than fine outliningdoubtless on account of the original shot not being great quality to begin with.

Lets Enhance CEO Oleksandr Savsunenko did warn me that: If the picture is too much zoomed or pixelized, the system will consider it as natural pattern and will not change it.

So I wasnt exactly expecting miracles. But even the slightly larger of the two photos did not look exactly crisp in terms of detailing after its AI trip.

Of the two processing layers, boring again appeared to have worked bestwith magic resulting in a lot more fuzz/artifacts in both of the shots. Including giving the edge of what should be some skin a kind of fabric-style fringing.

That must be the AI pattern-spotter at work

A third image from the wedding was a full res photo, so didnt have the same quality problems. But again I was after just a cropped detailso I used Lets Enhance to upscale the crop to enhance its resolution. This mean I went from a reasonable 20322355 to a generous 81289416.

As well as being a better quality image to start with this wasnt such a close up portrait so the upscaling seemed to work better here, especially across a cityscape/landscape background with the couple only being shown in profile. Although, here too, details on the magic version came out slightly fuzzier than the others.

Now, armed with my upscaled filesand at least a chance of some passable prints, I loaded the images onto a thumb drive and headed down to the photo shop.

So how did the prints look?

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