Stop The Noise!

EDIT: This blog has MOVED. You’re on the old, dead blog. Everything (including this post) has been migrated onboard my website. Here’s the direct link:

Update your bookmarks! See you there!

We now continue with our original programming….

With my workload finally slacking off, I’m pulling a few projects out of the “when I have time” bin and getting them done.

First out is a test of a couple of noise reduction plugins; Noise Ninja, and Nik Dfine. I’ve owned both for a while, but I’ve never done a side-by-side comparison before. I have to say the results surprised me!

I’ve been using Noise Ninja as my go-to solution, mostly because I bought it first, and actually went through the entire user’s manual one time (during a long flight). So I know more or less how to use it, although I’m certainly not expert. Nik Dfine is functionally very similar, and even the interface is very similar, so it’s easy to transfer skills from one to the other. But, as you’ll see below, you may not need many skills at all. Here’s an image I made last week:

Bass Player; Noisier in the photo than he was in life.

Click to see it bigger. This was shot on a Canon 5D, with the 70-200 @ 200mm; f/2.8, 1/20th, ISO 1600. In other words, it’s noisy as hell. And while I had the camera braced against a doorjamb, at 1/20th it’s also not the sharpest image I’ve ever made.

100% crop of the above image. NOISE!

Above is a 100% crop of the image. Yikes!

Now, here it is with the “Auto” settings in Noise Ninja applied:

Noise Ninja “auto” settings applied

Noise Ninja has profiles for the camera, lens, and exposure settings, and applies them automatically based on the EXIF data. It also analyzes the image to “find” the noise, and applies is algorithms to those areas. (I’ve always wanted to use the word “algorithm.”) But in this case, little has changed.

Here’s the same image, with Nik Dfine applied, also using the “auto” settings:

Nik Dfine “Auto” settings applied

Whoa. That’s pretty good. Some loss of detail, but it killed the noise, for sure.

I didn’t want to give up on Noise Ninja so quickly, though. So I went back and instead of letting it profile the image automatically, I manually selected the areas that had the worst noise. Then I went into the controls and selected “coarse noise” and upped the Strength and Smoothness sliders, as well as the USM amount. That got me this result:

Noise Ninja, with some tweaking of settings

Better, but still not as good as what Nik Dfine put out 10 minutes ago! Here they are, side by side:

The Dfine version is certainly lacking in some detail – but with a little tweaking of settings, I got this result:

Nik Dfine, with some tweaking

This I like. I’m not at all an expert with this stuff, so if you’ve got methods you like, hit the comments and let me steal them share ‘em!

11 responses to “Stop The Noise!

  1. Scott,

    This is really great stuff. I’ve used Noise Ninja (always in Auto mode, since I never take the time to read any manuals) for the past couple of years with mixed success.

    The differences in auto mode is startling. Think I’m going to switch to Dfine. Just seems to produce a better result right out of the box, so to say.

  2. Hi Scott,

    Thanks for the write up.

    I’m all for tests like this. In fact, I do my own tests from time to time. I think, though, that this is not the best image to use for testing. Firstly, the colours are very similar, which makes it hard to see colour smearing, and second, it’s not very sharp, gives the noise reduction algorithms an easy job.

    I’d recommend a shot of some different coloured fabrics in the foreground and a small enough depth of field to have a smooth background.

  3. Scott,
    Great to see this test. But, why didn’t you post the final two *full* images. That would give us a better comparison to the first untouched image.
    Thanks for the post. Guess I’m off to try a new noise reduction product. Noise Ninja is fine but this may be a better out of the box solution.

  4. By the way, the reason I read this post was because I shot my son’s Christmas concert last night in a dark church. Had to use my kit 18-105 at 105 with a 5.6 aperture, since my 50mm 1.4/D just didn’t have the reach.

    So, it ended up being f/5.6, 1/40, 3200 ISO on my D90. And I turned up the noise reduction to High for good measure. Meaning, I gave up on the idea of making artful shots and just tried to make sure I had a record of the event for my wife. Have to say, at 3200, even without the noise reduction on high, the D90 produced some pretty good shots.

  5. I have tried both and still ended up with noiseware pro
    and their portraiture is unbelievable. Worth a look and very pleasing results

  6. Sorry, here’s sample… I like how it doesn’t smooth too much and keeps the colour.

  7. I tried both before buying, and by far, Dfine takes the prize. It really makes the difference in being able to selectively reduce noise in color ranges and areas, and to selectively measure noise where it really is noise, and not in random or fine texture areas. A small amount of luminosity noise translates into additional perceived sharpness, and I find that I almost always adjust the settings to keep just a smidgen in the image for that natural grain sharpness.

  8. Why are you sharpening with Noise Ninja? This only highlights the noise. The best settings on NN are to uncheck Turbo, check Coarse and then manipulate strength, smoothness and contrast — usually 6, 8 and 10 will do

  9. I’ve always used NN but after reading this I tried the Nik software. I feel like I have greater control with Nik but, I have to say, it’s definitely a slow down in my workflow and I hate that it creates a new layer instead of applying to the current layer.

    • Yeah, the layer thing is a drag, although it makes it easy to create a quick layer mask and remove the effect from stuff that shouldn’t have been “de-noised”. And you’re right, Dfine is much slower than NN.