Topaz Labs

You probably already heard of Topaz Labs. The are the creators of many different photo editing software and Photoshop plugins. And today they have a new one.

The Topaz JPEG to RAW AI allows you to take a JPEG and convert it into a RAW. Quoting from Topaz, it uses machine learning to help you recover shadows/highlights, expand color depth, remove JPEG compression artifacts, save results as DNG or TIFF files.

I got to try the pre-access version, and since the full one goes on sale today, I will share with you some of my though about it.

Topaz JPEG to RAW AI

Topaz JPEG to RAW AI has a very simple interface. You could call it a image converter, as that’s all it provides. It converts your JPEG into a RAW. You can only choose the input file, choose how strong the noise and blur reduction is and then the output path. You can then choose you output format, being either DNG or TIFF.

Topaz JPEG to RAW AI

In the first version I got, I was not able to open the DNG results in Camera raw or Lightroom, but there was an update since then and now both results work fine.

So all you need to do here, is to load the file and save the result. It take up to a minute to create it, based on the photo used.

Result examples

I did not take a JPEG photo in a very long time. So to try this out, I vent back into my photo library, and I chosen few photos from my photography beginnings.

So fist, let’s look at this photo taken in Liverpool in 2009. There are a lot of shadow areas, so it would be a good candidate for conversion. In all screenshots you will see the original JPEG on the left, the converted DNG on the right. (all these screenshots are quite big, as you would need to see it bigger to see the details)

First impression is, that it cleans up the chromatic aberrations very well. It also added a lot of clarity and sharpness to the photo. In the zoomed image you can see it quite noticeably on the buildings decorations.

But lets open the shadows, and let’s see what effect it will have there. I put shadows to +100 and added one stop of exposure to both version in Lightroom.

I especially like how clear the sign looks in the DNG version. While the overall brightness in the DNG did not change, the photo is much cleaner, sharper, the clarity is much better. Overall is much crisper than the JPG.

I tried to match the result I got using Lightroom, but no luck. Each time I bumped the noise reduction, I would get a blury mess, not a nice crisp result as I got from the Topaz JPEG to RAW AI.

Let’s look at two more photos. The results are quite the same. The boost in clarity and sharpens is quite high (maybe even too much on the nature photo), but I have not noticed much of dynamic range expansion.

If you want to check it out for yourself, here are the original JPGs and the TIFF and DNG conversions for download.

Overall, Topaz JPEG to RAW AI can give quite an impressive result. Will probably never use it on one of my newer photos, but if I need to enhance and older one, or a mobile photo, I give it a try. Also in times when I need to edit a photo for a client, and they only have a JPG, this can come in handy.

If I’m not mistaken, there should be a trial available, so head over to Topaz Labs website to give it a try.

Nisi Natural Night filter – first impressions

Recently I got the Nisi Filter holder for the Laowa 12mm lens, and also the Nisi V5 Pro holder for all my other lenses (have not doe my fist impressions on that, but will get to it soon :)) and while ordering those, the Natural Night filter from Nisi caught my eye. As I do a lot of night photos, and the cities in Europe, especially the old towns, are lit by crazy strong yellow lights, I thought this might be useful.

Nisi Natural Night filter

I only had it for few days now, but I managed to go out and try it out. I’m far from reaching a conclusion on it, and I’m not yet sure if it’s worth the price. I tried to edit the unfiltered images so they look like the filtered ones, and I got quite close. But I do have to say, I liked the results with the filter more, especially the blue of the sky. I plan to use it in Dubai in two weeks, so after that it would be easier to judge.

For now, here are few test shots. Each one I took with and without the filter. In some, there can be a bit of zooming out or in, as each time I was putting on or removing the filter, I managed to move the camera really slightly.

Comparison images

Each pair of photos here, is a photo without the filter used, and a photo with the filter used. You can also download the source RAW files here of all these photos, if you want to compare for yourself. I included also DNG versions, in case you can’t open CR2 files from the 5D mark IV. Each time I used the same settings (the photo with the filter is darker, as one looses around half a stop of light by using it), and with auto white balance. The only edit done is that, few of them are brightened, but it’s the same amount with and without filter.

