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topaz-denoise-for-product-photography Gear Reviews

Topaz DeNoise | Do You Need A Noise Reduction Plug-in?

By Max Bridge on October 21st 2015

If you shoot with a camera that is not a high ISO demon (Sony a7S), then a noise reduction plug-in may be for you. I’ve recently been delving into the world of product photography (reviewing the Photigy.com membership), and it was through this that I came across Topaz DeNoise. Topaz was kind enough to provide me with a copy of their program to review.

If you do a search for “best noise reduction plug-in,” or something similar, you will come across quite a few differing opinions. Some will loudly proclaim that whatever they use is the best (in the classic obnoxious photographer manner). While others take a more measured approach stating that the current range of programs have all come a long way and are very good.

I looked into noise reduction plug-ins years ago. Back then, I was not too impressed and quickly reverted to using the stock Lightroom and Photoshop options. I’m glad to report that things have progressed. Let’s start with the positives.

Topaz DeNoise Positive – Effective Algorithm

Who knew, or cared enough to research, that noise reduction plug-ins used a sophisticated algorithm to analyze that nasty grainy rubbish we see in our photos? It’s obvious, of course, but I never really paid much attention to this. It’s this reason that fuels the fire of passionate debates over this plug-in or that; each algorithm is different.

The most important thing for those that don’t tend to delve into the technical (and dull) side of things is whether the noise reduction achieved is better than Lightroom or Photoshop. The answer? Yes, it is.

I shoot with the noise hungry (aka my camera loves producing noise) Canon 5D Mark II. I love it, don’t get me wrong, but go over ISO 800 and be prepared for a mess. Because of that, I avoid anything over ISO 800 like the plague. I dug around in my archive and found a few photos to test this on. You’ll find a few 100% crops throughout this article.

BEFORE

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AFTER

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Topaz DeNoise Positive – Intuitive Controls

The title says it all. It’s pretty obvious how this thing works. In fact, it’s so obvious I got it wrong! (Only joking, kind of). If you decide to purchase this plug-in, make sure you watch these two videos. While the sliders are all very clear, the designers have a good workflow for going through it all, which I originally did not adhere to.

[REWIND: SHARPENING AND NOISE REDUCTION IN THE DETAIL PANEL IN LIGHTROOM 3]

Characteristically, I was going to write more and more positives turning this article into a lengthy essay, but let’s be honest. All we really need to know is:

1) Is it easy to use?
2) Does it do a good job?

The answer to both of those questions is, yes. It’s easy to use, does a better job than what is possible inside of Lightroom and Photoshop, and it doesn’t kill all the detail in your photos. Positives aside, let’s move on to the negatives.

BEFORE

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AFTER

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[REWIND: AN EXCELLENT WAY TO REMOVE/REDUCE NOISE FROM YOUR IMAGES]

Topaz DeNoise Negative – Batch Processing

This is my biggest issue with the program. I don’t shoot weddings, but if I did, and I had a whole load of noisy images from a dimly lit dance floor, then it would be a little annoying using this. You can use the plug-in directly from either Lightroom or Photoshop. However, you can’t apply a preset to lots of images at the same time. Not from Lightroom anyway. In Photoshop, you can create an action and then batch process your images but it’s still a little laborious compared to using the noise reduction tab in Lightroom or ACR.

Let’s be realistic, though. The only times you’ll have lots of noisy images that all need processing quickly like this is for event photography. With that type of photography, using the stock Lightroom and Photoshop options are, in my opinion, the way to go. However, if quality is of the utmost importance, then it’s always useful to have this option. No, I would not process every photo through this but those special ones that deserve my full attention, definitely.

Topaz DeNoise Negative – It’s a Little Slow

This is more of an annoyance than anything else. If we’ve ruled out using it to batch process lots of images, then it’s only being used on the “special ones.” The ones we’re spending lots of time on anyway. A few extra seconds isn’t the end of the world.

I have been using this plugin quite extensively in my product photography, and it’s here that the slow speeds are highlighted. If you have a large Photoshop document, it will take a long time to apply. I guess that’s what you sacrifice for a useful tool like this.

topaz-denoise-for-product-photography

Topaz DeNoise – Bonus

The astute amongst you will have no doubt noticed my referrals to using Topaz DeNoise in my product photography. This is not because I’m shooting at high ISO’s, compensating for pitiful lights. It is, in fact, a very useful tool for cleaning.

As mentioned, I was first turned on to this by Alex Koloskov and Photigy.com. Alex regularly uses this to polish metal. I’m sure there are many other creative uses for this plug-in that I may one day come across, but for the moment, it’s a pretty cool bonus.

Topaz DeNoise – Summary

This is not an essential plug-in, but that doesn’t detract from its usefulness. I love that I now have this extra option should it be needed. I don’t like that I can’t batch process images, but that’s not really what this is about.

