The Sigma SD14 Wakeup Call

When Sigma SD14 on Vacation was published, one of the features discussed was photographs that tried to use the noise of the Sigma Foveon sensor at ISO 800 and even 400 as a creative tool. Like others, we assumed this noise issue at sensitivities that are a non-issue with other cameras is a problem of the Foveon sensor.


We received a very interesting email from a Gary Mercer, one of the professional photographers featured in the Popular Photography December 2007 Sigma SD14 promotion. He provided us with useful insight to the SD14 noise "problem" and a suggestion:

"I've been using Sigma DSLRs from the very humble beginning of the SD9 to the current SD14. There is a lot of controversy concerning the low light performance of the SD14 and also higher ISO 400 and up noise issue. I've found that other DSLR systems use in camera noise programs that produce soft, but less noisy images right out of the camera even when shooting raw. The supposedly raw images produced by most Bayer-sensor cameras are in fact heavily edited images prior to downloading them to the computer. The SD14 doesn't do any serious noise reduction in the image coming out of the camera. In fact, the SPP 3.2 and 2.5 versions of the Sigma Software barely address noise after the fact.

So how does someone who wants to shoot at higher ISOs with the SD14 deal with this? Imagenomic's Noiseware program is the best solution I've found to date. It is superb. If you sent me the raw images of the pictures you posted shot at ISO 800, I'm sure that Noiseware would take care of the noise in these images easily, salvaging them for you. I found this out after a helicopter shoot of the Hawaiian Islands with the SD14. We couldn't remove the doors off the helicopter, so I had to shoot through the canopy which lowered the light about two F-stops and also needed to use a polarizing filter which further lowered the light. It was a disaster in the making, forcing me to shoot at ISO 800. But after spending all this money on the helicopter, I was going to try to get my money's worth. When I got back to Florida and post processed the images, I thought the shoot was a complete bust, until a pro buddy of mine suggested Noiseware from Imagenomic. Even Noise Ninja couldn't clean up those images. Noiseware saved my shoot and I was able to save the images and use them in my latest gallery exhibition of my photography at www.pmgallery.info.

Moral of the story? The SD14 works just fine when you know the nature of the best and have the right tools to pull the results you want from this camera. It isn't super speedy, but I've got model test shots I've shot with it and lots of sample images on my SD14 test images website at pbase.com if someone wants to really see what is possible with the SD14 in real life."

Gary certainly has the credentials that persuaded us to try his suggestion and we were frankly astounded at the results we achieved by processing the Sigma JPEG files with Noiseware. The results were so impressive we tried the Noiseware processing with other camera images. Some cameras showed dramatic improvement in noise and others, like Nikon and Canon cameras, showed very little improvement with Noiseware processing. A large selection of images has been Noiseware-processed in the last few weeks. With this experience with a wide range of digital images from a cross-section of cameras, it is time to discuss the impact of Noiseware in more detail.

Index How does Noise Reduction Work?
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  • aeternitas - Saturday, August 2, 2008 - link

    http://www.fredmiranda.com/IS/">http://www.fredmiranda.com/IS/ Reply
  • aeternitas - Saturday, August 2, 2008 - link

    1. When doing comparison shots, have a mouse over load the second image and a mouseoff show the first. Or simply have one image and a list of links that dynamical and instantly change that image so comparisons can be made in detail. This is what any self respecting site that has to so with image comparisons would do. This screams "early 90s"

    2. Though one is usually important, its not here for the even worse reason that the originals were all far better than the filtered images! Why bother uploading this rubbish? Did you even bother to compair or is your eye that attracted to the early digital noise reduction effect of smearing?
    2a. Look at the red detain in the water of the beach in the unaltered image. Then look at them in the "improved" version
    2b. Look at the boat image, look at the sail lines in the unaltered then the altered.

    HORRBLE and clear examples. Im not sure about this program. Im not sure what it can really do, but for someone to upload this crap as examples shows that I shouldent really rely on them for a review of the product. If i were trying to sell this product id have a word or two with you about taking this whole thing down because at 70$ this isnt aimed at grandma. This is aimed at the kind of people reading this! I wouldn't buy this if you gave me 70$ to screw up my images judging by this review.


