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Making Huge Enlargements: Pixel Shift Multi vs Adobe’s New Super Resolution

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Screen shot of the digital noise seen in motion blurred images created by the Sony Pixel Shift Multi Shot composite process.

Episode 46 of The Fine Art Photography Podcast: Making Huge Enlargements with Pixel Shift Multi Compared to Adobe Super Resolution

Full Episode Transcript

Hey everybody Keith Dotson here and in this episode of the fine art photography podcast, I want to discuss the enlargement results using Adobe’s astounding new Super Resolution process, compared to using the camera’s pixel shift Multi shooting 16 image composites. 

I know this is a pretty specific topic that may not appeal to everyone, so if that’s you, please check out one of my other episodes. The episode about Edward S. Curtis seems to be pretty popular — it was published in March 2021.

Before I get started, let me say I mention several specific brands in this podcast, but it is not sponsored in any way.

OK so clean enlargements have been a photographic obsession of mine for a while.

Many of my interior design and corporate art buying clients often want absolutely gigantic prints, and making a ten foot enlargement is very demanding on image files. A print that large exposes every flaw in your image file — from lack of resolution to soft focus, hand-held motion blur, poor ISO choices or the wrong aperture — these things don’t matter much at 11 x 14 inches, but at ten feet or larger, they become glaringly and painfully obvious.

I realized to meet the needs of my professional clients, I needed to make larger and cleaner originals.

I bought the Sony A7RIV because it has a very large 60.2 MP native file, and in addition, it includes the 16 image Pixel Shift Multi shooting composite function. What that means is the camera will quickly shoot 16 original raw files of the same scene, which can be merged using computer software to get a larger than normal original file. Now since it makes 16 images, I imagined this to mean I would get a 16 times larger final image, but it doesn’t mean that at all.

An A7RIV raw file is slightly larger than 20 x 30 inches. Using the old Photoshop enlargement routine, I can get a fairly clean 40 x 60-inch print, with sharpness relying on a variety of factors, including tripod stability, aperture choice, ISO, etc.

Pixel Shift Multi gives me a composited original that’s slightly larger than 36 x 54 inches, a lot larger than the native file size, but still less than twice the size. Yet, it’s a native file size at 36 x 54 inches — that means there’s a lot of head room for making further enlargements before image quality degrades.

The new Raw Super Resolution function in Adobe has gotten a lot of attention, and rightfully so. As I said, I make a lot of huge enlargements, and this process really is a game changer in many ways. The Super Resolution process gives me a very clean original file that’s more than 63 inches — bigger even than the Pixel Shift Multi. And because it’s clean and sharp, it means I can make an even bigger manual enlargement if I need to. It’s a very impressive thing, but on my year-old Mac it’s pretty slow. It takes several minutes to run the enhance process. The results are worth the wait though.

However, if you’re up on these things at all, you’ve probably heard the Pixel Shift Multi isn’t useful in situations where the subject may have movement. In other words, you can’t shoot a raging river with Pixel Shift Multi.

I tested the Pixel Shift Multi function recently in shooting an abandoned and collapsed house in Hushpuckena, Mississippi. Of course, the house was static, but there was a very slight breeze, meaning the tree branches moved a little.

The way it works is the camera fires off 16 original Raw files in quick succession.

Those raw files have to be edited and composited in Sony’s free Viewer software, which exports out a composited single file at 36 x 54-plus inches. It was in examining the enlargement, I realized the multiple images had captured motion blur in the trees, but I didn’t mind it too much. It was kind of a pleasant amount of motion blur.

However when I zoomed in, I saw this weird pixelated digitized look. I had no idea it would do this weird stuff to the file in trying to composite the images together. The blurred areas look highly electronically digitized. Now let me say I was really pixel-peeping. I was viewing the files details at less than 1-inch, but in a very large print, those are the details I care about. Even though a very large print will realistically be viewed from several feet away, I don’t want there to be any nasty surprises should a viewer decide to come closer for a better look — and I hope someone would be compelled to do that by my work.

Screen shot of the digital noise seen in motion blurred images created by the Sony Pixel Shift Multi Shot composite process.
Screenshot of digital noise seen in motion blurred images created by the Sony Pixel Shift Multi Shot composite process.

That makes pixel shift multi shooting not very useful for me in most real world situations. I don’t mind an occasional motion-blurred tree branch, but this digital noise is unacceptable. 

I’ll admit I’m no expert in the use of Sony’s processing software. Maybe there are settings to help avoid this effect, or maybe you really do just need to avoid situations with even the slightest amount of movement.

As for me, I think in most cases, I will be relying on Adobe’s new Super Resolution tools in Camera Raw.

That’s all I’ve got on this topic. Thanks for listening and I’ll talk to you again real soon.

Note: This blog post contains Amazon Affiliate links. I may earn a small commission from qualifying purchases.

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Keith Dotson

Keith Dotson is a professional fine art photographer who specializes in black and white landscapes, cityscapes, and abstractions from nature.

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