DxO Optics Pro 9: Does it have the best image noise reduction ever?

DxO Optics Pro 9: Does it have the best image noise reduction ever?

In the bad old days of early DSLRs, noise reduction was a vital piece of every workflow. With modern DSLRs, and even many smaller cameras, low-noise is the norm for most sensors in most conditions. But no matter what camera you have, there comes a time when you have to push its limits and bump up the ISO until you get visible noise. That’s when a high-quality noise reduction tool is a must.

Personally, I own and use nik Dfine, Noise Ninja, and Neat Image – in addition to Adobe’s own NR included with Photoshop and Lightroom. Frankly, they haven’t improved much over the last few years, as attention has moved to other types of tools (except for Adobe’s NR, that has largely caught up with the others in many ways). So it was with great interest that I read about DxO’s new PRIME noise reduction in the latest update to its flagship .

DxO decided to turn its programmers loose and see what they could do if unconstrained by processing time. The PRIME NR option can take minutes on a high-resolution image, depending on the speed of your computer. However, if you have an important image that you’re going to take the time to print or sell, a few minutes of background computer time is well worth it. I decided to try PRIME out on one of my “problem” images and see how it did.

This image is one I shot pre-dawn on Inle Lake in Myanmar’s Shan State, with one of my photo groups. I knew shooting conditions were pretty bad – dark, moving subject, flames to exposure for, and me in a small boat that was moving also. I bumped the ISO on my Nikon D700 up to 6400, opened the Aperture wide on my Sigma 85mm f/1.4 to f/1.4, set it to –2 e.v. (both to not blow out the flames and to help bump the shutter speed), and was able to get a shutter speed of 1/60s – almost enough to freeze the subject but the best I could do. With my newest cameras, I would have been in better shape, but ISO 6400 is a bit of a stretch for the D700. Visible noise was all over the place. Even with the best I could do using Photoshop Camera Raw (I also compared it with nik & other plug-ins), I got this version of the image:

(You can click on the image to see a 50% zoom of the original, that shows the noise a little more realistically)

At the time hadn’t been built, but now that it is available, I reprocessed the image with its PRIME (Probabilistic Raw IMage Enhancement) Noise Reduction. Processing this image using PRIME NR took about 90 seconds on my quad-core (overclocked to 4.1GHz) i7 CPU. As soon as I started the processing all 4 cores (8 threads because of Hyperthreading) went to 100% utilization until it was finished. The GPU didn’t seem to be getting used in this case.

The same image processed using the PRIME NR from DxO Optics Pro 9

As you can see, there is substantially less visible noise in both the background and the subject. In general it is far superior. With sufficient tweaking and masking, using multiple different NR settings, I probably could have gotten close to this with a lot of work using another tool, but it would have wasted a lot of my time, and might still not have looked as good. My only quibble with the result might be that on very close inspection a little of the (noisy) detail in the face of the fishermen is reduced.

also has a dramatically improved interface, while continuing to provide the best lens-based image correction in the market. I’m starting to work on a more complete review of the product, but rather than wait until that was finished, I wanted to get the exciting news about a new noise removal tool out in the meantime.

If you want to give it a try you can download a trial. If you decide to buy, for most cameras the Standard edition at $99 is fine, but only the supports high-end DSLRs. Of course, if you have experience with this or other versions of DxO Optics Pro, let us know your thoughts!