Sagelight Cinepan Player (free)

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(Delicate Arch Sunset, 180º Cinepan Panorama in Widescreen Mode)

 

Introducing Sagelight Cinepan Player

I am pleased to announce the Sagelight Cinepan Player, a free Windows program that uses the Sagelight Cinepan Perceptual algorithm to gently show amazing, high-resolution panoramas on your desktop, either as a standalone application or elegant screensaver.

For various reasons, I took a break from Sagelight Image Editor development and write the Sagelight Cinepan Player Application/Screensaver.   It gave me a creative outlet and a nice break to re-energize for Sagelight development.  The Cinepan Player, by itself, was a hefty (but discrete) project, and it allowed me to use a lot of technology and other techniques I developed for Sagelight Image Editor, such as multi-processing code, SSE4, CPU caching, and streamlined multi-threading (not always easy).

Check out the main page http://sagelighteditor.com/cinepanplayer/ and the UI help section showing all the controls

Panoramas have an incredible immersion quality (i.e. feels like you are there) to them, and a perceptual algorithm was developed to enhance this effect and to show panoramas as widescreen (when, even at 16×9, the tend to become very distorted on the edges).

Based on an algorithm I wrote a few years ago, my interest was recently renewed in the technology when I showed my previous work to a friend.  In short I was astounded (described more below) because of how the technology in the last few years has made the idea of displaying slow moving panoramas corrected in real-time suddenly more compelling and realistic.  On my high-contrast 16×9 monitor, it feels like I am looking through a window!

(see Enter Sagelight Cinepan Player below, for more information).

 

I spent the last 2-3 months working on a revamp of the Cinepan Algorithm, which is a perceptual algorithm (vs. QTVR, etc.) created to enhance the incredible immersion quality with panoramas.

Cinepan Player uses many of the algorithms I wrote for Sagelight Editor, working with multiple CPUs and SSE4 code to bilinearly resize and anti-alias the image in realtime, for each and every frame.

The code was written to multi-thread fluidly, using as little processor time as possible, while taking advantage of the multiple CPU, SSE4, and high-speed memory now in most computers – Cinepan play will still run with older computers, too (see various settings).

note to SSE2-only users: Cinepan Player runs on any computer with SSE2 or above.  Please let me know of any problems – it’s sometimes hard to be absolutely sure ALL SSE4 instructions are out of the SSE2 code!

The result is an elegant presentation of immersive panoramas, slowly revealing themselves in the desktop in incredibly high resolution, and without the edges and “jaggies” typical of panoramas moving as slow speed.

Where to Download the Cinepan Player

    Download both the CinepanPlayer.exe and CinepanPlayer,pkg file (either the high-resolution or low-resolution package) into any directory you choose and run it – the package will self-extract.

    From there, you can turn it into a screensaver by simply copying CinepanPlayer.exe to c:\windows\system32\CinepanPlayer.scr (and then setting it as your screensaver in the Windows Control Panel).

    Click here for more information and instructions on Downloading the Cinepan Player

Free, but based on Donations

I am giving Cinepan Player away for free, with no strings attached.  I want the Cinepan Player to be an elegant screensaver-type program, and don’t want to put nag screens in it or prompt for donation in the runtime screen.

There is a current release set of 27 Cinepan Images, as well as 3 specialty image (I will make a separate blog post about that, as well).

I have hundreds lined up, but they take anywhere from 1-2 hours to process (due to various issues, as they need to be noise-reduced, color adjusted, and – in many cases – touched up due to visible seams, etc.)

Also, I have many plans for additions, including automatic downloading, wallpaper sets, your own Panoramas, and so-forth, as donations come in.

As with Sagelight Editor, the programming and Cinepan Image creation is very intense.  It just took 2 1/2 months to revamp the first version I wrote a few years ago – it actually came out very well, so well, in fact, that it is hard to see the work behind it; the multi-cpu threading (which was very difficult to achieve), the real-time bilinear resizing, and so-forth.  And that’s as it should be, because the more elegant the program come out, the more simple it looks!

There’s also the Bandwidth issue, as with a download package of 65 megabytes, my server costs will be high, and any donations will help there, too.

Donations Help Sagelight Image Editor (free version)

I have decided to give away a free version of Sagelight Image Editor – the standard version, without many of the Pro Features.  To do this, I need some support, and I am giving away the Cinepan Player to help with the cause.

To donate to the Cinepan Project, go here

I will post more when I set up the website.

The following is from the main Help Web Page

See the help page at http://sagelighteditor.com/cinepanplayer – I will set up its own website soon, as donations come in.

 

360º Val Senales Ski Resort, Italy, Fullscreen Mode– Realtime Video plays in high-resolution 1080p (1920×1080) as it appears on the desktop. (Music included is in the Youtube Video, not the Cinepan Player Program)

 

An Introduction to Amazing, Immersive Panoramas

I’ve long been fascinated with panoramas.  They are great as still images, and even better (in most cases) as moving images.    As a 2-dimensional image, the panorama — when viewed through a panorama player that performs a lens correction on every frame, such as QTVR, Cinepan Player, and others — provides an immersion quality feeling just like you are there.

Add to that higher resolution than video, and a gently panning, smooth algorithm, and you have the Cinepan Player.     I original developed some pieces of the Cinepan Player a long time ago, and my interest was recently renewed when I realized that the new technology in monitors and computers in the last few years made panoramas even more compelling and interesting.

With 16×9 high-contrast monitors, the feeling like you are really there is much stronger than before.  I believe a lot of this has to do with mixing the art of the Still with that of Motion — the motion provides the 3-d experience, and the 2-d still provides the artistry.  Much like an impresionist painting, which can draw you in (also with an immersion quality to it) even more than an actual picture, the elegant movement of a panorama can bring you in more than a video.

I’ve put a particular emphasis on non-360 degree videos (Cinepan Player works with both types), as there are 10 times (or more) many great non-360 degree panoramas than there are full-360-degree ones out there.  This is discussed more below.

 

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Higher Resolution than a Video

The reason panoramas can draw us in is two-fold.   Not only do we have the artists view of the world with the still picture, leaving or imagination to fill in the gaps in our own way, but the panoramas provided with the Cinepan Player are much higher resolution than a video.  I have provided two examples via Youtube, but the quality difference is really amazing.

The slow movement of the panorama with the artistry of the image itself provides an amazing you-are-there quality that has to be experienced.

Sagelight Cinepan Player

Sagelight Cinepan Player is the result of my fascination with showing art from other artists (as well as my own), and the idea of creating artistic works involving technology. In this case, it is the art of the still mixed with motion on your monitor, elegantly and slowly panning across the screen, showing breathtaking views as the panorama is slowly revealed.

Working on the Cinepan Player has been a great project over the last few months, and has allowed me to flex some programming muscle, as well as use many of the high-end (SSE4, multi-processor) code I developed for Sagelight.

 

Apache Canyon, Arizona (180º) – Widescreen example. This is a good example of the Cinepan Perceptual Algorithm working. (Music in the Youtube Video only, not the program itself). This is an example of non-360º images working in the Cinepan Player; there are far more incredible non-360º degree panoramas than 360º panoramas, and the Cinepan Player deals with them nicely, rotating them slowly and coming to a gentle stop. Plays in 1080p (1920×1080), try it fullscreen.

 

The term “Cinepan”

The term Cinepan is short for “Cinematic Panorama”, which means a panorama that is automatically played back in a way that makes it look like a camera is moving, as opposed to a still photograph.  That is to say, in terms of the Cinepan Player, the idea is to create a true cinematic experience, including high-resolution images and artistic presentation. The term “Cinepan” came from the term “Cinemagraph” (which is a seamlessly looping GIF with an aesthetic effect, usually (but not always) a clip from a movie — high-resolution cinemagraphs being one of my next projects and additions to the Cinepan Player). I decided the term  “Cinepan” worked well as a description for the aesthetic display of a moving panorama.

Also embedded in the term “Cinepan” is the aesthetic (i.e. the artistic element) and the “art of the reveal”.  In most panoramas, when displayed as a Cinepan (i.e. moving image on the screen), each frame reveals a new piece of the image that is an individual piece of artwork and describes itself in its own terms.  This is why most panoramas are not 360-degrees, because there are almost always portions of a 360-degree image that wouldn’t work due to trash cans, wires, and such.

With just about all Cinepan panoramas, the feeling of being there is enhanced as each new frame reveals a new part of the image that focuses on that aspect of the scene.   In a few 360-degree cases, there might be a part that doesn’t “self-describe”, but these are short-lived as the panorama rotates back into a more interesting part of the image.

