Noise and Sharpness: Lighroom CC, Nik Dfine 2.0, Topaz Labs DeNoise AI and Sharpen AI

Recently, I mentioned a few programs in a comment. Program relating to reducing noise in photographs.

Those programs were Lightroom CC, DxO PhotoLab 3, DxO Nik Collection 2.5 (Dfine 2), and Topaz DeNoise AI, Topaz Sharpen AI.

It should go without saying that I have no financial, personal, or emotional investment or stake in any of these products. I own them all, but most have free trials for anyone interested.

This post aims for a quick comparison between the tools using this photo (as shot, no adjustments)

If you click on the photo, you’ll get a version that’s 1280-pixels-wide. If you click HERE, you get the full-size version (9MB, 5568 x 3712 pixels).

A 1280-pixels-wide crop would give you this . . .

It still looks pretty good, but if you clicked on it and then zoomed it and look at it at 1:1 magnification, this is what you would see

Pretty grainy, ain’t it? It’s because it was shot at ISO 4500 on a cloudy day.

Here I should mention that if you’re just going to show the uncropped version, noise is not going to be an issue. For instance, here’s the processing of that photo using my standard editing for showing it on the blog.

Since hardly anyone clicks on images or goes to SmugMug, That would be good enough because no one would see this:

Obviously, if I wanted to show the cropped version, I’d have to do a better job.

The first line of noise reduction (if you have what I have) is Lightroom CC. It has a pretty good noise reduction function.

Oh, one more thing. When you do noise reduction, you can and often have an unwanted loss of resolution and detail. If I just removed the noise, this is what it would look like; as a reminder, the original:

. . . and — if I wanted to remove most of the noise — with the elimination of the noise you also eliminate details:

So, normally, I play a game where I increase the sharpness — which accentuates noise — and apply noise reduction — which reduces sharpness.

At some point, I decide on a workable compromise. For instance:

I reduced some of the noise while retaining some of the details. It’s not bad, but if I want more, I try other programs.

My next step might be DxO PhotoLab . . .

. . . which, with its Prime setting, gets rid of a bit more noise. The sharpening function of PhotoLab is a subtle thing, so while there is an improvement, you really have to examine the photo, which most people don’t do.

My first choice is usually the Dfine 2 module in the Nik Collection. Here, I might get something like this:

Dfine doesn’t recover sharpness, so I either use their sharpen module or just use Lightroom’s tools to regain some detail. For this next photo, I played with Lightroom to recover some of the detail.

Again, let me put the original back up . . .

It’s worth mentioning — again — you only go through this process if intending to either crop really close or print really large and if the noise bothers you.

Note: I go through some version of these processes because I like to pixel-peek, although I’m less anal these days and seldom try the impossible.

I have another tool . . . Topaz DeNoise AI. That program actually incorporates an earlier AI module called AI Clear in addition to the new DeNoise module.

DeNoise AI uses a different algorithm than AI Clear, but both are included and you can choose whichever you think does a better job. 

You also have the option to use the “Auto” settings for each, or manually tweak the process. In the Auto mode, the program decides on the amount of noise reduction and sharpness to apply.

DeNoise AI (Auto Mode)

Notice there’s some funky patterning that’s happening on the rock. The program might have decided the gray rocks are the same as the frog and “recovered” texture that was never there.

Here’s what it looks like on a 1280-pixels-wide crop.

It looks OK here, but if you click on it and then click on different parts of the photo, you can see uneven applications of adjustments.

AI Clear (Auto Mode)

Here, you see less of the funky patterning. Again, it’s a different option in the program and which one you use depends on the photo you are processing and what details it contains. For this photo, Clean AI does a better job (in my opinion). Here’s the 1280-pixels-wide crop.

Again, if you click on it and then click on different parts of the photo, you can see a better implementation of noise reduction.

The manual options for both modules give fairly similar results, but I still liked the AI Clear version better.

