Over the last year or two, I have become rather reliant in my post processing on a set of software filters from Topaz Labs (http://www.topazlabs.com/). These filters encompass everything from noise reduction, through black and white conversion and tonal adjustments to special effects. They are not cheap – NZ$370 for a 10 filter bundle – though sometimes they come up on offer, and I originally brought mine for half that price. They are also available individually for those that just need just one or two filters.
I use Photoshop Elements (NZ$165) and, with Elements and Topaz combined, find no need to pay NZ$1,300 for Photoshop CS5. So, that said, I thought it worth talking about those filters that I especially find indispensable; starting with Topaz DeNoise (http://www.topazlabs.com/denoise/).
I hate digital noise. I also used to hate grain in my prints from film, but some people deliberately add grain to their digital images, so I’m open to the fact that not everyone will hate noise as much as I do. My Nikon does a pretty good job at keeping noise down, but at higher ISO or in pictures with a high dynamic range, noise can still intrude. Nikon’s own software (NX2) and Photoshop both have crude noise reduction algorithms that seem to suppress detail at the same rate as they suppress noise. Topaz DeNoise is different.
When I first used DeNoise, I was so blown away by the clean results I got that two things happened – I got cross at being short changed by the mainstream software providers (not helpful) and I raised my usable ISO ceiling by two full stops (very helpful)! That was simply using the basic presets that came with the tool. Since then, I have learned how to use the controls that DeNoise provides to finesse even more detail from previously unusable RAW files.
Now let me be clear, this isn’t a tool you would want to use to process a thousand RAW files from a photo shoot – that would take an eternity, but for those photographers preparing top quality files for final use in print or even web, its a godsend. Below is a 100% crop from a review picture taken on the Nikon D5100, 16Mp sensor at ISO 6,400. The first frame is from the original RAW file and the second is after a minute in Topaz DeNoise – given the subject matter, quite a usable result.
Disclaimer: I am just a Topaz user; I have no other relationship with Topaz and have received nothing from Topaz for this review.