 

 

(Main UI Screen, or Configuration Menu when run as a Screensaver)

 

Panorama images vs. Panoramic Images

A “Panoramic” image is one that shows a very wide angle of a scene, such as landscapes, canyons, city, and so-forth.   Panoramic images are usually very wide and give more of a feeling the scene as it was taken.

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The above image is both a panorama and a panoramic image (note how the shoreline is curved – this is what makes this image a panorama; it is not lens corrected, which allows the Cinepan Player to show it as if it was shot as a panning video camera).

A Panorama is similar to a panoramic image, except that it is “uncorrected”, and can often be much wider/longer than a panoramic image.  A Panorama can be anywhere from 120-degrees to 360-degrees, much of the time impossible to view on the desktop without being distorted.  This is why many panoramas have so many bends and curves in them, because they have not been run through a lens-correction process.

When a panoramic image is a panorama (i.e. not corrected for a flat perspective), we can also play it as a Cinepan Image.

In terms of programs like Quick-Time Virtual Reality player and other panorama viewers, as well as Sagelight Cinepan Player, this allows the Panorama display in real-time, with each and every frame corrected to the angle in which you’re viewing the image — that is, as you move the image, it is just like you’re turning your head, or a video camera is panning over a scene.

My Obsession with Moving Panoramas, the Cinepan Algorithm,and Cinepan Player vs. QTVR, etc.

One day (about 10 years ago), I decided to write an algorithm to correct panoramas.  I was getting into Panorama photography (stitching together image after image), and thought it would be something nice to have in my code library, and was interested in the math involved.  I set out to see what I could do with the algorithm and just generally play with it.

I particularly didn’t like the “jaggies” that would appear in sharper images, especially when you moved them slowly.  I wanted to get a more aesthetic experience, rather than a manually controlled one.

One of the biggest reasons for wanting to explore panorama coding was because, as it turns out, most great panoramas are less than 360-degrees, and it was hard to view them in the QTVR or other manual setting.

I also wanted to explore showing them widescreen, which caused problems.  The wider a panorama is viewed (i.e. the higher the overall viewing angle), the more the edges became very distorted.   I didn’t like the idea of looking at an amazing panorama with a sweeping vista in a 3×4, or even 16×9 box.  But, once I moved them wider, the edges distorted so heavily that the aesthetic experience definitely suffered.

Cinepan Algorithm

Along the way, I tinkered with the algorithm and found a way to perceptually translate the image to help with the edge distortion, which also helped with the aliasing (i.e. jagged edges) problem.    Also, at the time, the QTVR algorithm was still under patent (maybe it still is?), so moving to a perceptual algorithm allowed me to release the code.

Cinepan Player was written to work in real-time in high resolution screens, and without much of the aliasing that can occur with the QTVR (i.e. technically correct) algorithm.   Correcting each frame takes a lot of CPU power, and to remove the aliasing requires even more.  This can be difficult on high-resolution panoramas and/or monitors.

Slow-moving, Sweeping Images

Sagelight Cinepan was written to provide a very smooth, slow-moving image in an aesthetic atmosphere.   With QTVR/other players, moving very slowly tends to increase the aliasing/jagged edges, which is why most images are not high-resolution (the higher the resolution of the image, the more jagged edges appear). Sagelight Cinepan was designed to show high-resolution images on high-resolution monitors with little or no jagged edges.

360º and non-360º Images

As it turns out, most panorama images are not 360-degrees.   It’s a rare panorama that looks great in 360-degrees; there’s always a trash can, parking lot, or some other uninteresting part of the image that makes a 360-degree panorama less than artistic.    Cinepan Player is designed around these images and plays them very smoothly for a great aesthetic effect.

Cinepan Player also plays 360-degree images, many of which are just great on their own, too! see 360-Degree Images in Cinepan Player

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(Paris as seen from the Eiffel Tower)

 

Suddenly, Sagelight Cinepan (previously HD Panorama) More Relavent than Ever!

You may remember Sagelight Cinepan Player as “HD Panorama”.  This was released a few years ago, but then my attention moved to Sagelight Image Editor.

Nasa and Disney Connection

A long time ago, I showed Nasa and Disney the panorama program with the Mars and Moon pictures I turned into panoramas (many 360-degree).  They really liked them.  Nasa had offered funding for the project, but then Google (who was financing this sector) said they’d have to derail some funds, so that offer was withdrawn for lack of funding.  Google later offered to put this panoramas in the Google Moon and Google Mars programs.

Disney offered to put these panoramas on their DVD of Roving Mars, but only had a $40,000 budget for the entire DVD and couldn’t offer any support.   They also offered high praise for the HD Panorama program and the Moon/Mars panoramas I showed them, but $40,000 was just too small of a budget to offer even the equipment I needed to make them for the DVD.   I probably should have taken Disney up on the offer, but there were complications getting the DVD out, and I don’t know if they ever released Roving Mars on DVD anyway.

Enter Sagelight Cinepan Player

A few months ago, I was showing HD Panorama to a friend, and I suddenly realized that HD Panorama is more relevant than ever, and much more interesting now than it was before.  There were so many compelling reasons (listed below), I sat down and turned it into Cinepan Player.

Here are the reasons that not only is Sagelight Cinepan Player more compelling and relevant now, but much more improved:

  • 16×9 Monitor & Television Format.  The very first thing I noticed when showing this to my friend is that the HD Panorama program was now on a 16×9 monitor and just looked tremendously better. Since the idea of the Panorama is a wide view, 16×9 worked perfectly.  Also, the higher contrast of newer monitors and televisions just made it look that much better, crisp, and sharp
  • Faster Processor Speed and Anti-Aliasing.  At the time, even with multiple processors, it took a lot of CPU power to run the Panorama Program, and it couldn’t really anti-alias well when viewed at high resolution.  You may noticed that if you take a QTVR image and make it full-screen, it typically doesn’t run in real-time (it’s slow).  The real-time correction process in a panorama display uses a lot of CPU instructions.  Now, with higher CPU speeds, performing a bilinear-resize on each and every frame is possible and does not make your computer hot!
  • More Panoramas Available Now.  When I wrote HD Panorama, panoramas were still fairly new and hard to find.  Now, there are thousands of great panoramas people have created and can be included in Sagelight Cinepan Player.
  • Graphic Design.  Another thing I noticed when I showed HD Panorama to a friend was that something wasn’t right.  The panoramas looked nice, but there was an aesthetic quality missing.  In the original version, the borders and text were BIG.    I guess times have changed, and moving to a thinner border, and a smaller and more aesthetic font made all the difference.
  • Better Bandwidth on the Internet.   When HD Panorama was first written, downloading packages of 50 Megs or more took much longer, and was also more expensive to host.  Now, 50+ megs takes very little time and costs very little to host, making it easier to download all of the Cinepan Image files.
  • Panoramas More Popular then Ever and Panorama Functions in Every Camera.  Almost all cameras (including phones) come with a “Panorama Mode”.    Now that panoramas are more popular than ever, more people are taking them and posting them with ease.  Many come out at a professional level by hardly trying and with little or no post-processing.  In the future, Cinepan Player can have an interface to allow you to put in your own panoramas (see Supporting Cinepan Player in the Sidebar).
  • Sagelight Image Editor.  I was able to use many of the routines I wrote for Sagelight image editor (not to mention the experience) to provide fast and accurate functionality, written in multi-processing SSE2 and SSE4 code; not something that was available at the time HD Panorama was written.  This also allowed me to process each Panorama image in Sagelight Editor to work better in the Cinepan Player (i.e. noise reduction and other items, such as sharpening without creating noise).

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(The Matterhorn, Swiss Alps)

 

Cinepan Player is Free, but Could use Some Support

I am happy to give Cinepan Player away for free.  It is a great project to work on, and I am very please with the way it came out.  Each panorama included in Cinepan Player is time-consuming, and I will do more if enough people like Cinepan Player.

Please consider supporting Cinepan Player.  It is 100% free, but your donations will help keep it going and allow me to find and create more Cinepan Images, and also to make an interface to allow you to put in your own panoramas.

Please enjoy Cinepan Player!

Rob Nelson
rob@sagelighteditor.com

Sagelight Workflow: Creative Flow vs. Work Flow

RedDuotoneSoft

 

Introduction

A hot topic on the discussion board lately has been about workflow — general workflow and also the Sagelight workflow with its differences between editors like Photoshop & Lightroom (which are different in of themselves).

WIth the Sagelight Workflow, for example, the Undo/Redo Brush figures prominently in terms of selective or local editing vs. image-wide editing that you get when you move sliders around and such (when the masking is off anyway).

A lot of this discussion is based on what has happened with the last release as well as what is about to happen with the next release – there are new additions with the UI coming, the Sagelight format, as well as a number of other things that are aimed specifically at getting all this power in Sagelight to be more visible and even easier to use.

