Michael Almond Portfolio

ABSoft Neat Image

URL: www.neatimage.com
Cost: Free, $30, $50, $60, $75 (see here for features for each version)
Platforms: PC and Mac
Version tested: 4.4 Pro+
Demo available: yes

Neat Image is a cheap, but very sophisticated stand-alone program (the Pro+ version comes with a Photoshop plugin too) that analyses the actual noise in your image and removes it. You define the areas that contain the noise (and no photographic detail) and it builds a noise profile that it then uses on the entire image to remove the noise. To really do its job, you need at least a 100x100 sample area which can be difficult to find in a lot of images. To counter that, Neat Image lets you create and save a noise profile for use in images where large detail-free areas do not exist. Profiles for many cameras are available on the Neat Image web site.

This one was tricky for Neat Image because it lacks large areas of the image that have no detail to analyze the noise profile, but the final results are rather good. Tweaking the strength of the chroma noise reduction values really helped clean it up. The very low frequency noise reduction really helps reduce JPG artifacts.

Settings:

  • Initial 226x100 sample in the sky
  • Second 200x69 sample in the trees
  • Noise Levels:
    • High: 30%
    • Mid: 0%
    • Low: 0%
    • Y: 0%
    • Cr: 30%
    • Cb: 30%
  • Noise Reduction Amounts:
    • High: 100%
    • Mid: 100%
    • Low: 100%
    • Y: 40%
    • Cr: 100%
    • Cb: 100%
  • Very low freq turned on
  • Sharpening turned off
  • All other setting at default

Neat Image did a great job on this one.

Settings:

  • Pre-built camera profile downloaded from neatimage.com
  • Automatic fine-tune
  • Noise Levels:
    • High: 30%
    • Mid: 0%
    • Low: 0%
  • Noise Reduction Amounts:
    • High: 100%
    • Mid: 100%
    • Low: 100%
    • Y: 50%
    • Cr: 100%
    • Cb: 100%
  • Very low freq turned on
  • Sharpening turned off
  • All other setting at default

With this kind of image it is easy to get good results with Neat Image. The large expanse of blue sky gives it plenty of information to work out a good noise profile, although some detail did get lost in the shadows.

Settings:

  • Single 300x300 sample in the sky
  • Noise Levels:
    • High: 10%
    • Mid: 10%
    • Low: 0%
  • Noise Reduction Amounts:
    • High: 100%
    • Mid: 100%
    • Low: 100%
    • Y: 50%
    • Cr: 60%
    • Cb: 50%
  • Very low freq turned on
  • Sharpening turned off
  • All other setting at default

Pros:

  • Can clean an image completely of noise without making it blurry (although that can produce an image that is very plasticy if you have the settings too high, 30-50% seems better than the default 60%).
  • Works great on both luminance and chroma noise. The latest version does an even better job.
  • Incredible amount of control over the algorithms (e.g., how much high, med, low frequency noise to remove), which lets you really get the best out of it. A simpler version of the interface can also be used for faster results.
  • Can store noise profiles which can then be used on images that do not have large detail-free areas to sample from.
  • The preview window can instantly switch between the original and cleaned versions to help with tweaking.
  • Cheap! There is a free version that lacks some features, but the actual noise reduction capabilities are the same in all versions.
  • Version 4 is much faster than the older versions.

Cons:

  • A little slow, but version 4 is much faster than the older versions.
  • Works best on images that have some large areas that have no details to provide a noise profile.
  • Mac version is behind the Windows version in features (but the noise reduction algorithm is the same).

Visual Infinity Grain Surgery

URL: www.visinf.com
Cost: $179
platforms: Mac & PC
Version tested: 2.0
Demo available: Yes

Grain Surgery is a Photoshop plugin that uses a similar technique to Neat Image for removing noise (but is a lot more expensive). It can also automatically select sample areas for you and has great previewing options. It does not just remove grain (noise), but can also add grain and match grain (for image compositing for example). You can also sample grain from one image and add it to another.

Grain Surgery did a good job on this one. Boosting the chroma suppression took care of the strong chroma noise.

Settings:

  • Automatic samples
  • Number of samples: 8
  • Sample size: 40
  • Noise Reduction: 60%
    • R: 150%
    • G: 100%
    • B: 100%
  • Chroma suppression: 1.5
  • Image texture: 10%
  • Clean solid areas: 50%
  • Degraining passes: 3
  • Degraining mode: multichannel

 

With Version 1, I had a very hard time getting Grain Surgery to not completely blur this one, ending up with something that was still a little too soft for my liking. Version 2 is dramatically better, achieving excellent results.

Settings:

  • Automatic samples
  • Number of samples: 8
  • Sample size: 64
  • Noise Reduction: 70%
  • Image texture: 10%
  • Clean solid areas: 50%
  • Degraining passes: 3
  • Degraining mode: multichannel

 

Grain Surgery did a great job with this one, losing just a little detail in the shadows. Version 2 did a slightly better job on the sky than version 1 (thanks to the new "clean solid areas" control).

Settings:

  • Automatic samples
  • Number of samples: 8
  • Sample size: 32
  • Noise Reduction: 70%
  • Image texture: 40%
  • Clean solid areas: 50%
  • Degraining passes: 3
  • Degraining mode: multichannel

Version 1 vs. Version 2

  • Redesigned noise engine produces noticeably better results.
  • Improved UI.
  • New clean solid areas works great for skies.
  • Create and compare four preview snapshots.
  • Ability to save settings.
  • $20 cheaper!

Pros:

  • Can automatically select noise samples from the image.
  • Uses multiple, smaller sample areas, rather than a few larger areas.
  • Large preview (but consequently slower to update too).
  • Can instantly switch between original and processed version to help with tweaking.
  • Can take up to 4 snapshots of different settings and quickly switch between them.

Cons:

  • Slow, but still about twice as fast as Neat Image.
  • Still expensive compared to the competition.

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