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DxO Optics Pro V5.3 review
Using DxO to make great pictures
In this review Keith looks at some aspects of just how he uses this software as part of his print making process.
The article covers mainly what Keith considers to be the key elements of DxO Optics Pro in his workflow, where he takes a few selected camera images and works on them to produce large prints.
All of Keith's DxO product reviews are listed at the foot of this article.
We've published a number of reviews of DxO Optics Pro over the years (in fact, every version), and as the software has got more complex (in its functionality), it's perhaps got a bit too big to cover completely in one review.
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.
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.
The key features of the software are (this from DxO)
I would seriously suggest you have a look at them, since the ways I'm using the software here may not match your own preferences.
DxO optics Pro has been designed to work with Lightroom and other software, and offers many ways of getting similar results.
However, there has always been just one real reason that I've stuck with DxO Optics Pro and that was the quality of the images it produced from my camera files. It's been worth the slight idiosyncrasies of interface design and longer processing times on my Macs, since when you are spending a few hours working on a big print, the extra few minutes in getting the best from your RAW file was worth it.
The competition has not kept still, and there are now a lot more ways of processing RAW files than when I first looked at DxO - Have they managed to stay ahead in the areas that matter? (to me that is ;-)
I've used the file browser to take me to a folder of the RAW images.
I've also got a new 'project' window open where I'm going to select which images I'm working with.
One minor annoyance is that in the file view, the vertical images have not been rotated, whereas they are in the project window. This may well be a setting somewhere, but as a default, it's wrong.
Notice that three of the images have big red question marks against them. This means that a lens module was not found for the EF14mm 2.8L II lens I'd used.
This means that although I'll be able to process the RAW image just fine, I won't have access to lens specific corrections for correcting distortion/geometry - actually quite useful for a 14mm lens on a 35mm full frame camera.
You can stack images together for applying settings to a collection of images, and there are a number of preset settings for processing images.
In general I tend to work on individual images in DxO Optics Pro, so I'll leave those features to a reading of the well written and comprehensive documentation...
Preparing images for processing
After selecting images you can move to the 'prepare' mode, where all the image correction/processing options are found.
The example below is taken with an EF24-70 2.8L lens, which is fully supported.
There are different ways of viewing the basic file you are working on, and the DxO corrected version. Like most of these options it's a matter of taste and what works best for the particular image.
The various controls for adjustments and settings are down the side of the main window and have short-cuts to access them along the top of the window.
There are ways of customising the look and feel of the program, but I'm sticking to the defaults as it opens on my Mac (on a 23" screen in this instance).
The top item is the move/zoom tab, which gives an overview of just what part of the image you are looking at.
It's important to remember that many processing effects are only visible at 100% or higher magnifications.
A histogram is available for the image.
Note that since this is a sunset, we've a fair bit of clipping at the top end, and at the bottom end around the deep shadow areas.
The small person icons at the bottom left will highlight the clipped areas of the image if you click on them.
The small arrow at the top right edge causes the histogram window to detach and reappear somewhere else on your screen.
As I mentioned there are a lot of customisation options, best read that manual...
I'll cover some of the processing options that I found relevant to these images - many others are exactly the same as in DxO Optics Pro 4 and I'd suggest you might want to have a look through that review as well to really get a feel for what you can do.
First of all, lighting.
This is in essence a complex auto 'fill lighting' with selective localised contrast enhancement.
The effects can vary from subtle to looking very wrong. DxO Optics Pro has a number of easier modes of operation - I generally choose to use the more complex ones so as to have more control, but be careful if you go into the even more advanced options I've shown below.
If you aren't sure what they do, then the results can be somewhat unpredictable.
For many of the following images, move your mouse over the image to see the effect of altering settings.
You can see how the darker foreground is lightened to reveal more detail.
In both examples, I've not set any highlight preservation, which counteracts some of the lighting settings.
The example below shows that even for the unsupported 14mm lens, I have full control over the lighting settings.
I might choose to add a little more vignetting to an image like the brighter one, so as to draw attention a bit more to the middle of the image, but that's another artistic choice for me to make later.
White Balance and Colour
I'm using the camera white balance for these images, but you can correct it from an image sample or set a particular temperature. There is no 'auto' setting at all to have a go at choosing for you.
As well as the usual saturation adjustments, there is a smart vibrancy correction which allows you to increase the amount of colour in your image much more than just using saturation.
