Because camera makers cram so many megapixels into such a small sensor (typically quite a bit smaller than the size of a 35 mm film square) a number of things can create noise on the image. Usually heat from the small sensor is a big one. Reducing the sensitivity setting makes a big difference.

Compare my test photo’s. The only difference between the two shots is the ISO (sensitivity) setting. The cleaner one is ISO 80, the noisy one ISO 400. Notice the ISO 400 image has a lot of multi-coloured pixels in areas that should be fairly solid? That’s noise.

Well, I had read an article in the September 2004 issue of PhotoLife about noise suppression software for photography (“Taming Noise in Digital SLR Photos”) and started my own investigation. Not that I had any doubts about their accuracy or research. I just knew they would be using stuff you had to pay for! I like to see what the free tools can do before I invest.

The first tool I tried out (and have been using a few weeks now) is Noiseware from Imagenomic. They have a community edition, which basically means free to use with a more limited feature set.

The second tool I tried was the demo version of NeatImage which is also free to use with a limited feature set. Both of these tools come in a number of increasingly capable (and more expensive) versions. In fact there are a number of capable tools out there, but having been the poor student before, I know there is an audience for freely available tools.

So, let’s compare the job these two free versions do:

Noiseware: before and after
Neatimage: before and after

Well, they can both be adjusted, the NeatImage product moreso. It allows you to select a portion of the noisy image and create a profile from that.

Both products strip the EXIF information from the image (unless you pony up cash for a commerical version) and limit you to JPG save at a set high-quality mode.

Noiseware is pretty straightforward, they have some preset settings like Landscape and Portrait, as well as ranges of agressiveness. The Neatimage product gives you more control but is not quite as easy to use. One thing I noticed about the final product was that Noiseware saves as a 96 DPI image, while NeatImage takes it down to 72 DPI (the original image they both worked off was 96 DPI).

For professional work you’ll need to invest the cash and get a fuller version. If you’re just trying to clean up snaps you share on the web with family and friends, either will do, but Noiseware I think edges out NeatImage by being a little easier to use and saving (in the free version) at a better quality.

All bets are off once you show them your money tho. It looks like NeatImage scales up to be VERY powerful and certainly capable of saving your files any which way you want. They both also state the commercial versions save EXIF information.

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