A couple of weeks ago I released a video called “I was wrong” (about my Noise Reduction and Sharpening workflow). In the video I explained my photography evolution from landscapes to wildlife and how I was always telling people I don’t use noise reduction or sharpening plug-ins. But after getting frustrated with noise reduction (and sometimes sharpening), I’ve slowly switched over to Topaz plug-ins (DeNoise and Sharpen) for my wildlife photography.
Well, needless to say it stirred quite a few comments and discussions which topics like that always do. There were over 130 comments on that one. But more than that, I spurred a lot of questions back at me. So I thought I’d try to take care of those questions all at once. Here goes…
NOTE: I’m big on personal responsibility here. Please read this article as something that worked for me. But… it’s always your responsibility to try out software before you buy it to see if it works on your photos. Everyone’s photos are different and shooting styles vary.
PS: If you do decide to grab Topaz DeNoise or Topaz Sharpen AI, they gave me a 15% coupon to share with you. The coupon code is “MattK15” (no quotes) – This will work on all of their products and bundles, not just individual apps.
Q. Matt… DxO just released Pure Raw Deep Prime and I feel it’s better than Topaz. Have you tried it?
A. I have tried it. And I actually got really good results from it. To me, I found Topaz to be just as good in most cases, but more than that I found the workflow to be simpler. Here’s the deal… I don’t want to be a software tester all the time. While I do like my time editing, I don’t enjoy testing out 5 different apps just to pixel peep which is better. I want to shoot and edit, and that’s what I enjoy. And I’ve found two plug-ins that give me amazing results that I’m happy with. So… rather than constantly chasing after every piece of software released, I’m content with my workflow and I get amazing results from it. I’m sure DxO is great too, but in my tests I didn’t see anything significantly better to warrant using it. Like I said… I’m happy with what I have and that means a lot to me.
Q. When do you use Topaz DeNoise or Sharpen in your workflow?
A. First… I have a min course called Topaz Deep Dive (DeNoise and Sharpen). This course goes over both programs in detail, as well as my workflow from Lightroom and Photoshop. (Link)
But… in short…My workflow goes like this. First I Import photos in to Lightroom. From there I do all Lightroom Editing (color, tone, etc…), but no noise reduction or sharpening in Lightroom. Next, if I need Photoshop (usually distraction removal) I will jump to Photoshop. Once I’m done with that, I’ll make a copy of my layer and use Topaz DeNoise as a plug-in from Photoshop. Since I have layers and masks, I’d rather do it from Photoshop so I can always adjust it if I need. Then I finish up and head back to Lightroom.
If I don’t need Photoshop then I do all of my LR edits and go to Photo > Edit In > Topaz DeNoise. Do my noise reduction… Save… and head back to LR.
Q. I read on Topaz’s website they recommend you open your raw file directly in to DeNoise first. Is that true?
A. Yes, Topaz does seem to recommend you open your raw file in their standalone version of the software. But they also say it’s not required. For starters, they don’t support all raw formats. But more than that, I’m a die hard Lightroom user and I have a workflow that I like which means my photos always start in Lightroom first. Lightroom’s raw editor, for me, will be the first touchpoint on my raw photo. And adding something in front of that workflow would just make life difficult. Especially when I get great results doing it like the way I mentioned above.
Q. Do you use DeNoise or Sharpen on your landscape or non-wildlife photos?
A. For the most part no. I do have some night and astro photos that DeNoise has worked well on, but that’s just not a genre of photography that I do much of. But as for general landscapes, taken from a tripod, at low ISO’s – no I don’t use the plug-ins for that personally.
Q. Have you ever seen weird artifacts around your photo with DeNoise or Sharpen?
A. Yes, sometimes I do. Topaz has a masking option in both plug-ins, plus, I often have it on a layer in Photoshop so masking it away is easy enough.
Q. What about Topaz Gigapixel for upsizing?
A. I’ve tested Gigapixel and compared it to Photoshop’s Image > Image Size option as well as the newer Super Resolution option. Technically, when pixel peeping at around 400% I will say Topaz Gigapixel wins almost every time. But it’s slow… and when printed on a 17×22 inch paper and shared online I can’t tell the difference between the methods. I also generally can’t tell the difference when I don’t zoom in to 400% and pixel peep. At normal sizes they (usually) all look the same to me.
So, what I’m saying is that, while technically, Gigapixel does better… practically (for me) it’s not worth the money or effort. I still prefer the good old Photoshop Image > Image Size menu for upsizing when I need it.
Q. Matt… didn’t you talk about trying Topaz a while ago and said it was too slow?
A. Yep… and 18 months ago when I tried both plug-ins were fairly slow for my workflow preferences. I still quietly used them from time to time, but wasn’t at the point where I’d recommend it. With the newer versions of the plug-ins (released within the last couple of months) they are significantly faster and I can get in and out quickly.
