Thursday, April 30, 2009

Professional Photography Web Hosting Roundup: Intro (Part 1 of 6)

 

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THIS ARTICLE HAS BECOME TOO OLD AND OUTDATED. I now use Zenfolio exclusively for my personal portfolio and http://ronmartinsen.com now only points to my Zenfolio site. Click here to read my Zenfolio review and learn why I feel it’s the best service available now.

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There comes a time in a photographer’s life where you get enough positive feedback that you have the thought that you might actually make some money with this hobby that has done nothing more than go through your money faster than a <censored part about Vegas>. While any real pro will tell you not to quit your day job and that there’s no money in Photography anymore, that doesn’t keep people like you and me from wanting to hang our shingle out to the world and announce that we are real photographers. However, to do that we need to look and act professional, and a good place to start is a proper presentation of our photos in a professional looking online portfolio.

Now some of  you may be thinking, but I already have a Flickr Pro account. Well, I suppose if you are good enough that might be fine, but I would suspect that your odds are better at being treated as a professional if you look professional which means building a proper professional web site.

The purpose of this blog is to offer some choices on how you can get that pro look based on your commitment level. To some of us we’d rather commit time to save money, and others would rather commit money so we can dedicate our time to photography. This article will address both and simply present some choices I researched in my own quest to build a professional online portfolio.

In this 6 part series, I’ll examine the following portfolio hosting sites:

liveBooks Sitewelder
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  • liveBooks – Name your top 5 most respected photographers, now go visit their web site. Odds are, you’ll notice somewhere on one or more of their sites a powered by liveBooks logo. These guys are the industry leaders. liveBooks offers a Flash based web-site that focuses on building anything you want – for a fee. (examples)
  • FolioSnap – The best way I can describe FolioSnap is as the anti-liveBooks, but I mean that in a good way. They avoid using Flash which means there code will run on just about anything that can render HTML, and even on my iPhone I was able to get a live slideshow – something no other site reviewed here could offer. (examples)
  • SiteWelder – One of my top favorite 20 photographers first told me about SiteWelder and the great customer service they offer. As I spoke with the great folks at SiteWelder I quickly learned why pros trust SiteWelder for their online portfolio needs. Their site offers a huge selection of templates with a reasonable amount of customization without you ever knowing anything about HTML or Flash. (examples)
  • Smugmug – This is where I currently host my personal portfolio as well as many of my blog photos. I’ve written about Smugmug before, and I’m a huge fan. However, they have the reputation for being a personal web site, not a pro web site, despite some compelling features and a great price. In this review I’ll try to determine if Smugmug can hang with the big boys, or if it’s out of its league. (examples)

Preparing yourself for the big time

While this article won’t be a “how to go pro” article, there are a few things that you should consider if you are about to begin this process:

  1. Only show the best - Your pro portfolio should only contain your best shots. If you can get a pro mentor to help you select photos, great, but if not then try to solicit opinions from other DSLR photographers because it’s easy to get wrapped up in a photo that might not be worthy of a pro portfolio.
  2. Focus on what you do best and be brief - Your site should focus on what you do best, and then show the best of the best. You shouldn’t plan to have 10 galleries with 50 photos because no potential customer will ever look at all of those photos. In fact, you might only get a few minutes of a prospective customers attention so you need to show your best and be brief. Consider a dozen or less of your best photos in approximately 3 galleries when you get started.
  3. Simple is good – Your photos, not some fancy flash animation, should be the center of attention on your site. Keep it simple, clean and fast.
  4. If they can’t reach you they, can’t hire you – These days people might find your site on a PC, Mac, iPhone, SmartPhone, or some other device. Your site shouldn’t exclude these different platforms or only target specific browsers. In addition your customer may find you on the web, but they still might want to talk to you on the phone. Be sure to not only include an email address but also a phone number where you can be reached quickly.
  5. Know that millions of others are doing the same thing – Everyone that has a digital camera occasionally gets a good shot, and those who get a collection of good shots that are admired by their Mom, wife, and friends sometimes begin to think that they can make it in the Photography business. Well the reality is that the competition is fierce, so simply having a photo published on the National Geographic web site isn’t going to make you a shoe in to make a good living off of Photography. Do your research, and understand the business.

I look forward to having you join me next week as I roll out an article on each of the sites featured. In the end, I’ll publish a final article that discusses which service I chose to host my site and why. In the meantime, you can see what Scott Kelby went through when he decided to build his own site in this article as well as the follow up article which featured reader feedback. I think it is very informative to see how people responded to his fancy flash site.

Other articles in this series:

  1. Professional Web Hosting Roundup: Intro
  2. liveBooks Review
  3. FolioSnap Review
  4. SiteWelder Review
  5. Smugmug Review
  6. Conclusion

If you enjoyed this article, please support future articles like this by donating a dollar or saving several dollars by using my discount coupon codes. Either way, your support is greatly appreciated!

Click here to learn more about how this blog is funded.

Wednesday, April 29, 2009

HDRSoft Photomatix Group Discount

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HDRSoft, the makers of Photomatix HDR tone mapping software have extended an offer to readers of this blog for a 15% discount when you use the coupon code RonMartBlog when you checkout on their web site (see picture above). Don’t forget to click the recalculate button after you enter the code to get the discount.

Click here for more information on the discount and visit here for the full review.

If you enjoyed this article, please support future articles like this by donating a dollar or saving several dollars by using my discount coupon codes. Either way, your support is greatly appreciated!

Click here to learn more about how this blog is funded.

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

REVIEW: The Hot Shoe Diaries by Joe McNally (UPDATED: 5/10/09)

I really enjoyed Joe McNally’s first book, The Moment it Clicks, but it was more like sitting at a bar with Joe with a stack of pictures and listening to how he created them. This book is very similar, in that it does more story telling than instruction, but I think it is definitely more instructive than his first version. I enjoy sitting around talking with people, and I tend to write the same way, so I enjoyed this book quite a bit.

A Warning for Non-Nikon Shooters

If you don’t use the Nikon flash system, you are going to be very disappointed with this book. While many of the topics he discusses outside of the flash units themselves apply to all flash systems (i.e., light modifiers, gels, light positions), I was disappointed that Joe didn’t do a better job discussing at least how some of what he was discussing could apply to the Canon flash system. The Canon 580EX II has much of the benefits of the SB-900 AF Speedlight, but lacks the 200mm zoom (it tops out at 105mm), built-in gel holder, and the Nikon Creative Lighting System (CLS) system. The reality is that if I would have pulled off some of the things he has accomplished with the CLS system, I’d probably be a rabid fan of it too, so perhaps his enthusiasm is natural and warranted.

Section by Section Review

Here’s a quick overview of each section of this book:

Nuts 'n' Bolts

In an improvement over his first book, Joe actually spends some time talking about the gear that he uses – complete with pictures. This is actually very useful to know as I was a bit lost in The Moment it Clicks as to what some things were. I also enjoyed seeing his section on how to hold the camera (which I’ve seen before online) and the flash.

One Light!

Well the theory behind this section is that Joe explains how he executes certain images using one light, but he doesn’t really mean one light (as is the case on page 89’s “Killer Flick of Light” which also includes 8 2400ws lights!). This section was probably my favorite from his whole book, and the “Make Available Light Unavailable” chapter on page 98 was one of those “wow, cool – THAT’S how they do that” chapters. I loved this section the most!

Two or More

This chapter is pretty cool because Joe basically shows how two (or usually more) speedlights can accomplish what people traditionally would use strobes to accomplish. I love some of the results he gets, but of course it really helps if you have an assistant and all day to prepare for the shoot – a luxury most of us usually don’t have.

