If you're trying to decide between Macphun Noiseless vs Lightroom CC noise reduction, here's a tip. You don't have to decide. Both work well at reducing noise for most shots. However, if you're the kind of person who wants greater control over the results, read on and you will see the difference.
Isn't Lightroom CC Noise Reduction Good Enough?
That's a fair question. A few years ago, noise reduction in programs like Adobe Lightroom CC and Apple's Aperture (which I sorely miss) were there in name only.
That's a nice way of saying those programs sucked at noise reduction. If you wanted to get rid of noise, you used a plugin.
Things change. Apple dumped Aperture and Lightroom had a major improvement in noise reduction. There was peace in the valley and happiness in Toon Town. Word spread like wildfire that we didn't need no stinking' plugins for noise reduction and the vendors should quiver in their boots.
Life was good.
For a while, anyway. Don't get me wrong. Lightroom CC does an admirable job with noise reduction. At least, it does it well in a generic sense. You don't get many controls when using noise reduction with Lightroom CC. Take a look at this panel.
You get six sliders. Three for Luminance noise and three for Color noise.
In this example, I moved the Luminance slider all the way over to 100%. As a result, the target features of this face look rather blurry.
(note: That's Hillary Clinton's nose and teeth)
You don't see any noise in this image. You also don't see many details.
Moving the Detail slider up does help, but let's say that the changes left me wanting something. Maybe a bit more variation in the details, maybe some clarity here and subtlety there.
The problem is that Lightroom CC doesn't offer those choices.
After you smear out the noise, you can only tweak it with Detail and Contrast. Not subtle at all. In fact, it can turn a face into something that resembles a melting snowman.
What Does Macphun Noiseless Bring to the Party?
Lightroom did a fair job on the images, but I felt that some of the images deserved better treatment.
This seemed like a good time to give the Macphun Noiseless plugin a workout.
Take a look at the difference in the panel when using Macphun Noiseless compared to Lightroom CC.
Yes, there are plenty of options providing you with more control of your noise reduction process.
More isn't always better, though. Take a closer look in the RAW Noise Reduction area of the panel.
You see that Macphun Noiseless also has sliders for Luminance and Color noise. However, notice that the sliders underneath are different from each other.
Where Lightroom CC clobbers each type of noise with the same hammer, Macphun Noiseless recognizes that different types of noise need different types of noise reduction adjustments.
You can also change a number of other attributes, but that's not the part that I really like.
Check out the Filter section of the panel. Now you can adjust which parts of your image apply noise reduction in Highlights, Midtowns and Shadows. That's killer!
As if that weren't enough, you get an Overall Opacity sider that allows you to treat noise reduction as a layer – something you cannot do in Lightroom CC.
It isn't that Lightroom CC is bad at noise reduction. Rather, it just doesn't go far enough. After all, this is only a small part of a large and complicated piece of software.
Macphun Noiseless doesn't have the burden of doing everything that Lightroom does. It has the advantage of being a scalpel for your noise reduction needs, compared to the blunt hammer offered by Lightroom CC.
Macphun Noiseless vs Lightroom CC: My Hands On Challenge to Compare Noise Reduction
Let's start off with our test image. Brace yourselves.
You may need to click the images in this review to see larger versions. To help, here's a crop from Lightroom CC.
This is a shot of some guests at a recent charity event that I covered on assignment. Don't worry, they didn't all look like these two.
I didn't choose this because it was my best shot of the night, but rather because I just laughed when I saw these two faces together. Also, it helps that this shot has some bokeh in the background.
Let me give you a little background. The event is in the conference center part of a large hotel in Orlando. The lighting was crappy, and then they dimmed the lights for better atmosphere. It sucked for photography, but this was a party and people like to party in the dark.
I took this photo with my Nikon D800 and Nikon 85mm f/1.4 lens at ISO 6400. You can notice some noise in the cropped, particularly in the background. As I get closer to Hillary's nose, it's bloody scary.
Let's see how it looks in Lightroom CC with a few different settings.
