Photo Tool Apps – ‘Signal to Noise’ – Using An iPhone in Low Light Conditions

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We’re delighted to publish this latest article to our Photo Tool Apps section by Martin Duerr who heads it up. This time he has taken a look at ‘noise’ within iOS images and recommends ways to eliminate it, don’t miss this…(foreword by Joanne Carter).

In opposition to many different descriptions of the term above, we want to take a closer look at imaging with an iPhone in low light situations (signal) and how to bypass or reduce noise in our images (noise).

Due to the physics of law and the small sensor in an iPhone there is always some noticeable form of noise in any image, even under perfect light situations. There will be no in-depth mathematically correct lab analysis, it is more directed to artists who use the iPhone as their main photographic tool (in conjunction with dedicated apps).

As there are many different methods and apps to do that, we will focus on a few well know applications and take a closer look at them. We also want to discover some strategies to get the most out of our images.

The apps we will use in that test are: NightCap Pro, Noiseware and Perfectly Clear.

For a regular cam choice we will use VSCO Cam and/or 645 PRO.

1. Where does the noise comes from?

As mentioned above, I don’t want to get too deep into the physical attributes of noise and how it appears, there are so many webpages that describe that perfectly. Fact is that the smaller the sensor of a camera and the higher the ISO parameter will go, the more noise will show up.

Good descriptions of what noise is can be found here.

A description about the different camera sensor sizes could be found here ...

and here

2. I’m doing art, noise is no problem for me!

Okay, you don’t want to compare your images with those taken with a Hasselblad camera?  Good decision, as you would definitely fall behind with the image quality, but there will come situations where you want to reduce the noise pattern that ruin your otherwise great piece of art. But how to do that? Shooting with a dedicated app? Reducing the noise later? Tripod? Handheld? On my iPhone?

“Yes” to all of your questions! Why? Let’s take a closer look at the apps we will use.

3. NightCap Pro by Interealtime

This software is available in two different flavours. One (that we will be using) is the PRO version, which offers more professional and artistic features than the simple NightCap version.  NightCap retails for $1.99/£1.49 – download here.

A very good list is shown on their own webpages, so you have a direct face-to-face comparison, see here.

Let’s have a closer look what NightCap Pro offers you when you start it.

NightCap PRO

A well organized screen welcomes you and it’s easy to navigate. If you hit the question mark a rectangle will jump from each icon in the lower (vertical iPhone position) or in the right section to the next and show a comprehensive description what the icons are for.

If you hit the small gear icon in the upper /left section you will be guided directly to the settings menue. Here you have some more in-depth functionality of NightCap PRO. If you hit the question mark icon these parts of the screen get a brief desciption overlay too.

Back to the front screen. The most important icons are those with the moon and the sun.
The activated (green) “Moon” indicates that the camera is now in “night” mode which slows down the camera to get more light on the sensor, which means you will look for a tripod to get the most out of your images. But it is possible to get some amazing results without a tripod (here with some editing in Mextures

Screen Shot 2014-09-17 at 10.01.36

The next one is a lamp in form of a bird shot in absolute darkness only lit by that small light. Yes, you see the grain, but take a closer look at the detail in the clip! Amazing … and no tripod used. You can get rid of the noise when you activate one of the two “star” modes and place the iPhone on a tripod.

Screen Shot 2014-09-17 at 10.02.31

In “normal” mode (red dot/deactivated) you get regular images. If you hit the sign one more time you will enter the “Long exposure mode” which blurs moving objects and reduces noise in low light situations. Another hit and it turns into “Light trails mode” which is perfect if you want to get long exposure lines from stars or moving cars. But the best about that two modes is that you can use them with the regual NightCap PRO settings, for example if you want to get a waterfull blurred in a bright day time scene.

Last but not least you can setup a grid and add a geotag to your images, as well as you can save in hi-res TIFF format. One of the key features is the ability to activate “manual exposure” and this let you choose between 1/1s and 1/15s. Without that you can have unlimited exposure times within the PRO version. Also with the PRO version you will have access to the iPad version too.

