Digital Outback Photo
- Photography using Digital SLRs


Workflow Technique #053

Noise Removal with Helicon Filter Pro (PC only)


preview note by Uwe Steinmueller


It seems that the digital photographers get more concerned over noise while these days the digital cameras become better and better. Lower noise allows us photographers to make more out of available light. On the other side you even get severe noise with a Canon 1Ds at ISO 100 once you brighten up the shadows.

Helicon Filter Pro (beta 1.61)

The best known noise removal tools today are Neat Image and Noise Ninja. A couple of months ago we got a first version of the Helicon Filter and followed the betas since then. Besides the very good results we like the following features:

  • Large preview to judge the noise removal effect
  • Easy to use
  • Hardly any plastic look and only minor softening of the image
  • Control of shadow, midtone and highlight noise removal
  • Photoshop plugin

This preview is based on a beta version that you can try yourself.


The use is straight forward. We create a new layer with all the content of the layers combined (get our e-book DOP2000 to better understand a layer based workflow). Then we run the Helicon plugin which actually launches the Helicon Filter Pro application.

As said the preview is very big and provides a good way to analyze the settings. The Helicon Filter provides also a nice navigation tool:

Navigation Tool

Noise Removal settings

Noise Reduction settings

We only use the "Noise Reduction" tab. All the other tools maybe nice but are not essential for our task at hand. Sharpening can be useful but we sharpen later in PS anyway.

  • Highlights, Midtones and Shadows: control the noise removal in these different tonal ranges
  • Radius: Lower values preserve more details and remove less noise
  • Chroma Noise: controls the color noise removal
  • Method: Often "fast" maybe good enough. With strong noise try the other methods
  • Color Ranges: Very unique feature and also new in the latest betas (see below)

Color Ranges

The idea comes from common situations. Often you want the noise more removed in certain colors (like blue sky). Here Color Ranges help:

Right Click: Increase noise reduction by 50% for the color you clicked on

Shift+Right Click: Decrease noise reduction by 50% for the color you clicked on

Very powerful option.

Once you like your settings you click the "next" button and run the Helicon Filter. Then you can accept the result and you return to Photoshop.


300% magnification from an ISO 1250 shot of the Canon 1D Mark II

After Helicon Filter treatment

Don't overdo the noise reduction and also remember that noise often does not show that bad in prints as you would expect from the screen.

Why don't we show many before/after samples? You can make every noise removal tool look good with the right samples. Only you can judge a tool whether it works for you. Noise removal is complex:

  • The final test is the print (especially the size of the print matters)
  • Not all noise has the same characteristics and noise filters treat them all different
  • Some noise in the image may even make the image look less digital (plastic clean) in prints
  • Noise is a subjective matter (We never trust statistical data about noise)

What we do is find tools that we would use for our work and hope that you try them on your pictures.

We like the Helicon Filter Pro a lot (especially with the new plugin).

Highly Recommended

For more info visit the vendor site.


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