WHEN DO YOU USE TOPAZ DENOISE AI, SHARPEN AI, AND AI CLEAR?
I was going to do a review of the updated Sharpen AI, but decided instead to write about when to use all these fabulous Topaz AI plugins since I think it is personally very confusing. I actually had this blog half-drafted a whole year ago and did not publish it as I could not figure out exactly what was going on. This week I finally got some answers in a couple Topaz (see sidebar of my Tidbits Blog for website link) Webinars that Joel Wolfson did in the last few months. So here is my take on what is going on and how I am using these products.
Always apply Topaz DeNoise AI (or any denoise product for that matter) first before applying Topaz Sharpen AI (or any sharpening filter) – you do not want to sharpen any noise residing in your image. Lots of photographers do their RAW processing first, then use DeNoise AI, and finally apply Sharpen AI – both programs can be reached directly from ACR, Lightroom, OnOne, and several other software programs or from within Photoshop as a plugin.
Topaz DeNoise AI
They have upgraded DeNoise AI several times since it was first released a year ago. It has been greatly improved with each revision. DeNoise AI also includes AI Clear and I will discuss that in more detail below.
So why use DeNoise AI? It is especially good for images set to a higher ISO, especially with lots of dark areas like night images. More noise will show up in the shadows and with the newer cameras especially, the ISO can be cranked way up to get that all-important detail. DeNoise AI has the ability to find just the noise in the darker (or lighter areas) areas and leave other noise-free areas alone. I have an older DSLR camera and the higher ISO setting images show lots of noise – this program has been a life-saver for me as I want to take those night-time shots too. The image above was taken in low evening light using 2000 ISO, which is unheard of for me and my camera. Below is the screenshot of what DeNoise AI was able to do to clean up this image – it may appear a little soft looking here, but at 100% it is still pretty sharp.
What the Sliders Do:
First, turn off the Auto-update preview or your computer will go nuts running all the time – just remember to click Update when ready to see the changes. Also note that at the top there is a Brightness button – it sometimes helps to see the noise better. To me the Auto button does not recognize the correct amount of noise in my images, so I do not use it. When adjusting these sliders manually, I usually over-adjust the Remove Noise amount, then move it back to the correct setting. And yes, keep hitting the Update button to see the change if Auto Update is turned off. What does the Sharpen slider do if there is a Recover Original Detail slider? According to Topaz, “It sharpens the details in your image since removing noise can sometimes soften the details in images, this allows you to retain that sharpness after processing your image.” The Recover Original Detail slider allows for refinement of details in the image to achieve a more realistic look if it appears that DeNoise AI has over-corrected the image. Still not clear on this, but it does seems to improved some images. It helps add some detail back when the image looks too smooth, especially with Portrait images – it definitely helped this flower image too. Looking at other images, it appears most people use Recover Original Detail somewhere around 25 to 35 for a setting. If there is color noise in your image, moving the Color Noise Reduction slider is very useful – a Size slider will appear where you must decide how much more of the image each pixel will look at – Joel says 0.50 is a good setting for this.
TOPAZ SHARPEN AI
The above image also had Topaz Sharpen AI applied after Topaz DeNoise AI from above. This is turning out to my very favorite Topaz product because I do not often shoot with a tripod and it has saved me on many occasions. One thing Joel pointed out is that when you are looking at your image set to 100% in Topaz, it is really the equivalent of looking at your image at 200% in Photoshop or other image processors. So if your image looks a little “crunchy,” it will not look like that at 100% in Photoshop. I do believe I get some really tack sharp images with this filter and often do not use DeNoise at all, but go directly to this filter before doing any other post work. One down side about this filter is that it takes a while to process and the larger the image, the longer it will take to Update and Apply.
What the Sliders Do:
So more confusion here. Personally I do not use the regular Sharpen mode – it corrects for just general out-of-camera softness and does not do too much for my photos. But usually I will try both the Stabilize Mode (for motion blur or camera shake issues) and Focal Mode (great for bringing an eye in really sharp focus – corrects up to 10 pixels of focus blur). Sometimes one gives better results than the other. I will use the Auto button as a starting point for this filter – it appears to be a little better than DeNoise AI’s. Also, turn off the Auto-update Preview if you do not want to update every time you move a slider or the image – just remember to click Update when ready to see the changes. Obviously the Sharpness slider will sharpen. But why yet another Suppress Noise slider? Topaz says it is to help remove noise so I am not sure why they put it here when they have DeNoise AI. I have found that if I do not quite remove all the noise in DeNoise AI because I am losing too much detail, by going into Sharpen AI, the noise can be adjusted a little more accurately to keep the sharpness tack sharp. But that is a bit of a pain to do. I never use the Add Grain.
