Q: Photos app often displays sharp images as somewhat blurry (includes example)

[I made this comment earlier under another thread but I feel it deserves its own thread.]

I like the new W10 overall and don't mind using Photos as a default image viewer except one issue:


This bug has been there since Windows 8.  Basically it often (but not always) shows sharp image as blurry as shown below. On the left is a partial screen capture of a photo as displayed by Windows Photo Viewer (same sharpness in other programs like Paint, Photoshop, etc). On the right is how Photos app displays it. It's obviously quite blurry compared to the left.

Note that this was at 100% crop. In other words, there was no resolution scaling involved at all (scaling step could potentially influence sharpness somewhat depending on scaling algorithm) so it should have been very straightforward to display the image at 1:1 mapping and sharpness should be same on both programs.

Like I said, not all photos are subject to this problem. So I dug in a little to see if there's a pattern I could spot. And I think I found it. This blurriness occurs when image resolution in either dimension is odd numbered. For example, my 1716x1080 images are rendered fine in Photos while 1631x1080 image (shown above) is not because 1631 is an odd number. This odd-is-blurry, even-is-sharp pattern is observed throughout my samples. And when I tweaked the above image slightly in Lightroom to change the resolution to 1630x1080, it looks fine in Photos.

I hope this information reaches the dev team and they can do something about this issue.

EDIT: Images in question are in JPEG format. I do not know if other formats are similarly affected.

EDIT: It's been shown that at least JPEG and PNG images are affected in the same way.

UPDATE (2015/10/01): A few weeks back, Microsoft released an update that fixes the blurriness issue for the sample photos discussed early in this thread. Kudos to MS for responding to us! But upon further testing I found there are still cases where the issue persists (see pg 3). MS engineers are looking at the new samples I have provided.

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Thanks for all the hard work.  The problem with Photos dropping out of full screen is what caused me to stop testing on my own.  So every time you wanted to compare images you had to first move Photos' version to another app?  I figured that would work but it's pretty aggravating and adds potential complications. 

What I did was hit the Print Screen key on my keyboard because that did not cause Photos to drop out of full screen mode. Then I pasted it into a new Gimp window, made sure it was 100% zoom, then used the Snipping Tool on that for a smaller crop. There is no loss of quality in any of those steps except possibly the final saving of the cropped file - and that I did with the Snipping Tool in every case so it's not a variable.

"One possible explanation is that the zoom icon simply goes up or down a fixed percentage.  If you go up 10% and then down 10%, you get 99%, but it should be slightly worse than the original and you see it as clearly better. "

I see what you mean, but I really doubt it works that way since it would be pretty weird :)  My guess of the explanation here is that when you first open the image, it does not do the "sharpening" after a half second that it does if you zoom in/out. It's probably showing a blurry version initially for speed. It shows blurry versions as you zoom in or out (and after a half second it shows the non-blurry version if it's a nice round zoom percentage), and it shows blurry versions when you page forward and back to other images. I have seen other image viewers do similar, my camera actually does it, and the older Windows Photo Viewer did that as well I think. The Windows Photo Viewer would "look ahead" to load the next photo as you paged forward, but if you paged too quickly, you would have to wait a second for it.

I see 2 problems-

  1. Photos app does not show the non-blurry version when you first open it (for round zoom percentages). I would expect it to show that after a half second like it does when you zoom in/out.
  2. Photos app shows photos significantly blurrier than other image viewers when not at a nice round zoom percentage).

This thing is definitely real. My photos look worse with the Photos app with a somewhat close glance. It's worse for some photos - depends on what's in the photo.

I thought of another way to test with the zoom in/out phenomenon-

  1. Open a photo that has some clear detail and contrast in the Photos app twice, so you have two windows open of the same photo. Make sure both Photos windows are maximized.
  2. In the first, click the ... and choose "View actual size"
  3. Then zoom out using Ctrl key and mouse scroll wheel until you can't zoom out anymore. You can see the image often get clearer or more blurry after a half second on each zoom level.
  4. Compare the two Photos windows by switching between them using the taskbar (or take crops of both with the Snipping Tool while trying to crop the same area, and flip between them in Photos or any viewer).

