Out-of-focus photos are becoming increasingly popular for some reason, but putting those tacky Instagram filters aside, blurry photos and videos are usually an annoyance. You’ve gone through the trouble to shoot a once-in-a-lifetime family video, only to discover it’s all blurry and shaky. You’ve taken a set of pictures you really want to use, but alas, their all slightly out of focus.
It turns out there’s are dedicated programs that aim to fix just this annoyance. While in most cases a blurry photo or video will never be restored to match a sharp, beautiful shoot, these tools can be used to salvage important details, and get things back into focus just enough to make the media presentable.
Naturally, you shouldn’t expect to take a series of badly out-of-focus photos and then fix them to look like magazine shots, but you can definitely play CSI with these tools, and with luck, get some surprising results.
Focus Magic [Windows, Mac]
Focus Magic is more than your simple blur fixer. According to its website, the program uses “advanced forensic strength deconvolution technology to literally ‘undo’ blur”. On paper, it can repair out-of-focus images as well as motion blur, and recover lost details from images. But does it really work?
Focus Magic is far from being an automatic tool. And that’s a huge catch, since the free version only allows you to perform 10 edits. After that, you need to buy a full license, which costs $45. Upon loading an image, you first have to decide if you want to focus, fix motion blur, defocus or despeckle. Now starts a lengthy process of looking at an single small area of your image and adjusting the settings so it looks just right.
Since you can only see the preview in a small area, it takes a lot of trial and error to get a good effect for the entire photo. Our of the 10 attempts I got, this was probably the best one.
As you can see, I managed to bring the photo into focus quite a bit, and I bet I could have done a better job had I not been limited to only 10 tries.
Pros: Seems like a professional tool that can really deliver good results.
Cons: Requires lots of trial and error, but you only get 10 with the free version. Also, there’s no zoom option, which is very inconvenient.
Does it really work? It can bring your images back to focus, if you have the patience and money to invest in it.
Note: The program doesn’t support Windows 8 or Windows 64-bit.
SmartDeblur is completely free to use as many times as you want, and in many aspects, is much friendlier than Focus Magic. On the other hand, it’s not as stable (the program crashed several times when I was trying it out, especially when loading images that are too large for it), and the results you can get with it vary.
Several useful things about SmartDeblur – there’s a zoom option as well as “fit to window“, you can compare your results to the original with a single click on “Show Original“, and the preview is for the entire image, not just a tiny thumbnail. SmartDeblur comes with an example image, where you can learn how to deblur an image to read hidden text.
Upon trying it with my own images, I found that it doesn’t work quite as well on photos such as the cat I deblurred with Focus Magic, but I was able to get some good results with a text image.
Pros: Portable, completely free, user-friendly, very useful for reading blurry text in photos.
Cons: Not very stable, doesn’t work so well with actual photos (but give it a try to find out).
Does it really work? When trying to reveal blurry details, you feel almost like on CSI, but don’t expect anything spectacular.
Blurity has several things going for it: it comes with a very thorough tutorial, and it’s much more self-sufficient than its counterparts. When I say self-sufficient, I mean that Blurity is smart enough to do the hard work for you, if you want it to. If you know what you’re doing, you can also access some advanced settings, but you don’t have to look at these unless you choose to.
After completing the mandatory tutorial, you can start deblurring your own images. In order to do this, you need to place the red square on an area that represents the blurriness well, and hit the “Process” button. Most of the times, that’s it. If you don’t like the results, you can move the square to a different area and try again. The program does a pretty decent job, and manages to actually turn some blurry photos into presentable ones.
The catch, as you can already see, is the watermarking which is present on any photo you process using the free version. If you really like the program and want to get rid of the watermarks, a single license will cost you $39.
Pros: Very easy to use, can yield good results and reveal hidden details on photos, not so much on text.
Cons: Watermarks all your images, a full license costs $39.
Does it really work? It mostly does, but you need to search for the best spot upon which to base your processing.
After looking at three photo tools, it’s time to see what can be done about videos. vReveal is more than just a deblurring tool for videos – it’s a complete Picassa-like video suite than can help you organize, manage, and fix your video collection. vReveal comes in a free version and a $49 premium version, but in this case, the free version is entirely usable. It’s missing some features such as the ability to export HD videos, but the main functionalities are available in both versions.
vReveal scans your chosen folders and finds all your videos, at which time you can choose one you want to fix, and start playing with the editing options. You can let vReveal do its magic with the One-Click Fix button, but I recommend that you dig into the options to see for yourself what can be done with this nifty program. The results highly depend on the video you choose, but I found that the strongest feature vReveal offers is the “Stabilize” fix, which really and truly makes home videos less shaky. The Sharpen tool also works well on wide shots, but doesn’t show much effect on close-ups.
All in all, vReveal is a powerful video tool that can be useful for much more than fixing up videos, but even if you get it only to stabilize and bring to focus a shaky-yet-awesome baby video, it’s going to be worth it.
Pros: Great all-around video tool, excellent stabilize feature, good sharpen abilities for zoomed-out videos.
Cons: You pay for having extra features in resources – this is not lightweight tool.
Does it really work? Depends on the video, but it’s definitely worth a try.
Believe it or not, I spent about half a day just researching this post. After trying to deblur a series of bad photos and videos, there’s one thing I know for sure: you’re much better off taking good photos and videos. If for some reason plan A didn’t work, the tools above can help you get something out of your media, but it really depends on what you’re looking to get out of it. Your best bet is to choose the tool that fits your requirements and give it a spin. Don’t forget to tell us how it went!
Do you know of other ways to sharpen blurry photos and videos? Do you use Photoshop or GIMP for this? Do they yield better results?
Image credit: Flowers & Glasses via Shutterstock