Most photographers don’t like noise, and I don't blame them. This non-image forming muck can be added if the effect is desired, but what do you do if you shoot high-ISO digital capture and want to remove the noise? I hadn’t played with any standalone noise reduction software until my friend Greg Gorman raved about a product he was using called Noiseware from Imagenomic. Since I often shoot under available light at the highest ISO my Canon Rebel supports (ISO1600), I can use some assistance in noise removal. For some subjects, I far prefer shooting under natural light and usually will accept whatever grain I get due to higher ISO settings as a minor penalty. With Noiseware handling the process of noise and grain removal, the penalty is almost non-existent.
Noiseware is a Photoshop or Elements plug-in (on the Windows platform an optional standalone). I tested the Pro version because it supports 16-bit images and many of the images I convert from RAW are encoded as 16-bit, ProPhoto RGB. There are a few other advantages to the Pro over the Standard version, but considering how affordable it is (a mere $69.00), just get the Pro version and be done. The product is a screaming deal at this price point.
Noiseware is one of those products that can be incredibly easy and fast to use, or one in which you spend a lot of time tweaking within the plug-in. With no fewer than 36 sliders to control the noise reduction, detail and sharpening, you can go nuts tweaking and saving ultra-custom adjustments. Or just leave the Setting pop-up to Default, and Noiseware will automatically analyze the image and apply an automatic correction for the noise.
I preferred using the Settings pop-up menu with the various presets (Portrait, Landscape, Night Scene etc). In nearly all cases, the presets were close to what I wanted with minor if any additional adjustments to turn off all sharpening (I prefer to do that later). You can create any combination of settings and save them as a custom preset. The product reads EXIF data from camera files in order to learn more about the types of images you process. This updates the noise reduction engine to further improve the auto settings. In addition, there are two simple selection tools that allow you to sample areas within the image for evaluation of the noise reduction.
You can have Noiseware do an auto bracketing of nearly any correction parameter. You can set up as many as 20 permutations, click a button, and Noiseware will produce a tabbed view for each. You then click on any tab to view the bracketing of each correction. The actual corrections are fully described in a tool tip that falls from each tab. This is an awesome feature! I liked the preview functionality of Noiseware. You can view a split screen showing before and after previews side by side or top to bottom. It's easy and fast to zoom and pan the two previews, which remain in sync as you, do so.
Photo: The Noiseware interface with the before and after previews on. At 200% zoom, notice how much smoother the noise and grain are on the preview to the right, yet the specular highlights and textures in the upper part of both previews remains sharp and clear. (Click on image for larger view.)
I didn’t care for how the previews updated though. When I moved sliders, the preview would first reset back to the original then update to the new settings, which made it difficult to see the differences from the last edit.
On an Intel iMac, Noiseware deftly handled 45MB, 16-bit files. I usually duplicated the background layer before applying Noiseware. I like to keep the original image data intact just in case, or should I want to use layer masks or even blend the layers. When I placed the original image on a layer above the Noiseware layer (set to 24% using a luminance blend mode) this provided a subtle touch of detail back into smoother parts of the image. This was a very subtle effect. Having layer opacity and masks provides another level of control over the noise reduction process. The degree in which the noise is reduced yet sharply defined areas remain intact is mighty impressive.
After running Noiseware on a few images, I’m wondering how long I’ll even have to view the preview. It is possible to build an action that would automatically process a folder of images though Noiseware in a batch. I’m considering making an action that does this after duplicating the background layer and then applying capture sharpen to that layer. You want to reduce noise first, then sharpen the image based on that processed data.
Its difficult to really see on a web page how dramatic the before and after images are using Noiseware so I suggest you just download the demo and run some files through it.
Keep in mind that, as with sharpening an image, you can be fooled into overdoing a correction when working visually. As you lower the amount of sharpening while viewing a preview, the image appears to become blurry. That’s not the case, but it's the reason so many oversharpen their images when working visually.
The same could be said of noise reduction. As you smooth the image and reduce the noise, the visual effect is that the image becomes less sharp, but this isn’t the case. Detail is key. When using Noiseware, detail and texture appeared untouched, which is exactly what should be happening. Therefore, when first testing Noiseware, I suggest you use one of the presets and print a few files with and without noise reduction. I think you’ll find Noiseware addresses nearly all the issues of noise, grain and color aliasing. Should the time come when you want more control, you’ll find an abundance of tools at your disposal.
Special for Professional Photographer readers!
Professional Photographer readers receive a 20% discount on any Noiseware product (Standalones, Plug-ins, Pro Bundle). Enter coupon code PPA2006 when ordering via www.noiseware.com. Offer ends Dec. 31, 2006.