Does the New Super Resolution Photoshop Feature Work?

by Mar 26, 2021Photography Blog

Robin Whalley Landscape Photographer

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Does the New Super Resolution Photoshop Feature Work?

In this article we explore the new Super Resolution Photoshop feature to answer the question does it really work. In doing so, I’ll be explaining how you can use Super Resolution as well as providing tips about how to make the most of the feature. After that, we do some pixel peeping to see how Super Resolution compares to a couple of existing methods of resizing images.

Now you know what to expect, let’s look at how to use Super Resolution in Photoshop.

Super Resolution in Photoshop

The first thing to understand is that Super Resolution isn’t really in Photoshop but that it’s part of Camera RAW. What happens when you try to open a RAW file in Photoshop is that it launches Adobe Camera RAW. You must convert the RAW file to an image in Camera RAW before you can edit it in Photoshop.

If we want to use Super Resolution, we first need to open our image in Camera RAW. Later I’ll explain how to do this with other image formats, but for now we will use a RAW file.

RAW file used for Super Resolution testing in Photoshop

This image was captured as a RAW file in 2014 using an Olympus EM5, which is a 16Mpixel micro 43 camera. After opening the RAW file, it loads to Adobe Camera RAW as seen here.

Launching Super Resolution in Adobe Camera RAW

From Camera RAW we can access the Super Resolution feature. There are several ways you can do this but two easy ones to remember are:

  1. From the popup menu in the sidebar. The icon for this shows three dots.
  2. Right clicking the image with your mouse. Then in the popup menu select the Enhance… option.

Selecting the Enhance… option with either of these methods loads the Enhance Preview dialog which includes the Super Resolution feature.

If you’re a Lightroom user, you may recognise the Enhance feature as it’s also available there. But, at the time of writing, Super Resolution is only available in Photoshop (Camera RAW), although I suspect that will change soon.

The Super Resolution Preview

Having launched the Enhance Preview dialog you will see the Super Resolution option.

Enhance Preview showing Super Resolution

It’s likely that on opening the Enhance Preview dialog you will find the Super Resolution option already ticked. If not, click the option to toggle it on. You will then see the preview area update to show a magnified section of the image with Super Resolution applied. You can also click the preview with your mouse to toggle between the normal image and the Super Resolution preview to check the effect.

The other information in the dialog is the estimated time to complete the processing, which in this example is 9 seconds. What happens when you click the “Enhance” button is that a new Super Resolution version of the image is produced. This new image is then saved as a DNG file and appears in the film strip along bottom of the Camera RAW interface. You can then click the DNG file to apply any adjustments before opening the image in Photoshop.

Super Resolution Important Points

When using Super Resolution in Photoshop there are a few important points to be aware of.

First, any adjustments you make to the original RAW file in Camera RAW are carried over to the new enhanced RAW file. This is important because you may find the original settings for things like noise reduction and sharpening don’t suit the Super Resolution version.

Second, the quality of the original RAW file will determine the quality of the Super Resolution file. If you start with a RAW file that’s noisy and soft, you will just produce a larger version of that file. Whilst experimenting I found the results I could achieve when using RAW files shot with my highest quality lenses were far superior.

Third, Super Resolution works great with Fuji XTrans RAW files. If you’ve followed my writing for a while, you will know that I’ve been critical in the past of Adobe’s inability to process the Fuji XTrans RAW files well. The standard Enhance Detail feature found in Lightroom and Adobe Camera RAW did improve this, but the results that I’m seeing from Super Resolution are excellent.

Enlargement Limits with Super Resolution

There is a limit to the enlargement you can achieve using Super Resolution. Currently the feature will double the pixel dimension along each side of the image. In the cactus image example, the original file was 3,456 x 4,608 pixels (15.9MP). The Super Resolution version is 6,912 x 9,216 pixels (63.7MP). That’s a credible enlargement but still only produces an image that’s 31 inches on the long edge when printed at 300ppi.

If we try to use Super Resolution on a file that’s already been enhanced, we see an error message.

Unsupported file error when using super resolution on an already enhanced image

One way to work around this is by opening the Super Resolution image in Photoshop and then saving it as a TIFF. You can then change the Photoshop Preferences to open TIFF files in Adobe Camera RAW first, rather than directly in Photoshop.

