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dxo optics pro v4.2DxO Optics Pro V4.2 review

Using DxO to improve your images

In this review Keith looks at some features of DxO Optics Pro V4.2.

We've reviewed earlier versions before, but V4.2 has added a lot of workflow related features, as well as a whole host of image processing options that help get the best out of your camera's images.

Keith has used previous versions of DxO for processing many of the raw camera files for his large exhibition prints.

All of Keith's DxO product reviews are listed at the foot of the page

What do you get with DxO Optics Pro 4?

I've used previous versions of the software both for their ability to correct image distortions (lens and camera related) and to pull out image detail and tonality that helped me create images the way I wanted them to look.

The software is available for particular camera/lens combinations only, and comes in three different versions.

The range of supported equipment is growing and is listed on the supported cameras and lenses page on the DxO web site - however do check that your equipment is supported.

There is also support for processing JPEG images out of a variety of consumer cameras, although without raw file support the results are not going to be up to digital SLR levels (my own pocket camera isn't supported so I haven't been able to test this out).

In the past I've used the software for specific images where the additional processing and setup time was not a concern. For the several hundred images that I might get from a typical commercial shoot I was far more likely to use ACR in Photoshop (or Lightroom).

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The newest version of DxO Optics Pro adds in considerably more workflow related features in a much better thought out interface layout.

In fact the program has moved a bit beyond (in amount of functionality) what I'd normally cover in one of my reviews, so I'm going to concentrate on a few features that I feel make it stand out.

These features are the kind of things that you may not use every day, but having them there will (in my case) mean that I can supply some images that make the (paying) client that little bit happier ;-) I'm off to California/Oregon in April/May so I'll hopefully have a load of new images in the gallery when I'm back, where I can show some more examples.

The software is available as a free time-limited demo from DxO. I'm looking at the Mac version here, but the PC version is very similar (vista too).

dxo optics pro v4.2The software can also run as a Photoshop plugin (import) although this runs the application and, rather disconcertingly* on a Mac, causes the main menu bar to vanish. The images processed, open immediately in Photoshop.

  • *Note, good interface design is about consistency of action - the Mac main menu bar -NEVER- vanishes unless you are displaying an image/movie/game full screen. Unexpected results lower a users confidence in their actions (See our collection of top usability guidelines for more info)

DxO also offer a Film-Pack which accurately produces various 'film looks' from your images - I'll be having a look at that in a separate article, although I have to say that a quick try with some of the images I'm using as examples in this article gave a very good Tri-X B/W film look.

The software is available via download, or boxed version. You will need to 'activate' it to use it fully.

The key features of the software are (this from DxO)

Using DxO optics Pro

There is a comprehensive 69 page PDF manual supplied, and I'd suggest that you really do give it a read through. Now I'm not a natural manual reader, but I had to look at it to get an idea of just why I should be organising my images into collections and the like, and how to use the various sorting and selection options.

Not that it was difficult at all, it's just that any 'workflow' oriented software makes some ways of working easier than others (I find the same thing with Lightroom and Aperture)

I'm going to use a collection of images I shot at a local business networking meeting as an example.

  • An aside to those of you in business as photographers - I'm involved with several business networking groups locally, and always take a camera with me (even if I don't think I might use it). I'll take some photos and provide them to the organisers free of charge for web use - as long as I get a suitable link on their web site. It also helps other people remember what you do when you are carrying a huge camera with a big white lens (70-200 2.8L IS) - it's a prop, and sometimes even helps start up conversations just that bit easier. Lots of little things like this make a big difference in promoting yourself as a professional photographer -- but back to the review ;-)

The view below shows where I've selected a folder of files -- in this case JPEG and Raw from my Canon 1Ds.

selecting image files

A more detailed view shows the general 'workflow' for DxO Optics Pro

Select > Organize > Enhance > Process > View

selection -detail

Looking at just the folder of images I can see thumbnails (you can adjust the size)

lots of thumbnail images

A more detailed view shows some of the problems that DxO is going to have to fix...

overall image processing workflow

The lighting at the LCB Depot in Leicester is truly awful for photography and embodies all I hate about fluorescent based lighting when you are taking pictures.

The colours look awful. but at least it's bright enough that I can shoot without flash at ISO 1250. That means there is going to be appreciable noise in the images as well. I've also taken quite a few shots with my 16-35mm lens, so there is going to be some interesting (and generally non-flattering) distortion both from a geometric and lens aberrations point of view.