 

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Work Flow vs. Creative Flow

I was just thinking about the idea of workflow and the HDR image I just posted (shown above). (Click to see the a larger version, before & after, and HDR tips.). 

There were two elements to working with this image (and most images, in general):

1. Addressing the ‘needs’ of the image.  A need of the image can be defined as something that needs to be done to the image before you can be creative with it – such as getting rid of noise, because noise tends to become amplified the longer you leave it in and continue editing. A need can also be lens correction, general brightening, etc. – the general idea being to get the image beyond what it needs and into your creative control.

I decided to wanted to HDR the above image. At this point, there were things that needed to be done, such as using the HDR Details, and other functions, in order to achieve what I was looking to get out of this image. I am, of course, in creative control of these things, in terms of what they do and how much they apply themselves to the image, but this is now a ‘need’ of the image to get what I want. I need to HDR it. I also need to perform some noise reduction on it (because it started as a medium-quality JPEG with lots of noise). Afterwards with a second pass of NR, I don’t need to do it; that’s creative because I want to smooth it; it’s not a specific need of the image.

2. Being spontaneously creative. After I did the initial HDR and noise reduction, then I could become creative with the image. A little dodging and burning, definition, Soft Glow — whatever I decided to do in a spontaneous creative mode. I will probably talk more about this in other posts as I get into the ‘Sagelight Workflow’, because this is why Sagelight was created and precisely why it works the way it does — the second part of the Apply Button blog post (The Apply Button in Sagelight (Part I –Functional Layer editing) is about the incremental/discrete editing approach. I’ve been looking for a name for this type of emphasis on creative digital editing, and the idea of being a free-flowing creativity really starts to describe it well.

With a creative flow, I can just decide what I want to do. The lower-left of the HDR image above looked too bright, so I lowered the light there selectively. Either through Dodging and Burning or just by using the RGB sliders and then the Undo/Redo Brush (or, I could mask the area, feather the mask, and do it dynamically) — that is, there are many ways. In fact, I don’t remember because it doesn’t matter. I get my ways of doing things down and just do them. In Sagelight, there are quite a few ways to get the things you’re looking for.  That’s what makes it creative and fun — the idea of just ‘doing’ things however they occur. Version 5 will have an option to give you an entire list of what you did, btw!

3. Repeating the Process. Once I perform the creative process, there may be more ‘needs’ of the image vs. creative things I want to do. For example, using HDR, definition, sharpening, etc. — this can bring out color noise and other unwanted details. So I might have to address these things selectively. Also, after I think I am done, I might inspect the image and see things I don’t like, such as some edges created by the HDR process (which is common in bright areas, but typically easily removed through NR, Bokeh, the Smoother, and the upcoming Surface Blur). So, I am back to looking at the things the image needs to not have distracting elements.

Once I do that, I might take a break from it — even come back the next day — and see if my creative process takes me anywhere else or if I think it’s just fine the way it is. For me, taking a break between images is key, so I can desaturate my brain from my edited picture and see it objectively, more as if I wasn’t the one who worked on it and was actually seeing it for the first time, with fresh eyes.

WIth a free-flowing creative session, I can often take the same image and come out with two very different result images. Sometimes it’s hard to decide which I like better, even when they look dramatically different.

Conclusion

I’m posting this topic for a couple reasons. One is to get that difference out there in terms of workflow — the needs of an image vs. the creative flow, in terms of ‘work’ flow and ‘creative’ flow.

As the issue of the ‘Sagelight Workflow’ becomes more prominent with the next release, I want to make sure these issues are properly bifurcated. I read an article a while back talking about the ‘Lightroom Look’, which was not a shot at Lightroom, but a recognition that sometimes our edited images can start look the same because we do the same things over and over to every image.

For me, the ‘same’ things we do to our images are what the image needs and not letting the creative flow automatically be the ‘work’ flow.

After that, it’s about being creative!

The second reason I mention all this is because, well, this is part of the discussion on the Sagelight Workflow!

Who Says You Need Multi-Exposure for HDR? Create great Single-Frame HDR effects with JPEG or RAW images… and Sagelight.

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Introduction

Sagelight has a number of HDR functions to help you create HDR effects, both photo-realistic and artistic, or any level in-between.

You don’t need multiple-frame exposures or RAW to create great HDR effects.  Of course, RAW and multi-exposure images definitely help in the HDR process.  You can use RAW directly with Sagelight or import a multi-frame exposure for use with Sagelight HDR functions.

You can also use JPEG for HDR with Sagelight and create effects that rival the multi-frame exposure images you see on the Web – and in just a few minutes.

All images in this article started off as 8-bit JPEG images and took just a few minutes each.

With the latest Sagelight Noise Reduction release, Sagelight’s ability to create nice, clean, and glowing HDR images has increased.

What is HDR?

HDR has a very wide range.  The term “HDR”, meaning High Dynamic Range, is just that – the idea that you can bring out the shadows, bring down the highlights, and have an image that isn’t washout or too shadowy, showing all the great details in one image on your screen.

The term HDR tends to suggest artistic, but artificial-looking images.  This isn’t the case with the original idea of HDR. 

Google’s image search with the term “HDR” returns with this result (screenshot):

google-hdr

The above image suggests that the term “HDR” tends to be evocative of the artificial.

But that isn’t always the case.  HDR is varied and can help you with your images, creating the artistic/artificial images above, or keeping your image looking authentic while working wonders with the light.

Sagelight contains HDR functions that can help bring out the most in your image while keeping it photo-realistic, and can also help you create more artistic effects.

Photorealistic HDR

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Above is a dark, flat picture.  It’s hard to deal with, but HDR can help.  Either through the Light Blender or HDR details function, this picture can quickly be transformed into a nice, bright, and colorful image:

IMG_0271_edited_6

 

This was done with the HDR Details function.  However, the Light Blender can also be used for a similar result – a little less defined and the utmost in photorealism (i.e. “HDRish”), but still technically HDR. 

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Artistic HDR

Sagelight can also create the more artistic form of HDR.  The above example is very dark – in fact, it’s a photo that I originally passed on a couple years ago because it was too dark.  What to do with problem images?  One thing to do is to HDR them! 

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I was able to do something nice with this image, and this is from a single-frame JPEG source, right from the camera.   Imagine what can be done with RAW.

Black and White Images

HDR also excels at helping you with your black-and-white images.  Here are two examples, both created in the Black and White HDR function:

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This example uses more of the artistic approach.  Also used was the Bokeh and Vignetting.

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This image is more of a photo-realistic approach.  The Sagelight HDR process added great contrast.

Before and After Examples

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This is an example of creating a very bright and clean HDR.  Everyone seems to do stairwells with HDR, so I joined the crowd with this one, too.

 

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Another image where HDR was used (HDR Details) to bring out a dark picture, but also keeping it photo-realistic.  A over-smoothed it with the NL Wavelet NR to give it a slight clean, smooth and artistic look.  The expression on the dog’s faces are priceless, and now that can be seen!

 

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Conclusion

You don’t need multiple exposures to create great HDR.  In fact, you can do it with JPEGs.  RAW will help you create better HDR effects, but if you’re working with JPEG, there is quite a bit you can do with HDR.  In fact, all images in this article originated as JPEG images, many in only medium resolution.

Sagelight’s HDR functions can help you create great photo-realistic and artificial effects, or anything in-between.  With the Light Blender, Black-and-White HDR, HDR Vivid Photo, CLAHE, and many other tools, Sagelight has the functionality that brings the most out of your image with HDR. 

With other functions, such as the Undo/Redo Brush (which allows you to mix HDR results with the original image), Sagelight NR, Dodge and Burn, Vignetting, etc., you can do more than just HDR – you can continue with the creative process and create your entire result. 

With Sagelight’s HDR and other tools, you can achieve high-end, professional-level HDR effects using RAW, imported multi-frame exposures, or even use a JPEG.

