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St Margarets church, LeicesterReview of Topaz Clarity

Boost colour and contrast without artefacts

Keith Cooper has been looking at Clarity, the latest of the image processing plugins from Topaz Labs.

Whilst we use Photoshop for image editing at Northlight, the Topaz plugins work with a wide variety of image editing packages, including Paintshop pro and iPhoto.

The range of functionality offered is so broad that the reviews are split up over several articles (we hope to cover all of them before long).

What do you get with Topaz Clarity?

Clarity is the latest editing plugin from Topaz Labs, that works with a wide range of editing programs (details)

Enhancing image contrast is often needed when it comes to printing, where you need to allow for the reduced contrast range of the print.

It's also useful for web images where you want to create greater 'pop', or just liven up the image from a dull day.

Clarity makes for a smarter way to bump up both colour and luminance contrast.

It can do this at a whole image level, and selectively at different levels of detail.

There are lots of ways of performing some of these adjustments in a program like Photoshop, but unless you use them a lot, it's easy to forget the precise steps needed. In other programs, it may not be possible to do these sorts of adjustments at all.

Buying Topaz Labs plugins: Direct from Topaz

Individual plugins are downloadable (30 day free trial)

If you buy any software via this link (bundle or individual plugin), then we get a small fee (it costs you no more). Neither Keith Cooper nor Northlight Images has any other connection with Topaz labs whatsoever. We believe strongly in making any affiliate links like this clear.

Special Offer - Topaz Adjust V5.1 August 2014: 50% off price with code augadjust - see Keiths latest review of Adjust

There is a problem with many adjustments of local contrast that I've seen elsewhere - halos.

It's one of the reasons I dislike so much of the currently fashionable 'HDR' style of imagery - I regard much of it as quite ghastly. Tawdry doesn't even begin to cover it... However tastes differ, so now I've got that out of the way, I'll look at how Clarity can help in the sorts of images I prefer.

One problem with halos is that once you start noticing them in processed images, they pop up everywhere. I've covered their reduction in several other articles, but just in case you were not sure what irks me so much, I've applied a typical contrast enhancing technique to a graphic I've created.

Move your mouse over the image to see the edge effects I'm talking about.

example of sharpening halos

I've deliberately turned up the amount of processing quite high, but it shows the problem (OK, not a problem to some ;-)

It's not possible to completely remove such effects but Clarity shows much less of them than many other tools, particularly when you use its masking capabilities (i.e. only apply the effects to part of the image).

The church picture at the top of the article is shown as a before and after version below (mouse over the image to see the processed version).

St Margarets church, Leicester

Note particularly around the tower - I'd expect some haloing to appear, but the amount is massively lower than if I'd processed the image by other means.

  • Note too that I've also masked off the effect towards the bottom of the image (keeping it darker), and for that brick building to the right - you'll see that it doesn't change as you roll over the image. It would be too distracting if it was enhanced the same way as the rest of the image.

I'm using a wide gamut monitor, and the image colour looks just a bit too intense.

However this is for a print, using the Canon iPF6450 printer I'm currently testing, which has red and blue inks in its ink set.

Here are prints of two images I've processed with Clarity (the printer is under the pile of prints).

test prints from processed images

Using the plugin

After installation of the plugin, it's opened via the filters menu in Photoshop (the process is different for other host programs, but the results are the same).

With this image of a bee feeding in a brightly coloured flower you can see the adjustment controls at the right and the collection (over 100) of preset adjustments to the left, along with a small preview window showing a particular preset.

I've covered general plugin operation in more detail in the Topaz Adjust V5 review.

opening clarity plugin

An image histogram with basic image information.

image histogram

A loupe (magnified) view - showing some of the hairs on the bee.

loupe view

Adjustments start with tone and contrast, and then move to hue/saturation/luminance (HSL)

The two sets of adjustments can be masked as needed.

setting black levels

The HSL controls may look complex, but allow very fine levels of control.

Move your mouse over the image below to see a specific hue adjustment.

hue adjustment

The ability to mask adjustments is something I've taken for granted in Photoshop for many years, and is a vital part of my workflow when making big prints. Clarity not only brings this powerful tool to many other image editing programs, but edge detection and feathering allows very specific selection of where you want adjustments applied.

In this example I've simply painted in an area of the mask, to turn down the level of adjustment. Move your mouse over the image to see the effect.

masking of adjustments

This capability vastly increases the usefulness of the plugin.

If you care about editing your images, take time to experiment with this and learn what it does - the effort will be well worth it.

There are lots of tutorials and articles on the Topaz web site, make use of them.

