Today Adobe announced a bunch of important updates to its ecosystem, with Lightroom Classic CC, Lightroom CC and mobile versions of apps receiving some new features. For example, the desktop version of Lightroom CC finally received the ability to stitch HDRs, panoramas, and HDR panoramas, while Lightroom Classic CC now has better tethering support for Nikon cameras (you can read about these changes in Adobe’s announcement post). However, the most exciting new feature any Creative Cloud subscriber can now access is called “Enhance Details”, which uses machine learning and computational photography to enhance the level of detail in images. This feature is accessible through Adobe Camera RAW, Lightroom Classic CC and Lightroom CC for both Mac and PC platforms. What’s so exciting about it? Well, it brings new levels of detail to images we have never seen before and these details can be applied to all existing RAW images. In fact, as I went through this feature in Lightroom, I discovered that this feature not only enhances sharpness in images, but also adds details that have never been there before in the first place. This essentially makes “Enhance Details” a very powerful tool. Let’s take a look at a few sample images to see exactly what happens.
When you open up Lightroom CC, Lightroom Classic CC or ACR, you can right-click on a photo and there is now a new option titled “Enhance Details” (o be able to use this feature, you must use a RAW image – it cannot work with previously merged HDR, Panorama or pixel-shifted RAW images). Once you do that, a new window will pop-up titled “Enhance Details Preview”, from which you can see the enhancement potential of an image:
Clicking inside the preview (which can be moved around by scrolling) reveals what the image looks like without the enhancement tool, as shown below:
If the differences between the two aren’t evident right away, take a look at the below before / after, which shows what this tool does in terms of bringing out details that weren’t there in the first place:
You are looking at a RAW image from the Fuji X-H1 at 3:1 zoom ratio, so things are zoomed in much more than they should be. However, pay attention to what happens in the “after” image – it has so much more detail in comparison. First of all, there are now colors on subjects that were either not there before, or were very weak. Take a look at the blue column on the left side, which barely stood out in the original RAW file. Also pay attention to all the details and colors in hung clothes and satellite dishes on the rooftop. These changes are very subtle, but they do result in a lot more detail than I started with.
Once you click the “Enhance” button, depending on the size and the resolution of the image, it might take anywhere from several seconds to several minutes. For the above image, it took rightly 20 seconds on an iMac Pro, so your mileage might vary. Once the image enhancement process is complete, if you use Lightroom, you will end up with another image in your catalog, as seen below:
The image will be named just like the original image, with the word “Enhanced” added at the end of it. It is important to point out that the new image is of DNG format, so you can continue to edit it like a normal RAW file. However, you cannot add additional detail to it using the same tool. Also, since there are more details now in the image, you can expect the tool to yield much larger image sizes. The image above started out at just 25.3 MB (Lossless Compressed RAW), but the resulting DNG file took 120 MB of space, which is almost 4x the size! Lastly, it seems like the tool is in more of a “beta” state. When I tried to load Nikon Z7 files into it, Lightroom crashed on more than one occasion.
Let’s take a look at another image, this time from the Nikon Z7. Here is the before and after, but this time directly from Lightroom’s comparison tool (open the image in a separate window to see the full size):
Here, we can’t really see much enhancement to the image. I looked through the whole file at 3:1 zoom and I just couldn’t see much improvement to the image. I went from a 61 MB file to a 206 MB DNG practically without any noticeable difference. There were a few areas where the tool added just a tad more detail (such as in power lines and the edges of the buildings), but I didn’t see nearly as much of an improvement as on images from Fuji RAW files. My suspicion is that the Nikon Z7 with the Nikon Z 24-70mm f/4 S combo has such an insane amount of detail, that the machine learning process just can’t add more. From my experiments so far, it looks like the tool works best on slightly defocused subjects, or perhaps images taken at diffraction-limited apertures. So once again, depending on what photo you are feeding into the tool, your mileage might vary.
Overall, the new Enhance Details tool looks great. If Adobe can figure out the bugs and make it rock solid, this might be the tool to use for a select number of images – especially those that you want to print in as much detail as possible. I would definitely recommend it to any Fuji X-series shooter – it seems to make a very noticeable difference in images.
On another note, Lightroom Classic CC is slower than ever. I really wish Adobe found a way to fix all the slow-down issues rather than stacking more features on top of it. I guess the future is with Lightroom CC now, since that’s the software that has been rewritten from scratch…