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topaz denoise softwareReview of Topaz DeNoise

The Topaz Labs range of plugins

Keith Cooper has been looking at 'DeNoise V5.1', one of the range of image processing plugins from Topaz Labs, and written up these short notes on its use.

Whilst we use Photoshop for image editing at Northlight, the Topaz plugins work with a wide variety of image editing packages, including Paintshop pro and iPhoto.

The range of functionality for the plugins from Topaz is so broad that the reviews are split up over several articles.

What do you get with Topaz DeNoise?

The plugin installs as an 'add-on' for other software and provides a range of preset adjustment options and ways of fine tuning settings.

Topaz DeNoise 5.1 has a cleaned up look to its interface and works with a number of different image editing tools.

Buying Topaz Labs plugins: Direct from Topaz

Individual plugins are downloadable (30 day free trial)

If you buy any software via this link (bundle or individual plugin), then we get a small fee (it costs you no more). Neither Keith Cooper nor Northlight Images has any other connection with Topaz labs whatsoever. We believe strongly in making any affiliate links like this clear.

Topaz Clarity is available at 25% off up to 31st October with code octclarity at checkout. See Keiths review of Clarity

host software optionsAlthough I'm using Photoshop for this review, the software works perfectly well in conjunction with other packages.

Noise removal from images may be a process that needs a large amount of computer processing, but the interpretation of what looks best for a particular image in a particular application (web or print for example) is a judgement call for you to make.

It's one reason that I keep a number of tools that I can use, since they all tend to have a different 'look'.

Another factor is that I only ever shoot RAW files, I don't use compact cameras or phones to take photos very often.

I know that this varies, so it's worth seeing how any particular software will work with -your- chosen images.

The plugin

The plugin is applied via Photoshop's filter menu (see the summary at the end for details of all the other applications you can use it with).

There is a lot of help and support materials available from Topaz, starting with this (optional) getting started information.

Try and resist the urge to just skip it - I test software a lot, and have learned that a few minutes spent at the start can make it far easier to discover the best ways such a plugin can work for you.

Topaz denoise startup screen and help

The standard way for the software to open up is with a list of preset adjustment options to the left, and the controls for adjusting all the image processing parameters to the right.

The panels can be hidden (mouse over the image below to see).

plugin screen layout

The preset options are very welcome (you can save your own) since many of the adjustments on the right will interact with each other. Look on the presets as initial places to explore and then tweak a slider of two to get a feel for how they affect your image.

This experimentation is important since different cameras have very different noise profiles, with considerable variations possible.

You might want to try turning off (if you can) some 'in camera' noise processing for JPEG images at high ISO, and see if DeNoise does a better job.

If you think that DeNoise can take several seconds to process an image, and compare that with the fraction of a second that your camera takes when saving a JPEG to a card, then you can see that what comes out of your camera may not always be the best, especially at high ISO settings.

The developers of DeNoise deliberately took an 'as long as it takes' approach to processing, so expect a slight lag sometimes when moving a slider.

I'm minded to say that if this delay bothers you, then get over it... all those calculations might take a few seconds today, but only a few years ago would have taken a few minutes ;-) The software seems to be taking advantage of multiple processors on my Mac Pro for its working.

The noise in digital images is often different in terms of luminance and colour. It's possible to view your image in different ways so as to see how the different noise contributes to your image.

monochrome view

The overall 'colour' view.

colour information for image

A detail of a 6400 ISO JPEG from a Canon 60D.

A 'moderate' setting has cleaned it well (this is a 200% magnified view)

moderate noise reduction setting

With better quality images, changes may not be immediately obvious.

Move your mouse over the image below, to see the original uncleaned/noisier' image.

  • The button in the top left is what is clicked to see the original - note its change of name.

comparison with original image

A look in the shadows will more likely show what's happening.

Mouse over the image below to see.

Noise showing up in shadows in high ISO image

As you can see, there are a lot of adjustments you can alter, however don't expect drastic changes. What works best for one image may look 'overdone' for another.

Try looking at the different preview modes to see where the noise is in your image. For example, an image with a lot of shadow detail will have noise in those shadows - using the auto-brighten feature will -temporarily- open up those shadows, so as to have a better view of that noise (and to decide if you need to do something about it)

The plugin should ideally be used on your imported JPEG images before any additional processing, although you can apply it whenever you like.

The image below shows part of a test shot taken with my Canon 100D at an ISO setting of 25600. This is a straight conversion of a RAW file, with no noise reduction applied.

Pushing such a camera to 25600 is never going to get great results, but I wanted to see what it could do with such extremes.