Try out the following tools in Sagelight for HDR:

  • Light Blender.  Depending on how you use it, the Light Blender can work wonders on your image.  It works well to keep HDR photo-realistic, and in many ways is more “HDR” than other HDR functions.  It can also be used to create more artistic effects, depending on settings.
  • HDR Details.  This is a great function to help create HDR effects. Try hitting the “Brighten HDR shadows function”.
  • Power Details.  This can be a great function to get HDR form your image.  Small settings can bring out details from your image in a powerful manner.
  • HDR Vivid Photo.  This is a great function that can help you keep your image photo-realistic, but also can give it a nice, well, vivid look!
  • HDR Black And White.  This function works great for turning images into stark black-and-white pictures.
  • Artistic HDR.  Go all out for the artistic with this function.  You can use the HDR Details for the same effect, but may require more settings
  • HDR Panel.  An advanced function, this has all you need to create HDR images, both artificial and realistic.
  • Retinex.  A very interesting and varied function.  Try the presets – this can make a big difference.  After the presets, then fine tune it for better effect,.
  • Sagelight Noise Reduction.  This can help immensely in getting the right HDR effect.  Try using minimally before the HDR process.  After the HDR process, try the NL Wavelet in small settings, or very large settings to smooth the result and give your image that soft, glowing HDR look.
  • Highlights and Details (CLAHE).  This is a great function to recover highlights, but also to create HDR definition in your image.  Use with the Blend Curve for nice effect.
  • Soft Glow.  Soft Glow is a great function to help bring out the details and light in your image.  This can be used by itself, but also makes a great function to use after you’ve HDR’d your image
  • Smart Contrast (in the Smart Light Controls).  After you’ve worked on your image, try just a touch of the smart contrast – this is in the Smart Light Controls.
  • Focus and Definition.  Located in the Power Box (Definition is labeled ‘1’, and Focus is labeled ‘2’, until the next release, where they will be labeled with their names), this can give your image a lot of details after you’ve used some HDR functions – or all by themselves without using any HDR effects.

High Resolution JPEG Quality and Sagelight

caesium-color-0

Introduction

This article discusses the high quality of saving with JPEGs in Sagelight.  I recently wrote a blog article about how you can edit images with most JPEG images (i.e. images coming from your camera as JPEGs) without fear of creating results that don’t compare to RAW images, and showed how you can easily (more easily, in fact) get the same overall results as many RAW images – as long as the JPEG quality was very high.

This discussion is just about that: High JPEG Quality in Sagelight, what it is doing, why Sagelight does it, and most importantly, the differences between the utmost quality (as practiced in Sagelight) and saving for lower file sizes.

I want to point out that this issue is not about Sagelight.  I am sure Lightroom and other high-end image editors save out in the same quality.  This is about photographic editing vs. utilitarian saving for file-sizes.

This post is about being educational about what a photographic editor like Sagelight does with saving your JPEG image vs. various utilities out there.  There are reasons to do both – save for higher quality with the higher file sizes that come with it, and to also save for lower file sizes that causes loss to your image quality (but often not enough to care about for such purposes).

For storage, internet, and overall editing, it is important to save with higher quality.  However, this is not always the case, and this tends to be outisde the scope of a “Photographic” or “Digital Darkroom” editor, at least in the main settings, which is why it is great that so many great and wonderful utilities exist outside of editors like Sagelight.

This discussion came up on the discussion board recently, and I thought it was worthhwhile to discuss it as a blog post.

High Quality vs. Low Quality

Let’s return to this image:

caesium-color-0

To save this image in the best JPEG quality Sagelight or any other photograhic/digital darkroom editor should always look visibly identical — at the pixel level — to the original image when it is reloaded.  It’s not technically identical, but visually we shouldn’t be able to see any detectable differences with most images.

For example, there really is no point in showing a before-and-after image for a highest-quality JPEG image, because it would and should look exactly the same as the image above!

Color Loss and File Sizes

Some editors and utilities save with less color definition to keep the file size small.  This is called 4:1:1 or 4:2:2 vs 4:4:4, explained below. Sagelight and other photographic editors like Lightroom save in 4:4:4 JPEG to maximize the color quality.  This leads to larger file sizes than some other editors that don’t do this, but the quality difference is clear”:

caesium-color

The above image was saved in non-4:4:4 (probably 4:2:2), and the color loss in the image is clear (the image was gamma adjusted to be more visible).  The above is the color lost by not saving in high quality color, and the color kept by editors like Sagelight, Lightroom, and others.

By now, you might be asking why I keep mentioning Lightroom and other editors.  This is because this issue is not related to Sagelight specifically, but editors made for photographic quality vs. saving jpegs for filesize and utility purposes.

What is 4:4:4, 4:2:2, and 4:1:1?

4:4:4 is the highest quality.  This means for every Light and Color element (there are 2 color channels and one light channel) a corresponding value is saved in the JPEG – it might be lossy, but these values are considered and kept in the JPEG file.

jpeg444

4:2:2 simply means that only every other color channel pixel is kept, and the rest is simply thrown out, as seen in the diagram below.

jpeg422

4:1:1 means that for every 4 color elements, only 1 is kept, and 3 out of 4 color elements is thrown out.

jpeg411

4:2:2 and 4:1:1 will lead to smaller file sizes, and since color distortions are harder for the human eye to detect than luminance values (which is why the Y/Luminance channel always has 4 values, one for each pixel), the result can often can look the same as a higher quality (4:4:4) image.

However,  there are certainly problems associated with lower color quality.

Color Sub-sampling example

When a process samples only some of the pixels, rather than all of them as with 4:4:4, it is called sub-sampling.  Sub-sampling in the color channels (i.e. 4:2:2 and 4:1;1) causes visible problems, even at the highest quality JPEG level — this is because some color data has been destroyed prior to compressing the image for the JPEG.

jpegsub1

4:4:4 example

jpegsub2

non-4:4:4 example (probably 4:1:1)

In the above example, you can see how the colors start to bleed from box to box.  If you’ve ever wondered why reds and other bright colors become so blurry on televison, this is why – it’s usually 4:1:1.

The above is an example of how the image starts to deteriorate when non 4:4:4 is used.  Even though it tends to look good, it is actually not working well for the image, which can cause noise and other problems. When other things happen to your image, such as sloppy resizing, further edits, crops, and then further resaving, this can cause more and more problems for your image.

 

Representing your Image Well after the Save

Resizing and Saving as a JPEG: Resize Utilities vs. Photographic Editors, Lanczos and other Resize Methods

Sagelight is about representing your image well at all times, whether it is saved in lossy JPEG or resized.  At first, some of the little things that happen with low color, resize, or overall JPEG quality may not seem like an issue.  But, they do make a difference, even when subtle.   Little color problems, blurriness, and artifacts all come together to make your image less powerful and evocative – it might not be completely visible, but an image can come out a little more dull or less clean-looking with small problems subtly getting into your image.jpegdiff

The above example is very subtle.  In many ways, it is hard to tell the difference. But if you look closely, you can see color bleeding and blurry details.

This is for two reasons:

1. Resizing

Resizing with methods that aren’t as accurate or sharp can lead to smaller file sizes, but can also create details not nearly as sharp as the original.  Sagelight uses Bicubic, Bilinear, and Lanczos resizing.  Sagelight defaults to Lanzcos because it tends to be sharper and more accurate, representing your original image much better even when it is resized to smaller dimensions.

If you step back a little from your monitor, you can see how the bottom image is a little blurry.  This is because it was resized with a method that does not keep details – this lends itself to smaller file sizes,  but, even when it is smaller, it does not represent the image well – and Sagelight is all about making sure your image is represented in the highest quality.

2. Color bleeding.  You can see the color bleeding in this image.  They eye might not notice this right away, but it does make a difference when you’re looking at it even from a distance.  It doesn’t necessarily register on the eye, but it does make an overall difference with your image.

Re-Editing

Saving in higher quality also means you can re-edit the image.  For example, the above images were actually reloaded from the discussion board, cropped and re-saved because it was just easier than reloading the originals.  This was possible because the images were saved in 4:4:4 high quality – even when you are not using the ‘best’ quality (i.e. 7,8, or 9), you can still re-edit the image for cropping and small touch-ups.

Conclusion

Saving JPEG images with 4:4:4 high quality also means higher file sizes. In today’s world, this means a minimal difference between each file size.  In the above example, the difference was 117k vs 200k, which is no longer an issue when Internet bandwidth is very high, Flickr offers a terabyte, and the standard hard drive is now about 4 Terabytes.

Sagelight, along with other photographic/digital darkroom editors, choose 4:4:4 as the highest quality so that your image doesn’t degrade and presents itself well in any situation.  Small nuances of color bleeding, artifacts, and blurry/soft edges make your image look duller – and when you resize it and save it to put out to the web or your personal viewing,

Sagelight wants your image to look the best possible.

Various utilities work to keep smaller file sizes that also sacrifice quality.  Such utilities are very useful.  The purpose of this blog post is to point out the differences and to be more educational so that you can know what is going on with Sagelight and other editors vs. various programs out there, so you can decide what is best for your images.

There are also some great utilities out there, and this isn’t to denigrate any such product, but to help in the understanding of photographic editing and saving vs. more utility-based programs out there that do a wonderful job – for what they mean to do vs. what Sagelight means to do.