Lotsa Lights

This chapter should have been named – Take that Canon and Pocket Wizards as it is really a demonstration of what the CLS system can do. Of course Joe goes completely insane and uses up to 47 flashes at one point, and generally more than most of us could reasonably afford. However, it’s fun to see what he can pull off with this powerful flash system.

What's This Button Do?

This is a quick run down on how to perform specific tasks with the SB-900 and SB-800 flash systems. It isn’t the manual, but it is probably easier to follow than the manual!

Joe’s Recommended Equipment

In this book Joe uses a bunch of equipment. If you want to learn more or order any of it please use the links below. Of all the equipment he mentions, I’ve only reviewed the Hoodman HoodLoupe on this site which I like quite a bit, but I should note that Joe has a larger LCD on his D3 so he uses the newer and larger Hoodman HoodLoupe Professional.

Flash Gear

SB-900 AF Speedlight (Canon 580EX II)
SB-800 AF Speedlight
SU-800 Wireless Speedlight Commander (Canon ST-E2 wireless flash transmitter)
Nikon Gelatin Filter Holders
Nikon SC-29 TTL Coiled Remote Cord (Canon OFF-CAMERA SHOE CORD)
Nikon SD-8A Hi-Performance Battery Pack (Canon CP-E4 Battery Pack)

Gels

Full Cut CTO
1/2 Cut CTO
1/4 Cut CTO
1/8 Cut CTO
Full Cut PlusGreen

1/2 Cut PlusGreen

1/4 Cut PlusGreen
1/8 Cut PlusGreen
Full Cut CTB

1/2 Cut CTB
1/4 Cut CTB
1/8 Cut CTB
Roscolux Swatch Book 

Light Modifiers

Lumiquest 80-20
Lumiquest Big Bounce
Honl 1/4″ Honeycomb Speed Grid
Honl 1/8″ Honeycomb Speed Grid
Honl 8″ Snoot
Honl 5″ Snoot
Honl Speed Gobo Flag/Barndoor/Bounce Card
Honl Speed Strap
Honl Gel Kit for Speed Strap
Sto-Fen OM-900 Omni-Bounce for Nikon SB-900 (Sto-Fen OM-EY Omni-Bounce for Canon 580EX/580EXII)

Lastolite

Tri-Grips
Reflectors
3′x 3′ Skylite Panel Kit (Sunfire/White & Diffusion)
3′x 3′ Skylite Panel Kit (Silver/White & Diffusion)
3′x 3′ Black/White Fabric
6′x 3′ Skylite Panel Kit (Sunfire/White & Diffusion)
6′x 3′ Skylite Panel Kit (Silver/White & Diffusion)

6′x 3′ Black/White Fabric
6′x 6′ Skylite Panel Kit (Sunfire/White & Diffusion)
6′x 6′ Skylite Panel Kit (Silver/White & Diffusion)
6′x 6′ Black/White Fabric
All-in-One Umbrellas Lastolite Ezy-Box 36″x36″ Softbox
Lastolite Ezy-Box 24″x24″ Softbox
Lastolite Ezy-Box 18″x18″ Softbox
Lastolite Ezy-Box 15″x15″ Softbox

Conclusion

While I wish it were more balanced for Canon shooters, it’s still a good book that will teach anyone using a flash system a lot of cool tricks about how to make these little lights do great things. Of course, most of us won’t be able to use 47 flashes (nor should we) as he does in his Plane, but Not Simple chapter. Still, there’s plenty to learn from Joe’s vast experience. I’m glad I read it and I hope to see him continue to share his experience with us in a future book (which hopefully is a little more product neutral or at least Canon friendly).

Skill Level: Intermediate to Advanced
Value: Very Good
Recommendation: For Nikon Users this is a must own. For everyone else this is a nice to have, but be prepared that you’ll have to do the flash system conversions in your head as you read.

NEW: A response from Joe McNally about this review

My first version of this review made the statement that I felt like this book was bought and paid for by Nikon, and it should have been called the Nikon Hot Shoe Diaries. However, after a discussion with Joe I realize that it is really just a case of a guy who really loves the products he uses. Sure, he’s a long-time Nikon user, his wife Annie is a tech rep for Nikon, and he occasionally does gig’s for Nikon, but this book is really just a “diary” of what he does with the system he uses every day. It’s no different from my glowing reviews of Kelby books or ThinkTankPhoto bags, because when something serves you well you can’t help but rave about it. Here’s a response in Joe’s own words:

I respectfully and completely disagree with the assertion that the title of the book should be the Nikon Hot Shoe Diaries. This is my adventure with small flash not theirs. If I had bought a Canon camera in 1973 instead of a Nikkormat, I would have written about it from that perspective...

I do assignments for Nikon on occasion, but I am not on the Nikon payroll, and I buy all my gear over the counter from Jeff Snyder at Adorama. Nikon consigns a few speedlights to me every year to teach with, but I give them back at the end of each year, and am liable for it should one go missing.

There's always a bunch of folks out there who want to know your f-stop. So in this effort, being more instructional, I named names and ratios and the like. If I wrote, "I sent the remote speed light a TTL signal from my commander," lots of folks, especially those starting out with flash, want to know which speed light and which commander, and how far away the speed light was and what kind of stand it was on.

I simply don't have the depth of experience with Canon flashes to be on sure footing when talking about them.

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Monday, April 27, 2009

Nik Software 15% Discount NOW includes the Complete Collection!

This article has moved. Please see the following article for great news:

Nik Complete Collection by Google now only $149 ($126.65 with coupon code)

If you enjoyed this article, please support future articles like this by donating a dollar or saving several dollars by using my discount coupon codes. Either way, your support is greatly appreciated!

Click here to learn more about how this blog is funded.

Saturday, April 25, 2009

REVIEW: Adobe Photoshop CS4 Book for Digital Photographers

If you’ve been a follower of my blog, then you’ve probably seen my references to the previous version of this book called The Adobe Photoshop CS3 Book for Digital Photographers. It’s another great book by Scott Kelby and this is a simple update for CS4. If you have the CS3 version and haven’t moved to CS4, then you don’t need to upgrade but CS4 users will find some of the new chapters appealing.

This book is what I call a recipe book. If you have a problem, this book will usually have the solution so you don’t have spend time searching the internet for answers. It’s also easy to follow along with Scott’s examples, so it’s a great resource to have handy. In addition, if you decide to read it cover to cover (as I did), you’ll have an arsenal of cool tricks at your disposal with a book handy to help you recall them when you get rusty. This is how I use my copy and it’s the only book that is always sitting next to my computer.

Chapter by Chapter Comments

Here's my thoughts on each chapter of this book:

Five Quick Things You'll Wish You Had Known Before Reading This Book

In this version Scott has cured his multiple personality disorder and no longer interviews himself as he did in the CS3 chapter entitled An Unexpected Q&A Section. This is an important chapter where he sets expectations about how you should use this book.

London Bridge: Bridge Essentials and The Bridge: Advanced Bridge Techniques

These chapters are an updated version of the previous book, but once again I feel they are a must read if you really want to appreciate what Bridge CS4 offers. This is the best version of Bridge to date, and even though it can’t replace Lightroom it can teach you about what a pleasure it can be using some of the features of Bridge. After getting CS4 and reading this chapter, I now use Bridge CS4 as my file open dialog for Photoshop.

Raw Deal: Camera Raw Essentials and The Next Step: Camera Raw—Beyond the Basics

This book now has two chapters on RAW, but The Next Step chapter is really  just the second half of the Raw Deal chapter from the first book. There’s lot of stuff to cover as Adobe Camera Raw (ACR) gets more powerful, so there’s lots of detail here. ACR is the force behind the Develop tab in Lightroom, so as Lightroom gets more complex so does this feature.

