AI Photo Editing Tools Breathe Life into Old Cameras
AI based photo editing tools like those from Topaz Labs have been around for a while, but I’ve never found them to be good enough to justify disrupting my otherwise Adobe Lightroom based photo editing workflow.
In the past couple of years, Adobe has added native AI based photo enhancement tools to Lightroom, starting with Super Resolution and more recently Raw Details and Denoise. They’ve also steadily improved these tools while also rebuilding Lightroom to work with Apple silicon for optimal performance.
I have an affection for small, powerful digital cameras but there are fewer of these being made as camera manufacturers seek to differentiate from increasingly photography capable smartphones by investing in larger sensors, image stabilization, articulating screens and high quality electronic viewfinders, all of which make cameras physically larger. These investments have yielded great small mirrorless cameras like the Fuji X-E4, Leica CL (discontinued, sadly) and the Canon R50 (what a camera!), but gone are experiments like the Sony RX1 range, and the development much smaller cameras like Canon GX and SX series, the Panasonic ZS, TZ, LX ranges, Nikon A models, Fujifilm XF10/X70 and Leica TL/CL and compacts seems to be done or close to it. The Ricoh GR III is alone as a larger sensor compact actively being sold (the Leica Q2 is a much bigger camera), and the Sony RX100 range with a 1” sensor lives on but future development seems to be focused toward video oriented cameras in this form factor, such as the ZV-1.
So, I turned to my collection of older small cameras which includes the Panasonic LF1 (2013) a 190g compact with a 1/1.7” 12mp sensor, Panasonic GM1 (2013) a 205g ILC (without lens) with a 16mp micro 4/3 sensor, and Ricoh GR Digital II (2007) a 200g compact with a then large-ish 1/1.75” 10mp sensor.
My hunch was that features like Super Resolution and Denoise would breathe life into the images created with these cameras, in particular RAW files shot under challenging conditions or, at the very least, just increase the resolution to enable greater latitude for cropping and larger prints (if that’s your thing).
I was not disappointed.
Denoise, in particular, delivers impressive results that make unusable images not only acceptable but highly usable.
For example, from the Ricoh GR Digital II, which really struggles with the dynamic range and variety of textures in this scene.
Settings: ISO 100 | f/2.4 | 1/200 sec | Spot metered on the center of the image Light: +1.5 exposure, -70 contrast, -50 highlights, +55 shadows, -30 whites, -5 blacks Color: 5,614 temp, +73 tint, +5 vibrance, +5 saturation, -100 pink, -35 purple Effects: +5 texture, +10 clarity, +30 dehaze Detail: 60 sharpening, 70 masking
This raised the shadows while preserving the highlights but even with ISO 100 there’s a ton of detail destroying noise in the shadows.
Below is with Denoise applied set at 60.
Not only is the noise almost gone, Lightroom accomplished this without smearing the details or introducing any other artefacts which has been the problem of previous noise reduction solutions, especially in-camera software. On the contrary, it appears as though detail has been added to the image, which essentially is what AI-based denoise techniques aim to do.
Because the enhanced output is a new DNG raw file, I tried to further optimize the exposure which re-introduced some noise but still yielded a very usable image with plenty of detail.
This is exciting in a number of ways but primarily for me because it extends the life of older cameras, many of which have both technical and ergonomic features that manufacturers have moved away from.
For example, Leica has stopped making APS-C cameras, many of which are really beautiful and lovely to use, AI based editing tools make it possible to get the best possible images from them.
There are other problems with older cameras – autofocus and low resolution screens/viewfinders are notable examples – but there’s a joy and freedom of being able to take a tiny camera like the Panasonic LF1 everywhere, knowing that I’ll be able to have the control it offers as a photographic device without having to sacrifice image quality.
It also makes photography more accessible than ever for people just getting started as they have a huge range of cameras available to them.
Of course, these tools also make it possible to get even more out of the amazing images produced by the latest modern cameras.