I tried this with my 2288x1712 photos, and the result here is that the first Photos window shows a clearer version of the photo. I tested several. I tried this with my 4000x3000 photos and... wait that's strange, the two aren't showing the same zoom level. The first is still clearer, but it's also slightly larger than the second so not a good comparison. With my 2288x1712 photos, the steps above ended up with both at the same zoom level. I tried with a 3264x2448 image from my phone and it also ended with slightly different zoom levels. I tried some 2048x1536 images from my older phone and that ended with both having the same zoom, and the first was clearly sharper. The zoom difference seems to be accounted for by the top bar of the Photos app. When first opened, the zoom level is set to exclude the top bar so the full image is visible. After doing the steps above, the top bar overlaps instead.

So that test may have just brought up new questions. But there is a definite result for my 2288x1712 and 2048x1536 photos. They open initially more blurry compared to what you see if you do the above steps, or if you zoom in then out.

Wow, I just noticed something else. When I open a 2288x1712 photo, it looks clearer for a fraction of a second, then it blurs. The Photos app is actually blurring it after it has already loaded the better version. It happens quickly so it's not easy to see. I may have to figure out how to make a screencast video to show it. This is nuts though. I was unable to see something like that when trying my 4000x3000 photos. I guess it's like the steps as you zoom. When zooming, after a half second, some zoom steps get sharper and some get more blurry.

It would be a good idea to come up with a test pattern and play around with it as you suggested.

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You may want to hold the Windows key down while doing the screen print.  That writes a png image to your Screenshots folder.  That's a lossless write so you can create a reliable set of test results.  All screen prints will be 1920x1200 on your machine so you wouldn't do any additional cropping.

We can probably forget about any cropping now since I think we're leaving my "sweet spot" theory behind and simply trying to illustrate a bug in image resolution.  One simple test is to open any image, do a Windows screen print, then zoom up and back and do a second print.  If the second picture is different we have what we need to show Microsoft.  You could use either the zoom icon or the approach you mention above.  But I see what you mean about varying zoom factors, so it seems best to not bother with first setting it to actual size. 

If no differences can be seen, we need to show unexpected variances in sharpness as we zoom.  I would do an initial Windows screen print (to Screenshots) then use the Zoom icon and do screen prints for each level, noting anything unexpected.  You can then open the specific screenshots to verify those observations.  Finally, when you have a set of zoomed images that show odd behavior, verify that it's repeatable by creating a second set for the same image (presumably they will be identical).     

The initial change from sharp to blurry is an interesting clue.  I'm hoping you can capture that effect by simply recording each zoom level.  If one is unexpectedly blurry, we have all we need if it's reproducible.  

I've started to read about test images and there's more to them that I thought.  Geometric patterns apparently aren't the best for testing zooming issues although they do make it easy to identify problems.  I'll try to find a few natural images that do that as well but your judgment is probably as good as mine there.

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One simple test is to open any image, do a Windows screen print, then zoom up and back and do a second print.  If the second picture is different we have what we need to show Microsoft.

This is exactly what I see on my screen (and with screen prints). I can't be the only one. I'm sure anybody can see it.

The Photos app shows a different displayed image when viewing the same photo after having just opened it maximized compared to having opened it maximized and doing 1 zoom in and 1 zoom out (zoomed with Ctrl + scroll wheel).

MS could just say - hey that's the way it is, it's a resize and it's not perfect. But for me it's way too blurry on many photos. I chose to not order an 8x10 print of one photo because of it. And anyway, it appears to be blurring it in some cases after it has already displayed a better quality version, which doesn't make sense.

I have photos of 4 different sizes I have looked at lately:

  • 2048x1536 - Photos app shows a clearer version after doing 1 zoom in and 1 zoom out
  • 2288x1712 - Photos app shows a clearer version after doing 1 zoom in and 1 zoom out. I also notice when first opened (starts maximized) that the image blurs a split second after it's first displayed - it's very quick.
  • 3264x2448 - Photos app shows a more blurry version after doing 1 zoom in and 1 zoom out
  • 4000x3000 - Photos app shows a clearer version after doing 1 zoom in and 1 zoom out

The 3264x2448 is the odd one showing a more blurry version after doing the zooming. But I have seen some zoom steps do seem to show more blurry versions, less often.

I'll make some screenshots of photos for these different sizes and put them up in a OneDrive folder soon.

