I was asked by a relative to repair an old b&w photo that had been sitting around for decades. I got to wondering if PhotoLab has any tools specifically for that purpose.
Then, I noticed Adobe has come up with some image restoration tools.
I know it’s not the main purpose of PhotoLab, but I was wondering if either DxO has already created some, and if not, suggesting that tools like that might be useful for people who need to do “photo restoration”.
I have many, many negatives and slides of my own, many more of my fathers, and even 500 or so from my grandfather. I want to get them all scanned and in many cases cleaned up to a decent standard. Even just working on my own, relatively recent negatives, I found PhotoLab very poor. Admittedly, I think I last tried it with PL4, but Affinity Photo was vastly superior at the task, particularly in cloning/healing 50-100 dust spots and hairs, but also in providing very flexible tools to address more complicated issues by means of layers and blending options.
In short, PhotoLab simply isn’t built for this task. I also wish there was an AI approach, particularly to the “dust and scratches” problem. Many applications have filters for this but they inevitably never work well enough for my photos.
I think the question is a too wide, because there is a big difference between hard copies, positive and negative color film and black and white.
I think a few things are important to know:
First the negative things:
Even if you use a digital camera and take repro photographs, you will not see much effect either of sharpening tools or Deep Prime or Deep Prime XD since they can’t really handle the film grain.
It´s even difficult to get more punch out of many older images using for example “Clear View Plus” since it tends to make skies and areas with uniform color and texture much worse than they were. The same goes for too much of Microcontrast.
Then some positive:
There is sort of a “miracle tool” in Photolab (part of Film PacK though) and that is “Fine Contrast” that I have found has been almost the only tool that have made any difference in Photolab when it comes to sharpening/contrast. The other is to export with “Bicubic Sharpen”. But be aware that the later sometimes is too much and especially when there is vegetation in the images. I have used Photolab mainly for these works because of the access it gave to “Fine Contrast”.
I use to draw the “Microcontrast” all the way to the left (the minus side) and instead meet up with +30-40 of Fine Contrast. I have found nothing like that to clear ugly “dirty” skies. I also use to use an emulation of Kodaks must fine grained films to help breaking up ugly coarse Agfa CT 21 grain.
My experiences comes mainly from digitizing old Agfa CT 18 and 21 color slides and Kodak Tri-X and some black and white hard copies.
Well, let’s simplify things. First, let’s only work on B&W prints, as those are the photos most likely to show up in someone’s desire to make them look presentable - and especially the shoe boxes of old photos that some people seem to collect. Color makes this much more difficult.
Next, let’s forget about “grain”. The defects I was thinking of were cracked photos, or parts of a photo that broke off, and are now missing. Maybe we could include scratches, and things written over the photo - eventually.
With many hundreds of scanned negatives and positives, the single most needed tool, in my view, is a good tool for removing dust and hairs. There is only so much time I will spend “cleaning” the original. Much of it is stuck fast anyway.
I’ve just had a go with Photoshop 2023 using both the long-standing “Dust and scratches” filter and the new AI filter for photo restoration. The former is great for making images look like paintings. The latter had some very odd ideas of “better”. It did get rid of a lot of the junk on the film, but also did some odd things with colour. A shot on yachts on the sea was substantially desaturated despite fairly rich original colours.
“Content aware fill” remains the only practical approach to this, perhaps with some filter use masked to large areas of sky where detail does not matter.
Thinking back to the time I spent cleaning “stuff” on old negatives, much of which is my fault from not being more careful when processing the negatives a lifetime ago, and some from improper storage, I completely agree with you. After hours of removing “specs” I was wondering how far I would go before saying “enough!!”. …and the times I did start thinking “enough”, the remaining specs bothered me too much. I would love to have a tool that does what you suggest, and I wouldn’t mind if the software asked me for each and every correction, to make sure it wasn’t accidentally doing too much damage to the original photo… but knowing me, I’d mostly rather have the software just “do it” to the whole image at once.
I have many more negatives to scan, but I don’t look forward to the “cleaning”. An automated tool would save hours of cleaning one tiny speck after another…