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Review - Neat Image

Introduction

When we shoot with digital cameras using a high ISO setting or slow shutter speed, we often end up with digital noise in our pictures. Neat Image can be used as a standalone product or Photoshop compatible plug-in to reduce or totally remove this kind of noise.

Neat Image can not only reduce digital camera noise, but also reduce:

  • Most digital noise from images produced by film and flatbed scanners.
  • Film grain visible in negatives or scanned slides
  • JPEG artifacts in over compressed images
  • Moire patterns
  • Color banding

Here are some screenshots of the Neat Image interface. The first image shows the Noise Filter Settings window in Standard Mode, the second one shows it in Advanced Mode. Click on the thumbnail(s) to open a larger image:

Neat Image Standard ModeNeat Image Advanced Mode

 

How it works

Neat Image works by using a device noise profile for your specific camera or scanner. This noise profile can be created with Neat Image or if you're lucky you can download a profile for your camera from the Neat Image web site. Sometimes you can find profiles created by individuals by using a search engine.
Device noise profiles is what sets Neat Image apart from regular Photoshop noise removal tools like Median, Gaussian Blur, Smart Blur and even the latest Reduce Noise filter introduced in Photoshop CS2. By using a noise profile and a sophisticated noise removal algorithm it's possible to get excellent results without risking to lose too much fine details which is common with all Photoshop noise removal techniques and tools.

 

CompatibleFeatures

A list of some of the features of Neat Image:
  • Can be used standalone (also from command line) or as plug-in (plug-in respects transparency, plug-in compatible with all products that support Photoshop plug-ins)
  • Remove noise
  • Sharpen images
  • Sharpen or remove noise selectively (layer, channel or selection)
  • Run in an action or batch
  • Highly automated
  • Create device profiles manually or automatically with several tools for extra control. Profiles can be saved.
  • Use of calibration targets possible
  • Profile matcher that matches profile with EXIF data (you can also manually select profile)
  • Filter settings (automated or manually)
  • Standard and advanced mode
  • Visual feedback when you adjust filter settings
  • Before/after views
  • Variant selector to compare different filter selections
  • Optimized for dual core and multi processors
  • Support for industry standard image types and file formats
  • Support for 24-bit / 48-bit RGB and 8-bit / 16-bit grayscale image
  • Preserves all image meta data (like the EXIF and IPTC data)
  • Support for all Windows versions, Wine in Linux and Mac OSX.
Neat Image is available in 5 editions:

  Edition Description
  Demo Freeware edition with limited functionality
  Home Standalone edition for home use to process small batches only.
  Home+ Home edition with Photoshop-compatible plug-in included
  Pro Standalone with 16-bit image processing and unlimited batching
  Pro + Pro edition with Photoshop-compatible plug-in included.

 

Test Result

In this test I used an image of a street sign. It took me only a few seconds to create a profile using the auto profile button and apply it to the image. Here is the before and after result:

Before
Before Using Neat Image

After
After Using Neat Image

The result is a smooth, pretty much noise free image with text that's as sharp as in the original image, if not sharper.
In this test the complete image was processed. By selecting everything except the wooden post before you process the image in Neat Image, you will be able to keep the fine detailed texture of the post intact.

For comparison I've added an example of the same image, this time however processed with the new noise removal tools of Photoshop CS2 (Filter/Noise/Reduce Noise...):

Photoshop CS2 noise removal
Sign in PS CS2

It was impossible with this Photoshop tool to completely fix the sky. It was also not easy to find a nice balance between sharpness and noise removal. In Neat Image I was able to remove the noise within 15 sec (which includes creating the profile), in Photoshop CS2 it took between 1-2 minutes fiddling with the sliders to get a somewhat descent result.

Now let me remind you that the profile I created in Neat Image was an automated profile, it wasn't even calibrated. Once you have a descent profile you would save even more time, because then it's just a matter of clicking on the apply button. Important to mention is that Neat Image works best with reasonable large images in a losless format like TIFF or RAW. But even with smaller images or lossy formats like JPEG I was able to get descent results.

To only way for Photoshop to come close to the Neat Image result was by creating a separate selection of the blue sky and the green in the sign and then applying lens blur, but even then we'll lose some fine details in several areas, not to mention that it takes us a lot more steps. It also means that we would have to make new selections for every other image, whereas Neat Image can use its device profile in combination with its advanced noise removal algorithm.

 

Conclusion

Neat Image shows to be very effective when it comes to noise removal. Once you have a dedicated device profile it would take approximately 15 sec to open Neat Image and reduce the noise in your image. In combination with action or batch processing you greatly reduce the amount of time needed to remove noise from a large group of images.

Also the results speak for itself; not only is Neat Image more effective than the best noise removal solution in Photoshop, it also allows you to sharpen the image during the noise removal process.

One other advantage of noise reduction by Neat Image is that the reduction of noise will allow you to have smaller file sizes for JPEG image with the same quality setting (a reduction of 30-40% is possible according to the makers).

Neat Image is easy to use for both beginners and experienced users. Neat Image was not the king of speed in earlier versions, but things have improved immensely and now it's possible with version 5.x to process a 8 mega pixel image in less than 8 second on the fastest Pentium 4. Greater improvements can be achieved with dual core and multi processors because of specific optimizations in the software.

Neat ImageNeat Image also offers extensive support by E-mail (technical support), forums, user guide, question/answer section, tips, tricks and tutorials.

All in all a very good product that produces excellent results in a short time, it's easy to use, fast , supports Windows, Mac and Linux, supports latest duo core processors and its price is more than reasonable.

Visit Neat Image's web site for more information.

 

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