Topaz Photo AI is far from cheap, but does combining DeNoise AI, Gigapixel AI, and Sharpen AI justify it? Do the tools work equally well within one photo editor as they do on the individual apps?
That’s part of what we will figure out in this Topaz Photo AI review. We will take a closer look at the interface and the tools and ultimately learn if it’s worth the money or if you’re better off purchasing the apps individually.
Let’s get straight to it:
What is Topaz Photo AI?
Topaz Labs has become a well-known name in the photography industry in recent years thanks to their powerful software DeNoise AI, Sharpen AI, and Gigapixel AI. Photographers from all genres have found them to significantly improve certain aspects of their images.
Topaz Photo AI has taken the most essential functions from each software and placed them under the same roof. In other words, you won’t have to open (or purchase) the individual tools throughout your post-processing workflow.
You can think of Photo AI as a simplified version that makes it even easier than before to apply sharpening, remove noise, or increase the image size. The “drawback” is that you have slightly less manual control than the “original” tools.
It’s important to understand that this isn’t a full-on photo editing software. You won’t be able to adjust exposure or apply any creative filters. For that, I recommend Adobe Lightroom, Adobe Photoshop, Luminar, or Affinity Photo.
Topaz Photo AI is only used to maximize the image quality. More specifically, to reduce noise, sharpen, and upscale.
Using Autopilot Settings in Topaz Photo AI
Noise reduction, image sharpening, and upscaling can be confusing and hard to understand, which is why many photographers love the simplicity of Photo AI. Topaz has introduced an autopilot function that analyzes your image upon import and automatically applies the best settings to make things even easier.
I’ve found that the autopilot does quite a good job with most images, but I suggest still making some manual adjustments to fine-tune the final outcome. It’s also worth noting that the autopilot doesn’t always know your intentions with a photo. For example, if you’re working on a low-resolution image, it will turn on Upscaling, even if you just want to apply some noise reduction.
That’s why knowing you can always turn off or overwrite autopilot is good. All this function does is suggest settings the AI model believes will make your image look best.
For night photography, for example, I rarely find that autopilot works. In that case, I turn off the suggestions and apply the settings I see fitting.
Upscaling in Topaz Photo AI
Imagine that you need to print a photo in a large size. You go to Photoshop or your preferred photo editor to increase the resolution by 4x to get the requested size, only to see that the image has become blurry and pixelated.
That’s what Upscale is made to overcome. This tool uses artificial intelligence to enhance the detail when enlarging the photo. More specifically, it generates new pixels and removes noise, blur, and compression artifacts in the process. This means that, ideally, you won’t see a loss in details as the image increases in size.
With Photo AI’s Upscale, you can increase the resolution by 0.2 to 6x, with a maximum long side of 32000px.
You will get excellent results with upscaling at the RAW level, but it’s perhaps more commonly used later in the post-processing workflow when preparing an image for print.
To enlarge an image in Topaz Photo AI, you simply fill in the new resolution (in pixels, inches, or centimeters) or insert an upscaling percentage.
Beneath the size settings, you’ll also find an AI Model, which is used to recuse noise, sharpen, and improve details. The autopilot usually does an excellent job applying the best settings, but I suggest playing a little with the sliders to find the right combinations.
However, and this is a big one, Upscale is an extremely slow tool. Don’t expect it to instantly save your file. I don’t have the world’s fastest computer, but a 4x enlargement often takes between 10 and 15 minutes to save.
Noise Reduction in Topaz Photo AI
Topaz DeNoise AI is the most known tool that Topaz Labs has developed. You’ve probably seen more than a few Facebook ads praising it. I was skeptical when I saw this, but as shown in my review, it is a game-changer.
So, what about the noise reduction in Topaz Photo AI? Can it live up to the original software?
At first glance, you’ll notice that it’s a simplified version of DeNoise AI. You only have three sliders to worry about: Strength, Minor Deblur, and Recover Original Detail.
There are also three presets you can use depending on how much noise there is within your photo: Normal, Strong, and Extreme.
What I really like about the noise reduction in Topaz Photo AI is the autopilot system that automatically detects the amount of noise and applies the appropriate settings accordingly.
The available tools are slightly different when editing a RAW file. In that case, the Recover Original Detail slider is removed, and the presets are replaced with RAW Normal and RAW Strong.
