Clever software can turn a very small photo into one large enough to display on the wall.
Al Fasoldt's reviews and commentaries, continuously available online since 1983

T e c h n o f i l e
PhotoZoom Pro 2 rescues lost Vietnam photos, enlarging tiny contacts to exhibition size

Oct. 29, 2006

Poster of the Vietnam photo exhibit

By Al Fasoldt
Copyright © 2006, Al Fasoldt
Copyright © 2006, The Post-Standard

   For years, digital photographers have yearned for the impossible -- a way to make small photos much bigger without any telltale signs of the enlargement process.
   The problem is obvious to anyone who's played with photo editing software. After a certain point, enlarging a tiny photo produces nothing but exaggerated flaws and giant, blocky pixels. The result is an ugly pattern of dots and zig-zag shapes.
   But that's not true any more. Clever software can turn a very small photo into one large enough to display on the wall. You can see this for yourself in an exhibition of photos I took as bureau chief of the Stars & Stripes newspaper in Vietnam during 1966 and 1967. They will be on display at the Central Library in The Galleries of Syracuse, on South Salina Street, all during November, and a reception is being held Nov. 8 from 5:30 to 7:30 p.m. in the library's "Browse About in Syracuse" area. Here are directions to the library.
   After the exhibit starts, I will post a downloadable PDF of the exhibition guide for those who are not able to make the exhibit or as a souvenir for anyone who likes the photos. It shows all the images and their accompanying explanatory text. (But take my word for it: The guide is no substitute for viewing the actual images. Some are nearly three feet across.)
   Some of the photos on display were enlarged to poster size from 8-inch by 10-inch prints I brought back from Vietnam 40 years ago. That's impressive enough, but what makes this exhibition unique -- I know of no other such display -- is a group of photos I've blown up to 11-inches by 17-inches or even larger from contact prints barely more than an inch across.
   These photos represent more than the advent of astonishing new software. They represent a personal victory for me. I discovered last year that U.S. authorities had inexplicably ordered the destruction of all the negatives of photos taken by Stars & Stripes photographers. That meant I had lost all my original photos, and all I had left were a dozen 8 by 10 prints -- some of them in very poor condition after four decades -- along with hundreds of contact prints of the negatives.
   Each contact print is the exact size of the corresponding negative. Contact prints are made quickly, without any concern for quality, and mine were no exception. They were given to me shortly after each roll of film was exposed so that I would have a visual reference when identifying the photos.
   It's important to note that what I have are tiny prints, not negatives. They are grainy, sometimes dirty, often scratched and usually a bit out of focus. Making good quality exhibition prints from such tiny contacts -- each one only 1 3/8 inch wide by 1 inch high -- would have been unthinkable were it not for a new generation of interpolation software.
   Interpolation programs fill in what's obviously missing in a photo. They can't put your Uncle Morris in the picture after he left the family picnic early, but they can remove the jagged pixels in an extreme blowup and replace them with proper lines and shapes. More importantly, they can even restore complex figures and shapes from only a few blocky pixels.
   There are two or three outstanding programs for this kind of interpolation, but my favorite by far is the program I used to restore the quality of my lost Vietnam photos. It's PhotoZoom Pro 2 from www.benvista.com. It costs $150 for either a Windows version or a Mac OS X version. It can run as a separate program or as a plugin for Photoshop.
   Try this software. You can use it for free (producing watermarked photos) to see how it works. I guarantee you will be amazed.
   And then come see my restored Vietnam photos. They provide glimpses, however fleeting, of a war that echoes in disturbing ways in another part of the world today.