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View Full Version : CSI:- Can they really recover that amount of detail from a photo?


Deptford
03-31-2003, 05:21 AM
So i'm watching CSI:- Miami over the weekend.It's the one with the mad sniper on the rooftops. At one point they recover an ATM picture of a man, they figure out he's looking to the side at someone next to him. So they go in for a close up of his glasses.There's something reflected there. Horatio asks the tech guy to enhance it and Ta-da! there's a clear picture of a badge which is later used to identify a guy.

This isn't unprecendented either, i've seen similar acts of photographic legerdemain in several previous CSI episodes. Now my gut reaction is, this is nonsence. You couldn't possibly recover so much detail.On the other hand it's amazing what we can do these days.

So anyone know the straight dope? Can photographic experts really enhance a grainy image that much or is my instinctive cynicism correct.

Crowbar of Irony +3
03-31-2003, 05:43 AM
It depends on the resolution of the ATM picture. I once borrowed a friend's digital camera (a CyberShot, if you must know) and took a picture of the city around me at the highest resolution possible. When I zoom in using Photoshop, the amount of details seem is quite amazing.

So if the resolution is damn high, it is well possible.

If ATM pictures are akin to security camera video, then no such luck. The pixelisation will be too great to make out any detail - the face will be just one big rectangle.

Pergau
03-31-2003, 06:28 AM
I think it's part of a subtle message that is being given out which is supposed to lead you to believe that cameras and police can do this. Obviously it doesn't hurt plot development either.

If it was possible, we would have crystal clear pictures of the bombings in Baghdad and Crimewatch type shows would have broadcast quality videos of people raiding petrol stations or 7-11s

Also most people who operate Security cameras recycle the tapes that are used to record the pictures way past their lifespan so you have even less quality pictures stored than the camera is capable of.

smiling bandit
03-31-2003, 07:08 AM
I don't think ATMs routinely take pictures anywhere near that level of detail. Its much closer to the level needed to look at the face of punk who just used the stolen card.

Deptford
03-31-2003, 08:14 AM
As i said it's not just ATM's. Another example springs to mind.From "Let the seller beware". The one where they find the husband dead in the pool and his second wife shot dead.

Here they suspect the involvement of the first wife. Eventually (after the usual plot twists) they find a suspect for the actual killings. They prove his connection with the first wife by means of a picture from the 1st wife's house where in the background there's a framed photo on a table.

They then blow up the image of that old photo within the current photo to the point where him and the wife together are clearly visible. To which my reaction was. No way!.

Hampshire
03-31-2003, 08:28 AM
I think Hollywood came up with that imaginary word "enhance" where some computer geek clicks a few buttons and suddenly the fuzzy image comes up crystal clear.
It was used in tons of movies and tv shows. I think I first saw it in Bladerunner.

mudpupper
03-31-2003, 10:15 AM
I've done alot of digital artwork and seen some amazing stuff. But what you're seeing on CSI I believe is hoky poky. If the resolution is poor and the information is not there, then it cannot be enhanced to the point of recognition that they are claiming.

Exapno Mapcase
03-31-2003, 11:02 AM
I think this device hit its limits on She Spies, which admittedly is a total spoof. A kidnapped girl was shown sticking out her tongue at the camera. She had a tongue stud. They zoomed in on the ball of the stud and enhanced the reflection off of it to reveal the name of the company at which she was being held.

lissener
03-31-2003, 11:32 AM
I see this all the time--watch X-Files for a while--and it's bullshit.If the pixels aren't there, they just aren't there; no amount of "enhancement" is going to create them.

smiling bandit
03-31-2003, 11:38 AM
They do this all the time in Hollywood. Its very irritating to tose of with an ounce of common sense.

photopat
03-31-2003, 12:11 PM
Yeah it's crap. Keep in mind too that when somebody is "enhancing" a photo by blowing it up and trying to fill in details, the details have to be added by the person doing the work. As lissener said, if the information isn't there in the first place it becomes conjecture. One person might see a full head of hair where another sees a bald person in a deep shadow.

