Sunday, February 1, 2009

REVIEW: Focus Magic (UPDATED 2-6-11)


NOTE: My original review forgot to test an important feature of this product, so I ask that you re-read the NEW portion of this article and the conclusion again.

Somewhere recently I ran across an ad for Focus Magic which claims it can fix out of focus and blurry pictures better than the Unsharp Mask automatically. The information from the web site led me to believe this might be a cool product, so I decided to check it out.

I had a pretty bad picture that a bartender in a pub in Dublin, Ireland took of me so I thought I'd use it to see if I could fix this photo. After all, this was my first pub that I had visited and it had been recommended by my Irish co-worker, so I really wanted to save it.

The user-interface seemed simple enough yet right away I became skeptical when I saw the after photo in the preview window:


Focus Magic "Fix Out of Focus Blur" filter

The directions say to adjust the blur width as necessary, but I never really found that I was satisfied with the results. In the end, I just accepted the default and decided to try the 2-Pass LAB Sharpening trick in Scott Kelby's Photoshop Channels Book to see if it could do any better. The results appear below (don't forget to click the images to see larger 30% versions of the originals):

After Focus Magic Out of Focus Fix
After Kelby Channels Book 2-Pass Sharpening
Fix Motion Blur Filter (NEW)

One of my blog readers, Bob Heath, point out his favorite feature of Focus Magic is its Fix Motion Blur filter. I discovered that I had forgotten to test that feature of the product, so this update includes my findings.

This filter is a little harder to use because you have to figure out which direction the motion blur occurred and that may not be immediately obvious. Perhaps over time your eyes will get trained to make this easier, but I found it rather difficult to discern. There's no auto magic here, so you just have to experiment until you figure it out. Fortunately, their web site does a good job of demonstrating this feature so I took my best guess as shown here:

Focus Magic "Fix Motion Blur" filter

The results were actually quite impressive, so if you actually can figure out the source of the motion blur then this might be a great tool to help you salvage an otherwise blurry photo. Here's the results using my previous photo for which I'm not sure if the problem was out of focus or motion blur, but odds are it was motion blur since the bartender was holding a Canon 1D Mark III with a 70-200mm f/2.8 IS lens for the first time (which combined weigh about 8 or so pounds!):

After Focus Magic Motion Blur Fix

By George, I think it actually did a pretty impressive job of restoring this photo to something more usable. I haven't tried sharpening it, but I can see how this photo is significantly better and ready to accept sharpening with less garish results as the original.


When it comes to the focus fix, I much prefer the Kelby sharpening version although it could use some Noise Ninja help. Others may prefer the Focus Magic version, so I'll leave it up to you as to which you think is better. For the Motion Blur, I think Focus Magic did an incredible job, but your results will vary depending on how you turn the knobs. The results are indeed promising though!

The cost of this product is only $45 which is pretty inexpensive by add-in standards these days, so if you like the results you can order a copy at the Focus Magic web site. I don't get a commission or anything, but I would appreciate if you could put the URL of this article in the Notes edit box and let them know this is where you heard about the product.

Personally, I'm going to stick with the Kelby or other sharpening methods instead of using the out of focus filter, but I'll definitely try Focus Magic on images which are the result of shaky hands when I'd like to save a shot.

UPDATE – February 6th, 2011

In my previous update to this article I had recommended Nik Software’s Sharpener Pro’s Creative Sharpening features. I felt it was a big improvement over Focus Magic, but since then Topaz Software’s InFocus has entered the scene and trumped both products. I encourage you to check out my review of InFocus here and see if you agree as I’ve done comparisons using Focus Magic, Sharpener Pro, and InFocus. To my eyes, I think InFocus is the hands down winner.

Now I just had an Anonymous post to this blog that suggested that because I don’t get a commission on Focus Magic that my change of heart is biased, so I’d like to publically address that claim.