AI Clear (Manual Adjustments)

. . . and the 1280-pixels-wide crop:

So, that’s what can be done with each of those programs . . . but, let me mention one other program . . . Topaz Lab Sharpen AI.

Mind you, I could take the above and sharpen it a tad in Lightroom, but I start introducing noise again. Sharpen AI occasionally performs magic . . .

Sharpen AI after DeNoise AI

Let me show the original for comparison . . .

We have come a long way . . . here’s the 1280-pixels-wide crop.

. . . and here’s the original version of the 1280-pixels-wide crop. . .

One more time, cropped close:

ORIGINAL

Topaz Labs Denoise AI and Topaz Labs Sharpen AI

A few more details, if you’ll pardon the pun . . . DxO PhotoLab and Nik Collection make use of “Control Points” to modify which part of the photo is affected by any adjustments you make. A guy Anthony Morganti has an excellent series of videos about the Nik Collection and every module in it.

Topaz and Lightroom both make use of “brushes” to paint (add or delete) from the mask used to make adjustments. You can find Topaz instruction videos both from official and aftermarket sources and Lightroom is no slouch in that department.

Finally, the reason for multiple tools (my reasons for multiple tools) is that any given tool works for some things and not for others. If you had to choose just one, I suggest taking advantage of the free trials and evaluating them on your own photos.

I hope this was useful to someone, but if not . . .

. . . did you know there are three new stories you can read on this blog?

Not only that, but you can also vote for the one you liked the best. Just go HERE to find links to the stories and the poll where you can vote.

That’s it. This post has ended . . . except for the stuff below.

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Note: if you are not reading this blog post at DisperserTracks.com, know that it’s copied without permission, and likely is being used by someone with nefarious intentions, like attracting you to a malware-infested website.  Could be they also torture small mammals.

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About disperser

Odd guy with odd views living an odd life during odd times.
This entry was posted in About Photography, DxO Software, How-To, Lightroom and Photoshop, Noise Reduction, Photography Stuff, Sharpness, Topaz Plug-ins and Studio and tagged , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

10 Responses to Noise and Sharpness: Lighroom CC, Nik Dfine 2.0, Topaz Labs DeNoise AI and Sharpen AI

  1. Thanks for the tips, Disperser! I played with the DxO Collection today including Photolab and processed a few photos using the Nik Dfine, a few others using Photolab and a few others using just Lightroom. There are a couple of problems with the DxO 30 day trial: The Nik collection is version 2.4 and the Photolab is version 2 which is surprising since version 3 came out last year! Also, I used only the HQ noise reduction because the prime method was not available in the trial package. I don’t quite get the logic in giving one a crippled version of your software to try out. Wouldn’t you want your potential customer to be acquainted with the latest and full version?

    Anyway, I didn’t see too much of a difference between Dfine and Lightroom’s own noise reduction. I was intrigued, though, with the Photolab product and I experimented with a few features that are not available in my version of Lightroom (5.7).

    I will try those Topaz products on another day. Right now I need to read some “G” stories!

    Like

    • disperser says:

      Lightroom CC, the subscription version gives you the latest, has pretty good noise reduction. Too bad DxO gives you a crippled version. I still think Dfine has better outcome, but it could depend on the photo. Have you tried the manual option where you choose what to sample?

      Like

    • disperser says:

      One other thing. The Nik tools have a RAW pre-sharpener and a sharpener module for after one does all the editing.

      What works for some photos is using the pre-sharpening tool, applying all the processing changes one normally does (except sharpening), using the output sharpening module, and finally, running Dfine (if needed). The last two steps could be reversed depending on the photo.

      Either way, noise reduction and sharpening are the last two things I do.

      EXCEPT when there is a lot of noise (like the example above). I would then reverse the process and get as clear and as sharp a photo I can get before processing it. Here is the processed version of the DFine and sharpened example (if I were printing it, I’d take more time and do local adjustments).

