Just how good is the new DxO Optics Pro 9 PRIME noise reduction?

07 Processing time

DxO Optics Pro 9 PRIME

It took my MacBook Pro (i5 dual-core processor, 8Gb RAM) just under 7 minutes to apply the PRIME process to this image, which was shot on a relatively lowly 12-megapixel Nikon D300s. I haven’t yet tried it with 24-megapixel RAW files. Clearly it’s not going to be something you’ll want to do as a matter of routine, only for your best and most important images.

08 The noise reduction comparison

DxO Optics Pro 9 PRIME

DxO Optics Pro 9 PRIME

DxO Optics Pro 9 PRIME

DxO Optics Pro 9 PRIME

I wanted to see how the two DxO noise reduction processes compared with no noise reduction a rival RAW converter (Aperture). You can check full-resolution versions by clicking each image – I’d suggest ctrl/command-clicking each one to open it a new window so that you can switch quickly between them.

My conclusions? First, you should take the ‘no noise reduction’ result with a pinch of salt. It makes DxO’s other noise reduction tools look fantastic by comparison, but in practice all RAW converters use some kind of noise reduction, so this is a theoretical worst-case result that you’ll never actually see.

Second, I think the ‘classic’ DxO Optics Pro noise reduction does a really good job. I’ve always thought DxO was one of the best for noise reduction, and I’ll take its word for it that version 9 is better still.

Third, I think the PRIME processing is as good as DxO says it is. The noise is removed, but without with wishy-washy smoothing effect you normally get with heavy noise reduction. And both DxO results are better than Aperture’s noise reduction, which I had thought was quite good.

BUT none of these shots is particularly sharp or detailed, because image noise is not the only penalty when you shoot at high ISOs…

• At high sensitivities, sensors don’t just gain noise, they lose resolving power. You can get rid of the noise, but can’t recover detail the sensor didn’t capture.

• No-one uses high ISOs for the sake of it. We do it when we’re shooting in situations where we’re right at the margins of the camera’s performance, and our own, usually with the lens wide open and the shutter speeds right at the edge of camera shake or beyond – two more factors which will limit the sharpness of your high ISO images.

My test shot was taken at 1/10sec at f/4.8 and ISO 3200. I braced the camera against a wall to prevent shake, but I couldn’t do anything about the lens’s limitations at that aperture (actually, it’s not bad) or the effect of the high ISO on the sensor’s resolving power.

My point is that however well DxO Optics Pro 9 can subdue noise, it can’t fix the general loss of sharpness in high-ISO photography. And by removing the noise, it tends to make any image softness even more apparent.

So yes, I think the new DxO Optics Pro 9 PRIME noise reduction is extremely effective, but that noise and noise reduction are only one issue with high-ISO photography, not THE issue. Given that there are limits to the quality of high ISO shots beyond noise alone, I think most of the time, I’d rather have the speed of the classic DxO noise reduction process rather than the quality (and slowness) of the PRIME process.

See also

More DxO Optics Pro tutorials

5 thoughts on “Just how good is the new DxO Optics Pro 9 PRIME noise reduction?

  1. Hi,
    I would like to ask for HDR workflow, is it good to process noise and len correction in DXO Optics 9 first, since it introduce the PRIME, then convert to TIFF files and import to Photomatix to process? Please advice.

    thanks
    Steven Chew

    1. That sounds like a good idea to me unless anyone else knows different. HDR can accentuate noise and chromatic aberration, so the less of it you have to start with, the better, and DxO Optics Pro is particularly good at removing both.

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