Q. Matt – so….the ‘sharpen’ plug-in seems to deal with some of the noise. And the Noise plug-in seems to also sharpen the photo. Do we actually need both of those?
A. That’s true. For me, I go in to the plug-in based on what I feel the worst problem is in the photo. For my wildlife it’s usually noise on an already sharp photo. And DeNoise does a great job of removing the noise but also sharpening the photo to the extent that I don’t even need to run any more sharpening on it. Same thing with Topaz Sharpen. It will also remove minor noise.
For me though, I always try to get the photo sharp in camera. That, I usually have control over. Noise is something that I don’t. I have to shoot at the ISO that I have to shoot at. Sharp Before ANYTHING right?! So when it comes to editing, while Topaz Sharpen AI is flat out amazing on some photos (and has saved a few for me), if the photo is blurry to begin with I’m usually not happy with the results even after sharpening.
Q. Do you ever use both DeNoise and Sharpen on the same photo?
A. Very rarely to almost never. See above question 🙂
Q. Is it worth upgrading to the new version of Topaz DeNoise?
A. Absolutely 100% yes! They both work faster and better in all of my tests.
Q. Do the Topaz plug-ins run on the new Apple M1 thingees?
A. They do but I believe there are some caveats to it. Best to always check their website and support area on their site for more info. Click here to get to their website support.
Q. Did you compare noise reduction with the Nik filter Dfine?
A. Yes. In my opinion Nik’s filter is very out dated and hasn’t been updated in many years and doesn’t contend with what’s out there today. Nik is owned by DxO and even Dxo has newer technology for this if you want to keep it in the same family.
Q. Matt… I know you already answered a question about DxO’s Pure Raw software, but let me ask again because I didn’t like your answer before. Have you tried it? I have, and I find it better than Topaz?
A. Listen… I did try it and I thought it worked great. For me, their software is cumbersome. While they have a plug-in to Lightroom, DxO is really meant as an Adobe alternative. I’m not looking for an Adobe alternative. I like my workflow as is. I get great results with Adobe and Topaz, and I’m not some one that’s always looking to change, for something new. That said, I get it that there are people who do like to test out every software out there and who will use 6 apps in their photo workflow. If they’re happy with the results, then that’s all that matters – I don’t care how you get there – just that you’re happy with your photos.
Q. Aren’t there other noise reduction plug-ins out there?
A. Yep. There are a bunch and I haven’t tried all of them. I’ve had way too many people I trust recommend Topaz, so rather than spend a bunch of time comparing plug-ins I tried them myself and I love the results.
Q. Is Topaz a subscription or perpetual license. Don’t they make you pay an upgrade fee each year?
A. You do get a perpetual license so you own the version you purchase. I do believe they come out with major upgrades each year, which does require an upgrade fee. Incidentally, that’s similar to just about any other piece of software out there. I can’t think of one really great software program that doesn’t come out with new paid versions every 12 months or so.
I hope that helps answer your questions. If not, feel free to leave ’em below and I’ll add them to the list. And, as I mentioned at the top, it’s your responsibility to try these out before you make a purchase. I’m really thankful many of you trust me and my opinion, but at the same time why not download the free trial and give it a whirl?
If you do decide to grab Topaz DeNoise or Topaz Sharpen AI, they gave me a 15% coupon to share with you. The coupon code is “MattK15” (no quotes) – This will work on all of their products and bundles, not just individual apps.
Thank you Matt. The Q&As are a BIG help. Have been using Topaz Sharpen for about a year and recently added Gigapixel AI & Denoise….without really understanding how they work!
I missed this nice summary. Thank you !
About starting in denoise question from other subscribers, I agree with you it is not a good idea because, compared to DXO Photolab 4 (same engine than Pure Raw !), the non processed raw is dull after denoise ai alone because there is no raw development tool in topaz plugins and I have heard Topaz intends to make a new interface to fix that (ie: grouping AI adjust, denoise ai and sharpen ai,…);
So, starting in lightroom as you do is much more efficient.
and then the new ON1 NoNoise AI coming soon.
haha, yes !
I didn’t dare to mention it because I have read Matt doesn’t intend to become a software tester 🙂 🙂 🙂
on the other hand, Matt did so many good courses on ON1 products…
When restoring a scan of an old monochrome print I tried DeNoise and the results were stunning. Made a good quality scan of a faded and soft print look like a new negative done to have the ambiance of an ancient shot. Sharp and clean. Simply amazing!
