Why I don’t use AI noise reduction

Unlike most wildlife photographers these days, I do not use AI noise reduction. For example, I took this image recently of a Rufous-collared Sparrow at ISO 2800:

Yes, there was some noise in this photo but I removed it manually with traditional noise-reduction software. There is no doubt that DxO PureRaw 3 or some similar tool would have made the job faster. For images above ISO 10,000, it’s also possible that AI noise reduction software would do the job better, too.

Yet, I don’t use AI noise reduction software. Why? There are two reasons.

1. I don’t want to support AI

The biggest reasons for me is that I don’t want to support AI. Noise reduction software is relatively benign as far as AI tools go, and it’s certainly not on the same level as generative AI. In other words, if you use AI noise reduction, then I do think your shot is still ‘photography’.

Yet, AI has much wider implications, including replacing huge numbers of people in creative disciplines as well as creating a strange world full of AI creations. This world will not be a good one for people to develop genuine human connections.

In short, I’ve made it my policy to oppose AI as much as possible and not support any form of it. Yes, I may not be able to avoid AI completely. For example, the next camera I buy might have its autofocus trained with machine learning. Yes, AI is a broad term and includes algorithms that are mathematically equivalent to a least-squares fitting algorithm.

Yet, the spirit of AI is to take over creative decisions, and thus we should all be extremely careful when welcoming AI into our domains. When in doubt, err on the side of caution.

2. It’s just not that necesssary

With most of my shots, AI noise reduction isn’t an improvement over regular noise reduction. It does do a pretty good job at ISO 20,000 where traditional methods don’t work. However, even in those cases, I’m not really impressed.

In other words, AI noise reduction might make a horribly noisy ISO 20,000 shot look pretty decent, but it will never look like a beautiful shot taken at ISO 800. And that’s what I’m after: really amazing shots. I’d rather spend my time taking shots I really enjoy instead of making horrible shots look passable.

In fact, it seems to me that AI noise reduction isn’t really about improving your photography at all, but rather about encouraging everyone to produce as much photography as possible, which to me totally counters the very idea of improving one’s art.

Yes, I can think of exceptions. Maybe you’ve got a shot of a very rare species at ISO 51,200 and an AI program can make it look good. I can’t argue with that, but I all I can say is, we can’t have everything in this world.

Conclusion

I don’t use generative AI tools for any reason. Not for my writing, not for photography, not for video. I’d rather make stuff that’s 100% human. Although AI noise reduction is relatively benign, it neither helps my photography nor fits into my general philosophy of what should exist in this world.