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How to Clean Up Noisy Digital Footage with Neat Video

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Neat Video is a professional video de-noising plugin that is highly regarded for its ability to remove noise without compromising too much detail. If you've ever found yourself recording in less than ideal conditions and forced to use a high ISO, you will probably benefit from adding Neat Video to your post-production workflow.

Install the Neat Video Plugin

To get started with Neat Video, download the demo plugin for the host application of your choice.

Download page for Neat Video pluginsDownload page for Neat Video pluginsDownload page for Neat Video plugins

There are two different paid licenses of Neat Video available for purchase, but the free demo license of Neat Video will allow you to try out Neat Video on some of your own footage.

Supported Software Hosts

Neat Video is a plugin, not a standalone piece of software. This means that you can use it within the video editing software of your choice. Neat Video is available for all of the major non-linear editors. In this tutorial, I'll be using Final Cut Pro X as the host application for Neat Video. The actual plugin window is more or less the same no matter what program you use.

Download and Install

Once the download has finished, you're ready to install the plugin. For Mac users, this means you'll mount the .dmg download file and then run the installer package. Close your editor and start the installer.

Mount the dmg file and run the installer packageMount the dmg file and run the installer packageMount the dmg file and run the installer package
After you've finished installing the plugin, you're ready to launch your host application and start using Neat Video.
If you're using Final Cut Pro X, then the Neat Video plugin (labeled Reduce Noise v4) should appear in the newly created folder Neat Video in the Effects panel.
Reduce Noise v4 in the Effects panel of Final Cut Pro XReduce Noise v4 in the Effects panel of Final Cut Pro XReduce Noise v4 in the Effects panel of Final Cut Pro X

What is Noise Reduction?

Not All Noisy Footage is Created Equal

All digital images and video have some noise. Treating noise is about balancing all the factors that combine to create a legible image. It's often impossible to do that completely at the time of capture.

As I said above, you'll find yourself in situations where you have to increase your gain or ISO to produce a correctly-exposed image. Given the choice between underexposed but relatively clean video and properly exposed but noisy video, go for the noisy video. You can probably reduce the noise on your footage and get something workable. Correcting underexposed video is difficult and time consuming, and the product usually ends up far noisier and less pleasing. Always try to make a proper exposure and give yourself the best possible footage to work with.

Noise Reduction and an Acceptable Image

If your footage has noise, that's OK. Good on you on pushing the limits!

Don't try to eliminate noise—it's impossible anyway. Instead, try to reduce noise the absolute minimum amount you can get away with in order to produce an acceptable image. The goal with Neat Video is to diminish and alter the appearance of noise so that it is no longer distracting.

Don't worry too much about noise you can't correct. To a certain degree, viewers understand noise as part of the reality of making video in dark situations. A little bit of noise can even help viewers get into the experience if it reinforces the story!

How to Use Neat Video

Apply Neat Video to a Clip

To use Neat Video, add a clip to your timeline and then drag the Reduce Noise v4 Effect on to the clip you want to de-noise. 

adding the Neat Video plugin from the effects panel to a clip in the timelineadding the Neat Video plugin from the effects panel to a clip in the timelineadding the Neat Video plugin from the effects panel to a clip in the timeline

Open the Options Window

When you do this, the plugin will appear in the Effects control panel in the top right hand side of Final Cut Pro. There's only one dropdown menu for Neat Video that appears in this Effects control panel, and it's labeled Options Window. Click on that dropdown, which says select to open, and then click select to open. This will open the options window for the Neat Video plugin.  

opening the Neat Video plugin options window opening the Neat Video plugin options window opening the Neat Video plugin options window
Neat Video plugin options window openNeat Video plugin options window openNeat Video plugin options window open

Try the Auto Profile

To start using Neat Video with automatic settings, which are very good in many cases, use the Auto Profile button on the top left side of the options window. Neat Video will automatically select a uniform area to profile, and from this area, it will build a de-noising profile to use on the entire clip.

Neat Video automatic profileNeat Video automatic profileNeat Video automatic profile

Sometimes Neat Video will not automatically detect an area large enough to build a profile from. In this case, Neat Video will warn you, and you will have the option to manually select a profile area. 

selected area is too smallselected area is too smallselected area is too small
manually selected profile areamanually selected profile areamanually selected profile area

Preview the Results

Once your profile is selected, either automatically or manually, you're ready to preview the filtered result and make adjustments to it if needed. Select the Noise Filter Settings tab in the middle area of the options window to see the profile's filtered result. Often, this automatic profile will cleanly de-noise your footage and there's nothing else for you to do! If you think the footage needs more or less de-noising, use the Temporal Filter Radius slider to adjust the strength of the de-noising.

If you want to compare your original clip with different de-noised settings, you can use the Original and Variant buttons in the top left of the options window to compare results and pick the best settings for your clip.

Noise Filter Settings tabNoise Filter Settings tabNoise Filter Settings tab

Apply the Processing, and You're Done!

Once you've adjusted Neat Video's settings to taste and you feel your clip is properly de-noised, you're ready to exit the options window and let your clip render.

Press Apply in the bottom right hand corner of the options window. The window will close, and your clip will start rendering. 

rendering in the timelinerendering in the timelinerendering in the timeline

Neat Video in the Wild

I can almost guarantee that at some point in your video production career there will be a time you have to use a less than ideal high ISO setting to get a dark shot properly exposed. With Neat Video, you don't have to fear noise anymore!

Is it perfect? No, it is not. Neat Video cannot fix every noisy image, but it can help make previously marginal shots usable. How marginal depends on your camera and the situations you find yourself in.

Find Your Edges

Ultimately, learning how to do effective noise reduction in post-processing means that you will have two big advantages: you'll be able to make shots in a wider variety of situations, and you'll be less temped to upgrade to the lastest-greatest-lowest-light-shooting camera model. With noise reduction in your tool set you'll be able to get value out of your camera for longer.

To get good at noise reduction, I suggest you try to beat Neat Video at the noise game. Find the edges. Can you produce video with your gear that is so noisy that noise reduction is no use? What are the conditions that produce this limit? When does the footage really start to suffer? When is it still usable? Let us know what you find out!

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