Btw. the redness in the light in the filtered ones, can be very easily removed by tweaking the Red Primary slider under Camera calibration in Lightroom.

Nisi Natural Night filterNo filter
Nisi Natural Night filterNight light filter
Nisi Natural Night filterNo filter
Nisi Natural Night filterNight light filter
Nisi Natural Night filterNo filter
Nisi Natural Night filterNight light filter

Nisi 100mm Holder for Laowa 12mm

In my first impressions article about the Laowa 12mm f2.8 lens, I also mentioned that I ordered a filter holder for it. There are actually two different ones available. There is one directly from Laowa (in two variants), and then there is this one from Nisi. I could not find many comparisons, but from those that I found, it looked like the Nisi one was the better option.


Whats great about this holder (and also the Laowa one), is that you can use this ultra wide angle lens with 100x100mm filters, and with a relatively small polarizer (86mm). Normally, if you have a 14mm lens or a wider one, you have not only to use special holders, but you need bigger filters, 150x150mm or even 180x180mm. This becomes much more pricier and of course also much harder to work with. The bigger the filter, the more chances to get it dirty, to break it and similar.

The build quality looks very nice. The metal base with the plastic holders look very well made and solid. The CPL goes in easily and rotates smoothly. Filters go in a bit harder, but I presume that’s because it’s new, and will change a bit over time.

The holder fits on the lens hood mount of the lens. I fits fine, but I think its a bit looser than it should be. When I tried to rotate the filter, I rotated the whole assembly. But I managed to fix this easily with a bit of sticky tape over the thread. Now it holds much more securely.

Nisi 100mm Holder for Laowa 12mm
Nisi 100mm Holder for Laowa 12mm
Nisi 100mm Holder for Laowa 12mm


The filter holder is in three parts. You get the adapter ring, the filter holder and a 86mm circular polarizer. Installation is very easy. Just screw in the polarizer into the adapter, than attach it to the lens, and put the filter holder over it. You then have two small wheels on the sides to rotate the polarizer. You then use it as any other filter holder.

Sample shots

I tried few shots with different setups, with and without the polarizer, with and without any filters or the holder. And here are few example shots, unedited, just to show the vignetting.

You can see, that the polarizer is visible a bit in the corners. But you can also see, that the effect the polarizer does is really not great. That a problem with polarizers on ultra wide angle lenses. But with a bit of moving around, I managed it to look a bit better, but not much. It more to be used in different situations, not on a blue sky.

With the filter holder and no polarizer, you can see almost nothing in the corners. But you have to rotate the holder exactly straight or you will see it a bit in the corners. On the shot with the filter attached, you can see parts of the corners covered. This is not from the holder, but from the gasket on the filter. I don’t have any Nisi filters, so I tried this with Fiber Hittech filters, and the gasket on those is a bit smaller than one would need here.

Nisi 100mm Holder for Laowa 12mm
Base image, no filter or holder attached.
Nisi 100mm Holder for Laowa 12mm
The polarizer attached, but rotated so it’s not visible.
Nisi 100mm Holder for Laowa 12mm
Polarizer rotated for maximum effect.
Nisi 100mm Holder for Laowa 12mm
No polarizer, but the filter holder attached.
Nisi 100mm Holder for Laowa 12mm
With 10 stop ND filter.
Nisi 100mm Holder for Laowa 12mm
With polarizer, 10 stop filter and 3 stop grad filter.

I will be using this more, and will post a full review in few weeks, after my Dubai trip. I think I will use this one there a lot :) Same for the Laowa 12mm lens.