"You may want to hold the Windows key down while doing the screen print.  That writes a png image to your Screenshots folder.  That's a lossless write so you can create a reliable set of test results."

I'm pretty sure that the screenshot that's saved to the clipboard by using the Print Screen key is lossless, and that viewing the image in a Gimp window is also lossless. But I'll do that. It's easier for full-screen screenshots anyway.

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I didn't mean to imply that you were losing data by copying and pasting to Gimp.  It's just that you need to have the images in files so that they can be analyzed by others so you may as well do that immediately.

I look forward to seeing your data.  To be truthful, I've never been able to recreate the problem but enough people have complained that I figured I just don't have the right type of images to reproduce it (I work almost exclusively with smaller files).

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All right, here are my examples! Sorry for the delay, but I had a lot going on for a while there.!AjfOFcPvU7e7kU2n-CBGmDQbiICn

These examples were made by the following procedure (same as Tom_WC described):

  1. Opened photo in Photos app by double-clicking the photo file
  2. Clicked "Fullscreen" button in bottom right
  3. Used Windows key + Print Screen to record screenshot file (image matches my screen's dimensions at 1920x1200)
  4. Zoomed in and out using Ctrl + mouse scrollwheel
  5. Used Windows key + Print Screen to record 2nd screenshot file

For each photo, there are 3 files - the 2 screenshots and the original so you can do the same thing to test if you like. 

I named the files so you can see everything you need to know from the name. For example:
"DSCN8678 Screenshot, orig 4000x3000.png" - first screenshot, original photo was 4000x3000 pixels
"DSCN8678 Screenshot, orig 4000x3000 zoom in out.png" - second screenshot
"DSCN8678.JPG" - original photo file

They are derived from originals of a variety of dimensions, a variety of cameras, and the photos themselves of course are all different.

To view the 2 screenshots and compare, you'll need to be sure you're viewing them original size. If you have a screen larger than the 1920x1200 I used, then you can probably just open them in the Photos app since you'll be able to see those at full size. Otherwise, you'll need to open them in an image editor and view them at 100%.

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Perfect!  I've only looked at the first six so far but the results have been consistent.  Your original screenshots are blurrier than both your second screenshots and my original images (and screenshots).

I'll keep looking but the next question is whether this is an intermittent problem.  Just look at the original image of the first or second examples and see whether it sometimes shows sharp and sometimes not.  From what you've written it sounds like they're always slightly blurry but we need to verify that.

In the meantime I'll be checking to see if I can recreate your blurry images on my machine.  If not then the blurring may be due to something on your machine.  But that seems very strange since you can "unblur" them simply by zooming in and out.  That implies that Photos is responsible but why do we see different initial images?

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So far it's always consistent. For some of these, I did the screenshot process several times and saw the same thing. It has always done the same thing (per image) when viewing, zooming, etc. 

You say that you don't have the blurry 1st screenshot when you do the same with these photos? 

Yes, I know the Photos app can show the better quality version (and it does so after zooming in and out)... so why doesn't it show that better quality version when it's first opened? That's a mystery.

Could it be when the Photos app is first opened, it doesn't do some step that it normally does otherwise? Could the screen dimensions factor in somehow? Perhaps the Photos app optimizes for some screen dimensions so it has different behavior in some situations. What size is your screen?

I have the same screen size at my work, 1920x1200, and Windows 10, but with different hardware. I downloaded and tested the screenshot process and it gave me the same basic results viewing at 100% image size. The 2nd screenshot looks better and the corresponding images look the same as what was done on my home computer.

Wow, this is strange. In my image editor, I zoomed 800% on the corresponding screenshots comparing the 1st screenshot from my home computer to the 1st screenshot from my work computer, and they were different! I can see the home screenshot has lost a little color and has what resembles a bit more JPEG compression artifacting. When I did the same zooming 800% on the 2nd screenshots from home and work computers - they are the exact same as expected. I do have some Windows updates to do, so maybe there is something in there. Does anyone  know how to check the Photos app version? Barring a change with Windows updates, there is a difference between my work and home computers on the 1st screenshot (initial open full-screen) but not on the 2nd screenshot (zoom in/out). That's bizarre.

So, could this be hardware related? A difference in video card acceleration? Does the Photos app do something different depending on some hardware specs?


