One of the biggest problems facing the quality of digital images is the "noise" that appears when images are taken at higher ISO sensitivities. Many cameras increase the sensitivity when shooting in "Action" or "Night" modes. Also, cameras that provide anti-shake using electronics (instead of an image stabilizing lens or a device to stabilize the sensor) will boost sensitivity in order to allow a quicker shutter speed. Neat Image does an effective job reducing digital noise, it's easy to use, and affordable for a range of users.
Noise shows up as a sort of graininess that's most noticeable in areas of a smooth color. For a good demonstration of noise, the image below is a composite image that I created from three separate images of a blue sky. The ISO sensitivity level is labeled in each area of the image.
I decided to check out some noise reduction software. One option that I came upon was Neat Image (www.neatimage.com). It can be used as a standalone program or as a plugin for Photoshop. There is a free demo version that I used for this review. Other editions include: Home ($29.90), Home+ ($49.90), Pro ($59.90), and Pro+ ($74.90).
The software was actually very easy to use and documentation on the web site was a lot more thorough than I'm used to. The documentation was also organized so that you could get a lot of information, but only if you wanted to. If you already know about luminance and chrominance, you can just get going with the software. If you don't, you can either let the software do its thing with default settings, or you can read the well written documentation to learn what the terms mean and how to adjust the settings.
Neat Image is very easy to use. The first step of the process is to select your input image.
Once the file is open, click the Device Noise Profile tab along the top. The software needs an area in the image that is made up of a solid color, with no other details. In my experience, it can automatically figure a correct region out, but if you need the control, you can have it. Once you click Auto Profile, the software outlines a region of the image to build its noise profile (notice the blue box in the screen shot below).
Once the profile is built, click the Noise Filter Settings tab. On the right side of the screen are a set of controls (see image below) to adjust the settings already determined by the software. For a great explanation of how the controls work, visit the documentation online at neatimage.com. Click the Preview button for a small preview area on the image. A blue square is outlined inside of which, the noise reduction settings are applied.
Once you've tweaked all that you need to, click the Output Image tab and then click the Apply button along the top left to generate the final image. Once it's generated, you can save the image or go back and change any settings that you need to.
The best way to demonstrate the effectiveness of software like this is to just show the results and let you judge. If it looks like it's worth checking out, don't hesitate to give the demo version a spin.
Example 1 -- The below image was taken indoors, with no flash, with a camera that has a "high sensitivity" option. The image is actually quite bad and is an extreme case of noise. The "filtered" image, after processing with Neat Image, is below the original.
Example 2 -- The original image was taken at ISO 800 on a Fujifilm FinePix F10. This camera has become a low-noise favorite among point-and-shoot cameras. Most point and shoots have high levels of noise above ISO 200, while the F10 noise is still acceptable at ISO 800. Because of this, the F10 is an excellent camera for night shots, indoor shots with no flash, etc. Default settings were again applied with Neat Image.
Neat Image is a great solution for digital image noise reduction. With several different editions, you don't have to be a professional to afford this software. While the average user may not need something like this often, it can come in handy when you have that one image for your holiday greeting cards that you want to look that much better. The ease of use and great documentation also set this software apart from other noise reducing software.
For a full description of the software and the different editions, go visit http://www.neatimage.com.