Among the plethora of noise-reduction programs out there (I'm a Mac user), which do you prefer?
I shoot mostly MF film, mostly B&W, and scan with a Nikon 8000; DigitalICE and other built-in scanner solutions don't work on B&W film as you know.
I'm interested in subduing excessive grain in selected images. Searching here, I've found a lot of chat about the various programs, but this wasn't adressed specifically in any depth.
Thanks in advance.
Mike, I've been using the plug-in version of Neat Image for this for quite some time now, and have been extremely pleased with the results. I shoot mostly 35MM slide-film, and lately it's been rare that I'm shooting anything slower than ISO200 as well, so grain has been a bit of a concern for me.
Neat Image is great -- I bring an image in out of Flexcolor (w. no scan-stage sharpening applied), auto-profile the image, and then tweak things until I'm satisfied with the level of noise-reduction vs. detail-removal (and to be clear: Neat Image is VERY clever at figuring out which is which).
Generally, I find I'll settle on something that actually does leave a faint impression of film-grain in the image (which I have always been very fond of), but removes some of the 'splotchy' look that the larger clumps of grain can impart. It's entirely subjective of course, and Neat Image will - if you want it to - completely smooth any and all noise right out of an image as well.
Once I've taken care of NR, I get to work cleaning and spotting any of the larger bits of dust and crap that Neat Image has left behind. I find running the NR filter prior to cleaning the scans to be helpful because it has the effect of causing the smaller specs of dust to stand out a bit better vs. when the image is still quite 'noisy'.. I try to get everything I can at this stage.
Then I run a Capture Sharpening pass with PK Sharpener. There's usually a bit of experimentation involved at this point to find the best setting in PKS, but (depending on the image content, of course) I find the 6x6 sharpeners usually work best for me because of how well Neat Image takes care of grain (and this was echoed in the "Near Digital Quality" article that appeared here not long ago). At work, I deal mostly with scanned 60mm B&W originals, and the 4x5 sharpeners are usually just the trick here -- actually, those look so great I think I might have to finally figure out what's wrong with the ol' Rollei
This sharpening step usually exposes a few more pesky dust specks, so I get rid of those too. Then I'll go back to a much earlier history state to make sure things HAVE actually improved on the image -- basically, I want to see a nice decrease in grain, while also gaining just a bit of sharpness in details over my original scan. Meanwhile, I want whatever grain I've decided to leave behind to give the impression that it's sharp. Or.. "correct" -- you know: as if carefully and painstakingly hand-focused through extraordinary enlarging lenses onto a perfectly adjusted grain-focuser Output sharpening comes later, of course.
Anyway: Neat Image plug-in on the Mac = highly recommended.
I've been really really happy with the results of this process so far. It works wonders on my already noisy 35mm stuff, but we've also had some spectacular prints come back at work from MF originals handled this way. It'll take a bit of fiddling to find some settings in Neat Image that make it do what you want, but I have no doubt you'll like the results..