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Genuine Fractals

This photograph was taken with a Canon S10, a 2.1 Megapixel point-and-shoot. At 300 dpi (the resolution needed for photo-realistic output with an ink-jet printer) this amount of resolution is good for just a 3.5 X 4" print. But, what about making an 8X10" print? Without "ressing-up" the image you'll be at 120dpi, nowhere near good enough.

At a demo of the then brand-new Nikon D1 in Toronto, in the fall of '99, I was shown quite impressive 11X17" prints that I was told had been run though a PhotoShop plug-in called Genuine Fractals 2.0. It was claimed that this utility did a much better job of ressing-up an image than does the bicubic interpolation, the technique used within PhotoShop. I also read some reviews which had high praise.

Since I'm a natural-born skeptic I decided to try this out for myself. The program sells for U.S. $159 and is available for download over the Net. Not inexpensive for such a utility, but worthwhile if it could do the job. 

PhotoShop Bicubic Interpolation

The frame above was scaled to an 8.8 X 10" size at 300 dpi using PhotoShop's built-in bicubic interpolation. To save space it is shown cropped to the center section only, and of course is reproduced here at 96 dpi for web presentation.

Genuine Fractals 2.0

This frame was similarly scaled and reproduced but using Genuine Fractals 2.0.

What does one see on a print, and how does it compare to what's displayed above? Essentially the same. On the prints the Genuine Fractals image is slightly smoother and appears slightly shaper. But, not a lot. There isn't a whole lot of difference. 

The reason for this is that the program apparently works best when used with a large original file, something in the order of 20MB or better. Consequently I can't recommend the program for enhancing images created with small digital cameras.

Operational Issues

Genuine Fractals is somewhat awkward in operation. It installs as a PhotoShop plug-in (or with any other compatible photo editing software). You prepare your file for printing as usual and then "save as" an .STN file, Genuine Fractals' proprietary format. At this point you can save the file with "lossless" compression and get about a 2:1 compression ratio or as "lossy" and get about 5:1.

Here's the issue though. This capability, one of the program's two major capabilities promoted by Altamira Group (Genuine Fractals' publisher), only is worthwhile if storage space is an issue for you. Frankly, with 25 Gigabyte drives costing just a few hundred dollars and CD storage at less than $1 for 650 Megabytes, this just isn't an issue for most people anymore.

When you "load" an .STN file you can then specify the amount of "ressing-up" that you require. So, whereas with PhotoShop's built-in utility you simply perform the task, with Genuine Fractals you need to save the file and then reload it to change resolution.

Another downside of Genuine Fractals is that you can't save your files with Adjustment Layers intact. This makes the program inappropriate for me as a primary storage format since I require archiving files with Adjustment Layers. Consequently any space saving provided by Genuine Fractals is negated because I would now need to save both a .PSD file with adjustment layers and an .STN file.

What About Larger Files?

A couple of months after I started using Genuine Fractals to enhance prints from my digital point-and-shoot I began using it with very high quality images done with my Imacon FlexTight Photo scanner. I needed to make some 13X19" format prints from 35mm images, to match the size of some prints made from 6X6 scans. This meant either dropping below 300 DPI or ressing-up them up slightly to achieve that size. The quality using Genuine Fractals was very good indeed. The higher the quality of the original the more the program has to work with. For this application I now can recommend Genuine Fractals much more than for use with low-end digital images.

The Bottom Line

This is a worthwhile program for anyone working with large digital files that needs to make them a bit larger but without losing too much quality. Just remember that nothing can add resolution to an image that doesn't have it to begin with. All you can hope to do is smooth the jaggies.

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Concepts: GIMP, Adobe Photoshop, File format, Printing, Computer file, Digital single-lens reflex camera, Bicubic interpolation, Image editing

Entities: Toronto, Canon, Nikon, Altamira Group, U.S., ink-jet printer, Michael Reichmann, D1, PhotoShop

Tags: Genuine Fractals, image, PhotoShop, adjustment layers, Genuine Fractals image, bicubic interpolation, prints, PhotoShop plug-in, PhotoShop Bicubic Interpolation, large original file, digital, photo editing software, small digital cameras, Imacon FlexTight Photo, low-end digital images, primary storage format, high quality images, large digital files, space, Megapixel point-and-shoot, brand-new nikon, photo-realistic output, ink-jet printer, better job, built-in bicubic, high praise, compression ratio, worthwhile program, Altamira Group, web presentation, center section, Operational Issues, Gigabyte drives, format prints, built-in utility, major capabilities, Larger Files, proprietary format, CD storage, digital point-and-shoot