4. Noiseware by Imagenomic, LLC

Noiseware retails for $2.99/£1.99/download

With Noiseware we have a specialized app dedicated to remove noise from images, 
that’s it! If you open the app a real clean and simple interface welcomes you. Believe me that is enough. If you load an image Noiseware automatically starts to reduce the noise/grain in your image, always starting with the default settings. There are three other options available, one called “weak” if noise is viewable but not a heavy game killer, “strong” if you encounter a very noisy image and last “night shot”, specialized images which have been taken in low light or at night. Noiseware does a fairly good job reducing the noise without flattening the amount of detail in your image. If you are still unhappy with the result Noiseware offers you “custom” settings which let you control the overall exposure and the noise filter amount. If you really fight with heavy noise you still have the aibilty to activate the “Excessive Noise” button, but this could lead in unwanted results, depending on the amount of detail you will have in your image.

Noiseware

Noiseware

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

If you are interested to use Noiseware for your “big” projects … Imagenomic has some nice tools for Windows and Mac users.

5. Perfectly Clear by Athentech

Perfectly Clear retails for $2.99/£1.99/download here

As Imagenomic, Athentech offers their products for Windows, Mac, iOS and additionally for Android systems. We will take a closer look at their iOS product. Perfectly Clear is a full range image editing software with some specialized features for face/skin reouching like eye enhancement, skin softening and tetth whitening, but also offers a wide range of image editing parameters such as sharpness, saturation, exposure and … noise reduction.

The interface is well organized and offers a row of 5 icons with a short description below each. The first and by default activated button will enhance the image with some fixed standard settings. The second one will brighten up your image, the third one will adjust the hue value, the fourth one is dedicated to beauty/face parameters, while the fifth one, speparated by a small vertical line, will offer you bunch of parameters if you hit it. A vertical row of new icons appears. If you hit one of those a line with a slider pops up, offering you the ability to fine tune the choosen parameters. The settings are (from top to bottom): exposure, contrast, saturation, sharpness, hue, a Perfectly Clear on/off button, skin color, skin softening, eye enhancements, eye enlargement, teeth whitening and noise reduction. One of the comfort features that Perfectly Clear offers is a vertical interactive line which splits the raw image and the enhanced image. So you have allways a direct control of what you are doing.

Perfectly Clear

Perfectly Clear

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Next time we’ll take a closer look how to deal with low light or night shots, handheld or using a tripod. And of course we will compare images taken by NightCap PRO and those using the “regular” iPhone cam with apps like VSCOcam and 645 PRO. 645 PRO has a low light modus, so it will be interesting to see how this app holds up against the specialzed NightCap PRO. All together with tips and informations how to make the most out of your shots.

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5 thoughts on “Photo Tool Apps – ‘Signal to Noise’ – Using An iPhone in Low Light Conditions

    • Thanks Tracy!

      More to come in the second part which should show some hints and tricks with NightCap Pro and other apps which may not dedicated directly for low light conditions, but offer some helpful tools.

      Best

      Martin

  1. Looking forward to the second part of this.

    A Comment about Noiseware. I have and use it but sent them email about saving in a lossless format (TIFF) rather then a format like JPG. Basically the reply I got back was that iOS devices don’t have the overhead of processing to be able to use TIFF. I find this strange as there are other developers that save to TIFF without issues, including Filterstorm Neue that I would think needs the processing overhead to do what it can do. The other thing is that if you look in the documentation for the desktop the use of JPG is discouraged. I think anyone that has or is contemplating Noiseware for iOS should email them. From what other developers have told me iOS devices are more then capable of working and saving in TIFF.

  2. Hi Larry,

    I agree with you as TIFF is the only way to use your images for serious output and further editing. It should be possible as seen by other vendors. I don’t think Noiseware has been updated to iOS 8, maybe they have a chance to implement it in that stage.
    I will also mail them and ask for an upadte.

    Martin

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