Software Review: Topaz Adjust

Topaz Adjust Photoshop Plug-in from Topaz Labs

I will be honest, I’ve never been a huge fan of plug-ins. Maybe I’ve just never used the right ones, maybe I’ve never played around with them enough, maybe I just haven’t been too impressed with the results. So, I’m going into this one a little skeptical from the start.

With all of that said, I must say that when I sat down to try out Topaz Adjust, from Topaz Labs, I found myself actually enjoying the process. Now, I’m not a purist at all; I think if you have the tools at hand and the ability to utilize them to achieve your vision, by all means. But I feel, and I’ve said this before, that sometimes people can go overboard and turn a potentially good photo into something kind of “alien”, surreal, and even cartoonish which distracts from more than enhances the viewing experience. Not that it isn’t ok to do that sometimes, but it should be done sparingly, in my opinion.

When I opened up my source image from a photowalk I did in Boston over the summer, I was presented with a dark, flat, and uninteresting photo – isn’t that how most of them start out?

Boston Photowalk - Before Topaz Adjust

Sometimes, when presented with a shot like this I may even just pass right by it without giving it another thought thinking that it was a nice idea but the light wasn’t right or I didn’t take enough time to do this or that the way I wanted to. Then I thought, what better way to really put this Photoshop plug-in to the test than with an image I’m not excited about in the first place? And so the fun began.

When I first opened the plug-in dialog I felt that the interface was very intuitive with a diverse set of presets and their respective previews running down the left, a decent-sized window for your full-sized image (complete with the option to zoom in and out of your photo), and a collection of sliders along the bottom for any fine-tuning you may want to do.

I started off by clicking through each of the presets to see how they would each affect my shot, thinking as I went that a number of them just didn’t give me what I was looking for. At the same time, though, I found myself thinking how I could see where those effects might come in handy with other types of images. I finally landed on the “Dramatic” preset which really caught my attention. I felt as though it really balanced out the tones in the image by lightening up the shadow areas without blowing out the highlights. It also brought out a great deal of details and made the sky, well, dramatic. All adding interest and depth to the photo.

In a way it created an HDR-like effect without the downsides I mentioned above. I then hit the sliders to refine the image even further and really get the results I was hoping for. I brought back a little detail in the highlights and shadows, supressed the noise a tad, and made sure that I wasn’t getting that awful halo effect that a lot of HDR photos employ. In the end, I was pretty pleased with the final image. And considering I was about to dismiss the photo altogether, I’d say that using Topaz Adjust saved it from the recycle bin. Here’s my final image (only process with Topaz Adjust):

Boston Photowalk Image - Processed using Topaz Adjust

Pros:

  • Simple, straightforward, and intuitive interface.
  • Variety of presets available, with previews
  • Large preview window with zoom
  • Ability to adjust each setting to fine-tune the image
  • Hovering over a slider does more than show you the tool’s name, it pops up a description of what that tool is actually doing
  • Works well Smart Objects so you can always go back – gotta love that it’s non-destructive!
  • Priced at only $49.99 puts it within reach of everyone.

Cons:

  • I could tell that the presets were on the left, but I think the section could’ve been set apart or labeled a little more clearly to make it more self-evident.
  • I think some of the names for the sliders could be improved to help the user have a better idea of what’s going on (ie – “Highlights” should be called something more like “Highlight Protection”).
  • I think the interface could be rearranged a little bit for a cleaner look – but I might just be nitpicking at this point.

In the end, I would say that I am very glad to have been introduced to this plug-in and it has helped change the way I feel about plugins as a whole. I would definitely recommend adding Topaz Adjust to your Photoshop toolkit!

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