Developer: Topaz Labs
System Requirements: Intel Mac, Mac OS X v10.4 or later, Photoshop, Photoshop Elements, or iPhoto/Aperture/Lightroom through FusionExpress (free download)
Review Computer: 2GHz Intel Core 2 Duo MacBook, 4GB DDR2 RAM
Price: $79.99 standalone, $179.99 as part of the Topaz Photoshop Plug-In Bundle
Availability: Out now
Photos looking a little dull in the details? Less than exciting around the edges? Not crisp from corner to corner? Topaz Labs’ Detail plug-in takes otherwise flat images and gives digital photographers complete control over enhancing contrast and sharpness while providing a powerful tool for intensifying image detail. In addition to the edge enhancement, a complete range of color and tone tools are also available. Overly soft focus, details burnt out by lighting, or images that are simply not as visually exciting as they could be can benefit from Detail’s ability to enhance contrast and sharpness detail without introducing edge artifacts into the image.
Detail, like all the Topaz plug-ins, uses several presets as a starting point, depending on the desired adjustment. Presets range from common adjustment tasks like a black and white high contrast filter to a soft look filter to a skin smoothing and brightening filter. The danger with Detail and its closely related plug-in, Adjust, is that many of these adjustments can quickly devolve an image from genuine art into a kitschy Photobooth-esque snapshot. The soft look filter, applied in the right circumstances, can add a dreamlike quality to photos, but a fine line exists between dreamy wedding shots and second rate glamor shots á la Napoleon Dynamite. Judicious use of the soft looking filter in combination with some edge softening and desaturation lend an old South feel to this shot of Paula Deen’s restaurant in Savannah:
The advanced options in Detail provide the user the ability to more precisely manipulate the detail parameters the program uses to identify edges. Images are broken down into small, medium, and large detail regions, and the advanced options give fine grained control over the presence of each detail size, as well as a boost/suppression option for controlling the detail intensity. Landscape photographers have several options for increasing the level of detail available in their images, ranging from micro contrast enhancement (which makes grass and leaves pop), to a Deep Blue Sky preset, to a Spring Green filter. In this urban example image, small and medium detail was increased, while large detail was suppressed. This served to enhance the clouds and brick walkway while softening the look of the water.
Detail excels as an all-around portrait photographer’s tool. Wedding or family photographers will appreciate the plug-in’s softening capabilities, which can add that sentimental haze or remove harsher details. On the other end of the spectrum, Detail can provide photographs with the kind of gritty high-contrast images that Dorothea Lange was famous for (Google “Migrant Mother” for the iconic example). The ability to specifically target a level of detail is this tool’s greatest strength; rather than meddling with contrast or exposure for the entire image, it is possible to apply settings to just the desired details. Even impromptu portraits can get a dash of zing, like this example which benefited from the Color Jump filter and some additional small detail boosting to bring out the grass and clouds.
Whether used for serious detail enhancement or kitschy photo effects, Topaz Labs’ Detail plug-in is a winner all around. When it is not possible to get the perfect shot, Detail can save a mediocre shot with simple presets configured for a variety of different effects. When it is possible to get the perfect shot, Detail can make it even better by allowing fine-grained control over three levels of image sharpness and color/tone balance.