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spring snow in Colorado - hwy285, south of Poncha SpringsDxO Optics Pro V7.2 - Review

DxO changes...

DxO Optics Pro has been updated to version 7.2

I've been using DxO Optics Pro for some of my images for several years now, and indeed have written up reviews of most previous versions. There is a full list of DxO reviews at the end of this article.

I should perhaps point out that as software packages get bigger, they invariably include more and more functionality that may or may not be of use to a particular user. I'm going to cover some of the features of this software that give me reasons to use it for some of my photographs.

As such, this review will be a little thin on aspects of workflow and functionality aimed at more general users. There are however numerous tutorials and much more information is available on the DxO Optics Pro web site that cover everything in a satisfactory manner.

There's also a free trial of the software (Mac and PC) that's available for download.

  • December 2012 - see our DxO 8 review.

This review looks at using the software on a Mac - Windows versions are very similar.

DxO Optics Pro V7.2 What's new

These are the key improvement listed by DxO

There is a full list of changes listed in a footnote to this article.

Using DxO Optics Pro

If you already know of DxO Optics Pro, then the improvements listed should be enough to tell you where the software is heading.

However I'll run through a number of examples showing aspects of how the software works that hopefully show some of the reasons it's still an important part of creating the images I want.

Since it's a powerful bit of software I'm going to be a bit selective in my examples, and would suggest that you also read some of the earlier reviews (particularly V6.2 and V6.5) to get a more rounded picture of what might work for you.

  • Remember too that you're seeing reduced size web versions of images and screen shots, so if image quality is important to you, then I'd definitely suggest testing it for yourself on some of your own photos.

Winter Sunset at Rutland Water

Winter Sunset at Rutland Water (UK) - from a Canon 1Ds mk3 file

Selecting files

As a professional photographer I have a number of different workflows, or techniques for dealing with the photos I take.

I don't do weddings, events or portrait work that generates large numbers of images that need processing in a hurry, and even a location shoot for a hotel (for a website) may produce under a hundred pictures. As such, the combination of Bridge, Camera RAW and Photoshop is more than good enough for much of my work. I don't use Aperture or Lightroom, and since I've used Photoshop for what's approaching 20 years, it's where I edit individual photos.

For my prints and architectural work, I'm often just working on one image at a time - this is where I'll open it up in Adobe camera RAW for conversion, or by selecting files to work on, DxO 7.2

You can see the folder structure I'm using at the left of the screen.

images selected in DxO Optics Pro

Files I can open also show along the bottom of the screen.

The image shown, was taken with my old Canon 1Ds, which didn't incorporate a sensor to show when the image needs rotating.

Once converted to black and white (DxO Optics Pro offers a number of ways of doing this too), this is the final version from a concert a few years ago.

Anna Maria Jopek in London, 2006

Anna Maria Jopek - London 2006

Image thumbnails show corrected versions of files, such as the very stretched piano keyboard (from a round fisheye image) and the rollover info panel, showing camera and lens info.

image thumbnails

Indicators next to the thumbnails show the status for the file, including whether a lens module is available for the lens and camera combination used for the photo.

Modules contain all the lens characteristics that the software uses to perform corrections for lens distortions and aberrations.

image processing options and thumbnails

Normally, if a lens/camera combination is supported, you will get the chance to download an appropriate module.

Even if your lens isn't supported (yet) you can still use the software to make corrections and process your RAW file.

The auto function can be fooled however. Note the red circle above.

The image was taken using a Canon TS-E24 tilt-shift lens, which cannot be supported in a program like this (the camera EXIF data does not include details about how much tilt/shift was used)

The software offers me what it thinks might be useful... wrong ;-)

faulty automatic module selection

With the benefits of excellent 'auto' features, noise handling and shadow detail, I ran the whole folder of these Christmas event photos through DxO Optics Pro.

A few photos taken at a Christmas business networking event - I've deliberately used available light and 3200 ISO on my 1Ds Mk3. A few of the photos will get used on a web site, so punchy vibrant images will work just fine here.

I do know a wedding photographer who uses DxO Optics Pro for a lot of his less formal photos in low light situations.

processing a folder of images

The software works with JPEG image too.

