I hate pixel peeping. A photo is not meant to be viewed with a magnifying glass an inch at a time. That view probably comes from starting in photography way back in the days of film when we actually sought out specific films because of their grain patterns. That said, there is a point where noise detracts from the photo and digital noise isn’t the same as film grain. Enter noise reduction programs. These programs don’t care about color cast, highlight blowout, or composition. Their sole purpose is to remove those tiny dots that shouldn’t be there. Some do this well, others not so much. They all make wild claims about how good they are though and offer unbelievable before/after shots on their webpages.
So, when I saw the claims and images on the Topaz DeNoise 5 page I rolled my eyes and grumbled under my breath before hitting the download button to test out the claims. The eye rolls and grumbles soon turned to surprised muttering about it actually working pretty close to claims. This puts Topaz DeNoise 5 in a rare class, software that lives up to its promises. Noise is removed and details stay. So read on for my Topaz DeNoise review.
Noise Reduction for Everyone
There has been a trend lately towards higher quality programs working only with RAW format but truth be told, vast numbers of very talented photographers don’t always shoot RAW. Topaz DeNoise works with RAW or JPEG settings so that whatever you shoot you have access to a powerful editing tool.
Testing the Software
We all know really high ISO images are going to be noisy but honestly the most annoying noise to me is noise in sky and bokeh backgrounds at relatively lower ISOs. A little noise in a subject is easily overlooked but on a vast expanse of a single color it becomes obvious. So as part of my testing of Topaz DeNoise 5 I grabbed a simple flower photo that has lots of background.
Looks fine…until you blow it up.
Once you look at the 100% detail of the photo you can see there is a fair amount of noise.
Almost any noise reduction program can remove this noise. The trick is can they get rid of the vast majority of the noise and save the detail?
DeNoise works as a plug in so the interface will vary a little in appearance based on your main photo editing program that is acting as the host for DeNoise. However, the program works pretty much the same across all the platforms.
Yes, I know I have a hot pixel in the example. I left it there to remind me to mention that DeNoise will not remove hot pixels during the noise reduction process. Items that large are left alone. This is good as it helps preserve detail in the rest of your image.
Note the quick presets on the left of the interface for both RAW and Jpeg images. Presets can easily be adjusted by the sliders on the right of the interface or you can use just the sliders on the right from the start.
The slider controls give you remarkable control over the way DeNoise reduces and removes noise in your images.
If you let your mouse cursor rest over any of the controls a pop up explanation blurb will appear to give you details on how that slider works. For example, showing you that the slider shadow is all about adjusting the noise reduction strength in the shadow areas, NOT adjusting the lighting of the shadows. This is helpful as the simple labels of the sliders are verbatim to many exposure sliders in other programs.
Preview modes let you easily focus in on problem areas by viewing the image in a variety of methods. It is worth noting that the 100% view in the DeNoise interface does not match the 100% view in my photo editor. The DeNoise program enlarges past what my photo editor sees as 100%. Bear this in mind when editing your images. Also, there is no magnification between 100% and 50% in the DeNoise window.
Once you use the sliders to get your basic noise adjustment you can use the detail recovery sliders to reduce blur and recover details as needed. Note that heavy use of this will introduce new artifacts into your images. Still, DeNoise does an admirable job of walking the knife’s edge between noise reduction and detail loss.
Missed the Mark
There are a couple of things I need to point out where DeNoise 5 falls short a bit.
Zoom limitations. The lack of customizable zoom is the biggest problem with DeNoise for me and leads to a good bit of bouncing between 100% and 50% zoom levels.
No layers. DeNoise does not create a new layer in layer-compatible editors, it is just a straight filter. To get around this create a duplicate layer before beginning the DeNoise filter.
Processing time. I really don’t mind waiting for a strong program to do its work when it does its work well but it bears mentioning that you will be waiting up to several minutes for detailed work to be completed.
I was very impressed with Topaz DeNoise 5. Overall the program does an excellent job of noise reduction without losing detail, even in extremely noisy high ISO images I tested in addition to the example image used above. It also does a great job for creating a base effect when converting your images to look painted by using very strong settings on the photo. A free trial is available from Topaz so there really is nothing to lose by downloading it and giving it a try with your images.
Plug in that is Compatible with:
Adobe Photoshop CC
Adobe Photoshop CS4-CS6 (32-bit and 64-bit)
Adobe Photoshop Elements 6-13+
Serif Photo Plus
Mac or PC
Mac OSX 10.6+ or Windows 7+ with > 4GB RAM