So far, pretty simple - it was the selection of images that caused me a few initial problems, however I was able to rotate images the right way up and select all the images (the raw ones) I wanted to work on quite easily.

You need to then save that collection as a project to work on. I discovered the hard way that you can't just drag images from one part of the window to another, as my stack (or was it a selection?) just vanished. If you are going to have a light table metaphor, then don't introduce new 'unexpected' results. i.e. if I move stack of sheets of paper from the back of my desk to in front of me, I don't expect them to just vanish...

Now this is not actually too much of a criticism, since in my rush to see what new tricks there were in the raw processing options I hadn't really taken time to read about the workflow aspects of the software - and I have already suggested you read the manual ;-)

There are lots of mechanisms for getting the images you want selected - you can even apply a preset conversion type when adding images to a project.

So I'll skip over the various processes by which I selected my images, since I'm sure my way was not perhaps the best.

Image Correction

Now to the interesting bit...

This is the stuff that makes DxO stand out

First of all the white balance. The side by side view is available for all corrections and gives a very good feel for what you are adjusting.

white balance correction

white balance settings The side panel is where you select what you want doing to your images.

In this instance I've used the eye dropper to select a part of the brightly lit white wall near the ceiling lamps.

Experience at this location means I know good places to select.

I also have an ACR camera 'profile' for this location that I made when I was reviewing the ColorChecker SG card -- although I have to say I don't use it very often.

Note that in this pane you can also set exposure balance and highlight recovery.

I don't mind the nearly burnt out areas around the lights, so its 'off' here.

There are a lot of options in this side panel - I'm not going to go through the lot here - get a copy of the demo and have a play with some files of your own...

A more detailed look at the images led me to choose slight highlight recovery, just to bring out a bit more detail in the ceilings

photo highlight recovery

Slight Highlight correction

The exposure settings are different from the DxO lighting settings, which can work at a more 'local' level on the image.

photo lighting settings

This is an area that I'd suggest first starting with the auto settings values, and only trying all the sliders in the detailed adjustments once you have a good feel for what can be done.

The whole software package provides simpler and automatic (guided) options at all levels, however I'm assuming that if you are reading this, then like me you immediately went to the 'expert' settings ;-)

photo noise removal settings DxO does a pretty good job of cleaning up noisy images.

I find that ISO 1250 on my 1Ds (its highest setting) gives very acceptable images for web use, and with care, print as well.

The example below shows a 100% crop with noise cleaning on and off (mouse over the image to see it 'on')

noise removal

DxO default noise removal

lens cistortion correction Basic lens aberration correction is what DxO has been doing very well for some time.

All the basic settings are still here, with most of the settings being automatically set from your camera's EXIF data.

This is the part that attempts to make your lens 'perfect' based on DxO's extensive testing of lens behaviour and performance.

DxO actually make very sophisticated lens testing software, which is widely used in the camera industry. it's this experience that goes into all the tricks that DxO Optics Pro performs.

image sharpening settings DxO can sharpen your images, in a fairly sophisticated way, which is based on the lens you were using and the camera body.

The value of the slider is deviation from 'normal' sharpening i.e. '0.00' does mean no sharpening.

If I'm making a very big print which will need resampling, I may drop this level a bit.

image processing presets Just when you are thinking that there are a lot of things to set (there are), the presets list comes to your aid.

In this example I've made a load of adjustments and then saved them.

So I now have a preset for dealing with ISO 1250 images taken on my 1Ds at the LCB Depot, with its horrid lighting.

You can also get a full screen view of your images if you prefer (the layout of the screen can be modified to some extent to fit your tastes)

layout views

This picture is actually taken looking towards a mirror, so that is me at the left hand side :-)

Note also the distortions towards the edge of the frame and serious tilt of the verticals from pointing the camera down

Fortunately DxO has a variety of ways of 'fixing' this (if of course you decide you want to fix it at all)

For architectural work I want to minimise overall geometric distortion caused by the lens, so pincushion/barrel distortion and vignetting has to go

This example is actually from my DxO 3 review, but shows lens issues very well.

  • Note - I've got lots more examples of DxO Optics Pro at work in the older reviews, since the features that worked well there are all in the current version.

