Noise Reduction Shootout: Straight Dope Comparison Review

PinExt 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 300x244 Noise Reduction Shootout: Straight Dope Comparison Review

1 1 5d2 3200 none 150x150 Noise Reduction Shootout: Straight Dope Comparison Review 1 2 5d2 3200 dfine 150x150 Noise Reduction Shootout: Straight Dope Comparison Review 1 3 5d2 3200 neat 150x150 Noise Reduction Shootout: Straight Dope Comparison Review 1 5 5d2 3200 topaz 150x150 Noise Reduction Shootout: Straight Dope Comparison Review

1 6 5d2 3200 noiseware 150x150 Noise Reduction Shootout: Straight Dope Comparison Review 1 7 5d2 3200 cs4 150x150 Noise Reduction Shootout: Straight Dope Comparison Review 1 8 5d2 3200 lr 150x150 Noise Reduction Shootout: Straight Dope Comparison Review

2 5 5d2 500 hdr topaz 244x300 Noise Reduction Shootout: Straight Dope Comparison Review

2 1 5d2 500 hdr none 150x150 Noise Reduction Shootout: Straight Dope Comparison Review 2 2 5d2 500 hdr dfine 150x150 Noise Reduction Shootout: Straight Dope Comparison Review 2 3 5d2 500 hdr neat 150x150 Noise Reduction Shootout: Straight Dope Comparison Review

2 4 5d2 500 hdr ninja 150x150 Noise Reduction Shootout: Straight Dope Comparison Review 2 6 5d2 500 hdr noiseware 150x150 Noise Reduction Shootout: Straight Dope Comparison Review 2 7 5d2 500 hdr lr 150x150 Noise Reduction Shootout: Straight Dope Comparison Review

3 6 5d2 6400 noiseware 244x300 Noise Reduction Shootout: Straight Dope Comparison Review

3 1 5d2 6400 none 150x150 Noise Reduction Shootout: Straight Dope Comparison Review 3 2 5d2 6400 dfine 150x150 Noise Reduction Shootout: Straight Dope Comparison Review 3 3 5d2 6400 neat 150x150 Noise Reduction Shootout: Straight Dope Comparison Review

3 4 5d2 6400 ninja 150x150 Noise Reduction Shootout: Straight Dope Comparison Review 3 5 5d2 6400 topaz 150x150 Noise Reduction Shootout: Straight Dope Comparison Review

4 5 5d2 12800 topaz 244x300 Noise Reduction Shootout: Straight Dope Comparison Review

4 1 5d2 12800 none 150x150 Noise Reduction Shootout: Straight Dope Comparison Review 4 2 5d2 12800 dfine 150x150 Noise Reduction Shootout: Straight Dope Comparison Review 4 3 5d2 12800 neat 150x150 Noise Reduction Shootout: Straight Dope Comparison Review

4 4 5d2 12800 ninja 150x150 Noise Reduction Shootout: Straight Dope Comparison Review 4 6 5d2 12800 noiseware 150x150 Noise Reduction Shootout: Straight Dope Comparison Review 4 7 5d2 12800 lr 150x150 Noise Reduction Shootout: Straight Dope Comparison Review

5 4 30d 800 ninja 244x300 Noise Reduction Shootout: Straight Dope Comparison Review

5 1 30d 800 none 150x150 Noise Reduction Shootout: Straight Dope Comparison Review 5 2 30d 800 dfine 150x150 Noise Reduction Shootout: Straight Dope Comparison Review 5 3 30d 800 neat 150x150 Noise Reduction Shootout: Straight Dope Comparison Review

5 5 30d 800 topaz 150x150 Noise Reduction Shootout: Straight Dope Comparison Review 5 6 30d 800 noiseware 150x150 Noise Reduction Shootout: Straight Dope Comparison Review

6 5 30d 1600 topaz 244x300 Noise Reduction Shootout: Straight Dope Comparison Review

6 1 30d 1600 none 150x150 Noise Reduction Shootout: Straight Dope Comparison Review 6 2 30d 1600 dfine 150x150 Noise Reduction Shootout: Straight Dope Comparison Review 6 3 30d 1600 neat 150x150 Noise Reduction Shootout: Straight Dope Comparison Review

6 4 30d 1600 ninja 150x150 Noise Reduction Shootout: Straight Dope Comparison Review 6 6 30d 1600 noiseware 150x150 Noise Reduction Shootout: Straight Dope Comparison Review 6 7 30d 1600 cs4 150x150 Noise Reduction Shootout: Straight Dope Comparison Review

7 5 lx3 800 topaz 300x244 Noise Reduction Shootout: Straight Dope Comparison Review

7 1 lx3 800 none 150x150 Noise Reduction Shootout: Straight Dope Comparison Review 7 2 lx3 800 dfine 150x150 Noise Reduction Shootout: Straight Dope Comparison Review 7 3 lx3 800 neat 150x150 Noise Reduction Shootout: Straight Dope Comparison Review