The shot below, shows it crunching its way through a card full of holiday snaps from my parents' camera when I downloaded the images from it to make a back-up on a DVD.

Don't expect miracles from JPEG files, but on fully auto, the software improved the quality of files from a very much budget pocket digital camera...

fixing jpeg image files

For individual and group selections I can directly open files from Adobe Bridge - although I note that I should perhaps clear out some older versions of software.

launch DxO from Bridge

After selecting images, the second stage is to decide what to do to them.

Image options

When you've selected images (you can group them by 'projects' too), you can apply image processing options to them.

The software includes helpful options like this that make it much easier for novice user to get on with using the software.

available help info in the program

It's worth noting that DxO Optics Pro is designed to try and give optimal results in 'automatic' mode, so it's worth checking the various 'Auto' modes, even if like me, any mention of 'Auto' tend to make you suspicious!

For example, there is a whole collection of presets available.

These apply to different aspects of image processing - I'd suggest trying them out before jumping into the sea of sliders and checkboxes that are available for fine tuning of parameters.

range of image alteration presets

The display will show many corrections in almost real time, but for some you do need to be zoomed in to 75% or more.

zoom levels that show different corrections to images

Side by side views are one method available to see how adjustments look.

In this case I've adjusted white balance for this image of Karen inside the original test Concorde (at the excellent Duxford air museum, nr. Cambridge)

fixing white balance

One omission that I've noted for a while in this software is the absence of any 'Auto' mode for white balance. It's not usually a problem to adjust, but with all kinds of other automatic options, this seemed an oversight?

Dust removal is available and works well, but I find this approach to be much slower than going over the whole image once converted from RAW.

  • I should note that I find fixing this in ACR just as clunky - perhaps because with several years of handling scanned film I've got pretty efficient at doing it in Photoshop.

fixing sensor dust marks

Saving highlights

The recovery option in DxO are very powerful.

I'll show some more obvious examples from this sequence of shots taken by Karen, whilst I was driving over the Columbia River bridge towards Astoria (Oregon).

Whilst driving over the years in the US, I've found ultrawide lens great for travel shots - manual exposure and focus, and point in roughly the right direction. These are where many of the (subsequently cropped) road shots for my travel blogs come from.

Here, the sun had come out and exposure was a bit long...

blown highlights

Selecting Highlight Recovery has tamed the bright parts of the image, whilst setting the single image 'HDR' option has kept the darker areas of the shot from going too dark.

saving burnt out images

The recovery shows up well in this detail.

recovery options

Move your mouse over the image below to see a direct comparison

recovering blown highlights

This 100% crop shows the detail (mouse over image to see).

recovering blown highlights - detail

A slight application of the 'HDR adjustment' can help deal with overly strong shadows.

shadow lightening in bright sunshine

Whilst a stronger application can pull real detail out of the shadows (mouse over image to see)

detail in shadows

Quite often I'm shooting interiors, where additional lighting is not practical (busy factories for example) and DxO Optics Pro has helped me get some great shots without too much shadow noise.

  • Note that I've covered this 'Single shot HDR' feature in more detail in the V6.5 review update.

Early evening shots with lit buildings can look particularly good when processed this way.

use of HDR type adjustments for images

Most of these settings have an element of auto setting to them, this isn't an issue with individual images, but if you are processing a set of images for subsequent stitching, then do make sure that you make a manual setting for each option.

The combination of lighting adjustments and correcting lens distortions can make for excellent panoramic images, but do double check those auto settings.

Lens distortions

Fixing lens distortions goes right back to the first version of DxO I ever looked at (before RAW support even) and is still well ahead of other distortion fixing techniques.

Look at the image below.

It's the 'temporary' river at the Great Sand Dunes NP, with an overnight fall of Spring Snow. It was taken with a Canon 16-35 2.8L lens.

Move your mouse over the image to see the 'fixed' version, and how the distortion is not just a simple case of barrel or pincushion distortion.

fixing lens distortions

The corrections can be applied to other lenses, such as stretching the fisheye image below.

Move your mouse over the image to see the correction.

