Digital Diary; Manic Monday Or How I Learned To Stop Worring And Love Noise

Photos © 2004, Joe Farace, All Rights Reserved

"C'mon Honey, let's go make some noise."--The Bangles

Dear Diary: All digital cameras add noise to images. Like film grain, it's worse at high ISOs and is more noticeable in areas of uniform color, such as skies and shadows. Since noise can be objectionable, there are more than 20 different DNR (Digital Noise Reduction) software products available for Mac OS and Windows computers. I've tested many, but not all of them, and here's a short list in order of my preference. Keep in mind that your camera and the kind of images you make may be different than mine, so download a demo version of each product and try it yourself.

If you thought that shooting with a digital camera means the end of "grain" think again. It's back at you as noise. All digital cameras add some level of noise to your images. Like film grain, it's worse at high ISOs and is more noticeable in areas of uniform color, and can easily be seen when enlarged as in this photograph. This month, you'll learn how to tame it.

The Imaging Factory
Noise Reduction Pro (www.imagingfactory.com) is the first noise reduction tool I reach for. For less than $100, this Photoshop compatible plug-in reduces ISO noise, CCD color noise, JPEG artifacts, and color fringing. Unlike the non-Pro ($39.95) version, it features separate controls for luminance and color noise. While not the strongest grain removal product, Noise Reduction Pro avoids the mushy look some noise reduction solution produce. Which version do you need? Download 30-day demo versions of both plug-ins and try them both.

The Imaging Factory offers a pair of noise reduction plug-ins: Noise Reduction Pro fights high ISO and CCD color noise, JPEG color artifacts, and even color-fringing. Unlike the less expensive non-Pro version, it features separate controls for luminance and color noise. Download demos of both and see what works best for your noisy files.

Visual Infinity
Grain Surgery (www.visinf.com) can reduce digital noise and film grain. It will even add grain! This $179 Photoshop compatible plug-in is an industrial tool and is priced like one, too. Grain Surgery cleans up digital noise and film grain, reduces JPEG compression artifacts, and can remove halftone patterns from scans. The interface provides easy access to all settings, provides a wonderfully useful split-window preview, and lets you save your settings and reload them later. You can even add grain and the plug-in ships with presets for common film stocks. A Sample Grain module lets you create and manage custom grain libraries pulled from your own images. The Auto Match Grain module has one click duplication of grain from film, like Ilford's 3200, a personal favorite. As I was finishing this diary entry, Visual Infinity announced a new plug-in called NoisEraser that uses Grain Surgery's noise optimization technology and is aimed at DNR only.

Visual Infinity's Grain Surgery is an industrial strength plug-in that reduces digital noise as well as grain in scanned film. This Photoshop compatible plug-in even lets you add film grain to a digital or non-digital photograph.

Applied Science Fiction
Kodak's (www.asf.com) Austin Development Center a.k.a. Applied Science Fiction launched a $99 Digital GEM Professional plug-in that supports 16-bit color images produced by high-end digital capture devices. The Clarity control lets you customize the effects by providing additional sharpening or softening to the overall image while the Radius slider controls the area of surrounding pixels that are affected by the sharpening/softening. The higher the radius, the more dramatic the effect will be. A Noise Preview Screen shows the actual image noise/grain that will be affected by your settings. A non-Pro version is also available for $49.95.

Digital GEM Professional Plug-In includes a Clarity control that provides additional sharpening or softening to the overall image while the Radius slider controls the area of surrounding pixels that are affected by the sharpening/softening.

Picture Code
Unlike other products here, Noise Ninja (www.picturecode.com) is a stand-alone application and is available in two versions. The $69 Professional version works with 16-bit TIFF files (48-bits per pixel) and supports batch processing and multiprocessor computers. The 8-bit home version costs $29. Noise Ninja uses wavelet theory that improves the ability to automatically identify and suppress noise at different frequencies, locations, and color channels. Noise Ninja uses a proprietary type of wavelet analysis that avoids introducing artifacts, such as ringing or blurring edges. To refine its noise reduction capabilities, it uses camera profiles offered free on its website. The site tells you how to build your own or Picture Code will even do it for you.

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