Lightroom 3 Beta 2's recent release brought with it a host of new features. In addition to tethering, its greatly improved noise reduction is at the top of my improved feature list.
Noise reduction is the focus of both hardware and software these days. Cameras like the Nikon D3, the Canon 5d Mark II or 1D Mark IV and others are touting their improved low noise handling.
While the cameras are improving, many still find themselves needing to reduce photo noise. In the past, this was kept to meager sliders in Lightroom, or sending photos to Photoshop in conjunction with other plugins like Noise Ninja.
Lightroom 3 Beta 2 changes all that - I now find that I can perform 95% of my noise reduction directly in Lightroom at or above the quality of previous plugins and tools. Talk about a productivity improvement!!
How it Works
Find your favorite, noisy photo. Switch to the Develop panel and scroll down the right side to the Detail panel. Just below the Sharpening area is a new and improved Noise Reduction section with a number of very handy and effective sliders.
First, you'll notice the preview area. This displays a super-zoomed-in portion of a photo that more effectively displays the effects of your adjustments. You can click directly on the preview and drag to change what is shown. You can also click the small target tool to the left and click in an area of the picture to change the preview.
The sliders provide two primary changes, with several supporting sliders for tweaks. Slide the Luminance slider to the right to reduce the noise in the areas of the photo that have general noise. Slide the Color slider to the right to reduce the noise in areas with lots of color noise (also known as chroma noise - these are colorful dots, as opposed to standard, non-colored noise). Sliding the Detail slider to the right (and the Contrast slider under Luminance) will create greater smoothing effects, but may cause less detail and more "splotchiness".
The best way to go here is to slide Luminace and Color to the right to remove the noise as much as possible and then tweak the others as needed. I find that something between 25 and 75 for each tend to do a pretty decent job.
Overall, the color consistency and detail preserved when removing noise is far superior to previous versions of LR and rival or surpass those of more advanced dedicated noise removal software.
See below for some below/after results - click on an image to see a larger view.
What it Doesn't Do
Honestly, there isn't much these sliders won't do. The quality of the results are fantastic. The only thing to watch out for is the zoom level at which the noise reduction is applied. Because the reduction takes processing power, Lightroom won't display the effects based on the combination of zoom level, camera type and ISO used in the shot. If you feel that the reduction isn't displaying as expected, zoom in to 1:1 or greater to ensure Lightroom processes and displays the appropriate preview.
Lightroom's noise reduction is amazing. Its speed, quality and ease make this one of Beta 2's best new features. In fact, it's so good, I don't have a single negative thing to say about it.