Clean up your images with Topaz Denoise AI

Each new generation of digital camera has improved its control of digital noise in high ISO images. None the less I have always found it necessary to do a certain amount of noise control in post processing with most images shot at 1600 or above. For the last few years I have used NIK filters Dfine as an external noise reduction filter for high ISO images and been reasonably happy with the results. Recently there has been a big advertising push online from Topaz Labs plugins and a lot of positive reviews, particularly for Topaz Denoise AI, so I thought I would download the free trial and give it a go.

To say I was pleasantly surprised would be an understatement! All noise reduction software that I had tried in the past had always led to some softening in detail areas and a slight reduction in apparent sharpness. This includes both external plugins and the noise reduction built into Lightroom and Capture One.

Topaz Denoise, does not cause a lack of sharpness, in fact it seems to somehow enhance sharpness. The AI stands for Artificial Intelligence, and it certainly hits the mark. However, you are not stuck with the AI version to remove noise from your image. You can manually adjust the settings should you wish to do so. I am not a great fan of automatic adjustments by software on an image but this is certainly the exception. I rarely have to use any manual changes, simply setting Auto and letting Toopaz do it’s thing.

Topaz Denoise before and after
Topas Denoise shows a before and after view before you commit to the changes. This Ring-billed gull was shot at ISO 1100, 1/2000th f6.3, Nikon D850 with Nikon 500mm f4 and TC14 converter, (effective focal length 700mm, handheld. Note how the background noise has been smoothed and feather detail and the eye enhanced

Workflow

It is important to note that Topaz Denoise AI does not work with RAW files. You must output a pixel based image before applying. You therefore need to apply all your adjustments in your RAW processor, before outputting a TIFF or PSD file for denoise work.

My workflow is now to cull, caption and keyword in Photomechanic, Process RAW file in Capture One 20, output a 16bit TIFF and open in Photoshop. Here I make any further adjustments necessary and finally apply Topaz Denoise. If I do not require any Photoshop adjustments I open the TIFF file directly from Capture One and apply Topaz.

Speed

Topaz Denoise is not the speediest of processors. If I am applying to a full size D850 image it can take around 30 seconds to complete it’s task. However, I think this is a small price to pay for a super clean output. In any case I only apply this process to my best images as part of outputting them for final use.

Texas Rangers Delino DeShields narrowly misses getting hit by a ball. Nikon D4s with 500mm f4, 1/1250 @f4 ISO 4000

Click on the images to view a full size file that more clearly shows the noise reduction.

Downloaded Topaz Denoise as a fully working 30 day trial and purchsed for $79.99 at https://topazlabs.com

Full circle

In October 1998 I, along with my wife Jean, emigrated to Canada from our previous home in France, and settled in Calgary. In great part our decision to come to Calgary was pre-ordained as we had been attending one of the world’s major equestrian events, The Masters Showjumping, at Spruce Meadows, for many years before we decided to make Calgary our new home.

A lot has happened in the years between 1998 and today. We spent three years in Calgary before the yearning to have a bit more land took hold and we headed on to Courtenay in British Columbia. From there it was Florida USA, back to British Columbia, a couple of years in Toronto, again a return to BC, Lake Chapala Mexico, Nova Scotia and now, as I sit typing this from a hotel room in Banff, we are waiting to move into our new home back in Calgary.

Evening storm approaches Banff, Canadian Rockies, Canada

When we drove back into Alberta, and particularly over the past few days revisiting some our old haunts in Banff National Park, (despite the restrictions caused by covid) it has felt like we have come home, full circle!

Castle Mountain from the Bow Valley Parkway, Banff National Park, Alberta, Canada

I will now have the opportunity to spend time in the mountains and prairies photographing wildlife and also get back into shooting some major sport. That’s assuming that covid 19 is ever mastered to the point of having a major sporting program.

This year has hit many sports photographers really hard. I myself should have just returned from working six weeks at the Tokyo Olympics and we all know how that turned out. Who knows if we will be in Tokyo in 2021? Without an effective vaccine it looks a slim possibility.

So, as soon as we are settled into our new home I will concentrate on the wildlife side of my work while I wait for the sports world to get back to some sort of normality. Look out for new daily images on Instagram, (my feed has been very quiet while we have been in the process of moving).

Bighorn Sheep, Mount Norquay, Banff National Park, Alberta, Canada

Workshops and field trips

I will also soon be announcing my workshop series for 2021. This will include some software workshops concentrating on improving photographers workflow and processing images using Capture One. More details on these will be posted shortly. Capture One is now the only software I use for processing RAW files. Occasionally a file will get passed to Photoshop for some final work but this is a rarity.

I will also be organizing some field trips for photographers starting in Spring 2021. Out of Covid 19 necessity these will be locally based around Southern Alberta. Until the situation eases I will not be organizing any non-Canadian workshops.

Fox family

Driving to one of my regular beaches to search for migrating and resident shorebirds a few days ago I suddenly glimpsed a flash of red in the sand dunes beside the road. Pulling over I was astonished to see a fox sitting in the narrow strip of dunes between the coastal road and the beach.

