Noise Reduction Comes Of Age; Plug-Ins For Getting The Noise Out Page 2

Imagenomic’s (www.imagenomic.com) Noiseware removes high and low ISO noise and JPEG compression artifacts from digital files as well as grain from scanned film. The interface is intuitive and you’ll get excellent results without having to read the Help file. Noiseware’s self-learning mechanism automatically calibrates a noise profile and chooses the optimal noise removal settings without requiring camera-specific profiles. The plug-in allows the detected noise levels to be adjusted by tonal and color range while it preserves image detail based on tonality range, all the while processing to guard against excessive changes. Noiseware is available for Mac OS and Windows as a plug-in or stand-alone product in both Standard ($49.95) and Professional ($69.95) versions with the biggest difference being 16-bit capability in the Pro version. Both use heuristic programming that continuously perfects processing so every time you process an image, Noiseware learns more about your camera or scanner.

Imagenomic’s Noiseware Professional is available for Mac OS and Windows as a plug-in or stand-alone product. Both versions use heuristic programming that continuously perfects processing so every time you process an image, Noiseware learns more about your camera or acquisition device.

PictureCode’s (www.picturecode.com) Noise Ninja runs on both Windows and Mac OS X and is available as a stand-alone application or plug-in. The $69.95 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 $34.95. (The stand-alone version only costs $10 more.) Noise Ninja uses a proprietary type of wavelet analysis that avoids introducing artifacts that can cause blurred edges. It includes a set of tools for automatic and manual noise analysis and a “Noise Brush” that lets you undo or redo the effects of noise removal in luminance, chroma, or color channels. PictureCode recommends that photographers use Noise Ninja even if an image was shot at a low ISO setting because they claim you’ll be able to make larger enlargements before noise becomes a problem.

PictureCode’s Noise Ninja is available either as a stand-alone application or Photoshop-compatible plug-in. Noise Ninja uses a proprietary type of wavelet analysis that avoids introducing artifacts, such as fringing or blurring edges, to the final image file. To refine its noise reduction capabilities, it uses camera profiles that are offered free on its website. They also offer a profiling chart that lets you build your own profiles.

Neat Image (www.neatimage.com) is available as a stand-alone application or plug-in and uses noise reduction algorithms the company claims “surpass the quality of classic noise reduction methods and even that of the wavelet-based methods” and I am impressed enough by the results to make it my go-to choice for noise reduction. Neat Image builds and uses device profiles from any image-acquisition device (camera or scanner). It lets you build noise profiles automatically or manually: Auto Profiler is the easiest and quickest one-click way to build a noise profile, or you can manually select an image area for analysis and let Neat Image do the rest. Profile Matcher automatically selects the best matching noise profile based on the input image’s EXIF data. You can manually select the desired noise profile, rely on default filter settings, or manually adjust the noise filters. You can save and reuse noise profiles and filter settings. The Home version costs $29.90, while the Pro version, which supports 24- and 48-bit images and works with Photoshop Actions, costs $59.90.

Although wavelet-based methods of noise reduction were developed 10-15 years ago, Neat Image uses an even newer and more efficient approach to noise reduction. This approach enables drawing a clearer distinction between noise and details in noisy images.

Kodak’s (www.asf.com) Austin Development Center offers a $99 DIGITAL GEM Professional Photoshop-compatible plug-in that’s compatible with 16-bit color images and provides Coarse/Noise and Fine/Grain noise suppression. Each algorithm is customized for different types of image noise or film grain and has separate controls. The Coarse/Noise is aggressive and works better for extreme noise problems. Fine/Grain is not as aggressive and is tuned to remove grain or noise while preserving detail. DIGITAL GEM Professional offers a Noise Preview Screen that lets you view the noise (or film grain) you want to reduce. Adjustments can be made to define how much noise/grain vs. detail you want to affect. You can then toggle back and forth between Before, After, and Noise Preview screens and make adjustments to see how the plug-in improves the image.

Kodak’s Austin Development Center offers a $99 DIGITAL GEM Professional Plug-In that supports 16-bit image files. The Clarity control in its dialog box lets you customize the effects by providing additional sharpening or softening to the overall image while a Radius slider controls the area of surrounding pixels that are affected by the sharpening/softening.

Plug-ins must work through a host application, like Photoshop, in order to survive. Although Adobe defined the standard, you don’t need Photoshop to use plug-ins. Fully compatible plug-ins can be used with other image-editing programs, including Ulead Systems’ PhotoImpact and Corel’s Painter, PHOTO-PAINT, and Paint Shop Pro. Not all plug-ins work with Photoshop Elements and many plug-ins are not compatible with Apple’s Aperture. Plug-ins for Aperture must be designed specifically to work with the program. Other plug-ins work with Adobe’s Lightroom, but its plug-in architecture is dissimilar to Photoshop’s so be sure to check. Many, if not all, of the featured plug-ins are available in trial or demo versions, so be sure to visit the companies’ websites and download any that interest you and use them with your own photographs.

Note: All of the plug-ins that appear in this story are products that I use daily or have tested with Adobe’s Photoshop CS3. A list of CS4-compatible plug-ins can be found on Adobe’s website (www.adobe.com/products/plugins/photoshop). If you are a manufacturer of a plug-in (not an Action or application) that I did not include, please let me know about your product. Similarly, photographers who have a favorite noise reduction plug-in should e-mail me (editorial@shutterbug.com) and I’ll take a look at it for inclusion in an upcoming “Digital Innovations” column.

Joe Farace is coauthor, along with Pulitzer Prize-winning photojournalist Barry Staver, of “Better Available Light Digital Photography,” published by Focal Press and available from your friendly neighborhood bookstore or Amazon.com.

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