Review: Topaz Clarity for the HDR Photographer

1955 Chevy Bel Air - created with Photomatix, Lightroom, Photoshop & Topaz Clarity

1955 Chevy Bel Air – created with Photomatix, Lightroom, Photoshop & Topaz Clarity

What Is It?
Topaz Clarity is a plugin that allows photographers to make color, contrast, and clarity definition adjustments without halos or artifacts.

Does it do it well?
Topaz is no stranger to controlling halos.  Their Detail plugin is one of my favorite sharpening tools because it does not create halos at edge boundaries.  But that’s Detail, what about Clarity?

In short, the technology does a great job.  I have some reservations about some bugs in the user interace I hope Topaz will address in the future, but those are minor issues; the technology itself works, and it works well.  Take a look at the before (left) and after (right) below:

Screen Shot 2013-05-21 at 11.00.22 PM

Topaz Clarity Before & After


Is it perfect?  I do see a bit of haloing, but it is so slight that it’s easily addressed with the masking brush Topaz makes available.   That’s a real nice feature allowing you to brush-in/brush-out the effect as desired.

Tonemapped images always need a contrast boost.  I like the fine tune control over Micro, Low, Medium and High Contrast.  Clarity is like a contrast scalpel providing you with control when you want it.

In addition to clarity and contrast, you also get Hue Saturation and Luminance controls, as well as, a good list of presets to get you started.  The presets themselves are broken down into collections like Documentary, Landscape, Fashion, Wedding and so-on to give you a head start depending on the type of photography you do.  You can also create your own as is expected.

Another nice feature with the masking brush is a preview showing you where the brush has been applied.  Think layer masks in photoshop, but large enough for you to see where the brush was applied.  I’d like to see something like that get incorporated into Lightroom & Photoshop.

Is it worth it?
Topaz will be selling Clarity for $49.99 but has it discounted to $29.99 until May 31st.  That’s not a bad deal for the kind of fine tuned control it gives you.  Skip a few cups of coffee and give it a whirl.  If you can skip coffee for a while, the Topaz Bundle has a great set of tools like Adjust, Denoise, and Detail (to name a few).  By the way, if you’re interested in Denoise, checkout my video tutorial here.

Ok, it’s new software, are there any bugs?
There are a few bugs with the UI.  If you’ve used Lightroom, you’ll notice similarities between it and Clarity. The layout of the HSL sliders for example is definitely an homage to Lightroom, but some of the UI functionality is a bit buggy (at last in the Mac version at release).  The brush, for example, doesn’t repsond to the a two-finger drag to resize and the “[” and “]” keys don’t always the resize brush when clicked.  Also, Command-Z doesn’t seem to undo brush strokes.

These are minor issues I’m sure will be addressed in time, but they’re there.  The core functionality does work well, and if you’re looking for fine grain clarity control Topaz Clarity is a good one.

Anything else?
You can try it for free for 30 days, give it a shot and let me know what you think in the comments.