Noise Reduction Tool Comparison

by Michael Almond (www.michaelalmond.com)

Version History

Oct 2002 Initial version.
Nov 2002 Added two new tools (DCE AutoEnhance and Fred Miranda ISOx) and updated Neat Image to version 2.
Aug 2003 Added five new tools (DFine, NoiseFixer, dSLR Tools, UltraISO, SmarterNR) and updated two with newer versions (Neat Image 2.5, Grain Surgery 2)
Nov 2003 Added one new tool (Noise Ninja)
Feb 2005 Added four new tools (PureImage, Noiseware Pro, Digital GEM Pro, PictureCooler) and updated two with newer versions (Neat Image 4.4, Noise Ninja 2)

 

Introduction

There is a lot of discussion about how best to remove noise in digital camera images and a lot of tools to do it. For this article I have compared just about every tool possible to try and find the best one.

CCD noise comes in two parts, luminance noise and chroma noise. Luminance noise makes an image look grainy on screen, but is usually not visible when printed. Chroma noise is visible as random red and blue pixels and is usually less obvious both on screen and printed. Removing luminance noise reduces the sharpness of the image and removing the chroma noise damages some of the correct color. So noise reduction is a balance between how much softness and color damage you are willing to accept vs. how much noise you want to remove. Unless you use an uncompressed mode with your camera, JPEG artifacts also get added into the mix.

I was interested in seeing how much noise each tool could remove before the image got too soft (for my tastes). I did not do any sharpening after the noise reduction (even if the tool had that capability built in), that will be another test.

I used the following three source images, each one providing a unique challenge. Click on the thumbnail for the original, straight out of the camera images.

Camera: Olympus C-3000
Quality: HQ
ISO: 100
Shutter: 1/160
F-Stop: 2.8

This image has quite a bit of chroma noise, especially in the dark tree line.

Camera: Minolta DiMage 7i
Quality: fine
ISO: 100
Shutter: 1/125
F-Stop: 8

This image has quite a bit of luminance noise with little detail (so should clean up very easily).

Camera: Minolta DiMage 7i
Quality: fine
ISO: 100
Shutter: 1/125
F-Stop: 3.5

This image has a lot of luminance noise in the sky, but needs to retain the detail of the mountain.

Due to disk space constraints I can only show a 400x400 sample patch from each image. Rolling over a sample will show the original, noisy image. The sample patches for the top four tools are presented as PNGs to prevent introducing new JPEG artifacts, but for the runners-up I used JPEGs set to 90% for disk space and bandwidth considerations.

I tested the following 22 products:


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:

Cons:


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

Pros:

Cons:


Camera Bits Quantum Mechanic Pro

URL: www.camerabits.com
Cost: $189
Platforms: Mac & PC
Version Tested: 2.1r3
Demo available: yes

Quantum mechanic Pro is a plugin that reduces noise and artifacts in the chrominance by using an adaptive median-like filter. It can also despeckle luminance and sharpen the image.

The large amount of chroma noise in this image proved just a little too much for Quantum Mechanic Pro. It did a good job of holding color where I wanted it though. After trying many settings, a very low theshold had most of the noise under control.

Settings:

  • Filter amount: 100%
  • Red radius: 8
  • Red threshold: 1
  • Blue radius: 8
  • Blue threshold: 1
  • Despeckle luminance: on

The simple despeckle luminance algorithm cannot clean up this image as well as other techniques. The minor chroma noise is effectively removed however.

Settings:

  • Filter amount: 100%
  • Red radius: 10
  • Red threshold: 1
  • Blue radius: 10
  • Blue threshold: 1
  • Despeckle luminance: on

As with the previous image, despeckle luminance just doesn't cut it.

Settings:

  • Filter amount: 100%
  • Red radius: 10
  • Red threshold: 1
  • Blue radius: 10
  • Blue threshold: 1
  • Despeckle luminance: on

Pros:

Cons:


The Imaging Factory Noise Reduction Pro

URL: www.theimagingfactory.com
Cost: $100
Platforms: Mac & PC
Version tested: 1.28
Demo available: yes

Noise Reduction Pro is similar to Quantum Mechanic Pro, but allows a lot more control over the luminance channel.

