One benefit of subscribing to Adobe Creative Cloud is that the software you use is updated regularly throughout the year. Some of these updates might not add much to your workflow, while others result in dramatic improvements to how you edit your images.
In February 2019, Adobe rolled out a powerful new option in Lightroom called Enhance Details. You may not have noticed since there’s nothing new in the interface that even indicates the feature is available.
However, this can dramatically increase the quality of your RAW files, particularly if you shoot with Fuji cameras, and it is certainly worth investigating to see if it could benefit you.
In order to understand what Enhance Details does, it’s important to know how RAW files work. When you shoot in RAW you aren’t storing images on your memory card or computer like when you shoot in JPEG. Instead you are storing a set of instructions for how your editing software should create an image when it’s exported from Lightroom, Capture One, or any other image-editing program.
What’s weird to wrap your head around, though, is the notion that when you browse through your image library in Lightroom you aren’t looking at the RAW files at all. You’re seeing previews that the software has generated which give you a good idea of what the RAW files will look when they are exported.
This is why RAW files look slightly different when you open them in different software. Capture One, Lightroom, Luminar…they all use different methods to interpret the data in a RAW file. This results in previews (what you see when you edit an image or browse your image library) that look different, as well as your final exported final images.
Understanding RAW Files
So what does all this have to do with Enhance Details? It all goes back to how your RAW files are interpreted in Lightroom. Digital cameras collect Red, Blue, and Green data on their image sensors using an array of pixels that correspond to each color. When Lightroom loads a RAW file, it looks at the color data for each pixel and guesses what the resulting image should look like. This is what you see when you look at your images before exporting them.
This also means that Lightroom has to essentially fill in the details throughout each image since you don’t see individual Red, Blue, and Green pixels when you zoom in on an image. You see pixels of all colors that Lightroom has created based on what it thinks they should look like based on the Red, Blue, and Green color data in the RAW file.
Unfortunately, this means that some elements of the scene that you photographed, particularly the very fine details, get lost in the transition from RAW file to Lightroom.
Enhance Details is a way for you to recover some of the finer aspects of your images that get lost along the way when interpreting RAW files.
It works by using Adobe’s artificial intelligence technology, called Sensei, to fill in some of the missing gaps when pixels are rendered from RAW data.
The results can be quite impressive, depending on the type of image you are working with. It can also mitigate some of the issues that Fuji users have traditionally had when rendering RAW data from Fuji’s X-Trans sensors. Traditionally, these result in wavy, worm-like artifacts with an overall loss of sharpness.
Bringing out the details
To use Enhance Details, select an image in your Lightroom Library and choose Photo -> Enhance Details.
This brings up a Preview window which lets you see what will happen after the Enhance Details procedure finishes.
It shows a zoomed-in view of the photo you are working with, and you can click and drag around to see what different parts of the image will look like after the operation is complete.
When you click on the image preview it reverts to its un-enhanced state, allowing you to compare the original and Enhanced versions with a single click. There are no parameters to configure, sliders to adjust, or options to customize with the operation which I find refreshing. It’s a take-it-or-leave-it approach, at least in its current state, which makes it a little less of a hassle from an end-user perspective.
When you are satisfied that you want to undergo the Enhance operation, click Enhance and wait for Lightroom to finish the operation.
When it’s done you will still have the original RAW file, but in addition you will now have a new Adobe DNG file that contains the Enhanced image. This file is, as you might expect, the same image as the original but with several additional megabytes of new data where Adobe has attempted to improve things.
More details, larger files
One important point to note in this process relates to file size and storage space. When I converted several RAW files that were originally about 22 megabytes, the resulting Enhanced DNG files were about five times larger. Since each new file easily takes up well over 100 megabytes you might want to be somewhat selective in choosing the images you want to Enhance. Either that, or start looking into more storage solutions!
So what’s different about the enhanced RAW pictures other than massive file sizes? It varies depending on the scene you photographed, the camera and lens you used, and other parameters. If you shoot Nikon, Canon, or Sony, you might not see that much of an improvement since Adobe already does a pretty good job interpreting those RAW files. However, if you use Fuji you might notice significant improvements. The image below is the original RAW file, shot with an X100F, that I edited in Lightroom.
At first glance, and sized down for on-screen resolution, it looks fine. But upon closer inspection you can see some significant issues particularly among the leaves and ground.
When I first saw this up close, I thought there was something wrong with my computer! Either that or I had a broken camera. The edges of the leaves, particularly where the sun is shining through in the top-right corner, have a wavy, worm-like appearance that’s rather strange and almost a little disconcerting. This is due to how Lightroom renders Fuji RAW files and can be corrected quite easily using Enhance Images.
Notice the way the edges of the leaves are much smoother in the right-hand image. The gold light coming through the dark leaves is also crisper.
This isn’t just an issue of adjusting the Sharpening slider in Lightroom. Instead, it’s an entirely new RAW file built from the ground-up using Adobe’s artificial intelligence algorithms.
The new image really is enhanced – as the name of the process implies. While it might not be entirely obvious when viewed on a computer screen, there is a clear difference when files are shown at full resolution or as large prints.
Your results may vary
While the process works wonders for Fuji RAW files, it’s somewhat hit-or-miss for major names like Nikon and Canon. For instance, below is a RAW file from a Nikon 7100 as rendered by Lightroom.
The Seattle skyline looks crisp and clear, with no noticeable issues in the finer details even when zoomed in to 100%. When processed through the Enhance Image feature the improvements are discernible, but you really have to look for them. It’s a marginal improvement, and nowhere approaching the fixes to Fuji RAW files.
In my opinion, Enhance Images isn’t worth the file size tradeoff on Nikon and Canon cameras. Lightroom already does such a good job of rendering them already. However, I encourage you to try it out and see for yourself. The amount of improvement depends greatly on a variety of factors including your camera, lens, and the subject in the photograph.
You might find that you prefer the Enhanced Images as a general rule, or you might only use this feature now and then. Either way, it’s nice to know it’s there.
I like to think of Enhance Images as a useful tool to have in your back pocket for those times when you really need it and not something I use on an everyday basis.
The really exciting part is where this technology might end up in the future. Right now the process is done for one photo at a time and takes several seconds even on newer computers. I can easily see a time when it’s applied as easily as a filter or adjustment slider, with dramatic improvements to every image.
Until that happens, it’s fun to see technologies like this take shape and mature. As photographers, we live in an incredible time with technology like this that were unthinkable only a few years ago.
It’s amazing to ponder what the future might hold, and think about the tools we will have at our disposal to let our creative freedom loose.
Have you use this feature? Let us know your thoughts in the comments below.