Scott is great about showing some really great shortcuts using the ALT key to make doing adjustments much easier and more effective. I love learning about shortcuts I never knew existed, or had forgotten since the last time I read this book. Even if you think you know (or don’t care about) ACR, I recommend you read every word of these two chapters as I’m 100% sure you’ll learn some great new tricks.

Show Stopper: Adjusting Selected Areas

This is a new chapter for this series and it is really a third chapter on ACR as it discusses the new adjustment brushes/features of ACR. If you are an avid Lightroom user, or have read Lightroom 2 for Digital Photographers, then you might be interested to learn how ACR is similar but still quite different in its implementation of these features. You’ll also be jealous about how much faster and reliable ACR is when doing brush adjustments.

Resized: Resizing and Cropping Your Images

This is great stuff in this chapter. While I prefer using Alien Skin Software BlowUP 2 for resizing, Scott will show you how to get excellent results using the native Photoshop resizing features. He’ll also help you to crop your images in the proper aspect ratios for popular photo sizes. Good stuff here.

Local Color: Color Correction Secrets

If you don’t know anything about color correction, or are still confused about this topic then look no farther. This is a great short, but comprehensive review of the topic with good instructions on how to just set your system up properly and avoid common pitfalls. If you print your photos (and who doesn’t), then you owe it to yourself to read this chapter!

Black & White World: How to Create Stunning B&W Images

If you can’t get Silver Efex Pro, then this is the next best thing to show you how to get killer black and whites.

High Times: Creating HDR (High Dynamic Range) Images

This is a new and exciting chapter as the web is full of HDR tutorials, but I’ve never been able to get the same results as what I see on the web. Scott first starts by showing how to do HDR with Photoshop, but surprisingly he also demonstrates how to do it with Photomatix Pro too. While I am not super excited about the samples he used or the results he achieved, I was glad to see Scott address this popular topic. While I wish he could have done more here, hopefully the feedback on this chapter will encourage him to cover this topic more in depth in future releases. If you’ve never done any HDR, then you will learn an a lot and appreciate what he discusses here.

99 Problems: Dealing with Common Digital Image Problems

If you are new to Photoshop then this chapter will blow you away – this is the good stuff. This chapter features the stuff you will have to do all of the time when you edit your photos, but it offers quick and easy solutions to those problems. You must read this chapter!

Special Delivery: Special Effects for Photographers

This picks up where the last chapter left off and once again offers some great stuff. In fact, it offers several of the really awesome techniques you learn in Scott Kelby's 7 Point System. You owe it to yourself to read this chapter as it will help you kick your pictures up a couple of notches. In fact, if you’ve always wondered why pros colors have such rich and vivid colors without looking really nasty and oversaturated, then you’ll love learning how they do it in this chapter.

Look Sharp: Sharpening Techniques

Who doesn’t love sharp pictures? Scott does a lot to demystify the stupidly named unsharp filter and gives you lots of great info (and fortunately exact numbers) to help you solve a wide variety of sharpening issues. Scott is a master of sharpening, so there's some really great stuff here that justifies keeping this book within arms reach at all times when you are doing digital post processing.

Fit to Print: Step-by-Step Printing and Color Management

Unless you live and breathe color management, most people will find that this chapter is everything they need to know and have wanted to know about the topic. There's some good stuff here that will increase your odds of having a true WYSIWYG experience when comparing your monitor output to your printer (or print service) output.

Scott also discusses how to do display calibration using the Xrite Eye-One Display 2, but if you are going to be doing your own printing on a mid to high price printer you might want to opt for the more advanced X-Rite ColorMunki Photo Color Management Solution. Personally I find the Pantone HueyPRO to be sufficient for my needs as I always use a third party for printing, but all of these are excellent solutions and at least one is mandatory to avoid printing disappointments. I should also note at the time of this writing that Pantone is offering its own Color Munki Create, but that is NOT the same thing as the X-Rite system. While it might be a good upgrade/replacement for the Huey, it should be noted that X-Rite system is still far superior for those doing advanced printing.

Best in Show: How to Show Your Work

This is similar to the previous book and just shows you how to create some nice digital matte’s for your photo to help them look their best when doing gallery style prints.

Working for a Livin': My Step-by-Step Workflow

The CS3 version of this book had a chapter called Faces: Retouching Portraits, but this section really incorporates the content from that chapter in a more practical application. In some ways I prefer the way the previous book worked for this important subject, but it’s always fun to see how Scott’s workflow works so this chapter is very helpful for demonstrating a typical portrait workflow. It’s much more exciting than what he demonstrated in his previous book, so this is definitely an improvement.

Conclusion

While it’s more of a recipe book that you'll use as a reference, I find myself using this book at least once a month for some tricky challenge I face. 

Skill Level: Beginner to Advanced
Value: Excellent (worth every penny)
Recommendation: Highly Recommended, but if you can't afford this and Scott Kelby's 7 Point System for Photoshop CS3 then I'd say your best best for learning is to go for 7 Point System. Even if you are a very advanced Photoshop user, you'll probably find some good nuggets in this book that make it worthwhile to own, but as a beginner you’ll constantly refer to it when you face challenging problems with your photos. I love this book and wouldn’t live without it.

I own the CS3 Version, should I get to the CS4 version?

If you have the CS3 version and are wondering if you should upgrade, I’d say – it depends. You aren’t missing much by sticking with the CS3 version, but this is oriented towards the new CS4 features and has some great improvements so I think make it worth the upgrade. I’m glad I upgraded, but everything in my previous book still applies to CS4. Times are tough, so if you are short on cash, don’t lose any sleep if you can’t do the upgrade right now.

If you enjoyed this article, please support future articles like this by donating a dollar or saving several dollars by using my discount coupon codes. Either way, your support is greatly appreciated!

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Sunday, April 19, 2009

Noise Reduction Roundup (5 of 5) – And the winner is…

Thank you for joining me in this first “roundup” series. Please comment on these articles if you enjoyed this format and I’ll consider doing more in the future (in fact, one on web hosting sites is in the works). To recap, the following articles were part of this review:

Image Processing Results

In this section I will discuss how each product faired using its default settings on each of the 4 test photos, and awards points for their performance (the more the better). To best view the results, you MUST view them at 100% as the scaled versions shown inline have compression artifacts that keep them for showing the exact results (they are close, but 100% are significantly better). I also award points for the results achieved by the software developers of each product and how they processed the photo, as I assume this to be the theoretical best results you could expect to get.

It is worth noting that noise reduction results are SUBJECTIVE. This means that my rankings may not correspond with your as you may place a higher value on edge preservation than I do, or you might expect zero noise in the final image at all cost. Use these results as a starting point, but I encourage you to experiment with trial version of each product to determine your own winner. When you do, please be sure to post your results on my flickr group so that you can enter to win a FREE copy of your favorite product in our contest. 4 copies of EACH of Noiseware, Noise Ninja and Dfine (12 total) will be given away!

Methodology

To accurately evaluate these photos you MUST click them and view them at 100%.

