Saturday, June 20, 2009

Cutting Through the Noise - Comparing Four Noise Reduction Programs

Special Edition: I am breaking away from my normal "Daily Photo" posting pattern to bring to you the results of some work I am doing in preparing tomorrow's photo. This photo was taken with my original Digital Rebel at ISO 200 which did have some noticeable noise, espically in this case where I forced the shutter speed higher to try to freeze the action, and then boosted the exposure in Lightroom. The original was JPG, RAW would have helped, but that was before I converted. Want to learn more about RAW? Check out Rick "Raw Rules" Sammon's Top Ten video.

I processed the photo using four different noise reduction techniques. I am not an expert in Noise Reduction Software. Are you? If you are not, then perhaps my results are more useful than what somebody who is an expert with these tools might be able to produce. I spent about five minutes with each one trying to get the best results. One thing you will notice the varies across the sample images is the degree of sharpening. The default presented by each program was used. No further output sharpening was applied. All images are 100% crops.

First up, and the result I like best is the image from DeNoise from Topaz Labs. Easy to use and they have a fully functional 30-day trial. I like the program, but it does not work with Lightroom, so I need to jump into Photoshop. I might buy Denoise, perhaps part of their Plug-in bundle. (I have been playing with the Simplify plugin and like some of the results from it as well.)

The next best result came from using the built-in Lightroom noise reduction. The result is pretty good and is a much easier workflow since I can do it right in the develop module. It is the combination of simplicity of use and the quality of the result that might prevent me from buying the Topaz product.

The next contestant is Noise Ninja from PictureCode. This product has what the call sidekick mode which allows for easy use with Lightroom (and others). For this particular case I used the Photoshop plug-in since I wanted to try to keep as much the same across each test case as I could. The result is still pretty good, but noticeable more noisy than the previous two.

The last test case is the built-in "Reduce Noise" filter in Adobe Photoshop CS4.

Here is the original un-noise-processed image for comparison.

As I suggested in the opening, perhaps an expert could have made a different program produce the best result, but for me it is a toss up between Topaz and Lightroom. One other factor, I already own NoiseNinja, perhaps they will release a new version that beats them all! One thing we do know for sure is that software is getting smarter about these sorts of things all of the time, so whatever comes out next year is likely going to be better than what you bought last year.

Hope you found this useful. Leave me a comment and let me know what you think. Thanks for visiting.
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