Noise Reduction Software Comparison
In the last year or so, we’ve seen some incredible progress in almost all software noise-reduction tools. That being the case, I thought it might be a good time for a noise reduction software comparison. For several years, my favorite RAW converter has been DxO PhotoLab. But most others, including almost everyone who travels with us, use Lightroom. Many of our Natural Exposures Explorers often find it strange that I don’t use Lightroom myself, but as I tell them, “There are other products out there doing a better job.”
Micro Four Thirds has always meant noisier files
I’ve now been shooting the Olympus OM-1 for over two years. And like all Micro Four Thirds cameras, I’ve needed to be wary of going over 1600 ISO. The smaller sensor has inherently more noise than, let’s say, a full-sized sensor. But with the introduction of DxO PhotoLab DeepPRIMEXD, I almost never think of the noise issues any longer. It’s even changed my shooting technique, and I’m now using Auto ISO exclusively. The reason is that the DxO NR tool is so good I no longer have concerns about the ISO going too high. That’s an incredibly liberating feeling. And it was always a drawback to the smaller sensor cameras. But as many of you who travel with us know, I find there are so many advantages to the Micro Four Thirds cameras and the Olympus OM-1 in particular that I’ve been willing to accept the higher ISO noise issues. But things have changed, and those days are gone!
Comparing Lightroom Classic, DxO PhotoLab & Topaz Photo AI
This morning I was editing my recent shoot at the Pantanal in Brazil and I came across an image I ACCIDENTALLY shot at 32,000 ISO. I say accidentally since I wouldn’t normally shoot that high, even with good Noise Reduction software. But accidents are often the inspiration for learning what can or can’t be done. So when I saw the 32,000 ISO I decided to take that image and run some tests. I started with my current RAW software of choice, which is DXO PhotoLab 6. I then processed the same image with Lightroom’s AI Enahnce and Topaz Photo AI. Many of our Natural Exposures Explorers are excited about Lightroom’s new AI Enahnce noise reduction tool. This 32,000 ISO image gave me a great excuse to try them all. Keep in mind that when using a noise reduction tool you don’t want to lose too many details. Like feathers on a bird. That’s been the Holy Grail of good NR software. Pay particular attention to the lower neck of this Neotropical Anhinga where you can see details in the feathers.
RAW OM-1 No Noise Reduction
The image below is a 100% crop of the original. It came out of Lightroom with no noise reduction applied that I know of. I do get the feeling LR does apply some NR to all images even BEFORE you do anything else to it with AI Enhance or other NR tools in LR. From this image, you can see the noise is really, really bad. The image is entirely unusable, in my opinion, and I’m guessing anyone looking at this would agree.
This is one of three options within DxO. Not sure why they have so many, but this was the most recent option until DxO DeepPrimeHD came out. I’ll show a sample of that below this image. As I understand it, this normal DeepPrime does not have any AI taking place in the process. I think it looks pretty darn good. While you’re looking at these samples, make sure you pay particular attention to the feathers on the lower part of the bird’s neck.
This setting is the newest noise reduction setting in DxO. I’ve heard that this is a version that is using some sort of AI like everything is today. I heard some criticism about this setting trying to add details and that it doesn’t always look real. I have to say, looking at the feathers on the bird’s neck, it looks incredible.
This is the one that going to create the most chatter. This is the Lightroom AI Enhanced output. And out of all of the samples, this is by far the worst quality as far as noise and sharpness. I think many who’ve been excited about this will rethink their workflow strategy when they see these comparison samples.
Lightroom NR-Enhanced with all default settings shot at 32,000 ISO
Topaz Photo AI
This final image was processed using Topaz Photo AI and, from what I read across the web, is thought to be THE program for removing noise. I think it does an admirable job, but the background looks a bit strange, with some streaks here and there.
For me, I don’t. think there is any doubt that DxO Photo Lab with DeepPrimeHD is the hands-down winner. DxO DeepPrime is a close second, Topaz Photo AI is third and Lightroom comes in far last. At least that’s the way I see it. What do you guys and gals think?
High-resolution JEPGs You Can Download
Here’s a link to full-sized, high-resolution jpegs you’re welcome to download. You might have to sign up for a PhotoShelter account. I’m not sure.