Software changes and evolves over time, so while in February 2009 I was impressed with Focus Magic, I hadn’t tried other products at that time that offered alternative solutions to the same problem. I’ve left my original review here unmodified and only update after the article so people can see my original thoughts. However, newer products have improved upon the ground breaking solution that Focus Magic offered and done a better job in my opinion. I emphasize “my opinion” as that is what any article or review will be – an opinion of the writer. Just as in the comment below where someone offered that in their opinion they disagree, I posted that and feel that everyone has the ability to download all of the products in question (which all have free demos) and see for themselves which is best.

I will say that fixing out of focus problems is difficult no matter which product you use, so it takes more education than just loading the product and clicking fix. Readers should be mindful of this before doing their own comparisons, but with the proper knowledge of the products that tackle this problem I felt I was able to do the best job with my own hands using InFocus. I suspect you will too so I encourage you to try and compare before making your purchase decision.

While I do in fact get commissions on Nik and Topaz products (something I fully disclose in those reviews), the fact that I find them better is not because of that detail. However, it is easy for someone to try to create a diversion from the truth by making such a claim so I wanted to be crystal clear that my position is based on actual images which you can see with your own eyes in the other reviews. You can also form your own opinion based on your own images and I suspect you will come to the same conclusion.

For a full list of my stack ranking of plug-ins to Photoshop and Lightroom please read my What plug-ins should I buy? article.

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Anonymous said...

Actually, I liked the Focus Magic version better.

In particular:
a) There is -far- more facial detail in the Focus Magic version.
b) I found the green area in the lower left to be much more detailed.
c) The lines on your shirt have much more detail in the Focus Magic version to me.

Just my 2 cents.

Anonymous said...


Good article and I agree with all you pointed out in it. Where I do find Focus Magic addresses a unique issue which PS-CS and the third party sharpening tools I have do not, is slight, and I stress the word slight, motion blur where the photog moves the camera a bit when taking the shot.

This is one of my weaknesses when hand-holding the camera. I have not been successful yet in steadying my hands when taking the shot and many of my handheld shots have a minor movement blur in them.

A couple of months ago someone on this forum recommended Focus Magic for this, so I DL the trial and used it on a few of my shots that were close, but not exactly sharp and using the motion blur process I was able to recover them, so I paid the $45 bucks and have been using it since.

The other thing I found out is my camera movement seems to be in the 6 – 7 pixel range fairly consistently, so I am using FM to monitor this as a measurement process to see if specific holding technique helps improve it any J

Just wanted to give an example of a use of the tool that works well for me, that CS4 or other third party tools did not address.

Here is a link to a shot I took in Yosemite where I was almost ready to throw it out, but I was able to salvage with FM.

The first one is as shot and the second one was edited with FM:


Bob Heath-

Rich Gibson said...

I caught a reference to this software and a link to your BLOG on a Google search. I deliberately did not look at the descriptions near your pub samples. I agree the Focus Magic shot is noticeably better than the 2 pass Kelby shot.

Rich Gibson

Anonymous said...

Focus Magic refocusing works best on images with blur width under 5 pixels. Past that, artifacts are more likely to show up, and edges are more likely to develop unpleasant blockiness. These artifacts are what make Focus Magic look unnatural compared with traditional sharpening treatments; overall it does correct the focus problem in ways traditional sharpening can't provide. Focus Magic can't perform miracles but it can be outstanding for gentle corrections. It can salvage the content of very blurry images but doesn't render then perfectly.

It also treats the entire image at once, which can result in horrible oversharpening if some other area of the image is already in focus (such as a back-focused image). Selective application is key.

I wish they would release a new version. It's a sound concept and I'm sure that further improvement is possible. Unfortunately, they've been very quiet for a long time.

Chris said...

Have you used or reviewed a software product called FocalBlade? If so, how does it compare to Focus Magic? said...

Hi Chris

No, I haven't heard of that. Currently I use Topaz Infocus

It works well for my needs.