Corel AfterShot Pro vs Adobe Lightroom 4: noise reduction

December 28th, 2012 § 12 |

I really do not like supporting Adobe. Adobe are monopolists abusing their position to force subscription software down our throats as well and/or upgrades on every upgrade cycle. Everything awful one could write about Microsoft in the dominant Wintel Office days one could write about Adobe, despite the very talented people they have on staff.

Adobe is a company run by the bean counters without vision and without empathy for its customers. There is a single agenda: squeezing us for all they can get while making certain no one else can make any inroads into any of their markets. It doesn't help that Apple did break the lock on reasonably priced professional video editing (Final Cut Pro) and visual fx (Motion) only to drop the ball with their Pro Apps at the same time as imposing an iOSification of OS X on their pro customers. Even when it looks like there's sunshine, then there isn't.

In any case, my company owns many thousands of dollars of Adobe software but I'm always looking for a chance to support the underdog. In this case, I bought a copy of Corel AfterShot Pro during their winter sale as AfterShot Pro will work on OS X, Windows AND Linux. Might be just the trick for us to move more of our computers to Linux. AfterShot Pro used to be known as Bibble (through version 5) before the Corel purchase.

First impressions: AfterShot Pro suffers a bit from the Java cross-platform look in comparison to the sharp lines of Apple's Aperture or Adobe's Lightroom. On the other hand, AfterShot Pro is actually fast and lightweight. Unlike Lightroom, Aftershot Pro is fun to work in. You can rate, review and develop pictures at all times without switching modules. Photos seem to load faster and I feel much more in control of my pictures, more like they are in my hands than with Lightroom.

There are great keyboard shortcuts and you can customise them further yourself. There's almost no reason your hands have to go the mouse once you are used to AfterShot Pro. As there is less redundant info on the screen than in Lightroom, you enjoy seeing what you need when you need it. The folded additional panels are only a click away though.

Another great advantage over both Lightroom and Apple's Aperture is that native plugins in the former Bibble work directly with RAW data instead of on TIFFS, saving changes out to complex XML files, which is a much more storage and workflow friendly solution than either Lightroom or Aperture.

I've developed a set of photos and was getting good results until I hit a some night photos of the new Vienna Hauptbahnhof train station. I noticed my train station shots had quite a bit of chroma noise in them. I did what I could with different versions of the built in RAW noise reduction and Noise Ninja in AfterShot Pro. Nothing could get rid of the chroma and blotches. I have most of these photos in Adobe Lightroom so I opened one of them of up to compare. Perfect uniform grain instead of blotchy chroma noise.

Have a look for yourself (click to see larger versions, click titles to see full size versions):

aftershot pro no noise reduction
aftershot pro no noise reduction
aftershot pro built in raw noise removal
aftershot pro built in raw noise removal
aftershot pro raw noise removal plus heavy noise ninja
aftershot pro raw noise removal plus heavy noise ninja
lightroom default noise reduction
lightroom default noise reduction

If anyone has any suggestions on how to get better noise reduction out of AfterShot Pro quickly and efficiently (I love what Topaz Noise does but it leaves hundreds of megabytes of TIFF detritus behind each fixed photo and is much slower than a built-in solution).

Otherwise, if you are a night photographer I have to continue to recommend Adobe Lightroom 4 as your principal development tool for quality RAW photos despite the relatively weak workflow (in comparison to AfterShot Pro and Aperture).

On the other hand, if you aren't as fussy about pixel level noise, AfterShot Pro is a lot more fun and fast to work with.

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§ 12 Responses to “Corel AfterShot Pro vs Adobe Lightroom 4: noise reduction”

  • Richard Wall says:

    What is up with the blue hues in the background? The Aftershot Pro images have a purple cast to them and the Lightroom image is more blue. Why the radical difference?

  • alec says:

    Hi Richard,

    I see your point about the colours in the background. My focus here was on the quality of the noise. Lightroom did get the white balance better out of the box (the Lightroom version was otherwise unmodified). Alas, for the noise Lightroom does a much better job.

    Strangely, despite the limitations of image processing, I’m still enjoy working with AfterShot Pro more, even though I have a lot more experience with Lightroom. I liked Aperture better yet but Aperture is really a pain to work with multiple catalogues whereas AfterShot Pro and Lightroom handle multiple catalogues with relative ease.

  • Hans Poulsen says:

    I too have purchased Aftershot Pro. Even if I generally like it, I have two very disappointing issues with it.

    1) On my Mac it crashes regularly.

    2) When using noise ninja, the results are not sharp at all. I have compared resulting jpegs between asp and lightroom. There is no doubt the results from lightroom are superior.

    Have you experienced the same?

    Just to try something different, I downloaded the trial version of Capture One. It really outperforms both asp and lightroom. The results are very sharp and crisp.

  • alec says:

    Hi Hans,

    Thanks for sharing your experience. I have some examples from DarkTable to post as well now. Unfortunately RawTherapee really doesn’t run right on the Mac.

    I haven’t had issues with AfterShot Pro crashing yet but I haven’t pushed it hard. If you enter a Noise Ninja license key (any version), you get much finer control over grain.

    Deacon MacMillan ran some fairly thorough tests of AfterShot Pro and came up for this explanation for both its speed and its rather mediocre renders:

    Sharpness is a single slider and has been the single source of disappointment so far. as it turns out pixel peeping reveals that ASP photos are have noticeably less resolution and micro-contrast while having more moire than pretty much every other raw converter ever. This is however pixel peeping and I am skeptical as to whether this will show up in prints. In fact I’m pretty sure it won’t. Using downloadable plugins you can access wavelet based sharpeners and usm ones but nothing really address the underlying problem which I think is, a very fast but rough demosaic engine. possibly something like AMAzE from Raw Thereapee it would be both much sharper but possibly excruciatingly slow like RT.