    If any of you want a real program to actual improve digital imagery, here is one made by a actual professional photographer with many years experience and a sharp eye for detail;

    http://www.fredmiranda.com/software/">http://www.fredmiranda.com/software/
    Reply
  • elmerFudge - Wednesday, July 30, 2008 - link

    I was a bit wary at first in investing even a bit of money in software noise filters. Most smell of snake oil. But the current crop of noise filters, especially Noise Ninja do a very good job in the right hands. The examples shown lack detail where it counts: grass, waves, leaves, hair trees, sand and texture in general. Worst still the images look like a bad job with photoshop. Show us what a pro can do with that software. reducing noise is a trade-off. I don't mind film-like grain that hides noise. Inspecting one of the images(800-coming-lrg), the histogram is compressed and the highlights are blown. For this you could have considered a tri-pod and longer exposure. Reply
  • haplo602 - Tuesday, July 29, 2008 - link

    I stopped reading after seeing the Sigma images. The processed ones were smeared and flat compared to the original ones. I did not even look at the full size images.

    Just look at the sea in front of the lonely boat in one of the pictures. Also the trees/bushes on the right side hill above the houses. I mean how can you be satisfied with such a loss of detail?

    These heavy noise processing programs are only viable if your subject had large flat colored surfaces with little fine detail. Otherwise you end up with blocks of pixels sharing the color of grass but lacking any kind of detail that it actualy IS grass (same with stucco walls etc.).
    Reply
  • royalcrown - Tuesday, July 29, 2008 - link

    I realize the pace of exciting hardware has slowed since the 90's...

    but all these camera, Ipod, Iphone..yada yada, E3 reviews are BOOOOORING !! Did I mention boring yet........zzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz ?

    I only come here once a week at most because all this gadget crap is a snoozefest. No offense because I suppose it's slim pickings, just my 2 cents !!
    Reply
  • ianken - Tuesday, July 29, 2008 - link

    NR has its place, but even in these web-res samples you can see an utter devastation of detail in the water shots.

    NR simply replaces random noise with deterministic noise. Where possible you want it to be a subtle as possible. Most professional restoration or NR efforts are very hands on and manual and for good reason: differentiating between detail and noise is very non trivial, and even more-so with still images.

    IMHO in these samples it's about as subtle as a brick to the head.
    Perhaps these samples are not indicative of what the software can really do?
    Reply
  • n4bby - Monday, July 28, 2008 - link

    you have got to be kidding me. those Noiseware-processed Sigma images are TERRIBLE. it totally obliterates fine contrast and kills the resolution of the images. at these web image sizes, i clearly prefer the originals. i work closely with image editors at a professional stock photography site and believe me, those processed photos would NEVER be admitted into our library. the original "noisy" ones might be acceptable though (if the subject matter were more compelling, but that's a different matter).

    we all appreciate the effort, and we know the ad dollars help the site which in turn helps us, but please - leave the digital photography reviews to the pros, and stick to topics your staff is qualified to comment on.

    Reply
  • Traciatim - Monday, July 28, 2008 - link

    I didn't see a rebuttal here, but for those that compared the file sizes differ drastically which is why the quality difference that is not the case. JPEG has an incredibly hard time compressing noise, which is why when the noise is removed the file size drops by huge amounts.

    Take for example the two images below. I wandered outside and took an ISO 100 TIFF with my old Olympus C5050Z. I used Photoshop to chop out a 1000x1000 section of cloud. I saved the new image as a JPEG with very good details settings. I then did a Gaussian Blur of 1.5 pixels and saved the same image (simulating a noise reduction, I usually use Neat Image but recently went through a reinstall) and saved the image with the same JPEG settings. Now each image that is 1000x1000 is either 296505 bytes, or 119464 bytes, less than half the size.

    Keep in mind you can use this trick to blur things in images to make your content smaller. If you have a web cam you can put things just a shade out of focus to increase your frame rates, and also if you can find a video noise filter program for your web cam to seriously improve your frame rates with lower bandwidth.

    Image 1 (Bo Blur):
    http://i201.photobucket.com/albums/aa229/Traciatim...">http://i201.photobucket.com/albums/aa229/Traciatim...

    Image 2 (Blur):
    http://i201.photobucket.com/albums/aa229/Traciatim...">http://i201.photobucket.com/albums/aa229/Traciatim...
    Reply
  • haplo602 - Tuesday, July 29, 2008 - link

    well the JPEG compression will also create more loss of detail on the noise-reduced images, because it can compress them more aggressively. so that's a double edged sword. Reply
  • Deadtrees - Monday, July 28, 2008 - link

    Many people have been complaining about your using 'Nvidia SLI' box for the high-ISO/noise-level test, yet you don't seem to care.

    I mean, what kind of reviwer uses 'glossy paper box' for noise tests?
    Please use something that has details.

    From time to time, you bashed internet reviews that are more like benchmarks and promised to bring field reviews. You not only failed to bring such reviews but also failed to do a simple benchmark one.

    Please...Anandtech deserves better....

    Reply

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