  1. The way I created these was by opening the CR2 RAW image into Adobe Photoshop CS4 (11.0.1) via Adobe Camera Raw 5.3.0.21 on 32-bit Microsoft Windows Vista SP1 system as a 8-bit sRGB image.
  2. For the original, I set the Noise Reduction Luminance and Color from the details tab to 0. I then did a New Smart Object via Copy to create a new layer copy that has its own independent Adobe Camera Raw settings (duplicate layer just links to the original). I named this layer ACR.
  3. I duplicated the above layer and then chose Rasterize Layer to prevent it from being a smart object, and I named this layer Photoshop.
  4. I duplicated this layer twice and called those layers Noise Ninja and Noiseware. At this point, ALL layers are still exact copies of the original layer and NO filters have been run.
  5. I ran the Dfine filter on one of these original layers because it always creates its own new duplicate layer before performing any changes (a feature I love and wish ALL destructive plug-ins did). When running filters for this test (except ACR/Lightroom), I simply run the filter and click ok to close it on its appropriate layer. I don’t make any changes because I’m wanting to compare the out of box experience that you would get.
  6. I repeat this process for all of the other filters. For Noise Ninja I do click the Profile Image button, and for Noiseware I selected the Default “setting” for the Sledding photo, and Night Scene for the others as I expect that would be what any reasonable person would do when experimenting with these products. Noise Ninja also has the benefit of custom camera profiles I created that it detects and uses to assist in its processing accuracy (see the Noise Ninja review for the difference it makes).
  7. For Lightroom, I actually used Adobe Camera Raw (ACR) as they use the same code behind the scenes and my testing couldn’t detect a difference between the products. I had previously processed all of these images in Lightroom with some level of noise reduction, so I simply used the values I had set by hand when I originally processed these photos. In some cases, like Chicago, that was just Lightroom 2’s default noise reduction setting.
  8. I  then did a 1 inch x 1 inch @ 240 dpi crop of an area I deemed to be the most noisy, and saved the PSD.
  9. Finally I did a select all of this square and did a copy, followed by a paste into a new 3 x 2 inch 240 dpi sRGB target document. I repeated this process for each layer, with the layer in question being the only selected and visible layer at the top I do my copy.
Canon G9 @ ISO 400

This photo was probably the most noisy picture of this roundup. In looking at the results, I was unimpressed with the default experience I got from Photoshop, but it could easily be argued that with a better knowledge of this tool and isolating the changes to only a specific channel I could get better results. However, this was about the default experience and I wasn’t happy with the results I got. In fact, through this article you will see that the results I got in Photoshop using its Reduce Noise filter is simply unacceptable. You’ll also notice that ACR/Lightroom does a decent job of getting rid of the noise, but at the cost of softening the detail of the edges in the image. Noise Ninja seems to favor edge detail preservation and takes a less aggressive default processing, but you are free to tweak that if you want (as I demonstrate with all three of the products in their respective articles thanks to the assistance of a developer from each product). In this image, I found the results from Noiseware to be the most impressive as it maintained nearly as much edge detail as Noise Ninja, yet just a little more noise was eliminated over Dfine.

For this image, I award the following points (more is better):

  1. Imagenomic Noiseware 4.1.1 (WINNER) - 5
  2. Nik Software Dfine 2.0 - 4
  3. PictureCode Noise Ninja 2.x - 3
  4. Adobe Lightroom 2.3 / Adobe Camera Raw (ACR) 5.3 – 2
  5. Adobe Photoshop CS4 - 1

Accurate comparisons are ONLY possible by clicking here for the FULL SIZE version

When the software developers worked on this photo, I felt that David clearly got the best balance of noise reduction and sharpness, followed by Fernando who had an edge on noise reduction at the top of the image. The result by Josh actually felt like a step backwards from the auto default results.

Software Developer Shootout Results (click the name to see their processed image):

  1. David (Imagenomic)  - Winner –5 Points
  2. Fernando (Noise Ninja) – 4 Points
  3. Josh (Dfine) – 3 Points
Canon Rebel XTi @ ISO 800

This photo was the one that most easily hid the noise, and in fact I’ve printed it and didn’t really even notice the noise before this roundup. However, upon close inspection I see that the well lit back corner of this image features some serious noise. Again, Photoshop was pathetic and ACR/Lightroom was just kills the detail in the image. Noise Ninja once again does a great job with detail via less aggressive noise reduction creating results that honestly would print very well. However, I still felt that Dfine maintained a similar level of edge detail, yet it reduced significantly more noise than Noise Ninja. Once again Noiseware offered the most impressive balance of noise reduction and edge preservation (although you MUST click to view the 100% image to see that difference as the image below shows more detail in Noise Ninja).

For this image, I award the following points (more is better):

  1. Imagenomic Noiseware 4.1.1 (WINNER) - 5
  2. Nik Software Dfine 2.0 - 4
  3. PictureCode Noise Ninja 2.x - 3
  4. Adobe Lightroom 2.3 / Adobe Camera Raw (ACR) 5.3 – 2
  5. Adobe Photoshop CS4 - 1

Accurate comparisons are ONLY possible by clicking here for the FULL SIZE version

When the software developers worked on this photo, I felt that Josh clearly got the best balance of noise reduction and sharpness – especially when you look at the back wall used in the 100% crops above. A very close second was Fernando, but he has just a tad too much noise. David’s results were disappointing as his got rid of the noise but at too much of a cost to detail loss, so I thought the default results were much better.

Software Developer Shootout Results (click the name to see their processed image):

  1. Josh (Dfine) – Winner - 5 Points
  2. Fernando (Noise Ninja) – 4 Points
  3. David (Imagenomic)  - 3 Points
Canon 5D Mark II @ IS0 2500

This image suffers from a bit of camera shake in addition to noise. It should be noted here that the might 5D Mark II’s infamous noise reduction ONLY occurs on the JPEG images, so if you shoot raw you don’t see those results unless you develop your RAW images in Canon’s own Digital Photo Professional 3.5.1.0. Click here to see what DPP’s processing of this RAW image – it’s quite impressive. I chose not to include it in this round up since I don’t believe that DPP is going to be a part of most people’s natural workflow, but Lightroom or Adobe Camera Raw will be.

In this case, I found it a lot harder to call a winner as none of them did an especially good job in my opinion. Of course, Photoshop sucked once again, but the softness of ACR/Lightroom actually works on this photo. Noise Ninja’s definitely creates the fewest artifacts around the bridge of the nose which would likely result in the best printing experience. However, it is just too close to call for Dfine and Noiseware, so I’m going to declare this one a tie between them and I am going to award an extra point to Noise Ninja as printing might give it an edge in this case.

For this image, I award the following points (more is better):

  1. Nik Software Dfine 2.0 – (CO-WINNER) - 5
  2. Imagenomic Noiseware 4.1.1 - (CO-WINNER) - 5
  3. PictureCode Noise Ninja 2.x – (SPECIAL AWARD) 4
  4. Adobe Lightroom 2.3 / Adobe Camera Raw (ACR) 5.3 – 2
  5. Adobe Photoshop CS4 - 1

Accurate comparisons are ONLY possible by clicking here for the FULL SIZE version

When the software developers worked on this photo, I felt that Josh clearly got the best balance of noise reduction and sharpness – especially when you look at the greenery and the detail in the older girls hat. A very close second was David, as his results were almost as good. Fernando’s was a bit softer with a little more noise.

Software Developer Shootout Results (click the name to see their processed image):

  1. Josh (Dfine) – Winner - 5 Points
  2. David (Imagenomic)  - 4 Points
  3. Fernando (Noise Ninja) – 3 Points
Canon 1D Mark III @ ISO 3200

This image seemed to benefit the most from noise reduction as it cleans up quite nicely. In this test, even the pathetic Photoshop seems to yield a nice improvement, and Lightroom does a very good job. When I ran Noise Ninja, I was blown away and I thought for sure it would be the clear winner. It got rid of the noise, yet maintained excellent detail on the area around the clock. Next, I ran Dfine and my jaw dropped! It looked great, but it did lose some detail on the tick marks of the clock so its actually a little softer than ACR/Lightroom. Finally, the results from Noiseware were once again a great balance of noise reduction and edge preservation, and at 100% it is the clear winner in this roundup. It is a tad software on the edge around the clock, but when you view this at 100% you’ll see that the clock details and smoothness in the sky clearly favors Noiseware.

