Topaz Photo AI V2 – Any Good?

by | Sep 9, 2023 | DXO Photo Lab, DXO Pure RAW, Photo AI, Topaz Labs | 1 comment

Topaz Photo AI V2

Update: December 2023: For the latest view and a comparison with DXO and Luminar NEO, see this post.

I use Topaz Labs photo software and have done so for many years. This blog contains many reviews of their tools. I only publish reviews of tools I use in my own workflow and I tell it as it is – I have praised software when I felt it deserved it and criticized it when it took a wrong turn.

I have just installed the upgrade to Photo AI and am writing this review as I use it. This review is not a re-hash of Topaz’s sales blurb. It is an honest and objective review. I purchased the software with my hard earned cash. I do get a small commission amount if you purchase it based on my review, but I promise to tell the truth about this software.

What is Photo AI?

Photo AI combines three of Topaz Labs best technologies:

  • GigaPixel AI – an image resize tool that produces the highest quality enlargements
  • DeNoise AI – class leading image noise reduction
  • Sharpen AI – intelligent image sharpening that corrects motion and lens blur

These three can be purchased separately, but Photo AI combines them at a reduced price.

V2 adds the following tools:

  • Lighting adjustments
  • Colour balance

These new tools are beta versions – early releases of technologies that are still under development. If you use Photo AI on a RAW image these adjustments are not currently saved to the resulting DNG file. Topaz usually work hard at improving new tools, so I look forward to seeing how they develop these new additions.

The One Stop Shop Dream

One of the dreams I have, as a photographer at least, is to have one piece of software that does everything. Of course, some tools claim to do everything but my experience is that no one software is enough to produce a final image.

It will be interesting to see if this new update to Photo AI brings me nearer to achieving this goal.

Workflow

This is my current workflow:

  1. If the image is very noisy – use Photo AI to remove the noise and save as a DNG
  2. Open the original image/Photo AI DNG in DXO Photo Lab
  3. Use DXO Photo Lab for raw development and colour/detail adjustments
  4. Sometimes use Luminar Neo for additional adjustments
  5. Remove any remaining noise using Photo AI
  6. Sharpen in Photo AI
  7. Save as a 16 bit TIF
  8. Convert to JPEG and publish on web
  9. Use Photo AI to enlarge TIF to print dimensions
  10. Use Photo AI to sharpen for printing
  11. Print

Photo AI is a core element of my workflow. It combines perfectly with DXO Photo Lab. I use Luminar Neo when needed, but will admit to being put off by their current pricing model – I dislike subscriptions and high priced standalone versions. With Topaz and DXO you buy the software at a reasonable price, and it’s your forever. Both give free updates for a year. And both offer reduced upgrade prices.

Photo AI In Use

I recently visited Goring by Sea, UK, at dawn for some landscape photography. and this little bird, a Turnstone, got close, so I photographed it using a f/5.6 250mm lens. At dawn, the light was low and I needed to use ISO 6400 to get a fast enough shutter speed. On as APS-C camera, ISO 6400 means noise. Nothing terrible, but certainly enough to need removing.

Using Photo AI exclusively

As this is primarily a test of Photo AI I decided to just throw the RAW file at it and see what it could do. Here is the original, with no adjustments:

Photo AI - Turnstone

The noise is easy to see and the lighting is flat. There’s a lot of work to do on this picture.

When Photo AI opened it it analysed it and correctly identified the Turnstone as the subject. This is significant as it can target the subject when making adjustments. In particular, with portraits and wildlife, you want to sharpen the subject and leave the background blurry, and Photo AI offer this automatically. Nice!

Photo AI then suggested noise removal and did its usual, excellent job of removing image noise:

Photo AI DeNoise in action

Notice that you can adjust the noise reduction to suit your taste and the needs of the image.

Next I turned on the Sharpening module:

Again, there are plenty of options available. Here I chose to only sharpen the subject and left the settings at the ones suggested by Photo AI – it usually gets them right.

Improving the Image

The image still is flat, due to the dull lighting. So now I use the Adjust Lighting and Balancing Color to brighten and warm the image. The result is certainly an improvement:

Problems…

This looks quite good, but when I try to save I get this message:

 

 

 

 

 

Hmmm… This tells me that Photo AI is not yet ready to be my one stop shop photo editor. It’s not surprising and no, I am not disappointed.

Plan B – The Usual Workflow

To achieve a finished image, I need to use my normal workflow. That means I save the de-noised picture from Photo AI as a DNG and adjust it in DXO, save as a TIF and bring it back into Photo AI for finishing. As this is not a review of DXO, I won’t show that part in this review, but here is the image back in Photo AI after DXO has done its stuff:

All that remains is to apply some sharpening, and Photo AI has selected the right sharpening settings:

The Finished Image

These comparison images show the progress from the original RAW file (far right) to the Photo AI denoised image (centre) to the DXO processed + Photo AI sharpened image (far left).

The improvement speaks for itself.

Conclusion

Photo AI V2 is a big improvement on V1. Its noise reduction and sharpening, as well as resizing, remain best in class. Speed has improved – both the generation of previews within Photo AI and the saving of the processed images feel significantly faster.

The colour adjustment and lighting enhancements are still works in progress, but are useful additions to the tool, with more adjustments in the pipeline.

As a standalone tool, Photo AI is excellent. Combine Photo AI with DXO Photo Lab or DXO Pure Raw and you need nothing else.

Introductory Offer

Topaz are offering Photo AI V2 at the reduced price of $159 until 22nd September 2023. It’s worth every penny.

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All content is Copyright Andy Bell 2024

1 Comment

  1. Gary

    I was interested to read your review of Photo AI. When using Denoise AI I tend to agree with you that the default or automatic settings are often great. You seemed to say the same for sharpening which surprised me. Most reviews of Photo AI seem to say the default sharpening is far too aggressive and from what I’ve seen I tend to agree. I know you been edit the preferences to make sharpening weaker, did you do this? In any case I don’t think the sharpening aspect is very intelligent at all. Also I was curious to read your workflow. Ignoring the fact you use DXO which I don’t use, why did you sharpen more than once in your workflow? I can manually tweak sharpening by eye for images I plan to save for web but I don’t know the ideal settings should I want to save for printing at a lab (I don’t print at home).

    Until recently I was still sharpening using Nik which used the 3 stage sharpening method and where output sharpening had different options to suit web and printing. I’m sure these new software options are better but they aren’t clear in terms of how to sharpen for different outputs and too often the default settings seem far too aggressive.

    Reply

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