Lightroom 4 vs DPP: High ISO Noise Reduction

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Lightroom & DPP high ISO comparison

I know from the number of people who have bought my ebook Understanding DPP that there are a lot of photographers using Digital Photo Professional, Canon’s proprietary Raw processing software. Eventually, a lot of those photographers will move on to a more advanced program such as the latest version of Lightroom.

A question that comes up a lot from those thinking of making the switch is which program gives the best results for processing images taken at high ISO settings? I thought it would be interesting to test both pieces of software to see how well the noise reduction algorithms in each perform. I’ve just used one image, so it isn’t conclusive, but it’s a start.

For this comparison I chose a portrait taken at ISO 6400 using an EOS 5D Mark II and a Canon 50mm f1.4 lens.

Lightroom 4

Before we look at the results, let’s take a look at some of ways in which Lightroom 4 outperforms DPP. I don’t want to come across as critical of DPP. After all, Canon have provided it so that EOS users can process their Raw files, and that’s no small thing. It isn’t really designed to be a competitor to Lightroom. But if you’re frustrated by some of DPP’s limitations, then it’s useful to know about Lightroom’s benefits:

  • Lightroom is faster. It takes longer to apply noise reduction and use the Digital Lens Optimiser in DPP than it does to apply lens corrections and noise reduction in Lightroom.
  • Lightroom contains lens data for more lenses than DPP. Lens data is used to correct chromatic aberration, distortion and vignetting.
  • If you use the Digital Lens Optimiser on a Raw file in DPP, DPP saves the lens data with the Raw file, doubling the size. This is impractical with large numbers of Raw files.
  • It is easier to organise and batch process photos in Lightroom.
  • You can make both global and local adjustments to colour temperature, contrast and brightness in Lightroom. In DPP you can only make global adjustments.
  • Lightroom has portrait retouching tools including skin softening and blemish retouching. DPP doesn’t.

Here is the portrait, after processing in Lightroom 4. It includes local brightness adjustments and some retouching:


Noise reduction

There are two types of noise in any image:

Luminance noise: Affects brightness but not colour. Appears as white speckles.

Chrominance noise: Affects colour but not brightness. Appears as coloured speckles.

Both have separate causes and are handled separately in both DPP and Lightroom 4.

Here is a 100% enlargement so you can judge the effectiveness of the noise reduction:


This is at Lightroom 4’s default settings for sharpness and luminance and colour noise reduction:

Default Lightroom high ISO noise reduction settings

Now here’s a comparison with noise reduction and sharpening turned off, so you can see how much of an improvement has been made with Lightroom:


I left the default settings untouched, as they work quite well. I never change the default settings in Lightroom as I’ve always been happy with them.


Now let’s take a look at Canon’s Digital Photo Professional. Here’s the processed portrait:


My first thought when I looked at the portrait at 100% magnification in DPP was that the image is very soft. There’s a kind of smearing effect. You can see it here:


This is a side effect of luminance noise reduction. You can’t reduce luminance noise without softening the image. That’s probably why the default setting for luminance noise reduction is zero in Lightroom. DPP, however, sets Luminance noise reduction according to the ISO of the photo. But that’s easy to rectify.

I opened the Noise Reduction Preview window and reduced Luminance noise reduction from the seven to one. I also increased the Chrominance noise reduction setting a little. The result is much better.


Comparing results

Here are both images at 100% magnification:


I’ll leave it up to you to decide which you prefer. For me, I think Lightroom 4 did a slightly better job. Another difference you will notice between the two samples is that I lightened the area under my model’s eyes in Lightroom 4, something you can’t do in DPP.


For this particular photo, Lightroom 4 did a slightly better job at reducing the noise. However, DPP wasn’t far behind, and the difference is probably only noticeable at 100% magnification. Additionally Lightroom was a lot quicker and easier to use.

If you use DPP to process photos taken at high ISOs, make sure you check the Luminance noise reduction setting. If it’s too high the smearing effect will spoil your photos.



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2 Responses to “Lightroom 4 vs DPP: High ISO Noise Reduction”

  1. frank Schweitzer says:

    Hi Andrew
    This comparison is fascinating and most helpful to me who might just be ready to migrate to Lightroom for other resons but noise at high ISO is another factor to consider.

  2. Phillip Burdine says:

    I use DPP exclusively but have Lightroom 2.5 taking up hard drive space. I was unaware of its superior capability. You have convinced me to dust it off and most likely upgrade.


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