Move your mouse over the image to see the corrections applied to an image shot with at 16mm on my 1Ds

distortion correction

When you correct images in DxO 4.2 you can get them slightly stretched from the original aspect ratio. This fits the image more accurately to the coverage of your particular lens/camera.

The correction is great for 'fixing' images taken at even shorter focal lengths, or fish-eye lenses. Unfortunately geometrically correct is not very flattering for people caught at the edge of the frame.

This is where another distortion correction comes in - Volume Anamorphosis

It attempts to make the image look much more like how it looks to you at the time, however to work at it's best it needs to know the distance of objects from the camera lens. As such this adjustment is much more subjective. It's available in spherical and cylindrical modes.

This from DxO:

"One of the challenges of photographing the real world is that a three-dimensional scene is reproduced in a two-dimensional image. As a result, three-dimensional objects that are not on the optical axis of the camera can appear stretched out. The steeper the angle at which rays from the subject reach the lens, the greater the apparent error — hence these phenomena are particularly noticeable with wide-angle lenses. This stretching becomes even more objectionable the nearer the objects are to the edges of the frame. Volume anamorphosis (sometimes referred to as wide-angle stretching or shape stretching) is occasionally desired as part of a photographic effect, but mostly it has been tolerated as something that was just inevitable."

Mouse over the image below to see what happens (spherical selected) - note also what happens to straight linesVolume anamorphosis correction

Volume anamorphosis correction

geometry settings

There are more examples on the DxO site (they have more lenses to play with than I do ;-)

There is also keystone and horizon adjustment

geometry correction example

Correction for tilting the camera

There are also some slightly smarter options for setting corrections, although be warned that they require some experimentation to get good results, if your image is as distorted as the one above

preset geometry changes

Geometry corrections

An extreme example showing the choices in image correction

corrected images

Look at the changes in shapes of peoples' heads and the plates, and the hanging pipework near the top of the picture.

You can decide just how much correction you really want for each image.

Straight lines or better pictures of the people?

straight lines or people

Remember that you can design a lens for either type of correction - or a balance between the two.

Previously, you just got what your lens designer gave you - now you have a bit more of a choice.

I'm going to be writing up some more about effective use of very wide angle lenses in the future, but look at this example of an image taken with a Canon EF15mm f/2.8 Fisheye lens.

It's the same wall of books I used in my article about using the Canon TS-E 24 tilt/shift lens. This article has pictures of this same scene taken with a Canon 16-35 2.8L as well.

The version below has used the 'maximum image' setting and shows considerable distortions at the edges of the field

If you chop off some of those edges, then it's an impressive wide angle

  • If your fisheye lens/camera combination is not supported then you could look at the review of Fish-Eye Hemi - A photoshop plugin for fixing images taken with a fish eye or very wide angle lens.

Colour correction

I've left one set of adjustments to last, the DxO Colour section.

Colour rendering is where you can make pictures from your Canon 1Ds look like they're from a Nikon D40, or shot with Kodachrome 25.

  • I look forward to being able to use this when some pretentious dedicated art director insists on seeing what a shot looks like taken with film - my basic reaction to clients who want film, is automatically double all my rates, and then if they are daft enough to still want it, happily get the film camera out :-)

It's also where you can include camera profiles in your raw conversion.

For the set of images I've used in this article I've selected the default 'As Shot' option

colour correction

To make an ICC camera profile to use you need an image of a test target produced by DxO Optics Pro, to work on.

If you have loaded an image of a profile test target, you should use the 'Export' image function to produce a tiff file for your profiling package to use.

For Eye One Match and the ColorChecker SG card I'd use the 'realistic' option

exporting for profiling

A lot of options, so I'd suggest taking a good wide selection of test images to play with when you are trying out DxO Optics Pro.

colour settings From the manual...

Colour rendering lets you apply a specific look to your Raw images, starting right from the very look of specific camera bodies, referred to here as ‘colour rendition profiles’. This functionality will slightly differ if you have activated the DxO FilmPack. There is a check box to enable this function, and a combo box lets you choose between ‘Original’, Neutral’, and ‘Realistic’, along with specific colour rendition profiles for 7 families of cameras currently supported by DxO Optics Pro. Realistic is the “flat” colour rendition profile, without any interpretation, with a gamma valued at 2.2. Neutral has the same colour rendition, but with a contrast slightly increased. The command « Import an ICC profile » available in the menu « Colour rendition profiles » allows you to load a specific profile created from a test image, with the adjustments entitled either “Realistic” or “Linear Raw”

There are some very powerful and interesting techniques here, but I'll leave some of the details for the review of the DxO Film Pack, which I hope to have on the site before too long.

vibrancy of colour SmartVibrancy is a DxO term for increasing (or turning down) the 'punch' of colours without the potential nastiness of just cranking up the saturation.