Note that the aspect ratio has changed too. This is optional - the image above keeps its ratio constant.

changing geometry for images

I should point out though that none of the image strip above could be automatically fixed for geometry and distortions, since all images were using shift lenses (can't be supported) and the Canon 8-15 fisheye (not yet supported).

One minor glitch I found was that if you select 'fisheye' for the distortion to 'fix', then any movement of the amount slider, caused the distortion to revert to 'Barrel', wherupon you had to selct fisheye again.

Lens softness correction

In addition to the more gross distortions of the geometry of the image, there is a natural softening of images - particularly towards the edges. This can also be fixed if your lens is supported, although there are also features to help with this if it isn't.

Move your mouse over the image to see the sort of sharpening (at 100%)

detail of sharpening of an image

This latest version of DxO Optics Pro backs off from undue sharpening of soft out of focus areas, preventing slight artefacts from spoiling nice 'Bokeh'.

In the past I've turned down this sharpening if I was going to enlarge (resample) an image, but the new controls allow finer adjustments.

If you're going to make a big enlargement, it's still worth trying it on two different settings to see how well it works. Selective use of sharpening and its absence can make a big difference to perceived print quality. One size does not fit all.

Mouse over the image below to see the effect on the bridgework from earlier.

image sharpening

The improvements in tonality and fine image detail have long been a reason for me to use this software for some of my work (particularly large prints), but recently the software has added another important feature in the way it handles the ever present noise in digital images.

Noise reduction

Whilst camera makers are getting better at reducing sensor noise at low ISO levels, once you start pushing the sensitivity upwards, noise will appear.

This is an area where there are some excellent standalone programs and most RAW converters have improved noticeably in recent years.

That said, I find the way DxO removes noise from RAW files particularly effective. It's not about the detail at 100% (which is good), but the way that the resulting image looks at real use sizes (web images) and prints.

The detail below was shot at 1250 ISO - the highest my Canon 1Ds went to.

Move your mouse over the image to see the default noise reduction setting.

noise reduction demonstration

I've found it works very well in night and dusk shots, such as this one at Cannon Beach in Oregon, just after sunset.

I've used the 'Slight HDR' setting to bring up the darker parts o the image.

lightening shadow areas

Move your mouse over the image to see at 100%

noise reduction in dark areas

A larger shot, giving an idea of why I love walking along this beach at sunset...

Cannon beach at dusk

Up in the mountains, blue skies get quite dark, and noise can easily appear.

If I'm making a black and white version of such an image, all that noise in the sky can be quite a nuisance.

noise in deep blue parts of the sky

I'll not do many direct comparisons, but here's the same shot (Canon 1Ds) showing default settings in ACR (Photoshop CS5) and DxO Optics Pro 7.2

Move your mouse over the image to see (the clouds shift because the DxO version defaults to fixing lens distortions too).

dxo optic pro and ACR noise comparison

file output optionsI'm very wary of making such comparisons, but would strongly suggest that if you like the DxO version, then it might be worth checking out the free trial of the DxO software that can be downloaded.

Remember too, that you're just seeing web pictures here...

Processing files

All those adjustments are fine, but at some point you need to actually convert your files from RAW to something usable.

There are a number of output options available, and you can customise them further to meet your needs.

TIFF, JPEG and DNG are the basic file types supported.

It's possible to output in different colour spaces, although if you want to use a very large space, such as ProPhoto, you'll need to point to an external location for the profile.

Parts of this screen have not changed much for many generations of the software, and I still have the same minor issues, that I've had for years.

First up - why 72 dpi as a default? My Canon cameras have a default of 240, which is a good starting point (300 might be a better choice for a general setting)

72 is a widely used default for screen display, but isn't actually of any importance when you're putting images on the web.

Mildly annoying every time I have to use it is the selection of TIFF, as a high quality output option. I use Photoshop (along with a lot of people) so an option to save files in .psd format would be nice.

One welcome improvement is the way the program supports multiple cores in your processor. My Mac Pro has dual quad core processors.

maximising cpu use during processingThis shot, from the 'Activity Monitor' system utility software shows the sixteen effective processors of the machine all running flat out, as I processed a set of images.

