Introduction to DXO Photo Lab 7
DXO Photo Lab 7, which I will simply refer to as DXO from now on, is a complete RAW image processor, a decent image editor, and a good Digital Asset Manager (DAM). If you are looking to move away from Lightroom, it is a very strong contender. As a RAW processor, it will meet your needs. It’s not quite as strong with non-RAW images, and its DAM capabilities will meet most photographers’ needs, but maybe professionals will miss some features that Lightroom or Photo Mechanic offers.
Digital Asset Management
I covered this in reasonable depth this post, so I won’t repeat all that here. Here is a summary of DXO’s DAM capabilities:
* Fast image browser
* Links automatically to DXO’s RAW processing and image editing
* Links to any number of external editors, which is extremely easy to set up
* Background indexing of your photo library
* Automatic adding of images to the index—no need to synchronize
* Easy searching for images based on shooting and image metadata
* Display of EXIF photo metadata
* Display and editing of IPTC metadata
* Imports XMP metadata from XMP files
* All metadata copied from source image to saved image
* GPS data support – limited to viewing image location on map
* Support for creation of Projects and adding images from any folder to a project
Unsupported things that you might miss:
* Viewing and editing of all XMP metadata
* Reverse GeoCoding
* Image Comparison tool
* Create websites from project/images
DXO offers a very capable image browser that is fast and easy to use. It doesn’t suffer from delays that other tools sometimes experience. You can make it index folders (and their subfolders) or you let it add images to the index as you browse. Or both. This makes the browser instantly accessible. No time is spent adding images to the index, and this is a definite plus.
The main downside, for me at least, is it not supporting viewing and editing of XMP metadata. If you create extensive metadata for each image, then you’ll need another tool to do it. The good news is DXO picks up XMP ‘sidecar’ files that contain XMP metadata and includes it in the resulting DNG/JPEG/TIF files. Many, maybe most, photographers won’t be affected by this and will be happy with the IPTC metadata fields that are supported by DXO. But if you want more, you still need another tool. Maybe DXO will add these later.
DXO began as RAW conversion software and it shows. It does everything and does it as well as it can be done.
The unique selling point of DXO is its database of camera and lens combinations and the ability to correct weaknesses in them. This includes the usual things: chromatic aberrations, vignetting, and distortions. But it has an extra trick up its sleeve. It sharpens images intelligently to correct lens defects.
Lenses, especially at large apertures, are usually sharper in the centre that on the edges. The difference between the edges and the centre is also dependent on the camera. A full frame, high-megapixel camera exposes these defects more than an APS-C camera. DXO knows this and intelligently sharpens the image to correct the defects caused by the lens + camera combination.
Raw Converter in Action
Rather than bore you with a long list of features, let’s see the raw converter in action. Here’s an image I took in 2004 in the Lake District with a digital SLR and an 85MM F/1.8 lens. The picture is sharp but lacks contrast. The light in the Lake District is often challenging. The air is almost always moist and cloudy skies are typical. This leads to ‘hazy’ images that need a lot of work. DXO makes improving this image simple.
Step 1: Exposure and Lighting
The screenshot shows the options available:
I have left Vignetting correction at the ‘Auto’ setting. DXO knows how much vignetting is present and fixes it.
* Smart Lighting
This is one of DXO’s unique and intelligent adjustments. Smart Lighting maximizes the image’s dynamic range by recovering shadow and highlight details. It has 3 preset strengths plus a custom setting. You remain in control.
* Selective Tone
This tool allows you to brighten/darken the highlights, midtones and shadows.
* Clearview Plus
This tool is ideal for this type of picture. It removes the effects of haze/fog. I also find it works well on other images, although you need to be careful not to overdo it. For this image, a middle setting of 50 gives the image a real ‘pop.’
This is more than a regular contrast adjustment. The microcontrast tool compensates for unsharp images and, again, gives images a little ‘pop.’
The image now looks significantly better:
Step 2: Colour adjustment
DXO offers these options:
Firstly, I select DXO Wide Gamut as the colour space as it offers the best opportunities for adjusting the image without degrading its quality.