The large amount of chroma noise in this image was easily dispatched by Noise Reduction Pro, although it did result in a reduction in color saturation overall in the image (which can easily be boosted back). The luminance noise could not be reduced as effectively before it got too blurry.

Settings:

  • Luminance radius: 2
  • Luminance reduction: 40
  • Light tones: 100%
  • Mid tones: 30%
  • Dark tones: 100%
  • Red radius: 9
  • Red reduction: 50
  • Blue radius: 9
  • Blue reduction: 50

 

 

Noise Reduction Pro does a pretty good job with this image's limited luminance and chroma noise, a better job than Quantum Mechanic Pro.

Settings:

  • Luminance radius: 1.5
  • Luminance reduction: 40
  • Light tones: 100%
  • Mid tones: 100%
  • Dark tones: 100%
  • Red radius: 6
  • Red reduction: 50
  • Blue radius: 6
  • Blue reduction: 50

As with the first image, luminance noise is not reduced very effectively before blurring occurs. Color also suffers.

Settings:

  • Luminance radius: 1.5
  • Luminance reduction: 40
  • Light tones: 100%
  • Mid tones: 100%
  • Dark tones: 100%
  • Red radius: 6.5
  • Red reduction: 50
  • Blue radius: 4
  • Blue reduction: 50

Pros:

Cons:


PowerRetouche Noise Corrector

URL: www.powerretouche.com
Cost: $54
Platforms: Mac & PC
Version Tested: 2.0 (current version is 4.0)
Demo available: yes

PowerRetouche Noise Corrector offers five noise reduction methods:

For each image I tried all five methods to see which one worked the best for that image.

I had a hard time choosing between soft focus (which produced a slightly soft image) and film-grain leveling (which produced a slightly desaturated image). Both worked well, but in the end I chose film-grain leveling, which reduced the saturation of the colors a little (fixable), but kept the sharpness (and quite a bit of the luminance noise).

Settings:

  • Method: film-gain leveling
  • Filter size: 2
  • Effect: 70%
  • Preserve details: on, with default settings (this basically excluded areas of high detail (eg. the large rock) from the filter)
  • Clean up stray pixels: on, 80%

I really liked how Noise Corrector handled this image. The preserve detail option did exactly that, preserved the fine detail of the trees.

Settings:

  • Method: despeckle
  • Filter size: 3
  • Effect: 80%
  • Preserve details: on, with default settings
  • Clean up stray pixels: on, 80%

All the methods produced very similar results, but I had to use Noise Corrector's built-in masking abilities to prevent the details and particularly the dark areas getting too blurry.

Settings:

  • Method: soft focus
  • Filter size: 1
  • Effect: 80%
  • Preserve details: on, with selection level 85%
  • Use target range: on, with dark limit 79 (to reduce the effect in the dark areas)
  • Clean up stray pixels: on, 80%

Pros:

Cons:


AutoFX AutoEye 2

URL: www.autofx.com
Cost: $129
Platforms: Mac & PC
Version Tested: 2.0
Demo available: yes, but cannot use own images!

AutoEye is one of those "automatically fix my image for me" plugins, and I'm sure its very good at that, but I was only interested to see if it could fix noise.

Since AutoEye wants to fix my image, it did more than just remove noise, because certain parameters could not be completely turned off. With this image, because of the contrast and color cast changes, it actually increased the chroma noise in the trees, and doesn't really seem to have fixed the luminance noise in the sky!

Settings:

  • Strength: 0x
  • Remove color cast: 10 (the lowest it will go)
  • Rebuild detail: 70 (half way)
  • Smooth noise: 130 (max value)
  • Contrast: 10 (the lowest it will go)

Similar results as the first image, ie. not good!

Settings:

  • Strength: 0x
  • Remove color cast: 10 (the lowest it will go)
  • Rebuild detail: 10 (the lowest it will go)
  • Smooth noise: 130 (max value)
  • Contrast: 10 (the lowest it will go)

More disappointing results. I could see zero difference between a smooth noise setting of 10 and 130, so I must be doing something wrong!

Settings:

  • Strength: 0x
  • Remove color cast: 10 (the lowest it will go)
  • Rebuild detail: 10 (the lowest it will go)
  • Smooth noise: 130 (max value)
  • Contrast: 10 (the lowest it will go)

Pros:

Cons:


Alien Skin Image Doctor

URL: www.alienskin.com
Cost: $129
Platforms: Mac & PC
Version Tested: 1.0
Demo available: yes

Image Doctor offers four separate filters for image retouching:

The luminance noise is reduced nicely, but chroma noise is hardly touched.

