Nik Dfine 2 Review
Mac users, we're pleased to announce Macphun's all-in-one photo editor Luminar is now available for purchase with special launch pricing. (Existing Macphun customers get a further discount.)
We rated Luminar as "Highly Recommended", and you can now visit the Luminar web site to try it for free.
Dfine 2.0 is the second edition of noise reduction software by Nik software. Building on the initial version, new features include an improved noise reduction engine with automatic profiling, an improved user interface and if you're a Photoshop or Lightroom user, you can enjoy a powerful selective tool, smart filter compatibility and multi-image support. There's also the same U Point technology that we saw in our reviews of HDR Efex Pro and Color Efex Pro software packages. As with those two products, Dfine works as a plug-in for your Photoshop, Lightroom or Aperture programs. Nik Dfine 2 costs $99.95 / 99.95 Euros, or $69.95 / 69.95 Euros to upgrade from version one.
There are several different types of noise that can affect your pictures such as salt & pepper, Gaussian (amplifier), uniform, film grain and non-isotropic noise. They're caused by a number of situations such as a high resolution on a comparably small sensor, amplification of the sensor's reaction to light and even heat given from neighbouring pixels. There is some noise that can be useful and is called dither. Useful noise such as acutance which appears to sharpen edges without actually increasing resolution.
Dfine is a relatively small program so downloading only took us a couple of minutes. Unpacking and installation is also fast and easy so you can get editing straight away. The program only works when you have an image open in Photoshop and it is accessed by going to the Filter tab.
It takes a second to open and a further five seconds or so to analyse the picture for noise. Several markers will appear on the picture in the main frame in the centre which are the points that the program has read from.
In terms of layout, the only real difference between Dfine and the other Nik programs is that there are no options on the left side of the screen. The main pane takes over three quarters of the window which means a smaller window and a less cluttered area. In fact, because of the simplicity of the program, there's little that needs to be put on the actual workspace and your main companion through the process is a loupe in the bottom right of the window. It has a useful split screen to show you the before and after of the reduction and it will follow the mouse pointer wherever it goes on the picture. This split screen can also be applied to the main picture by clicking on the middle icon in the top right where it says views. The left option is the default full screen and the right option splits the picture into separate before and after pictures.
There are two steps that Dfine uses in its noise reduction process. Measure is first and it allows the program to determine the amount and type of noise that's present in the picture or a camera and ISO combination. Switching over to the reduce button allows you to see how much noise reduction to use and where to apply it.
There are three ways to measure the noise in the picture; automatic, manual or using a pre-set profile. The automatic setting works pretty well with the majority of pictures and all you have to do is click on the measure noise button. Clicking save will save the profile used for that picture so you can use use it again at a later date. In manual, you get to choose where you want to measure the noise by placing rectangles over areas of the picture you want to read from. Nik recommend placing the rectangles on smooth areas such as sky and featureless walls. Clicking the measure button will measure the noise in that picture and create a profile again for you to save if you want to use it again later.
After measuring the amount of noise in the picture, it's time to reduce it. There are two options for reduction called control points and colour ranges allowing for either global or selective enhancement. Unfortunately, you can only use one method at a time.
Using the control points employs Nik's U-Point technology meaning you can makes noise reduction changes locally but it also allows for global changes too. The slider controls let you change contrast and colour noise. If you decide to use the colour ranges option, this allows you to make adjustments to specific colours which is good for large objects or if you're working on a batch of pictures of the same colour and need a uniform result.
There are three additional options available for edge preservation, JPEG artefact reduction and debanding. The first option is useful for fine detail subjects because it allows you to balance the noise reduction you apply with detail. JPEG artefact reduction can only be used on JPEGs, obviously, and does exactly what it says on the tin. If your picture is suffering from banding, using the debanding option will help this problem. Make sure you choose between horizontal or vertical banding before making adjustments.
You may remember from the Nik Color Efex Pro 3.0 review that you can add the filters to a selective brush and paint the colour onto the picture where you want it. Dfine has a similar feature allowing you to add noise reduction to selective areas of a copy of the picture that's automatically been placed on a new layer. The selective brush option lets you apply noise reduction in two ways as well as remove it in two ways.