TopazLabs
How I became a big fan of TopazLabs Denoise AI (and not of Sharpen AI)

Denoise AI

 

How it began

You probably heard or read about TopazLabs before you read this review. I know I did, and to be honest, I didn't believe it, and didn't look into it any further until I had some awesome pictures from a mammal (a stone marten), taken at night which just had a bit too much noise in them (taken with ISO 2500-3200). When I edited the pictures in the Camera RAW-editor in Photoshop (PS) like I normally do, nothing really seemed to work well to get the photo right. I felt I could only choose between three options: 1. Get rid of the noise, but get less sharp pictures; 2. Get an aquarelle painting as result when trying to get rid of the noise and make it sharper; 3. Maintain sharpness and accept the noise. I wasn't happy with any of the options, so I tried to get into the better part of PS. I made layers with masks of the mammals, sharpened the mammals, only taking out a bit of noise over there, and then soften the background in the other layers. Way better, but still I wasn't totally satisfied with the result.
 

My first impression
I went searching on the internet if there was a better way to take out the noise and still maintain a sharp picture and after many comparisons ended up with the program Denoise AI from TopazLabs. I downloaded the trial version and gave it a shot with my stone marten photo's. I was amazed by the result! What took me 15-30 minutes in PS (making layers and all) took about 15 seconds in the program.

 

I was stunned by the results and tried more and more pictures. Older pictures taken with high ISO that I didn't post anywhere because I wasn't happy about the end result, but also pictures which had lower ISOs of 400-800. Even for the pictures with low ISO (and relatively few noise) the end result with Denoise AI was way better than the result using the control sliders for sharpening and noise reduction in the Camera RAW-editor of PS. 

My impression now

The short version: still super impressed! The longer version: Denoise AI is now a part of my routine when editing pictures, and I use it with every picture I edit! I still use the Camera RAW-editor in PS first, then open the pictures in PS and use the plug-in from Denoise AI for the removal of the noise and to sharpen it a bit more. I am so happy that I literally tell all my (photography) friends about it, and because I was making advertisement for Topaz Denoise AI already, I decided to partner up with them as an associate (more on that below). How Denoise AI works:

Using Denoise AI in your photo editing process

Denoise AI can be used as a stand-alone and as a plug-in for Lightroom (LR) or Photoshop (PS):

Stand-alone. Using it as a stand-alone you have access to one extra model (the 'RAW AI Model'). Open Denoise AI and load the RAW photo directly in Denoise AI as your first action in the editing process. After that you can edit with any program you like. 

LR and PS plug-in. When installing Denoise AI it automatically installs a plug-in in LR and/or PS. In LR you can open it by a right mouse click, under 'Edit In' and then select Denoise AI. In PS, open the photo after the Camera Raw-editor and then select Denoise AI from the TopazLabs menu, which will at the bottom under 'Filters'. If you use it in LR or PS, be sure to set the control sliders for enhancing sharpness and noise reduction to 0 or leave them as they are. 

The Different Viewing Modes

If you open a photo in Denoise AI you can choose between 4 viewing modes by selecting one of the icons at the top right:

  • Single View. With this view you will see one AI model, and you can click and hold the 'original' button to display the original photo. I don't use this a lot as I don't need to see the whole picture to decide which AI model and settings I want to use.

  • Split View. This is my second-most used viewing mode, after the Comparison View. It displays the original photo and the adjusted photo on top of each other. With the slider in you can slide over the photo and see how the model changes your photo! 

  • Side-by-side View. This viewing mode displays the original on the left and the model of your choosing on the right, but will give you the exact same frame of the photo on both sides. I don't use it a lot, but it's really convenient for showing what the model does if you want to send screenshots to friends or if you want to use it for a review like this one ;)

Overview 4 Different Viewing Modes
Overview 4 Different Viewing Modes

Here you can see the Comparison Viewing Mode (highlighted in the top bar), an inlay showing you which part of the photo you are viewing, below that the 5 AI Models and lastly the settings which you can control by the sliders. The 4 windows show you 4 different AI Models (with automatic corrections)

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Overview Side-by-Side Viewing Mode
Overview Side-by-Side Viewing Mode

This is the Side-by-Side Viewing Mode, displaying the original on the left and the chosen model on the right

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Overview Split Viewing Mode
Overview Split Viewing Mode

This is the Split Viewing Mode, displaying the original on the left and the chosen model on the right. By siding the line in the middle you can see the chance the AI Model made to your photo really well!

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Overview 4 Different Viewing Modes
Overview 4 Different Viewing Modes

Here you can see the Comparison Viewing Mode (highlighted in the top bar), an inlay showing you which part of the photo you are viewing, below that the 5 AI Models and lastly the settings which you can control by the sliders. The 4 windows show you 4 different AI Models (with automatic corrections)

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1/3
  • Comparison View. With the Comparison View you can compare (what's in the name) 4 different models, or some of the same models but with different settings. My most used viewing mode. Most of the times I start with this viewing mode, let four different models run their automatic corrections and see which AI model I like the most. The best model for my photo I open in the Split View mode and if necessary I fine-tune the different settings with the buttons and/or control sliders. 

