New Life for Old Images with Neat Image Software

One evening in March of 1987 I was hiking with my camera equipment in Saguaro National Park. I was running out of time to find a good sunset location when I spotted a saguaro cactus on a small knoll. The sun was setting directly behind it. I quickly set up my camera and made several exposures on Kodak’s Kodachrome ISO 25 film, the premier film of its time. One of the images I took that evening turned out to be among the best of the trip. A gentleman purchased a commercially made print of it later that year.

Recently, the same person asked if I could reproduce the print, noting that the image has never appeared on our web site. The reason this image was kept under wraps lies in its Kodachrome origin. While Kodachrome 25 was undoubtedly the best film available in 1987, it falls far short of today’s standards for grain or digital noise. In large prints that contain areas without much detail, I find the grain distracting and unacceptable. Twice in the past I successfully used cumbersome Photoshop techniques to reduce Kodachrome grain in large prints, but the Saguaro image would not lend itself as easily to those techniques.

I have heard good things about Neat Image from associates and I have also read some very complimentary reviews. I was skeptical, but decided to give Neat Image a try one Sunday evening. I went to, used my credit card to purchase the software, and downloaded it. Neat Image promises to email a “key” which activates the software by the next day. My key arrived within an hour.

Neat Image offers great control over all aspects of its grain eliminating and sharpening functions, so thorough reading of the downloadable manual and some experimentation are a must. Time spent carefully building noise profiles is never wasted. Neat Image allows you to save profiles and settings for later use on similar images. After some initial learning it was time for my first real test of Neat Image - the scanning, processing, and printing of “Saguaro Sunset, 1987”. I was amazed at the results, which were far beyond my expectations. The print literally looked like it was photographed using a good digital camera. The grain was nearly gone, and the fine details were virtually unaffected! Who could ask for more?

The Proof is in the Image
Move your cursor over the image on the left to see it after Neat Image filtering and sharpening was applied.

The image on the left is an unaltered, 100% (actual pixels) section, from a 4000 dpi scan of the original Kodachrome slide, shown above.

It translates to an area of 0.67 x 0.71 inches on a 360 dpi, 12 x 16 inch print.

If your browser is not Java enabled, you can find the non-Java demo here.
One Product in Three Flavors, Plus a Demo

Neat Image comes in three flavors - Home, Pro, and Pro+. There is also a free demo version that works for an unlimited time but restricts output to the JPEG format. A concise feature chart on the Neat Image web site lets you choose the version that best fits your needs. The Home version’s output is limited to 8-bit per color files, and its batch processing capacity is limited to 10 files. The Pro and Pro+ versions allow unlimited batch processing and work with high bit depth files. High bit depth processing is essential if you commonly work with high bit depth files and want to use Neat Image early in your workflow. It is not essential if you use Neat Image just before printing, since printers accept only 8-bit files. The Pro+ version adds a Photoshop Plug-In, which greatly expands Neat Image’s versatility. With Pro+, all of Photoshop’s selection and layering tools are at your disposal and can be combined with Neat Image’s functionality. For instance, selectively applying Neat Image to certain areas of a photograph, or in different strengths in different parts of a photograph, could be very useful in some cases.

I cannot say how pleased I am with this product. Neat Image gives me the ability to print favorite old images in larger sizes, with a level of quality that meets today’s standards. It works exactly the way they say it works and does exactly what they say it will do. I highly recommend Neat Image for any noise or grain reduction task.

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Copyright © 2003 Dean M. Chriss,