Adobe Lightroom 3, I Feel the Need for Speed, Oh, And The Most Significant Advancement In Photo Noise Reduction I Have Ever Seen

Adobe Lightroom 3, I Feel the Need for Speed, Oh, And The Most Significant Advancement In Photo Noise Reduction I've Ever Seen

For the past week or so I have been editing my photos exclusively with the official release of Adobe Lightroom 3. There’s alot to like about the new version of Lightroom, it’s faster and more stable than previous versions, it has some cool new lens calibration features, it has better watermarking features, more natural post crop vignetting, you can tether the program to your camera now and watch your photos in near real time as you shoot them in a studio, and lots more. But far and away, the single most compelling feature of the new release comes down to two simple words: noise. reduction.

Quite simply Lightroom 3 represents the single most significant advancement in photographic noise reduction I’ve ever seen. I’m *blown* away. Thousands of photos that were previously unworkable for me, now have suddenly become available to process. High iso low light shots with tons of noise can be salvaged, saved and turned into beautiful images. What’s more, pushed to it’s extremes, this new noise reduction technology gives photographs an almost painterly quality, allowing new potential for artistic representation of photographs.

In fact, combined with new in camera technology allowing isos to be bumped to as high as 6400 natively, this new noise reduction technology by Adobe opens up a whole new world of hand held night photography never before available. Not having to worry about the noise at 6400 iso (or higher) gives today’s photographer an enormous amount of freedom to pursue low light subjects that as recently as one year ago would have been simply unthinkable.

Photo Pre Lightroom 3 Luminance Noise Reduction

The photo above is a photograph of mine shot at 6400 iso taken on Saturday night while driving a red convertible sports car over the Bay Bridge, (don’t worry folks, I was the passenger, not the driver). The shot was done hand held as I was standing in the fast moving car at night. The photograph has the following settings (iso 6400, f/3.5, 1/60th of a second exposure). I’ve zoomed in on a very small detail portion of the photograph to display the noise at 6400. If you want to get a closer view at this image you can click through here and see it directly.

Photo Post Lightroom 3 Luminance Noise Reduction

Now. Look at the exact same photo after I’ve used the luminance noise reduction slider to remove the unwanted noise. As you can see, the difference between the before and after is remarkable and dramatic. You can also click through here to see this screenshot in greater detail.

Unbelievably good! In addition to the impressive advancements in luminance noise reduction, Lightroom 3 also has made new advancements in color noise reduction as well. The noise reduction improvements in Lightroom 3 were so dramatic for me that it was hard for me to get as excited about some of the other improvements by comparison. But there are lots of other new features and improvements in the new version.

Lens Correction Features in Adobe Lightroom 3

I’ve only played around a little bit with some of the new lens correction tools, but they offer some very impressive abilities to pretty significantly alter or improve basic lens distortion. Of course you can also use this new feature to do some interesting and extreme things with your photos as well (for instance turning a regular photo into an almost fisheye photo, like in the photo above). The new version of Lightroom also includes some cool new profile tools which allow you to use existing (or future created) profiles to match up your specific camera with your specific lens and have Lightroom automatically make the known lens correction based on that profile. For the purist who wants their photo exactly like it was shot using their exact set up this will be a nice feature.

The lens correction features also include a unique “perspective” lens correction that can turn a photo of a sign or building or whatever shot up at or down at to look more like it was shot directly at.

Other notable improvements include the ability to add natural looking grain to a photograph (this is especially useful in working with black and white images), the ability to create more natural feeling post crop vignetting, the ability to import video files now directly into Lightroom, faster importing, more customized photo layouts for printing and more flexible watermarking. Lightroom 3 also simplifies publishing your photos to Flickr allowing you simple drag and drop functionality using the Flickr API and allows you to synch some of the photos in your collection directly to a folder to then be synched with your iPhone or Google Android phone so that you easily have the photos that you want on your phone.

Default Presets Included in Lightroom 3

Adobe also ships a number of preconfigured presets with this version of Lightroom. Lightroom presets have been some of the most hotly traded items around the web amongst photographers. I wouldn’t say that the default presets are the best that I’ve ever seen, but they are a solid jumping off point for those who would like to work more with presets. Hopefully Adobe continues working with presets and adding more and more custom presets in the future. The photo above is an example of their “Color Creative – Aged Photo” preset.

All and all I’m extremely impressed with this version of Lightroom 3. It is by far the best tool that I know of today to process your photos. If you want to purchase a copy of the new Lightroom or upgrade a previous version of Lightroom you can do that here. The program costs $299 for a new copy or $99 for an upgrade from Lightroom 1.X or 2.X. There is also a fully functional trial version that you can try first before deciding to purchase.

Update: Stephen Shankland over at CNET has another good review here. CrunchGear has a review here. Kerry Garrison interviews Senior Lightroom Product Manager Tom Hogarty for the cameradojo Podcast about Lightroom 3 here. John Nack has a post here. A good link roundup from the Lightroom Blog here.

