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  • Ed Dozier

Photo Noise Reduction: Nik Dfine 2.0

Many photo-editing programs include noise reduction, but they’re typically crude. If you’re the type of person that wants the nth degree of control over this process, you might consider using Nik Dfine 2.0.

Nik Dfine is a “plug-in”, so that means it runs inside of another program. Many programs, such as PhotoShop, LightRoom, Aperture, and Zoner Photo Studio can use plug-ins. If you use Nik Dfine, it means you get the same user experience inside any of those programs that can run it.

Nik Dfine comes from Google, and they decided to discontinue it; they made it free, so you can’t beat the price! Google also discontinued the other Nik plug-ins, so they’re all free now. You may need to consult Google for specific procedures on how to install the Nik plug-ins for your particular program. You can still get the plug-ins here:

Why would you want noise reduction in the first place? Two of the biggest reasons that come to mind are small-sensor cameras and dim light pictures where you were forced to really crank up the ISO. Those color spreckles, especially in deep shadows, can look terrible.

You should know that the order in which you process your pictures is important. You want to handle noise reduction first, before any other photo manipulation. By the way, you want to handle sharpening last. In-between these two editing operations, order isn’t too important.

I noticed that the Dfine user guide said it supports only Tiff format, but I used it in Zoner Photo Studio with Nikon NEF format pictures, so you don’t have to worry about that constraint.

A little noise reduction goes a long way, so you don’t want to overdo it. It you don’t heed this advice, you’ll probably end up with pictures that have a lot of mush instead of fine details. If you’re working with “raw” format, then don’t apply any sharpening or noise reduction before using Dfine on the image.

Nik Dfine is extremely smart about how and where it rids noise. It can aggressively attack featureless areas and barely touch areas with fine detail. You can go as manual as you wish to “take control”, or you can let Dfine do its magic automatically. Personally, I love the automation and the end results.

Many photographers find that they hate the color noise, but that they don’t mind the luminance noise. I (mostly) fall into that category. I don’t mind the gritty or sandy effect luminance noise can have. Leaving luminance noise alone can result in an overall sharper-looking photo. If you want to rid both types of noise, however, Dfine can deliver. The Dfine developers were very smart about leaving the fine details alone while smoothing the out-of-focus areas.

Dfine is essentially a two-step process. The first step is “Measure”, where it analyzes the photo and decides what to do and where to do it. The second step is to act on the noise, or “Reduce”.

Before working on noise reduction, you will probably want to set up some preferences. I prefer the “single” versus a “split” or “side-by-side” view of the photo, and I toggle the “Preview” checkbox to see the “before” and “after” effect on the whole photo. I also prefer the default “RGB Mode”, versus modes such as “Chrominance Only” or “Luminance Only” (which switch to black-and-white).

I like to keep the “Loupe” enabled, so that I can selectively look at the pixel-level wherever the mouse pointer is. You can also lock its view into a position of your choosing by selecting its “pin” icon.

Some notes on setting up the Dfine functionality

“Measure” showing Automatic mode

Again, click on “Measure” to let Dfine analyze the photo and determine its game plan on how to reduce noise prior to clicking “Reduce”.

“Reduce” showing “Color Ranges” Method.

After clicking “Measure”, the interface will change to allow you to fine-tune settings. I typically will increase the “Edge Preservation” (under the “More” drop-down) to save really fine details, such as fur or feathers.

For global changes based upon color, select the “Color Ranges” Method. If you wish to work on areas of the picture, you can select “Control Points” instead, and add as many as you need. People familiar with Nikon Capture NX2 know all about control points, since Nik wrote that program, too.

When you’re happy with your noise reduction setup, click on “Reduce”.

Example noise reduction at pixel-level zoom

Typical noise (in shadows)

Noise reduced without detail loss in fur

As camera sensors get better, noise reduction is needed less and less. But when you need to fix a noisy image, Dfine is a great tool to have in your arsenal.

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