Today’s Question: For nighttime shooting with high ISO and/or longer exposures, what produces better results regarding noise: in-camera settings to reduce noise or dedicated software for noise removal?
Tim’s Quick Answer: While results will vary among different cameras, in general I have found that “black frame” long exposure noise reduction in the camera provides an advantage, but other in-camera noise reduction options are generally inferior to the use of software for reducing noise after the capture.
More Detail: For most cameras there are two basic noise reduction options available in the camera. The first is “black frame” long exposure noise reduction, and in general I have found the use of this option to be advantageous.
The main disadvantage is that this option will double the time required to capture a photo. That’s because this type of noise reduction operates by capturing a second exposure of the same duration but with the shutter closed. This creates a black capture is then used by the camera to remove the noise in the actual exposure based on the noise patterns in the black frame.
In my experience the other in-camera noise reduction options produce results that are inferior to what is possible with the best noise reduction software. In addition, for many cameras this option will only apply to JPEG captures, not RAW captures. In any event, I prefer not to take advantage of this type of in-camera noise reduction.
Again, the results will vary from one camera to the next, so it is worthwhile to perform some testing with your own camera to see how it performs. By testing the noise behavior of your camera you can determine which in-camera settings are best used, and also get a sense of the relative noise levels at different ISO settings.