Yes, it is true. This Photoshop add-on is really called a “freeware noise reduction plugin“. You know why? Because this is really a freeware noise reduction plugin. There’s no catch: you get what you buy—more exactly, what you buy for a zero price. Of course you have built-in noise reduction features in Photoshop, but using a plugin that offers better results can always come handy.
The zip file, which weighs less than 1MB, can be downloaded with a click from Colormancer’s web site. They have different versions for Mac, Win 32-bit and Win 64-bit. The latter two are packed together. After unzipping, you get two files which you should copy to your Photoshop‘s Plug-ins folder, and you’re done. This is all it takes to install the plugin. Afterwards, you can launch it from Photoshop by clicking Filter/Colormancer/Freeware Boundary Noise Reduction v2.1.0.
A clear, well-organized dialog appears. The spaciousness is mostly due to being freeware—the plugin offers four main settings. You can select Show Advanced Controls to get to see and try the full version, but pictures saved this way will be stamped with a watermark. Right now, we’ll stick to the freeware edition. At least, controls will be simpler!
On the right, you can see the loaded image in a smaller and a larger preview. You can drag the border visible in the smaller one to select the area you want. This will be displayed below: the original on the left, the filtered version on the right. Default zoom is 100% but you can increase it up to 400% with the buttons above, if you want each and every pixel to become visible.
On the left, you’ll find the main controls. First, there are the buttons for automatic profile creation—yes, this plugin knows that, too! Photoshop’s own noise reduction feature does not offer such an option, but most advanced filter plugins do. The software determines filter intensity after a quick analysis of the image. There are two available options here, depending on whether you try to eliminate noise from a digital (Profile Digital Image) or scanned picture (Profile Film Image). After clicking the appropriate one, the Overall Noise Level slider snaps to the determined value in a few seconds. This is the most important of all controls: it manages filter intensity. Of course you can manually override the automatically determined setting for stronger or weaker filtering.
The next slider, Mix in original B&W detail, allows you to specify the balance between luminance noise and filtering. Lower values make the filtering dominate and the picture appear more washed, while higher ones leave more of the noise, but also of the finer details.
At the very bottom, there are two more sliders which affect the image to a lesser degree. They apply some sharpening after filtering, so that the picture looks somewhat more detailed. Sharpening (B&W detail) adjusts the detail loss which occurs due to luminance noise blurring, and Sharpening (color detail) helps healing the washed colors which appear due to color noise reduction.
Well, let’s see what Boundary Noise Reduction can achieve in practice! Choose a picture with a fair amount of noise. This is a part zoomed to 100%:
The left side of the picture part has enough details for us to be able to check how much the filtering will hurt them, while the right side is pretty homogeneous for better observation of noise—in this case, mainly color noise.
First, let’s see what Photoshop‘ s own noise filter (Filter/Noise/Reduce Noise) can do with the image. We set filter intensity halfway in both cases. This is the result:
Noise is mostly gone, although some color noise remained in a few pale spots, but unfortunately, details suffered the intervention as well. The image became too blurred. Although there is a slider for preserving details, but it makes the picture unpleasantly fragmented.
Now take a look at a professional: the well-known Noise Ninja plugin. We accepted the automatic settings and did not override anything:
The result is much better, even without manual adjustment. The left part kept more of the details, and the vast majority of noise disappeared nicely from the flat right side. Some color noise spots remained here, too, despite slightly washing the colors by the filtering.
Lastly, we tried the Freeware Boundary Noise Reduction plugin, using the automatic profile here as well.
Color noise was eliminated better than with the previous two tools, and in addition, original colors were also preserved better. Luminance noise filtering was better than Photoshop’s own, but somewhat worse than that of Noise Ninja. Regarding preserved details, the plugin came second, too: more details lost than with Noise Ninja, but less than with the built-in Photoshop feature.
All in all, the freeware Boundary Noise Reduction plugin brought no disappointment. Of course its settings are pretty meager when compared to a professional noise filter tool, but it is close to them in efficiency, and it is quite quick. It can be a competent alternative to Photoshop‘s own noise filter. It works better and does not cost extra—two reasons for trying it.