I have seen a lot of uses of artificial intelligence in the editing of photos, particularly in the last couple of years. This app, however, might be the most impressive yet, albeit walking a questionable line of "editing gone too far."
I saw tools using A.I. for post-production of images as a time-saver for photographers who aren't particularly bothered about bleeding every last iota of quality out of their edits or true-to-life accuracy. I had and have absolutely no issue with that, but I didn't feel these tools were aimed at me. Then, in the last year, I've gradually seen the improvement and value of these tools. In 2020, I have spent a fair amount of time with Luminar products in particular as I've developed a relationship with them, and what they're doing is pretty singular.
However, this week, I've seen a quite different function of A.I.; rather than changing major elements of images, it's restoring them. But not like most apps that purport to restore images where they apply some sharpening and noise reduction, this app generates detail that isn't there. Remini's blurb gives a vague sense of what it can do: "Remini engages state-of-art AI generative technology to bring professional film production level image enhancing and restoration technologies to our daily life." For a free app, that sounds like a load of old tosh, but I thought I'd put it through its paces.
The most testing environment I could imagine would be using it on images from the early 1900s, where there is a distinct lack of quality, sharpness, useful contrast, dynamic range, and a boatload of imperfections. The test images I found were on the Internet Archive Book Images on Flickr and used under Creative Commons. (This account made the news some years back as they have uploaded over five million historic photographs under Creative Commons; it's a goldmine!)
There are a few issues, like to the right of the subject's face where there is blurring, but other than that, it's impressive. The details of the face are looking much more defined and clear, and overall, I was impressed. But, my phone screen wasn't the right platform, so I exported it to my computer and zoomed in.
A Member of a Prominent New England Family (1916)
Ok, that's incredible. The wispy hairs on the chin, the clarity in the eyes, the skin texture; this app might just be a gem. Yes, there are errors; for example, it didn't know what to do with the glasses and the eyes look a little over-sharpened, but it is unbelievable nonetheless. Let's try again with a different image.
I am truly speechless at the level Remini is able to deliver. The detail it adds to the face as a whole is incredibly detailed, not only in areas you might expect like the eyes, but the hairline and mustache have gone from a blurry mass to believable and intricate hairs. I have never seen anything like this, and I didn't know realism of this caliber was possible.
Man and Robot
Now, I want to take this app in a slightly different direction. It is primarily aimed at your average user, and I'm attempting to apply it to a different, more demanding context, but what if I teamed up with the A.I? Some years ago, I used to make money by restoring old photographs, but it wasn't as cost-effective as other work so now I only do it on a request basis. I've had some tremendously difficult images sent to me by people who only have one photograph of a family member, for example. So, I had the idea to find a very difficult image that is low resolution, underexposed, and lacking any detail. Then, I'll let Remini generate the detail, and I'll manually try to fix the rest.
I cannot quite believe the results here. I must have compared the before and after a hundred times in disbelief. There's no way to verify just how accurate an image of the woman this is, but from all the tests I've run (and I have found myself a bit addicted to seeing what Remini can do,) it's pretty close. On out-of-focus images of people I know, it was between a close approximation and indistinguishable. The changes I made after the A.I. waved its wand were simply an exposure correction, some cloning and tidying, and then a few creative tweaks. The results are reminiscent of tintype photography and I'm stunned with how much of a photograph we now have.
Ok, well, it is staggeringly impressive at restoring old photographs in a way that I wasn't sure was possible, and that has significant application and value, both historic and otherwise. However, the question for us photographers is whether it can save images where you missed focus. If you'd asked me a few years ago — nay, a few days ago — whether it would be worth keeping images where you missed focus, I'd have said no. I mean, there isn't enough data to do anything substantial with, after all. I hadn't considered A.I. might just be the solution, and I'm a tad embarrassed by that. So, let's take a look at a shot of mine that I wished was sharper.
A few years ago, I did a shoot with a ballet dancer, Hanna Lyn Hughes, and it went well. As I was prone to doing then (and still am), once I had several banked shots, I liked to up the ante and take some risks. One of the ways I would do that was by using my Zenit 85mm f/1.5 manual focus lens wide open. Though f/1.5 is wide, it isn't unprecedented, nor are manual focus lenses. The amount of support cameras give us these days with focusing, even in manual, means you're unlikely to miss much. That said, there were two problems with this lens when shooting at f/1.5: it was slightly soft and it was strangely difficult to hit the sharpest results.
The shoot was on a very bright morning, and when I took this shot, I instantly loved it. I zoomed in using the LCD screen (without much contrast and stupidly, without using the EVF instead) and thought it was sharp. When I got home and I put it on the big screen, I realized I was an inch or two out. The Zenit mimicked the film look in many ways though, so I loved the final image all the same. That wasn't to say I wouldn't have preferred it to be perfectly sharp — I would have — I just didn't consider it a write-off. Well, it seems like a prime candidate for this app, so let's see how it does.
Ok, that is better, though it mainly looks like some well-executed, localized sharpening. That's great, it has "enhanced" the final image which is what I wanted, but it doesn't look earth-shattering. I exported the file to my computer and loaded it up in Photoshop so I could compare a 200% crop of Hanna's face, just to see exactly what it had done. And, well, I was wrong: it is earth-shattering.
I honestly can't ever remember using a piece of software that has coaxed a more full, enthusiastic, and genuine reaction from me. It has generated detail that patently wasn't there and so accurately that there's no way even I could tell A.I. did it, and I took the shot! If you put the before and after slider right down the middle of Hanna's face, you can see just how incredible the application is.
What I Liked
- A singular and staggeringly impressive way of enhancing images below the grade
- The only method I've ever seen that can accurately save a shot where the focus was missed
- The premium version of this app is just a few dollars per month subscription, which most people wouldn't need to keep running
- Images that are smaller than 2,080 x 2,080 pixels will be upscaled in size as well as quality
- The process is quick and couldn't be simpler
- There are a number of other tools within the app; I didn't care to try them as they aren't new, but there's more to the app than what I've done in this review
- The app also purports to enhance video, though I've not tested that yet
What I Didn't Like
- No Windows desktop client that I could find
- Free version makes you watch adverts, which is fair enough, but I'd rather it was a paid-only app without ads
- Maximum export file size is 2080 x 2080 pixels, which makes this the biggest barrier between this app and serious photographers
If Remini would let me import an image at its native resolution and keep it at it after the wizardry, this app would be borderline perfect. Regardless, it is the most impressive software I have tried in years and, as far as I've seen, the only player in the game at this level. I have no doubts there are other photo-enhancing applications that can do a good job, but I have seen nothing that comes remotely close to the level of detail generated by the A.I. Remini boasts. I have never spoken to Remini, I am in no way endorsed by them, nor has anyone prompted me to write this review. I implore you to try it out yourself.