Many of us use our iPads and iPhones for photos on the go, from quick snapshots for social media to in-depth professional projects. Whatever your chosen tools and purpose, there's a fair chance the pictures you make with your mobile device have some unwanted noise. Noise is the price we pay for tiny, high-resolution sensors that fit in a pocket. Fortunately, you don't have to live with smartphone camera noise.
Use With Your In-Device Camera
If you’re using your phone or pad to snap away during the day, chances are they won’t be excessively noisy. Sometimes though, if you’re using an older model (which I am, iPad 2) then the cameras aren’t always great. Let’s see what Noiseware can do about that.
Meet Biscuit, he’s our model for this example photo. This was taken with the standard settings on my iPad 2 camera, out of doors and out of direct sunlight but still with lots of light available.
When you open up the app, this is the interface you’re met with:
Nice and simple: you have the option to open up a picture from one of your album folders or directly access the camera and take a new picture. In the top right you have the option to save your image and in the bottom left are the noise reduction filters.
Back to Biscuit. As I mentioned, this isn’t a particularly noisy image so I went straight to custom where you can also increase the exposure. Exposure gives an all-round boost as you’d expect, so great for the shadows but further blows out the already over exposed highlights.
A great feature of the app is that you can press on your photo at any time to see the original, which really helps when you’re making any subtle changes. On clicking this I could see it was a little soft but not too horrific. Let’s move on to something a little more testing.
Low Light Pictures
Again using the iPad 2 camera, I took this:
You can see my light source from the right; I tried it even
darker but the camera just couldn’t handle it. As you can see, this is a noisy picture
(and nowhere near as cute as Biscuit). Let’s try the four pre-sets:
This is the default setting. A lot of the noise has been removed but I’ve been left with considerable softening (note the ‘Underwood’ writing) and also some artefacting, which you can see in the zoomed in example I’ve included in the bottom right.
A weak setting for images that aren’t very noisy. My example doesn’t quite fit that and you can see there’s still considerable noise left but also there isn’t too much softening either.
Arguably this is the one that should be most suited to my example: strong noise removal. It certainly does the job. The background looks much smoother, but again you can see softening and some anomalies around edges demonstrated in the bottom right.
Night shot doesn’t seem appropriate, but actually, with a low-light scenario why not give it a try? I think with this setting you can certainly see an improvement in the edges and there’s a less trade off with softening. Having said that, it’s still pretty noisy! Certainly it’s improved from the original, though.
In this example I didn’t find using the custom filter option significantly different from the results of
the pre-sets so I haven't included it.
Professional Image Editing
In practice it's not only images from our tablets or phones that we have to work with on the devices. For comparison, it's only fair to give this a test with a ‘proper’ image rather than just with my iPad's camera.
To test, I added some noise to this image in Photoshop, put it onto my pad and opened it up in the app:
The default noise removal filter actually does a pretty good
job! The softening isn’t horrific and you can see a big improvement in the sky
I ran it through the strongest setting so that we could see the ‘worst case’ scenario. It is pretty soft if you look at the wood closest to us on the right. Because we have a better quality image to start, however, there’s none of the weird artefacting where it’s smoothed the noise.
I felt the pre-sets dulled the image a little so I tried the custom filter. You can see this has an Excessive Noise option which I have set to on. The option to raise the exposure a little brought back some of the contrast I felt was lost with the other filters and being able to control how strong the filter is with the top slider means you can weigh up noise reduction versus the softening trade off.
App Versus the Photoshop Plugin
As I’m an avid user of Noiseware’s PS Plugin, I thought I’d show you how the two compare:
Bet you couldn’t tell which was which, right? Well they are small images to be fair but you can take my word for it when I tell you there’s little difference in the two when viewed at full size. If you start to zoom in then you might see more softening with the app version, which by the way, is the one on the right.
I’m not a fan of editing on a mobile device, period. I prefer to have a big screen and more flexibility than a pad allows; plus I have clumsy fingers. Needs must, though, and many photographers find editing apps invaluable when on the move.
The App is Great For:
- Light to medium noise removal if you don’t want your images overly soft.
- Noise removal with less flexibility: you get what you get and that depends on initial image quality.
- Boosting your exposure (if needed) whilst removing noise.
- Giving you the ability to remove noise quickly and easily–literally at the touch of a button.
- Seeing a before and after as you edit.
When It’s Not So Great:
- Using your in device camera if the camera is poor. To be fair, this is not a fault of the app, but still something to be considered.
- If you want flexibility in editing your images, such as edge softening/sharpening or targeting just luma noise for example.
I’d certainly say the Noiseware app is worth the £2.99 it currently sells for and if you’re importing a high quality image, then at full view, it will do just as good a job as the PS plugin when you’re on the go and time is short.
If you’re not constrained by time, I’d say opt for one of the software plugin versions; you get a larger choice of pre-sets and flexibility within those pre-sets so that you’re not compromising your image beyond what you’re comfortable with.