Topaz JPEG to RAW AI – Review

I have been testing a beta version of Topaz Labs latest ‘AI’ tool – JPEG to RAW. What can this tool do?

Here’s what Topaz told me:

Topaz JPEG to RAW AI that allows you to edit JPEGs as if you originally shot them in RAW. 

This machine-learning powered software will:

  • Recover shadow / highlight detail and expand dynamic range
  • Expand bit depth from 8-bit to 16-bit, color space from sRGB to ProPhoto
  • Remove JPEG compression artifacts
  • Fix some common issues caused by small sensors or low camera quality, like noise / chromatic aberration
  • Convert the actual file format to DNG (or TIFF)

This software is available NOW…

Why would you want to do this?

RAW vs JPEG

The debate about RAW vs JPEG has always been one about quality vs convenience.

RAW files have the following advantages:

  • Significantly higher bit depth
  • Significantly more flexibility when it comes to editing
  • Better control over white balance
  • Far better post processing possibilities
  • JPEGs compress the image, throwing away some image data. RAW files don’t.

JPEGs, however, have these advantages:

  • Provided you got the shot right, the image is ready straight from the camera, saving time
  • Far smaller files, saving space and speeding up your camera as it has less data to write
  • They make you a better photographer because you’re not relying on using a computer to improve your image afterwards.

I can see both sides to the argument… But, from a technical point of view, RAW always has advantages over JPEGs because RAW files allow for far better image enhancement and shadow recovery. If you have a JPEG that is ‘almost right’ there are limitations that govern how far you can go to make corrections. You can do far more with the same ‘almost right’ RAW picture…

But what if you can turn that JPEG back into a RAW file? Would you then be able to do far more to it? Well, that’s what this software claims…

iPhone Photo Test

My first test was to take a quick picture with my iPhone – a 12mp JPEG:

Original iPhone JPEG The iPhone picture

Hardly a work of art but the sky is lacking detail and that’s a good candidate for a test. If this were a RAW image taken with a dSLR  I would be able to bring out significant detail in it.

I used JPEG to RAW AI and converted it into a 16 bit TIFF file and then loaded the new 16 bit TIFF into Photo Ninja and enhanced the image:

16 bit TIF edited in Photo Ninja 16 bit TIF edited in Photo Ninja

I didn’t push the editing too far and the result is quite good.

I then applied the SAME settings to the original iPhone image:

The iPhone image, edited The iPhone image, edited

Even in this reduced size image, the differences are clear. Now, lets look at some 100% comparison crops, with the edited iPhone jpeg on the left and the edited converted TIFF on the right:

Sky The JPEG version has far worse artefacts in it
Bricks The colours and saturation of the bricks are far better in the converted TIFF
Cars Curiously, the TIFF version has more artefacts in window’s reflections. Weird.

Aside from the car window reflections, the results of the edit are far superior in the 16 bit TIFF to the JPEG. Yet this 16 bit TIFF was created from the JPEG. This shows that Topaz JPEG to RAW AI  is really doing something a bit special. Actually, a lot special.

DSLR Image

I then took a favourite DSLR RAW image and converted it without any image adjustments, to a JPEG. Then I converted it to a 16 bit TIF file using JPEG to RAW AI .

Then, using DXO Photo Lab I opened the original RAW file and made a preset from the RAW development settings. I processed both the 8 bit JPEG and the newly created 16 bit TIF using the same presets to see how things compared:

Processed from AI JPEG to RAW file
DXO RAW Conversion Image developed from the original RAW file

There aren’t obvious differences between the two results. Look at the closeups and judge for yourself:

In all these images, the image on the right was produced by DXO from the original RAW file. The image on the left was produced by DXO from the 16 bit TIF file that Topaz JPEG to RAW AI created from this JPEG file:

Original JPEG File

Amazingly, there is very little difference between the two. Somehow, Topaz JPEG to RAW AI has managed to recreate, from a JPEG file, a 16 bit file that contains virtually as much detail as the original RAW file. Honestly, I have never seen anything get anywhere near doing this before.

But could I have edited the JPEG just as well?

A good question. I, therefore, ran the JPEG file through DXO and here are some results, with the JPEG edit on the right and the Topaz JPEG to RAW AI 16 bit TIF on the left:

Converted JPEG vs Topaz
Converted JPEG vs Topaz
Converted JPEG vs Topaz

The converted JPEG’s limitations are clear – there is more noise and horrible artefacts in them. The sharpness and colours are worse too.

How does it work?

I’m speculating here as I have no insider knowledge about what Topaz JPEG to RAW AI  is actually doing. But, as an experienced software developer who has written RAW converters, I can tell you what it is not doing. It is not simply converting each JPEG 8 bit pixel into a 16 bit pixel by a simple mathematical process. If it did that, the results wouldn’t be anywhere near as good. Somehow, this software seems to be able to recreate the lost information in the JPEG and build a credible 16 bit image from it.

This is no mean feat and it is NOT easy to do this. It reminds me of a favourite Doctor Who quote:

When something goes missing you can always recreate it from the hole it left…

That’s easy to say in a science fiction series, but to actually manage to do it in software is much harder. Again, well done to Topaz Labs!

Can it be improved?

Yes, of course. And I’m sure they will do so. The reflections in the car’s windscreen shows that there are some scenarios that the software doesn’t handle so well, but it’s early days and Topaz Labs have a history of making good improvements to their tools.

Do you need it?

I had thought of a bunch of reasons, but there is one, simple one, for getting this software:

If you ever need to do any non-trivial edits to a JPEG, this software will benefit you.

Pros

  • Can produce a 16 bit TIF or DNG from any JPEG
  • Enables far higher quality edits to be performed on a JPEG
  • Enables far more aggressive edits to be performed on a JPEG
  • One off price with free updates forever. You really do own this software.,

Cons

  • Initial conversion is slow. We’re talking minutes, not seconds, for any DSLR sized image.

Limitations

I haven’t tested it to its limits, but software of this sort always needs a decent image to start with. If you present it a poor, dull, under exposed, highly compressed,600 x 400 pixel jpeg, don’t expect miracles. But give it a half decent jpeg and it may well surprise you.

Recommendation

Every now and again a piece of software comes along that virtually demands to be bought. This is one of them. Unless you exclusively shoot RAW files then this software is a must. You will then be able to edit your files more effectively and more aggressively. Even if you shoot RAW most of the time, this software is so useful. If a RAW image gets lost or corrupt but you have a JPEG of it then all is not lost!

Topaz JPEG to RAW AI can currently be purchased at a reduced price of $79.00…

 

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