Noise Reduction Tools: A Review


posted on 10th of june, 2013

As a photographer, you always get to encounter situations that are worth capturing but the light is extremely unfavorable. If you have a tripod, you are good to go. But that doesn't always help. Recently while trying to make an HDR of a church interior, I wasn't allowed to set up the tripod because it would obstruct flow of tourists. The church was beautiful and I wanted an HDR, whatever happens. So I had to step up ISO to 1600 (still got a shutter speed of around 1/13 only). Thanks to Canon's outstanding IS, I got a steady shot at even 1/13 shutter speed.

But noise? HDR at ISO 1600 is usually trash unless you own a seriously good camera. I have 4 noise reduction tools. Here's what I got:

Topaz Labs DeJPEG
This works really good with highly detailed shots such an HDR image of a rock texture or forest floor...anything that doesn't have plain areas or gradients. You get excessive banding and artifacting in gradients if you apply a severe noise reduction. Take care, the software boosts saturation a bit too much by default. For me, this software is barely useful. This works really nicely for casual purposes like saving your noise-filled mobile phone shots. But not useful for commercial photography because it will give you rejections if you pull it to the limits. Generally, this software isn't worth going for at all (for me).


Imagenomic
A surprising piece of software. It literally deletes the noise and keeps the details intact. I've never seen anything as flexible and efficient as this. I use this most of the time without worrying about details at all. But this suffers from the same problem as the Topaz Labs DeJPEG. If you apply excessive noise reduction for HDR images, you'll get huge artifacting in plain or gradient areas that wouldn't go even with a blur of 5 px. Why? Because this software has an extraordinarily high sensitivity for edge detection. It picks up the CMOS leakage current between pixel blocks and keeps them intact. Since the leakage current across blocks increases by over 40 times at ISO 1600 than in ISO 100, Imagenomic thinks it is "details" and leaves it, leaving the image full of artifacts.
But for general noise reduction (upto ISO 400 or 800 on compact cameras and ISO 1600 on DSLRs), it is extremely efficient and useful.


Noise Ninja
My favorite for severe noise reduction. It removes fine details from all plain areas but leaves no sign of noise even at 400%, which gives your HDR images a flat, painting like look. For natural looks you can set the reduction levels to less severe and you will get good enough photos with almost no noticeable noise. The softness of image can be a problem but the edges are sharp, it is just the plain areas that look smooth or "washed out". But it doesn't make it feel too bad. Better than the other software, that's for sure. The software has an undo brush and some channel viewers which I find very useful for deciding whether a channel selective noise reduction would help. This is definitely the winner with high ISO shots.


Canon Digital Photo Professional
The BEST for general shots. A low noise reduction would get you a clean and great photo with no noticeable problems at all. You cannot even see this software at work, it works so cleanly. But then, when you make the settings severe for extremely high ISO shots, you start to get problems. Especially at high luminance noise reduction settings, it blurs out the photo a bit too much. The blur radius exceeds the sharpen radius settings and the sharpening ceases to have any noticeable effect. I don't particularly like blurry edges. So I vote for Noise Ninja for high ISO cases.


Conclusion:

General use of DPP is good for me when shooting in RAW. For severe noise I use Noise Ninja (on 16 bit TIFFs) on which I have noise profiles installed for all my cameras. The auto profiling tool is very useful too at times. For JPEGs coming out of compact cameras or DSLRs, using Imagenomic is a good idea (for moderate noise situations). For high noise level JPEGs, Noise Ninja is better.

I hope this article helps people stuck and frustrated with noise problems. The above software saves most photos from being resized due to excess noise. Apologies to the Nikon users. I have never used a Nikon camera so far and have no idea about the noise performance or the RAW processing tools you get with your Nikon.
The views in this article are from my experience with both compact cameras and DSLRs (Canon). It is not supposed to criticize any software. It is just something to help you get results without trial and error and the resulting frustration.

Comments (27)

Posted by Linqong on July 01, 2013
Thanks a lot for sharing.
Posted by Robinstockphotos on June 13, 2013
Thanks for the additions everyone, this article has gathered some really useful content now!
Edjbartos, If you use noise reduction on the sky, you can use channel specific noise reduction (in which you remove noise from only one channel. For skies, the blue channel is usually properly exposed and has less noise. So you apply noise reduction on the other two channels only. Chroma noise reduction must be applied on all three though. That preserves most details).
Posted by Rolmat on June 13, 2013
Tks for sharing.
Noise Ninja is now known as Photo Ninja (current version is 1.0.5)
Posted by Edjbartos on June 13, 2013
Thanks for sharing, i used to use topaz denoise which is really great but have now started to use Nik dfine2 which i like a lot. I generally only need to use the noise reduction over the sky and with dfine2 i can paint this onto the the area that i want reduced. If i set the opacity to something like 25% i can slowly add reduction without going overboard. Great software.
Posted by Igordabari on June 13, 2013
I transfer a 16 bit image to Photoshop and do the editing and save it as 8 bit AT LAST. Saving 8 bit at first robs you of the extra dynamic range. Just like sharpening at first destroys details.