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I've made a fair amount of progress and am almost ready to report the problem on the Feedback Hub and let Microsoft take it from here.  Naturally your data will take center stage. 

Here's what I've been doing in case others want to help:

  Open any photo with a height greater than their native screen resolution (1080 for me) 
  Press the "full screen" icon (if necessary)
  Hold the Windows key down while doing a screen print
  Zoom in and back out (<ctrl>+/-)
  Do another screen print

Do this for several images then compare the two file sizes for each image in the resulting files in the Pictures\Screenshots folder.  They're identical for other photo viewers but in Photos the original is substantially smaller.  So far the only pattern to this oddity is that it's true for virtually all images that are reduced in size to fit the screen.  The good news is that Photos knows how to make a great image, it just doesn't do so until you zoom in and out.

Initially I was a little confused since your sizes didn't match mine very closely.  But only numbers using the same aspect ratio are comparable (16:9 for me, 16:10 for you).  In other words, my numbers aren't 10% smaller than yours even though your screen is that much bigger.

The most annoying discovery I made was that I can't predict mismatching file sizes with full accuracy.  One 736x1103 image had the same size before and after zooming so Photos apparently successfully reduced it on a 1080 display.  But that was not the case with a 800x1042 image so it's not totally about whether it needs to be reduced in size.  Still, the height of the image is an accurate forecaster well over 90% of the time. 

So how do we persuade Microsoft to look at this?  They did intervene a couple years ago when the problem was apparently worse but they've avoided this subject since then, making no remark about the defective images.  It's hard to believe that it will be tough to fix so I think we just need to explain ourselves and hope someone takes pity on us.  Once we convince them that Photos is apparently the only popular editor that can't properly display large images, they should make this a priority.

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Great, glad you're still going on this too. Thanks for the quick post in that other thread. I actually found a Microsoft employee had posted about Photos app on Reddit in the Windows 10 subreddit, even starting some threads regarding new Photos app updates and signing his posts "The Photos Team". But that was 2 years ago so I don't know if he's still active there. It was worth a shot messaging him so I did that and included a link to this thread.

Let me know if you make a feedback thing and I'll definitely vote for it. I have only glanced at that feature before but I think that's how it works. I may have to make a post on my blog also since this annoys the crap out of me.

I do have the same Photos version. At first I couldn't see that choice because the only way I use the Photos app really is when opening a photo by double-clicking the file, and Settings is not an option that way. 

I do have a 1920x1080 monitor in the basement I can dig up for more testing if I have some time on my hands. Wait, actually I can set my resolution to 1920x1080 on this screen easily I see. I tried it, and it just cuts off some top and bottom so things will still look clear (still 1:1 pixels). I'll have to do some testing and compare with you.

I don't know about your eyesight :) but I think I notice the problem most in images that have a lot of contrasting elements (like leaves on trees, rocks vs snow, and bridge trusses you see in my images). Maybe that would help. I did look for those kinds of things when glancing at thumbnails of photos to try, but otherwise I didn't go out of my way testing and screenshotting a ton of photos to get the biggest result. I'm glad you brought up the file size difference. The blurrier versions of course can save to smaller file sizes due to the JPEG algorithm.

I remember I'd still like to try catching that initial blurring I saw with some slowed down screen video. I just tried it again with my 2288x1712 images and I still see that effect (for a small fraction of a second after double-click, the image is clearer, then it blurs). There is definitely no good reason to make a photo more blurry after already displaying a better, clearer version. That can't be intended.

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I'll certainly mention the initial sharpness but it shouldn't be necessary to record it.  I'm less sure about whether we should compare sizes from 1080 displays since I' don't know how helpful that would be.  Presumably the second screenshot will always match but the first's size could be variable since it's basically a bug that causes it.

MS knows how to make the right image, they just need to be persuaded that it's worth fixing.  It's hard to believe they're not already aware of the problem since they investigated a couple years ago, but it's possible that it's morphed a bit since then.

In any event, our data nails down what people have been saying in this thread for a long time.  The problem is that Microsoft can easily shrug and say that too few people will notice the improvement so why bother?  I think we have to appeal to their sense of pride - proper rendering of a full-screen image is an absolute "must" for any serious app.

I'll wait a week to see if anyone has further insights.

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