I have both Topaz Denoise and Sharpen they both work great on some photos like wild life I tried them both on my
portrait photos the results were disappointing having said that they were not meant to edit portraits but wild life they
are fantastic. I found a grotty photo of a Quirrell it had every thing wrong with it you name it and it was there I put
it in Topaz Sharpen the photo was still grotty but the detail in some of the fur was outstanding. I have purchased
your wild life course and its truly brilliant
Agree with Matt and many other professionals that these products are game changers and they are integrated completely into my wildlife workflow. I do depart from Matt’s opinions in the following. My workflow utilizes both Denoise and sharpen depending on the destination of the image. For example, Denoise is applied to nearly every WL photo early in the workflow and then sharpen is applied if I am printing he image or if I am exporting a low resolution version for web. Otherwise, I generally don’t use them together. Depending on whether the RAW photo is supported by topaz, I’ll apply Denoise first or in the cases where the camera RAW is not supported I’ll make basic tonal adjustments and then send the image over to Denoise.
I like to start my processing with a raw file that is very flat and neutral. For most of my used camera’s I have even made a realraw-file as a start for this processing (Real Raw Jim Welninski The Photo Tribe).
In LR or ACR I only change the profile to this Real Raw profile and leave everything else untouched or at zero.
In Photoshop I make a (working) copy of the base-layer brought there from LR or ACR.
I then change the Color-Space to L-ab and make a Curves adjustment to set and/or improve the base contrast and color-intensity either globally or locally in this L-ab Colorspace so as to increase contrast without affecting the colors. Only after that initial step I will set the profile back to the working colorspace. The next step will always be to apply Topaz DeNoise AI and/or Topaz Sharpen AI as and where needed for the image. All this with the use of the one working-layer and history-states for applying where and what is needed or wanted with the history-brush.
I have found this to be my preffered workflow for best results both on noise, sharpness and contrast.
Only after these steps I bring the image in ACR for all further basic processing for tone and color.
Matt, thanks for your time in preparing this Q&A! As usual, it was concise, educational and very helpful for me to learn more of your insights! I just finished the Deep Dive course; it was excellent. I highly recommend it to anyone “learning” Sharpen or DeNoise with Topaz. It cleared up many questions I had.
Have you used Topaz with Lightroom CC (Cloud version not Lightroom Classic)? If so what workflow do you recommend.
Trying the free download on some 10 year old digital files I discovered both products did a nice job on them and also, they work well on current files. I acquired licenses and am happy with them. As to the artifacts that occasionally appear, I’ve discovered that if you experiment with the ratio between sharpening and denoising in either tool, they can often be eliminated. I would agree with the observations here about masking within the products; it’s rather primitive. Masking is why we have Photoshop, right? 🙂
I have use Topaz AI Denoise and sharpen, and am happy with both. I work with ratio between both, thoughI use denoise infrequently other than in high ISO images. I do not use masking in the apps, rather I use PS; more control for me.
If I use demonise or sharpen from lightroom key word list they don’t return to lightroom. If from a folder they do. Any ideas
Trying to find instructions on making topaz a plug in. Any suggestions?
Thomas, when I completed the installation on Mac neither Shapen nor DeNoise showed up in Photoshop as plugins. Apparently it’s a well-known issue.
Just open the standalone versions of Sharpen and DeNoise, go to the Help menu and choose Re-install Photoshop plugins.
This worked for me.
I got a Topaz sales person to reset my password (which I did not subsequently changed). That worked to get the apps to instal and run in LR Classic and PS. I however, I use the apps with layers in PS only now; more control with masks if needed.
I’m on a Mac. I went to Applications in the Finder and found the Topaz DeNoise program and copied it. Then I went to Photoshop in Applications, went to the plug-in folder, created a subfolder called Topaz DeNoise AI, and pasted the program in to it. I repeated for Topaz Sharpen. After I did that they both showed up under the filters menu when I opened Photoshop. If you’re using Windows I would assume you just find where the Photoshop program is installed and do the same thing. They showed up in Lightroom without my doing anything.
For masking, using PS is the way to go. Topaz’ masking is horrible — you have to do it all in one click. Click again, and you start over. I’ve had no luck sending RFE’s to software vendors, but if you don’t need PS on an image but do need masking, PS is forced on you. 🙁
Agree. Use PS for masks which is my workflow anyway. All part of the creative process.
Thanks for all you do, Matt.
Okay, so what is the “one really great software program that doesn’t come out with new paid versions every 12 months or so.”? Just curious.
I don’t know. I said “I can’t think of one really great…” because I can’t think of one 🙂
Thanks Matt! Great summary. I did also buy the full course and look forward to going through it as well.
Matt, thank you for all your effort on this topic. I did as you said. I downloaded the free version, tried it on my images, loved the results and bought . As always you give the whys which is very helpful to me. This has been a 2 year decision for me as I had other software that worked. I have no intention of now looking for something that may be better like many of the professional software buyers will.