Lightroom AI Denoise - Review - 24 Apr 2023

Original (left), Noiseware (center), AI Denoise (right), ISO 6400

A few weeks ago Adobe came out with Lightroom Classic Ver. 12.3 that added a couple of new features, one of which was a new AI Denoise filter to apply noise reduction to original RAW files! This noise-reduction is a new addition to the Enhancement feature that Adobe released last year that allowed AI (artificial intelligence) to generate high-resolution images from original RAW files. Full description of version 12.3 improvements is described here.

A number of reviewers are describing their experiences online, including YouTube videos that I've found helpful. Anthony Morganti is a Lightroom Guru and describes the new AI Denoise feature in Lightroom 12.3. He also has follow-up video that helps answer the question of whether to apply the AI Denoise feature BEFORE or AFTER making adjustments in Lightroom*.

* - Quick answer is that Adobe recommends AI Denoise be applied BEFORE adjustments. I've found from my examples below that AI Denoise appears to add a touch of vibrance to images, and this added vibrance can appear overdone if you apply any vibrance adjustment before applying AI Denoise. Otherwise, I see no problems adjusting White Balance and Tone selections before applying AI Denoise.

Here is an image of a Hermit Thrush, expanded to 300% to show noise in the original image captured at ISO 6400. 41% Vibrance had been added to the image before applying the AI Denoise filter (top). After applying 20% AI Denoise to the image the resulting file looks noticeably cleaner (bottom) but shows some added vibrance (blue around the eye orbital and yellow at the gape of the bill).

Also note: Before applying the AI Denoise filter using the Enhance Review dialogue make sure to de-select the "Create Stack" box. 

Because AI Denoise is NOT non-destructive the original RAW file will be converted to a DNG file. If the "Create Stack" box is selected then the original RAW file will disappear and be replaced with the "Enhanced-DNG" file. The Enhanced DNG file cannot be reset, and the original RAW file will need to be re-imported into Lightroom. By unselecting the Create Stack box both the new DNG and original RAW file will remain in Lightroom.

Also-Also Note: Processing time will vary depending upon your computer configuration. My Macbook Pro with the below configuration takes 1-2 minutes to process the noise reduction. Other systems may take as little as 30 seconds while still others can take 40 minutes, so this processing will greatly impact your workflow time and decision-making about using this new feature.

How does it compare?

I do not have access to the more popular Topaz Photo AI or DXO PureRAW packages for noise reduction and image enhancement but did find a couple of YouTube reviews worth watching:

Brian Matiash compares AI Denoise vs. Topaz Photo AI  and provides his insights and commentary. Nick Page goes a step further and compares AI Denoise vs. Topaz Photo AI vs. DXO PureRAw. All three have their strengths (and weaknesses) but ultimately you'll want to decide for yourself what your preferred workflow will look like moving forward.

For me, I've used Imagenomic's Noiseware noise reduction software for years and have been very happy with it. My workflow typically involves applying initial Luminance Noise reduction (4-10%) in Lightroom Classic followed by an 80% Sharpening Mask. Here is a Hermit Thrush portrait expanded to 300% and shot at ISO 6400 before and after applying the manual noise reduction in Lightroom Classic:

The image is then imported into Photoshop where Noiseware Reduction is applied (typically 40% Luminance noise reduction):

There is still evidence of noise in the image above, but at 300% the noise is minimal. The 100% image looks very clean:

This is the image with 80% Luminance NR using Noiseware:

The 80% Noiseware NR image above looks clean, but there is evidence of loss of detail in the feathering around the cheeks of the bird. Still, a very nice image. 

So, how does Lightroom Classic's AI Denoise compare? I applied AI Denoise to the original RAW file at increments of 10% to see where the best noise reduction was optimized:

At 10% the AI Denoise did an impressive job of removing Chroma and Luminance noise from the image. At 20 - 60% there is no visible loss of detail at 300% image magnification. Even at 100% NR the AI Denoise software produced an impressively sharp image with detail that surpasses the Noiseware software at 80%. Here is a comparison shot of the AI Denoise levels magnified at 300%:

Until now I had been using AI Denoise at a default level of 30% but it appears that I can go up to 50% without any loss of resolution. This is how the AI Denoise at 50% compares to the Noiseware NR software at 100% and 300% magnifications:

There is no question that the Lightroom AI Denoise has produced a cleaner, sharper image relative to the Noiseware software. At 1-2 minutes processing time I feel that its worth it to produce cleaner and sharper images, especially at the higher ISO's. I won't hesitate now to use my Sony a1 at ISO 6400 (or even 12,800) if I can get the shutter speeds I need to capture sharp images in lower light. 

As to whether you need to consider switching to or from other noise reduction packages it is purely a personal preference. Adobe has long been criticized for having a less-than adequate noise reduction filter in Lightroom Classic and Photoshop, but I think that AI Denoise will now shut down that criticism.


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