Digital Outback Photo
- Photography using Digital SLRs


Workflow Techniques #093

"Akvis: Enhancer for local contrast improvements" (Mac & PC)

review diary by Uwe Steinmueller


Second opinion by Jim Collum

Akvis Enhancer V5.0

Recently we got very excited about the "Tone Mapping" plugin by HDR Soft. Akvis Enhancer serves kind of the same purpose but is not based on HDR (High Dynamic Range) imaging.

We recommend to use Enhancer on 16-bit images although the plugin also works with 8-bit images.

Best we explain what Enhancer does with a sample workflow session.

Right out of the RAW converter

Yes, the shadow part of this image could be improved but it would be very hard to get close to what Enhancer can do for you. We duplicate the background layer and apply Enhancer:

Akvis Enhancer dialog

Akvis comes with 4 sliders:

  • Shadows (open up shadows, default is 0)
  • Highlights (tone down highlights, default is 0)
  • Level of Detail (this is the setting to improve the local contrast, default is 5)
  • Lightness (Adjust overall luminosity, default 50)

In most cases the default values are a very good starting point. For this picture we also wanted to open up the shadows a bit more. On Macs the window can be resized but unfortunately not on the PCs. This is not a very big deal because at some point you know what the best values are for a certain image. Because the algorithms are quite complex it takes some time to process the image.

Image after Enhancer

Easy to see how much enhancer improved the photo. We needed only some sharpening in EasyS Plus and final levels to reach this result:

Here is a comparison of some details between original and final image:

100% magnification crop of the original image

100% magnification crop of the final image

Because Enhancer shows more local contrast it also amplifies the noise a bit:

100%magnification of original image

100% magnification of final image

You can minimize the noise by using layer masks.

All pictures processed with Enhancer show a more 3-D look.

Issues with Enhancer

  • We had crashes with large P45 images on the Quad Mac
  • You may need to tune your Photoshop settings to work with Enhancer (PC)
  • PC preview window cannot be resized
  • We would like to be able to save settings
  • The preview is not fully color managed

Overall we like Enhancer a lot and don't want to be without it. Best you download a trial version and test it yourself. Be sure to try Enhancer on many images. You like find that Enhancer is a keeper.

Highly recommended


What to use: Tone Mapping or Enhancer?

We recommend both because they have different strengths. Best you test both tools with your own images. Both tools have a fixed place in our toolbox. We often use first Tone Mapping to open up shadows and finally Enhancer for optimal micro contrast.

If you intend to buy Enhancer please use this link because you help to sponsor Digital Outback Photo.

Second opinion on Enhancer by Jim Collum

As I’ve mentioned in previous articles, I’m a detail oriented person (at least in what I shoot photographically). Most of my images are about texture, and for that to be properly conveyed, there needs to be a realistic feeling of detail. One way to bring this out in an image is with local contrast enhancement. I’ve tried various actions and plug-ins, but have finally settled on one in particular… Akvis’s Enhancer plug-in.

It’s been a love-frustration relationship with the product. With a single frame Canon 1Ds Mk2 image, the world was a happy place. Running Enhancer brought out micro-detail with ease. Most of my images, however, consist of multiple 1Dsmk2 frames stitched, or Betterlight images (9000x12000), and more recently, Betterlight panoramas (6000 x 15,000 – 9,000 x 60,000).

Version 4.2 has changed most of that. It will process my largest 1dsmk2 panoramas and my Betterlight images up to 9,000 x 12,000. It still has a problem with images with any length greater then 20,000 pixels though. This should only bother a very small percentage of those who would want to use it.

Enhancer Dialog

The UI is very minimalist. The Shadows slider controls the detail found in the shadows, the Highlights controls the highlights (pretty intuitive if you ask me). The Level of Detail slider is where most of the work is done, and this ranges from 0 to 15. Below, I’ve shown the 0,5,10 and 15 settings on a sample crop. The lightness slider varies from 0 to 100, and will make the overall brightness of the image darker or lighter.


Settings 0

Settings 5

Settings 10

Settings 15

Although the product is very usable as it is, I’d like to see a few workflow based enhancements. There’s really no way to include this in an action that you can apply to a folder full of images. You can’t pass it parameters that would allow repeatable results from one run to the next. Also, the sliders don’t have the accuracy necessary to allow you to duplicate one run to another. There appears to be values between the integers displayed. If you select 5, process an image, and then select 5, but move it to the right a little, but not enough to hit 6, then the results are different. In an ideal world, I’d like to be able to process images with more than 20,000 pixels, but I suspect that user base isn’t a very large one. It would also be nice to resize the plug-in window, and to view areas at 100% to allow for more precise tuning.

Despite my mentioned shortcomings, this is an excellent product, with a development team that has listened to bugs and enhancement suggestions. It’s ease of use, and quality of it’s output, makes it a plug-in that I use during most of my image processing.

Akvis Enhancer 5.0

Enhancer 5.0 now allows batch processing in Photoshop. A very welcome improvement.


If you intend to buy Enhancer please use this link because you help to sponsor Digital Outback Photo.




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