I came across Topaz Clarity a little while back, after hearing photographers say that it gives excellent control of contrast and tones. At the time I trialled it, I had been working on some extremely difficult low contrast files that I felt needed work on their micro-contrast and mid-tone separation (that I did not seem to be able to get right in Adobe Lightroom alone). After only a few images, I found it so useful that I bought it and so I am going to show you a quick example of this software in action, as well as outline its key features.
I’m going to keep this short and sweet: Why would you want to buy such a program when you can bend curves around extensively in LR or other software? Well, as sophisticated as Adobe Lightroom may be, its tools for hitting highlight, mid-tone and shadow contrast are limited in precision. It is difficult to target these specific parts of the curve and make controlled, repeatable adjustments. What’s more, if micro-contrast is where you want to see more separation, Lightroom’s Clarity slider can have nasty unwanted side effects, often resulting a very artificial look when over used. There is also a global effect that I personally detest and aim to avoid at all costs! Thankfully, Topaz Clarity allows you to make very subtle (or bold) changes in at various points on the tone curve, with greater control and a more natural end result.
Take the below example of a file that I used a while back to compare the Leica Monochrom and the Ricoh GR for B&W. I figured it would be a great quick’n dirty example, because the brickwork is somewhat lacking in microcontrast. Were this a real scene, rather than a test shot, I would want to bring out better separation in the mids and boost micrcontrast in the brickwork, without giving the game away with too much of Lightroom’s clarity slider. Yes, I would have the option of using local brush adjustments, but as a rule, it is very handy to have appropriate global tools up our sleeves before we move into local adjustments.
Now lets look at the Topaz Clarity adjusted file. All I did here was add about 15 points of microcontrast and about the same for the mid tone contrast slider. I then brought the file back into LR, added a little bit of a shadow boost (13 points) and -10 highlights. The look not dissimilar, but you can see the slight difference. I have chosen settings that will allow you to see the difference easily.
When we compare the sectional crops (these are 1500 pixel files so click to open full-size) the adjustments made in Topaz Clarity are more evident.
This program has uses far beyond B&W work and you will see some examples on the manufacture’s website that will make that clear. It seems to be pitches in the same way as the Clearview component of DxO Optics Pro 10, which also offers an ease and punchiness that is not readily extracted from Lightroom in a few clicks. As usual, there are plenty of presets to choose from if you want to go that route.
I’m not going to say much more; however, I would encourage keen B&W shooters to do a free trial of Topaz Clarity. Its not expensive, it integrates into LR very nicely, it is fast (seems stable) and adds another string to your bow. Just remember, its not always about whether something can be done just as well in another program (such as with Photoshop), but which is easier and works more intuitively for you. Personally, I dislike almost everything about Photoshop and so I would rather work in LR with plugins like this when I need that little bit more ‘something’. YMMV! My only grumble is that the plug in does not seem to operate at the same resolution as my HD screen, meaning I get a much better perception of what I actually have once back in Lightroom. Its a bit of a nuisance and one some occasions it has resulted in having to go back into Clarity and change the settings somewhat, but I cannot argue with the end results and that’s what counts!
P.S Watch out for discounts. I recall picking up Clarity for about $34.99 or $39.99, rather than the full $49.99 its on sale for at the time of writing.