You can choose to make your picture look as if it was shot on assorted films (Ektachrome 100 in this case).
There are a number of other subtle style adjustments available which may work for different images.
After getting the lighting the way I'd like, I'd move to lens corrections.
First of all, Chromatic Aberration. This is fixed completely for supported lenses and partially for unsupported ones such as my 14mm.
The image portion (100%) is near the corner of the frame with an EF24-70 2.8L.
For supported lenses there is an additional sharpening option available which corrects for variable lens sharpness.
Supported lenses can also be corrected for geometric distortions.
I find that with good lenses it's often not worth bothering with for landscape shots, but for architectural work (lots of straight lines) it's very useful.
The one area I'd be careful of here is the seriously burnt out background reflections of the sun on the water.
Note the slight problems along the edge of the tree trunk. For a large print, this -might- look better printed from the first version. For some images I might make multiple conversions and then layer them together afterwards in Photoshop - that's another story though...
Where I'm going to be resizing images upwards I've often found it worthwhile turning down the lens sharpness setting slightly. The lowered visibility of any sharpening artefacts can make for better results when enlarging.
Don't forget though, that proper sharpening for print will often eradicate minor artefacts and that too much fussing over 100% views rarely contributes much to print quality.
Once you've sorted out which images you want to process, it's a matter of going to the processing stage and, after setting your file output options, setting the software on its way.
Multi-processor computers will benefit in processing speed here, although you may need to tweak the processing options a bit to get best performance on your own machine.
Remember that there are a lot of calculations going on here, so expect several tens of seconds to process each image (this is very machine dependent).
The view below shows processing underway on my Mac. It's worth noting that you can prioritise processing of different images.
In this example I'm only producing TIFF files of the images, but you can also save as DNG and JPEG files.
Why DNG? Well one reason recently, was to process a collection of high ISO EOS 5D files, to sort out lighting and make use of the very good noise reduction in DxO Optics Pro.
I opened the files in Photoshop, via ACR and converted them to B/W (using Nik Silver Efex Pro, with film grain) and produced a very nice set of A3+ prints for a client.
This reflects my essential use of DxO Optics Pro - use it to do the stuff it really does well. Everyone's workflow is different, you might do far more 'inside' the software.
If you look at the options to the right, you'll see I've selected to have my files processed with a custom ICC profile.
For some print work I'll pick a large space like ProPhoto (in 16 bit), however this has a number of potential issues if you're not careful, so most people would be more likely to choose Adobe 98 for print work.
Interestingly enough, if I'm converting to black and white later, then I'll also use the big space (in 16 bit) so as to minimise clipping of channels and potentially get more out of the image (in B/W).
There is a review stage after processing, for looking at images, but I've not found any use for this yet, given I'm then working in Photoshop.
The program keeps a record of your adjustment settings in its own database, with the option of storing sidecar files (extra files with image settings).
This is a useful feature, in that it's not unknown for me to go back to images after a period of time to work on new prints.
I've had a bit of a wait to do this review for a couple of reasons, first we use Macs here at Northlight, and it took a while for the Mac version of V5 to stabilise. Secondly, I shoot with a Canon 1Ds3 and as a new camera, it took a while for support to appear (body -and- lenses).
This is still an issue preventing me from fully utilising V5 in the way I used V4 with my 1Ds. As I showed above, my EF 14mm 2.8L II lens isn't fully supported with my 1Ds Mk3 (nor is the EF 15mm fish-eye) Both lenses are good, but I know from processing 1Ds images taken with the 15mm, that DxO is useful.
Fortunately DxO are steadily bringing out more lens modules, and have already provided support for the new Canon 5D Mk2.
If your camera is not supported then you can't process RAW files but the following functionality is available:
I reviewed the excellent Ricoh GX200 last year, with RAW support and so much wished it had been supported by DxO Optics Pro.
As the examples earlier show, I can still process 1Ds3 RAW files taken with my 14mm lens. It's a fine lens and the results are excellent, but I look forward to that extra bit of quality (correcting Distortion, Vignetting, and Lens Softness) once DxO adds it to the list.
For myself, the additional workflow features in this new DxO version almost get in the way, but that's because I'm using the software to process small numbers of images at a time, where I might be spending quite a time working on each image.
For my commercial work, a lot depend on the number of images I'm supplying and the type of job.
