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 –

  • Sharpen Mode – General sharpening when it has not been applied in another application
  • Stabilize Mode – Softness due to camera shake/movement while taking the shot. This is usually due to handheld shots at low shutter speeds
  • Focus Mode – Fine-tuning of focus. Where your focus is slightly off with static subjects

UPDATE 

In 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.

Topaz Sharpen AI

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

TIP!

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.

Topaz Labs

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 – Sharpen, Stabilize & Focus. It can improve sharpness with handheld night, or shallow depth of field shots.

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 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.

UPDATE

In version V2.1.0 which was introduced in late July 2020, the Masking tool has been improved. If you select the Mask tool, you will now see masking tools in the bottom left of the interface (see image below). This now contains a Find Objects button which you can click to auto-detect objects in your image. If it finds the object it will display the type of object found in a box which you can select. Make sure you have the Overlay check-box ticked to see what it selects as your mask. We think that there is some room for improvement with the auto-detect tool as there was neither a boat nor dining table in the image below. However, it worked well on other images, so you may need to experiment a little with this to see what results you get.

Topaz Sharpen AI - Mask

This panning shot below was taken in Fiji has also had masking applied so the effect is only applied to the bus. Both Sharpness &  Suppress Noise are set to around 70 and are only applied to the bus. You can best see the effect on the writing on the bus.

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Below is another example of an image 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.

TIP! 

When editing an image we always find it easier to untick the Auto Update Preview box and click the update button each time we select a different area of the image to preview. This will prevent the software from updating every time you move the image in the window. Also, for best results, it is better to use the sliders in small increments until you achieve the result you want.

Photography Planner

The below example 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. Basic editing was done in Lightroom then in Topaz Sharpen AI the Stabilize 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 where we have selected an incorrect shutter speed or the 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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