Here is the best part about this filter – it now has masking capabilities and you can paint in just where you want the sharpness to be applied. So if you are doing a portrait and want the eyes sharper, just adjust the whole image for the eyes only, then click on the brush icon at the top, adjust the brush size, and paint out the eye only. The rest of the image stays just how it was. This is a fabulous addition. I like that you do not have to sharpen the background of an image to get a really sharp foreground such as a bird or animal in the foreground. The brush has settings for Edge Aware, Radius Size, Softness, and Opacity. A red Overlay can be turned on and off to show where the mask is being applied and a small mask window appears in the bottom right. Just click apply mask, click update again, and Apply.
In the DeNoise AI filter, there is an AI Clear Model. This is supposed to be exactly the same filter as the one that is in Topaz Studio – one big difference is that you can adjust the View with the Scroll Bar in Studio while you must use the parameters Topaz gives in you in DeNoise AI – mainly 100% and 200% are the most useful. I will not go over all the settings as there is an overlap between them and the DeNoise AI sliders – basically one is simplified for quick use. Below is a screenshot of the red flower using only the AI Clear filter in Topaz Studio and using the extra Exposure and Clarity sliders.
I personally like having the other two sliders to help adjust the lost contrast that denoising causes. Also, I noticed that the Recover Details did not work well on this image using either filter. Below is an image of Piccadilly Circus in London after AI Clear (Remove Noise High, Enhance Sharpness High and Recover Details 55) and Topaz Sharpen AI (Model Stabilize, Manual mode, Sharpness 100 and Noise 100) was used. For some reason, when Topaz DeNoise AI Mode was applied it lost a lot of the detail, especially of the very back building.
Here is a screenshot of part of the original so you can see all the noise in the image – it was taken at ISO 1600 and F/7.1. I was totally surprised that AI Clear would do a better job, but it did here. I would suggest trying both modes in DeNoise AI if you do not the like the results of one of them.
What is the difference between DeNoise AI and Sharpen AI?
From Topaz website “DeNoise AI uses AI algorithms specifically made for digital noise removal. Its sharpening functionality is used primarily to smooth out any artifacts created during the process, and aren’t nearly as advanced as Sharpen AI, whose AI algorithms are custom built for focusing images.”
What is the difference between Sharpen AI and AI Clear?
From Topaz website “The Stabilize (shake reduction) and Focus (focus correction) modes in Sharpen AI have no AI Clear alternatives. These modes serve the purpose of InFocus classic plugin (with better results) rather than pure output sharpening.
The Sharpen module in Sharpen AI does have similarities with AI Clear. The difference here is a bit more subtle and come from the training process between these two products. AI Clear was trained on images with generally more noise, whereas Sharpen AI was trained on images with generally less noise but more blur. Resulting in AI Clear’s main detection is noise whereas Sharpen AI’s main detection is to recognize blur. This makes Clear optimal for noisy images and Sharpen more effective for a bit more blurry images.”
What is the difference between DeNoise AI and AI Clear?
Joel answered this question and I have found it very helpful. Most DSLR camera’s have a low pass filter in front of the sensor which blurs the image a little. AI Clear is basically a Capture Sharpening and he personally applies it on every normal image first thing. He does not need a lot of denoising or sharpening, but just a little. I know I have used AI Clear in Topaz Studio (he uses it from DeNoise AI) for a long time and it is one of my favorite filters. You should use DeNoise AI when there is a bigger noise issue.
Use DeNoise AI for images that just have too noise. The Sharpen slider adds back any softness that the filter may have caused, but it has limited capabilities.
Use Topaz Sharpen AI to fix up any images that are a little soft from shake or lack of focus. Especially useful for helping images that were hand-held. The DeNoise slider in this tool does not seem to be as robust as using DeNoise AI’s Remove Noise slider but does work some.
Use Topaz AI Clear (in Topaz Studio or DeNoise AI) for capture sharpening at its default settings for most images. Just really sharpens them up the right amount and helps with the final look.
For me Topaz Sharpen AI may be the best filter on the market right now – it is totally incomparable IMHO! The new Masking Brush is just an added bonus. By having the Suppress Noise slider, it will find any excess noise that was missed in DeNoise AI. I would definitely get this filter if I did not already own it. I think DeNoise is a fabulous program but it is not usually my issue. AI Clear does a wonderful job in Topaz Studio for me so I stick with it. I believe if I upgrade my camera soon, DeNoise AI may be much more important since I will be using those higher ISO settings, but right now, AI Clear fixes most of my noise issues.
Hope this cleared up a bit of the confusion on these filters. It has been a struggle for me to figure out when and which one to use. Have another great week and I hope everyone is catching up on some of that post work that seems to be always waiting for you! ….. Digital Lady Syd