Sports photography with Fuji at high ISO : less noise, more details

I shoot sports in gyms or local arenas a lot : basketball, icehockey, handball, roller derby…

Players move fast, so I usually set the shutter speed to 1/1000s on my Fujifilm X-T2. Moreover, I also use the largest possible aperture, f2.8, as theses places are never lit enough. Here are the lenses I shoot with for sports : Fujinon XF16-55mmF2.8 R LM WR (24-70 équivalent zoom in 24×36) et Fujinon XF50-140mmF2.8 R LM OIS WR ( 70-200 equivalent zoom in 24×36).

Then I set my ISO value. In gyms, I often have to set high or very high values like 6400 or 12800…

By the way, I wrote a post about my settings with my Fuji camera when shooting sports photography a few weeks ago.

So there is a lot of numerical noise in my sport raw files. I know it, but I prefer to have sharp pictures with noise rather than a blurry moving player on a noiseless image.

From time to time, I look at one of my processes and see if it is still uptodate. It can be a piece of gear, a camera, a part of my development process. Recently, I zoomed into the noise and sharpness / crispness aspect of my sports images. I selected one of my images, listed the points I wished could be better handled, and looked around for better solutions. I tried these other softwares and compared the results.

I wanted to shared my tries and conclusions with you in this post.

I chose an icehockey picture I took in France, during a game between Meudon and Courbevoie. You may see my other pics of the game here.

Here are some metadatas of the picture :

  • raw file, RAF
  • cropped 4968×3312 px ( initial file was 6000×4000 px )
  • ISO 8000
  • 1/1000s
  • f2/8

Since april 2018, I use Capture One for my raw editing. I described in detail my reasons for this transition from Lightroom over to Capture one in a previous post.

First I loaded the RAF raw file in Capture One. I edited colors, the luminosity, but neither the contrast, nor the highlights or the shadows. Moreover, I did not work on the noise reduction nor on the sharpness :

Clarity: Clarity=0, Structure=0

Sharpening : Amount=0

Noise Reduction : Luminance=0, Color=0

Film Grain : Impact=0

Here is the picture :

ISO 8000 – 1/1000s – f2/8 – no noise reduction

Here is a detail (around 4% of the previous image) :

Detail : no noise reduction

The hight ISO value of this shot induced a lot of numerical noise, both color noise and luminance noise. However, etails are still there.

Dealing with noise and details in the RAFs with Capture One

In this chapter, I will describe my process : how I deal currently with my sports photographies.

With very noisy files, I change the following parameters. For example with my icehockey picture :


  • Clarity = -16
  • Structure = 13


  • Amount = 0

Noise Reduction (default value)

  • Luminance = 50
  • Detail = 50
  • Color = 50
  • Single pixel = 30

Film Grain

  • Impact = 0
Detail : Noise reduction with Capture One

In the final image, noise is still there, plus artifacts, one could describe as artificial vertical and horizontal small lines.

Details remain and are present enough to make the picture pleasant to the eyes. But the image is soft.

Color noise has been nicely handled, there is no strange added color zones. However, some zones like the leaf are muddy.

I would have prefered to have a noiseless and crispy final image. However, this image is acceptable.

For large prints, the artifact line bothered me. This is the reason why I looked around at other processes or softwares I could use.

I followed several solutions :

  • with Capture One, my current process
  • with Photoshop and Nik Collection Define 2
  • with Topaz Denoise AI
  • with Photo Ninja

Please note that I am not making an in-depth comparison of these softwares here. I am just describing my own researches of a solution to get better sports pictures with high ISO.

RAF Fuji noise reduction with Nik Collection Dfine 2

I loaded the Fuji raw file in Capture one, then opened the image as a TIFF in Photoshop CC 2019 ans applied Nik Collection Dfine 2 with the default values for the luminance and color noises. I save the TIFF, and, back in Capture One, dealt with the details by setting Clarity = -18 and Structure = 19.

Detail : Noise reduction with Nik Collection Define 2

The results with Capture One only or Nik Dfine 2 plus Capture One are pretty close.

There is a bit more noise in the Capture One file, but also a bit more contrast and details.

RAF Fuji noise reduction with Topaz Denoise AI

I opened the RAF in Topaz Denoise AI.

After choosing a lighter image preview (“auto brighten preview” = Strong), I set the Topaz AI choice : “AI Clear”, then “Remove Noise” = Med, “Enhance Sharpness” = High, “Recover Details” = 0,20. I saved the resulting image as a JPEG.

I loaded the Jpeg in Capture One and adjusted colors and luminosity, but no highlights or shadows adjustments, no noise, detail or grain adjustments either.

Detail : Noise reduction with Topaz Denoise AI

In the resulting image, one can see blue and yellow patches. Also, there are definition losses, like the text on the helmet or the net in the back of the field.

The grain is uniform and nice.

However, the loss of details and the colored patched are problems to me.

I know I could try and minimize them, but this means this process is touchy, and probably not suited for batch processing : when I edit a sport game, I edit one picture, then batch process all of them for color, noise and details…

So I prefer my process with Capture One.

RAF Fuji noise reduction with Photo Ninja

I opened the RAF raw file in Photo Ninja, then went in the “Sharpening” dialog. As this was a test version of Photo Ninja, I could not save the resulting image, so I had to develop the image in order to get a file comparable to the others : “Color Correction”, “Exposure and Detail”, and “Color Enhancement”.

I made then 2 screen captures.

Detail : Noise reduction with Photo Ninja (screen capture)

The images obtained with Capture One or Photo Ninja are quite different, because I could not handle them the same way. So comparing them is difficult. I find them similar regarding the noise reduction and the detail handling though. However, Photo Ninja does not provide a crisper image.

In conclusion

When shooting sports in gyms with poor artificial lights, I reach the limits of the current technology : I must shoot with a very high ISO and then get a lot of numerical noise.

When editing images, and in particular sports photos, I use Capture One and get a resulting image where noise is still to be seen although rather discreet, and details are still there.

I tried other softwares to get a better image but could only get equivalent solutions.

I will therefore keep my present editing process and use Capture One for raw editing, noise and details handling, luminosity settings and colorization.

ISO 8000 – 1/1000s – f2/8 – noise reduction with Capture One

That’s all for today !

Thank you for visiting this post and see you soon !

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By Laurence Bichon

I am a pro photographer in Meudon, near Paris, France. I enjoy photography, art, teaching and spleeping in the wild. I don't try anymore to hide that I'm a geek (I've worked as an software engineer for 20 years). My blog is about my photography journey.

2 replies on “Sports photography with Fuji at high ISO : less noise, more details”

Thank you. Versions are : Capture One 11.1.1, Topaz Denoise AI Version 1.3.3 and Photo Ninja 1.3.8b.
Have a good day

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