LAOWA 12mm f/2.8 Zero-D lens – first impressions

I mentioned few days ago that I ordered a new lens, the LAOWA 12mm f/2.8 Zero-D from Venus Optics. And since the seller was very quick on delivery, I just got it today. And of course I immediately went out to try it out, and here I will share with you some of my fist impressions and fist photos I took. You can also get a full RAW file from one of the shot at the end of this post, so you can see the results of this lens for yourself.


The LAOWA 12mm f/2.8 Zero-D lens is a ultra wide angle lens with very small barrel distortion. It’s a fully metal build lens, that is completely manual. Here are the specsifications of it to be exact:

Focal length: 12mm, Aperture: 2.8 to 22, Angle of view: 121.96 degrees, Aperture Blades: 7, Weight: 609g.

A great thing, if you use filters is, that with either the Laowa or the Nisi filter holders designed for this lens, you can use standard 100x100mm square filters here. This is just great, as most of the time, you are forced with these ultra wide angle lenses to go with 150x150mm filters. Those are just less practical, and of course much pricier. My Nisi holder for this lens is already on the way, so I will revisit that soon.

LAOWA 12mm f/2.8 Zero-D lens - first impressions
LAOWA 12mm f/2.8 Zero-D lens - first impressions

Build quality

The build quality looks great. The lens is completely from metal, even the lens hood. It’s feels very solid and well build. It’s also relatively small for full frame lens. Regrettably its not weather sealed. The only plastic part is the lens cap, which is not attached the best way, but it is OK. The focus wheel and the aperture wheel feel smooth and the clicks of the apertures are easily recognizable.


This is a fully manual lens, so you have to focus and set everything yourself. Focusing was a bit stranger, as I had to rotate the focus ring much more than on other lenses, and for most of the time all is in focus anyway. It’s just how the ultra wide angle lenses are. The camera will not detect the F stop, so you will not see it on your screen or in Lightroom. I will have to get used to this over time.

My Canon 5D mark IV was able to detect exposure, but in the few test, it usually was around 1 stop brighter than I would think the correct exposure is. Still, if one compensates, this is not a problem.

How wide is 12mm?

You may wonder how wide is 12mm. So did I. So here is a comparison, with the camera on the same spot, with the same settings. All photos have the exact same RAW edits done in Lightroom, with also the same white balance. The 16,24 and 35mm shots were done with Canon 16-35mm f2.8 lens.

LAOWA 12mm f/2.8 Zero-D lens - first impressions
LAOWA 12mm f/2.8 Zero-D lens - first impressions
LAOWA 12mm f/2.8 Zero-D lens - first impressions
LAOWA 12mm f/2.8 Zero-D lens - first impressions

Picture quality

First impression is that is really good. The photos look sharp (its a bit misty and humid today, so I’m not making any final verdict from today’s photos), with very little distortion. There is some vignetting visible and even when that is removed, the corners feel a bit bluer than they should be. I will have to look into this more, but either way, it’s not so hard to remove.

The lens catches flares quite easily, but that is no surprise with such a wide lens. Again, with few simple techniques (check my guide here) they are easy to remove. I did so in the attached sample images.

RAW file

If you want to have a look, here is a RAW file from the 12mm shot shown in focal length comparison. You can have a look at the vignetting, chromatic aberrations and sharpness. But again, take into account the foggy weather (and that I used this lens only for few hours, should be better over time :)).

You can download the RAW file from here. If you cant open the CR2 file from the 5D mark IV, you can try this DNG conversion, that you can download from here.

Sample images

Here are few images to show how much you can get with this lens. The weather was not the best today, so they are not so great, but don’t worry, there will be more from this lens in the future :)

You can also see, this is really not the best for far away scenery. The city is just so tiny in the shot. Being close to big object is the complete opposite, you just get so much into one photo.

LAOWA 12mm f/2.8 Zero-D lens - first impressions
LAOWA 12mm f/2.8 Zero-D lens - first impressions
LAOWA 12mm f/2.8 Zero-D lens - first impressions

Luminar 2018 – review

Recently Macphun (now Skylum after the name change) released a new version of Luminar, the Luminar 2018. And since I had it for a while, and I had the ability to try it out with editing, here are my thought about it.

