Last updated on July 31st, 2020
We’ve all had the experience of photographing a special moment in our lives. Many of us have also had those special photos come out disappointing when we view the images at home. Sometimes photos can come out blurry or lack detail. Luckily, photography software has come a long way where we can fix several image problems in post-processing. One of those solutions is to sharpen photos using Topaz Sharpen AI.
What is Topaz Sharpen AI?
Topaz Sharpen AI is a photography sharpening and detailing software originally released by Topaz Labs in February 2018. It a standalone application that mainly focuses on sharpening. However, it does come with Photoshop and Lightroom plugins.
Reasons a Photograph May Not Come Out Sharp
Motion Blur – We live in a world where many of our photography subjects are moving. This can be lions running across the savanna, sprinters racing along the track, or an airplane landing on the runway. There are many scenarios where our subjects are moving. Let’s not forget about children running around and playing. Furthermore, many photographers find themselves in a moving vehicle. This is common in expeditions safaris on overland vehicles or a boat cruise through the Galapagos Islands.
Poor Equipment – The quality of a lens or image sensor can impact the sharpness in addition to noise. And we all can’t afford to pay for a full-frame camera or a Canon L Series lens. And even with high-end photography equipment, images can still improve with a little post-processed sharpening. Similarly, a method photographers use to stay within their budget is to pay for less-expensive equipment and correct any image issues in a photography software.
Focus Point – Similar to having poor equipment, if the focus is off, then the image will come out blurry. This issue arises when the autofocus is not accurate, especially when photographing moving subjects and using the continuous-focus features. Some photographers prefer using manual focus in some situations but forget to switch back to autofocus. This is asking for trouble. Accidentally setting the focus method to manual is a possibility, too. I’ve seen it happen to one of my friends.
Hand Shake – Holding the camera steady isn’t always easy. This sometimes results in hand/camera shake. It’s even more difficult holding it steady in low-light situations unless you crank up the ISO. Unfortunately, there are also physical and mental illnesses that can impact our motors skills and our ability to hold a camera firmly.
Weather – Undesirable weather can make us forget about hand-held camera stability while shooting. Have you been to Southern Patagonia? The wind gusts there often top 80 km/h making it challenging to hold a camera while photographing landscapes—tripods have a hard time being stable.
Here are the Results of My Topaz Sharpen AI Review
The software is batched with millions of blurred and sharp photos to determine which parts of an image needs to be sharpened or untouched. This includes not sharpening noise.
In reality, the AI or machine learning technology of a photography software is only as good as its code or algorithm. It’s also a marketing term in my opinion so don’t get caught up in it.
Now let’s get into my case study.
The first image I used with Topaz Sharpen AI was a pelican cleaning itself in the Galapagos Islands. The background is blurry with another pelican out of focus.
The pelican is moving and I was partially in the water standing when I took the photo. I used a fast shutter speed of 1/4000; so not that much movement. Nonetheless, the image and pelican still needed sharpening. My autofocus could have been incorrect as well.
Topaz Sharpen AI has 3 processing modes: sharpen, stabilize, and focus. The names kind of speak for themselves on what they’re meant for.
For the pelican image, I found stabilize to work best. It resulted in significant improvments to detail and sharpness. Also, the out-of-focus areas of the images were also improved including the pelican in the background.
I also tested the focus mode on the same image. The results were not so good but keep in mind the out of focus areas were really blurry so I wasn’t expecting a work of art.
The next image I tested with Topaz Sharpen AI was from inside a moving vehicle where I photographed another moving vehicle and some guanacos running in Bolivia. It was shot at 1/2500 and the image came out a bit blurry.
I used the stabilize method to process the sharpening and there was a noticeable improvement. The improvements can be seen better zoomed in. The sharpness was improved and the noise was reduced. Also, the landscape was sharpened in the foreground and background.
For my last photo in this Topaz Sharpen review, I used a photo of a giant tortoise that I photographed on Santa Cruz Island, Galapagos. It’s eating a guava. Again, I used the stabilize alogrithm as it works best. I used the mask to sharpen only the tortoise and guava. You shouldn’t notice much of a change in the blurred background.
Topaz Labs Utility Bundle
|OS Version||7, 8, 10 64-bit only||macOS 10.12+|
|minimum display size||1024 x 768 pixels||1024 x 768 pixels|
|OpenGL support level||Open GL 3.3 or later||Open GL 3.3 or later|
|minimum||Intel i5 or equivalent (3.0GHz and above)||Ryzen 5 or equivalent (3.0GHz and above)|
|recommended||Intel i7 or greater (4GHz and above)||Ryzen 7 or greater (4GHz and above)|
|minimum||2GB of dedicated VRAM (GT 740 or greater)||2GB of dedicated VRAM (Radeon 5870 or greater)|
|recommended||4GB of dedicated VRAM (GTX 970 or greater)||4GB of dedicated VRAM (Radeon RX 460 or greater)|
|optimal||8GB of dedicated VRAM (GTX 1080 or greater)||8GB of dedicated VRAM (Radeon RX 580 or greater)|
Sharpen AI does not support Intel HD Graphics 4600 or lower.
A minimum RAM of 8 GB is required. 16 GB is recommended and 32 GB is optimal.
Internet connection is required to log into the software.
Conclusion and Summary
Topaz Sharpen AI works but with limitations. I tested other images and I found the stabilize processing mode works best.
The focus method doesn’t work as advertised in correcting depth of field which I was expecting. It’s not that easy to correct manually or with automation.
Topaz Shapen AI version 2.0 added a masking tool in March 2020. The brush has edge detection like Lightroom, making it easier to create a mask along edges.
With Topaz Sharpen AI costing $79.99, it’s only worth it if you don’t have a quality sharpening software or tool. If you’re really inclined, you can use Topaz Sharpen AI for 30 days for free and test it out yourself. You can also follow this link and use coupon code aperlust for a 15% discount if you decide to buy it.