Topaz Labs software is my favorite photo editing software. I use it for both stock work and artistic adventures.
I have been buying the suite bit by bit as when I first started I couldn't afford the whole thing so I used the free 30 day trial and then bought the ones I used the most, which at the time was denoise and detail.
Let's start with something basic that is super useful for microstock images, DeNoise.
Topaz Labs software DeNoise works superbly to remove noise from images that might have been taking in low light and have problems.
Nothing hugely artistic. It just works.
I use Detail for both sharpening and more exotic artistic adventures.
There are many artistic settings and before I got Simplify it was all I used.
The HDR settings are great.
I use the micro contrast for sharpening.
This is a macro of a bubble. The great detail was brought out by....Detail.
by reversing blur while restoring, refining and sharpening image detail. "
I thought this might be pretty handy for stock images that I previously had to toss.
I read some reviews and a few said if you own Detail then don't bother with InFocus as they pretty much do the same thing.
At first I felt the same way. It seemed that micro contrast in Detail would do. I have, since, gotten more in to working with InFocus and find that it really can be invaluable.
The program will pay for itself. I don't have any samples here because for web use smaller images almost always look decent with PS sharpening.
InFocus is more helpful for larger images for print or stock files.
ReMask is a program that allows you to cut things out of their backgrounds. Sometimes I use it to blur or darken the background without removing it.
This program saved me when I did all the church directory portraits as I could make all the backgrounds uniform.
In the prison ship image at the top, I cut the ship out of a painting that was hanging on my mom's wall that I photographed. You can see by the masts and such that it does very fine detail work. Hair and such is no problem.
The ReMask program has some very good tutorials and it does have a little bit of a learning curve so the tutorial comes in very handy.
Honestly, I never had any intention of buying the Simplify. I do microstock and I don't mess much with the artistic area, however, stock does allow for illustration.
I took some cool pictures from a boat that the vibrations make unusable for stock and when I saw the Simplify go on sale for $19.99 I got some ideas.
It is hands down my favorite.
Simplify and Detail
Original with Photoshop edits
Your first paragraph ...