Review – Topaz Sharpen AI
Ever been in a situation where you have quickly captured a shot but have not selected the correct shutter speed or you have slightly missed the focus? As professional travel photographers, we find ourselves in these situations occasionally, even with all the bells and whistles of high-end cameras sometimes you just can’t react quickly enough. We have at times missed focus or haven’t selected the right shutter speed. This is especially the case when taking panning shots. This can be frustrating situations especially when you have nailed the composition.
So does using Topaz Sharpen AI give you better results than those found in most editing applications like Adobe Lightroom, Photoshop, CaptureOne, etc? If the image was captured with perfect focus, then these applications mentioned will do a great job. Where Topaz Sharpen AI really excels is in processing images with –
- Too Soft – General sharpening when it has not been applied in another application. This mode replaces the Sharpen mode in V3.0
- Motion Blur – Softness due to camera shake/movement while taking the shot. This is usually due to handheld shots at low shutter speeds. This mode replaces the Stabilize mode in V3.0
- Out of Focus – Fine-tuning of focus. Where your focus is slightly off with static subjects. This mode replaces the Focus mode in V3.0
Since version V2.1.0, which was introduced in late July 2020, the software can now auto-detect your scene and select the ideal focus mode and settings for your image (see image right). This is great for those that don’t know which mode will best suit their image. Use the toggle to switch Auto – On or Off. If you adjust the settings or mode manually the switch will toggle to OFF.
V3.0 was released in 2021, there are now three extra buttons allowing you to select Normal, Very Noisy, & Very Blurry. These are tools that will work in tandem with the focus mode selected. When Auto is selected, Sharpen AI will automatically select the appropriate Focus Mode and one of these selections based on the image. If it selects Very Noisy and you want to correct your noise in another application the just select Normal.
V3.2 was introduced in early August 2021. Improvements have been made when combining the Motion Blur with the Very Blurry option, and if combining the Too Soft option with the Very Blurry button you will reduce more artifacts allowing you to sharpen more extreme blur. Other improvements have been made to the masking features and colour and tone processing for RAW & DNG files. For more detailed info about the changes click here
V3.3.2 was introduced in late 2021. There has been a change to the interface layout (see image below).
“Image Quality” has now been renamed “Sharpen Model” and is now a drop-down menu if not using the Auto Mode.
“Settings” has been renamed to “Model Parameters” and is also now a drop-down menu if not using Auto Mode.
The masking parameters for the image are selected using the “Select” drop-down menu. If you turn this feature to the “ON” position you will also be given a drop-down menu that will allow you to select a variety of Auto settings such as “Auto Subject”, “Auto-Portrait”, “Auto-Landscape” or “Custom”. The auto selections are not always 100% accurate, however, if you select the “Refine” button next to the drop-down you will be presented with further tools for refining your mask. Click on “Update” to see the results.
The “Post Processing” option has not changed although it is also now a drop-down menu so it can be minimised if not in use.
Applying sharpness to a RAW image is necessary as it has not had any processing done in-camera as opposed to JPEG images (straight out of camera). We find that third-party plug-ins (such as Topaz Sharpen AI) seem to provide better results as the plug-in is dedicated to perfecting the results that it’s been designed for. They are always far more intuitive than the features that are built into the major editing suites available and give you far more control. Several companies are now including AI (Artificial Intelligence) algorithms in their apps.
The Topaz Sharpen AI application should not be something you need for every image unless you are using it for your basic sharpening of RAW images. Topaz Sharpen AI does give you some hope for images you would normally have flagged as unacceptable due to lack of sharpness or slightly blurred due to movement.
“There’s nothing worse than the feeling of taking the perfect photo, rushing home, opening it up on your computer… and realizing that it’s blurry at 100%. When this happens, it’s usually caused by one of three problems: camera shake, focus issues, or general softness. Sharpen AI includes a separate module to handle each one.” Topaz Labs
The sharpness and focus of an image is most noticeable when you view it at 100%. For images viewed on smartphones and tablets, the sharpness (or lack of) will not be as evident.
The beauty of Topaz Sharpen AI is the Artificial Intelligence used to apply sharpening with-in the image. The software is able to detect the difference between detail and noise, and apply sharpening based on three different AI models – Motion Blur, Out of Focus, & Too Soft. It can improve sharpness with handheld night or shallow depth of field shots. They have also added a slider to add Grain to your image which can make your image look a little more natural.
Please Note: we have not tested all the plug-ins that are available for Sharpening, so there may be other apps that will give you a similar result.
Below is a panning shot we took in Macau, China on a Full-Frame Sony A7Rii camera. The image was processed in Lightroom then taken to Topaz Sharpen AI. We used the Stabilize Mode )now called Motion Blur Mode) and applied Sharpness to 70, and Suppress Noise to 70. This gave us an acceptable result for the main subject, however, produced a distracting result on the bikes in the background. To fix this we used the very handy masking brush to paint/mask the main subject.
Below is another example – this image was taken in Shanghai, China. Due to a slow shutter speed and slight movement by the musician, the focus is slightly inaccurate. You can see the improvement the application provides overall but most noticeably around the face, predominantly the eyes and glasses.
The example below probably best shows the power of this software. The image was shot at 1/200sec, f5.6, ISO 1000 at 105mm (on a Sony A7riii and Sony 24-105 f4 lens). This shot was taken very quickly and unfortunately, the shutter speed was too slow . Basic editing was done in Lightroom, then sent to Topaz Sharpen AI where the Stabilize mode ( now Motion Blur mode) for sharpening was applied. We usually process the image at the default settings first to see the results. Sometimes this may be sufficient. If the image needs further improvement we adjust these settings. For the image below we found that settings around 70% for sharpness and 100% on suppress noise sliders gave us the best result.
Naturally, it is always best to get the correct focus and shutter speed settings in-camera to achieve the optimum sharpness in an image. However, as is the case in travel, street, or sports photography getting the correct focus and shutter speeds can be unpredictable in many cases. Topaz Sharpen AI gives you the ability to correct images that you would normally discard. But please note, this software will improve images that are slightly out of focus due to inaccurate focusing or incorrect shutter speed, however, it will not fix all images. If an image is totally out of focus or the shutter speed is way off then nothing will save it.
We generally use Topaz Sharpen AI to correct our panning shots using the Stabilize Mode (now Motion Blur mode) where we have selected an incorrect shutter speed or the Focus Mode (now Out of Focus mode) for images where we have not nailed the focusing.
We STRONGLY RECOMMEND Topaz Sharpen AI to all photographers that want the security of knowing they can improve their images should they fail in-camera.
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