Topaz AI Clear review
Review: Topaz AI Clear
Studio adjustment removes noise and sharpens images
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Topaz AI Clear is a new adjustment option within Topaz Studio.
Topaz Studio (review) is a free image editing framework with lots of basic features, including the capacity to add in extra paid adjustments for more advanced features. Keith has been looking at AI Clear, an easy to use feature that concentrates on removing noise and sharpening images.
Note – AI Clear has been superseded with Topaz DeNoise AI, which runs both as a standalone app and adjustment plugin. There are a range of free updates available to owners of earlier software.
See Keith’s Topaz DeNoise AI review for full details.
Noise, sharpness and AI
AI Clear is a relatively new concept in desktop image processing in that it applies neural network based processing to a photographic image in order to ‘improve it’.
This processing is critically dependent on the images (millions of them) used to ‘train’ the network part of the software. I’ve looked at some of the applications of a similar but much more complex approach to image processing in my recent look at Topaz AI Gigapixel. It offers a fundamentally different approach to image re-sizing and is of distinct usefulness to me, given my like of making huge prints.
Topaz says: AI Clear not only achieves much higher quality result than existing products but does so automatically without the need for any manual tweaking. Other AI implementations require you to upload your image to an external server for cloud processing, taking control of your images out of your hands and taking minutes or hours to get you a processed result. AI Clear uses your machine to process and enhance your images locally without costing you time, bandwidth, and control.
Certainly sounds interesting…
AI Clear can be downloaded whilst you are running Topaz Studio.
I’m doing my testing using Studio as a Photoshop plugin rather than the stand-alone version of Studio, since that’s where I do all my editing. Studio can also be run from within Lightroom if you like.
I’ve opened up an image taken with my little Canon 100D – it’s a bit noisy and soft even at base ISO, so I thought I’d see how its images look.
This is the normal Studio interface, with various adjustment previews at the left.
The drop-down adjustments menu shows that I’ve AI Clear installed.
Right at the bottom is the link to the Topaz web site, where I initially got AI Clear from (as a 30 day fully working demo)
As you can see, Studio has a lot of adjustments and options, but I’m just looking to use it as a single use tool on my Photoshop image.
Using AI Clear
If I’m using Photoshop I have to remember to work on a duplicate layer so as to be able to use my resulting image in my work – this isn’t essential, but gives me more flexibility. Note that Studio has layers (works very well), but these are not transferred back to Photoshop.
There is a warning if you are working on your image’s background layer.
Useful, because I do forget…
After selecting AI Clear, the software gets to work analysing the image
This only took a few second on my oldish Mac.
The software then shows a preview of the adjustment, at whatever setting it thought best for the image.
The improvements in image sharpness are quite noticeable at 100% viewing.
You can of course change the strength of the adjustment, and a few seconds later see the results.
This comparison at 200% gives a feel for the style and amount of adjustment you’ll see. (click to enlarge)
The view of this ship (click to enlarge) is probably best described as what it would have looked like if I’d used a better lens and camera…
If you’re not in a hurry and have a moderately fast computer, it’s worth turning on the HD preview option at the top. A bit slower to run, but more accurate previews.
Next, I went back to a 2004 photo of a small waterfall in the Highlands, taken at 1250 ISO on my old Canon 1DS (11MP)
1250 was pretty noisy, and turning off NR in the RAW processing reminded my why I tended not to shoot often at 1250
The image (click to enlarge) gets some real detail and pop to it – note that this is before I’ve made any subsequent edits to tonality/colour.
This already captures some of the gloom of a damp day in the Highlands…
There are a variety of preview options to make seeing the changes easier. This screen shot is a 100% (click to see at full size) and has a horizontal divider shown to show the noise reduction.
Brighten up a bit and it reminds me nicely to a visit to Burn O’Vat
An old JPEG file
Whilst I was testing the software, an architect friend of mine asked if they could use one of my photos for part of a poster for an event (one I’m also speaking at). The photo is of the Curve theatre here in Leicester and was taken a while ago with my 21MP Canon 1Ds mk3. The JPEG file was big enough but I thought some of the lit areas could do with a bit more definition. A quick application of AI Clear did what I wanted. [click to enlarge].
I’ve shown the divider line again. The amount of sharpening was just what I wanted for the building. of course I’ve plenty of other ways of adding sharpening and definition, but AI Clear hasn’t ‘overcooked’ any image I’ve thrown at it.
I’ve lots more examples, but those here give a feel for what the adjustment does.
There’s not much to adjust in using AI Clear – this makes evaluating settings a lot easier than the mass of sliders that many find off-putting when looking at new edit tools.
Thoughts and conclusions
Topaz suggests turning off RAW sharpening and noise reduction when processing RAW image files in Photoshop or Lightroom, and applying AI Clear early on in your edit workflow.
This is reasonable, although I prefer to fix lens issues, such as chromatic aberration at the RAW level. I’d suggest that for any particular camera you experiment with different amounts of sharpening/NR to see how the results differ.
The sharpening and detail enhancement operation of the adjustment is much more dependent on the nature of your original image. With some of my already processed ‘web images’ it gave a much cleaner look to the photo and a feeling of more acuity. This is not just a tool for images with obvious faults…
This testing is something you’ll just have to try with your own images – for noise I’ve a lot of image processing solutions and tend not to shoot noisy photos anyway. However for the style of sharpening I like on my images, AI Clear often gives a nice crisp look.
It seems particularly resistant to creating halos and image artefacts.
So, if you’re new to Topaz Studio, definitely give it a look (see my initial Studio review), and once you’re familiar with it, try out AI Clear on some typical images. For examples, look at images where noise or sharpness might have been an issue – there are few adjustments with AI Clear, so seeing what it’s like is a pretty quick process.
Topaz AI Clear is available as a Pro adjustment with Topaz Studio, a standalone photo editor as well as a plugin for Photoshop CS4+, Elements 6+, Creative Cloud, and as an external editor for Lightroom.
It is compatible with 64-bit Windows 7+ and Mac OS X 10.10+.
For more information about Topaz Studio’s AI Clear Adjustment, please visit topazlabs.com/ai-clear
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