If you've a fast enough graphics card, in a windows pc, then things are apparently speeded up even more, but we don't have any PCs here for testing...

Fourteen Canon 1Ds3 (21MP) images were processed (with all adjustments and corrections enabled) in just over three minutes.

image processing time

Conclusions

I like using DxO Optics Pro for the particular image qualities I find I can get from it. To me, it's a specialist tool that I get out when I've images that need that bit more, in the RAW processing. In this review, I've been looking at DxO Optics Pro V7.2 mainly from the image quality point of view.

I know that my way of using the software doesn't put me into its biggest target market (I don't use Lightroom or Aperture for example), but if I've a set of images taken under less than optimal lighting conditions, then I know that DxO Optics Pro is there. It helps me with my preference for exploring available light photography, and gets images closer to how the scene felt and how I want it to look* - without going for the tawdry excesses all too often seen in some 'HDR' techniques.

  • *Not the same as accurate - I can do that too, but I always remember that accurate colour is not always the same as the 'best looking colour'.

As someone who's been writing reviews for a few years now, I look back on the rapid progress in image quality I've seen on screen and with prints, and realise that it's getting increasingly difficult to point to obvious differences. If software produces excellent images, then improvements become more difficult to nail down, and more subjective.

If your camera and lenses are supported, then give it a try - look at image quality and, if it's important to you, look at how you could fit it into your photographic workflow.

I've read back through some of my previous DxO reviews and seen the evolution of its capabilities and performance - it feels less clunky to use than some previous versions, and processing speed just isn't an issue for me any more.

The range of lenses and cameras supported is growing nicely - in fact some of the real benefits of this software would be far more apparent to users of cheaper lenses, than the expensive kit I use (but it is my job... ;-)

An example where I'd use DxO Optics Pro

Below is a shot of Spring Snow in Colorado (Hwy. 285 South of Poncha Springs)

A very wide range of brightness from a Canon 1Ds file has benefited from the noise reduction in the deep blue sky areas and kept detail in the dark bits of road.

The image was underexposed to keep the detail in the cloud area, close to the sun. Post processing has included some sharpening and lightening of the snow at the right (masked curve adjustment).

  • If you have snow, bits of it need to show as near pure white - this was never going to happen with the sun and bright clouds in the picture, so to put it in darkroom terms, there's been a bit of 'dodging' in the snow areas.

Although further work goes into producing the black and white version of an image, I frequently find that DxO colour images make for better looking B&W versions.

spring snow in Colorado - hwy285, south of Poncha Springs

All in all, a welcome improvement in both performance and capabilities..

Discusss this review with Keith at Google+ or via our Blog

Summary

Offers numerous performance improvements and options for workflow compared to previous versions, although it still supports previous ways of working

Works stand-alone or can be integrated with other software solutions such as Adobe Lightroom.

Very wide range of image processing options - excellent RAW file conversion, even if specific lens modules are not available.

Very much worth getting the free demo to see if it fits your needs and ways of working.

Can be purchased in download form.

System Requirements

Processor:

Graphics card:

Required memory (RAM):

Required disk space:

More Info

Full list of V7 changes (from DxO documentation)

Workflow

    • DxO Optics Pro 6: if a single picture is part of two different Projects, the settings are independent from each other, and a preset is added as soon as the photo is added to a Project.
    • DxO Optics Pro 7: if a single picture is part of two different Projects, the settings stay the same for both Projects. If you need different and independent settings, then you need to create Virtual Copies for each Project.

Image processing

*: The previous default presets are still available in the “DxO Optics Pro 6 default presets” folder.

Presets and sidecars

DxO Optics Modules

Further improvements

Supports the Mac OS X Lion full screen mode (click on the double-arrow icon at the top right corner of the application window).

Supports the following gestures (an update to 10.7.2 is required) :

Zoom: pinch in / pinch out. - Change image: swipe left or right (2 or 3 fingers). - In-app full screen: swipe down / swipe up. - System full screen: Cmd + swipe down.

Move from Organize to Customize tab: Cmd + swipe left / swipe right.

Lightroom workflow

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 has at times been 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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