The latest version of DxO’s Optics Pro RAW processing software package gets its Best4Reviews once over; is it a must have package or bundle too far? Doug Harman finds out.
Terms such as Photoshop, Paint Shop Pro, Lightroom and Aperture are very much ubiquitous terminologies in the world of post shoot image processing; terms such as “I’m gonna Photoshop this shot” or “I’ll just run it through Lightroom” are common. To “DxO a shot” is, arguably less often heard.
And yet DxO Lab’s powerful DxO Optics Pro raw-processing software has been with us for well over a decade and is now on version 8, tested here.
While Adobe’s much vaunted Lightroom software arrived, tore through the market and offered a (almost) one-stop image editing shop, DxO’s Optics Pro is a much leaner non-destructive image processing affair.
Optics Pro has no cataloguing or mapping modules, no slideshow, movie or book-design modules either; no this is a raw-processing engine designed to be more the start point of any image makers work flow rather than an all singing and all dancing package applied to get to a final “look”; and as such it is very good indeed, as we’ll see.
What Optics Pro offers is a three-step process to organise, customise and process images. The Organize button accesses your computers folders, no complicated import processes here. Image sorting and filtering options are quite limited however but it’s possible to create virtual folders inside Optics Pro to collect images together from various sources if required.
The Customize button allows adjustment of settings (as you’ll read below) to get the result you want while the Process button applies the adjustments set up in the preceding Customize section.
You can edit and adjust a variety of image file types (not just RAW) applying a series of adjustments that includes lens distortions, from modules that match the lenses you have in your camera bag, and a range of more general edits from exposure, colour and contrast to image noise, tone, colour balance and sharpening.
There are two workspaces available to do this, Advanced and First Steps, chosen from drop down as on the top right side of the programs interface. In the advanced mode you get additional tools and information in an additional palette that appears down the left side of the interface which includes a clever preset editor (for applying effects such as HDR processing (even to single RAW images) and further noise reduction tweaks.
Other highlights include a clever preset to help restore body proportions in group portraits, great for some of my wide-angle shots of larger wedding groups taken on wide angle lenses, while the Force Parallel and Rectangle tools make fore easy correction of image distortions or to quickly square up subjects that need to be, well more square!
The software has profiles for more than 10,000 lens and body combinations, which it uses to apply “standard” adjustments for the “faults” of the lens and body combination you have in your armoury. And so, the various profiles can help correct distortion, chromatic aberrations, vignetting and variations in sharpness, and are available for both JPEG and raw files of any lens combo you use. Optics Pro can also adjust contrast, brightness, colour balance and many other more “traditional” image issues as well helping get the best image out of the shot you’ve taken all in one place.
This all helps greatly speed up adjustments and prevents endless tinkering on images that just need the relevant adjustments the profiles contain and downloading new profiles, should you add a lens to your kit, say, is simple, via the DxO Modules menu.
This allows you to review and mange the installed or available profiles and lets you suggest new profiles for lens and body combos you might have that DxO does not yet cover. Typically, (for me) one of my main lenses, the Olympus Zuiko 35-100mm F2 ED professional lens is not covered, and so I have sent a “suggestion” though have not heard anything on the addition of this lens, as yet.
Interestingly, Lightroom includes lens profiles within its modularised approach to image editing, but only for dealing with distortion; the chromatic aberration removal is performed by image analysis as apposed to processing via a profile, and Lightroom suffers as it has fewer profiles for JPEG images.
And many of today’s digital cameras can correct for distortion, chromatic aberration and vignetting on the fly, but only for their respective JPEG output not when shooting raw; Optics Pro steps into this breach neatly adding that back in as a post process, but because you can batch process images in Optics Pro via predefined or downloaded profiles you can quickly get such problems sorted.
The Optics Pro’s lens corrections are applied to images by default, and the clever Smart Lighting tool can help sort colour corrections too, doing a great job of revealing details in shadows and highlights without ruining subtleties elsewhere within my images. Smart Lighting has a useful intensity slider that allows you to “tune” it’s efforts and can create sweeping changes but lets you stay in control as you can quickly judge changes in the previews window.
The program’s default processing settings can be customised separately too, for both the JPEG and raw images, however the default processing was almost always spot on and one of my favourite elements of the software is the fact you can fix distortion and vignetting issues for much older JPEG images, which is great.
And while Optics Pro and Lightroom are obviously very different, DxO’s Selective Tone controls use sliders for highlights, midtones, shadows and blacks are great and offer adjustments as easy to apply as with Lightroom, which uses a similar slider driven interface; the noise processing power was also on a par with anything Lightroom is able to throw at my noisier images.
Optics Pro’s default noise reduction settings are very good however, stronger on balance than Lightroom’s and slightly better by default of extracting details from raw files, Lightroom appears slightly better at revealing finer or more subtle details.
There are some things that are not built into Optics Pro there’s no local editing other than for dust removal; processing in Optics Pro is always image-wide but images can be sent directly to Lightroom for further processing once you’ve DxO’d ‘em.
You can rate images using a star rating system, however, the ratings embedded in the files I’d added in Lightroom weren’t recognised, which is a disappointment as is the lack an history to take you back through edits easily if you needed to.
DxO and Lightroom are different beasts indeed, and a direct comparison is not possible though I have mentioned elements that match up where I felt it relevant. And after using Optics Pro for some time now, its pared back approach (compared to Lightroom) makes it a superb adjunct to Lightroom. Its excellent lens profile driven database often yields superior results to similar adjustments in Lightroom, particularly for image noise and its “default” processing mode just seems to work.
And so, DxO’s Optics Pro 8 is a superb first port of call in your work flow as it will allow you to apply powerful and fast edits to correct any lens "issues" ready for the follow on processing in Lightroom and that is how I use it to great effect.