Lightroom Classic’s Noise Reduction tools have always been effective, but the new Denoise tool added in the Lightroom Classic 12.3 (the April 2023 update) gives you more choice. Lightroom now offers the same highly effective (and convenient to use) AI based Noise Reduction tools offered by apps like DeNoise AI from Topaz Labs.
Reducing noise in camera
But before we explore Lightroom Classic’s Noise Reduction tools, it’s time for a reminder that one of the most effective ways of reducing noise in your photos is to get the exposure right in camera. Underexposure adds noise, and exposing to the right reduces it (you can learn more about it in my exposing to the right tutorial).
The bottom line is that underexposing a photo in-camera, then making it brighter in Lightroom Classic increases noise. Good exposure gives you photos with less noise at all ISO settings.
What about in-camera noise reduction?
Your camera applies high ISO noise reduction to JPEG files only. If you’re shooting Raw the camera’s settings are irrelevant. The software you use to develop your Raw files applies noise reduction instead.
What are luminance noise and color noise?
There are two types of noise that affect photos.
Luminance noise affects the brightness of individual pixels but not the color. It looks like black and white dots and you’ll see more of it in the shadows.
There’s luminance noise in the photo below (zoomed to 1:1). I lightened the shadows to make it clearer.
Luminance noise is difficult to deal with using Lightroom Classic’s manual Noise Reduction sliders. The new Denoise tool does a much better job (I’ll give you some examples of this below).
What is color noise?
Color noise affects the color of pixels but not the brightness. It looks like colored dots, mostly in the shadows.
I took the photo I showed you above and set color noise reduction to zero. You can now see the color noise as well.
Zoom and noise reduction
You can only see the effect of Lightroom Classic’s noise reduction sliders properly when you’re viewing your photo at a 1:1 zoom.
There are two places you can do that.
The first is in the Detail panel, which shows a 1:1 zoom at the top in a preview square (click the triangle marked right to show or hide the preview square). Click and drag on the square to see a different part of the image.
If the preview square is hidden, and you aren’t viewing your photo at 100%, Lightroom Classic displays an exclamation mark icon at the top of the Detail panel. Click the icon to set Zoom to 1:1.
Denoise or Manual Noise Reduction?
Before the addition of the Denoise tool, Lightroom Classic had several sliders that you could use for reducing noise in your photos. Adobe moved these to the bottom of the Detail panel, under Manual Noise Reduction.
So now the choice is between using the Manual Noise Reduction sliders or the new Denoise tool.
These are the advantage of using the manual sliders:
- They work on all file types, including JPEG and TIFF. Denoise only works with Raw files.
- They’re quicker. The Denoise tool takes anything from 30 seconds to ten minutes or more to work, depending on the age and spec of your computer.
The main disadvantage of using Manual Noise Reduction is that applying Luminance Noise Reduction reduces detail in the photo. There’s no way to reduce luminance noise without removing softening the photo. That’s why the default Luminance Noise Reduction is zero. That’s also why AI based tools like Denoise are so effective, as they don’t have this limitation.
This, then is the benefit of using Denoise:
- Denoise does a much better job of removing noise, and that includes luminance noise, without removing any detail.
The disadvantages of using Denoise are:
- The process takes more time (30 seconds to ten minutes plus per photo, depending on your computer’s spec). That makes it impractical to use for batch processing of more than a few images.
- Denoise creates a new DNG file that’s up to four times the size of the original Raw file, needing more storage space.
- You can only apply Denoise to Raw and DNG format photos. Adobe plans to extend the functionality to JPEG and TIFF files, it’s not available yet at the time of writing.
In spite of the disadvantages, I love the Denoise tool. Here’s an example that shows you why. Here’s a photo that I made at ISO 12,800 at a concert.
Below you can see a comparison between the original photo (left), using the Manual Noise Reduction sliders, and the new version made using Denoise (right). I’ve shown you just part of the screen so you can see it at 100%. The result is impressive.
My recommendation then, is that because of the processing time you decide on a photo by photo basis whether to use Denoise or Manual Noise Reduction. Use Denoise on photos made at high ISOs with visible noise that you want to get the best out of. The results mean that the wait is worth it. On other photos, use the manual sliders instead.
How to use Denoise in Lightroom Classic
You can learn how to use Denoise in my article Denoise in Lightroom Classic
How to use Manual Noise Reduction in Lightroom Classic
Below are the instructions for using the manual sliders. Lightroom Classic has separate sliders for reducing luminance and color noise, so we’ll look at them separately.
Luminance Noise Reduction sliders
Before you touch the Luminance slider you need to understand that applying Luminance Noise Reduction removes detail from the photo.
You may have noticed that camera phone JPEGs taken in low light often have a kind of smeared look. That’s luminance noise reduction in action.
Because of this the default setting for luminance noise reduction is zero. Most of the time it’s best to leave it there.
But if you do apply it, increase it gradually. Start by setting the slider to 5 or 10 rather than 30 or 60.
Use the Detail slider to bring back some of the detail lost due to luminance noise reduction. Add back in any lost Contrast with the Contrast slider.
The screenshots below show part of a photo with luminance noise at zoom 1:1 (in the preview window). As you can see there’s a big difference in softness between the settings of Luminance 0 and Luminance 20.
Color noise reduction sliders
The Color slider reduces color noise. It also does this by blurring the photo, but only slightly.
The default setting for the Color slider is 25. If you can see color noise at this setting move the slider right until it disappears.
The Detail slider brings back some of the detail lost in the process. The default setting is 50.
The Smoothness slider smoothes out any artefacts caused by the Color and Detail sliders. The effect is subtle so you have to move it a long way to see a visible difference. The default setting is also 50.
Here’s another comparison. It shows the same photo used above and the effect of setting color noise reduction to 0 and 100.
With color noise reduction you’re looking for the sweet spot where the slider is as far left as possible yet removes any color noise.
Noise has always been an issue with digital cameras. But the last decade has seen big advances in high ISO and sensor performance in low light and things have improved dramatically.
But you’ll still get noise in your photos if you use high ISOs or underexpose your photos then brighten then in Lightroom Classic. The new Denoise tool is brilliant at removing noise while retaining details. Or you can use the Manual Noise Reduction sliders if it suits you better. Either way, you’ll get a big increase in photo quality.
Mastering Lightroom Classic: Book Two – The Develop Module
You can learn more about Denoise, Manual Noise Reduction and all other aspects of developing photos in Lightroom Classic with my ebook Mastering Lightroom Classic: Book Two – The Develop Module
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