Finally, for the bargain price of $79.99 you can’t really argue. Click here to be taken to the Topaz website to check it out for yourself.

 

About

Max began his career within the film industry. He’s worked on everything from a banned horror film to multi-million-pound commercials crewed by top industry professionals. After suffering a back injury, Max left the film industry and is now using his knowledge to pursue a career within photography.

Website: SquareMountain 
Instagram: Follow Author

Q&A Discussions

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  1. lee christiansen

    Thanks for the help guys. I’ll have a play making my own presets…

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  2. lee christiansen

    What is the difference between the RAW presets and the JPEG presets. I’m using Topaz on PSD files and I’ve tried both, but can’t see a difference.

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    • Max Bridge

      Hi Lee,

      I must admit I found this somewhat confusing as well. I had a little search and found something directly from the horses mouth. This is an excerpt from a forum where someone was asking a similar question about TIFF files:

      Topaz Support – “Basically when the presets were created the jpeg series were created using basic point-n-shoot jpeg images and also some dslr jpeg images. The same with the RAW presets and RAW images.

      The result is that all presets will work as starting points on almost any image and you can adjust up or down from there. The RAW presets are appropriate for TIFF images, but many times may be too strong for jpeg images. The RAW presets were created using images with high ISO’s.

      As Socrates stated, no matter when or how the jpeg became a jpeg the jpeg presets are still the appropriate option to use. ”

      In summary, you can use whatever you deem to have the best effect. It doesn’t really matter.

      Hope that helps.

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    • Stan Rogers

      The big thing with the JPEG presets is that they try not to introduce any new artifacts based on the JPEG compression artifacts. (If you’re working with a distinctly JPEG-y image, there’s another plugin, Topaz DeJPEG, that handles compression artifacts much better.)

      Honestly, though, the Topaz-supplied presets aren’t a great place to start; they’re far too generic to be a good match to any one camera. It’s much better to create your own (and learn the sliders on the tools panel while you’re doing it). As Nichole points out in her videos, you almost never need much NR is the highlights, and your picture will usually thank you for turning the highlight adjustment way down. Your camera will have its own characteristics as far as colour (red and blue channel adjustment, clean colour, black point compensation) and banding go that stays pretty consistent from shot to shot at a given ISO and exposure time (long exposures introduce their own kind of noise). If you do a lot of shooting under tungsten lighting conditions (tungsten white balance), then a separate set of presets for that would be a good idea as well (it changes the colour channel noise characteristics enough to make a difference). You’ll still have to nudge things around to get the absolute best out of any one image, but the number of one-click successes will go way, way up.

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  3. Bill Bentley

    Good review Max. Since I bought Canon 6D I have had to do less of this type of work as you alluded to in the article. For me, I’ve been very happy with the tools in the Nik (Google) plug-in toolkit.

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  4. Ben Perrin

    I’ve used neat image and noiseware for a while now but I hear that dxo optics pro is the best out there. Although it is more expensive it comes with extra features that you may or may not need. Lightroom/ACR noise reduction is terrible in comparison to any of these. The other thing you can do is set the noise reduction to only target the blacks/darks of the image using ‘blend if’. Sometimes that produces a better result. And the beauty of having noise reduction done on a separate layer is that you can use masks. I’d love to hear what others use.

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    • Max Bridge

      I’ve used Noiseware before (quite some time ago) and from memory there were LOTS of controls. Not necessarily a bad thing. In fact, many people would prefer that.

      I also heard that DXO was amazing. However, in the same forums people would dispute this. As usual there is little consensus. The most important thing, as you said, is that they are all better than the stock noise reduction within LR and PS.

      I haven’t tried the blend if method but I like the thinking!

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  5. Stan Rogers

    Yes, it’s a lot less necessary than it used to be, which is probably why it hasn’t been updated in a while. If you have an older (or much smaller-format) camera, it makes a lot of sense — between DeNoise and InFocus (neither of which is particularly cheap as plugins go, but compared to a new camera…) there’s no need to apologize when the prints get larger.

    But like most things in life, abusing the product is often the best use. Along with Alex and Genia’s surface smoothing trick (which is absolutely dandy), there’s also a really neat way of reclaiming details from extremely noisy images detailed here: http://blog.topazlabs.com/image-sharpening-high-iso-noise/

    That will generally mean two passes of noise reduction; one to find the picture hidden in the mess, and one after the sharpening pass to clean things up a bit. It’s far from an optimal workflow, but it’s a great tool to have in the kit when the picture you want is otherwise nearly unusable. (There’s always one of those, isn’t there?) You won’t make wall-hangers with it, but it’ll work well in an album or on a web page.

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    • Max Bridge

      Thanks for the detailed comment Stan. I knew there would be other uses for this! :)

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