 

Announcing Sagelight’s Facebook and Twitter Pages

Sagelight Image Editor is on Facebook and Twitter

I’m happy to announce Sagelight’s presence on Facebook (www.facebook.com/SageEdit) and Twitter (www.twitter.com/sagelighteditor).

With Sagelight’s last release (Noise Reduction, posted here: http://sagelighteditor.wordpress.com/2013/07/27/sagelight-noise-reduction-release-available/), and the upcoming 4.5 release, it’s time to get out there on social media! 

With Facebook and Twitter, I will be posting links to blog posts, discussion board conversations, Flickr and other gallery images, as well as posts from other sources about image editing and photography.

Please feel free to let me know how I am doing as I integrate Facebook and Twitter into Sagelight.  I think will help show what Sagelight can do and to make editing that much more fun and creative by showing what others are doing, too.

I’ve already posted quite a bit on Twitter and Facebook, so check it out (follow and like, too!).

New Sagelight Releases Continue Your Lifetime License

Just a quick post.

I received an e-mail recently asking if the new release will invalidate the lifetime license.

The answer is definitely ‘no’ – the lifetime version of Sagelight includes all updates forever, and when the Pro version finally splits from the standard version, all lifetime versions will become the Pro version by default.

Also, since the new release is version 4.4h, and you have any version 4.x of Sagelight, it will upgrade into the new releases, whether or not it is a lifetime license.

Please feel free to upgrade into the latest release and any upcoming release, as the lifetime license covers the lifetime of Sagelight and not the specific version you have.

Since I received a question about it, I thought it was worthwhile to create a blog post on the subject, just to resolve any questions.

The $39.95 lifetime sale continues, at least until version 4.5 release.

Saving in JPEG, Quality Levels, and Previewing Your Compressed Image in Sagelight

Image Pasted from Clipboard2

Introduction

When saving out to a JPEG in Sagelight, you can easily preview how the image looks as a compressed JPEG at the current quality level settings, both from a general look-and-feel viewpoint, as well as a close-up inspection of the image details.

It’s as easy as pressing the Preview Compressed Image button in the JPEG Save Function.  Pressing this button will show you how your image will look when it is reloaded or displayed on the web or your computer at the current quality level settings.

A Brief Introduction to JPEG

If you’re familiar with JPEGs, skip this section.

JPEG, which stands for Joint Photographic Experts Group, allows an image to be compressed in a way that is typically undetectable by the human eye.  It allows images to be displayed on the web at a fraction of their original size with either no apparent loss of quality, or a loss of quality that is acceptable to the human eye – that is, it doesn’t look blocky or edgy, and degrades in a way that keeps the lost details looking more-or-less natural.

The reason a 50 Megabyte image can be saved to a size of less than 1 megabyte while still looking great is because the image is compressed, and not all information is saved – much of the high-frequency (i.e. sharp) details are simply thrown out.  In other compression methods, such as TIFF LZH, no image data is lost. This type of compression is called “lossless compression”.

With JPEG, image data is thrown out via lossy compression, which allows extremely small file sizes compared to the original, but still with great detail.  Most of the time.

Deciding on the right compression ratio can cause problems, and JPEGs can often lose too much detail, especially if there is a chance you may edit them again, or you want the image to look as great as possible while still shrinking it down to a suitable size for the Internet or your personal storage after editing (which Sagelight uncompressed in memory, and must be re-compressed in lossy-compression form before being saved again as a JPEG).

 

Image Pasted from Clipboard2_edited

The JPEG Save Function Window

When you save a JPEG, you are presented with the above JPEG Options window.  The numbers 0-9 and Best setting are the quality levels of the JPEG compression; the lower the numbers create more lossy compression. Less information in the image is stored in the file with lower settings, causing more image degradation, often visible and sometimes distracting.

The “File Size on Disk” value shows you how many kilobytes the image will require on disk at the current quality level, and this number is recalculated each time you press a new quality level option.

You can optionally include any ICC color profile (i.e. Adobe, Pro Photo) that was attached to the image when it was loaded.  If you are saving for the web, however, it is better to leave this value unchecked.  When unchecked (or this option is not presented), Sagelight save the image in sRGB color space, which is the standard for the Internet.  Saving in any other color space will – most of the time, depending on the browser and the individual website on which the image is displayed – cause the image to look much more plain than it actually is in reality.

(The above image is a screenshot of the settings used to save the main image.  I should have unchecked the “Include Color Profile” option, as there is rarely any reason to save an ICC profile out to a JPEG – another subject for a blog post)

Using the Preview Compressed Image Button

Before saving, you can see how the image will appear once reloaded or viewed as the saved JPEG with the current quality settings – that is, how degraded the file in which the image is stored will store the data, and how it will be retrieved – you can always save out to two images, one with a lower setting, and another with a higher quality or as an uncompressed 16-bit tiff (which is always the best option for storage, where JPEG is the best option for your final image).

Press and hold down the Preview Compressed Image Button to see the image as it will exist in the saved file.

The preview works the way it does so that you can zoom in and out, and move around in the image.  This allows you to see how the image will look generally, but also zoom in at up to 1500% to inspect various areas of the image.

In many cases, especially with higher quality level settings, the eye detects no difference in the images.   Pressing and Unpressing the Preview Compressed Image button will sometimes slowly reveal some visible degradation as the eye becomes accustomed to the subtle differences between the two images.  At levels of 8 or above, image degradation is usually not visible, where below 8 it starts to become visible at a much higher rate.

Some degradation is fine, and for Internet, storage, or viewing purposes, it doesn’t hurt the viewing experience.  But, when saving for utmost quality or there is a chance the image may be re-edited, it is better to save in the Best quality setting, even though it takes more space on disk. As mentioned, for images that are in-progress or may be returned to at some point, it is better to save as a 16-bit per-channel .TIFF, as there is no image degradation at all.  Even at the ‘Best’ setting with the JPEG option, many loads, saves, edits, and reloads will start to show some problems, such as artifacts and banding.  However, small edits and fixups here and there are usually fine when an image is saved as a JPEG at very high quality.

Quality Level Rules-of-Thumb

The basic Rules of Thumb for saving images are as follows:

  1. If you’re saving for long-term storage, or to re-edit, use 16-bit TIFF or greater.

For JPEG Saving

  1. Best Setting. Highest Quality, Nearly Lossless.  Best for the ability to re-edit and re-save the images.  Takes about 2x the space as the next setting
  2. Setting 9. Very High Quality, still nearly lossless, but not as much as the ‘Best’ Setting.  Useful for re-editing, and web usage.
  3. Setting 8. High Quality.  Minimum recommended setting for high quality images. Great for web uploading and personal storage.  Slightly lossy, but not very noticeable.  Not as good for later re-editing.
  4. Setings 6-7. Medium Quality.  Best used when space is a factor, and you want a lower file size.  The images will still look great, but some noticeable loss in quality will be present.
  5. Settings 3-5.  Low Quality.  Not terribly useful for display presentation.  Useful mainly for specific purposes.
  6. Settings 0-2.  Very low quality.  Can be useful with some very large images to keep space down.

Saving Images with Very Large Dimensions in Lower Quality Settings

In some cases, the lower-quality settings can be useful for images with very large dimensions.  Large images are often displayed at smaller sizes, and this will cause the artifacts to basically disappear.

Most of the time, it is better just to resize the image and then use a higher-quality JPEG settings.  However, there are times when it makes sense to keep the original dimensions, such as a large printing job, where the mathematically natural degradation inherent in a low-quality JPEG can keep the overall perceptual sharpness (when viewed as a very large print, for example); shrinking the image, saving at high quality (even lossless .TIFF) and then sizing it up will cause it to look blurry.

 

Exploring Different Preview Settings

Here are some before & after examples, where the image was set next to the original, for comparison purposes – in a real-time editing session, you can toggle the Preview Compressed Button to get a more direct off-on-off-on style overlay, which usually presents a more dramatic before-and-after experience than side-by-side.

The Best Setting

Image Pasted from Clipboard3

With the Best setting, you can see there is basically no difference in the before and after.  This image was originally loaded as a JPEG and, therefore, there are already artifacts from the previous save (at lower quality), and the Best Setting preserves all the details – original and artifacts from a previous lossy Jpeg Save.

A Quick Pass with the Sagelight Noise Reduction Tools will take care of the noise in this image prior to saving. 

Note the file size is 899k

Setting 8 – High Quality, a Little Degradation

Image Pasted from Clipboard4

Setting 8 is the minimum recommended setting for high-quality JPEGs.  Below this setting, the image tends to degrade visibly, and such lower settings should only be used when you are specifically saving for lower space requirements.

In this image, the image is clearly starting to degrade just a little.  In most cases, this is not an issue.  When saving for the web, printing, or personal storage, the artifacts are rarely noticeable or make a difference.  In this particular case, we have the advantage of seeing the before and after images next to each other.  Without the original next to it, the image degradation would only be noticeable to those who specifically look for it.