Red Fox (Vulpes vulpes), Crescent Beach, Nova Scotia, Canada

Nikon Z6, Nikkor 70-200 f2.8 lens at 130mm, 1/320sec @ f8 ISO 320. Manual mode with auto ISO turned on.

Switching off the engine and lowering the car window did not seem to disturb the animal one bit, then suddenly another head popped up out of the dunes followed by another. I had inadvertently discovered an active foxes den.

Normally to shoot foxes near their den requires staying well back, using very long lenses, lots of patience, using a long slow approach. Often a blind is necessary or, at the very least, remaining in the vehicle while shooting. Remaining in the vehicle in this case was entirely impractical as there were only a couple of small pullouts to get off the road, neither in a position where I could photograph from.

Red Fox among sand dunes, Crescent Beach, Nova Scotia, Canada

Nikon D850, Nikkor 500mm f4 with TC14 teleconverter (700mm) 1/2500sec @ f8 ISO 800. Manual exposure with auto ISO

I was creeping out of my vehicle while trying not to disturb the foxes when I suddenly noticed a runner coming up the road, not only that but she was going to pass within a few feet of where the foxes were sitting. ‘That’s that’ I thought, expecting to see the foxes vanish in an instant, but they took no notice whatsoever. I realised that they had become completely habituated to traffic, joggers and walkers on the road side of the dunes, and beachgoers on the other.

I have now returned several times, always early in the morning when the sun angle and direction is absolutely perfect for photography. Each time I have learned more about the individual characters of each animal.

Red Fox among sand dunes, Crescent Beach, Nova Scotia, Canada

Nikon D850, Nikkor 500mm f4 1/2000sec @ f7.1 ISO 560. Manual exposure with auto ISO

One of the kits is completely laid back and pays no attention to any disturbance, traffic or human. The other is a little more wary, always keeping one eye on anyone nearby, but still never seems to feel threatened. In fact, the more I return the more they completely accept my presence as part of their normal life.

Red Fox among sand dunes, Crescent Beach, Nova Scotia, Canada

Nikon D850, Nikkor 500mm f4 1/1000sec @ f6.3 ISO 360. Manual exposure with auto ISO

Interestingly, foxes generally mate for life, and after the kits are born both parents generally attend to their needs. At this den I have only ever seen one adult, so I am not sure if one has gone missing or that is simply a coincidence. Looking carefully at my images it does seem that it is always the same adult, so I assume it is the vixen. If she is on her own she is doing a great job as both her and the kits are in fabulous condition.

Shooting Etiquette

Remember that at all times when photographing wildlife no image is worth causing distress to the animals involved. If you are changing their normal behaviour in any way you are too close.

Approach slowly, a bit at a time. Keeping a low profile often allows you to get much closer to your subjects without unduly disturbing them. Using your vehicle as a blind is a great way of getting close, animals don’t usually associate cars, which of course they see all the time, with a threat.

You can see from all the images above that these foxes are certainly concerned by my presence and are totally relaxed.

To view more fox images and a selection of my latest images please visit the main web site.

Unusual Osprey behaviour

I was out working our local Osprey nest (while sitting in my car to ensure I adhered to our social distancing rules) and photographed an Osprey behaviour I had never seen before.

The male Osprey (Pandion haliaetus) retuned to the nest with a fish that it had taken head off. While the female remains at the nest the male will bring fish to her and the young, but invariably feeds first by eating the head.

Very unusually this bird seems to be taking an extra nibble while flying. Normally Ospreys do not eat on the wing but take their prey to a perch before consuming it.

Osprey (Pandion haliaetus) carrying fish, Petite Riviere, Nova Scotia, Canada

Nikon D850, 500mm f4 lens with TC14 converter, (effective focal length 700mm), 1/2000 sec @ f6.3 (manual mode) ISO 450 (Auto ISO activated) with +0.7 exposure compensation. Shot with lens resting on bean bag on car window frame.

While the coronavirus restrictions remain in place I am doing my photography either from the car window or here in my own back yard. Fortunately there is still a few subjects worth shooting. Hopefully we will get out of this mess soon and life can begin to return to some sort of normality, although I think that normal will be very different to what it was before.

Common Grackle (Quiscalus quiscula) in fight, Broad Cove, Nova Scotia, Canada,

Nikon Z6, 500mm f4 lens with TC14 converter, (effective focal length 700mm), 1/2000 sec @ f5.6 (manual mode) ISO 50 (Auto ISO activated) with +1 exposure compensation. Shot with lens resting on bean bag on car window frame. I needed to add a full stop to the metered exposure to punch some detail into the very dark areas of the bird and show the amazing iridescent colours of the feathers

To see a selection of my latest images click here

Stay well and stay safe.

Nikon TC-14

In 1999 I prepared for the 2000 Olympic Games in Sydney by replacing much of my equipment with the latest and greatest available at the time. The latest buzz word was ‘digital imaging’, Nikon having just released its first professional digital camera, the Nikon D1. It was greeted, to a great extent, with a huge amount of scepticism, ranging from ‘it’s just a novelty’, ‘the images will never be as good as film’, to, ‘I will never be seen dead with one of these new fangled cameras’. I remember a similar reaction when the first autofocus lenses appeared a few years earlier.

