AI Photography Software Problem

by May 21, 2021Photography Blog

Robin Whalley Landscape Photographer

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AI Photography Software Problem

AI or Artificial Intelligence appears to be the latest trend in photography software. Initially, there were only a couple of software providers using it, but the list has grown. Even products like DxO PhotoLab and Adobe Camera RAW are now using AI, and to be honest, they are using it to great effect. Some of the things that are now possible in this AI photography software appear to work almost like magic.

Despite the great success of many of these photo editors, all may not be well.

The AI Technical Problem

There may be a problem hidden in our use of AI for photo editing. I don’t mean that your photography will look like everyone else’s, or that AI has removed the skill from photo editing, or that the software can be slow and demanding to run. What I’m talking about is a technical issue that I’ve noticed in images processed using my AI photography software.

Let me show you an example of the problem.

Sample image RAW file in Adobe Camera RAW

Here is one of my RAW files open in Adobe Camera RAW. The RAW file is an old one from a 10 MP Canon 400D, shot with a sharp Sigma EX 18-50 f/2.8 lens. The only problem with the image is that it’s small with a native dimension of 3,939 x 2,592 pixels.

To fix this I decided to use the new Super Resolution feature in Adobe Camera RAW. This increased the image resolution to a more usable 7,876 x 5,184 pixels which is the equivalent of a 40MP camera.

Looking over the image at 100% magnification, Super Resolution has created an amazing result, but I can also see a problem. When I zoom to 200% magnification, I can see an odd-looking grid pattern on the image which can become exaggerated with sharpening. Here’s what it looks like.

AI photography software processing problem

Is this Really a Problem?

I would like to think this is an isolated problem, but it isn’t. It’s also not something that you see because you are zoomed in hunting for issues. In severe cases, the pattern catches your eye, and you start looking more closely.

I began noticing the grid pattern around 6 months ago, and it was only present after using AI photography software. I decided not to share this before now because I was trying to understand what was happening. I also wanted a good example to share with you like the one above.

Whilst I haven’t got to the bottom of what’s happening, I do have a slightly better understanding which is why I’m sharing this.

Who is to Blame?

From this example, it’s easy to think let’s pin the blame on Adobe but please don’t do that. I’ve seen the same issue with other AI photo software editors. Yes, Super Resolution is new, but I think it’s just making the issue easier to see. You see I think the real problem is the user – me.

The way to recreate this problem is by something I will call double AI processing. I created the example above by running the image through two lots of processing that use AI. You see the RAW file I started with wasn’t a true RAW file. It was a DNG file that I had pre-processed in DxO PhotoLab 4 which uses AI. I then I enlarged the image using Adobe Super Resolution that also uses AI.

If I repeat the Super Resolution processing using the original RAW file rather than the DxO processed DNG, I don’t see the odd-looking grid pattern. Unfortunately, part of this may be due to the softer results produced by Adobe Camera RAW as a RAW converter. Here is the same image section at 200% magnification after using Super Resolution and applying sharpening.

Original RAW processed with Super Resolution

This time there is no discernible pattern to worry me.

So does this mean DxO is causing the issue? No, it doesn’t, I’ve seen this same problem when using other AI tools and the images haven’t been near DxO for processing. I can also enlarge the DxO DNG file without causing this problem as you can see here.

Image section processed in Gigapixel

This is the same image section viewed at 200% which was resized using Topaz Gigapixel using AI. Gigapixel was able to resize the DNG processed by DxO PhotoLab without creating the pattern problem. But what’s interesting about this isn’t that the Gigapixel enlargement is superior but that I’ve seen the issue in Gigapixel in the past (but not recently). I’m wonder if Topaz has recognised and fixed the problem and is more mature in the AI space than Adobe.

What’s Causing the Issue?

Earlier I said that I was to blame and caused the issue by processing images twice with AI photography software. Whilst this is true, something must still be behind the problem. My best guess, and I’m still very hazy about this, is that it’s related to the way enlargement and detail enhancement happens. In areas of an image that only have faint detail the software sometimes seems to try too hard to create detail which causes the pattern. When the image is enlarged it makes the pattern easier to see.

Summary of Problems with AI Photography Software

At this time, I can’t do much more than make you aware of the problem I’ve experienced using AI photography software. If you are using any AI based software that enhances detail/reduces noise, watch out for the problem in areas or continuous tone which lack obvious detail. If you aren’t enlarging the image, then you may not notice the problem. But if you do enlarge and/or resharpen an AI enhanced image stay alert to possible problems.

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