Noise Reduction Shootout: Straight Dope Comparison Review

NOTE: This article is a few years old. Most of the products mentioned here have newer refined versions. They arr all viable options. Look over our review. But also check out the latest offerings from each company and see what they offer.

by Gavin Seim. Updated 04/2010: Even with cameras getting amazing at high ISO, low noise images, there’s still room in our kits for good noise reduction software. It allows us to push the limits and keep our images clean and vivid. Nearly every serious photographer should have a good noise reduction tool in his arsenal. That said I don’t think we need to use NR all the time like we did in the past. A little noise is not always bad, especially the more appealing grain like noise coming from today’s cameras. I keep various NR tools on hand however so if I want to reduce, their ready to go.

Today the showdown has come. I see lots of talk about what’s the best noise reduction software, but mostly it’s all talk. Rather than just talk, I’ve made comparisons. Lots of comparisons. I’ll give you examples with various products, images, cameras and ISO settings, including some HDR. At the end I’ll give my final opinions of each product and let you decide for yourself. Let’s get started.

The Contenders:
Neat Image VS Noise Ninja VS Noiseware VS Dfine VS Lightroom VS Topaz Denoise VS Photoshop:

All tests were made using the Photoshop plugin versions of the products but some are available as standalone apps. Settings varied, but I used mostly default settings and automatic profiles, with occasional tweaks to get the results I felt looked best. This means these images represent the results you would get with a single pass and minimal hassle.

Often I found that one product maybe great on one image, while another product may work better on the next. Tweaking the settings would perhaps improve results a little depending on the image, however I wanted a real feel of the results we’ll get everyday. You can click any image for a large view, but some results are similar so you may want to download the large image bundle linked below.

Download all HR Images in bundle

1_4-5d2-3200-ninja

1_1-5d2-3200-none 1_2-5d2-3200-dfine 1_3-5d2-3200-neat 1_5-5d2-3200-topaz

1_6-5d2-3200-noiseware 1_7-5d2-3200-cs4 1_8-5d2-3200-lr

2_5-5d2-500-hdr-topaz

2_1-5d2-500-hdr-none 2_2-5d2-500-hdr-dfine 2_3-5d2-500-hdr-neat

2_4-5d2-500-hdr-ninja 2_6-5d2-500-hdr-noiseware 2_7-5d2-500-hdr-lr

3_6-5d2-6400-noiseware

3_1-5d2-6400-none 3_2-5d2-6400-dfine 3_3-5d2-6400-neat

3_4-5d2-6400-ninja 3_5-5d2-6400-topaz

4_5-5d2-12800-topaz

4_1-5d2-12800-none 4_2-5d2-12800-dfine 4_3-5d2-12800-neat

4_4-5d2-12800-ninja 4_6-5d2-12800-noiseware 4_7-5d2-12800-lr

5_4-30d-800-ninja

5_1-30d-800-none 5_2-30d-800-dfine 5_3-30d-800-neat

5_5-30d-800-topaz 5_6-30d-800-noiseware

6_5-30d-1600-topaz

6_1-30d-1600-none 6_2-30d-1600-dfine 6_3-30d-1600-neat

6_4-30d-1600-ninja 6_6-30d-1600-noiseware 6_7-30d-1600-cs4

7_5-lx3-800-topaz

7_1-lx3-800-none 7_2-lx3-800-dfine 7_3-lx3-800-neat

7_4-lx3-800-ninja 7_6-lx3-800-noiseware

86-5d2-25600-noiseware

81-5d2-25600-none 82-5d2-25600-dfine 83-5d2-25600-neat

84-5d2-25600-ninja 85-5d2-25600-topaz 87-5d2-25600-lr

Costs, Versions & Discounts:
It seems some vendors like to confuse us as some plugins have various versions. The versions I tested with were full/pro versions. Also since prices change I’ve just linked to each site so you can check the current cost of each. Most are in the $60-$100 range.

PPS has also arranged some discounts for you on some of these products. They in no way affected the review (were added afterwords in fact). We simply add them to products as we arrange affiliate deals and reader discount. I suggest however you don’t use the price to make your decision. Pick the tool that best fits your needs.

The Straight Dope:
All the third party products tested worked well. However I compared the results from each image sequence and picked what I felt was the best and counted the wins for each. I was even a little surprised by the final results. It was close, and no one tool did everything best. Based strictly on reduction quality, I felt Topaz won, but you can should at the images yourself. Topaz was also the slowest by a landslide however. Below are a few other things to consider and my thoughts on each product. Feel free to give yours in the comments, or on the Forum discussion.