For this image, I award the following points (more is better):

  1. Imagenomic Noiseware 4.1.1 (WINNER) - 5
  2. PictureCode Noise Ninja 2.x - 4
  3. Adobe Lightroom 2.3 / Adobe Camera Raw (ACR) 5.3 – 3
  4. Nik Software Dfine 2.0 - 2
  5. Adobe Photoshop CS4 - 1 

Accurate comparisons are ONLY possible by clicking here for the FULL SIZE version

When the software developers worked on this photo, the results were quite different. I felt that Fernando clearly got the best balance of noise reduction and sharpness, followed by Josh who had an edge on detail in the water. The result by David was good, but not as good as the others.

Software Developer Shootout Results (click the name to see their processed image):

  1. Fernando (Noise Ninja) – Winner – 5 Points
  2. Josh (Dfine) – 4 Points
  3. David (Imagenomic)  - 3 Points

User Interfaces

My day job for the last 15 years at a major software vendor as been as a user-interface (UI) developer. To me a successful user interface is one that can take advantage of the key features of the product without you ever having to read a manual. In this roundup, I define that as Ease of Use and award 5 points for the winner. Photoshop and ACR/Lightroom are not included as the results of the noise reduction test make me feel like they are not serious competitors in this space and they have no mathematical chance of winning this roundup, so they are excluded from this portion. With that, here are my user interface rankings:

User Interface Third Place - Noiseware (Ease of Use - 4 points, Features – 3 points)

All products were easy to use, but Noiseware stood apart from the others in that its best results were obtained by the default results – that’s impressive! If I were batch processing a large group of images, there’s no doubt that this is the product that I would use. As you saw previously, its default results back up that statement! That said, once you get past the Settings dropdown and Noise Reduction sliders, this is a pretty intimidating user interface. A typical user will be baffled at the choices in the Detail, Frequency, etc… tabs, and the graph in the bottom right offers eye candy, but no obvious value. One a positive note, it is probably the fastest UI of the bunch, so if performance were a category it would win hands down.

User Interface Second Place - Noise Ninja (Ease of Use - 3 points, Features – 5 points)

Noise Ninja is clearly targeted to the person who wants full control over everything this product does. It’s chock full of features and that’s both good and bad. My experience tells me that all this detail will be intimidating to most, and its requirement to click the Profile Image is perplexing. Of the products in this roundup, this is the only one that required me to read the manual to use it effectively, and even then I didn’t feel comfortable making certain adjustments (like the Turbo & Coarse noise checkboxes – huh?). It’s noise brush is a great idea as it allows you to say “hey, don’t apply noise reduction here”, which would be real useful for the clock tower on Chicago. It also is the only product to offer the ability for you to create camera profiles to ensure that you’ll get the best possible results with your camera and lenses. If you master this product, you have the ability to create your OWN definition of perfect noise reduction results based on your own balance of detail preservation and noise removal. It is for these reasons, that I feel that feature-wise this is the strongest product here – by far.

User Interface First Place - Dfine (Ease of Use - 5 points, Features – 4 points)

I love Nik Software products because they just work and are very easy to use. Sure, they have little quirks with the horrible way they do zooming, and they lack the proper shortcut keys to switch between the hand and zoom, but its U-Point technology gives you the ability to create complex masks and you’ll never have to know you are even using masks. In addition, its default experience is simple and highly effective. This is how user-interface should be done because it is simple and hides the gory details from you, but if you want more control then you simply go to manual mode and party with your U-Point controls. This product is a pleasure to use, and I frequently find myself using it now when I know I’m going to want to exclude noise reduction in a specific area of my image. It does lack the power of Noise Ninja, so I can’t help but dock a point there. However, it offers more practical features than Noiseware, so while it doesn’t seem as “scientific”, I think it clearly offers more control over features people will actually use to get superior results.

Ranking the Noise Reduction software products, and the Winner is…

Noise reduction is always a trade-off because reducing noise comes at the expense of losing image detail. How much noise reduction you apply is strictly based on how much detail you want to lose, and all of these products let you control that balance. This means that the real winner here is very subjective because what might be excellent for me, might be too much loss of detail for you. As a result, I encourage you to keep your needs in mind and install the free trial versions of these products to see which is right for you.

With that said, I hate articles that are like lawyers who never give you a straight answer or recommendation. I am going to draw a line in the sand and give you the order in which I think the products fell based on how I would use these products. This means I place a high value on the out of  box experience and the ease at which I can use the product (without reading manuals) to tweak those default settings if I think they are too aggressive.

The final order, from worst to best, in this round-up is:

5. Adobe Photoshop CS4’s Reduce Noise Filter – Given the cost of Photoshop, and its complex upgrade rules, it is embarrassing that this is the best that they can do with Noise Reduction. This type of round up shouldn’t be necessary as Adobe should have a great built-in solution, but they don’t. If you have to do Noise Reduction in Photoshop, my recommendation is that you do it in Adobe Camera Raw as that is what Lightroom uses, and you will get much better results.

4. Adobe Lightroom 2.3 / Camera Raw 5.x’s Noise Reduction feature – Lightroom is really just Adobe Camera Raw on steroids, so you can consider the results here applicable to both products. It does a reasonable job of getting rid of noise, but it kills the detail (which you can recover marginally with sharpening, but not enough). It’s much better than what you get in Photoshop, so that’s good, but for me I’d rather any of the products below more than this.

3. PictureCode Noise Ninja (38 points) – Before this round-up, this was the product I had purchased and used regularly as it has long been known as the most popular product used by the pros. I was happy with the results and thought it was a good product, but the user-interface isn’t  as friendly as some of the others here. In real-world use, if it didn’t give me the results I desire, I would do selective noise reduction using masks or on a single channel (usually the blue channel) only. If you want the most advanced noise reduction solution which offers ultimate control via camera profiling, then nobody in this round up can touch Noise Ninja – period. However if you want to make the most of this product then plan on learning what all of those controls in Noise Ninja do, and ordering a camera calibration chart from PictureCode to create profiles specific to your camera. This will mean a significant time investment up front on your part, but in the end it will give you the greatest control over reducing noise without losing detail of any product here.

2. Nik Software Dfine (41 Points) – If you’ve followed my blog, you know that I have recommended every Nik software product I’ve tested. The reason why is simple – they make great software that offers outstanding default results which can easily be tweaked using their revolutionary U-Point controls. The automatic results I got with Dfine were near identical to Noiseware, yet selectively applying those results using U-Point controls or the brush feature made it much easier to control the final image that I could be happy with. In addition to all of this, Nik offers videos on their site and webinars that offer you a chance to see the product in action in the hands of Nik’s imaging gurus. While Dfine lacks the fine level control of Noise Ninja, and some of the advanced features of Noiseware, it offers enough control for my needs and provides results that I am very happy with. As a result, when doing noise reduction I’ll always try this product first to see if I can get the results I want, before I try out the others. However, when I total all the points Dfine falls a point short due to its default performance on the Chicago image. It’s default processing was consistently a little softer than Noiseware’s, so I have to give it a second place but only by a hair. If you already own this product, then stick with it.

A 15% discount on all Nik Software is available for readers of this blog by entering the code rmartinsen when you order online or call to place an order. This offer excludes 3rd party software, bundles and upgrades, but even if you buy an excluded product please include the code when ordering.