The amount of noise is very obvious, even in this reduced screen shot - mouse over it to see the effect of the 'Strongest RAW' setting.

test shot at extremely high ISO

Two 100% crops of my old OM2 camera, show the sort of improvement you can get.

full image noise at 25600

I'd note that the cleaned up version below also has a small amount of monochrome noise added, which helps deal with the 'painterly' flatness you sometimes get with strong noise reduction.

cleaned up high ISO image

What looks best is up to you... A much more reasonable test at 6400 ISO - produces much finer results.

There are very few occasions where actually using a 25600 setting on the 100D would make any sense for me. Remember that software like this can only do so much.

The software also handles banding in files, although I didn't have any that showed this enough to test reliably.

Conclusions

The software worked fine with Photoshop on my Mac - it may be launched in slightly different ways from other host software, but the functionality is the same. As with other Topaz plugins I'd like to have the option of the software returning its results in a new layer (for masking purposes) but it's little trouble to duplicate a layer before starting.

My main question was to when I'd use the software.

I'm very much reminded of the person stopping their car in the countryside and asking for directions, only to be told "Well, I wouldn't start from here"

How so? Well I go to a great deal of trouble to ensure that I don't ever have to work with unduly noisy images in my day to day work, which means that on the rare occasions I do have to push up the ISO settings then it's going to be for an image that's only likely to be used for web use (hence resized downwards), and I'll have a RAW file to work from. If I really want to push things then I can spend 10 minutes processing a RAW image using DxO's PRIME noise processing. One of the reasons I don't use compact cameras or phones is the awful image quality (from my own POV) that they produce - I know that this sets my experience apart from many.

However, I realise that many people work with images where the choice to start somewhere else is -not- an option, and that's where tools like this can be very handy.

One of the reasons I still use my Canon 1Ds Mk3 is that the 1D X may have vastly superior noise performance at high ISO (only 3200 max. for the 1Ds Mk3), but I shoot most of my work at 100 ISO. If I did a lot of available light work (with moving subjects), such as nature, or in theatres or concerts (or even wedding receptions) then I'm sure that handling of noise would be much further up my list of things to think about.

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Suffice to say, if noise -is- an issue in your photos, then starting here could be what you need.

There is a fully functional 30 day demo version of the software that is available.

Discuss this review with Keith in the comments section below or on Google+

  • Review first published March 2014

Summary

Software plugin for a wide variety of image processing functions. Comprehensive examples, tutorials and support cover usage.

Can work with a wide range of 'hosting' software.

System Requirements (from Topaz Labs)

Mac

Intel-based Macs with OS 10.6, 10.7 or 10.8 (Topaz is NOT compatible with PowerPC processors - like G4 or G5.)

2 GB RAM minimum - preferably more

Adobe Photoshop CS4-CS6 (32-bit and 64-bit), Adobe Photoshop Elements 6-11***.

Apple Aperture 2 and 3, Lightroom 2-5, and iPhoto via Topaz Fusion Express

photoFXlab ONLY - Video Card should support OpenGL 2.1 technology and later (A better video card will increase performance even more so than a faster computer processor.)

***If Photoshop Elements was bought from the Mac app store, the plugin cannot be directly copied into the plugins folder or else you will receive this message: "Cannot proceed: IPC Memory in use or image is too big for the system". At this moment our plugins are not compatible with the Mac store's version of PSE due to a sandboxing issue, which we are currently investigating.

Windows

Windows XP, Windows Vista, or Windows 7 (32-bit and 64-bit), Windows 8

2 GB RAM minimum - preferably more

Adobe Photoshop CS4-CS6 (32-bit and 64-bit), Adobe Photoshop Elements 6-11.

Lightroom 2-5 via Topaz Fusion Express

Irfanview

PaintShop Pro

Photo Impact

Serif Photo Plus

photoFXlab ONLY - Video Card should support OpenGL 2.1 technology and later (A better video card will increase performance even more so than a faster computer processor.)

*ReMask is ONLY compatible with photoFXlab, Photoshop, Photoshop Elements and Paint Shop Pro. ReMask is NOT compatible with iPhoto, Aperture, Lightroom, Photo Impact or Irfanview.

Buying Topaz Labs plugins: Direct from Topaz

Individual plugins are downloadable (30 day free trial)

If you buy any software via this link (bundle or individual plugin), then we get a small fee (it costs you no more). Neither Keith Cooper nor Northlight Images has any other connection with Topaz labs whatsoever. We believe strongly in making any affiliate links like this clear.

Topaz Clarity is available at 25% off up to 31st October with code octclarity at checkout. See Keiths review of Clarity

There is more information at Topaz Labs

Keith's Topaz reviews

I'll cover the set of plugins over time, The first review covers additional aspects of installation and use of the plugins, whilst later ones concentrate more on the specific functionality.

Please note that as a matter of policy I rarely engage in conversation with anonymous posters. If you won't use your real name when talking to me, then why should I make the personal effort to respond? Anonymous comments are also much more likely to be summarily deleted if I feel like it...

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