I took a somewhat different view so, along with my first 600mm f4, and replacing many of my shorter lenses I decided that maybe, there was more to this digital thing than others thought. I invested over $6,500 Canadian dollars on a D1 body and a couple of spare batteries. Added to this were two IBM Microdrive memory cards with the massive storage capacity of 170mb – yep mb not gb! These ran to about another $600 each. Microdrives were actually a miniature hard disk with spinning media in a compact flash size. Only problem with this is that if you dropped one it was toast, much like dropping a hard drive onto the floor today would give the same result.

Off I went to the Olympics, where I shot around 50% film and 50% on the D1. Well one thing was true from the naysayers, the quality was not as good as my film cameras. The D1 sensor was a mere 2.7 megapixel, and had a top speed of 4.5 frames per second. Plus, you certainly didn’t want to go above ISo 44 before the images became virtually unusable. Not exactly mind blowing by today’s standards. 

The Sydney Olympics were the first Games where transmission of images directly to clients was a real prospect for anyone other than the big agencies. Each evening I would download my images from the D1, caption and keyword using an early version of Photomechanic, and make some rudimentary corrections in Photoshop 5.0. I dare not crop anything , the images were too small to start with. Then it was off to the Main Press centre to collect my processed films from Kodak, scribble captions on the slide mounts, and use a film scanner for those I wanted to send that evening. (By external modem attached to my laptop). Then a selection would be made and sent by Fedex overnight out to clients. In the early hours of the morning I would get back to my hotel for a few hours sleep before doing it all again the next day. Who say’s being a sports photographer was fun?

Olympic Games, Sydney, September 2000, John Whitaker (GBR) riding Calvaro

Nikon D1, Nikon 600mm f4 lens, 1/1000 sec at f4, ISO 200, manual exposure

Returning to Canada at the end of the Games I reviewed all the images that had been used by my clients. Imagine my surprise to find that the majority had come from that 2.7mp D1 even with it’s crap quality. A little investigation soon shed light on the mystery. The images were used because they arrived with the clients first, and once an image was put on the page editors are reluctant to redo their work and change it. This was a revelation and while many of my colleagues continued to stick with film I suddenly realized that they were blind to the future of photography and I immediately dumped all my film cameras and went 100% digital, one of the first independent photographers to do so.

Within a year Nikon had progressed to the D1X which upped the sensor to 5mp, although this dropped the shooting speed to a mere 3 fps with a buffer of 9 frames, but only if you were shooting jpegs! But, the quality was a little better so another $6000+ was dropped and so it all began.

Incidentally , that original Nikon D1 was sold on to Isobel Springett who was right at the start of her photographic career. She is now an amazing wildlife and nature photographer and it’s well worth taking a look at her web site and viewing her work at www.isobelspriingett.com

Since then I have used every Nikon flagship camera up to the Nikon D4. I missed out on the D5 as my shooting interests were slowly switching away from sports and concentrating more on nature and wildlife so decided the Nikon D850 was a better fit, with it’s huge 45.7 mp sensor and 9fps shooting speed. Wouldn’t I have liked to have had this in my bag in Sydney?

Great Blue Heron Ardea herodias bringing a stick to nesting mate Arthur R Marshall National Wildlife Reserve Loxahatchee Florida

Nikon D2x, Nikon 600mm f4 lens, 1/3200 sec at f4, ISO 200, aperture priority automatic exposure set to -0/7 With the D2x, launched in 2004, we are up to 12.4 mp and 5fps and much better image quality, although ISO 800 is still pushing the boundaries.

Now, I wonder just how much longer I will even be using a DSLR as mirrorless takes over the scene.

So, you may be wondering why the title of this blog is Nikon TC-14? Well, a few days ago I picked up the D850 with my 500mm f4 and attached TC-14 teleconverter and went to remove it from the lens. Wouldn’t budge. It was jammed solid, and I couldn’t even retract the  release pin. Now here was a problem, as I wasn’t sure if Nikon Servicing was even operating with the coronavirus situation, and I needed the 500mm urgently. So it was out with my miniature screwdriver set and I began to dismantle the teleconverter that was still attached to the lens. I eventually succeeded in getting it off, the release pin had sheared off and there was evidence of further internal damage.

The old and the new

It was then that I realized that this was the last piece of equipment that was still in my bag and in regular use from that re-equipping back in 1999. I wonder how many images have been shot over the last 20 years with this converter attached. A real testament to the superior build of Nikon equipment.

Thanks to The Camera Store in Calgary for shipping a new Nikon TC-14 III to replace the old one and Canada Post for getting it here in just a few days, despite the challenges that Coronavirus is creating.

I wonder if the new one will still be going in 2040? Actually, I wonder if I will still be going in 2040!

PS Many of those original Nikon D1 are still being used today after re-processing in Capture One and Photoshop so they couldn’t have been that bad!

See more images by visiting the photo galleries and my Instagram feed