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Review: Red Giant Magic Bullet Denoiser III

A look at Magic Bullet's Denoiser III video noise reduction plug-in

At most of the conferences I shoot, I don’t have a lot of control over how the speaker and stage are lit, but if I’m working in a given room throughout the week and can get in to set up the day before the event, I can usually work with the A/V crew to get at least a little more light on the speaker so I don’t have to use too much gain. But even with advance setup, if a speaker decides the way to get intimate with the audience is to come down off the stage and speak from the shadows, there’s not a whole lot I can do to make that speaker look good while I’m on-site.

Other times, like at a conference I shot in DC this past April, at several times during the show, I was asked to swoop in and do an impromptu setup in a room to grab a particular session, usually just a few minutes before the session started. A few times I was moving chairs to make room for my tripods and plugging my Tascam into the soundboard as the moderator was introducing the next speaker.

For the most part, I’m shooting these sessions for highlights, so it’s not the end of the world if I miss a few seconds at the beginning, or even if it takes me a few minutes to get my shots framed and focused. But if these rooms (or at least the parts of them where the speakers take up residence) are too poorly lit for good video, there’s very little I can do about that once the session is rolling.

My go-to cameras for conference video for the past few years have been the Sony PXW-X70. These cameras have a lot going for them, including the ability to upgrade to 4K without buying a new camera, but the fixed lens doesn’t open as wide as I wish it did. I can slow down the shutter speed a little to improve the low-light performance (not really a problem with speakers who aren’t moving much), but no matter what I do, if the room is dark, my video will be dark.

All of which means that, at some point, I’m going to have to artificially brighten the image. I prefer not to do it with too much gain in-camera because that means I’m starting with a noisy image in post, and things will only get worse from there.

Premiere Pro CC 18 has great tools in the Color panel for addressing these issues, particularly with exposure and highlights. It doesn’t take long to get a fairly dark image reasonably bright. But that means I’m still introducing noise even if there wasn’t much there before.

When it came time to work on highlight clips from these particularly dark sessions, I knew I’d need some kind of extra assistance to make these videos usable, and the material was, in most cases, too good to waste, especially with a goal of delivering 80 highlight clips between this year’s conference and the next one in 2019.

After some research, I decided to try Red Giant’s Magic Bullet Denoiser III, which is available on its own ($199) or as part of the Magic Bullet Suite ($899). We looked at Magic Bullet Colorista III in 2015, and reviewed Denoiser II way back in 2012 shortly after we launched Streaming Media Producer. One concern our reviewer had with Denoiser II was the slow rendering times, so I expected that to be a drawback, though I was hoping things might have improved in the intervening years.

I downloaded the Denoiser III Premiere Pro plugin, and it showed up immediately in the Effects panel in Premiere Pro CC. Unlike Premiere Pro itself, Denoiser III comes with only one license. You can work with it on different machines if you keep the license key handy, but you have to reactivate it every time you try to run it on a new PC, and naturally it deactivates on the one where you used it last.

Applying the Denoiser Effect

As with other Magic Bullet plug-ins, the Denoiser effect appears in the Premiere Pro Effects panel (Figure 1, below). As with any other effect, choose it and drag it onto the clip you want to denoise.

Figure 1. Accessing the Denoiser effect in Premiere Pro

The Denoise effect appears in the Effect Controls for the clip (Figure 2, below). As with other effects in Premiere Pro, the Denoise effect can be keyframed or applied to a portion of a clip via a mask.

Figure 2. Denoiser in the Effect Controls

Adjusting the Denoiser Effect

Here is a frame from the clip I’m working with in this example (Figure 3, below). This clip, a presentation from the Computers in Libraries 2018 conference in Washington, DC, is dark and already a bit noisy as shot.

Figure 3. The original clip

To begin with, I adjusted the white balance and exposure in the Color panel and slightly crushed the blacks. As you can see in Figure 4 (below), this brightened up the image considerably but added even more noise.

Figure 4. The color-corrected clip

The Denoiser III controls (Figure 2) include 5 parameters: three Denoise controls (Reduce Noise, Smooth Colors, Preserve Detail); and 2 Sharpen controls: Amount and Radius. As with other Premiere Pro effects, you can adjust these parameters either by selecting the parameter and typing in different numbers, or by clicking on the number and dragging it right to increase the value or left to decrease it.

Figure 5 (below) shows a before (left) and after (right) shot of the color-corrected and denoised clip.

Figure 5. Before and after

This clip shows the video pre-denoised and post-denoised:

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