Noise is the digital equivalent of grain in film. It’s random electrical signals captured by the photosites on the camera sensor, and usually this background noise level is so low compared to the brightness of the captured picture itself that you just don’t notice it.
While there are plenty of tools out there that get rid of noise very effectively, you have to be careful how you go about it. Colour noise is easy to dial out and removing it doesn't usually have an impact on image quality – it's luminance noise that's the real issue because even now, regardless of all their brave words, software publishers still haven't truly figured out how to separate real image detail (good) from random image noise (bad).
As a result, when you try to dial out luminance noise in software, you inevitably start eating into vital textural detail too. If you push it too far you end up with that horrid 'watercolour' effect that afflicts many small-sensor cameras and smartphones. The noise is gone, but so too is everything else that might once have been fine, textural detail. You're left with clean hard outlines filled in with mush.
So take care. There are lots of tools for removing image noise but you have to rely heavily on your own judgement – there's very often a delicate tipping point where detail loss starts to hurt the picture quality more than noise removal improves it.
Verdict: 2.5 stars Dfine feels like an old-fashioned solution to a problem that has changed. There are now many ways of controlling noise in-camera or in RAW software, and the real issue these days is not just finding a tool that can do it well, but doing it at the right point in your workflow.
The default processing for camera RAW files in Lightroom is a reasonable start but quite often you find yourself making the same adjustments time and time again for specific cameras. I get that particularly with my Fujifilm X30. It’s a few years old now and has a pretty small sensor that’s prone to noise, but […]
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If you never thought you’d need to pay attention to the Lightroom noise reduction settings, you might need to think again. Like a lot of photographers I shoot RAW files on the assumption I’m going to get better image quality by processing the images myself rather than leaving it to the in-camera JPEG processing. That’s fine […]
It’s one of the less glamorous plug-ins in the Google Nik Collection, but Google Dfine 2 still fills a valuable function. It’s a noise-reduction plug-in that goes a few steps further than the noise reduction options built into regular applications, so here’s a quick guide to how it works and what it can do. I’m […]
Shooting in available light often gives the most natural and attractive portraits, but it also means you often have to shoot at high ISOs. I took this informal picture while I was working on a feature for N-Photo magazine, and while the light from the window is soft and even, it’s not very bright and […]