AutoF/X AutoEye 1

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A quick and effective way to improve the quality of your photos - but it could be even better.

It's so fundamental that sometimes it's easy to forget but much the most important photo-editing task is making your photos look their best. In a program like Photoshop, however, this can be a daunting and complex chore involving multiple colour correction tools such as levels, curves and unsharp masking. This is where AutoEye comes in, promising better results with much less effort.

With its own File menu, AutoEye can operate as a standalone image enhancement application but most users will choose to use it in plug-in mode, accessing it from the Filter menu of their favourite photo editor. Simply select an open photo, call up AutoEye, and your new improved image appears in the large preview window in the AutoEye dialog. Usually the difference is immediately apparent, but if not, by hitting the Shift key you can toggle between your before and after image states.

So does it work? The simple answer is yes. I tried a number of digital camera images and stock photographs that were disappointing in one way or another and in each case AutoEye managed to pull out details and colours that were missing in the originals. With underexposed images - which many digital cameras are prone to due to their low film-speed equivalence - the program was particularly impressive reclaiming the colours in shadow areas without burning out the highlights.

The obvious next question is: so how does it work? AutoF/X is naturally coy about this, talking darkly of "patented IVIT detailing algorithms" and other top-secret technologies, but it's possible to make some intelligent guesses. From the claim that AutoEye enhanced images "will convert better to CMYK than a normal RGB image as the colour space is modified in such a way as to maintain as much vibrancy and detail as possible" I take it that the AutoEye colour corrections are carried out within something like the Lab colour space. This mode works by splitting an image's brightness and colour information into separate channels which makes end-user manipulation difficult but which could certainly be leveraged by a dedicated solution. In the end though it doesn't really matter how the magic is achieved, the important thing is that it works.

Having said this, no two pictures are identical so to bring out the absolute best in any image requires fine-tuning. After performing its default enhancement, the AutoEye dialog offers a whole host of options for further improving picture quality. Many of these features, such as the contrast, saturation and brightness controls, are commonplace but others such as the despeckle and anti-moiré are considerably rarer. Having a full range of colour correction controls available within the one dialog makes life easier but I was still disappointed. The problem is that all the AutoEye controls are linear and global rather than curve-based and targeted and so are generally cruder than Photoshop's own tools.

Eye1cust.png: The AutoEye dialog offers plenty of customisation options.

For complete control over individual images then I'd still rather work with Photoshop's existing capabilities, but that still leaves a big role for AutoEye. Life is too short to manually enhance every digital photo that you take so automated image enhancement has to be the way forward. For most people and most photos what is wanted is one-click enhancement and AutoEye tries to oblige. When the AutoEye command is selected a splash screen appears with two choices: manual or automatic. If you select automatic, AutoEye simply applies its default settings to the current photo. Usually that will have the desired effect though you can also choose between five alternative preset settings for dark, very dark, light, very light and super sharp and vibrant photos.

Eye1pre.png: The supplied Presets help make enhancement a one-click business.

But why stop there? Having to load each photo is still a chore so AutoEye allows you to enhance images simply by dragging and dropping them onto the program's desktop icon - though for some reason there seems to be a 15 image file limit. Using the program's Preferences command you can set the resulting enhanced images to overwrite the originals or to be automatically renamed. Best of all, the process works in the background so that you can get on with other things and then inspect your new improved images. And nine times out of ten that's exactly what you'll have.

But that of course is the problem. Ninety percent of your images will have been improved but one in ten will have degraded. In particular I found that bringing out the colour in bright well-exposed JPEG images tended to produce grainy results. By changing AutoEye's preset to cater for light images this problem can be avoided but this again demands hands-on involvement. With a front-end that allowed you to specify settings for multiple images based on preview thumbnails the process could be started and then left to its own devices. Or, even better, AutoEye could intelligently guess which settings to use based on the image histogram. Sadly, work is also needed on the image output as there's no option to convert from JPEG to other formats to avoid lossy compression or to specify JPEG quality to keep file sizes under control.

Ultimately AutoEye's underlying colour correction engine is excellent and almost guarantees improved results and saved time. With a little more work on the interface, however, it could deliver even more.

Ease of Use
4
Features
5
Value for Money
5
Overall
4

Tom Arah


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