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Review: Topaz Sharpen AI

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Topaz Sharpen AI review

Software offers shake reduction and sharpening


Topaz have just announced a new software package for sharpening photos.

It uses similar techniques to AI Gigapixel which Keith has reviewed and found a handy tool for creating some of his large prints.

The software offers both sharpening and shake reduction. The software runs at its best if you’ve a fast modern graphics card but will run under ‘CPU power’ if need be.

Keith has been testing an early version of the software to see if it could augment some of his long standing software choices.

People who purchased Topaz Labs Infocus should get an Email with a free upgrade to Topaz Labs Sharpen AI.

Topaz Sharpen AI

There’s a free 30 day trial of the software.

Use our 15% discount code ‘Northlight’ for purchases of non discounted items

Sharpen AI

Sharpen makes use of similar machine learning techniques that Topaz have applied to some of their other software. This involves training software with many many photos with various degrees of problems and using the results to drive correction software.

Sharpen AI addresses sharpening in three ways. One is simple image softness, another is out of focus softness, and the third, which interests me the most is shake removal.

The software I’m testing is a pre-release version, so expect minor changes.

Essentially, you open a file, choose the settings and it goes off and processes your image.  The software really does benefit from a fast graphics card.

sharpen-ai-start

Options

The default view shows a small part of your image zoomed to 200%.

Looking for slight camera shake, noise and focus errors is about the only time I really look at images at this magnification.

view scale

A (moveable) split view helps compare what you started with, with the results.

[click to view at full size]

view-at-100

There’s an RGB histogram and HSL vector display available for the currently loaded image.

histogram

The vector tool is not one I’m familiar with using.

hsl vector display

Removing shake

Yes, my photos sometimes have a bit of camera shake…

Partly it’s because I like shooting hand held, and partly because higher MP sensors are more sensitive to showing very small amounts of shake, I’ve long accepted that a few photos I take won’t be as sharp as I’d like. I happily use a tripod for much of my architectural and industrial work, but sometimes you just can’t use one. Good technique (and multiple shots if possible) will always help, but a few pixels of shake has never been the end of the world.

Here’s an 11MP jpeg from the camera (Canon 1Ds in this case).
[click for full size]

blackberries

Running the software gives me a version minus the shake.

blackberries-sharp

A view at 200% magnification gives a good feel for the processing.

sharp blackberries

The default settings will make a good first attempt at reducing shake, but you might want to tweak the blur amount.

See these three versions at slightly different settings. You may need to enlarge the images to really see changes

shake-5

shake-6

shake-8

Differences tend to be slight, but before spending too long tweaking sliders…

Remember that this is at 200% magnification

The noise slider may help with noisier images where the shake correction can emphasise noise in some areas.

The grain slider will add noise ‘grain’ to your image – this will sometimes reduce a slightly artificial ‘digital’ feel to fine detail. It’s not a “What would this look like shot with Tri-X’ type of noise – there are many other bits of software that do a good job there.

Where the shake reduction does a good job is with non-linear shake.

In this example look how the curved path of movement on the left side has been corrected on the right.

non-linear

For some images you may not be able to decide whether they just need a bit of sharpening or whether they have a bit of shake in them.

These three examples suggest that there is a tiny bit of shake (200% views from a 21MP 16 bit TIFF image).

sharpen

focus

stabilize

Once you’re happy with how the image is going to be processed, it’s worth checking in other areas, since blur/shake is not always even.

The file can then be saved in a format of your choice.

file-format

You can specify colour space as well.

colour-space

Sharpening and Focus

The sharpen/focus tools apply a different style of image sharpening. Once again there is a lot of calculation going on.

It works well on some images and less so on others. I’d likely use Sharpen AI as an an adjustment plugin in Photoshop, where I could duplicate a layer, process it and brush in parts of what I wanted sharpening.

I used this technique with AI Gigapixel in a recent article about making large prints from low megapixel images.

Once again take care with the sharpening display, since a view at 200% can give a very biased view of sharpness.

Usefulness and limitations

Do note that I’m testing a pre-release version of the software – download the free trial if you’d like to try it with your own images. Note that on a Mac it needs at least MacOS 10.12

It’s always* going to help by starting off with a sharp image, so there will be limits on just how good the sharpened and shake corrected version will look. However, sometimes the image you want is the one that’s got a few pixels of shake.

*I use the term ‘always’ more carefully these days as I see advances in computational image processing. 

The shake detection coped well with up to 10-15 pixels shake, especially more complex movements that one of my favourite tools (Focus Magic – since 2004!) would not address.  Beyond a certain amount though, the blurring was just not seen as shake.

Image preparation

One of the things I found when first testing Topaz AI Gigapixel was that preparation of the image you put into the software could make a visible difference to the output. If the images you want to test with Sharpen AI are from RAW files then try processing them first to TIFF files but with all sharpening turned off. Depending on the camera and RAW processing software, it’s possible for noise reduction and sharpening artefacts to appear.

Of course, all this work has to depend on just how important the image is to you…

The software is available as a free 30 day trial

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3 Comments
  • billss | Aug 2, 2019 at 12:32 pm

    Thanks for the review… but…why oh why post reviews of “pre release” software, which means there’s potentially nothing in the review that a person can count on. Folks time is just too valuable.

  • Ricky971 | Aug 2, 2019 at 12:33 pm

    Hi,
    I use Sharpen on an iMac 27” 5K – 2017 – 40GB RAM – Radeon PRO 580 8Gb.
    Using Sharpen and Focus functions I noticed that the time needed to complete the processes were very long (GPU: 6 minutes for sharpen and 15 minutes for focus, with a D850 95MB file).
    Almost unusable.
    The same file, processed on a Windows PC equipped with an older CPU (i7 950) and a GTX 980 Graphic card, needs 1 minute for sharpen and 4 minutes for focus.
    Tonight I was suggested by a friend to check “Graphic info” in the Topaz Sharpen help menù and infact I noticed that my Radeon Pro 580 is “seen” by Sharoen AI with only 2GB of memory.
    Could it be that the reason of slow processes?
    Is it normal that software doesn’t see all the 8GB of memory?
    Is there a solution?
    Thanks.

  • tomvp | Aug 2, 2019 at 12:34 pm

    Hi Keith,

    I have downloaded the trial version and I must say that the results are impressive on a picture taken on a Canon 6D MKII with a Zeiss MF lens in low light (f/2, 1/30 sec) and high ISO (1600). I have installed but not seriously tried Focus Magic yet, so it is hard to compare.

    Two things I noted:
    1. It requires real processing power, get a decent GPU if you can. My 8-core Hackintosh crawls when processing with just CPU, it took 6 minutes to process a 155MB uncompressed tiff (30MB RAW) sitting on a fast SSD. And it took me (only) 3 minutes to process with a GTX1070 GPU. I plan to pull a GTX1080Ti from another system to test, as it is clearly processor bound. This may be an issue on a Mac where you don’t have the latest and greatest CPUs, and plugging in a (new) GPU is really cumbersome .
    2. It seems EXIF data is removed from the resulting file (I run it from Lightroom as external editor).

    So my first impression: promising but not there yet.

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