Right now. If I was to buy two products they would probably be Noiseware and Topaz. If I was only buying one it would probably be Noiseware or Ninja due to them being much faster. I personally use Noiseware the most. I like the interface, plus it’s quite fast. Topaz can be really effective, but I’m finding I only use it when I’m willing to experiment in hopes of getting slightly better reduction. For a quick reduction it’s just so slow.

Noise Reduction Quality Only:
#1 – Topaz DeNoise – 4 wins. Sequences 2, 4, 6 and 7.
#2 tie – Noise Ninja – 2 wins. Sequences 1 and 5.
#2 tie – Noiseware 2 wins. Sequence 3 and 8.

Photoshop :CS4 Built In (Photoshop Only).
Reduction Quality was the worst by a mile. Speed was normal, but overall usefulness is very low. It removes little of the noise without killing detail.

Lightroom: (Lightroom Only).
Lightroom noise reduction tools are fast and useful. Their already in LR which many of us use. Unfortunately the reduction is not the best. While it’s useful for light reduction and seems better than Photoshop’s built in reduction, it will not replace a heavy lifting reduction tool.

Topaz Denoise: Save 10% with code PROSHOW (PS Plugin only).
UPDATED 07/10/09: De-noise V3. Version 3 just came out and is performing well. The sample images are still from V2 at this time. Reduction quality is perhaps slightly better in V3. The interface is more feature rich and the speed has also been improved somewhat, but Topaz is still the slowest of the bunch.

Overall the new kid on block does well. The simple interface and effective overall best reduction make it a serious contender. The interface is really simple which is nice. It also includes a blur reduction slider, adding a simple way to sharpen the image on the run, as well as some perks like fill light correction. The bottom line is that it works great. That said you might be better with another choice if speed is a concern.

Nik Dfine 2: Save 15% with code PPS (PS Plugin only) Tested 2.0 PS plugin).
Dfine looks the coolest on the surface. It’s interface is a breeze. There’s very few options, so it leaves little room to tweak but it’s very easy. It also seems to work well with actions. My problem is I find the reduction be be a bit softer. I want to remove noise, not detail and I feel that Dfine tends to take away a tad much. It’s not bad, it’s just not as good as the competition and I don’t use it much. Still some users may like the smoother look, so give the demo a try.

Noiseware: Save 15% with code PPSIMG. (PS & Stand alone Win/Mac) Tested on 4.1.1 plugin).
Noiseware is reliable and a powerful yet simple interface (probably my favorite). It’s reduction is solid and it’s reduction speed, while not the the fastest is snappy. Also the profile it takes it almost instant making overall edit time very short. It also works well with actions.

Noise Ninja: (PS/Aperture Plugin. Stand alone Win/Mac/Linux) Tested with 2.13a PS plugin).
Noise Ninja is another popular favorite. While I usually find it often away slightly more detail that neat Image, it sometimes turns around and does better. I like having both, and Ninja’s reliable auto mode and effective reduction make it a good choice. It also works great in actions and even has a tab in tab for specifying action option during set up.

Neat Image: (PS/Aperture Plugin, Standalone Win) Tested with V4.6 PS plugin).
Neat is a long standing contender and has long been a favorite of mine. Plenty of tweaks and options, reputable for good noise reduction and the fastest tested. I do find it’s auto mode mode to fail more than some others (bad when using actions), but manual still does do a good job. The interface does seem the most archaic of all products tested. Because of this some will tend to avoid getting the tweaking and because of that may get a lower quality result. I have to admit that while it’s still a solid choice, it seems to be lagging behind a bit these days.

Prcessing Speed:
Speed can be very relevant depending on the work your doing. I timed the reduction times not including profiling (if needed). The tests were all made on the sequence one image (Red Rose), which is from the 5D MK2 at a resolution of 3587×5238. They were tested in CS4 on an Apple Mac Pro, running Dual 2Ghz Xeon processors, 7GB of ram and a 50GB scratch disk. Bear in mind that speed can vary and these were made on only the one image. It’s just a guideline.

  • Noiseware: Profile = 0.0, Reduction = 11.74, Total = 11.74 sec.
  • Dfine 2: Auto Profile = 4.1, Reduction = 26.2, Total = 30.3 sec.
  • Neat Image: Auto Profile = 1.85, Reduction = 8.27, Total = 10.12 sec.
  • Noise Ninja: Auto Profile = 6, Reduction = 10.23, Total = 16.23 sec.
  • Topaz De Noise Auto Profile = None, Reduction = 141.8, Total = 141.8 sec.
  • Photoshop CS4 Auto Profile = None, Reduction = 23.75, Total =23.75 sec.

Interface Screenshots – Dfine, Neat, Ninja, Topaz, Ware

ui-dfine ui-neat ui-ninja

ui-topaz ui-noiseware