Note the file size is 207k, much smaller than the maximum.  For the web, printing, or display level 9 is also a great option, as it keeps the file sizes smaller than the ‘Best’ level, and also keeps the quality a little higher.

Level 3 – Very Degraded, but Small File Size

Image Pasted from Clipboard5

With this image, saved at the ‘3’ setting, there is clear and obvious degradation to the image, to the point where it would be distracting to look at.  This is presented here as an example, and it is never recommended to save at this image except for the specific reason to keep the file size small.

Note: This setting (i.e. 3, low quality), while creating distracting edges, also cleared the grain noise in the middle of the image.  In case you’re wondering, this is the basis of DCT noise removal; Jpeg and DCT noise reduction use the same base DCT algorithm. 

Note the file size is 61k

Level 0 – Lowest Quality, Highly Degraded

Image Pasted from Clipboard6

This image is included just to show an example of how JPEG degrades your image.  The degradation is clearly visible in this image, and wouldn’t be worth saving under normal circumstances.

With a file size of 36k, it’s hardly worth the 50% savings over the level 3 setting.

Conclusion

When saving a JPEG image in Sagelight, you can see a preview of the saved image before you commit to saving it.  Pressing the Preview Compressed Image button will overlay the current image with the image as it will be saved to disk.  You can use this button as a before/after toggle, or use the side-by-side format in Sagelight.

You can see how the image will look as a general image, or use the Image View controls to zoom in and move around the image for close inspection of details.

Using values of 8 or more are the best settings for saving out to the web or for personal storage, and the Best Setting or 16-bit tiff is recommended for long-term storage or re-editing.

Sagelight JPEG Level 8 is the recommended minimum setting for maintaining visible image quality, and levels 6-7 are useful to conserve space while keeping still keep image quality at an acceptable level. Levels 9 & Best (as well as 16-bit TIFF, which is recomended) are ideal for storage and can be used to re-edit the image later without causing the image too much harm for later editing. 

Levels 5 and lower aren’t recommended for viewing, but can be useful for websites or other areas where you want to conserve space.

While the highest setting (i.e. Best) takes up the most space, up to 3x of level 8 and 2x of level 9, it is nearly lossless and captures the highest level of detail, while still taking the fraction of the space of the uncompressed original.

Working with JPEG Images is Better than You Might Think.

 

cat-new

Introduction

(note: I am currently moving and half on vacation.  I am separated from my normal environment until August 15th.  I can’t post as many examples as I like, and in this article, I am using a couple recycled images that are great examples of dramatic Sagelight edits on 8-bit JPEGs — highly compressed ones, at that!)

 

The other day on the discussion board (www.sagelightforum.com), the issue of working with images that start as JPEG vs RAW format came up, as it does quite often. 

There’s definitely one or more schools of thought about that — no one of them right or wrong, as this – as well as most issues with image editing – should be and are really up to the person behind the image and his or her own preferences.

In my case, for example, I set my camera to shoot in RAW and JPEG both.  I edit the JPEG nearly exclusively (see the next section about that), and turn to the RAW image when there is something about the image the JPEG format (or camera in its JPEG conversion) couldn’t handle.  One of the biggest issues, for example is highlights. Highlights get blown out in quite a few pictures (as well as shadows), and it really is amazing how well the highlights can be recovered from a RAW image (shadows, too). In a JPEG image, if the highlights are gone, they’re pretty-much gone, although some highlight recovery is possible.  One way to tell is that if the right edge of the histogram is peaked and filled up from the left, then the highlights are probably unrecoverable in a JPEG.  This is not so with a RAW image because of the bitwise resolution, which allows it to store as much as an entire JPEG spectrum in the equivalent of 1 8-bit value of a JPEG.

In this post, I don’t talk about the advantages of using RAW.  These advantages are clear for those that prefer those over the advantages working with a JPEG presents.  It’s an individual choice, and I talk about the advantages of RAW in other posts.  In this post, the discussion is purely about why working with the JPEG not only has its own advantages, but — in most cases, with just a couple exceptions — makes no difference (or little enough to be an issue) in the final image, except for those looking to keep the maximum quality to their image, such as professionals and serious hobbyists.

note: I will balance this post soon by posting the Advantages of using RAW.

cat-org

The introduction picture is a great example of an image that started in 8-bits per-channel. This image (directly above) is the original image.  This started as a fairly lossy (i.e. low-quality) JPEG in 8-bits per-channel.  You can see how dramatic the difference is with the image, and how it suffered very little for being in 8-bits per-channel.  Would the RAW, uncompressed version come out better?  Maybe and probably, but sometimes this is the difference between spending 3 minutes on an image vs. 10-20, and also the difference between working on an image for fun and not working on it at all, at least for those that don’t like the extra steps one usually needs to take to start with a RAW image.  Again, it’s a personal choice, and this post is oriented towards those who prefer to work in JPEG and have been told it’s a bad idea – it isn’t and, in fact,  working with JPEGs can sometimes be a great idea!

It’s the Quality of the JPEG and not the 8-bits Per-Channel That is Usually the Culprit With Image Degradation

When I do work with the JPEG, it is important to note that the settings on the camera are at the largest size/lowest compression ratio.  With Sagelight, for example, if you choose the ‘best’ setting when saving out a JPEG, it is nearly lossless.  When you start moving to lower numbers, then you can start to see the difference.  The trick here is that the human eye really can’t perceive the things that degrade the image for editing, which is why it is always best to save your image at the ‘best’ setting as a JPEG, except for that one final version you want to put out to the web or your personal collection.  For working with images, I advise to save out to .TIFF format, as it is lossless as well as 16-bits per-channel.

Most of the time, the degradation problems with working with images that start as JPEGs are because of the quality-level issues and not the 8-bits per-channel.  8-bits per-channel does have its own problems, as does the maximum quality settings with JPEG, but, besides the exceptions mentioned above, this usually isn’t a problem.

JPEG is an already-enhanced edit of your image

I often talk about how there should be a minimum of two stages when editing RAW images.  The first stage it to get it into minimal shape to do the more aesthetic, general editing.  RAW’s start off very different than the image you want to edit, and there are many ‘preparatory’ steps taken with RAW, such as the initial brightening, sharpening, NR, etc. After this is completed, then you can edit the image in more detail.  It’s not good for a RAW image to perform everything you want to do it in one session, which is why most programs that handle RAW images either do these things automatically for you, or give you some control as a pre-step to general editing. 

When the image is stored as a JPEG on the camera, it is first lens corrected, brightened, noise-reduced, possibly saturated, and whatever other things the camera manufacturer has decided works well for most images.   All of this is done in the native bitwise resolution (at least for cameras that support RAW, but probably ALL cameras anyway), then saved for you to load later.  In reality, you’re never starting with an image that has solely been edited as an 8-bit image. 

Extending that, even when you load a JPEG that is 8-bits per-channel (as are all standard JPEG images), the 8-bit factor does not stay as much of an issue for more than one step in the editing process.

Working in 8-bits per-channel vs. working with an image original stored/retrieved as 8-bits per-channel

Since I started Sagelight, and more particularly in the last year, I have run into a number of things I consider to be old-school thinking and yet are still common issues.  For example, the whole destructive  vs. non-destructive issue I’ve been writing about lately, in part, comes from the notion that all ‘destructive’ (i.e. changes to your image) is bad, when it can be healthy for your image and is necessary if you want to do other and more interesting things to your image than adjust it with a small and finite set of controls.   A few years ago, when many editors were destructive to your image in the wrong way, instead of a way that preserves quality; and there were so many less things you’d want to do that require the changes to your image be applied, the idea of a 100% destructive editor made much more sense, when now it is actually a limiting factor.   

Another one of those notions that comes from just a few years ago — that made sense at the time, and has been mischaracterized lately — is the idea of working with an ’8-bit’ image or ‘in 8-bits’.  The difference between working with an ’8-bit image’ (which is fine) and working ‘in 8-bits’ is a very large and important difference. 

Working ‘in 8-bits’, which means working in an editor that keeps your image stored as 8-bit per-channel and/or performs operations at 8-bit per-channel, is not good for your image and will eventually cause visible problems. 

However, working with an ’8-bit image’, one that originates in 8-bits, such as the JPEG retrieved from your camera is just fine, as long as it is an editor that isn’t 8-bits itself.

Once your image is put into Sagelight’s memory, it is stored in at least 16 bits-per-channel, and most operations are in 32- or 64- bits per-channel.  This means that, while there is an initial resolution of only 8-bits, subsequent operations are in a much higher quality, which preserves a lot more of the original information and details as you continue to edit the image.   Some tend to confuse the idea of an 8-bit image with working in 8-bits, which is not the case, and is an entirely different issue. 

