I've had a preview release of the Noiseless AI extension that will be offered for Luminar Neo users on August 30. It's not quite finished it terms of GUI, but basic functionality is there. My copy only runs under Rosetta on my Mac Studio, but at release, it will be Apple Silicon Native.
Just about everyone living in the world of photography has issues with noise. Landscape photographers, wedding photographers, portrait and advertising photographers: we all deal with low light and the noise that can result.
Digital editing has made the problem much easier to deal with. These new editing and noise removal techniques can allow us to push our equipment beyond where we could even a few years ago.
As a landscape and night sky photographer, I'm well aware of the need for noise reduction, and I've been a fan of Topaz DeNoise AI since it's been available and earlier iterations for years.
Of course, the folks at Skylum would like to keep you in their Neo Ecosystem, so we're beginning to see the equivalent of plug-ins or extensions within Luminar Neo. The first was the HDR extension that appeared last month, and Noiseless AI is the second. By year's end, Sklyum says Neo will have a total of seven extensions on offer.
How Does Noiseless AI Work?
You launch it from the selection menu. Skylum says it will work on any type of file, but I did all my work on raw files.
The extension will make a recommendation for the amount of noise reduction, or you can choose your own. There's also a slider we see on most noise reduction offerings, and that's for color noise reduction. And there's an option to recover original detail and to increase sharpness, which I take as edge enhancement.
I opened a low-light sunset file with Noiseless AI, and the noise was easy to see. (It's a bit compressed and shrunken to fit our page, but you can see the noise). It appears as various sizes of blotches and other defects, most easily seen in the brighter sections of the sky. Here's a blowup of part of the frame at 300% magnification.
I then selected medium noise reduction, and here's the result:
Eve, with my reduced in size and compressed JPEG, you can see things have been cleaned up nicely. I did feel the ground lost a little sharpness, and I saw very little improvement when I pushed the detail and sharpness sliders. I took the same file in Topaz DeNoise AI and here's the result:
This also cleaned up nicely (you're seeing it at 200% enlargement, but it's been reduced to fit our format). Topaz has an automatic mode, and that's what I used. It picked the parameters for noise reduction. I thought Topaz did a slightly better job at preserving detail, but the two programs were pretty close. I did prefer the split-screen Topaz offered for comparison, but Luminar Neo offers an icon that lets you switch from the original to the noise-reduced image. The Topaz plug-in is native on Apple Silicon and very fast. We'll have to wait a few days to see how the Neo extension does in the same environment.
If you're a happy Topaz user or you're happy with another noise reduction bundle, I don't see much reason to switch. There is an advantage to working inside Luminar Neo for everything if that's what your workflow looks like.
For my editing, I usually start in Lightroom or Camera Raw, (often earlier with DXO PureRaw 2), then Photoshop, and the Topaz noise reduction and sharpening plug-ins, then Neo for finishing. But your workflow may be vastly different.
Noiseless AI will be a nice add for photographers looking for pro-level noise reduction. There are tools already inside Neo for noise reduction, but this new Noiseless AI is superior in quick side-by-side tests. It's a bit like the noise reduction in Lightroom and Photoshop. They both are pretty good, but some third parties do it better if you're a photographer at a level where it matters to you.
Current Neo users will be able to get their extension at a discount, or you can opt in to all the new extensions at a greater discount, but you are buying future extensions sight unseen without knowing if they will be useful to you. However, Skylum just let me know that two new extensions, offered this year, will be Upscale AI, an AI-powered tool for enhancing image resolution in a natural way, and AI Background Removal, an AI-powered tool that automatically removes the background behind any subject.
More and more, Luminar Neo is evolving (or devolving) into a subscription package, which is going to make many early buyers unhappy, as Skylum originally looked like an alternative to the Adobe subscription world. But companies have to survive in a tough world. I think Skylum owes it customers their thoughts on their current direction and why the seeming change in philosophy.
Getting Noiseless AI
Noiseless AI will be released on August 30. It can be acquired with the Luminar Neo Pro Monthly or Yearly subscription or purchased as part of the 2022 Extensions pack. The Pro Monthly or Yearly subscription has been available since August 16, 2022 and includes Luminar Neo and all the extensions that will be released during the subscription period. By subscribing during the early bird stage, Luminar users get the best price possible for the first subscription year. It's available here.
My look at this latest noise reduction tool has been cursory as I've only had a couple of days to test it. Also, it's not the final version, and experience tells me there will be changes before the final version rolls out at the end of the month. It will likely get faster, and I haven't seen the Apple Silicon version, which is likely to have better performance.
Still, it's obvious this is a worthy tool, and it appears to remove noise as well as some of the best tools around. It's worthy of consideration if you are a Luminar Neo user. Skylum has a confusing array of purchase options, and you'll have to sort through them to see what is best for you. Sales are frequent, and pricing changes frequently.