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Raw Power - the DxO converter
A new way of converting your camera's raw files (Part 2)
Part 2 looks at how well DxO does.
Due to the large number of images this review is split into two parts, with a description of the software (DxO Optics Pro 2 and the DxO RAW Engine) in Part 1
The examples below show ACR and DxO conversions. Apart from shrinking and saving for web use, the full frame images have not been altered in contrast or levels.
All crops are at 100% and unsharpened.
Since both tools have many adjustments you can make, I've just used the default settings.
These are web images after all, so do try out the demo if you can. If the images look a little dark, check our monitor set-up page for more info. I'd welcome comments and questions from readers...
The problem of blown out highlights...
Cape Kiwanda, Oregon, USA
Lost in the shadows
To capture the delicate cloud patterns, much of the shot is quite underexposed. In applying adjustments later, this is just where the coloured band I mentioned in the 'Moving to Digital' article is likely to show up.
Dillon Lake, Colorado, USA
The 'O Bar' Leicester, UK
At iso 1250 the bright saturated colours go awry in the ACR version. Note also the green posterisation around the light that occurs in the ACR conversion (just like in the sunset picture at the top of the page)
Noise at iso 1250
Late Night Food, Leicester, UK
Note the darker shadows in the DxO conversion
The neon signs are handled much better by DxO - and there is less noise.
The Sparkly bits...
Spring Green, Colorado ,USA
This is another effect mentioned in the 'Moving to Digital' article.
As well as raw conversion, the software can correct image distortions (shown in Pt1 and the earlier DxO review) This example was added to the original review after I had spent more time actually using the software, and revisiting some of my earlier work.
The image is of the Black Canyon of the Gunnison in Colorado (click for black and white version). I was using the Canon 70-200 2.8 L image stabilised (IS) lens which is a superb lems that really brings out the capabilities of the 1Ds. The sample shots are 100% crops from the bottom right hand corner of the frame.
Although each shot is the corner of the frame, the coverage is slightly different where DxO has corrected for lens distortion
The next few examples show how the DxO conversions differ in overall 'feel'
The 'Looking Glass' bar, Leicester
Black and White?
If you've seen my work on the site, you will know I do quite a lot of B/W. I decided not to include examples here since conversion options and subsequent colour -> B/W processing is very dependant on the actual image and the effect I want to create. Some examples led me to the conclusion that using some DxO sharpening during conversion gave a noticeable improvement. I feel that the DxO route will give better results - certainly where there are blown highlights or specular reflection.
The inclusion of noise reduction settings in ACR is useful, although the slight colour noise in some of the DxO conversions would not be difficult to 'fix' in Photoshop, or with third party noise reduction plugins. The software is none too fast, taking just under 3 minutes to convert 5 raw files and nearly 6 minutes if full correction was included. This is on what is the fastest G5 Mac available - I'm told that the software does not currently support multiple processors. This is an area that really needs some attention. At the time of writing the Canon 1Ds MkII is not supported, but those 16.7MP files are going to hit that speed limit with a vengeance. For a real example, I recently shot some 70 different products for a small catalogue, assuming that I only had one picture of each to convert, that's three quarters of an hour to convert them or one and a half hours to convert and correct.
The program is a stand alone one and does not need Photoshop to work with. This is not a problem for converting a few files, but if I'm using the file browser in Photoshop CS, it would be nice to have the option to send files to DxO for conversion. I often automate the processing of raw files after a job and although you can set options for handling lots of files in DxO it does not attempt to provide the batch handling facilities of Photoshop. Another feature of using ACR via the file browser is that conversion settings are remembered if you open the file again later.
I use ACR quite a lot and have thus compared DxO with it. I know of several professional photographers who regularly use Capture One and praise its workflow features for handling large numbers of pictures. It's not cheap (C1 Pro is currently $450) but does an awful lot.
Another minor quibble is that the converted files are tagged with a resolution of 72dpi - ACR takes the default value from the EXIF data and with my 1Ds this is 240dpi. Not really a problem, but why 72dpi ? It's also worth noting that you have to enter data that may be missing from the EXIF info -- though not really the software writers fault if some manufacturers leave stuff out. For example, I take a lot of pictures with my 1Ds using matrix setting 4 (Adobe98), this info doesn't come through, so I had to set the conversion options to use Adobe98.
Some people have questioned the pricing policy of charging more for support of 'better' cameras - seems OK to me - if I can afford a 1Ds and a stack of 'L' lenses then I'm obviously not on the same budget as a 300D buyer :-)
If your camera/lens combination is not supported then the software won't work for you...
These results are limited to Keith's tests with images from his 1Ds.
First thoughts are that the conversions with DxO have more 'oomph' and higher contrast, even without the corrections being applied. Add in the lens corrections and many images are appreciably better, particularly ones with more extremes of brightness. Colours seem more saturated, although this does seem to slightly emphasise colour noise in high iso shots.
The converted files also 'fixed' to a large extent some 'problems' I'd come across when using my 1Ds and mentioned in my article on moving to digital
If the software enables me to turn a good picture into a good print that I can sell, then a print sale pays for the software. I'd been working on one image for several hours, using multiple ACR conversions and lots of photoshop layers -- it just didn't work. The DxO conversion was better, even before I'd made any adjustments to the output file.
I can see a real use for this software for my landscape work, where I'm usually only working on a few images at a time, or some commercial jobs where the lens correction will produce much more accurate results. My work does not regularly produce the volumes of pictures that need immediate conversion and many of the features of a package like C1 Pro, but I do make use of the scripting support of ACR.
For image quality I'm well impressed with the software - it has more than lived up to what I expected after looking at the JPEG version. I'm not so happy about its speed on my Mac or ease of integration into a busy commercial workflow. This is a tool I'll use for my best work, where a few extra minutes in creating the file is nothing to the hours I can spend working on some images. Well worth a look.
What would I like to see in future?
There is a time limited demo available and I would recommend that you try it out on some of your own pictures.
Other Info on this site that may be of interest
The views in this article represent those of Keith Cooper.
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