Here's a before/after view of the bee picture (mouse over image to see).

bee in flower

Adjustments can be quite subtle if need be.

The waves below are just showing a small increase in dynamic contrast.

Move your mouse over the image to see, and notice the small shift of the sliders that has produced this.

effect of small adjustments

With so many adjustments, it's easy to get lost.

Fortunately there are lots of preset adjustments available

image adjustment presets

The grid view of adjustments, is useful for quickly testing out different ideas about how you want an image to look, such as this beach scene.

range of adjustments from presets

... or these geese flying past a sunset

more presets

Use the presets to get a rough idea of what you want and then tweak settings, to see how they change things.

The geese photo also shows up the lack of unwanted sharpening artefacts around strong edges.

edge handling

Conclusions

Given the nature of sharpening and local contrast enhancement processes, it's never going to be possible to remove all sharpening artefacts in images, but my reason for being generally impressed with Clarity is that it could bump up contrast (local and global) in a very clean and non intrusive way.

I'd like the option for the plugin to return its results on a new layer, and for a bit more functionality in the histogram (per channel displays and clipping indicators), but these are minor quibbles for what is a very useful bit of software. The plugin also won't open images wider than 30,000 pixels, which is an issue for some of my work, given the huge prints I make every so often. 30k pixels is 100" (2.5 metres) at 300ppi.

During testing, the image that impressed me most was the church (a 24" square print) - getting the right colour balance and tonality for a large print often takes a fair bit of work.

In this instance, I was after more of a 'poster style' look, so it's pushing the limits of what I'd normally do. That said, I do produce a range of large prints for architects and a variety of styles are needed.

At the moment, Clarity is not included in the bundle version of the Topaz plugins. There is a fully functional 30 day demo version of the software that is available.

Buying Topaz Labs plugins: Direct from Topaz

Individual plugins are downloadable (30 day free trial)

If you buy any software via this link (bundle or individual plugin), then we get a small fee (it costs you no more). Neither Keith Cooper nor Northlight Images has any other connection with Topaz labs whatsoever. We believe strongly in making any affiliate links like this clear.

Special Offer - Topaz Adjust V5.1 August 2014: 50% off price with code augadjust - see Keiths latest review of Adjust

Discuss this review with Keith on Google+

  • Review first published June 2013

Summary

Software plugin for changing image contrast and tonality. Comprehensive examples, tutorials and support available from Topaz Labs.

Can work with a wide range of 'hosting' software.

Thank you to everyone who has ever purchased something via these links. If you follow a link and then buy absolutely anything it helps me run this site (the articles are all written by myself in my spare time)
- Keith (Other ways to help the site)
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System Requirements (from Topaz Labs)

Mac

Intel-based Macs with OS 10.6, 10.7 or 10.8 (Topaz is NOT compatible with PowerPC processors - like G4 or G5.)

2 GB RAM minimum - preferably more

Adobe Photoshop CS4-CS6 (32-bit and 64-bit), Adobe Photoshop Elements 6-11***.

Apple Aperture 2 and 3, Lightroom 2-5, and iPhoto via Topaz Fusion Express

photoFXlab ONLY - Video Card should support OpenGL 2.1 technology and later (A better video card will increase performance even more so than a faster computer processor.)

***If Photoshop Elements was bought from the Mac app store, the plugin cannot be directly copied into the plugins folder or else you will receive this message: "Cannot proceed: IPC Memory in use or image is too big for the system". At this moment our plugins are not compatible with the Mac store's version of PSE due to a sandboxing issue, which we are currently investigating.

Windows

Windows XP, Windows Vista, or Windows 7 (32-bit and 64-bit), Windows 8

2 GB RAM minimum - preferably more

Adobe Photoshop CS4-CS6 (32-bit and 64-bit), Adobe Photoshop Elements 6-11.

Lightroom 2-5 via Topaz Fusion Express

Irfanview

PaintShop Pro

Photo Impact

Serif Photo Plus

photoFXlab ONLY - Video Card should support OpenGL 2.1 technology and later (A better video card will increase performance even more so than a faster computer processor.)

*ReMask is ONLY compatible with photoFXlab, Photoshop, Photoshop Elements and Paint Shop Pro. ReMask is NOT compatible with iPhoto, Aperture, Lightroom, Photo Impact or Irfanview.

There is more information at Topaz Labs

Keith's Topaz reviews

I'll cover the set of plugins over time, The first review covers additional aspects of installation and use of the plugins, whilst later ones concentrate more on the specific functionality.

The views in this article represent those of Keith Cooper.
Keith is always happy to discuss matters raised in his articles. You can Email Us Email Us
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