When I upgraded to a Canon Rebel XTi from my wee Sony DSC-P93 I was overjoyed. I had a camera that would do what I wanted, no stop-gap measure between my old SLR and a DSLR. After shooting some low-light images at 1600 ISO I was faced with the harsh realities of life in the digital imaging world: Noise.
Remember film cameras? Using high ISO films, like ISO 800, could result in grainy prints. Noise is the digital world’s equivalent of film grain and is seen as ugly specks or color spots in your digital images. There are many technical causes, involving your camera’s sensor and amplification circuits. Noise is a fact of life, of physics, that cannot be changed.
Or can it?
I thought I had captured a great silhouetted night shot. Viewing it on the camera’s LCD preview I was stunned. In my office, on the computer, it was a different story. The image was as noisy as a kindergarten class. I tried every Photoshop trick I knew to rescue the image. All I managed to do was make it blurry, not what I had in mind.
After reading a forum post on photo.net I downloaded a copy of PictureCode’s Noise Ninja, a Photoshop plug-in or standalone program, for both Windows and Mac OSX.
According to the Austin, Texas-based PictureCode, most noise reduction tools aren’t very effective, removing little noise, destroying fine detail, and making the user do a lot of work. Noise Ninja uses Wavelet Theory, a new mathematical approach to noise reduction. This theory converts image pixels into spatial representations which allow the software to remove noise from different locations, frequencies and color channels. Noise Ninja can automatically identify noise and with user input, quickly remove it.
I didn’t think there was much that could be done to rescue my noisy image. In vain, I decided to give Noise Ninja’s downloadable demo plug-in a try. The installation was easy. I opened my image in Photoshop CS2 and selected the Noise Ninja plug-in from the filter menu.
I used the automatic settings and was amazed at the results. The digital noise in the image disappeared, like magic. My photograph was a work of art, unmarred by evil noise.
Noise Ninja offers a host of features. Images can be created in fully automatic mode, the program analyzing and repairing without user input. It’s fast, and down-and-dirty, as the saying goes. The application also uses custom profiles, downloadable from the PictureCode website, for all the major models of DSLRs. With the correct camera profile, Noise Ninja becomes a very intelligent ally in the war against noise. Its analysis and subsequent repairs are based on data geared towards your camera.
Settings can also be manually configured, and part of the image can be masked off to prevent the removal of noise. While noise is bad, there is a marginal loss of detail in treated areas.
See the sample before-and-after images with this article and you will realize why this application is used in 7 of the 10 largest American newspapers. Noise Ninja is a digital lifeguard that can rescue seemingly lost images from obscurity. It is now part of my digital toolbox. I’m no longer afraid to shoot at 800 ISO or above.
Whether you are a professional or serious amateur, Noise Ninja is worth $44.95 investment.