The current version of Perfectly Clear is still being marketed as Perfectly Clear 3.5, but the actual version number is now 3.10. Since this latest version works as a stand-alone besides being a plug-in to several other demosaickers, I thought I’d give it a spin. It seems to be a program that some swear by while others ignore it. You’ll notice that I’m first and foremost concerned with the quality of the output, and therefore have a raw workflow in mind. If you would also only pay for software that delivers great image quality down to the last pixel, then this review is for you.
I ran my usual review file by Beka Pukhashvili through Perfectly Clear as a first test, and already noticed a few interesting details (pun intended).
Let’s zoom in to 200% to see some rather extreme jaggies (extra image added in response to a reader’s comment):
Perfectly Clear 3.10 produced jaggies in the JPEG export in all of the 15 presets I tested, including the default. I strongly recommend that you deactivate sharpening, as this reduces the scale of the problem and makes the bokeh less harsh (see below). It seems you will have to do this every time – I was able to save the altered default as a preset, but I could not set it to be the new default when opening a file. Overwriting the original preset did not seem possible within the program. So, as a minimum, for every file you open, you will have to select your own new preset to get rid of the excessive sharpening.
The same problem needs to be worked around when using Perfectly Clear to process already-demosaicked images, e.g. Capture One output.
Additionally, the demosaicker produced a lot of diagonal texture, digital grain and colour artefacts even when sharpening was switched off. The program is quite expensive, so having it in addition to a commercial demosaicker is a big idea. However, I thought it might be at least worth seeing whether it is capable of improving Capture One Pro’s output, so here’s that attempt, using the same file, only processed first through Capture One Pro:
And let’s not forget to zoom in:
We can see that no alterations have occurred other than tonal values – colours and curves have been changed, most noticeably in terms of saturation and tone curve. Comparing the colours to other programs that I’ve tested, the output looks like a brighter version of what Color Projects 5 was giving (Color Projects 6 gave much colder colours by default), fairly close to Luminance HDR, but slightly warmer and more saturated, while PhotoNinja is more similar in terms of tone curve. ON1 gives a similar, but fainter rendering, much less saturated, and Silkypix also has much the same rendering, a little darker, less warm and less saturated. Lightzone also shares the warm grass tones, but has none of the blue in the jacket.
As Color Projects and Silkypix are my benchmarks for saturation, I would put this in the top 5 of most saturated outputs – not as nuclear as PhotoWorks thankfully, but definitely up there. Reassuringly, Perfectly Clear’s output after first passing the image through Capture One is similar to Perfectly Clear’s stand-alone processing, although this may be greater credit to Capture One in producing a fairly natural rendering.
Color Projects and Silkypix are interesting litmus tests in another important way. Both programs have good demosaicker, unlike PerfectlyClear, and cost less (older, equally good versions of SilkyPix are frequently on promotion), and PhotoNinja costs about the same as PerfectlyClear, also with a decent demosaicker and some other benefits not found in PC.
In short, it would take a lot more testing to convince me that Perfectly Clear is somehow worth the asking price.
A quick second sample of a Capture One pre-demosaicked image:
Processed through Perfectly Clear, we see that it thinks the shadows need to be lifted, but it fails to protect the highlights in the image – check the right shoulder (her right) of the model in the back and the turquoise curtain behind her:
Of the built-in styles introduced in Capture One Pro 12 (previous versions also had styles, but only some of the older ones survived), Perfectly Clear most closely approximates Landscape in this case – but Capture One manages to protect the highlights.
Perfectly Clear certainly isn’t ready to be deployed as a stand-alone digital developer – its demosaicking output is simply too terrible for that, and for no readily apparent reason.
If I wanted to say something positive about Perfectly Clear, it’s that you’ll get more out of this for your money than you will from a lot of commercial preset collections – those sold with Capture One included. But then Exposure Software (formerly AlienSkin) offers a broader array of tools at the same price or slightly more, depending on whether you decide to include its art conversion software, available in a discounted bundle.
If you’re just looking for a shortcut to make your images pop more, then besides Color Projects and HDR Projects, there are also two titles in the Nik Collection that might be helpful – and the older (Google) Nik version is still available for free!