Wednesday, January 27, 2010

PhotoFAVS Wednesday: In Camera Noise Reduction

Good Afternoon Everybody,

Photo Favs wed Well, my day really lightened up.  I was scheduled to photograph the official portrait of one of the leading religious leaders in Cincinnati this morning, but because of a schedule change on his part we need to reschedule the shoot.

Hey, no complaints from me.  How many times do we get a FREE day to take care of some of those loose ends that seem to never get taken care of? Not very often. Heck, I might even take LaDawn out for lunch - what a concept.

Anyway, back to today's post:

"In Camera Noise Reduction"

Many of you know I've been a BIG JPEG shooter for most of my digital life switching to RAW in the mid 2008’s.  After shooting for almost two years, I have to say that I have not fully drank the RAW kool-aid yet.

Sure, I like RAW and  how I can really tweak the image in Lightroom. Heck, it was the Adjustment Brush - localized control over image density - that made me switch from shooting JPEG to RAW. But now two years later, and reflecting on my shooting routine over these last two years, I believe JPEGS should still have a place in any event photographer's shooting routine.

Why? That's the subject of this week's PhotoFAVS Wednesday. To many photogs, mostly RAW shooters who really have "drank the kool-aid", they see no place whatsoever for shooting JPEGS on a job. But today, let me give you a reason to reconsider shooting JPEGS for at least part of your event coverage. 

Hit the “Read More…” link below for the rest of the story.

It has to do with the camera's own built in electronic noise reduction algorithms that come into play when you set your camera to JPEG mode.  There's just something about how the camera reduces the image noise that gives us a much cleaner result in our finished image.

I know a lot of you think I'm crazy  - and my "kool-aid" comment will probably garner a nasty comment or two, but folks, it still comes down to the finished image and how we choose to use our digital hardware to obtain that result.

Before writing your "RAW IS KING" comment to this post, please hear me out.

This past weekend, I shot a lot of the Bar Mitzvah in both RAW and JPEG. Yes, same shot, both modes.  I've been having this "inkling" that the in camera noise reduction could be doing a better job in the "noise reduction" department than simply relying on the noise reduction software available on the market.

Could I obtain a better low noise image by shooting in JPEG Mode with the camera's "noise reduction" feature turned on and then run it through a favorite "noise reduction" software?  Folks, I present you with my results.

Let me set up the shooting scenario.  At Saturday's party, the slide show had just begun and parents and kids alike were enjoying the show.  I love to roam the audience and capture the tear in mom's eye or the happy, smiling faces of any of the kids watching the slide show.

The ambient light is usually at a pretty low level which necessitates high ISO shooting.  The lighting decor also had the dance floor flooded with very yellow/orange light which created the heavy color cast to the scene.  For my "experiment" I decided to NOT do any color correction. I only wanted to compare the "noise" levels in each image and additional image manipulation may have skewed the results.

I settled into ISO 3200 and began photographing the crowd.  Check out this first image, below.  I shot it RAW and then cropped it much closer so you could more readily make the noise comparison in each image.  This RAW image shows the most noise.

RAW ImageNoise - Raw

Now look at the next image shot in JPEG mode with "noise reduction" turned on. - I had the camera set to "Standard" on my Canon 7D.  It is clearly superior - showing less noise - than the RAW capture.

JPEG ImageNoise JPEGNow look at the third image.  It is the RAW image imported into Photoshop from Lightroom. I did no "noise reduction" in Lightroom, by the way.  Next I ran the image through Noise Ninja by Picture Code [link].  I like NIK's Dfine 2.0 [link], but since Noise Ninja reports a "noise index", and I thought that would be a good way to quantify my results. 

RAW With NRNoise RAW NR Noise Ninja reported a "noise index" of 51 for the RAW image.  That's pretty high based on my Noise Ninja experience.  Anyway, take a look at this third image.  It is clearly an improvement over the original RAW and JPEG files.

But now look at the fourth image.  It's the result of running the JPEG through Noise Ninja. 

JPEG With NRNoise JPEG NR In this case, the "noise index" topped out at only 35 - not bad.  And, as you can see, the result is really, really good.  Skin tones are smooth and just about all the noise has been substantially disguised.

So would this kind of low light shooting situation be best shot in JPEG mode?  I say a resounding "YES!!!" for three reasons:

1. These types of candid images are not going to be "headlining" images in the final album. It's these kinds of images that capture the "flavor" of the event and are what I call "third tier" images.  In these instances JPEGS are just fine.

2. I'm dealing with very slow shutter speeds, too.  That means that I'm going to be taking several images to be assured that I have one really sharp image. That's even assuming my lens image stabilization is doing a good job for me.  There simply is no reason to chew up a lot of "hard drive real estate" to store these numerous images. 

3. And most importantly, I obtain the best "low noise" result when I combine the camera's built in noise reduction with that of NIK DFine 2.0 or Noise Ninja.