1. Imagenomic Noiseware (42 points) – This is the product of choice recommended by Photoshop guru, Scott Kelby. I hadn’t heard about this product until he mentioned it in one of his books, and I’ll admit that my expectations for it were low. After all, Noise Ninja was king in my book, so how could this product compete with that? Well, the reality is that this product blew me away and yielded out of box results that knocked my socks off. This is how the default noise reduction should be done in my book, so it is very easy to recommend this product. The user-interface offers lots of powerful adjustments, similar to Noise Ninja, but it offers some ease of use features like its settings list which allows you to select some common user scenarios and get a new automatic result. I wish it had a noise brush or U-Point controls to help with selective noise reduction, but the reality is that I can easily do that myself with a layer mask (as I typically did with Noise Ninja in the past).

Use the following links to order your copy of Noiseware today. Be sure to enter the coupon code RONMART when you check out for a 15% discount on the following versions:

Conclusion

While Photoshop and Lightroom give you something that is better than nothing, the real players in this game are Noise Ninja, Noiseware, and Dfine. All are great products in their own way, and I would encourage you to experiment with their trial versions to figure out which is right for you. When you do, enter your test photos into the Greatest Saves Contest for a chance to win one of 12 free copies of the top 3 products (4 copies for each product) being given away.

Hopefully you’ve enjoyed this series as much as I have. If you are like me this will save you a lot of money because you are now better prepared to make an intelligent purchase. If this is the case, then please help support this blog by:

  1. Purchasing one of these products using the links in this article,
  2. sharing this article with all of your friends,
  3. and save it in your favorites for future reference.

If the support for this article is positive, then look for more cool round-ups like this in the future! I’d love to hear your thoughts on this article, so comments are greatly appreciated!

Other Products (UPDATE: July 20, 2009)

Since I originally wrote this article, I had the chance to try out another product – DeNoise 3 by Topaz Labs. Several readers of this article had commented about it, and while I was very unimpressed with version 2, version 3 was an improvement. I still stick by my existing recommendations here and would Topaz Labs Denoise 3 right behind PictureCode’s Noise Ninja.

If you enjoyed this article, please support future articles like this by donating a dollar or saving several dollars by using my discount coupon codes. Either way, your support is greatly appreciated!

Click here to learn more about how this blog is funded.

Monday, April 6, 2009

MPix.com Framed Metallic Prints are Amazing!

15% Mpix.com Discount Available – See below for details…

MPix-1-Edit

If you’ve been following my Noise Reduction Roundup article, then you’ve probably seen my Chicago image (shot at ISO 3200). Well, I was recently lucky enough to be invited to submit my photo to a corporate art gallery, so I contacted Mpix.com about framing it. They were super helpful, and their web site was a breeze to use so I placed my order for the framed image that you see above. Here’s what was included in my order:

Feature Price

16x20 Metallic Print

$19.99

Gold Ornate Frame

$70.00

Double Weight Matboard

$7.30

Clear Glass

$11.00

Fedex Overnight Shipping

$10.75

Total

$119.04

The results were awesome! I’ve used Museum Quality Framing, JoAnn, and other local shops for framing, and this is as every bit as good as the custom framing I’ve had done for $400 (without the print!). No regrets for sure, and for those of you who are still wondering if they are any good I recommend you order their Sample and Calibration kits. This will give you a chance to see the quality of their frames and prints, plus if you are hard core you can use the profiles to do your own color management. In my case, I let them auto calibrate the colors on my shot, and the results were spot on. The image in this article is a bit off on the color, but that was my fault for doing a quick job to get this to the web.

Preparing my print for ordering

A few of my friends who have seen this print asked me how I prepared my image to get such great results, so I thought I’d share my workflow for this one here:

  1. I initially processed this photo in Lightroom 2.3, then exported it as a PSD to Photoshop CS4.
  2. I used Alien Skin Software Blowup to enlarge this image to the recommended size of 4000x5000 pixels at 250 dpi.
  3. I applied noise reduction using Nik Software Dfine so I could take advantage of the U-Point controls to leave detail where I wanted it, and remove it where I didn’t want it – very quickly. (NOTE: I was working on my Dfine review for my Noise Reduction Roundup when I ordered this print, so it was actually quite a coincidence that I chose it rather than the other participants.)
  4. I sharpened the image using Nik Software’s Sharpener Pro 3.0.
  5. I saved the file using the sRGB color profile as a JPEG 12 image and uploaded it to Mpix.com. I let them do the final color management and the results exceeded my expectations!

The Package

One of the things that I always worry about when ordering a print, and in this case – especially a frame, online is that it will arrived damaged by the goons who handle the package on the way to me. In this case, I figured that Mpix.com must have thought about this too because framed prints will only come via FedEx overnight. FedEx is the ONLY company I trust for important packages, so I felt re-assured that things would turn out okay.

Sure enough, when my package arrived it was encased in a thick cardboard box and super huge bubbles bubble wrap. It took me about 10 minutes to get to my print, but when I did all of the corners (which also had cardboard corner protectors) were in perfect shape and the image arrived without issue. This, despite the fact that it sat on my porch in the rain for 6 hours (I told FedEx to leave it on the porch – my bad) before my wife arrived home to bring it in. The light rain (from wind blowing spray onto the porch) hadn’t penetrated the wrapping, so the image was in perfect shape.

Discount

I can’t recommend Mpix.com enough after this fantastic experience. Unlike me, you can actually get a discount that I didn’t have available when I loaded my shopping cart!

For a limited time (expires 4/30/09), you can get 15% off your Mpix.com order when you enter the code ronmart09 when you place your order. Be sure to use this coupon code to take advantage of this great deal.

Enter the discount coupon code ronmart2 when you checkout from now until June 30th, 2009 and save 15% off your entire order!

If you enjoyed this article, please support future articles like this by donating a dollar or saving several dollars by using my discount coupon codes. Either way, your support is greatly appreciated!

Click here to learn more about how this blog is funded.

The “Ronmart.blogspot.com Greatest Save” Contest (12 Prizes – Free Software) – Rules Update 4/5/09

For those of you who decided not to enter, this had to be one of the easiest contests because I think everyone that submitted a valid entry won! Click here to view the winning entries. Here’s a list of winners per product, along with a link to their winning entry:

Noiseware

Kevin - www.flickr.com/photos/casadehambone/3461617522/
Daniel - www.flickr.com/photos/37990356@N08/3488344068/
Kamal - www.flickr.com/photos/khathi/3419938363/
Duncan - www.flickr.com/photos/22343315@N02/3460888985/

Dfine

Brian - farm4.static.flickr.com/3575/3424198351_19167957e9_b.jpg
Todd - www.flickr.com/photos/tgroten/3426020660/
Tim - www.flickr.com/photos/tlamey/3461580218/
Justin - www.flickr.com/photos/tiarnachutch/3407926665/

Noise Ninja

Mark - www.flickr.com/photos/markolwick/3424539681/
Karan -
www.flickr.com/photos/37741135@N04/3471822847/
Eric -
www.flickr.com/photos/37919658@N02/3491712269/
berzamora -
www.flickr.com/photos/bzamora/3421695432/

Congrats to all of those who participated and won!

