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Saturday, 30 August 2008


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I find that in many of cases where Noise Ninja improves the look of an image onscreen, I end up preferring the image without any noise reduction when comparing the prints.

Grain is beautiful. Instead of trying to reduce noise there should be an effort to make the noise look like grain.

I bought Noise Ninja when I got my first digital camera (June 2002). I have NR turned off, right from the time I took it out of the box.

I run everything through it. It eliminates artifacts without affecting resolution. I have the same reaction you do: what's the fuss about?

You should look at my 8x10s taken with Tri-X, pushed to 1600 in Diafine. Can you say golf ball?

Ken Rockwell compares the three current Nikons at ISO 3200:


I agree -- it's a non-issue. I never employ noise reduction schemes in-camera or in post, and I've never seen intrusive noise in a single print of any of my thousands of digital photos. On the computer, sure, but much of that seems to disappear in print. Even on the now-aging D40, ISO 1600 with no noise reduction looks clean (by my standards) printed 8x10". What draws my attention more at high ISOs are issues like posterization and reduced dynamic range, and even those are fairly well controlled in current DSLRs.

I remember choosing high speed Tri-X because of the grain.

"I never employ noise reduction schemes in-camera or in post, and I've never seen intrusive noise in a single print of any of my thousands of digital photos. On the computer, sure, but much of that seems to disappear in print."

Eric Ford,
Carl is very aware of those issues as well. He's long said that noise onscreen is a different issue than noise in a print, and he even limits the onscreen resolution at which he retouches files for printing in order not to waste time correcting invisible flaws. The monkeywrench in such calculations is the number of people who say they don't even make prints...can't say, but I guess they live in a world of small JPEGs and enormous magnified pixel-peeping details...? (I'm not trying to be arch, I just really don't know what the criteria for viewing are if you never make prints. The print is the final destination in my worldview, always--even if I never actually make the print.)

Mike J.

I basically disagree with this posting. Here's why:

DSLR noise has gotten better over time.

On the other hand, P&S noise has gotten significantly worse in recent years, so much so that pretty much every current P&S has visible noise at even its lowest ISO setting.

Film noise was aesthetically different that digital noise, and much more palatable. That said, some modern DSLRs seem to have finally surpassed film in noise levels at comparable ISOs.

Yes, in camera processing is silly and everyone should shoot RAW and develop on a real computer. However, emphasis should not be on attempting to compute away noise (because this sacrifices detail) but rather on eliminating as much noise as possible from occurring in the first place.

Oh... Thought I'd add this:

When I have to shoot at such a high ISO that I get too much ugly digital noise, I totally desaturate the shot into black and white during processing. This way the noise becomes more film-like, and less aesthetically jarring.

Mike, I'm surprised at you!

"...Stobblehouse wrote to Ctein and I ..."??!!

That's the objective case, with the recipients as the object of the writing. It should -- as I'm sure you know -- be "...Stobblehouse wrote to Ctein and me ...", and if anyone doubts it, just parse it into "wrote to Ctein and wrote to me". Would you have said "wrote to I"? Of course not.

This incorrect usage has become widespread, even epidemic. Every news anchor, DJ, and announcer now speaks this way. You are one of a small handfull of really good writers on the Internet, and an exemplar of correct usage (usually). It would be a shame if you succumbed to the carelessness and/or ignorance displayed by the majority.

(Wow, talk about OT!)

Oh, dear.


Me shall change it.

Mike J.

Reminds me of various discussions on Blu-ray, where some (like the good boys from digital Bits) correctly begrowl the plastic look some older films are getting by the companies, while (younger) users do not want any traces of film grain in their experience.

With standard definition as we find it on DVD, film defects and characteristics weren't intrusive, often not really perceivable even if not cleaned up totally. Blu-ray users will most likely have a big screen to watch their movies. And in all likelihood they make the same mistake as pixel peepers do in photography: getting in too close.

Add in the trend to unlearnedness and being proud of it (I guess the intelligence levels have not really declined). Instead of getting to know what the difference between a defect and a characteristic is, they complain. Black-and-white to them is not a character trait of "Casablanca" but a defect.

Back in the early computer graphics days, the big deal was adding noise (dithering) to the images to prevent "banding." It is amazingly difficult to do well.

If anyone saw a truly noiseless image they would hate it. You need about one bit worth of noise to kill banding, and a little noise can make an image appear to have smoother tonal gradation.

This is a bit off-topic, but Dierk's comment "Add in the trend to unlearnedness and being proud of it" really hits home with me. I struggle with this one everyday. I don't understand the pride in being ignorant that seems to be so prevalent today. Maybe that partly explains the popularity of your blog Mike---the people huddled around your campfire here either already have (and are very willing to share) or are at least seeking to know and understand more about their world, photography in this case. Sites like this seem to be the antithesis of that pride in "unlearnedness" so common today. MY Sunday rant! Thank you.

OK, I've read the comments now. So nobody is thankful to me for pointing out an easy way to improve the technical quality of their photos? Suddenly the whole world has gone "zen" about noise?


Frankly, what impressed me was not that Noise Ninja did a much better job than the in-camera processing, it was the fact that the shot with NR turned off looked as good as it does.

I have to admit that noise generally doesn't bother me either. I find that my pictures are far more frequently ruined by camera shake at low shutter speeds than they are by noise artifacts. If anything, I should be less reluctant to use high ISOs. That said, I do plan on buying a copy of Noise Ninja one of these days...

Best regards,

I have no problems with noise as I always shoot at iso 100. Now could someone explain how to deal with camera shake and motion blur:)

Sorry, I agree, I don't actually find noise to be a real issue in print. On the odd print where there is enough to be visible it usually adds 'character'


Eolake: Thanks for the pointer. ;) Actually, I knew about (but have never used) Noise Ninja & Neat Image. The default JPG setting is awful, but I am not that enthused by the Noise Ninja image. Comparing it to the "non-processed" file, I prefer it to the Ninja-ized file. There is a loss of detail that bothers me a bit.

But then I shoot film, I push to maybe 1600 and use an RF when I need a slow shutter speed in available darkness.

One thing about noise reduction is that it often removes fine skin structure, so the result look a little plasticky.
On the other hand, when big areas of skin are in the shade and have clear noise, that is not attractive either, so it's case-by-case judgement call.

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