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Review of Topaz Detail plugin

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Review of the Topaz Detail plugin

The Topaz Labs range of editing plugins

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Keith Cooper has been looking at ‘Detail V3.1’ one of the range of 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.


Update – Note that the updated Detail V3.2 has mainly cosmetic improvements, and follows Topaz’s recent improvements to the look and feel of their interface design. There is an example at the end of the article.

What do you get with Topaz Detail?

Buying  from Topaz Labs

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. 
Use our 15% discount code 'Northlight' for an additional discount on some promotions.

The plugin installs as an ‘add-on’ for other software and provides a range of preset adjustment options and ways of fine tuning settings.

Topaz Detail addresses a large range of contrast related adjustments, both in respect to colour and aspects of contrast at different scales in your image.

We’ve reviews of all Topaz software. See the Topaz Category in the dropdown menu at the top of the right column.

Many aspects of how we perceive a photo are based on levels of contrast, both of image brightness, and of colour.

There are all kinds of subtle effects around how our brains process the data from our eyes, that are not immediately obvious, and sometimes counter-intuitive.

Look at the graduated grey bar in the middle of this image…

Is it really graduated though? Move your mouse over the image to replace the surround with a solid colour.

Original ImageHover Image

You might now know it’s a single tone, but your brain wants to force a different interpretation. Altering tonality in the graduated surround changes our perception of the (unaltered) bar in the middle. Think of this applied to parts of images, at different scales, you can change how parts look with quite subtle adjustments.

In the early days of image processing, contrast adjustment was globally applied and that was that. It’s still a useful global image setting to adjust, but there is a lot more you can do.

What about just altering areas of the image with low contrast, or just the highlights, or just the green parts?

Advances in computational power now let you apply complex image analysis before setting different adjustments to different parts of your image. Only a few years ago, this processing might take many minutes for each adjustment, now you can get near real time feedback as you alter settings.

I’ll go through the basics of how the Detail plugin can alter your images, but remember it’s up to you to decide if the adjustments match what you want for an image.

The plugin

The plugin is applied via Photoshop’s filter menu (see the summary at the end for all the other applications you can use it with).

In this first view, I’ve opened it for an image of a huge horse chestnut tree, near a local church.

The plugin analyses the image (this can take a moment or two with larger images) and will initially duplicat your last used settings.

The basic options are:

  • Preset adjustments (grouped into collections) at the left, with a small preview panel.
  • The main image (note before and after options at the top)
  • Navigation and adjustment controls at the right (note 5 groups of settings)

The side-bars can be collapsed if desired.

Main plugin window

A split panel view is useful for seeing changes.

This view shows a fine detail removal setting. Note how detail removal is not the same as just blurring an image.

split before and after view

Colour adjustments are also included in some settings.

application of preset adjustment

Note how the strong adjustment of yellows might be OK for the leaves, but fails on the brick buildings.

Another preset ‘Cool dreams’ – no I don’t know where some of the names come from… ;-)

sample image adjustment

There are pop-up tips to give further information about some settings.

Do make the effort to read the usage guide and tutorials, since there are so many adjustments, it would be easy to miss things.

contrast enhancement example

Another setting, showing strong detail enhancement.

microcontrast adjustment

If you’re experimenting, then there is a random settings ‘I feel lucky’ button.

If you find something you like, then you can always save it as a custom preset. You can then come back to it and fine tune settings as you like.

applying random adjustment settings

The five groups of settings start off with the detail tab.

One of the longer pop-up tips shown.

main detail adjustment settings panel

I’ll show some of the fine tuning with this photograph of the Leicestershire countryside, taken one Autumn afternoon.

It’s rather flat, since the sun was behind a bank of cloud. When it appeared about 10 minutes later, the broken patches of sun across the landscape gave a much more interesting look.

source image for adjustment

However, on some jobs, I don’t have the luxury of waiting for perfect lighting – what can Topaz detail do for me?

A brighter ‘Architectural Detail’ setting – better, but far too much fine detail in the sky.

higher levels of detail enhancement

The ‘Blue Sky II’ setting- not bad, but just too garish, I’m not making a Windows desktop image.

blue sky setting boosts saturation

The ‘Blue Sky I’ setting looks better.

I’d perhaps turn the sky down a bit more for my personal tastes (blending this version with the original, after I’ve produced it), but it’s the sort of enhancement that might work in some of my architectural and construction photography, where I’ve not had the opportunity to time the shoot with optimal weather.

You can see the actual ‘detail’ settings that this plugin uses at the right

before and after views of adjustments

Minor adjustments can sometimes make quite a difference, such as here where I’ve pushed up the ‘Fine Detail’ sliders a bit further.

adding more fine detail enhancement

The detail adjustments can be applied to the whole tonal range of the image (‘Overall’)

Move you mouse over the image to see adjustments. This view is at quite low magnification, so do zoom in to 100% before finishing your work in the plugin, since some adjustments only really show up when zoomed in.