For the best results, noise reduction should be applied directly on the RAW file rather than later in the workflow.
Sharpening in Topaz Photo AI
Sharpening is a tool that’s made to sharpen your images. Its main functions include shake reduction, focus correction, and blur removal. This means you can salvage blurry photos that otherwise would’ve been throw-aways.
When opening the Sharpening panel, you’ll find four AI Models and two sliders:
- Standard: For low and medium blur
- Strong: For medium and high blur
- Lens Blur: For out-of-focus images
- Motion Blur: For movement-caused motion in images
- Strength slider: Increases the intensity of the sharpening. A higher value results in more details. Avoid over-sharpening, as this results in unwanted and strange artifacts.
- Minor Denoise slider: Removes noisy pixels to increase clarity. This can be useful for images containing some digital noise. Again, avoid too high values.
Also here, the autopilot function analyzes the image and applies the best settings. It does a pretty good job, but I prefer manually adjusting the sliders to fine-tune the sharpening. Too aggressive sharpening will do more harm than good.
The ability to correct camera shake and blurry photos impresses me with both sharpening in Photo AI and Sharpen AI. Even images that are slightly out-of-focus can be salvaged and made look razor-sharp.
For this to work best, I recommend using the sharpening tool with the RAW file. There are better plugins for web sharpening that you can use at the end of your workflow.
Topaz Photo AI vs. Gigapixel AI, DeNoise AI, and Sharpening AI
The functions within Photo AI are simplified, but I don’t find their performance to be any worse than the individual software. The main difference is that you have slightly less manual control due to the removal of a handful of sliders and buttons.
This is where it comes down to personal preference. Having the extra sliders in the individual software means you leave less up to AI models and can better fine-tune the outcome. On the other hand, it’s incredibly convenient to have three tools within one software.
Take a look at the difference between noise reduction in Topaz Photo AI and DeNoise AI as an example:
As you can see, there are additional options in DeNoise that you don’t have available in Photo AI. That doesn’t mean, however, that the algorithms don’t still apply those adjustments. It simply means that you don’t have control over that aspect.
What surprised me the most was that the automatic settings differed between the standalone apps and Photo AI. This was unexpected, considering that the algorithms and software come from the same company and should be the same.
I wouldn’t say that one autopilot is better than the other. It really varied on the images. Both work well, but both still need some manual fine-tuning.
Let’s Talk About Speed Issues
Now, there’s no doubt that you can achieve great results with Topaz Photo AI. In my opinion, only a few other software can come anywhere near what Topaz delivers.
What frustrates me more than anything is how slow it is. Importing the photo takes no time, but everything else is like watching paint dry.
First, you need to wait for the AI model to make its calculations and apply the settings. Then, every time you make an adjustment, the system needs to regenerate the results, which takes time. It doesn’t matter if you’re increasing a slider value from 30 to 31 or turning the Sharpening model on. It needs to recalculate and apply the settings.
I find this especially problematic when using the upscaling tool. Obviously, this is significantly increasing the file size, so, understandably, there’s some performance decline, but be prepared for the process to take several minutes or more. Having an older computer will definitely not help.
Note: The speed issue is not exclusive to Photo AI. It is also a problem with other Topaz software. Upscaling in Gigapixel AI has, in some instances, caused the tool to crash.
Is Topaz Photo AI Worth the Money?
At $199, Topaz Photo AI is far from cheap. However, if you consider that you get the best of Gigapixel AI, DeNoise AI, and Sharpening AI (which purchased individually costs $249), it’s somewhat justifiable.
Topaz Photo AI is an excellent tool for anyone who wants a simpler workflow involving noise reduction and image sharpening. It’s pretty convenient to have multiple tools within the same interface.
For those who want ultimate control, purchasing the individual apps is the better option. This has nothing to do with the quality or performance but rather the fact that you have additional sliders to fine-tune the results.
If you don’t worry too much about fine-tuning and want something that consistently delivers good results with minimum involvement from you, then Topaz Photo AI is a great option.
For me, I’ll continue to use Topaz Photo AI out of convenience. If I’m working on a more complex image, for example, a night photo, I’m more likely to use DeNoise AI and Sharpen AI individually.
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