Completely agreed. I use exactly the same strategy: "RAW->16bit-TIFF, processing, noise reduction + sharpening, saving in 8bit-JPEG".
Posted by Mudplucker on June 13, 2013
Thanks for the tip Pratik ! Very much appreciated
Posted by Suyerry on June 12, 2013
Interesting and very useful blog, thanks for posting! :)
Posted by Robinstockphotos on June 12, 2013
Mudplucker, RAW gives a good noise performance up to around ISO 200 on a starter DSLR body. DPP has default noise reduction settings and those are the most efficient set of settings....for ISO 200 to 800.

I transfer a 16 bit image to Photoshop and do the editing and save it as 8 bit AT LAST. Saving 8 bit at first robs you of the extra dynamic range. Just like sharpening at first destroys details.
But if you aren't doing any huge changes, then 8 bit is nice. :)
Posted by Mudplucker on June 12, 2013
Nice article Pratik. I shoot now the way Yuri told me and have not had to do any noise removal at all my last 36 images I have put online. that is: shoot RAW, all neutral picture settings in camera, no in camera sharpening. Then i set all settings needed in my Canon DPP, save as 8 bit TIFF (not 16) and finish up in PS, making the sharpening the very LAST thing done before saving as jpeg. This virtually eliminates artifacts in photos as well. So for me if it requires more than 400 iso i just don't shoot it.
Posted by Montylola on June 12, 2013
Robinstockphotos, rather than me give you a rough review, here is a link to Dpreview one of the better sites for camera and software reviews.


Cheers

David May
Posted by Robinstockphotos on June 12, 2013
I haven't tried out Neat Image yet and have no personal experience to mention. These tools already help deal with most situations. Please include your version of its review in a comment and I would be happy to append it to the article to make it more useful. Thank you.
Posted by Montylola on June 12, 2013
Very interesting Blog but no mention of the Noise reduction tool used by a huge number of professionals, Neat Image, runs as a plug in for Photoshop also runs as a standalone Application. I use it on a daily basis as aprt of my workflow.

[imgl]http://www.21530829[/imgl]
Posted by Egomezta on June 11, 2013
Great blog, thanks for sharing. Very useful.
Posted by Peanutroaster on June 11, 2013
I find that a mono pod folds up very small and can be used in situations like this. Or rest the camera on a pew.
Posted by Friedel3 on June 11, 2013
Thanks for sharing. Very useful info.
Posted by Lejoch on June 10, 2013
Very useful, thanks for sharing!
Posted by Haotian on June 10, 2013
Thanks for the suggestion. It's useful for someone still using, ahem, Photoshop Despeckle.
Posted by Laurasinelle on June 10, 2013
Great blog, thanks for sharing!
Posted by Lenutaidi on June 10, 2013
Thank you for sharing,Robin!
Posted by Pindiyath100 on June 10, 2013
Wonderful blog, Pratik!! We're using Topaz Denoise at the moment and and for us it wins hands down!! :) it's a bit slow on laptop while processing a 24mp photograph but on the faster PC it performs very fast and accurate. :)
Posted by Psilentrain1 on June 10, 2013
Thanks for the tips! I have DPP, but haven't opened it in a year. I'll have to revisit it.
Posted by Famed01 on June 10, 2013
Thank you for sharing your experience!!
Posted by Robinstockphotos on June 10, 2013
Igor, right. Thanks for backing up the opinion. Any more suggestions or discussions should also benefit readers.
Alvera, I use the regioselective noise removal too. Noise Ninja has that brush thing. The software probably costs $20 something if I remember. You can try that out too. And otherwise I apply noise reduction on one layer and use mask feature. Saves the cost of buying Lightroom too.
Posted by Igordabari on June 10, 2013
Thank you for sharing your experience. As for me, after trying several tools for the noise removing (including NeatImage and built-in PS tool) I have chosen Noise Ninja. The most effective noise removing and minimum artefacts. Besides it's very flexible and has lot of settings.
Posted by Alvera on June 10, 2013
Useful. Thanks.
Please consider also using selective noise removing. Not all parts of a photo need noise reduction. Lightroom is a relatively cheap software, is made by Adobe and in the last version you have noise reduction brushes. Excellent tools, simply paint only that zones where you have noise and select the amount of noise reduction.
Posted by Robinstockphotos on June 10, 2013
The DeJPEG doesn't really remove artifacting either. I'd not suggest anyone to use it for stock imagery related purposes.
Posted by Harshvardhan on June 10, 2013
Thanks! For your effort to educate us. One best noise reduction tool you forgot to mention is Topaz Denoise.This is above all in my openion. Just try it! it works for all sitautions even for jpeg as well as raw files and has lots of control, which you might not get anywhere. One more thing Topaz Dejpeg is not for noise but for removing artifacts due to compression in jpeg files. Still struggling with grainy noise in low light conditions which takes away all the details. Topaz denoise is quite helpful but i want it from the camera itself. If anyone has solution please mention!



Comments (27)

This article has been read 974 times. 10 readers have found this article useful.
Photo credits: Pratik Panda.

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