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New Photoshop Plug-in from Topaz Labs LLC: Topaz Detail
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1. Topaz Detail - "Feature on Steroids" settings with
small detail boost
2. Topaz Adjust - Custom setting based on Spicify
3. Topaz Detail - another set of my own parameters I
called "Creative Sharpening"
4. Topaz Lab - Bold Detail preset
5. Topaz Detail with Creative Detail Accent preset and
Topaz Denoise with JPEG Strong Noise preset
6. Topaz Detail BW Contrasted preset on top of Bold
Everything has its purpose. When I saw Topaz Detail, my almost immediate reaction was about the purpose behind Topaz Detail - a new Photoshop plug-in from Topaz Labs LLC. Here is how Topaz Detail is presented on the Topaz Labs Web site:
"The new Photoshop plug-in Topaz Detail from Topaz Labs LLC manipulates image detail and sharpness without creating any edge artifacts. Sharpen without oversharpening, accentuate details without increasing noise, and add dynamism to photos without making them look fake."
Thus, at a high level, according to the above, Topaz Detail can be used for (1) sharpening, (2) accentuating details (whatever it means) and (3) adding dynamism. So, I decided to look at the new product from the point of view of its abilities to perform all three functions.
I do not pretend to broadcast in this article some kind of final truth on issues discussed. This review is my subjective opinion that reflects my artistic judgement and my workflow processes. In addition, I am a great fan of Topaz Adjust.
Sharpening is enhancing the edges of an image by improving the contrast between neighboring pixels in an image where necessary. There is no doubt, Topaz Detail can do this. However, while trying to use it as a sharpening tool, I have experienced two things that make Topaz Detail usage for this purpose not practical in my view.
My dealings with digital photography usually involve either processing of a large number of images for the Web where I do not care about the quality of each and every photo. In case like this, all I need is a dissent output pleasant for most viewers interested not a in photographic quality of images but in what they represent. I do occasionally high-end post-processing - only for high-end printing. While playing with the new plug-in, I realized that the bulk of my routine (which involves a lot of sharpening) can never be done with Topaz Detail. I discovered that Topaz Detail "preprocessing" step requires a lot of time. For example, it takes about two minutes (!) to open 3888 x 2592 image in Topaz Detail and half a minute to open 1936 x 1288 image on my laptop (high-end multimedia machine which I often use for producing images for the Web).
Topaz Detail interface -
very consistent with other
Topaz Labs products. The
first tab, Details, is the
most important. It has
controls for Small, Medium
and Large Details as well
as Small, Medium
and Large Boost.
The second thing that makes any broad use of Topaz Detail for sharpening is the need to tweak every time its controls (six of them). I found that there is no other way to achieve satisfactory results with sharpening: the combination of the six "Details" values that affect sharpening (as well as image details in general) varies greatly from image to image. Perhaps with practice I can learn to do it quicker. But so far this process has turned out to be very frustrating.
Finally, another thing I have to mention with respect to sharpening, and it goes to the core of what and how Topaz Detail works. This thing is the look of images coming from Topaz Detail. Opposite to the claim that it adds "dynamism to photos without making them look fake," I found that most of the time, Topaz Detail images do look fake unless a special care is taken.
If you need samples to support this statement, go no further as the Topaz Labs Web site itself, in particular their Topaz Detail Web page where several examples are presented to show what the new plug-in can do. I seriously think that these images (with one exception - black and white conversion sample) do more harm than good to the Detail sales.
I quote: "Topaz Detail completely eliminates the concept of 'oversharpening'. No matter how far the image is pushed, there won't be a single edge halo." Well, oversharpening is not only about halos. It's about "over" many things. For example - look at the car sample on Topaz Labs product page for Topaz Details. Another quote: "This car was processed in Topaz Detail for more depth and more attitude. Especially notice the change in the front wheel." I totally agree, the front wheel is good. But how about adding more (and significantly more) blown-out highlights right above the wheel? As far as I am concerned, the overall effect of "improving" the original this way equals to ruining the image. The original image of the car, as a whole, is more pleasing than the "after" image.