PictureCode, Nik Software & Imagenomic have been kind enough to offer a free license for Noise Ninja 2.x Professional, Dfine 2.0 or Noiseware 4.1.1 for 12 lucky readers of this blog who win my “Greatest Save” contest. Four first place winners will get to pick the product of their choice, and eight runner-up winners will win a license of what is remaining. The rules of the contest are simple. Post a AFTER photo (see camera rules) to my Flickr Blog Reader’s group, and then make your first comment to photo that includes a before photo along with the following information:

  1. The Noise Reduction product you used to reduce the noise from the image (all products featured in this article have free trial versions, so use one or all of them for your submission).
  2. The exact steps you took using the Noise Reduction software to improve the photo.
  3. What you liked and disliked about the product you used.

An example entry is shown here.

Discounts will be available for some of the products featured in this roundup in future articles so stay tuned!

Contest Rules
  1. You must follow the instructions above, and add your photos to Ron Martinsen's Blog Readers group pool with the tag “ronmart.blogspot.com Greatest Save Contest” (use quotes to avoid this becoming 4 different tags).
  2. Shots should come from the higher ISO’s that your camera offers. The before photo MUST show visible noise. Your photo must have EXIF so More Properties works in Flickr to be eligible.
  3. Multiple entries allowed, but only one prize per winner. Winner will be notified via a personal comment by me to their photo and via Flickr mail that that they have one. You will need to provide me with your real email address, name, address and phone number so that you can be registered and then a license will be sent to you from a sponsor or myself.
  4. Void where prohibited, and the winner is responsible for taxes on the prize (if applicable).
  5. I reserve the right to disqualify any entry and the winner will be selected at my discretion. I also reserve the right to cancel the content in the event that the sponsor(s) should be unable to deliver the prizes for any reason. The pictures are subject to the terms of Flickr.
  6. By participating you grant me the royalty-free right to display your entry on this blog (via a direct link from Flickr) for the purpose of noise reduction related articles. If you do not wish for me to do this, then please send me Flickr mail and I’ll exclude you from this clause in email.
  7. Entry deadline is April 24th, 2009 and winners will be announced on this blog with a inline (assuming you aren’t excluded in #6) and direct link to your photo on or near April 26th, 2009.

If you enjoyed this article, please support future articles like this by donating a dollar or saving several dollars by using my discount coupon codes. Either way, your support is greatly appreciated!

Click here to learn more about how this blog is funded.

Sunday, April 5, 2009

PictureCode Noise Ninja 2.2 (Noise Reduction Roundup 4 of 5)

If you talk to most pro photographers (especially photo journalists) and ask them what they use for noise reduction and the answer will almost always be the same – Noise Ninja. This is the standard by which all other noise reduction products will be measured, and the grand daddy of them all. Big name sites like RobGalbraith.com and Luminous-Landscape.com have sworn by this product, and it is the only product I used for noise reduction prior to this article.

PictureCode is all about noise reduction and is very hard core. Just read their docs or talk to anyone on the PictureCode team, and you’ll quickly discover that this company knows a ton about noise reduction. They’ve given their users the most options to calibrate their noise profiling through camera and scanner profiles so you can get the best results possible for your device. In addition they make profiling charts available so you can create your own profile for your camera and lens for the most advanced auto profiling possible.

Visit their site for some samples of what this product can do, and watch their videos which demonstrate how to use Noise Ninja, do batch processing and how to integrate with Lightroom.

How does it work?

Of all the products in this roundup, the user-interface for Noise Ninja was probably the complex and intimidating. This isn’t necessarily a negative because it is also the most advanced and offers significant control over how your image is processed. Here’s the user interface for Noise Ninja 2.2 (build 2.2.0b):

Click to view a larger version To get the best results you’ll want to see “Auto matched:” followed by your camera (or scanner) profile loaded. This gives Noise Ninja a good idea about what is noise and what is not from your camera. If you are super cautious, you can create your own profiles. You can even go to the extreme and create custom profiles own using the same exact lens, aperture and ISO that was used for the picture in question. I’ll do this later in this article to show what difference it makes, but even if you don’t do that you can download profiles off their site to get you started. While some of you won’t need this kind of precision, it’s a powerful feature to know that you have at your disposal – especially for those doing astrophotography or microscopy work where important data can’t be mistaken for noise.

Just like with Noiseware, I do my noise reduction changes on a merged layer (CTRL+SHIFT+ALT+E) in Photoshop so I can undo if I change my mind later. However, unlike Noiseware, you can use the Noise Brush to control where noise reduction is applied and where it is masked. This is similar to the brush functionality in Nik Software’s Dfine product, but I prefer Dfine’s implementation of U-Point and Brush much better. Some of you might prefer the Noise Brush since it avoids masks and returns results with the edits made in the user interface.

These guys know their stuff

The team at Noise Ninja is all about noise reduction – that’s all they do – so they are hard core about what is required to get the best balance of noise reduction and detail preservation. I found the following excerpt from their users guide to be very useful in determining how to do noise reduction based on image types:

When to apply noise reduction

As a general principle, you should apply noise reduction as early as is practical in your workflow - ideally, before other editing operations like tone adjustment, color balancing, sharpening, or resizing. Adjustments like these can shift pixel values and distort noise levels in unpredictable ways, and this can make it more difficult for Noise Ninja to remove the noise effectively. Sharpening and resizing, in particular, should be deferred until after noise reduction when possible. (Modest amounts of in-camera sharpening are usually okay, however.)

If you shoot RAW: If you use a raw file format like Nikon NEF or Canon [CR2], it might require some experimentation to determine the best way to integrate Noise Ninja into your workflow, and you also might have strong preferences regarding how you want to use the different tools. Raw conversion utilities differ widely in the way they treat noise, and they typically allow numerous adjustments to be made during conversion. Some users apply minimal adjustments during raw conversion, apply Noise Ninja, and then make other adjustments using Photoshop or some other editor. This allows them to profile their camera and re-use the noise profiles for each image. Other users make arbitrary adjustments during raw conversion, and then they use the manual or automatic profiling tools … to create a noise profile for each image.

Noise Reduction Roundup Images

This product is one of three excellent after-market products that I am reviewing as part of my Noise Reduction Roundup article.

Initially I processed the original images in Canon’s Digital Photo Professional (DPP) 3.5. When one of the product engineers raised a concern about JPEG compression I decided that it made more sense to import the RAW into Photoshop via Adobe Camera Raw (ACR) 5.2. I then used that single PSD to work on all the photos.

Here’s the exact process I used:

  1. Open CR2 in Photoshop CS4 32-bit on Windows Vista 32-bit
  2. This launches ACR 5.2, go to the Detail tab and set Noise Reduction to 0 (XMP data from disk has cropping info – XMP was generated from Lightroom 2.3 where I catalog my files)
  3. Open object as a Smart Object at Original Size
  4. Duplicate the layer twice
  5. Rasterize the third layer & copy 3 more times
  6. Name each layer (original, acr, photoshop, noiseninja, dfine, noiseware)
  7. Save PSD (these are huge)
  8. Apply corresponding filter to each named layer (using layer comps to define each layer and hide other layers) using default values (run filter, press OK when dialog appears)
  9. Save PSD
  10. Switch to each layer (using layer comps) and do a File | Save As… JPEG and choose 12 when the dialog comes up (although by accident I did 10 on Tokyo for all of them).
    • For Chicago, I created a Text layer watermark and showed both the image and watermark layers.
  11. I realized that these images had the wrong color profile, so I had to re-open them all, apply the sRGB color profile and save again at JPEG 12.

The images below are part of the roundup images. The original link shows a JPEG 12 version of the original with no noise reduction added (the default setting is always to add a little). The Auto link was processed on a duplicate layer using the automatic settings (i.e., the same results you’d get if you ran the filter and just hit OK right after installing this product). This image was saved as JPEG 12 in Adobe Photoshop CS4. The Suggestion version was processed the same way, but with the instructions found below the links.  As you can see from the images below the results are outstanding. Hover over images to see before and after (using auto) results, but you have to look very carefully. Hints about where to look are included for each image, but its best to click the hyperlinks to see the full size images and switch between tabs in your browser to see the differences. You may download and compare them in Photoshop, but please delete them when you are done comparing.