Settings:

  • Remove artifacts: 12
  • Blur edges: 1
  • Add grain: 0

With the lack of detail in this image, I could use stronger settings and get great results.

Settings:

  • Remove artifacts: 80
  • Blur edges: 2
  • Add grain: 0

I like what Image Doctor did with this one, especially how it cleaned up the edges between the mountains and the sky.

Settings:

  • Remove artifacts: 40
  • Blur edges: 2
  • Add grain: 0

Pros:

Cons:


Digital Secrets DeNoise ISO (Action)

URL: www.digitalsecrets.net/secrets/denoiseISO.html
Cost: Free
Platforms: Mac & PC
Version Tested: 2.1

Since its a single action, there are no sliders or parameters to tweak and explore, its the "fire and forget" of image manipulation (and makes testing easy!).

I'm impressed with how well this action cleaned up this image, especially the chroma noise in the trees.

The luminance noise was not fully cleaned up, but the results are pretty good.

This action worked less well on this image, the noise in the sky is still very visible.

Pros:

Cons:


Digital Deluxe Toolbox (Action)

URL: www.2morrow.dk/75ppi/coolpix/actions/
Cost: Free
Platforms: PC Only
Version Tested: 1.0

This is a very advanced set of actions offering a choice of three levels of noise reduction, a base level of noise reduction and two stromger ISO-noise removal options that can run after the base if needed. It has the nice feature of putting the cleaned image in a separate layer, making it very easy to compare the results.

Digital Deluxe Toolbox did a great job of keeping sharpness (thanks to an edge mask) while removing both luminance and chroma noise. I used just the base NR action.

This image needed the extra step of the mid-ISO noise removal which resulted in a beautifully clean image, while still retaining the detail of the trees without too much blurring.

This image also needed the extra mid-ISO NR step to further cut down the luminance noise in the sky. Sharpness is mostly maintained, but some blurring is evident between the mountain edge and the sky.

Pros:

Cons:


E10 NR (Action)

URL: netnet.net/~llueck/NR.htm
Cost: Free
Platforms: Mac & PC
Version Tested: 01/26/2002

This is a another advanced set of actions offering three levels of noise reduction and a separate hot pixel removal action. The actions build a separate edge mask for each of the RGB channels and stop to allow you to interactively define each edge mask. It takes a very long time to complete - 20 minutes on my PII-300 laptop and used 1.3GB of scratch space! This is mostly because it doubles the size of the original image before working on it.

The medium NR action softened the image too much, so I had to use the low one. The low one did an acceptable, but not quite as good, job on the chroma noise.

Settings:

  • Red threshold: 228
  • Green threshold: 233
  • Blue threshold:234

The low NR action left a little bit of luminance noise, so I ended up settling for the medium NR action, which cleaned this image up almost perfectly. The edge masks that the action builds kept the trees pretty sharp.

Settings:

  • Red threshold: 215
  • Green threshold: 213
  • Blue threshold:213

For this one the high NR action worked the best, nicely smoothing the sky (except for some nasty JPEG artifacts), while retaining the detail in the mountain.

Settings:

  • Red threshold: 218
  • Green threshold: 215
  • Blue threshold:213

Pros:

Cons:


Fred Miranda Noise Reducer ISOx (Action)

URL: www.fredmiranda.com
Cost: $15
Platforms: Mac & PC
Version Tested: 2.0

This action set offers a choice of seven levels of noise reduction! Fred Miranda also has some noise reduction actions specially tuned for specific cameras for even better results. Details on these additional actions can be found at his site.

Just the lowest setting could be used on this image (higher settings for some reason really blurred the very tip of the large rock). But just the lowest setting did a great job on both the luminance noise and a the chroma noise.

On this one I went all the way up to the highest level (level 7) to get a nice clean image. The unsharp mask steps included in the action did introduce a few sharpening artifacts however.

Level 2 took care of the noise in the sky. As with Digital Deluxe Toolbox, some blurring is evident between the mountain edge and the sky. Would have prefered more noise reduction, but higher levels introduced too much blurring.

