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Have you tried different software, compared the results and reached a conclusion?

I only used Nikon's DFine and Lightroom's noise reduction tool and found the results very similar. Lightroom's has the advantage of being just another retouch step, i.e. another step to the XML file and not a separated *-Edit file.

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I'm voting to close, as "best" is really really subjective and is likely to change over times as new version of various programs are released. –  ahockley Sep 12 '11 at 14:20
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My intuition is that it will vary by photo, ISO and by camera. Meaning that one software may be better at cleaning up high-ISO images, another for low-ISO and yet another software could be best at cleaning up noise in fine-detail areas, etc. I say intuition because I have not done a formal comparison but I did work on image processing software for over 9 years. –  Itai Sep 12 '11 at 14:47
    
Given the proprietary nature of the raw file formats, most of the noise reduction softwares will either reverse engineer the file format or work on open file formats such as tiff. The noise reduction software provided by your camera vendor has the max amount of data available but might not have the best algorithms available for noise reduction ( such as Noise Ninja or the one in Adobe products). So as Itai suggested, the results will vary. –  Sridhar Iyer Sep 12 '11 at 16:16

2 Answers 2

As with many such things, which is best has some level of opinion and which looks best to an individual. I think Noise Ninja products consistently produce some of the best results. Prior to Lightroom I used it within Bibble, and found it to be simply mouth dropping good.

However, I have found Lightroom 3 to have nearly as good results, bringing it, to me, in a close second. I have not used Noise Ninja in several years, so I can not speak to its current results, but as you mention, LR3 has the added advantage of not altering the base image.

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Agreed, I used to be a die hard Noise Ninja user, but Lightroom 3 takes care of all but the most noisy images. If you really want to get serious about some of the details, Noise Ninja is still great though. –  dpollitt Sep 12 '11 at 16:34
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Another vote for Lightroom 3: its noise reduction feature is spectacular. –  Mark Whitaker Sep 14 '11 at 16:55

I was led here by a link in a more recent, similar question, but I can't let the wavelet-based (Noise Ninja, Nik Dfine, Imagenomic Noiseware, Lightroom's own NR) answer stand alone without competition. Another product worth looking at is Topaz Labs' DeNoise (currently in version 5), which is not wavelet-based and can remove a lot of noise while retaining a lot of detail.

I have mentioned this product in a number of other threads, and was turned onto it by this answer posted by John Cavan some time ago. There is also this review at Luminous Landscape to take a look at. I've been able to nearly eliminate noise altogether while retaining all of the relevant detail, and actually had to back off a bit and use the "add grain" tool because the areas of flat colour (like, say, a clear blue sky) looked Photoshopped in with the gradient or bucket tools. I can understand how it can recognize longer edges, but there is some deep voodoo in how it distinguishes subject texture from image noise.

That said, it isn't perfect either -- the kinds of noise generated by early-vintage CCD sensors (as opposed to CMOS) at the highest ISOs seems to be immune from non-destructive noise reduction no matter what algorithm is used. (That noise, if you've never seen it, looks rather like rough and careless cross-stitching. Individual pixels don't go rogue; rather, short runs of rows and columns of pixels will shift luminosity or colour dramatically as a group.) And converting to B&W doesn't help much either in that case -- the only real answer is to downsize the image and be happy with an overgrown thumbnail you can share on the web.

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