a8 December 2013

Topaz Clarity Review

Topaz Clarity review
In this case I also used Topaz Clarity to add some pop to the image.

As you could realize, I use a lot of tools during my post-processing. Apart from Photomatix, Lightroom and Photoshop which I use virtually every time, there is a bunch of other tools that are important to my workflow although I don't use them for all images.

Among such tools are filters from Topaz Labs including Topaz Adjust and Topaz Detail.

Recently Topaz added a new tool to their impressive collection, named Topaz Clarity. What this filter does is increasing (or decreasing) clarity of the image. If you're familiar with Lightroom than you definitely know about Clarity slider in it. It's pretty powerful, isn't it? Well, it is but Topaz Clarity puts increasing clarity to a completely different level.

Topaz Clarity user interface
User interface in Topaz Clarity is very simple and intuitive with presets on the left and settings sliders on the right.
Instead of a single slider, Topaz Clarity offers as many as 4 sliders, each of them targetting different contrast variations - from very low variations to large ones. It makes it very flexible as this way you have much more control over the way clarity is applied to your photos. I usually just change values of Micro Contrast and Low Contrast Sliders - other 2 (named Medium Contrast and High Contrast) I leave at default values.

And the results are truly impressive with just a few clicks. The photos looks so much better. They appear to be more crisp and clear. Exactly what you would expect from a plugin increasing clarity.

User interface is similar to other Topaz products with presets on the left and settings on the right of the preview image (you can hide both panels to increase your preview area in case you need this). UI is also very easy and intuitive so after just a few clicks you'll figure out what's going on. And if you don't just move your mouse over any control and textual help will appear - very helpful. And if you still can't work out how it all works, fear not as Topaz Clarity comes with a large collection of presets for various occasions ranging from landscapes to weddings. This makes it really easy to get started.

Topaz Clarity mask feature
Topaz Clarity lets you limit clarity changes to the selected region only by providing some masking features.
Another great thing about this plugin is that it comes with basic masking features. You don't want to increase clarity in the clear sky? No problem, just mask it out using edge (or colour) aware masking. As you paint your mask with a brush Topaz Clarity automatically detects edges and doesn't affect them. Works brilliantly most of the time.

Topaz Clarity before and after
Topaz Clarity allows comparing adjustments to the original image. This way you can see how much it improves the look of your photos. Here (I recommend viewing in large to see what I'm talking about) clarity was greatly improved, especially in the water and buildings areas.
So far I sound like being very excited about this plugin. But are there any drawbacks? Sure, there is no rose without a thorn. For me the filter sometimes appeared to be running quite slow, especially when it generated thumbnails for the presets (on startup on when changing presets category). I also found some small bugs here and there (like a crash on startup or some cryptic message when I tried to increase size of settings panel) but other than that I found no serious issues.

Summing up Topaz Clarity is a really great filter which became very important to my post-processing workflow no matter whether I post-process landscape or architecture photos. After loading my image in Photoshop after tone-mapping it in Photomatix Pro, one of the first things I recently do is to add some clarity using this plug-in. If you want to see this filter in action, make sure to watch my video from HDR step-by-step series, where I use it to increase clarity of my tone-mapped image. It's so great that I don't use Lightroom's Clarity slider any more! No need for that.

But be warned! Using Topaz Clarity is really addictive. After using it on a few of my images I found older ones to look flat and not crisp enough and had to rerun many of them through this filter.

- impressive results with just a few clicks
- very easy & intuitive user interface
- a lot of built-in presets
- bunch of other sliders making it possible to make small tonal adjustments
- possibility of masking

- could be faster... especially on startup
- a few less serious bugs

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