Every time I see that happen, when somebody blows up a picture to something like 10,000 times original size and theres a bright crisp detail, I just want to beat the writer over the head with my hasselblad while saying "resolution,damn it, resolution!"

photopat
03-31-2003, 12:17 PM
Yeah it's crap. Keep in mind too that when somebody is "enhancing" a photo by blowing it up and trying to fill in details, the details have to be added by the person doing the work. As lissener said, if the information isn't there in the first place it becomes conjecture. One person might see a full head of hair where another sees a bald person in a deep shadow.

Every time I see that happen, when somebody blows up a picture to something like 10,000 times original size and theres a bright crisp detail, I just want to beat the writer over the head with my hasselblad while saying "resolution,damn it, resolution!"

buckgully
03-31-2003, 12:28 PM
CSI gives me a headache.

Recently I saw one where they were trying to figure out the identity of a person using stills from a security camera. The person was wearing a wig and large sunglasses, and had the collar of his coat pulled up. You could basically see the nose and some of the mouth.

The CSI guy yammers some technobabble about facial proportion mapping or somesuch, and then copy and pastes the picture of their lead suspect onto the image, and everyone gasps and says "that's him!". No duh, they could've made the person in the picture be Harry Potter if they wanted to.

I felt like I was watching a show about police set in George Orwell's "1984". Even if the person isn't guilty, they can make him guilty if they want to.

Dogzilla
03-31-2003, 02:56 PM
It was done in "Enemy of the State" as well. In that movie, they had a security photo showing (for example -- I don't remember the exact details) what Will Smith's left side. But he was holding something in his right hand.

The investigator instructs the computer person to rotate 180 degrees to show what was on the right side.

Um. People? Videos and photopgraphs are two-dimensional images. You can't just flip a photo over to see what's on the back of the t-shirt... Dumbest thing I ever saw.

ianzin
03-31-2003, 03:10 PM
It is possible to do amazing things with photographic material, and modern technology makes all sorts of manipulation and enhancement possible. But on CSI and other shows, they take it way too far. Sometimes, they take a legitimate principle (enlarge, enhance, filter, clarify) but stretch it beyond all credibility. At other times, they just make up crap because they can and it's a story, damn it. As many posters have pointed out, the info you want is either in the pixels or it isn't. If it isn't, no amount of enlargement, enhancement or scientific woofle dust is going to help.

Not that I care on whit. I just want to see Marg Helgenburger, beautifully backlit with her lip gloss flaring ever so slightly, strapping on those white latex gloves and getting to grips with the evidence. It's what TV was invented for.

Dogzilla's 'Enemy of the State' example is a classic. A neat enough little thriller, I thought, but the 3D manipulation of a flat image was silly.

Chronos
03-31-2003, 10:35 PM
The CSI guy yammers some technobabble about facial proportion mapping or somesuch, and then copy and pastes the picture of their lead suspect onto the image, and everyone gasps and says "that's him!". No duh, they could've made the person in the picture be Harry Potter if they wanted to.Sadly, I think this is a case of art imitating life. Remember the Unibomber? Remember how all of the police sketches just showed a vague-looking guy in a hooded sweatshirt? And do you further remember how, when Kazinski was caught, the news kept on showing clips of the sweatshirt sketch morphing into the completely different-looking Kazinski?

rexnervous
03-31-2003, 10:44 PM
Originally posted by Dogzilla
It was done in "Enemy of the State" as well. In that movie, they had a security photo showing (for example -- I don't remember the exact details) what Will Smith's left side. But he was holding something in his right hand.

The investigator instructs the computer person to rotate 180 degrees to show what was on the right side.

Um. People? Videos and photopgraphs are two-dimensional images. You can't just flip a photo over to see what's on the back of the t-shirt... Dumbest thing I ever saw.

That's the first scene I thought of upon opening this thread also. I saw it and kept thinking to myself "now is this really feasible?" I tried to convince myself that maybe the gubbermint had some super-duper computer running a top-secret algorithm that could figure out from minute alterations in the shape of the bag over time what was actually in the bag.

