Focus is an absolutely critical factor in photography. There cannot be a feeling worse than getting home after a tough day at the shoot and realizing that the images that appeared sharp on the back of the camera actually came out soft. If you’ve been in such a situation then you know how heartbreaking and enraging the situation can be.
Images can come out soft for various reasons. The most common causes include a poor quality lens, motion blur, camera shake, and missed focus. And no matter what the cause for your soft image is, Topaz Sharpen AI from Topaz Labs promises to help you create tack-sharp and detailed images with no artefacts and halos.
Topaz Labs  claims that artificial intelligence (AI) that powers Sharpen AI was trained with millions of images. This allowed the software to learn the characteristics of details against noise, and then just enhance the details while excluding noise. This is the prime reason why photos sharpened with Sharpen AI have no issues with artefacts popping up in the final images.
What I also liked about Sharpen AI is that you can either use it as a standalone application or launch it as a plug-in. If you are a Photoshop  and Lightroom  user like me, you can seamlessly open up your images in Sharpen AI from there.
Topaz Sharpen AI overview
Sharpen AI has what it calls “models” that it uses to handle the softness in an image. Based on what’s the root cause for the softness in your image, you can choose from three models: Sharpen, Stabilize, and Focus.
You can go for the sharpen model if the image appears soft straight out of the camera. Try out this option if you feel that you have done everything right but the image still appears soft. Sharpen AI will analyze the image and enhance the details to produce tack sharp results.
Left your tripod home when you had to take a photo using a slow shutter speed? Or accidentally shook your camera when taking a photo? If the images come out soft due to camera shake, the stabilize model in Sharpen AI is what you can make use of. You can also use this model if it’s the subject that has moved and caused the image to appear blurry.
And finally, if the image came out soft because of a misplaced focus point or a shallow depth of field, try using the focus model. This can be a lifesaver for portrait photographers when the image is focused on the eyelashes instead of the eye.
All of these models are global adjustments by default – meaning that the sharpening is done to the entire image. But you may not always want to sharpen the overall image and instead work on a smaller area. For this, Sharpen AI has a mask tool built-in that lets you select the portion of the image that you want to sharpen.
Working with Topaz Sharpen AI
Having used so many other products from Topaz Labs, I felt at home with Topaz Sharpen AI. Like with all other software from Topaz Labs, Sharpen AI too is pretty user friendly, simple to use, and gets the job done without any fuss.
You can use Sharpen AI to work either with a single image or with multiple images at once thanks to the batch-processing feature. This saves you a lot of time as you can apply the same adjustments to multiple photos at once with batch processing. This can be quite handy if the images that you are working with are of similar nature.
And like I mentioned earlier, Sharpen AI seamlessly integrates with Adobe Photoshop and Adobe Lightroom. So, when working with any software like this, whenever you need to sharpen the image, you can conveniently invoke Sharpen AI, apply the sharpening, go back, and continue working with the image for further processing.
When working with your image in Photoshop, just head over to Filter>Topaz Labs>Topaz Sharpen AI… This will open up the image in Topaz Smart AI software. Hit Apply when done, and you’ll be taken back to Photoshop.
If you are working with your image in Lightroom, in the Develop module, right-click on the image and go to Edit In> Topaz Sharpen AI. Hit Apply when done, and you’ll be taken back to Lightroom.
I really loved how Sharpen AI feels like an arm of Photoshop and Lightroom. The integration is good and seamless.
Next, to try out if Sharpen AI was any good as advertised, I ran three of my images with three different needs. I started off with a simple image that had some textures that could use some sharpening. Since it had no focus and camera shake/subject blur issue, I tried the sharpen model. And as you can see below, the software did a pretty good job. The textures appear more detailed. Even the engraved texts on the flag appear more prominent. The software passed this test with flying colors.
Next, to try out the stabilize model, I fed the software an image that had camera shake as well as motion blur. I was in a pretty crowded place when taking the image and the lady was walking as well. While the image appeared okay on the back of the camera, I was quite disappointed when I reviewed it on my computer.
For this particular image, I used the stabilize model and was instantly surprised when the software was done processing the image. The blurriness on her face was gone, and the texture on her skin came out beautifully enhanced. Brilliant job yet again.
The third issue that Sharpen AI can help to solve is to extract details out of areas that are out of focus. For this I used an image from one of my product photoshoots wherein the logo of the product came out a bit soft due to a shallow depth of field. I also applied a mask on the logo that’s on the speaker grill for this purpose. As you can see below, the effect is subtle, but it really makes a difference.
Final verdict on Topaz Sharpen AI
Topaz Sharpen AI is yet another no-nonsense product from Topaz Labs. The software delivers what it promises and it does it while ensuring that users are not left scratching their heads learning to use the software.
The software works great when it comes to sharpening and enhancing the details in your photos. Whether you have a soft photo, a blurry photo, or a photo that’s out of focus, Sharpen AI can help you in making it usable. However, do keep in mind that the software relies on the details that are already present in the image. If there’s no detail to work on, don’t expect the software to come up with detailed results magically.
If you feel that you could benefit from the features of Topaz Sharpen AI, you can either download a free and fully functional 30-day trial at Topaz Labs website or purchase it at US$ 79.99.
New Zealand travel photographer based in London, UK. He was taking photos from a very young age in the backcountry of New Zealand before moving abroad. Since doing so he has taken workshops and tried to help get as many people into this art as possible. Featured in NZ Herald, Stuff.co.nz and many photography publications it’s safe to say he loves his photography!