7 4 lx3 800 ninja 150x150 Noise Reduction Shootout: Straight Dope Comparison Review 7 6 lx3 800 noiseware 150x150 Noise Reduction Shootout: Straight Dope Comparison Review

86 5d2 25600 noiseware 244x300 Noise Reduction Shootout: Straight Dope Comparison Review

81 5d2 25600 none 150x150 Noise Reduction Shootout: Straight Dope Comparison Review 82 5d2 25600 dfine 150x150 Noise Reduction Shootout: Straight Dope Comparison Review 83 5d2 25600 neat 150x150 Noise Reduction Shootout: Straight Dope Comparison Review

84 5d2 25600 ninja 150x150 Noise Reduction Shootout: Straight Dope Comparison Review 85 5d2 25600 topaz 150x150 Noise Reduction Shootout: Straight Dope Comparison Review 87 5d2 25600 lr 150x150 Noise Reduction Shootout: Straight Dope Comparison Review

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 150x150 Noise Reduction Shootout: Straight Dope Comparison Review ui neat 150x150 Noise Reduction Shootout: Straight Dope Comparison Review ui ninja 150x150 Noise Reduction Shootout: Straight Dope Comparison Review

ui topaz 150x150 Noise Reduction Shootout: Straight Dope Comparison Review ui noiseware 150x150 Noise Reduction Shootout: Straight Dope Comparison Review


ad ex slim Noise Reduction Shootout: Straight Dope Comparison Review

  • http://blog.kevinmullinsphotography.co.uk Kevin Mullins

    Great test review Gavin. Really good stuff. I’ve got a MkII too and whilst the noise at high ISO is exceptional, you are right, there is still a need for full NR software.

  • http://www.seraphicimago.com Robert

    Gav, thanks for the review … I’ve never been fully satisfied by the noise reduction tool in Lightroom, it always seemed to me like LR was simply “softening” the image as a means of ‘correcting’ for noise … Now I have some other tools to play with, thanks for the tips …

  • Eugene

    Gav, this is the most comprehensive review I’ve ever seen. This is great!!! Thanks.

  • Steve H

    Hey Gav,

    Nice job. I have had great results with Noiseware and the 5D Mk II, so +1 to that combination.

    FYI, Dfine is an Aperture plug-in also, for those that care.

  • http://www.peteleong.com Pete Leong

    Thanks a bunch Gav! Great detailed review! The results were quite surprising.

  • Eli

    Excellent review.
    Thanks
    Eli

  • Hman

    Thanks for the result! I love topaz ;-)

  • CanadianChris

    I use noise ninja and dfine from Aperture regularly. I’ve found myself using dfine a whole bunch because it is way faster. Nice to see the head to head comparison!

  • http://www.johnvphotography.com John Vercelletto

    Nice job Gavin, thanks for the info. it’s helpful as I am in the market for noise reduction software.

  • Dashney

    This is why I love the internet. Thanks for helping me decide. Topaz has adjust/simplify/denoise as a $99 US bundle and I think I’ll get it now that I know denoise works.

  • EJ Neilsen

    Interesting but just what kind of files were you working on besides coming from your Canon. JEPGS, TIF, PSD, ??? Size of the file besides pixel dimension, like 16 bit, 8 bit, what color space? These all influence the ability of the noise software.

    I can see you spent some time here but to what end? Without the processing information the tests are too subjective to show me too much. I can see quite a bit of sharpening noise around the baby’s nose and eyes before the noise reduction software is applied? Hopw much sharpening was done and with what before you ran noise reduction on these files?

    thanks

    Eric

  • http://www.rusticolus.co.uk Mark J M Wilson

    Good review Gavin, nice to see all these pitched together! Did you install device specific profiles for each software? I know it can make a huge difference with Neat Image, and makes automation using actions much better.

    Also, do all of them run on 64bit Photoshop as plugins?

    • http://www.prophotoshow.net Gavin Seim

      On products that have specific profiles available I used them (like neat) But neat still misses the auto profiling in actions more than others. Since I used files from various cameras, some had profiles and I think a few were missing. Still got a good variety.

      As for the 64 bis PS I’m honestly not sure. Since they can run within PS I think they woudl be OK, but have not checked yet.

      Gav

  • http://www.dave.jp davidjp

    You should also test Nik Software Dfine 2.0. It beats all the rest for workflow and meets or beats for quality too. I recently purchased Nik Define after using the trial for a couple weeks. It turns 5D Mark II ISO 6400 into standard ISO 1000 to 1600 looking images. Please add this to your test, it is free to try.

  • http://www.dave.jp davidjp

    oops, I suddenly see Nik Dfine at the bottom of your post in results. You should try the Lightroom version as I think it is faster than the PS version. For me and my workflow the NR quality is great too.