Take for example, a construction site I recently photographed. The client wanted a good collection of images showing what was going on, both for web and print use (trade publications). I could happily use Bridge in Photoshop to organise what I want and Adobe Camera Raw to quickly process the images I've selected to send to the client. I don't tend to do very large numbers of pictures very often, and the advantages of software like Lightroom or Aperture are not enough for me to introduce new software to my workflow.
So why do I still use DxO for a lot of my large prints? It's simply that I like the look of the files it produces.
For black and white too, I've often found in the past that a DxO colour image (especially with the DxO lighting turned up a bit more) converts to black and white in a manner I find more pleasing.
It's worth noting that the best black and white conversion does not always come from a good colour version of an image. Sometimes the colour versions I'm producing do not look that attractive, until converted and printed. Too many people spend time on perfecting screen images without realising that what you see on the screen is just an intermediate stage in producing a great print.
There is also the capability of making use of full ICC colour profiles in this software. I don't often need this level of colour correction, but it is a welcome addition in a RAW converter.
The quality of the RAW converter has been further improved on earlier versions of the software.
One example is the way it now features noise reduction being applied to sensor data before demosaicing. High ISO noise handling is very good.
I don't usually do any direct product comparisons (see our review policy for more info), but the following examples shows how at a small scale image detail is handled differently by DxO and ACR.
The images show a very small portion towards the centre of the picture to the right.
It was taken with a 21MP 1Ds Mk3 back in 2007, just after the camera was available, with a 14mm lens.
I've processed it with defaults for both ACR (CS3) and DxO 5.
Try and ignore the colour rendition - I didn't fine tune this at all. Note the way that fine vertical lines and diagonals are handled.
I often tell people that undue concentration on images at 100% enlargement is often of little use, but in this instance, the differences do show quite well.
How does this relate to my work? - well I often produce large landscape prints, and my professional work includes architecture - both benefit from additional fine detail.
The slight colour fringing of the DxO version would be easier to fix than the maze structures in the ACR. It's worth noting that this is using an unsupported lens (EF14mm) too.
This and the lighting/dynamic range/lens correction features is what keeps DxO ahead for me.
The interface design of this package has varied considerably over the years, but I would say that it has less of the 'built by engineers' feel of earlier versions.
The Apple Mac version still doesn't feel quite enough (IMHO) like a bit of Mac software, and basic functionality like being able to drop an image file onto the dock icon for the software, is still missing (come on DxO - almost all Mac s/w can do this).
One area I did find some difficulty with, is 'locking' settings for a set of files to process - typically this would be for a panoramic shot, where I want each image processing identically for stitching.
If you do this, be very careful in using any lighting effects, since the 'smart' nature of these will apply them differently to different images in the set, even if they are of the same part of the scene, but in different parts of the frame.
One way to effect this is to use manual settings for a stack of images, but be prepared to experiment a bit.
After I'd first written this article I was asked how it compared to earlier version of DxO. I'd not tried any detailed comparisons, since V4.5 didn't support the 1Ds3.
However I went back to the (1Ds) Cape Kiwanda image I'd looked at before, in the earlier reviews.
This sunset causes all kinds of difficulties for raw converters. Looking at V5.3 I have to say that the default settings handle the area around the sun better, with a better orange colour than v4.5. There is also less obvious sharpening along edges such as the top of the rock. Not much difference but a definite improvement.
Possibly of more interest is how it's handled by my other day to day RAW converter ACR4 in Photoshop CS3
The pictures below give one reason why I'd still choose DxO for images like this.
Without some highlight preservation, the ACR version renders some of the bright yellow as green.
Both converters have had relatively minimal tweaking of default settings.
Note that this is at 200% magnification and some differences would easily be lost in an actual print.
I freely admit that there are large areas of the DxO software I've not looked at in detail, but then that applies to Photoshop as well, so it's not a criticism. DxO have to address a much bigger market than professional photographers like myself, and as long as this does not come at the expense of processing quality I don't have a problem with it.
The key question is - does Dxo Optics Pro V5 provide better quality images from many of my RAW files?
...To me the answer is still a clear yes.
The differences are perhaps less obvious than in the past, but if you look at the improvements in other software, then that is hardly surprising.
Very high quality RAW processing software that makes the process of getting the most out of your camera much easier.
Needs a fairly powerful computer if you are processing many images.
Complex, but well worth getting the free demo to see how you like what it does.
Can be purchased in download form.
Current list (Feb. 09) of supported cameras
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
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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