Accentuating is a fancy word meaning (according to the dictionary) stressing, or emphasizing, or intensifying. And Topaz Detail does this wonderfully. Having spent significant time playing with this tool, I can attest that it does not produce the halo type of effects. However, if you are not careful, the "mechanical" look of the result becomes quite obvious. Same way, if you are not careful with traditional sharpening techniques, you get over-sharpening and all sorts of artifacts. The point is - Topaz Detail requires as much care (if not more) as other image processing techniques.
I spent significant time trying to come up with settings that result in less "robot" images. I found that most natural looks come from the Feature Enhancement preset or its variations. If you want to try some of my presets, please see side bar on the right (one of those presets is indeed based on the original Feature Enhancement).
Since I mentioned the special look Topaz Detail produces, I cannot but say that I found on the Internet references to Topaz Detail as an HDR tool. Let me tell you that this plug-in has nothing to do with HDR. Results coming from Topaz Detail are indeed reminiscent of other image processing tools dealing with local contrast and detail enhancements. So, there are some similarities in terms of final results, for example, between Topaz Detail and Topaz Adjust. In fact, some other folks claim that they "can do in Topaz Adjust everything Topaz Detail can do." For your enjoyment, I have samples coming from both plug-ins to compare (see images #1 and #2 on the right). True: there are similarities between the two. However, there are differences as well. In particular, I think that Topaz Adjust, with all its "fakeness" is less artificial than the Detail and more in line with the HDR look (both are not HDR tools).
What is also true about Topaz Detail that it does not add noise (unless you increase significantly Small Details parameter and even in this case that can be offset be decreasing Small Boost). Surprisingly, I found that Topaz Detail works very well with noisy images and in most cases does not treat noise as "details." Moreover, it seems like Small Boost parameter can be used as a pseudo de-noise tool. I also found that noisy images processed in Topaz Detail work very well in many cases with Topaz Denoise - see image # 5 on the right.
I really do not know what "adding dynamism" may mean as applied to image processing. Based on semantics of word "dynamism," the closest I can come up with is "adding vigor" or, in other words, adding "strong feeling or intensity" to an image. From this perspective, to market Topaz Detail this way is akin marketing a brush as a tool that adds "strong feeling or intensity" to your paintings. Well, if you are Vincent van Gogh or Rembrandt that may turn out to be true. But that's because you are Rembrandt, and not because of the brush.
There is one specific area though where this general claim about "adding dynamism" may hold some truth - I am talking about black and white conversion. I've seen really stunning examples of using Topaz Detail for these purposes. I cannot claim that my sample here (see image #6 on the right) is stunning, but I think it's interesting enough to illustrate the point (I've been reusing the same image to explore various features of the Detail).
Here are my final thoughts about Topaz Detail:
- It can be one of the useful utilities in an arsenal of tools primarily for accentuating details in images.
- Topaz Detail produces a distinct computerized look absent in many other image processing tools. I would say that Topaz Adjust, with all its weird results you can get while show you creative side, results in less "robot" images than the Detail.
- I would not recommend using Topaz Detail as a tool to sharpen images - while capable of adding some interesting twists in this area, it's not free of its own problems.
- If you like B&W photography and looking for creative tools to convert your photos into back and white images, Topaz Details cab be a must-have utility.
- Topaz Detail is fun to play with if you have time. But batch processing with this plug-in can be very time consuming because it is very slow.
Examples with Various Presets in Topaz Detail
Original photo (from RAW file with minimum RAW parameters adjustments)
Topaz Detail with Feature Enhancements preset and additional un-sharp mask in Photoshop to increase local contrast
Unsharp mask in Photoshop to increase local contrast and additional custom action to increase vibrancy
Topaz Detail - Creative Detail Accent preset
Topaz Detail - Micro Contrast Enhancement preset
Topaz Detail - Micro Contrast Color by Diaze preset
Topaz Detail - Edge Softener preset
Topaz Detail - Deep Blue Sky preset
Topaz Lab - Bold Detail preset
Topaz Detail - Feature on Steroids (a new set of parameters)