I’ve been an early adopter of Topaz Denoise, when it was called AI Clear, which was already mind-blowingly efficient, despite a tendency to fatten small details a bit much to my taste. The result was still impressive in term of noise reduction, or should I say, noise removal.
I naturally upgraded to Topaz Denoise AI, which was and still is significantly better at preserving good looking details.
Looking back, one of the thing that was pretty evident with AI Clear is that it performed much better on raw files directly (or leaving the color noise reduction slider to 0 in ACR/LR). The algorithm was probably trained on raw images that included the color noise left by demosaicing. So I was using AI Clear on my raw files, outputing a 8bit TIF or even directly a JPG. This was far from ideal: The noise was gone but so was the raw file editing latitude. Better have you exposure very right in-camera.
When Denoise AI came, it was kind of the opposite, it seemed particularly at ease with pre-processed files out of your favorite raw processing tool, free of color noise and with all your edits baked-in. And although it’s always been possible to directly load a raw file inside Denoise AI (at least my Canon CR2 files, but for those more modern raw files it does not support converting to DNG works just fine), I kind of let go of that workflow and forgot about it.
Until now! There’s been a few pictures I took this summer of a kingfisher that, unfortunately, had to be shot in the shade at low shutter speed, higher than would have liked ISO and all that on a non-stabilized lens. The amount of keepers was not great, but I had quite a few anyway.
I decided to give the raws a spin again but this time loading them directly in Denoise AI, then saving a DNG. And I don’t regret doing that. Yes, that’s a lot more space on your hard drive, having the original raw and the denoised DNG, but the result is far better. For the 2 folks eventually reading my blog now and then who are interested in photography, give it a try, you probably won’t be disappointed.
PS: This method has the great advantage also, in my opinion, to get rid of the mushy noise Denoise AI tend to leave in defocused areas of pre-processed raw that have seen their shadows, highlights, contrast, blacks and whites torn appart.
In the end the only downside of denoising the raw to save a DNG before editing, is that you lose you camera color profile presets, so it requires a little more ACR/LR work to recover the “look”. Nothing that represents too much work for you best-best shots.