To change your Photoshop Preferences, select “Photoshop | Preferences | Camera RAW…” in the menu on a Mac. If you’re using a Windows PC, you will find the preferences in the Edit menu.

Changing Photoshop Camera RAW preferences

In the File Handling tab, you will see the options for handling JPEG, HEIC and TIFF images. Change these dropdowns to open “Automatically open all supported” files of those types.

After making this change (you may need to restart Photoshop) you will find when you open the TIFF file you saved in Photoshop, it opens in Adobe Camera RAW. Then in Adobe Camera RAW you can apply Supper Resolution to the already enlarged TIFF image. You can also use this trick with JPEG images but for optimum quality stick with TIFF files. You may also want to change your preference settings back after doing this as having TIFFs and JPEGs open in Camera RAW can become annoying.

After applying Super Resolution to the image a second time, the image is 13,824 x 18,432 pixels (255MP). To put that in perspective the image is now over 60 inches on the long edge when printed at 300ppi.

Yes, you could continue to use this method of enlarging the image, but you will probably start to see the quality suffer. And on that point, I’m sure you are wondering about the quality of the enlargements produced using Super Resolution in Photoshop.

Checking Super Resolution Quality

My first impression on checking the image quality of Super Resolution images can be summed up in a word – wow! But that’s not really going to help you, so I decided to do some pixel peeping.

The first comparison I made was the Super Resolution image v’s a 2 times enlargement using the best Photoshop enlargement method. After a few tests, the best enlargement method in Photoshop turned out to be the “Preserve Details 2” option. Here’s how it faired.

Comparison 1 Super resolution v photoshop preserve details 2

At first glance you might think Photoshop Preserve Details enlargement looks sharper and that’s the criteria many people use to judge an enlargement. But when you look more closely there are problems in the enlargement that you don’t find in the Super Resolution version.

As a side note I should point out that looking at resized screenshots on a website won’t let you make a meaningful comparison. As an alternative I’ve made the original screen grabs available to download. You’ll find a zip file on this page containing the comparisons used in this tutorial and the accompanying video.

Identified Problems

The problems identified when comparing the two images are all with the traditional enlargement method. The Super Resolution version has remarkable quality and looks like a RAW file shot with a high-resolution camera. Comparing the Photoshop enlargement, it appears overly sharpened but at the same time, not as detailed. It has pixilation along the edges of the cactus spines and has a slight increase in contrast.

Following this, I decided to compare Super Resolution with the best resizing software I have used. Topaz Gigapixel.

Topaz Gigapixel v’s Super Resolution in Photoshop

For this comparison I made a two times enlargement using the Standard mode in Topaz Gigapixel. Whilst the Gigapixel enlargement was superior to the Photoshop enlargement, it had problems compared to Super Resolution.

super resolution in photoshop compared to topaz gigapixel

As with the Photoshop enlargement, the Gigapixel enlargement appeared sharper at first glance. Looking more closely though there is pixilation along the edges of spines where the edges in the Super Resolution image are straight and clean.

I then decided to try the Compressed mode in Topaz Gigapixel. This is commonly used with noisy images, but I thought it may help with the pixilation.

Super resolution v topaz gigapixel compressed

The results between the two images are now much closer but the Super Resolution version still edged it in my opinion.

I also did a comparison of the image as a four times enlargement using Topaz Gigapixel and Super Resolution twice (as described earlier). If you want to know the results of that, watch the following video.

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You can also watch this video on my YouTube channel. I publish a new video every week, often based on subscribers’ requests and feedback. Subscribe to my YouTube channel now and be sure not to miss future videos.

Summary of Super Resolution in Photoshop

I started this tutorial by saying I was going to answer the question does Super Resolution in Photoshop really work. The answer to that is yes it does, and it works extremely well. Compared to what I think is the very best enlarger on the market currently (Topaz Gigapixel), it’s a close call but still better.

The only downside I noticed when using Super Resolution, is that you are limited to doubling the image dimensions unless you use the workaround. Having said that, I understand the Adobe Camera RAW team is working on enhancements to produce larger and cleaner images.

This is great feature if you want to produce high quality, large prints from low resolution RAW files.

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