The problem of blind noise level estimation arises in many image processing applications, such as denoising, compression, and segmentation. In this paper, we propose a new noise level estimation method on the basis of principal component analysis of image blocks. We show that the noise variance can be estimated as the smallest eigenvalue of the image block covariance matrix. Compared with 13 existing methods, the proposed approach shows a good compromise between speed and accuracy. It is at least 15 times faster than methods with similar accuracy, and it is at least two times more accurate than other methods. Our method does not assume the existence of homogeneous areas in the input image and, hence, can successfully process images containing only textures.