      Topaz DeNoise is the opposite; they suggest running that before processing the photo. For my frog example above, I think the best results are obtained by running DeNoise AI, then running Sharpen AI and then processing it. (again, this is quick and more for demonstration than presentation).

      Like

  2. oh boy that resolution thing can be a bit elusive. So many factors. I try all those filters too and then sometimes just say whatever it is you say when you end with “it”. I hope you are staying well and safe Emilio!! Blessings!

    Like

    • disperser says:

      Sometimes we have to decide when to stop. The thing is, if I have a noise-heavy photo, I either wanted to make sure I could get a photo, or I made a mistake.

      If I wanted the photo, I’ll accept whatever level of processing and quality I can get.

      If it was a mistake, I sometimes forget about it and call it a loss, and other times I’ll work on it a lot . . . and if I can’t salvage it, I’ll use Topaz Impressions and turn it into a painting.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. You should teach photography!

    Frogs are a day-brightener! (insert frog face emoji here)

    I am reading the G-stories!
    (((HUGS))) :-)

    Like

  4. oneowner says:

    I purchased the Topaz Sharpen AI. I’ve been a long-time fan of Topaz because they had a policy of free upgrades for life on all of their software. That and the product performance was enough for me to recommend Topaz plugins. They don’t offer the free upgrades anymore and I feel cheated that they didn’t grandfather older customers into the free upgrades. Although I am satisfied with the products, I can’t recommend Topaz anymore. That’s not saying much since I don’t normally recommend any products anyway. That being said, The Sharpen AI did the best job in this case, IMO.

    Like

    • disperser says:

      To be clear, Sharpener AI was used after Denoise AI. I should try Sharpener AI on its own . . . Nope; it just increased the noise, although DeNoise then cleaned it up pretty good.

      Yeah, I’m not happy with the new upgrade policy (which comes in effect in August 2020, I believe).

      On the other hand, I’m reasonably happy with the current state of the programs I have (two were recently upgraded) so if the upgrades are expensive, I might pass (more on that later). For instance, they stopped upgrading Impressions 2.0, but I’m happy with the plugin and standalone as they are. Same for most of their older plugins and all of their current offerings; meaning, if I have to stop where we are, I’m fine with it. Not only that, I didn’t like some of the upgrades, so I still have the older versions loaded (i.e. Studio 1 and Studio 2).

      As for the whole grandfathering issue, I get the business aspect. The free upgrade policy works as long as the customer base keeps growing. Once the curve flattens (to use a modern vernacular) the model isn’t sustainable. One of the reasons I promoted their stuff whenever I could.

      So, once the new customers influx slows or stops, the money stops rolling in. Grandfathering the old customers won’t help if there are no new customers. It’s a tough decision to make because it will (has) pissed off some users. And, yes, I’m also not happy . . . BUT . . .

      Now they’ll have to offer me something more if they want me to buy their upgrades since, as I said, I’m fairly happy with the current state of the programs. It’s a tough situation for them, I’m sure, because they will lose some customer loyalty and to win it back they have to keep hitting it out of the ballpark or offer stuff others don’t have.

      DxO and Nik Collection point to the other issue . . . I bought their last upgrades because I want to support the company BUT the upgrades were of almost no use to me (addressing stuff I don’t have or don’t do). I gave them one pass, but the next one better be something I really need (want) or I’ll pass on it.

      Finally, the subscription model is often maligned, but I have to admit the Photoshop/Lightroom subscription has worked out pretty well (I used to upgrade every two or three years). Of course, other subscription models are as expensive (or more) and don’t offer anywhere near the value (they’re often niche products so when I say that, I should add “for me”).

      I’m willing to wait and see which way they go and how it works before deciding what I’ll do.

      Like

  5. AnnMarie says:

    Excellent mini course! Your resulting photo is great on the eyes.

    Liked by 1 person

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