Blending

In addition to the higher working resolution, many functions use blending, which is more of a modern-day commonality than just a few years ago.  When you use the Fill Light, Light Blender, Definition, Focus, Noise Reduction, Smart Light, Bokeh, and most other functions, blending is performed on your image at some level.  This means that Sagelight – to some degree or another – blends the pixels in your image, either directly, or through the colors/light only, or feathered percentage (i.e. it scales down on the borders of light/color areas very smoothly), adding and creating higher resolution in your image.   

Correction

A number of functions also help you correct issues in your image that aid in creating a higher resolution per-channel in your image.  Smoothing, Sagelight Noise Reduction, Soft Light, Skin Smoother, Bokeh/Lens Blur, and quite a few other functions will add more resolution to your image as you apply them.

For example, if you take an 8-bit per-channel image and sharpen it with the Unsharp Mask, in most images you will see the gradation lines created by the sharpening. However, if you apply a round of noise reduction to the image and then sharpen it, you will typically see no gradation lines at all and it will be clearer (and higher-quality in the smooth areas) than if you sharpened a raw 16-bit image without the NR pass. 

Cloning and the Wire Worm

Another form of correction is cloning and the wire worm.  This will help correct little ‘hot spots’ of trouble in your image manually.  In some images that start as 8-bits per-channel, some highlights and shadows can be completely blown out or flat.  Other areas can be splotchy.  The clone brush or wire worm can be very useful to address these areas by borrowing more intact areas of the image. 

Image Sizing

Resizing your image is also a form of effectively adding resolution to your image.  Upsizing or downsizing can help here.  For the most part, I am speaking of downsizing your image, and will talk about the upsizing concept in some other post.

Most cameras these days take rather large images.  When you publish them to their final result, they are often sized down, even if just for viewing.   When you resize your image to a smaller size, many of the problems that are in the image – starting at any bits per-channel – merge and suddenly disappear.  In many cases, you can take a very noisy image, resize it to a smaller size, and the noise is suddenly gone. 

two notes here:

  1. Sometimes sizing down creates its own little noise — use the Sagelight NR to get rid of this noise.  In many cases, a small NR pass on the final image can help it out.
  2. You can control this a little, as well.  I recommend Lanzcos 3 for downsizing; however, it is so effective, it shows more of the original noise than any other methods.  Try blinear or bicubic for resizing — bicubic resizing is very sharp in Sagelight, but also helps blend image problems.  Blinear resizing’s only drawback is that it can create moire patterns.  Bicubic is very nice also, being much softer than Lanzcos or Bilinear, and avoiding moire issues.

One More Example

Here is another before and after of an image that was loaded in Sagelight as an 8-bit image, but otherwise editing as a 16-,32-or 64-bit image internally:

ea-lighthouseold

Original Image.  Not bad already.  Let’s see what we can do with it:

ea-lighthousenew

As you can see, I was able to bring out a lot of light and definition without the image suffering at all.  If I were to edit it a little more, I might smooth the highlights in the clouds a little, but that’s a personal choice (that is, I might have overdone the highlights a little here, but that was my editing, not the limitations set by the 8-bit per-channel source, since the highlights weren’t there in the first place), not to mention a reflection after having edited the picture well over a year ago. 

Conclusion

There is a very large difference between working with an image ‘in 8-bits per-channel’ and working with an image loaded from storage that is 8-bits per-channel itself.  Working with these types of images in Sagelight is fine, and can have many advantages over the higher quality when working with RAW images.  Those advantages include the ease of editing by avoiding the typical RAW preparatory steps, and the more casual approach it allows us to take.  

My personal philosophy is to work with the JPEG unless there is a compelling reason to work with the RAW (such as blown out highlights).  As long as the image is stored in the highest quality and lowest compression, otherwise working with an 8-bit JPEG often comes out every bit as nice, or so close as to not matter, as the RAW result.    

Without taking sides on the RAW vs. JPEG debate, and also keeping in mind that using RAW is always going to give you the best quality; using JPEG most of the time can be fun and direct, avoiding a lot of time spent with the RAW original.

With the advanced tools and strategies for modern-day images, the idea of working with an 8-bit image is much more compelling.  Tools such as the Sagelight Noise Reduction, Smoothing, Soft Glow, Blending Functions (such as Light Blender, Smart Light, etc.) can literally add bitwise quality to your image.  You can also fix up isolated problem areas with many tools, such as the Clone Brush or provided Wire Worm plugin. 

Ultimatelt, it is – and should be – a personal choice whether to use RAW or JPEG. When you see posts on discussion boards, or your peers tell you that editing with the original JPEG is unworthy, this, in my mind, can be either just differences of opinion or old-school thinking that does not take into account a lot of the advanced toolsets available out there, such as many of the tools inside of Sagelight. 

The two examples presented here were created in just 2-3 minutes each, and the fact they started in 8-bits per-channel did not cause any problems.  Most before-and-after images you see on the blog posts and in Sagelight have started as 8-bits per-channel, as these tend to be the sources I get.  I do have to throw away some here and there for lack of quality where the RAW Image might have worked, but, overall, it’s been worth it to primarily edit the 8-bit per-channel source. 

The main reason for this is two-fold:

  1. The image is immediately converted to 16-bits per-channel, and all operations are usually in at least 32-bits per-channel
  2. The tools in Sagelight keep the quality high and often actually add bitwise resolution to the image, to the point where it’s only the odd/exceptional case where I need to refer to the RAW.

It’s always good to have the RAW source around for those tough images, and, from a technical point of view, editing a RAW image is higher quality than a JPEG image.  But often, if doesn’t really matter.  A while back, I likened this issue to those who prefer vinyl records over digital.  I absolutely respect that and support a lot of RAW functionality in Sagelight.  Vinyl records, indeed, have higher quality than digital music, as long as they are kept scratch-free and in pure condition.  Much like digital music, as long as it is in CD quality (i.e. 8-bits, but at the highest-quality, lowest-compression JPEG), then that is just fine for most of us, too. 

The Apply Button in Sagelight (Part I –Functional Layer editing) (revised)

Introduction

How image-editing has changed in the last 15 years is quite amazing, and Sagelight was written around that change in many ways.  One of those changes is the issue of more discrete editing, as well as making 50+ automatic layers available, where each control in the Quick Edit Mode is basically it’s own layer – something that really wasn’t possible 10 years ago.  You can move any control in the Quick Edit Mode (or any other mode or sub-function) and while you remain in that mode, Sagelight does not touch your image in memory until you press the ‘Apply’  button (or ‘OK’ or ‘Accept’ button, depending on which function you’re using at the time). 

Focusing on the Quick Edit mode, this would mean that you can move controls, open up the curves, the light blender, create a vignette, and use any one of the 50+ toning presets, as well as the Definition, Vibrance, and a host of other features in the Quick Edit Mode — all without Sagelight ever changing your image in memory.  

While using the controls, You’re basically getting a preview, and Sagelight only touches your image when you press the Apply Button, where it calculates the result you’re seeing on your entire image.   This then resets all of the controls, and it is suddenly just like you’ve come into the editor with a fresh image that just happens to be the ‘applied’ image, the one you’re now looking at after the Apply Button action.

Functional Layer Editing

Bad Editor Behavior

If you’ve been into image editing for a while, or picked up any number of free image editors out there on the Internet, you’ve probably come across the type of editor that changes your entire image with everything you do.  For example, if you adjust the brightness a little, it changes your entire image.  If you then decide to pull back a little, it then changes your entire image using the previously changed image as the basis for the change.  If you are moving the sliders back-and-forth a lot so that you can zero in on exactly what you want to see with the controls, this methodology slowly and surely destroys your image.  It is really bad behavior for an editor — thank goodness that most of these editors work only in 8-bits per-channel, as when 16-bits became the necessary minimum editing space for good editor behavior, this practice was no longer seen as a good way to go. 

It’s very doubtful any editor you’d purchase exercises this type of behavior and would not work in 16-bits per-channel.  But, if you want to get the most out of the creative digital photography editing process, check this issue out with some of the free stuff out there. 

Good Editor Behavior

Editors like Sagelight, Lightroom, Aftershot Pro, et. al., all – to some extent – work more with automatic layers.  Much like creating adjustment layers in Adobe Photoshop, except that these layers are automatically created for you when you use the controls.  For the brightness control, there is one layer; for the saturation, another layer; and for most other controls, yet another independent layer.   This means that when you move that same brightness control back-and-forth, your image isn’t touched at all, and every time you move or change a control; the entire set of controls is calculated in real-time — this is why many editors slow down as you do more and more, because it has to calculate all of the controls you’ve set every time you move just one control.