Then I gave up and said "man, that is DUMB."

Shalmanese
03-31-2003, 11:00 PM
Well, unless the camera is storing the picture using a fractal algorithm, you just get big squares if you zoom in.

I actually thought enemy of the State did a better job than most, they bothered to make it clear that the computer can INFER what is on the other side but not definative. And they didn't rotate it 180 degrees, it was more like 70,

ElwoodCuse
04-01-2003, 12:34 AM
Originally posted by Dogzilla
It was done in "Enemy of the State" as well. In that movie, they had a security photo showing (for example -- I don't remember the exact details) what Will Smith's left side. But he was holding something in his right hand.

The investigator instructs the computer person to rotate 180 degrees to show what was on the right side.

Um. People? Videos and photopgraphs are two-dimensional images. You can't just flip a photo over to see what's on the back of the t-shirt... Dumbest thing I ever saw.

That's really weird, because later they make a distinct plot point that they can't tell it's Gene Hackman since he's careful not to look towards the sky, where the satellite cameras are.

Diceman
04-01-2003, 06:55 AM
The picture super-enhancement schtick goes at least as far back as MacGyver. I remember an episode where Mac had some guy do the "enhance the picture beyond the pixels" BS. They called it "bitmapping" and gave some technobabble involving the X, Y, and Z directions in the picture.

Sadly, I think this is a case of art imitating life. Remember the Unibomber? Remember how all of the police sketches just showed a vague-looking guy in a hooded sweatshirt? And do you further remember how, when Kazinski was caught, the news kept on showing clips of the sweatshirt sketch morphing into the completely different-looking Kazinski?
True, but the sketch turned out to be useless. They only caught the guy because his brother read the manifesto and told the cops that it looked like Ted's work.

Bryan Ekers
04-01-2003, 07:05 AM
Originally posted by Diceman
I remember an episode where Mac had some guy do the "enhance the picture beyond the pixels" BS. They called it "bitmapping" and gave some technobabble involving the X, Y, and Z directions in the picture.

Ooooh, bitmapping. In later episodes, did they do jpegging, giffing and tiffing?

The whole thing is complete Hollywood hogwash. Worst example I saw was an episode of Earth: Final Conflict in which they zoom in on a picture of a kidnap victim and get a perfectly recognizable reflection of the kidnapper... off the victim's eyeball.

Okaaaay.... this show is set in the near future, so many cameras are super-duper high tech, and the victim was an alien, so maybe his eyeballs are particularly reflective...

....or it could just be complete deus ex bullshit.

CalMeacham
04-01-2003, 07:25 AM
The picture super-enhancement schtick goes at least as far back as MacGyver

The first place I saw it was in Bladerunner, where Harrison Ford's character uses the voice-activated computer to whiz around and zoom in on the replicant's pictures. That was in 1982, and I think that pre-dates MacGuyner.

In Bladerunner I could kinda accept it. This is supposed to be taking place in the ill-defined future, so I could accept that they had some super-resolving photo format, maybe not even using any normal sort of emulsion or pixels, but maybe something exotic. but I try not to think about it too hard, lest the cold light of logic wither the fragile bloom of artsy speculation.

SmackFu
04-01-2003, 09:58 AM
Two points:

1. You can do amazing things with sharpening if you're just looking for specific detail. Photoshop's Unsharp Mask is much better than the old-school sharpening algorithms.

2. You can do amazing things with video that you can't do with still photos. You have many images from the same sensor over time and they can be merged into a single higher quality image. You can eliminate noise, camera shake, etc.

But even so, you can't get to CSI-like levels.

Baldwin
04-01-2003, 11:12 AM
I can't help thinking of a scene in the Mel Brooks movie High Anxiety, in which a character is trying to make out a small detail (a man's face) in a picture of a large hotel lobby. Instead of enlarging just that portion, he keeps enlarging the entire picture until he has a billboard-sized photo.

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