* White balance
The options are the usual choice of preset colour balances plus the ability to pick a grey colour in the image for better colour balance selection.
This is standard, but DXO has a far getter option.
* Colour rendering
IF you have a colour chart, you can take a picture of it in the light of your scene and DXO will then balance the colours perfectly. I use the Colour Checker Passport Pro and it works wonders. I recently photographed a wedding, with a friend assisting me. I was using my Canon camera, she used her Nikon. We both took pictures of the colour chart and I used DXO to generate colour profiles based on these images. The processed images were, colour wise, identical.
The process of generating the colour profile is as simple as it gets, and the results are absolutely worth it.
* Hue, Saturation and Lightness adjustments
DXO offers the usual global adjustments to hue, saturation and lightness. Additionally, it enables you to select a colour range and just adjust that. Again, it is simplicity itself to use. For this image, I saturate the colours on the mountain.
The colours now have some ‘pop’:
Step 3: Detail
Here we see DXO’s unique capabilities in action. By default, the software turns on automatic Lens Softness Correction and Chromatic Aberration Adjustment and there is no reason to ever turn it off. There is no better implementation of these adjustments available and no downside to use them.
Noise adjustment depends on the camera and ISO setting and DXO’s RAW Denoising tech is class leading. This image needs a little noise reduction – here are the before and after comparisons of a section of the image:
Step 4: Geometry
The usual horizon correction, cropping, and distortion adjustments are available. The distortion adjustment is optimised to your lens and camera and so is far more sophisticated than in other tools.
If you have DXO Viewpoint installed, and you really should get this as well, then Perspective and Volume Deformation is also available. I won’t discuss this here, but DXO Viewpoint is well worth the price…
Step 5: Local Adjustments
Up to now, I have been adjusting the whole image. DXO offers local adjustments, where I select the areas of the image to adjust. If you have used image editors, such as Photoshop, you know what a tedious task it is making selections. But DXO has ‘Control Point’ selections that you use to select parts of your image simply by clicking on it.
Here, I have combined several control points to select only the sky:
This took less than a minute. DXO offers other masking/selecting tools but I find the Control Point selection method is usually the quickest.
I can now adjust just the selected area. I have darkened and clarified the sky a little.
The image speaks for itself.
DXO Prime HD Noise Reduction
One area where DXO have always excelled is in RAW image noise reduction. Their tech doesn’t work for non-RAW images, but is equalled only by Topaz Photo AI/DeNoise AI. I did a full comparison between DXO, Photo Ai and Luminar NEO here, so I won’t repeat myself in this post. But, unless the noise is truly dreadful or it is an astro-photograph, then DXO noise reduction is unbeatable.
DXO Pure Raw
Some of DXO’s greatest strengths are its ability to correct distortion, chromatic aberration, vignetting, noise reduction and lens softness. These features are available in DXO Pure RAW, which is a subset of DXO Photo Lab designed for those who want to stick with Lightroom or another RAW converter. It gives your images the best possible RAW processing and outputs them as DNG files for further processing.
If you stay with Lightroom or another RAW converter, I would seriously consider adding DXO Pure RAW. You won’t get these results anywhere else.
A one-stop shop?
The ‘holy grail’ of photo software is one that does everything. Adobe package Lightroom and Photoshop together, and it certainly is comprehensive. But the thought of paying for it every month, and the software stopping working if you stop paying, is unpalatable. In addition, as a photographer, I want the absolute best results. I owe it to my customers to produce the best prints/digital download I can and DXO gives me the best quality I have found in any tool.
It’s Digital Asset management is ok, but I find myself using Photo Mechanic or Digital Photo Guardian-a tool I created myself that I don’t currently market. But these are dedicated DAM tools. DXO Photo Lab is a dedicated RAW converter that also does DAM. It might do enough for you.
As good as DXO’s RAW image editing tools are, Luminar Neo can do more if I need ‘artistic’ or creative editing. So, I use all three tools – DXO, Photo AI and Luminar. But I use DXO Photo Lab for every image I process.
All DXO products are available as free trials. I recommend giving them a test run. They might change your photography