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Topaz Labs Plug-in Bundle: Adjust 4

Reviewer: Bruce M. Herman, AAUG member
Topaz Labs Plug-in Bundle: Adjust 4
Topaz Labs
$49.99 purchased alone, $199.99 with the Topaz Plug-in bundle

Pros: Excellent tool quickly fine tuning a photograph or for dramatically changing it to create an entirely new art work; excellent tutorials

Cons: Works on entire photograph – can’t be brushed on except through use of history brush

Moose: 4.5 out of 5
Test platform: Mac Pro with OS X v 10.6.6with 64 bit extensions, 14 GB RAM, Photoshop CS5, Aperture 3.
Conflict of interest: Topaz Labs provided a free copy of Topaz Labs Plug-in Suite to the AAUG for the purpose of the review.

Topaz labs Plug-in Bundle contains numerous special purpose plug-ins.  But Topaz Labs Adjust 4 is the one plug-in that seems to attempt to combine a little bit of everything you need to quickly make anything from minor adjustments to wholesale, dramatic changes to a photograph. Layout is typical of the topaz Labs plug-ins, with preset adjustments on the left panel, individual sliders for modifying the photograph on the right panel and the photograph, itself, in the middle portion of the interface.  In this case, I’ll briefly summarize the tools and then the presets which illustrate the range of uses for the tools.
The tools palette has four groups of functions: Exposure, Details, Color and Noise.  Adaptive Exposure is the primary slider in the Exposure menu.  Its purpose is to “even out” the exposure across the image.  You can control its effect by using the Regions slider to increase the number of regions into which the image is divided when Adaptive Exposure is applied.  In practice, I found that moderate to high values of Adaptive Exposure impacted contrast and detail enhancement.  Large values of both settings resulted in a very crunchy look to the photograph.  But more modest settings, especially when combined with the contrast and brightness generally created an image that showed more detail and improved dynamic range.  The Highlight slider protects the highlights from blowing out.  Similarly, the Shadow tool prevents dark from becoming too dark. The only thing that I miss is having a probe that shows the luminosity value.  My own eyes don’t discern subtle difference among very bright whites.
The Details functions is a subset of the tools available in the Topaz Labs Detail 2 plug-in.  The individual sliders have been structured to control the size of detail that is enhanced.  As in Detail 2, it is relatively easy to enhance detail.  Were it not for the names on some of the presets, I would not have thought about decreasing detail with this set of tools.   It is in fact difficult to decrease detail smoothly and predictably over the entire image, especially when compared to the ease with which this is accomplished with the Simplify 3 plug-in.
The Color group is primarily concerned with saturation.  Adaptive Saturation and its own Regions slider can be used together to make the saturation level more uniform across an image.  The Saturation Boost enhances the saturation of less saturated colors.  I find the Hue slider a bit awkward compared to sliders that handle individual colors, but that is a personal choice.
The Noise group can be used to diminish noise contained in the original image, as well as a control on fine details that are brought out in the Details group of sliders.  I strongly suggest checking “Use Topaz DeNoise” because it is more effective.
The left side of the interface has a large number of presets.  These presets are quite useful starting points for making straightforward adjustments to exposure or creating a new work of art from your photograph.  Two of my favorites are “Spicify” and “Sketch – Dark Charcoal”.  Spicify gives a photograph the look of an HDR image in which the colors were enhanced.  I preferred Spicify to either of the HDR presets, “HDR-Pop” or “HDR-Sketch”, because the latter two tended to lower the overall contrast too much for my taste.  I’ve found quite a few relatively bland images that were dramatically improved by Spicify: they literally were spiced!  (Sorry, I couldn’t help myself.)  Sketch – Dark Charcoal produced a wonderfully dramatic black and white image.  The only drawback to this selection is that it greatly enhances noise in broad areas of uniform color.  In older scans made with an Artixscan 1800f scan lines became visible.  This did not occur with scans made with my Eversmart Supreme, so use with caution if you scan with a consumer level scanner.  Looking to the other presets, I found that no one preset worked equally well for every photograph.  Take the time to try them all.  I’m sure that you’ll find one that gives a new and interesting interpretation to your photographs.
Topaz Labs Adjust 4 is a difficult product to rate.  It does a number of things quite well: it reigns in extremes in exposure and creates some interesting alternatives to the straightforward photograph.  I don’t think that it achieves the level of control over detail that the combination of Detail 2 and Simplify 3 does.  Adjust 4 gives you access to the very powerful DeNoise algorithm.  So it has some but not all of the functionality that you might need.  That’s not an issue if you purchase the Topaz Labs Plug-In suite.  If I were going to change this plug-in, I would add some of the capability of Simplify 3.  This is not a one stop solution for moving your photographs to a new level, but it covers quite a lot.  I give it 4.5 out of 5 moose as a stand alone plug-in.  It makes a vital contribution to the plug-in suite.  Just get it and use it!Thumbnail preview

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