    I’m happy to make the trade of speed for quality on previews but it would be nice if on export if Corel would include an optional second higher quality demosaic algorithm for exports, even if we had to give up the instant export to get it.

  • Emile says:

    Hi,

    I came across your article searching on another subject, but since ASP is my main raw converter, I can give a few tips on it.

    NOISE REDUCTION:

    1) Raw Noise
    “Raw Noise” isn’t the “built in RAW noise reduction” vs Noise Ninja being an alternative. In fact, it is made to be used in addition to the Noise Ninja tool.

    An explanation about the “Raw Noise” tool:
    “RAW impulse noise removal is only on or off. If you use NN (or other noise reduction..) on CMOS sensors in dark parts of high ISO images, then there will be a point where the image looks still reasonably detailed with very little noise but it still has pixel dust. When you pull up NN enough to kill the pixel dust, your details are totally lost.
    The Pixie plugin for B5 fixed that. The Raw Impulse Noise Reduction for AS is even better than Pixie.

    The sliders there are for the raw denoising tool that runs before demosaicing. That is a different story, use only if needed (I rarely use it for my D700 files, but it is helpful together with NN or Wavelet Denoise on my Oly XZ-1 files)”
    link to forum.corel.com

    And an example:
    link to support.bibblelabs.com

    So I suggest that you just let “Raw Impulse Noise Removal” enabled by default, and only use the slider if it doesn’t work with the other tools (Noise Ninja and/or Wavelet Denoise).

    2) Noise Ninja
    The Standard Version will let you adjust just the luminance noise slider (0-20), the noise slider is set to 10. The Registered Version (you need a Noise Ninja licence, it does not matter which one, the cheapest works) lets the user adjust the chroma noise slider (0-20).

    If you want to have good result with NN, I suggest you use the registered version.

    As for many noise reduction tools, chroma noise can be reduced without too much detail loss, whereas you have to use less luminance noise reduction if you don’t want to lose too much detail.
    With the registered version, I have a default setting of 2 for luminance noise and 10 for chroma noise; I go between 0-10 and 10-20 if the image is noisy, but 10 for luma noise is already quite strong, it will blur you image (I usally stay to 5-7 max).

    3) Wavelet Denoise
    There is also a plugin named Wavelet Denoise : link to aftershotpro.com
    It is also quite good, if you don’t have a licence key for NN and don’t want to buy one, I suggest you turn off NN and use WD insteed.
    Same advice as for the luminance/color noise.

    You can also with use it with the NN tool. NN sometimes creates some color shift when strong chroma NR is used. In this case, I turn off just the chroma NR in NN (you need the registered version) and use the chroma NR in WD.

    SHARPENING:
    The built-in sharpening tool in ASP isn’t very good. By default, I have it turned off and instead I use the Wavelet Sharpen plugin:
    link to aftershotpro.com
    Use “Wavelet 1″ with settings like: Amount 30-50, Radius 0.5 (more if the image is blurry), Edge 100 (default), S+P enabled.

    I hope this can help you. I have read several times that Lr4 has a better image quality, so you probably won’t have as good a result as in Lr, but it should at least give you better results than previously with ASP, I hope! :)

  • Emile says:

    Also, chroma noise reduction with Wavelet Denoise desaturates a little the image when used with strong settings (30-40), so I usually turn up vibration and/or saturation when I use it.

  • alec says:

    Hi Emile,

    Thanks for those tips, they are really helpful. I am using the paid version of Noise Ninja now and leaving RAW at default.

    While I’m not entirely happy with the quality on a pixel basis, I’ve had great results with ASP in terms of overall impression. Lots of people have loved the images I’ve created.

    Here’s one using AfterShot Pro’s kodachrome processing:

    AfterShot Pro kodachrome processing

    Just click the image to see the full 100% version.

  • aiz says:

    what makes you think adobe is an evil company but corel is helping the human race? they are both companies. and usually corel has lousy shitty programs compared to adobe. they even had that crappy linux distro that… doesn’t exists anymore.

  • alec says:

    Hi Aiz,

    Corel does not:

    * track my computer
    * build trojans into their software (latent for the moment but there)
    * charge me $400 with $150/upgrade
    * not allow me to work with their software on Linux

    So far Corel is looking a lot better to me here.

    Capitalist does not make all companies equal. Some companies have a more positive profile working for their clients and their staff and not their shareholders and the market.

    I highly recommend Yvon Chouinard’s book on the evolution of Patagonia outdoor wear “Let My People Go Surfing”.

  • Alec says:

    Good point, Aiz. However Adobe is well beyond the point of no return. Corel is at least making an effort without nearly such intrusive licensing.

  • John says:

    I just installed the trial of ASP, and I already have a license for Noise Ninja. The default noise reduction in ASP is pretty poor, but with the full version of NN it works pretty well. I tried ASP vs CS6 (ACR 7.4) vs RawTherapee 4. ASP holds its own against Adobe, once you have Noise Ninja installed. I experimented on a file from my 5D mark III, at ISO 6400 for reference. Each of those three apps clean up the chroma quite well. RT4 is the slowest and hardest to get set just right (I probably have to figure out a profile for a better starting point), but has tons of options and one feature I wish the others had… a thumbnail with outline showing you just what you see in the edit window, which is good when you look at 100%.

  • alec says:

    Hi John,

    Thanks for the hands-on feedback. Any chance you could share with us some before and after sample images on flickr or somewhere?

    Thanks again for sharing your experience with Adobe alternatives (with Creative Cloud mandatory, I’m looking even harder for the exit).

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