There might be a coined term out there for this type of editing, but it is basically Functional Layer editing, where each control (more or less) is its own layer, and the entire result is calculated (i.e. as a function) when any control is moved or changed.

Sagelight is the same way.  It was written with this in mind, and to support as many independent layers as possible.  At the moment, there are roughly 50 or so control layers used in the Quick Edit Mode alone, depending on which settings you use – this means that if you have a lot of controls in various positions, Sagelight must calculate upwards of 50 layers in realtime when you adjust just one single control..  Other functions in Sagelight operate in the same way (typically with fewer layers as the Quick Edit Mode), and this discussion can be directly applied to them as well.

Destructive and Non-Destructive Editors – Sagelight is Both,and that’s a Good Thing.

This is going to be a subject of another post, but I want to lightly touch on the issue here.

The issue of destructive vs. non-destructive behavior is sometimes misunderstood, and since Sagelight is basically both, it can appear singular in either direction, depending on how one sees the image editing process.

All editors are destructive.  It’s just a matter of when.

A ‘destructive’ editor is the first type of editor described above – where your image gets changed with everything you do or every control you change, even subtly.

Non-destructive editing is the second method describe, i.e. the Functional Layer Editing.  As Sagelight is a superset of the typical non-destructive model, I couldn’t define the difference as the difference between destructive and non-destructive editors.

I will get into destructive editing in the next couple blog posts.  The main point is that Sagelight as as non-destructive as other non-destructive editors – you can save a preset at any time, and the next version will do that for you automatically if you wish.  As a superset of the destructive model, however, Sagelight is also and definitely destructive to your image, just as all editors, non-destructive and otherwise are ultimately destructive to your image out of necessity.

Sagelight’s model is also destructive at exactly the same point – this is when and where Sagelight becomes a superset, by allowing you to control when the destructive part happens, and then to continue on as if you’re in another editing session or editing program altogether. 

I will explore more of this in an upcoming blog post (so be warned that some of the above text may be repeated).

When Your Image Actually Gets Changed — The Apply Button vs Exporting Your Image

Before continuing, I want to point out that it is not the image on disk/in storage that gets changed.  The original source should never be overwritten.  When I say the image is changed, I mean the image in memory, which can then later be saved to another filename.

 

With regard to keeping solely within a Functional Layer Model, this is where Sagelight diverges from many other editors

Sagelight was written as a hybrid between the Photoshop Model and the model described above.  Photoshop is very powerful because of layers, which allow you to perform many actions on your image without changing your image.  With Photoshop, you can add a saturation layer, then a curves layer, and so-forth, then go back and change the saturation layer without affecting the curves, and other layers that followed the saturation layer.   However, this is done manually for each layer.

The model described above, and in Sagelight, does exactly that, just automatically for you and in a specific order that is better for your image; you don’t have to create a new adjustment layer for every single action because every type of action you could do is already its own layer by default. 

The Photoshop Model is very powerful, but also tedious in this sense.  The layer construct in Photoshop also means you need to be more intentional about your editing (the subject of another blog post), where the method in Sagelight allows you to experiment in many different directions without worrying about which layers are active, created, or just taking up space.

The model that only allows you to move automatic layers is also limited in its own way. Some editors have a model similar to the base Sagelight model described above, and that is all you can do with your image until you export it in some way — that is, apply these changes to your image.    You may have seen this referred to as the ‘sidecar’ model. 

This tends to be limiting because then there are only certain things you can and will do with your image.   For example, you can typically sharpen, brighten/darken, add/remove color, use toning curves, definition, vibrance, and a number of other things, and that’s all you can do until you export your image. Different editors have different ways of dealing with this, including the ability to specifically add layers as you go. 

 

Sagelight’s Model is a Supserset of the Functional Layer Model

Sagelight’s Apply button was built with the restrictions of this model in mind.  The idea of the Apply Button is that when you press it, it applies these changes to your image in memory, and then resets all controls — your image is now ready to be edited again just as if you loaded it as new. 

This gives Sagelight a lot of power.  In the Quick Edit Mode, this means you can practice more Discrete Editing (the subject of an upcoming blog post), which is better for your image than doing it all at once, and it also means you can go into many different functions that you wouldn’t be able to use otherwise.  

Programs Within the Sagelight Program

For example, when you press the Apply button, you can then go into the HDR, Power Curves, Bokeh, Tone Blender, and 70+ other functions in Sagelight that either wouldn’t be appropriate or too demanding to be put in the auto-layer method.  The Bokeh, for example, is a serious process, and uses all of your processor speed and a lot of your memory — it’s better for it to be an independent program, rather than taking shortcuts to make it fit into the auto-layer system.  Plus, the Bokeh itself uses many layers, so it can be much more powerful, providing vignettes, highlighting, color, and other controls — and to focus on only those things you’d want to with Bokeh.  Then, when you press the Accept/Ok button in the Bokeh, this is just like pressing the Apply Button so you can start all over again.

This methodology allows Sagelight to have separately defined professional-level packages inside of Sagelight itself, all of which use the same functional layering approach.  You can use plugins, Bokeh, HDR, Power Curves, the Light Blender, Smart Light, many different effects, Vignetting, Duotoning, Soft Glow, Noise Reduction, and so-forth, many of these options being high-end packages rivaling professional standalone packages.

In addition, because you’re in the same session, you can view, load, and merge previous history states.  One of the most powerful tools in Sagelight is the Undo Brush, which allows you to make subtle or drastic changes in your image and merge them (with a brush or transparency level) with any state in the history or snapshot buffer. 

All of this and more is available because of the Apply Button.

If you want to make Sagelight more like other programs that keep it solely non-destructive (i.e. ALL editors are destructive at some point, but with the limited functional layer model, you can avoid applying and exporting your image), all you have to do is stick with the Quick Edit Mode and save the current settings as a preset.  The Quick Edit Mode alone allows you to use the Fill Light, Light Blender, Saturation, Vibrance, Focus, Definition, Focus, Smart Contrast, Vignetting, Color Toning, and many more aspects all without leaving the Quick Edit Mode or pressing the Apply Button. 

As you want to do more, you can press the Apply Button and continue to make changes to your image, which effectively starts another editing session.  You can always go back by looking at the Undo History Window and loading your image, or save a snapshot for later use.

Sagelight is Primarily a Photographic Editor

Sagelight, at its core, is a photographic editor. This means that it is oriented to making photographs look better, either by correcting issues or providing the tools to creative enhance your picture.

This is why the Quick Edit Mode is the first mode entered into when you launch Sagelight – this contains the generalized tools to help you make great changes to your image. the HDR, Bokeh, Light Blender, Power Curves, and many other functions are essentially separate, independent programs in Sagelight that do different things to your image and return you to the Quick Edit Mode.

On the other hand, many other functions aren’t professional-standalone-program-level functions, but useful for overall editing and it wouldn’t make sense (in any way whatsoever) to put them in the main Quick Edit Mode. For example, the Gaussian Blur is very useful for many things, especially when combined with other functions. The Median function (especially with the Threshold Slider Set) is useful for certain things, but it has no place in the Quick Edit Mode. A few more additives that are great for creative digital photograph editing that are useful as their own functions (as opposed to being in the Quick Edit Mode) are Duotone, Photo Filter/Gradient, Artistic Duotone (one of my favorites), Change Colors, Add Noise, Cropping, resizing, Clone Brush, Undo Brush, and so-forth,

Without the ability to apply your changes within Sagelight, it wouldn’t be possible to have any of these other additives.

Conclusion

The Sagelight model was specifically written for the advances and changes in digital image editing. Better photographic equipment, as well as higher computer speed and memory, have much more possible in this realm in just the last few years.  The Sagelight Model is a superset of the ‘sidecar’/sole functional-layer model with the power to apply the changes to your image without specifically exporting them, which allows you to do more with your image and to also be more creative within the scope of one editing session.

This method also allows you to more discretely (i.e. step-wise/incrementally) change your image while also being able to apply more creative changes overall.  This not only adds to the creative process, but is better for your image.  As I mentioned, this is a subject of another blog post, probably Part II. 

The Apply Button gives Sagelight much more power, allowing it to have major, intensive, and focused, independent functions that would otherwise not exist in the same program, such as HDR, Bokeh, etc. 

As a more-or-less stream-of-consciousness post, I thought I would explore why Sagelight has the Apply Button.  For some, it is a diversion from some of the editors they are used  to, and since the Sagelight Model with its Apply Button is basically a superset of the generalized editing model seen in many editors these days, I thought it would be great to explore it a little and explain the thinking behind it.