Pros:

Cons:


Media Chance DCE AutoEnhance

URL: www.mediachance.com/
Cost: Free, $35
Platforms: PC only
Version Tested: 2.0
Demo available: Yes

DCE AutoEnhance is stand-alone application that can adjust color balance, remove color cast, remove hot pixels, sharpen and remove noise. There is a free version that only provides basic enhancing and a $35 version that has a lot more features such as batch processing files and setting values based on EXIF data. For this test I turned off all the filters except the denoiser and hot pixel remover.

A stronger noise removal setting quickly got too blurry. The luminance noise was reduced to acceptable level, but the chroma noise was barely touched.

Settings:

  • Noise removal: 98
  • Filter repeat: 1
  • All other settings turned off

DCE did a great job here, especially on keeping detail in the trees.

Settings:

  • Noise removal: 162
  • Filter repeat: 1
  • All other settings turned off

Not quite enough of the noise in the sky could be removed before the mountains became blurred.

Settings:

  • Noise removal: 102
  • Filter repeat: 1
  • All other settings turned off

Pros:

Cons:


Nik Multimedia DFine

URL: www.nikmultimedia.com
Cost: $99.95
Platforms: Mac & PC
Version Tested: 1.0
Demo available: Yes. As you can see below, the demo version stamps "DEMO" throughout the image.

This Photoshop plugin offers a bewildering set of noise reduction algorithms. For luminance reduction it offers the following algorithms, each with their own specific configurable attributes:

That's just for luminance noise. For chroma noise you also get to choose from:

It can also fix up lighting/contrast and color cast/balance.

Dfine did a fantastic job getting rid of the JPG artifacts, especially in the sky.

Settings:

  • Luminance: Reduce Noise: normal
    • Noise Reduction Strength: 11
    • Detail Protection Strength: 75%
  • Chroma: JPG Reprocessing
    • JPG Artifact Intensity: 100%
    • Chrominance Noise Level: 6

The transitions between the different tones got blurred a little too much.

Settings:

  • Luminance: Camera specific profile
    • 80%, 50%, 50%, 60%, 10%
  • Chroma: JPG Reprocessing
    • JPG Artifact Intensity: 100%
    • Chrominance Noise Level: 3

Detail was retained pretty well, but the overall brightness of the image is noticeably lower in the shadows.

Settings:

  • Luminance: Camera specific profile
    • 65%, 50%, 20%, 20%, 81%
  • Chroma: JPG Reprocessing
    • JPG Artifact Intensity: 100%
    • Chrominance Noise Level: 4

Pros:

Cons:


Fixer Labs NoiseFixer

URL: www.fixerlabs.com
Cost: $17
Platforms: Mac & PC
Version Tested: 1.0
Demo available: Yes

Noise Fixer is a Photoshop plugin that has two noise reduction controls, one for chroma noise and one for luminance noise. It has four preview windows that are linked. One shows how the color noise is being effected, one shows how the luminance noise is being effected, one shows the original image and one shows the results.

A surprising amount of detail remains, even though all the noise is removed from the sky and trees. JPG artifacts tend to remain though.

Settings:

  • Color noise: 10
  • Luminance noise: 19

Higher levels of noise reduction could be used and the outline of the trees still remained sharp. Strangely the other transition areas did not remain as sharp.

Settings:

  • Color noise: 9
  • Luminance noise: 25

It did not take a very high color noise setting before things got blurry between the maintains and the sky, but luminance noise was easily removed while keeping detail. JPG artifacts in the sky were noticeably left behind.

Settings:

  • Color noise: 5
  • Luminance noise: 15

Pros:

Cons:


Noel's dSLR Tools (Action)

URL: ncarboni.home.att.net/PhotoshopActionsForSale.html
Cost: $10
Platforms: Mac & PC
Version Tested: 1.1
Demo available: No

This a collection of 11 actions, not just limited to noise reduction:

ColorBlotchReduction nicely removed the chroma noise. The mild strength noise reduction was not enough, I had to step up to middle strength one, which removed a little too much detail at the tip of the rock.

Settings:

  • ColorBlotchReduction followed by MoreNoiseReduction

Even using the maximum noise reduction action, the sharpness of the transitions between the different tones was kept, while the rest of the image was nicely smoothed. Good job.

