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Introduction
Noise on a digital image looks like random speckled-color dots in areas where the color should be more even. The more you zoom into the image the more prominent the noise becomes. All digital images include some noise just as all traditional photographs have some grain. The amount of noise varies considerably between cameras but it also varies with how you use your camera.

On an automatic camera taking photos in poor light conditions increases the noise as it forces the camera to a higher ISO or sensitivity setting. Similarly on a manual camera; setting a higher ISO invariably increases the noise. Generally speaking the problem is worst with cheaper cameras but even the most expensive cameras have noise problems in extreme conditions.

Noise-reducing programs cannot eliminate noise from your digital photos but they can make it less obvious. But, there is a cost: any noise improvement you make will inevitably lead to some loss of detail to your images.

There is no outright winner here for top noise-reducing program as there are two excellent contendors:
Discussion
Noiseware Community Edition. It has drop a down box that enables you to make simple choices (automatic noise profiling), but I considered this to be a blunt instrument. If you want to start using the automated profiles then I would recommend starting with 'Weaker noise'. If 'Weaker' noise has too little effect then further adjustments can be done manually with the preview box turned on. This is a gentle start and as you get to know these programs you will quickly learn to only do things in very small steps, otherwise the image is very easily spoilt. All of options in the 'More Controls' section are not available on the free version, but very good results are still possible.  Just how good, will depend on your skill and patience as it is unlikely the automatic fixes will give a satisfactory result. Thankfully, there is a good help file.

Helicon Filter. This is really a general purpose image correcting suite but it includes an excellent noise reduction filter. Other filters in the suite include:

    * Noise reduction filter
    * Red eye filter Sharpening filter
    * Color adjustment filter Text inscriptions and Frames filter
    * Crop & Resize filter Distortions filter '
    * Clone' brush 'Change brightness' brush
    * 'Change color' brush
    * 'Change saturation' brush
    * 'Blur/sharpen' brush 'Fix red eye' brush
    * 'Erase changes' brush.

The noise filter has an excellent visual interface as well as a useful help system to guide you through the noise reduction process. It offers some automatic noise profiling, with the ability to make your own. It supports RAW, TIFF, JPEG2000, JPG with support for external PS-plug-ins but the free version cannot itself be used as a PhotoShop plug-in. The free version also has fewer noise reduction options than the paid but excellent results are still possible.

And the other filters in the suite are just as good as the noise reduction filter. So good that you'll be tempted to use these even if you have Photoshop, Gimp or another image editor as Helicon is quicker to load and easier to use.

NB: This software is fully functional for 30days, after that it will revert to free mode.

NDNoise is a complete rewrite of a previous product 'AbsoluteDeNoiser.'  NDNoise is Java based freeware that works with Windows/Mac and Linux. It is best suited to serious users who are adventuring for the first time into the world of noise reduction software. Very good results are possible but patience and experimentation is required as the help file is minimal and some of the controls non-obvious.  NDNoise is a stand alone program whose features include:

    * load / save multiple image with the same filter tuning
    * three sliders that allow tuning for basic use : noise removal, dots/spots/lines smoothing, retexturing
    * direct visualisation of filtering effect by alternate visualisation
    * differential view for filtering control
    * zoom in/out at any level

TIP: Just remember to use the drop down box below "Calc" to ensure you can visibly see your changes. When you have done your adjustments you can have two ways of viewing them: 'Fast', which is not very precise or 'Calc' which is slower but more accurate.

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Quick Selection Guide

Noiseware Community Edition    Rating 9 of 10  

Pros   Results are not bad if done in small stages
Cons   Automatic is a blunt instrument and will definitely ruin your image
Developer Home Page   http://www.imagenomic.com/nwsa.aspx
Download link   http://www.imagenomic.com/download.aspx
File Size   1.46MB   Version 2.0   License Type Private Freeware (not free for commercial use)   Installation Requirements Windows XP/Vista
Info   Open JPEG,PNG,BMP,TIFF(24 and 48 bpp), saved results as a JPEG.

Helicon Filter   Rating 9 of 10

Pros   This is just not a Noise reduction software, it enables you to adjust and correct your image in many other ways.
Cons   For thirty days it is fully functional, but then some of the filters and actions will stop. This doesn't make it any the worst its an excellent free software.
Developer Home Page   http://www.heliconsoft.com/heliconfilter.html
Download link   http://www.heliconsoft.com/filter_downloads.html
File Size   31.6MB   Version 4.92   License Type Private Freeware (not free for commercial use)   Installation Requirements Windows 2000, XP, Vista, Vista x64
64 Bit version available   64 Bit version available

NDNoise    Rating 7 of 10

Pros   It works with Windows, Mac and Linux. Multiple image format support : PNG, JPEG, GIF, ... (prefer lossless PNG compression !)
Cons   Takes time to get to know, help files are minimal. Fast noise reduction is not very good so opt for the more precise 'Calc'.
Developer Home Page   http://ndnoise.free.fr/
Download link   http://ndnoise.free.fr/
File Size   870kb   Version 0.4   License Type Private Freeware (not free for commercial use)   Installation Requirements Windows 98/ME/2000/XP/Vista, Mac OS-X, Linux
Info   You need Java to enable the software to work. http://java.sun.com/j2se/1.4.2/download.html
 

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