Athentech’s Perfectly Clear plug-in for Photoshop is one of several automated or piloted solutions which can improve dull digital images. Those are the images where you should never hit ‘Auto Levels’ in Photoshop! If you ever do, read on.
If you have ever seen an inkjet print – in particular one with light skin tones – where an unpleasant brassy yellow gives way to bald white in the highlights, you’ve seen a bad adjustment of Photoshop Levels probably achieved using Auto Levels or an Action.
Then again, if you’ve seen a page of thumbnails from a sales ordering site and thought just how dull and flat they all looked, you’ll know why many photographers use functions like Auto Exposure in Lightroom, or hit the Auto Levels command.
Getting the veiled, dull look of many digital images to change to a film-like tonal scale and clarity is not always easy.
Athentech has produced a PS/LR plug-in called Perfectly Clear, soon also to have a stand-along mode, which we compare (in its default use) overleaf with similar functions from onOne and NIK.
Perfectly Clear works on the image without leaving a trail of layer processes, instead relying on an RGB engine which adjusts contrast and saturation in a slightly different manner to Photoshop default. It does not require the image to be flattened after use, and in Photoshop CS5 the ‘Fade’ command can be used in place of Layer Opacity setting to fine-tune the result. It’s easy to process successive images using the Filter menu repeat command, or to create an Action for Batch processing.
The RGB adjustment engine recognises the clipping limits and relative levels of each channel, avoiding the fixed-relationship adjustments which lead to colour shifts in the highlights and visible clipping.
Testing Perfectly Clear, it proved very hard to replicate its tonal adjustments using Adobe Camera Raw. It would call for a custom contrast curve, as Perfectly Clear preserves both colour saturation and detail in highlight areas while brightening critical shadow tones and steepening the contrast slope in midtones. It’s difficult to do this without flattening highlight separation.
A clue to the value of Perfectly Clear may be that I ran many recently processed images through this plug-in. The only control I disabled was the sharpness enhancer; a Custom preset created with your own adjustments can be saved and named to join the menu of basic ones provided.
After putting only one or two images through the plug-in my standard processing looked dull and lifeless. There is still a risk involved. You can become seduced by the extra snap and impact of processed files and wonder why your camera does not produce this out of the box. You may become ‘desensitised’ to normal standards.
For those who own onOne software, PhotoTune 3 can do much the same – and NIK’s Color Efex 3 and Viveza modules are both alternatives.
Perfectly Clear does seem to have a better image analysis function – safer to run automatically – and was generally faster and simpler. It takes highlights to a slightly brighter level, without damaging them, than the two closest rival presets when used for Landscape processing.
Is a single plug-in worth £149.95 inc VAT, the price from distributors Fotospeed?
Unlike onOne or NIK solutions (also sold by Fotospeed), the end result of an auto process using Perfectly Clear is a flat JPEG, not a two-layer Photoshop file needing flattening before a JPEG can be saved. In many workflows, this matters.
The results from Portrait processing (this page) suggest Perfectly Clear is the best with colour and tone; the Landscape results (next spread) are less conclusive with PC having slightly darker shadows but brighter highlights www.fotospeed.com