Photographers have various obsessions. We always want something new and shiny, usually just over the next hill. Whether it’s a new lens or a trip to a desired photo location, or just an hour with a favourite model, it’s always something. And it starts to become a bigger and bigger burden as time goes on.
Recently I had the need to make some bigger prints. (Not get a bigger printer, just bigger prints). I have always striven for clarity and sharpness in my photos, yes even those taken in less than ideal conditions with less than top quality tools. I guess it’s from reading too many Ansel Addams books and too many glossy ads in now defunct magazines.
A new camera or lens is beyond the budget and I think my photo techniques are at least better than average. But the elusive details are hiding from me.
I have read several photo blogs where the writers have claimed to have found tools and techniques which magically make their photos much sharper than mine. It came time to investigate.
The time honoured ways of getting sharper photographs include tripods, quality lens, faster shutter speeds, flash, good post photo handling of images, and the list goes on.
Living in the digital age, good computer skills help. Different Photoshop techniques are all helpful in making sharp detailed photos. Unsharp masking, hi-pass filters, even drawing lines around the fuzzy edges can help but in the end you still haven’t squeezed all of the quality that you want out of your images.
At the suggestion of a few more successful photographers I looked at Topaz Sharpen AI. There is a free trial package so my only real cost was to spend the time trying it.
I am impressed. I am finding details that I didn’t know were on the original image.
The software works by scanning your image and looking for hints of details. The software then tries to recreate the details but most importantly it doesn’t invent details.
Details get lost in digital images for several reasons. I won’t mention bad technique, rather the Bayer array found on most camera sensors along with the anti-aliasing filter do most of the image degradation. The Bayer array is hard to get around and the anti-aliasing filter is found on all but a few high end cameras. While necessary for most photographic needs, they really do get in the way of very detailed photographs made by those of us with limited budgets.
But does the Topaz Sharpen AI give good results? Yes, assuming you did your best up front to take as sharp as possible images in the first place. It won’t create gold out of dross.
Printing 11 x 17 inch prints from images shot on my 10 year old Nikon D7000 with a kit lens, I have to say I am impressed. The Topaz Sharpen AI found all sorts of small details that I would be hard pressed to find in the original subject using a magnifying glass.
So, I took my investigation a bit further. Some photos of a hummingbird shot on my Nikon D800 with an ancient long lens, cropped down to less than 25% of the original image. I discovered details that I knew were there but not otherwise available.
What about my older images? I took a quick glance at my shots done with my Nikon D100 from 18 years ago, yes [delete] found lots of new details. I also noticed that the Topaz Sharpen AI took away a lot of the sensor noise in the process. The shadows now look clean as opposed to dark blue blobs of amplifier noise. A sharper, cleaner image is the result.
Looking at some even older JPEGs, the software makes the images look cleaner and sharper.
Is this software for everybody? No! Portrait photographers might find that too much detail is not in their clients’ interest. People who obsess about dirt on their sensors will not like the discovery of yet more sensor dirt. And this software will not magically fix your less than perfect images. People who do scientific or law enforcement photography should use this with caution, you don’t want to create what isn’t really there.
From the viewpoint of aesthetics, perfection of technique is not necessarily the goal, the expression of the image is. Sensor noise or lack of optical clarity can often say a lot more in a photograph than mechanical perfection. And in the silver based darkroom, film grain is often used as a compositional element.
Did I buy Topaz Sharpen AI? Yes, and I will use it when the situation dictates. Try the demo package, wait a few days, you might get a discount offer in your email.