Settings:

  • ColorBlotchReduction followed by MostNoiseReduction

dSLR Tools struggled a little with this one. To remove the noise in the sky I had to use the MoreNoiseReduction, but it also removed quite a bit of detail in the shadows.

Settings:

  • ColorBlotchReduction followed by MoreNoiseReduction

Pros:

Cons:

 


iMAGING Concepts UltraISO (Action)

URL: feharmat@hotmail.com
Cost: ???
Platforms: Mac & PC
Version Tested: 1.9c
Demo available: No

UltraISO is a set of 14 actions that is custom designed for the Olympus E-10, but it works just as well on other cameras as well. It consists of a separate action for three ISO speeds (80, 160, 320), each with five filtering levels (except ISO 80, which only has four) based on exposure conditions (day light, medium light, low light and dark). For this test I disabled the sharpening stage of the actions.

More information, examples and comments that can be found in the Oly SLR Forum, hosted at www.dpreview.com.

UltraISO did an excellent job here. I first tried the "80-DAY Light" action, but it left a little too much chroma noise. Moving up to the "80-MID Light" action took care of the chroma noise, while leaving detail practically untouched.

Settings:

  • 80-MID Light

Good results here.

Settings:

  • 80-LOW Light

This image was a challenge for UltraISO. It was a tricky balance between noise reduction and sharpness. 80-MID ended up making this one just a little too blurry, so I settled for 80-DAY and a little luminance noise.

Settings:

  • 80-DAY Light

Pros:

Cons:


SmarterNR

URL: http://knm.homeip.net:8081/Public/SmarterNR
Cost: $20
Platforms: PC Only
Version Tested: 2.2
Demo available: Yes.

Detail was retained, even in the tip of the rock.

Settings:

  • Luma: 6
  • Color: 5

Great job removing noise and keeping the transitions sharp. A little bit of JPG artifacts remain.

Settings:

  • Luma: 7
  • Color: 4

I switched to the advanced settings to get the best results for this one.

Settings:

  • Window size: 1
  • Detail: 40
  • Blackpoint: 39
  • Cb size: 3
  • Cr size: 3
  • Blend: 75

Pros:

Cons:


PictureCode Noise Ninja

URL: www.picturecode.com
Cost: $35, $45, $70, $80 (see here for features for each version)
Platforms: PC and Mac
Version Tested: 2.0.2
Demo available: Yes

Noise Ninja is available as a standalone program and as a Photoshop plugin. It analyses your image and produces a noise profile in similar manner to Neat Image and Grain Surgery. The best results are obtained by using pre-built noise profiles for your camera. You can build your own using a special calibration target that Noise Ninja will automatically scan and process, or download one of the pre-built ones from PictureCode website. Unique to Noise Ninja is its ability to boost color saturation (noise reduction usually results in a loss of saturation) and contrast enhancement. Noise Ninja also has batch processing capabilities and a touch-up brush that lets you paint back the original image for critical areas (although I prefer to do that with layers in Photoshop).

Noise Ninja did great on this one, noise in the trees was perfectly eliminated while still retaining detail in the rock.

Settings:

  • Olympus C4100 profile
  • Luminance:
    • Strength: 1
    • Smoothness: -5
    • Contrast: 5
  • Color:
    • Strength: 1
    • Smoothness: 0
    • Saturation: 5
  • Sharpening off
  • Suppress halos on
  • Turbo mode off

Noise Ninja performed flawlessly on this one. Version 2 did an even better job of suppressing JPG artifacts.

Settings:

  • Minolta 7Hi profile
  • Luminance:
    • Strength: 5
    • Smoothness: 0
    • Contrast: 5
  • Color:
    • Strength: 0
    • Smoothness: 0
    • Saturation: 5
  • Sharpening off
  • Suppress halos on
  • Turbo mode off

Again Noise Ninja did a really good job, removing noise in the sky, but keeping detail in the mountains.

Settings:

  • Minolta 7Hi profile
  • Luminance:
    • Strength: -3
    • Smoothness: -2
    • Contrast: 2
  • Color:
    • Strength: 0
    • Smoothness: 0
    • Saturation: 5
  • Sharpening off
  • Suppress halos on
  • Turbo mode off

Pros:

Cons:


PureImage NR

URL: www.mediachance.com/pureimage/index.html
Cost: $35
Platforms: PC Only
Version Tested: 1.2
Demo available: Yes.