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58 comments on “Adobe Lightroom 3, I Feel the Need for Speed, Oh, And The Most Significant Advancement In Photo Noise Reduction I Have Ever Seen
  1. wow that’s indeed a remarkable improvement! What cameraa did u shoot at 6400 iso with ? 5DM2?

    Also the perspective thing is something I’d love to have almost automated I’m talking about…C’mon Aperture..Your turn now :)))

    I’d love to convert an MXP adjustment done in Photoshop to a prest…Do know if that can be already done?

  2. does the lens corrections stuff work on CA, vignetting, and distortion or is it just the basic distortion fix that PS has? If it’s some sort of DxO replacement, I could get quite excited about switching to LR.

  3. How did I miss the release of Lightroom 3? I know I have been busy, but there is no excuse for this! Thanks for the write up. Looks great!

  4. Dustin Finn says:

    It’s ok, Jeremy, you didnt miss it, its literally announced today, and Adobe’s websites arent even updated to allow you to download it… Each time I keep seeing the LR2 Exe get downloaded to my machine each time I try to get it…

    Soon enough it will be awesome! :)

  5. Thomas Hawk says:

    Pompo, yeah, that’s the Canon 5D Mark II.

  6. Marco says:

    Hi Thomas,

    reading your review makes me wonder what difference there is between the noise reduction in LR3 and that in CS5. LR seems like a very user-friendly tool, and I guess that my question is whether it could be a substitute for Photoshop.
    Thanks.

  7. Thomas Hawk says:

    Marco, I’d say that Lightroom 3 is a good substitute for Photoshop for most photographers. As far as I know (at least in Photoshop CS5) Adobe uses the same noise reduction technology for their RAW Plug in and you can make similar noise reduction adjustments using that engine.

    Personally I find LR3 more intuitive and easier to use than Photoshop CS5. It’s also a lot cheaper. CS5 though does allow you to do some extreme sort of things (like turn photos into paintings or add old school type frames and scratches to your photos). Personally I find LR3 faster and easier to use for the bulk of my processing, but still very much depend on both. 95% of my processing time is spent in LR. But I find the 5% of time that I need Photoshop, being able to bring a photo from LR into Photoshop for additional editing is indispensable.

    I’m the extreme case though, but for serious advanced amateurs or pros I’d say owning both make sense. For the average everyday photographer who just wants something to process their images with I’d say you could go one way or the other, but personally I’d probably lean more towards LR because it’s easier to use in my opinion and cheaper.

  8. ADub128 says:

    For those on a budget, I think Photoshop Elements is a good CS5 alternative. Also, with the improved noise reduction options, I can comfortably use my older cameras still in tougher lighting conditions. Thanks for the review … it’s nice to know that s/w can extend the life of my old hardware!

  9. Nathan Duran says:

    A definite improvement, but not that impressive. NoiseNinja and similar third-party utilities have been delivering comparable, if not better, results for many years now.

  10. Andy Baird says:

    I agree with Mike Connell and Nathan Duran. Noise reduction has been around for years, and it’s gotten pretty good. Starting wth your noisy original, I was able to pretty much duplicate your Lightroom 3 results using Noise Ninja Pro 2.2, and I’m not even a particularly skilled NN user. Your praise for LR3’s noise reduction would be a lot more persuasive if you could show that it’s significantly better than the noise reduction apps and plugins already on the market.

  11. michael says:

    I’ve been using the Lightroom beta for a few months now, and yes, the noise reduction is excellent. And, I just got Photoshop CS5. Guess what? The NR in Lightroom is identical in capability to ACR 6 bundled with Photoshop.

    There are good reasons to get Lightroom. If you have PS CS5, NR isn’t one of them. Remember that all the individual image editing features of Lightroom are just a pretty face put on Adobe Camera Raw, which ships with Photoshop. Unfortunately, Elements 8 ships with version 5 of ACR, which does not incorporate the new noise reduction improvements.

  12. Thomas Hawk says:

    michael, CS5 is much more expensive and much less intuitive to use than LR3. But yes, it’s the same camera RAW engine. Personally I own and use both. But 95% of my processing is done is LR3 because it’s faster, easier and more intuitive than CS5. I use CS5 about 5% of the time but for processing thousands of photos on a regular basis I think the flow through LR goes faster. I have access to my presets in LR3 as well.

  13. N.R. says:

    Completely agree with Andy above, the examples show nothing extraordinary. Noise Ninja and similar tools do this for at least 5 years in the same quality.

  14. paul says:

    Thanks for the heads up. I’m glad to see LR get some noise reduction improvements. I just did my own (unscientific) comparison using your noisy image and your cleaned image – and comparing them to Noiseware and Topaz DeNoise. Unfortunately, in my test Topaz still came out on top – by a long shot. I would say Noiseware and LR3 are a close tie. Noiseware handled the noise a little better, but LR3 left a little more detail intact.

    I’m a little bummed. I was hoping LR3 was going to save me a trip out to Photoshop to use Topaz. It will in some cases, but Topaz still seems to be the best for those really hard images – at least in my test.