Original ImageHover Image

You can turn off any of the 5 settings categories, such as here where I’ve hidden the detail part.

Mouse over the image to see tone and colour adjustments only – note that some of these may be quite subtle.

Original ImageHover Image

In this rainy view, the adjustment is in the shadows. The ‘Overall’ settings are unaltered, but mouse over the image to see the ‘Shadow’ settings. Used with care, this ability to affect only some areas of an image is very powerful.

Original ImageHover Image
Other adjustments

The ‘Detail’ adjustments are where the real processing goes on, but don’t neglect the overall global tonal adjustments.

Whilst I might adjust these settings outside of the plugin, in Photoshop, I appreciate that others might find it useful to do them here.

tone adjustment panel

Although there are colour controls in the ‘Tone’ section, it’s probably better to use the colour controls to warm/cool and image, and adjust vibrance/saturation.

colour settings adjustment panel

The deblur option is a general sharpening option, with the ability to turn down some aspects of the processing, to remove sharpening artefacts.

sharpening controls

Once again, a feature I’d personally use elsewhere in a more selective manner, but good for quickly enhancing the sharpness of images.

The example below shows how the sharpening can enhance noise (in the water) and shows sharpening artefacts (bottom of head). Mouse over the image to see these artefacts softened.

Original ImageHover Image


The effects you are applying to your image can be masked off, so they are only applied to parts of the image. The control over masking is quite subtle, and well worth looking at if you can’t do the masking elsewhere.

In this simple example I’m painting out the filter, with an effect mask (brush outline shown). The white area shows where the effect is applied.

Move your mouse over the area to see what happens to the mask and how the filter is being applied to the original image (the softer part that ‘shows through’.

Original ImageHover Image


The contrast enhancement options under the ‘Detail’ tab are very effective, and give excellent fine control over processing.

A (personal) ‘warning’ …

With all powerful tools like this, comes the ability to generate adjustments that look plain awful (yes it may look great once or twice, but it rarely holds up in the longer term).

Use the adjustments with care. Small boosts of local contrast can work wonders in creating powerful and interesting images that do not look ‘processed’ in any way.

Subtle contrast enhancement is a vital tool for me in trying to capture some of the wider dynamic range of the real world, in the much reduced tonal range of a large print.

Overdone, it leads to the (IMHO) excesses of what’s often called the ‘HDR look’ with absurdly saturated colours, haloes around objects, and a general unreal tonality.

Look at some of the examples at Topaz’s ‘Detail’ page. There are great examples of fine subtle adjustment, and (in the user submitted samples) some egregious examples of what not to do… I know that such processing may be fashionable, but that doesn’t mean I won’t point it out for what I feel it is ;-)

Just because dials go up to eleven, doesn’t mean you have to use them at eleven!

It’s possible to create quite strong adjustments without too obvious artefacts, although as with any localised contrast enhancement technique, it’s worth checking carefully at a range of image scales.

The remaining options are all ones I -might- look to do elsewhere, but do remember that I use Photoshop most days, so have wide range of tools and techniques available to me.

There are many applications supporting this plugin that don’t have such flexibility, so it may well be best doing the adjustments in one place.

When I’m using Topaz plugins, I usually create a duplicate layer first to work on, then apply the plugin.

The layer now contains the processed image, which I can mask or use in whatever way I want to achieve my desired effects. It would be nice to have the option to do this automatically.

The plugin does allow you to apply multiple instances of filtering to an image, but I found this rather complex and easy to get lost as to where I was in the process.

If you’re not using a more complex editor to run this plugin, then do look further into the various tutorials and guides to see what can be done.

As a working commercial photographer it’s a great tool for getting a bit more out of images where I’ve not had the chance to get absolutely optimal lighting. Not every project has the option (or budget) to return to a location multiple times to get everything spot-on, particularly given the UK weather.

The software takes a while to analyse large images when opening them and will remember previous settings, although, if you find a setting you like, then it’s always worth saving it as a preset, such as my slightly turned down version of the ‘Blue Sky I’ preset.

There is a fully functional 30 day demo version of the software that is available.

topaz Detail - suggested changes after analysing image

Update Version 3.2

The interface has had an overhaul and to my mind looks much cleaner – less ‘clunky’

improved interface look and feel for V3.2


Buying  from Topaz Labs

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. 
Use our 15% discount code 'Northlight' for an additional discount on some promotions.

Software plugin for a wide variety of image processing functions. Comprehensive examples, tutorials and support cover usage.

Can work with a wide range of ‘hosting’ software.

We’ve reviews of all Topaz software. See the Topaz Category in the dropdown menu at the top of the right column.

System Requirements (from Topaz Labs)


  • 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 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.

Buying Topaz Labs plugins:  Direct from Topaz [check link for deals]

Individual plugins are downloadable (30 day free trial)

There is more information at Topaz Labs

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