Walking through Nik’s Dfine 2.0 – A Review

Article written by Justin Brown

Noise reduction is an important step in any HDR post-processing workflow. Every digital image, even one shot at low ISO, has noise present.  When combining images using an HDR process, the noise is often amplified in ways that can be detrimental to the image.  Fortunately, software like Nik’s Dfine 2.0 does a very good job reducing or eliminating noise, while maintaining sharp details.  As with all the Nik software I have used, Dfine has a very polished user interface, and runs smoothly right from the start.  The software works as an add-on for Photoshop, Lightroom, or Aperture. I prefer running Dfine as a Photoshop plug-in, which was easy to launch with an image open in Photoshop.  In Photoshop CS6 browse to the Filter menu, and select Dfine 2.0 under the Nik Software menu.  As soon as Dfine launches a new layer is automatically created.  Any changes made within Dfine are applied to the new layer.  This is a great feature because it allows the image with noise reduction to wedding bouncy castle be blended with the original using standard layer blending in Photoshop.

When the Nik Dfine window opens it automatically samples the noise levels from a few different regions of the image.  Manually selecting the sample regions is also an option, but I found the automatic selections to work well.  It looks specifically for areas with less texture, which allows the program to analyze the noise level without being confused by textures in the image.  Based on the sample the program applies a global color and contrast noise reduction.  A before and after view shows the image divided by a red line, or can also be viewed in full screen, or side by side.  For assessing noise reduction, I recommend zooming in to at least 100% to see how effectively the noise has been eliminated, and also to check for any detail loss.

In this image, the noise in the sky has become nearly indistinguishable; however, some of the detail in the tree leaves has been lost.  With Nik’s control point technology, they make it really easy to add or remove noise reduction in a specific region of the image.  To remove the noise reduction applied to the tree, I just open the Reduce tab which brings up the control point menu.

I clicked the “-“ button under the Color Noise slider and it allows me to place the control point anywhere in the image, in this case, on the tree.  The size of the control point can be adjusted using a slider, and I made it just larger than the tree.  For a “-“ control point the contrast and color noise are both set to 0%, this can be adjusted for each control point so the desired noise reduction is applied.  The “+” control point works similarly except the contrast and color noise default to 100%, and can be increased up to 200% if there is an exceptionally noisy area that needs extra work.  The global noise reduction is controlled by the Contrast Noise and Color Noise sliders in the Reduce tab.  The sliders default to 100% and sliding either to the left reduces the noise reduction, and to the right applies a more aggressive noise reduction.  Be careful not to go too far adding global noise reduction, it will quickly start to compromise fine details in the image.  It is better to selectively attack trouble spots using control points, or a layer mask in Photoshop. Another feature I enjoyed was the Nik Software selective tool from within Photoshop.  Under the Dfine 2.0 tab, there is a list of common noise reduction cases such as skin, sky, shadows, strong noise, etc.  Selecting one of these options will apply the selected noise reduction preset to a new layer without launching the Dfine window.  The preset is quickly applied, and within seconds the new layer is ready to be blended with the original.

For this image I noticed a few trouble spots in the sky so I tried the “Sky” preset.  Within seconds the preset was applied, and I easily brushed in the areas needing help using a soft brush in Photoshop. Overall I found the software very easy to use, and also effective.  The user interface is clean and easy to learn.  There are only a few sliders to tweak, which could be a drawback for someone that likes having a lot of knobs to turn, but it does make the software simple to use.  Overall I think Nik Dfine 2.0 would fit well in any serious post processing workflow.  It does an excellent job targeting noise while still maintaining the all-important details in an image.  The full version of the software is free to try for 15-days, so there is really no reason not to give it a try and see how it can improve your workflow and finished images.

My initial journey into the world of photography was a high school black and white film class where I learned to use a camera and to develop and print in the darkroom. However, it wasn’t until years later, and after the purchase of my first DSLR, that I became truly passionate about photography. Based in Southern California I enjoy shooting landscapes and architecture, but I also enjoy traveling and searching for new places to photograph. My focus is HDR photography where I am constantly searching for new processes and techniques to create the best images possible. You can find me on flickr as Justin in SD, or on Google+.