  • http://www.rusticolus.co.uk Mark J M Wilson

    I have found some plug-ins not compatible with 64bit Photoshop – for example, Neat Image and PTLens have specific 64bit versions because the 32bit ones don’t work.

  • http://www.gjetting.com Jon Angelo

    Nice work.

    What settings have you been using?

    The results you get with neatimage is by far much inferior to the ones i get. Maybe you set it wrong. Topaz also gives me nicer results than the ones you posted here.

    Thank you for doing this.

    • http://www.prophotoshow.net Gavin Seim

      Thanks Jon. As I said at the start of the review, each product was ran with quick settings. They varied, but to all were settings that were quick and realistic to a real editing workflow. None of them got extensive tweaking and adjusting to make them do better. If something can’t handle it right off, it’s lacking.

      As to better results with Neat and Topaz I have used both extensively (especially Neat) and I think the results are pretty much in line with the norm. Both were good. No images reduce the same it’s true. Some will do better, and some worse and that’s why I did many examples.

  • http://GaryGlass.com Gary Glass

    Thanks very much for taking the time to do such a comparrison.. Very informative and really help me to see which one may work best for me without buying one and regretting later as well as saving me $$.. I actually had not even heard of Topaz until your link..

  • http://naturechronicles.com Rajneesh

    Gavin,
    By far the most comprehensive tests I have seen.
    Thanks for reconfirming my faith in NN, was thinking of taking the Dfine trial. Would spend the time saved more productively.
    Never knew about Topaz but the improvement in results do not mandate such a big trade-off in time, atleast for me.
    Thanks,

  • Jimmy J

    I really appreciate the time and effort that you put forth on this review. I was really on the fence between three of the software/plugins you mentioned. After some deliberation, I made my decision yesterday and I decided to go with Noiseware. I had downloaded free trial versions and tried each out. For me, Noiseware offers a good balance of noise reduction and detail retention. Its processing speed is a definite plus. And I really like the layout of Noiseware’s menu interface and menu options.

    Thank you again for providing the information, links, and discount codes.

    Peace and all good things,

    Jimmy

  • http://www.philip-smith.com Phil Smith

    Great stuff. Thanks for that.

  • http://blog.davr.org David R

    Not sure why you had such bad luck with the CS4 built in noise reduction. I use it all the time, it works pretty well in my experience. You may have had the sliders set to very low or something, if you turn them up a bit it is pretty effective at removing noise.

  • Tony

    I’d love to see how XiDenoiser’s 7 algorithms compare … and it’s free !

  • http://beverlyflores.com Beverly

    This is exactly the kind of review I’ve been surfing around for. Thank you for this comprehensive review!!

  • RickW

    Thanks, like many others out there I’ve been trying to find side-by-side comparisons and this had definately helped me make my decison.

  • http://www.adptools.com Filip

    Hey dont you wanna include DenoiseMyImage to your survey?

  • Scott

    Thank you for this review… I have been battling “noisy” pictures every Friday night… My son plays HS Football and the games start at 7:00pm. I’m shooting with a Nikon D200 with a 70-200 f/2.8 lens. I can stop the action and keep it light enough… But I have to use ISO 800 to 1600. Now, with one of these great NR products, I am able to dramatically change the appearance of my photos. THANK YOU!

  • Pereira

    Hello

    Your review is fantastic. Thank you. What you think when u compare the Topaz DeNoise, Noise Ninja and Noiseware with Digital Photo Professional from Canon?

    Thank you.

  • http://www.artphotokebek.blogspot.com Roger Gauthier

    Great! I learned quite a lot by reading this. I’m using Photoshop CS5 on a Mac Pro and OSX 10.6.4. I’ve been using Noise Ninja for a long time but… they have no 64-bit version for Mac, so I kicked them out and bought Neat Image. There is a major bug on CS5: the software has the same command (Reduce Noise…) than Photoshop’s own command, and while it does the job, I have to quit Photoshop in order to open another picture by clicking on it! So I’m now looking for another contender, and I will have a look at Noiseware. Your analysis helped me quite a lot.

  • http://www.truphotos.com Truphotos

    Thanks a lot for the informative comparison. It helped me arrive to a decision on which software to purchase :)

  • Geoff

    Thank you for the review. I have been using neat image, however wondered if a change might be in order. I admit I use the auto mode on the noise reduction, so whichever does best at the default is likely the best for me at this time. When I am posting 100 sports shots I run a quick and dirty auto with the profile for my camera. I may try another just to see, providing they have a trial version.

    Thanks again

  • http://abelsonphotography.com Glenn

    Thanks for the review.
    I have been using Topaz DeNoise, but with all the praise for Noise Ninja I decided to look further.
    I will look no more.
    Seems there are several good packages to chose from.

  • http://smartimagedenoiser.com Smart Image Denoiser

    Good review of noise reduction software.

  • Tord55

    As everyone here writes, a good summing up. Loved the Topaz when it came, now mostly using Noiseware, for its speed.




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