Lightroom CC Noise Reduction
I decided to start rather heavy-handed with a 100% setting on the Luminance slider. Here's how that worked out.
The good news is that the noise is gone! The bad news is that the detail is gone!
Let's be fair. You know that fake face of Hillary Clinton was already processed in Photoshop to remove lines, but they didn't remove all of them. Lightroom obliterated a light of the details in her face and elsewhere.
This image used the settings in the panel I showed above, so you can see that I cranked up the Detail slider quite a bit. Still, this looks like plastic.
Now let's see what happens when I back off the Luminance slider to 75.
Some of the detail returns, but not much. However, some of the noise returns. In a photo like this one, featuring creamy bokeh in the background, noise really shows up.
If you're only using a photo for social media or a blog post, I'd say that Lightroom CC does a fair job.
On the other hand, what if you're printing a large image on media that is less forgiving than the web?
That's when I would like to see greater control in my noise reduction software.
One of the first things you notice when it's time to make adjustments in Macphun Noiseless is that it has a bunch of presets to quickly show you how your image looks with different noise reduction settings.
Here is our sample image with the Medium preset.
I have to be honest. This photo scared me when it came up in Macphun Noiseless.
The default was set to 200% view and I just wasn't expecting to get this close to Hillary's face on my 27″ 5K iMac. Politics aside, that's too close for comfort.
However, it's a good view for comparing noise reduction before and after the preset takes effect. The yellow bar shows the original image to the left and the effects of the preset on the right. You click and drag the bar to see the changes on whatever part of the image you want.
Macphun Noiseless also has a side-by-side view, or a toggle between Before and After. Lightroom CC doesn't give you as many choices. You can see a toggle view of Before and After by pressing the Backslash key.
My vote goes for the yellow bar sliding back and forth.
As for the noise reduction, it's impressive! You can look at the difference on the split view going right down the nose.
Next, let's take a look at the results from the Strong preset.
You can see even more noise reduction, but I think this is too much due to the loss of detail. Look at the teeth in this image. While noisy, there is clear definition between teeth on the left side. On the right, they start getting blurred together.
In this case, I prefer the Moderate preset. However, your mileage may vary from one photo to the next. As you can see, there are several other presets going with more and less noise reduction. There are also some presets that offer specialty settings.
One of the things I like about these presets is that you can use them as a starting place, and then switch over to the panel to fine tune the results.
In the results above, I could have made some changes to reduce the amount of noise reduction in the highlights or add some Structure. Macphun Noiseless gives me options that just don't exist inside of Lightroom CC noise reduction.
My Recommendation Between Macphun Noiseless vs Lightroom CC Noise Reduction
To be fair, I like both products. While Lightroom CC doesn't have the detailed options of Macphun Noiseless, it also is quick and painless to use. If your output requirements aren't stringent, such as exporting JPEGs to use on social media or blog posts, I believe that Lightroom CC noise reduction is a fine choice.
Macphun Noiseless is a craftsman's tool. This is something you want to use for circumstances when you need to show care with your images. While posting photos on Facebook is forgiving, printing a large image on aluminum is not.
When your craft matters, you use a tool like Macphun Noiseless. This is the tool for your portfolio and client shots. Noiseless is the tool for your final print photos. It's the tool you choose when you need to show others that you care about your results, because your viewers are going to look deeply into your photos for more than a few seconds on social media.
One More Thing
I use and recommend both Adobe Lightroom CC and Macphun Noiseless, but each for different reasons. I'm also an affiliate for both products. The links you see in this post are affiliate links to purchase the products if you think they are a good fit for your needs.
While I don't have a discount code for Adobe products, I can offer a 10% discount if you choose to buy from my link at Macphun (unless they have a sale that exceeds my discount, which is even better for you). When checking out, use the coupon code BEEM to save 10%.
In either case, you pay nothing extra and purchasing from my links helps me keep producing new material for this site.
Also, I stand behind the products that I recommend. If you purchased something through one of my affiliate links and have a problem, let me know. I'll do my best to help you resolve the issue or use the program.