PureImage NR is a standalone program that uses an advanced wavelet noise reduction algorithm, which Media Chance says automatically adjusts its noise reduction algorithm to different noise types within an image (for example applying more to smoother sections, less to more detailed sections). That certainly seemed the case in my testing. In addition to noise reduction PureImage can do color correction, color matching and curves adjustments.

It seemed that stronger noise reduction was applied to the sky verses the trees, allowing the sky to become smooth while still retaining a lot of detail in the trees.

Settings:

  • Noise level: 4.2
  • Remove block noise on
  • Advanced processing: nature mode
  • Sharpen edges off

I had a hard time getting results I liked for this one, either too much noise was left, or strange "lumps" appeared. I did discover that the advanced processing kept a sharper edge between the dark forground trees.

Settings:

  • Noise level: 6.5
  • Remove block noise on
  • Advanced processing: default mode
  • Sharpen edges off

Nature mode left small artifacts in the sky, so I used the default mode for this one.

Settings:

  • Noise level: 4.2
  • Remove block noise on
  • Advanced processing: default mode
  • Sharpen edges off

Pros:

Cons:


PictureCooler

URL: denoiser.shorturl.com
Cost: free (for now)
Platforms: PC only
Version Tested: 1.052
Demo available: N/A

Picture Cooler is a standalone program that uses an algorithm which, like PureImage, is able to apply more noise reduction to smoother areas of the image. It also is able to remove noise without noticeably effecting color saturation or contrast.

A boost in color noise reduction was needed for this noisy image, and a fine balance of the open space smoothing to produce a smooth sky, while still retaining detail elsewhere in the image.

Settings:

  • Luminance: 0
  • Color: 3.2
  • Open space: -2.9
  • Kill noisy pixels on
  • Deblur off

Picture Cooler did an awesome job on this one, just a little imcrease in luminance reduction was needed.

Settings:

  • Luminance: 0.4
  • Color: 0
  • Open space: 0
  • Kill noisy pixels off
  • Deblur off

To clean up the sky, whilst still leaving detail in the mountains, required a balance between the settings for luminance and open space smoothing. Open space has the largest effect, so I reduced that until most of the sky was smooth and detail still remained. Then I reduced luminance a little to clean up the sky a little more, with minimal impact to detail in the mountains.

Settings:

  • Luminance: -0.6
  • Color: 0
  • Open space: -1.2
  • Kill noisy pixels: 0
  • Deblur off

Pros:

Cons:


Imagenomic Noiseware Professional

URL: www.imagenomic.com
Cost: Free, $26 - $79
Platforms: PC and Mac
Version Tested: Professional 3.0 plug-in
Demo available: Yes

Noiseware is available seperately as a standalone program and a Photoshop plug-in, in free, standard, and pro versions. The all use the same noise reduction engine, with different file formats and capabilities (8bit v16bit, supported file formats, batch processing, etc). Noiseware's noise reduction engine automatically analyses each image and builds a noise profile. What makes Noiseware unique is that with each successive image, it learns and perfects the noise profile based on the EXIF data (camera make and model, ISO, exposure and image size). Pre-built noise profiles will also be available in the future. It's algorithm is very controllable, allowing the usual tweaking based on different noise frequencies (high, med, low, very low), but you can also apply reduction based on different tonal ranges (shadows, highlights, midtones), which really allows you get optimal results.

Noiseware did a great job, the splochy noise in the sky was greatly reduced, while key detail was retained everywhere else.

Settings:

  • Noise level
    • Luminance: 0%
    • Color: +10%
    • High freq: +45%
    • Med freq: 0%
    • low freq: 0%
    • very low: 0%
  • Noise supression
    • Luminance: 45%
    • Color: 75%
    • High freq: 100%
    • Med freq: 80%
    • low freq: 90%
    • very low: 90%
  • Tonal range
    • Shandows: 0%
    • Midtones: 0%
    • Highlights: 0%
  • Sharpening: -5
  • Processing degree: Auto

Noiseware performed flawlessly on this one, the noise is all gone and the transitions between the planes remain well defined.