This article includes a before, auto and suggested 100% crop to compare the differences. For the best results, click on these images to view them at 100%.

The final article will include six 100% crops next to each other so you can more easily see the differences together, so stay tuned to this entire series for the best results.

DISCLAIMER: This isn’t a scientific comparison. The reader should compare these images for relative noise, but any final judgments should be made by conducting your own experiments using your own images on your image editing system.

Canon G9 @ ISO 400

Here’s a shot I took with a Canon G9 at ISO 400 which was fairly noisy. Hover over the shot below to see the before and after (pay attention to the top of the image to see the bad noise in the original). This is straight out of camera with no post-processing, so it still needs a little work (especially sharpening):

Mouse over to see before, mouse out to see after

 You MUST click on this image to view the Original for an accurate comparison

Original Auto Fix PictureCode Suggestions

Fernando Zapata, a Senior Programmer at PictureCode, offered the following suggestions on how to improve the default results:

  1. Used ACR to convert the raw file, using the ACR defaults but with all sharpening and noise reduction turned off.
  2. Modified auto profile (see screenshot below) by adding and removing some selections.
  3. Tweaked luminance strength and smoothness (see settings file).
  4. Used the noise brush on the boys hair.
  5. Used it on his socks (as a test). It brought back some fine detail you can spend a lot of time tweaking with the brush but it is best to pick the areas where it is worth your time. In this case the kids hair.
Click for a larger image

Canon Rebel XTi @ ISO 800

Pay attention to the building in the back of the scene on the bottom left side of the image when you hover in and out below:

Mouse over to see before, mouse out to see after

You MUST click on this image to view the Original for an accurate comparison 

Original Auto Fix
w/o camera profile
PictureCode Suggestions
  Auto Fix
w/ camera profile
 
 

Fernando Zapata, a Senior Programmer at PictureCode, offered the following suggestions on how to improve the default results:

  1. Used ACR to convert the raw file, using the ACR defaults but with all sharpening and noise reduction turned off.
  2. Modified profile see screenshot.
  3. Just used the defaults for the filter settings.
  4. Touched up with brush the following areas:
    • The blue sign
    • The portion of the red sign with white letters that is right of the blue sign
    • Used the smallest brush size small portions of the wires between the two lamp posts. This is not necessary but if you wanted to enhance even these very small details you could.

Click for a larger image

Canon 5D Mark II @ IS0 2500

Pay attention to the little girl’s hair when you hover in and out below:

Mouse over to see before, mouse out to see after

This is a 100% view image - no click required

Original Auto Fix 
(No Camera Profile)
PictureCode Suggestions
PictureCode Profile My Custom Profile
 
This is the first photo where I created my own custom profile as PictureCode recommends. Here’s a picture of my profile chart, set slightly blurry (to avoid paper texture) and shot with the same lens, ISO, and aperture as the photo of the girls. The only difference was shutter speed which must vary for a proper exposure.
 
Click for Full Size version (JPEG 8)
 
The process was fairly straightforward, but I think my profile might be off just a little bit because the darker squares in the picture are from my fat coconut head blocking the light on the image, so the picture wasn’t lit consistently.
 
Fernando Zapata, a Senior Programmer at PictureCode, offered the following suggestions on how to improve the default results:
  1. Did this one on my Mac [at home].
  2. Used Lightroom with same settings for raw conversion as others in ACR.
  3. Used standalone version (same noise reduction engine).
  4. Used manual profile (see screenshot).
  5. Set chroma settings at max.
  6. Increased luminance smoothness just a tiny bit above the default to help with some of the green noise in the younger girls face.
  7. Didn't use the noise brush on this one as I didn't feel that it needed it but you could use it to touch up the most important parts of the image.
Click for a larger image
Fernando’s version felt a little soft for my taste, so unless I did something wrong in the Mac to PC translation of his notes, I think my favorite version was the PictureCode camera profiles with the Auto settings.
Trouble with Noise Reduction in Reds

One of the observant readers of this blog pointed out to me that none of the products in this review seem to be controlling noise in reds as well as they do in other areas. Here’s a good example that shows the problem:

Jim Christian, Founder of PictureCode, shared this explanation of this phenomenon:

I've noticed this with saturated reds on a few occasions.  I haven't had a chance to analyze it carefully, but I suspect there are multiple factors that may come into play to varying degrees, depending on the image and the camera.  E.g. white balance scaling (red can be scaled twice as much as green and blue for daylight or cloudy white balance for a 5d Mk II); noise-amplifying off-diagonal terms in color correction matrices replace some relatively clean green with high-noise blue in the corrected red channel;  lower "headroom" for saturated reds in some color spaces (i.e. it seems relatively easy to bump up against gamut boundaries in the reds, resulting in lower effective available precision); and the standard methods used to separate luminance and chroma components (and perhaps inaccuracies in their correspondence to human perceptual responses).

Canon 1D Mark III @ ISO 3200

Pay attention to the building on the left side of the image when you hover in and out below:

Mouse over to see before, mouse out to see after 

You MUST click on this image to view the Original for an accurate comparison

Original Auto Fix* PictureCode Suggestions
PictureCode Profile* My Custom Profile

* = There are some slight color variations to these two images due to an accidental AdobeRGB –> sRGB color profile conversion. No other images in this set are impacted by this issue, and all can still be compared for relative noise. The Auto version used in the 100% crops was from the “My Custom Profile” image. Here’s the profile image I used to build my custom profile:

Click for Full Size version (JPEG 8)

Fernando Zapata, a Senior Programmer at PictureCode, offered the following suggestions on how to improve the default results:

  1. Used ACR to convert the raw file, using the ACR defaults but with all sharpening and noise reduction turned off.
  2. Opened in Noise Ninja and created a manual profile by selecting uniform regions at different of various colors and tones.
  3. Tweaked the luminance and strength and smoothness sliders using the standard strategy we recommend in our users guide. This is where each photographers preferences will vary the most. I've gone with what looked best in my eyes.
  4. I turned on the coarse noise option to help with the very low frequency noise.
  5. I looked for areas in the image where I felt to much detail had been lost and use the noise brush set to luminance to bring back the detail. I brushed the following areas:
    • I brushed along building on the left hand side to help bring back the vertical lines.
    • I brushed along the waves to bring back wave detail using large brush strokes as the waves made didn't need much luminance noise reduction. I also brushed along the red waves and with the brush set to chroma.

Click for a larger image

Conclusion

Before this round-up, this was the product I had purchased and used regularly as it has long been known as the most popular product used by the pros. I was happy with the results and thought it was a good product, but the user-interface isn’t  as friendly as some of the others here. In real-world use, if it didn’t give me the results I desire, I would do selective noise reduction using masks or on a single channel (usually the blue channel) only. If you want the most advanced noise reduction solution which offers ultimate control via camera profiling, then nobody in this round up can touch Noise Ninja – period. However if you want to make the most of this product then plan on learning what all of those controls in Noise Ninja do, and ordering a camera calibration chart from PictureCode to create profiles specific to your camera. This will mean a significant time investment up front on your part, but in the end it will give you the greatest control over reducing noise without losing detail of any product here.

PictureCode is a proud sponsor of the The “Ronmart.blogspot.com Greatest Save” Contest, and is donating 4 FREE copies of Noise Ninja Professional to readers of this blog!

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