The Different AI Models

As of 2021 there are 5 AI Models in Denoise AI

  • RAW. This AI Model can only be used if you open the RAW photo directly in Denoise AI (as a stand-alone), without any editing before that. I have tried a few photos, but I always ended up choosing one of the other models, so in the end I didn't bother with the extra step of opening a RAW photo in Denoise AI first instead of running it through the Camera RAW-editor of PS and then opening it via the plug-in. 

  • Standard. This AI Model I use like 40% of the time. It makes the picture way sharper, with less noise, without making it too much. This AI model also allows you to fine-tune the control sliders more than the Clear AI Model does. 

  • Clear. This AI Model I didn't like at first, then used it a lot for photos with low ISO, but now I barely use it anymore because I take a lot of photos in low light conditions (rainforests, dusk etc). It does a good job of getting the noise out of the background, but less than the Standard AI Model does. This model also doesn't give you as much options for fine-tuning the result. For noise you only have three options (low, medium and high) and for enhancing sharpness it gives you only two options (medium and high). 

  • Low Light. This AI Model I now use about 55% of the time, because it works great for low light conditions, without smoothing out too much of the darker details in birds and mammals. It does sharpen less than the Standard Model, so if the result is acceptable I go for that one.

  • Severe Noise. I don't even know why this model is in there, and I wouldn't call it AI. I only once had an acceptable result with this model. 

 

Fine-tuning the Results

After you have chosen the AI Model that fits your photo, you can save the image if you are happy with the result or you can adjust the settings using the buttons (Clear AI Model) or the control sliders (other AI Models). You can adjust the following:

  • Remove Noise. This is the essential part of the program. It gives you the ability to increase or decrease the amount of noise reduction you want to apply. The more you apply the more ''smoothened out' the photo will look, especially in the parts with less detail and darker patches. This is great if you have an obvious subject like a bird with a smooth background, but it can become too smooth on surfaces from objects like walls, water or even some parts of the subject that isn't in focus. 

  • Enhance Sharpness. This gives you the ability to increase of decrease the amount of sharpening that is applied to the image. In some occasions I have to tweak it down, because the AI Model gives a bit of an artificial output (too much contrast between feathers or hairs for example, more often with the Standard Model), and sometimes I like to enhance it a bit more for that extra crisp sharpness (mostly with the Low Light Model). 

  • Recover Original Detail. The recovery of the original detail will be applied after the AI Model has done its magic. In many cases, this slider doesn't do much for me. But there are a few cases in which I like to bring back a little more detail after the noise reduction made some parts of the photo too smooth. 

  • Color Noise Reduction. This value I mostly set between 10 and 20. Especially if you really zoom in on your photo you might see some colour noise. This does a great job in reducing that colour noise as well (on top of the luminance noise that the AI Model already reduced for you).

Comparison Colour Noise reduction
Comparison Colour Noise reduction

You can see the result of the same AI Model (Standard) with 4 different settings. Noise reduction (top slider, value 33) and the recover original detail (3rd slider, value 10) stay the same for all of them Top left: Automatic Corrections sharpness (39), no colour noise reduction (0) Top right: extra sharpness (50), no colour noise reduction (0) Bottom left: extra sharpness (50), colour noise reduction (10) Bottom right: extra sharpness (50), colour noise reduction (20)

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Top Left Window
Top Left Window

Automatic Corrections: just not sharp enough this time Noise 33 Sharpness 39 Recover Original Detail 10 Color Noise 0

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Bottom Right Window
Bottom Right Window

Sharpened a little bit in comparison to the automatic corrections. The colour noise (purple fringing to some feathers) has dissapeared Noise 33 Sharpness 50 Recover Original Detail 10 Color Noise 20

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Comparison Colour Noise reduction
Comparison Colour Noise reduction

You can see the result of the same AI Model (Standard) with 4 different settings. Noise reduction (top slider, value 33) and the recover original detail (3rd slider, value 10) stay the same for all of them Top left: Automatic Corrections sharpness (39), no colour noise reduction (0) Top right: extra sharpness (50), no colour noise reduction (0) Bottom left: extra sharpness (50), colour noise reduction (10) Bottom right: extra sharpness (50), colour noise reduction (20)

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1/5

Sharpen AI program

TopazLabs also has a seperate program called Sharpen AI. I tried this with many photos where the object was just a bit out of focus or had some motion blur in it. It almost never gave me a good result, and mostly the object became more grainy, the photo got more noise and it became artificial looking. So I do not recommend to buy Sharpen AI! Denoise AI does a very good job in sharpening the pictures, for me always better than Sharpenn AI. So safe yourself the money by not buying Sharpen AI and only buying Denoise AI.

 

Conclusion

I am very, very happy (no, better: thrilled!) with Denoise AI and I am sure you will be too after you tried it for yourself! As I said above, I was so happy with Denoise AI that I literally told all my (photography) friends about it, and because I was making advertisement for Topaz Denoise AI already, I decided to partner up with them as an associate. This means that we write honest reviews about it and help people get to know Denoise AI as well. But then, a review from an associate only does so much, right? I ask you: please download the trial version of Denoise AI and use it on your own photos. Compare the results with the results you had when doing your regular editing process. Only your own pictures are going to convince you too, as I couldn't believe the results I saw on the internet (which turned out to be true though!).

Once you are convinced as well and you want to purchase TopazLabs Denoise AI, click on the button below. By following the link behind this button, we get a small commission so we can keep doing reviews and work like this. Thank you very much!