Settings:

  • Noise level
    • Luminance: 0%
    • Color: 0%
    • High freq: +90%
    • Med freq: 0%
    • low freq: 0%
    • very low: 0%
  • Noise supression
    • Luminance: 80%
    • Color: 65%
    • High freq: 75%
    • Med freq: 100%
    • low freq: 100%
    • very low: 100%
  • Tonal range
    • Shandows: 0%
    • Midtones: 0%
    • Highlights: 0%
  • Sharpening: -5
  • Processing degree: High

Noiseware worked very well on this one as well, on par with the best of them.

Settings:

  • Noise level
    • Luminance: 0%
    • Color: 0%
    • High freq: 0%
    • Med freq: 0%
    • low freq: 0%
    • very low: 0%
  • Noise supression
    • Luminance: 50%
    • Color: 50%
    • High freq: 100%
    • Med freq: 80%
    • low freq: 90%
    • very low: 90%
  • Tonal range
    • Shandows: +25%
    • Midtones: 0%
    • Highlights: 0%
  • Sharpening: -5
  • Processing degree: Auto

Pros:

Cons:


Kodak DIGITAL GEM Professional

URL: www.asf.com
Cost: $50, $100
Platforms: PC and Mac
Version Tested: 1.0.1
Demo available: Yes

DIGITAl GEM is a Photoshop plugin available in two versions, regular and professional. The two versions of the plugin use different algorithms. The Professional version includes two noise reduction algorithms, "Coarse" for very aggressive noise reduction and "Fine" for less aggressive noise reduction. The regular plugin's algorithm is very similar to the course one. The professional version also adds 16-bit support, more control over the algorithms and the ability to blend the results with the original image. It can also show the noise that is going to be removed, as well as the usual before/after preview.

The Detail Sensitivity setting does just what it says, it allows you to retain detail while removing noise in smoother areas like the sky. DIGITAL GEM did a great job on the JPG artifacts in the sky.

Settings:

  • Suppression type: Fine
  • Blending: 100%
  • Suppression: 50
  • Detail Sensitivity: 100
  • Clarity: 0
  • Radius: 1

The Fine noise suppression type did not reduce this noisy image enough without blurring it a lot, so I used the coarse one, which gave good results.

Settings:

  • Suppression type: Coarse
  • Blending: 100%
  • Highlights: 19
  • Shadows: 75
  • Clarity: 0
  • Radius: 1

DIGITAl GEM did a great job on the mountains, but left some of the stronger noise in the sky, which resulted in the appearance of pockets of noise.

Settings:

  • Suppression type: Fine
  • Blending: 100%
  • Suppression: 61
  • Detail Sensitivity: 70
  • Clarity: 0
  • Radius: 1

Pros:

Cons:


Conclusion

First, here's my pick for which tool produced the very best version for each image. I viewed each final image at full resolution (not just the 400x400 crops) and flipped back and forth between them, carefully looking at every part of the image. I considered luminance NR, chroma NR, sharpness, detail retention and color retention. I narrowed it down to the best three tools for each image and then looked at them even closer before deciding on the best one.

This one was tough to judge, but it finally came down to Neat Image, Noise Ninja, Grain Surgery and Noiseware. All four produced almost identical results, but Noise Ninja did a slightly better job than Neat image and Grain Surgery in retaining color saturation and left slightly less artifacts behind, and Noiseware was just a little bit softer.
As expected, this image proved to be the easiest to clean up. Once again Neat Image, Noise Ninja and Noiseware produced outstanding results. However, Picture Cooler was able to do just a little better.
This image proved the most difficult for many of the the tools, they either left a lot of luminance noise in the sky or blurred the mountains too much. It was again between the four tools: Neat Image, Noise Ninja, Noiseware and Picture Cooler. I chose Noise Ninja for this one because it produced a slightly cleaner sky and retained more of the original image's brightness.

 

The latest versions of Noise Ninja and Neat Image just keep getting better, and newcomer Noiseware is close to them. Grain Surgery is now falling behind. Picture Cooler produced very good results too. Noise reduction techniques are obviously continuing to be improved upon. The other good news is that these tools are becoming available for Mac users too.

My recommendations are:

  1. Noise Ninja
  2. Neat Image
  3. Picture Cooler (PC-only)
  4. Noiseware
  5. Grain Surgery