After my review here on the blog of the Lucis Pro 6 plug-in (link), I had a number of readers asking if I had tried the Topaz Adjust plug-in, as they felt it gave a similar high-contrast look for a fraction of Lucis Pro’s nearly $600 price tag (Topaz Adjust sells for $49).

So, I downloaded the Topaz Adjust Photoshop plug-in a few months ago and have been using it when I got the right type of image to edit, and I wanted to share my thoughts on the plug-in and give some examples.

DISCLAIMER: If you hate this high-contrast, under saturated, over-sharpened looking effect, please just skip this post altogether.

Initial Thoughts
When I first started using Topaz Adjust, it was still on version 2 and while I liked the effects themselves, the interface was….well….it needed some work. Luckily, the latest version (version 3), is a big improvement when it comes to Interface issues and most of my gripes from the previous version have been addressed.

While I know that both Lucis Art’s plug-ins and Topaz Adjust do numerous effects, what people seem to be buying these for primarily is the extreme contrast, almost illustrated, hyper-sharp look that’s so popular, so I’m going to focus on that area of the plug in.

The Results
Taking the plug-in through its paces:

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First, let’s look at our unretouched original (above), then let’s open the Topaz Adjust plug-in (shown below).

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The resizable filter window (shown above) has a number of presets along the left side, and it has a decent-sized thumbnail so you can see a preview of how a particular effect will look before you even click on it. (You click on the thumbnail to apply a look. You can scroll through the effects and see them applied in the larger preview window using the Up/Down arrow keys on your keyboard, which is very handy.)

If you find a preset you like, you just click OK, and the filter is applied (it took 24 seconds to apply the filter on a 12-megapixel image on my MacBook Pro laptop).

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The image above has the preset “Psychedelic” applied, which I thought looked fairly close the same effect you’d get with the Lucis Pro filter.

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The effect seemed a little over the top, so after I applied it, I went immediately under Photoshop’s Edit menu and chose Fade, then I lowered the intensity to just 60% (as seen in the image above).

If you want to tweak the settings, there are a row of tabs under the main Preview window where you can tweak the Exposure, Detail, Color, and Noise.

Once I saw how the effect looked, I thought it would be interesting to see how the Topaz Adjust effect compared to the Lucis Pro plug-in look, so I went back to the original unretouched image and tried the Lucis Pro 6.0 plug-in (shown below).

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Here’s the Lucis Pro 6.0 Interface window. I lowered the Enhance Detail amount to 60 and clicked OK.

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You can see the effect looks fairly similar (shown above). I also wanted to compare the effect using the same image I had used in a previous article (the image is of rapper 10-Minute).

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Here’s the original image (above), right out of the camera.

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The image above has the Lucis Pro 6.0 plug-in applied at that same setting of 60.

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Here’s the same original image but with the Topaz Adjust filter applied (using the same Psychedelic preset). You can see the obvious green color cast on this image, so I hit “undo” and then went back to the filter to tweak the settings.

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Here’s the same filter with just one setting tweaked: I clicked on the Color tab and lowered the Adaptive Saturation amount to zero. How did I know which slider to adjust? I didn’t. I just dragged each one back and forth until I found one that did it. I know—pretty high-tech, eh? ;-)

The Bottomline
While the underlying mathematical algorithm in the Lucis Pro 6.0 plug-in will probably produce a technically better image with less noise, they both create a somewhat similar effect. However, in my opinion there are three big advantages that the Topaz Adjust plug-in has that really tip the scales in its favor big time.

  1. The affordable $49 price tag. That’s nearly $550 cheaper than the Lucis Pro 6.0 plug-in. Yikes!
  2. The fact that it doesn’t require a hardware dongle (like the Lucis Pro plug-in does), is huge. In fact, the whole hardware dongle thing with Lucis Pro is a deal killer for me right off the bat, and I know a lot of people feel the same way.
  3. The thumbnail previews, and ability to toggle through them live, is a big advantage and makes the tool that much more usable.

Thus far, the plug-in has performed flawlessly for me (not a single problem on two different machines), but as I mentioned; it’s not the fastest plug-in in town. That’s really shouldn’t be an issue, unless you’re applying this look to a few hundred photos (and I’m praying you don’t).

NOTE: The most common way I use this plug-in, is to duplicate the layer; apply the filter on this duplicate layer, then hide this layer behind a layer mask (Option/Alt click the Layer Mask icon), then just reveal the effect where I want it by painting in white with a soft-edged brush.

While both plug-ins will do much more than I’ve outlined here, if you’re looking for this particular look, and you want a plug-in to do all the heavy lifting for you, it’s hard to beat what Topaz Adjust offers at such an incredibly affordable price.

You can download a free fully-working trial version from the Topaz Labs website, and give it a try yourself.