  15. matt says:

    Thomas, forgive me if you’ve answered this question elsewhere. Do you use DNG as a part of your workflow and do find it to be as good as your original RAW files? Would you trust a DNG as an archival format? I use Camera Raw and Bridge at the first stage of my photo workflow for renaming, keywording, and raw conversion to DNG. LR3 may do all of this better or easier but I don’t own it (yet?).

    Thanks for your thoughts,
    Matt

  16. Alistair says:

    I agree, I suspect NoiseNinja would do an equally or better job and has been around for years. I wonder if Thomas would be happy to publish the original DNG/RAW of that shot so we can do some comparisons. Also wonder why the screenshots are at 2:1?

  17. Gary says:

    In your cab photo, the words “San Francisco” on the cab are legible in the original, but very difficult to make out, if not impossible, in the retouched photo.

  18. Kenneth says:

    Even if the noise reduction is not the absolute best, having a much-improved noise reduction tool in my basic LR workflow is completely worthwhile! Thanks for the review! Can’t wait to try it out.

  19. a lot says:

    alot is not a word. it’s A LOT.

  20. Mo says:

    I’ve been thinking about getting Lightroom for a long time. right now I’m using PSE, which is OK, but not that great. I can get a student discount, the total is around $150CND. Not bad at all. I might have it by the end of the month.

  21. february says:

    [...] Thomas Hawk: The Most Significant Advancement In Photo Noise Reduction I Have Ever Seen [...]

    Where have you been during the last 3 years?

  22. anon says:

    About the noise reduction: Can you compare the results of Lightroom’s noise reduction to a Median filter with window size 5 or so?

    It seems to me that the higher the resolution of your image, the better-looking will be the results of a small-window median filter.

    Plus, without a frame of reference for comparison you really can’t judge how good Lightroom’s noise filter is…

  23. Tony says:

    I’ve been working with jpegs in Photoshop CS for a few years now. I want to start shooting in RAW, and a couple of people have showed me how awesome you can do it in Photoshop CS5, which I was going to get. But now, with Lightroom 3 out, I want to know how processing RAW compares in the two programs. Any thoughts?

  24. WOW that noise reduction is amazing! I can’t believe that little old lightroom has grown up so much.

  25. heikkipekka says:

    I believe it’s not important if LR 3 makes better noise reduction than Noise Ninja or other separate noise reduction programs.

    Point is in how user can use noise reduction – seamlessly without extra software.

    Regular users never use noise reduction functionality even if they would benefit from it simply because no regular user DOES NOT HAVE a separete noise reduction software.

  26. Bryan Scott says:

    Thanks for the in depth review. I’ve always used Camera Raw, but this tempts me to give LR a chance.

  27. Jim says:

    anon’s question about a “frame of reference” is an important one and can help answer some of the other questions. So let’s start framing:

    I saw an Adobe demo a while back and they were showing how most NR software drains out the color and detail as you apply more and more of it. The demo of the new Adobe NR showed how you could apply stronger NR and not lose the detail, and in addition, take out some of the large-radius color noise that affects higher ISO shots. Meaning, there is much more intelligence going on behind the scenes than the simple Median filter.

    Others ask why bother with this if you have Noise Ninja, “where have you been,” etc. Well, that’s easy. Two answers. Sure, you could get excellent NR from plug-ins. But those plug-ins are often post-raw. LR noise reduction happens inside the raw process. Removing noise at this stage should result in potentially higher image quality and you don’t have to maintain intermediate TIFFs which can save significant disk space. Second, I am a person who never bought a NR plug-in. Now I get NN-class NR as part of a $99 upgrade. If LR had not done this, I would have to buy a NR plug-in, and a lot of them cost almost as much as an entire LR upgrade! To get the new NR along with everything else in LR3 is…a bargain.

    and Bryan Scott – if you are upgrading to Photoshop CS5 you don’t necessarily need LR3, because the same raw engine and noise reduction are in the Camera Raw that’s included in CS5. If you want the other new LR features, then it might make sense to buy LR.

  28. emre says:

    This is not nearly as good denoising as you think it is; take a good look at the smudging of the San Francisco label on the cab. It might have been impressive five years ago, but the state of the art in denoising has come a long way since then. I see no need to congratulate a megacorporation like Adobe for merely doing what shareware products have been doing for a decade. We should set the bar higher.

  29. Honestly, I don’t think Lightroom is breaking much ground compared to what’s been on the market – but when you talk about editing hundreds and thousands of images on a daily basis – that’s where LR3 has a huge edge on the competition.

    I’ve had NN for a few years, but it takes a long time for it to process 300 images of any size, and now with the 5dmk2 RAW images it’s painfully slow. Not only that, but LR3 allows you to leave your images in raw and not save multiple jpg copies of files as you “work through” the stages from Photoshop, to NN, back to PS, then run actions, then finally save finished versions… I just find LR to be a much faster process.

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  31. Just been trying out the trial version. What interests me the most is the noise reduction. How far can, or should we expect the reduction to go? I’ve used a very noisy old school 1ds file, and it’s doing a fair job of removing the noise, but am I missing a trick here, and expecting the images to be ‘noise free’?

    Granted the results from a new generation camera will be better than an old timer, but I was wondering by how much.

    Alex

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