So there you have it.  For me, RAW vs. JPEG is not a "religious" argument in which I need to take sides. Actually, taking sides in the RAW vs. JPEG debate will only lead you down the path of compromised imagery.  For me, it's always about using the right tool for the job, whether that "tool" be a camera, lens, or even a camera setting.

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Hey gang, that's it for me today. And,please note that I not trying to pick any RAW vs. JPEG "fights" today.  I just don't want you to close your eyes on other options that can many times simplify your shooting routine and lead to a better result.

That said, I'm out of here.  I'll see everyone tomorrow for another episode of Business Day Thursday.  See ya' tomorrow,  -David

17 comments:

  1. I have alway's been led to believe RAW is alway's best but this puts an interesting slant on it, especialy for me shooting with a D90, great blog David.

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  2. Wow, I had NO idea about the jpg noise reduction camera capabilities! Thank you so much for the illustrations, you are a life saver! I'm definitely going to be shooting both in the future and do my own tests as well.... need more memory cards! *lol*

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  3. Seems like a no brainer to me David. I think this post will fail to garner a lot of controversy. Your reasoning seems spot on. I apply the same reasoning to my use of photoshop, using plugins, and even the use of HDR techniques. It we know our tools well enough we can use the right tool for the right job.

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  4. Thanks David - I've often wondered about the noise reduction in jpeg mode but never checked it out. Thank you so much for experimenting and showing us what you found out. I really appreciate it!

    -Kathy-

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  5. Raw is for people that can't nail the exposure and they need a cruch. JPEG is clearly the way to go when shooting weddings, if your shooting landscape on HDR (with the sony camere) then sure I can see RAW being useful but when I'm shooting 2000 images the last thing I want to do is slow down my work flow.

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  6. It's sort of like argueing about a table saw versus a radial arm saw. Purists will say the table saw will give you the more precise cut. The question really is "how precise" does the cut have to be. If you're building furniture, precision is paramount. If you're cutting a 2 x 4 to build a shed, that accuracy isn't put to any use. The radial arm saw does the job just fine. No matter what profession we talk about, getting "religious" about a certain technique or process really doesn't mean much.

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  7. Have you tried to convert the raw image with DPP. I think that DPP is supposed to do exactly the same as the camera does, so the noise reduction should be the same to.

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  8. It depends on the camera you're using. The Canon and Nikon JPEG engines are rather reknown for being good at dealing with noise. If you're shooting some other brand of camera, it still makes sense to shoot RAW at high ISOs.

    In addition to that, using a tool like DXO generally gives you much better high ISO results (i.e. better color saturation, less grain). As usual, it's a trade off between convenience and quality.

    -Philip

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  9. Does shooting in RAW + JPEG plus using the camera's noise reduction take an little extra time to write to the card?

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  10. Thanks for doing the work. I hope you took LaDawn somewhere nice for lunch.

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  11. David, I really appreciate this posting! I bought the 7D before Thanksgiving, and have been struggling with the noise issue. I shoot in RAW and have done so since I owned a 20D (2 cameras ago.) I researched this camera thoroughly and it received rave reviews about the lack of noise, but I found the noise was pretty pronounced. I sent the camera back to Canon, and they returned it saying it worked the way it was designed to. That was pretty depressing until I read your column. No more RAW for me! Thanks!

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  12. Noise reduction works differently for different colors, blue being noisier than orange in my opinion,

    If you were to color correct this image to reflect the tungsten lighting, you might have different results and a much noisier image than you now have.

    Possibly getting different results - (ie: different winners.)

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  13. All is great in both worlds.

    First, RAW is not a crutch for those cannot nail the exposure. RAW is meant for several other reasons than that diatribe alone.

    Dave, I will have to disagree on your jpg being run through NN being a better result than your same RAW file being run through NN. You have smooth skin, with a lack on contrast and my first response is the face is flat looking.

    This is not an argument for RAW. I shoot both. Im pointing out what I see.

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  14. Good article.

    I drank the "only raw" kool-aid.

    However, I think you have created a persuasive rationale (including "proof") and framework for jpg. One that I plan to adopt.

    When disk space allows, I think I'll start shooting in raw+jpg more often as well.

    Thanks!

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  15. David, you're not comparing apples to apples here. When shooting jpg, the camera is effectively developing the image for you; when you shoot raw, you have to develop the image yourself. You're comparing a jpg that's had noise reduction applied to it twice - once in camera, once in Photoshop - with a raw image that's had noise reduction applied only once. Not a fair comparison.

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  16. I have already noticed that sometimes I do get better images out of the jpgs. I normally shoot both RAW & jpg. It is my understanding that the jpg also has sharpening applied in camera?

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  17. Try this - Reopen the noise reduced RAW file and run noise ninja again. Yet more noise is removed. Every process of noise removal removes noise AND detail from the photo.

    On some cameras, in camera NR has one huge advantage that later post processing can't duplicate. That is the camera samples its only sensor noise after the picture is taken (by exposing for an equal time with the shutter closed immediately after the picture was taken) and removing this noise from the original image. No software is capable of this.

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