The Multi-point allows some quite complex matching of colours.

"Colour matching is a sophisticated way of achieving exact colour matching between shots, even where a neutral colour reference is missing. The system allows you to pick up to four colors and set the colour they are each meant to reproduce as, and then DxO Optics Pro will make a best-compromise calculation to adjust the colour balance of the entire image"

tone curves Apply custom tone curves to your images.

One way of applying global curves corrections to a series of images.

This can be done on a per-channel basis

Processing the images

After making all those settings it just comes to actually processing those raw files.

Files can be output in JPEG,TIFF and DNG formats

image processing window

Processing under way (program is making use of dual processors)

One of my major gripes with earlier versions of DxO Optics Pro was their speed on my various Apple Mac computers.

Well, I'm pleased to say that it all runs a lot faster now - just over an hour for 74 images on a Dual 2.7 G5 Mac, compared with 9 minutes for Adobe Camera Raw (CS3). It gets faster if you turn off some of the corrections

At first sight that's still pretty slow, but it all depends on what you want to use the images for. For those images I've used as an example I might have realistically picked ten at most to convert. If you add in the time in Photoshop trying to fix some of the images, the time difference comes down some more. No doubt, if I learnt more efficient ways of using the various sorting and selection features in the program this might get even easier, but I wanted to see those effects that only DxO does ;-)

For my own use I can now see more occasions where I might use DxO for my commercial work. I already use it for some of my B/W landscape work since DxO processed colour images sometimes convert much more nicely to black and white - there is also the fact that DxO handles images of sunsets from my 1Ds a lot better than ACR (the only raw converter I generally use for 'everyday' work)

  • Note added after some experiments with V4.5
    I discovered that the handling of blown highlights, such as the sunset I used in my original DxO review, was nowhere near as good as it used to be. A bit of experimenting found that by applying the 'Landscape' style I could get back the old behaviour - Given that the handling of blown highlights from my 1Ds was one of the reasons I originally used the software, this was not a welcome change. I've told DxO about this, so we'll see how this develops...

Conclusions

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V4.2 is a noticeable improvement over the last version (3.5) that I looked at. The image processing was always great, but V4.2 will get fired up for more than just special images. Perhaps not yet my day to day image processor of choice, but now of serious use for some of my normal commercial work.

As a former usability researcher, the interface still has a -slight- 'built by engineers' feel about it to me, but with a bit of practice --and reading the manual-- it should be very easy to pick up and learn. The shear amount of calculations it's doing mean that it will tax average computers, but I can see a lot of work has gone into providing much better (and quicker) previews of what the various adjustments will do.

If you get the demo - try it first at some of the auto settings. Select a dozen or so good raw files that you know well, pop them in a test folder and just point DxO Optics pro at it. Then have a good look at them and compare them with your previous raw conversions?

You can now use your own camera profiles for raw conversion - There are a few locations like the LCB Depot with really nasty lighting that I regularly work at - I may yet revisit my use of camera profiles (sometimes [most times IMHO], far more trouble than they're worth ;-)

Summary

Provides a wide range of corrections to image problems -- some of which you might not realise you had, until you see DxO processed images.

A lot faster than earlier versions, and the interface is much more intuitive. The quality of the corrections is excellent and really helps get the most out of your camera's raw files.

Works on Macs and PCs (even with vista... ;-)

Complex, but well worth getting the free demo to see how you like what it does.

More Info

The views in this article represent those of Keith Cooper.
Keith is always happy to discuss matters raised in his articles. You can Email Us Email Us
Northlight Images prides itself on its independence when giving advice. We do not sell hardware or software and have no direct commercial links with any of the software or hardware vendors that may be mentioned here. See our Review Policy for more information.

Declaration of interest - Keith was asked to look at early versions of the software, and has some of his sample images shown on the DxO web site. He has no direct commercial relationship with DxO.

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