When I use ISO 1600 with my four-year-old digicam the photos are extremely grainy, useless for a print larger than 4 x 6 inches. Should I buy a special noise-reduction software? And if so, which one would be best? I want to be able to make letter-size prints of very good quality.
Some digital cameras—like the latest D SLRs, especially the full-frame models—are much better than others Mary, but sure, digital noise can be a problem at high ISO regardless of the equipment. Several companies market noise-reduction software as stand alone programs or, more typically, as plug-ins for Aperture or Photoshop. I have tested only one, Noise Ninja. Its automatic mode was reliable and useful but the manual features were somewhat complicated. When used with a bit of expertise it produced very good results.
After some searching, I found a Web site that provides comparative reviews of Noise Ninja, Topaz Denoise, Nik Dfine 2, Noiseware and Neat Image . The reviewer declared Topaz the winner (because of its simple interface and great effectiveness). Because it was the slowest however, he recommended Noisware or Noise Ninja instead because of their greater speed. Do note however that most of the programs have been improved since that review was published; the new versions may be quite different than the ones he tested.
I don’t know if the ISO-1600 JPEGs from your camera could be adequately improved for making satisfactory 8.5 x 11″ prints. That would require extensive testing with each of the programs and a full appreciation of your definition of a “very good” print. Try experimenting with a few of the software options, available as free download trials on most of the companies’ Web sites. You might also use a Google.ca search to find reviews of the latest version of each product. None of them can work miracles so if you must often shoot at high ISO, consider upgrading to a D SLR such as the Nikon D3000 ($550 with an 18-55 mm lens). It will definitely provide “cleaner” images than your current camera.