What is Luminar 2018

If I had to describe Luminar compared to other, mostly Adobe software I regulatory use, I would say it’s mostly similar to the develop part of Lightroom, without the library organization stuff, with some elements of Photoshop and from other plugins sprinkled in. It focuses on photo editing, so also all the tools that are available are photo centric.

Luminar 2018 review
Luminar 2018 review


When you first open Luminar, it almost seems barren. There are only few options and everything else is hidden. This is the biggest difference between Luminar and for instance Lightroom. While in Lightroom all options are open, and you change them directly. In Luminar you choose which ones you want to add. This makes it a bit less straight forward when you just want to quickly change something, but you could create a preset with the most used settings and just apply that to get to the start state you want. In the last update, they also added workspaces, which allows you to create sets of you most used filters and just add them all at once.

On the other hand, this allows for more freedom in editing. Again will compare this to Lightroom. Let’s say you want to darken the highlights. You move the slider completely to the left, and if you want to darken it more, you would have to use masks or gradients to get it darker. In Luminar, you just add the Highlights/Shadows filter again and again, as many times you want and so the effect multiplies. You can repeat an edit as many times you want.

Luminar 2018 review
Luminar 2018 review

User Interface

I went into Luminar without having a look at any tutorials or videos. Even so, withing maybe 15-20 minutes I got the hang of it and was onto editing. The UI is just so straight forwards. You open a photo, add filters to it, tweak the settings and repeat. There is also an option for using layers, if you want to modify parts of the photo or blend different effects, but the process is exactly the same as on the base layer.

While the UI is ok, there are small issues here and there I did not like. For instance, next to filter name are two arrows. One collapses the menu, the second one allows to reset the settings or delete the layer. And since if you click on the name, you get the same menu, it makes it needlessly hard to just collapse the filter. This can be so much simpler. Click on the name to collapse, and a bigger button to open the menu. Or where is the option to see the layer mask on the photo? The red overlay is pointless, especially if you use luminosity masks. And which luminosity mask is used?

For most of editing you will never encounter little inconsistencies like this. But I go directly to this, more advanced stuff, and there is a bit of maturity missing in some parts of the program.


Luminar offers all of the basic features you would expect from a photo editing program but also a lot of advanced ones. From RAW development, to structure, radiance, clarity, dramatic, fog, polarizer, sharpenind, noise reduction and many more. Luminar also comes with a lot of predefined presets, so if you are really lazy, you can just use those and don’t even bother with the filters.

Again as mentioned, Luminar combines features that you would find in software like Lightroom, Photoshop, Color effex and others. It tries to put them all in one place for a more convenient approach to editing. Since you don’t see them all at once, it does not feel as overwhelming as with some other softwares.


Performance was a bit of a hit and miss for me. It worked fine most of the time, but then I also experienced some slow downs and problems. Especially when I tried to brush in a new layers, it would not update properly and instead of the brush strokes I seen just black squares. I tried it both on a Surface Pro 4 with i5 and 8gb of ram and also on a desktop with i7 and 32gb of ram, and I seen no huge difference in performance. You still have to wait a second or so for an filter to be applied.

Luminar 2018 review
Luminar 2018 review


Luminar does a lot of things very well. For a lot of photographers it could be the only program they would need to edit their photos. For me, it’s not enough. Where you need only to use filters on your photos, it’s great, it lacks short the moment you need to do more with layers and masks. Photoshop is just better there. I seen a lot of additions just within weeks, so it may be that one day it will be enough also for that. They are already teasing a library addition. With that could completely replace Lightroom, so I will revisit it once that is added, to see how it looks.

But if you are in a market for a new editing software or you are just a begginer, you should give it a try. Could be just what you are looking for.

You can see more about Luminar on the Skylum website here. If you decide to buy, you can use the code HDRSHOOTER for 10USD off.

To see all other reviews on the blog, please visit the Reviews category here.

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