Brilliance AI is one of the biggest new features in ON1 Photo RAW 2024. In ON1’s own words, “The all-new Brilliance AI is a game-changer! This tool intelligently enhances the color and tone in your unprocessed photos (and raw images) with the power of AI. You’ll get incredible-looking images in a single click.” Well, let’s see.
The new Brilliance AI feature is found in ON1 Photo RAW 2024’s Develop panel. You can apply it to RAW files or JPEGs, though ON1 does say “unprocessed” photos, which is perhaps a hint it’s not going work so well on images that have already been edited.
So I tried it out on unprocessed RAW files and JPEGs of my own, together with some portrait samples from Unsplash (I don’t get to shoot portraits much) which have probably been processed already – but it’s still interesting to see what happens.
01 Brilliance AI – just press the button
Yes, it’s that simple. Open an image, hit the Brilliance AI radio button in the Develop panel and wait a few seconds for the AI to do its work.
02 Instant results
Sometimes, though not often enough, there’s an instant improvement. This image of an old bicycle looks cleaner, brighter, crisper and, well, brilliant. But for those times when the result doesn’t look so good (which is too often), you’ll need to start digging deeper into the settings.
03 When AI goes bad
This portrait did not go well. Brilliance AI has given the subject’s face an unpleasant sickly tan color, and the original image (inset) was much more natural. I had hoped Brilliance AI might have added some sparkle to the eyes and a bit more contrast, but it’s just done the wrong things altogether. There is an Amount slider, but I had to push this all the way back to zero to get a nice-looking image again.
04 Fine Tune controls
Here’s a shot of my own where Brilliance AI has half worked, but shows what I think is one of its weaknesses. It attempts to even up shadow and highlight areas, but creates a rather obvious ‘tonemapped’ look. Everything is flatted, there’s no real sense of depth and it does look like a weak HDR effect. This may not show up so much as a screenshot in a blog post, but when you see your own images on-screen for yourself, you’ll see what I mean. For the record, this was one of my better outcomes. I tried Brilliance AI on many other photos that did not work out as well as this.
You can expand the ‘Fine Tune’ section below to show sliders for the Brilliance AI Tone Amount and Color Amount. These are set to 100 by default, and if you find the default results too garish or artificial you can try reducing the values – though this also reduces the enhancement effect.
I suppose what I’m somewhat disappointed about is that even with these sliders pushed to the max, the effect is not particularly strong. And if you push the main Amount slider further than its mid-way point, colors can quickly go haywire.
05 AI Local Adjustments
You may have spotted that after using Brilliance AI, the Local Adjustments radio button below becomes enabled. Brilliance AI doesn’t just apply the adjustments in the top panel, it attempts to identify key subject types in your image and then mask and enhance them individually.
If you click the heading, this section will expand to show sliders for all the recognised subjects/areas so that you can enhance them individually. And if there’s more in the scene that Brilliance AI hasn’t recognized, you can use the drop-down menu to add it. In this case, if I select ‘Architecture’ from the list it will recognise the temple on the banks of the lake.
You can move the sliders for these areas to increase or reduce the sliders in these regions only. However, you just get more of the same flat tonemapping effect, so it’s not always an improvement.
06 Local Adjustments part 2
While you are looking at these Local Adjustment sliders you might notice a small right-facing arrow alongside each one. If you click on these, you’ll be taken out of the Develop panel into the Local Adjustments panel. Brilliance AI has created Local Adjustment masks for all the areas and subject types it recognises, and when you swap to the Local Adjustment panel you get to use a much wider range of adjustment sliders and can generally get better results.
My image does look better now, but only because I’ve made manual adjustments to pretty much every area – and it still has a slightly sickly tonemapped look that I don’t think I can get rid of.
So why don’t I like Brilliance AI?
Well, first off it seems to be based around a tonemapping process that yields, to my eye, rather thin and sickly results. Second, while you can dig in and make your own adjustments and get much better results, it seems to me that much of the time I’m trying to fix what the AI has done rather than building on it. With almost all the images I worked on, I got better results, just as quickly, by not using Brilliance AI at all.
I’ve nothing against AI or automatic adjustments – Lightroom does them rather well, Capture One does them even better – but they either have to save you time or save you trouble. More to the point, they also have to look good. And that, for me, is where Brilliance AI falls down. The results just don’t look very good without some extra work which it was supposed to avoid in the first place.
Hopefully, ON1 can improve the Brilliance AI results in future updates. If not, I’ll be sticking to my own manual adjustments because at least I can see what needs doing, whereas ON1’s AI just seems to be guessing.
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