Noise Ninja has been an absolute life-saver for me in terms of cleaning digital files of inherent noise. I shoot exclusively with two D2h bodies; And, truthfully, noise is apparant and obvious from ISO400 and up. I find that the dynamic range of Nikon’s digital cameras are such that my metering techniques are more precise than when using slide film. Taking advantage of reciprocal exposures sometimes helps alleviate noise, as the dynamic range can be adjusted, but that’s rare.
I choose to shoot in the RAW mode exclusively, another technique that allows for greater control over the noise problem. However, I can’t fully eliminate noise without the aid of a third party plug-in. A couple weeks were spent tweaking the controls on NN’s interface, until I found a combination of setting that worked well with my toning process. Here’s a list of settings, beginning with the camera, and ending with an explanation of my toning process: (This is by no means meant to serve as an absolute guide, as no image is exactly the same, and everyone’s individual process is different. So, take it with the preverbial grain of salt.)
D2h: Raw (no compression), WB (Auto), Sharpening 0 (normal), Tone (Less Contrast -), ColorMode (II), Hue (0). I spot meter about 99% of my work.
Camera RAW: Tonal and color adustments are specific to each image. Sharpening 40, Luminance smoothing 10-20, Noise Reduction 0.
In Photoshop: I crop, first, if absolutely necessary. Then, if I need to use NN, I make a duplicate layer for the NN. With the pro version of NN, as a user, you are able to either download a series of profiles for your specific camera, and/or use the supplied MacBeth Colour checker to make your own profile – the latter of two choices I avoid as a photojournalist; because, we’re not operating in a controlled enviornment. So, after testing, I chose a profile that accurately represents the behaviour of my camera under a very wide variety of shooting circumstances. If I remember correctly, that profile is placed within the operating folders of the NN program. (MacOSX10.2.8)
Instead of clicking on profile image, I click profile chart, an action that references my camera’s profile. Also, I operate NN with the LUMINANCE radio button clicked, as this setting more accurately analyzes random noise patterns. I find that this setting works particularly well in artificial light, especially when there are multiple sources and colour temperatures.
Strength 18, Smoothness 0, Contrast 12, USM 0/0.4, Colours 10 10 10, ( Check the TURBO and CORSE NOISE boxes ), and that’s it! I really don’t mess around with anything else within the NN interface, aside from adding aditional boxes that analyze noise. I do this if I feel the program didn’t accurately select multiple gradations of a particular colour. (Note: Abuse of smoothness creates the “platic look” that most people commonly reference. I find that leaving it on 0 is most appropriate, especially when shooting at the higher ISO’s, for one particular reason: I love the grain of TRI-X, Delta3200, and Kodak’s P3200, and to some extent the grain from the higher speed colour emulsions. Leaving smoothness off, still leaves a signature “grain” associated with noise, except there’s no random colour variation.)
Then, with every image I tone, the process is always in the same order: Levels, Curves, Colour Balance, Saturation, Merge Down, any dodging and burning is done in LAB on a new layer; then, Merge Down, Convert Back to RGB, and lastly, a High Pass. I have an action set for this process, which isn’t terribly complicated: Duplicate layer, soft light, highpass: 22.1 radius, and then I adjust the opacity of the layer as necessary. Finally, the image gets flattened and saved as a TIFF.
This process may seem like a lot to go through just to make a usable file, but I’ve refined my workflow to about five minutes per file.
If anyone is interested in viewing one comparison of an unprocessed RAW vs a final image off a D2h at ISO1600, let me know in the forum. I would post it now, but don’t know how. Hope this information helps, and please, feel free to ask any other questions. Love to share! And, yes, I am much more concerned with simply making good pictures.