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The cricket club house at Kibworth DxO Optics Pro V8 - Review update

DxO evolves...

DxO Optics Pro has been updated to version 8

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 my DxO reviews at the end of this article.

The updates in version 8 combine both a change in the way the software is used (workflow) and a number of key improvements in image processing.

I'll have a look at some of the improvements in image processing, since DxO Optics pro is still a tool I'll use for specific images rather than as a general purpose image processing tool.

This isn't to criticise the workflow aspects, more to emphasise that in many respects DxO Optics Pro still does what it has long done best, i.e. offer me a different and often better way of processing problematic RAW images.

I'd point out though that there are many tutorials and detailed information available on the DxO Optics Pro web site that cover all the functionality in a detailed manner.

  • Dec 2012 - Update - V8.1 adds improved print options (icc profiles/sharpening)

If some of my images pique your curiosity, there's a free trial of the software (Mac and PC) that's available for download.

I'd also suggest reading my longer review of V7.2, which gives some more examples of how I use DxO (some of the V7 settings are available in V8 if you need to duplicate them)

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

 New version of Dxo optics pro V8What's new

The improvements in the new version cover image processing and workflow.

There is now a print option and you can send images to Flickr. Given the size and additional work needed for the kinds of prints I create, I prefer to use DxO Optics Pro primarily for RAW conversion, and do my additional editing and print sharpening in Photoshop. If you've a MacBook with a very high res display, then it's also supported (although I still wouldn't be using one to edit my work).

The process of using the software is still split into Organise, Customise and Process sections - select file, settings and processing files (whether individually or in batches).

Some tool palettes have been rearranged, and there are two modes of operation, a basic one to get started with, and an advanced one that offers finer adjustment options and additional sliders to fine tune adjustments. It's worth noting that many of the 'Auto' settings really do give good results with a lot of files - I'll often try them to get a feel for what an image could look like.

What were the results of several different settings in DxO 7 can be seen as a single slider 'Smart Lighting' in V8. There are lots of other tweaks worth exploring, such as the improved saturation adjustments which are much less likely to clip or posterize.

There are still two versions of the software: Elite and Standard. Elite is for higher end cameras, and what I'm using here. You can see whether your camera is supported and what version is needed at DxO.

In the example below, I've a problem of taking photos of the front of a house, whilst in shade - real life jobs don't always offer the luxury of going back at another time, and there are always north facing buildings...

Move your mouse over the image to see two different settings of the smart lighting.

As with many adjustments, it's easy to take things a bit too far.

house front in shadow

For another, even more extreme version, there is this image of a local mosque where I wanted to see how much detail I could hold in the sky (an actual multi-shot HDR approach might well be of benefit here - note the multiple shots in the thumbnails)

Mouse over image to see a strong application of the smart lighting settings.

strong back lighting

With architectural shots, the combination of dusk and interior lighting can make for impressive looking images.

The key is in balancing the interior and exterior light levels, and minimising any clipping.

A boost of the darker areas makes for a scene that is closer to how it looked (mouse over to see).

boosting darker areas of the image

I've exaggerated all the effects above, to give a feel for what you can do.

I always try and avoid doing everything in one place when processing my images, particularly one like the cricket club building above, which is intended as a large print.

With the print I'll be making more localised adjustments, but as with B&W images, I often find the DxO created files easier to work on and more amenable to subsequent editing.

Using DxO Optics Pro

In general, you first need to select files, then apply adjustment settings and finally process your RAW files to a desired output format.

The software does open JPEG files, but the range is adjustments is much more limited.

Selecting files

I'll normally just select individual files or groups for processing.

The screen layout can be customised if you wish. For example, I could detach the film strip at the bottom and move it on to a different monitor.

selecting files to work on

The small thumbnails have a range of icons that appear to tell you different details about the file status.

The night time shot of a building below was taken when I was trying out the Canon 40mm 'pancake' lens on a Canon 7D

selecting image from different shots

Note the green circles.

These tell me that the software has found the appropriate data modules for this combination of lens and body.

I'd previously checked, and the software offered to download the correct module.

dxo optics lens/camera data modules

Image options

The adjustment options for your image are shown in this right hand column.

image adjustment options

I noted that the histogram in V8 offers more viewing options, such as this view of just the blue channel.

blue channel on histogram

The option can be expanded and collapsed as needed, making for a basic top to bottom order for your adjustments.

Individual settings can often be expanded too.

setting adjustment options for dispaly

One of the first adjustments will typically be white balance, where the original image and adjusted one are shown side by side.

matching images for white balance setting

There are colour temperature/tint sliders in the advanced mode of operation, but ideally you do need something that is grey in your image.

adjust white balance for night shot

One omission that I feel continues in this version of the 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, why not this one?

Contrast adjustment now includes a setting for 'microcontrast' - shown below in a high ISO night shot (mouse over image to see). As with all such adjustments, do look round your image for any unwanted effects, such as halos. and always consider whether an adjustment is best applied globally, or later, in a selective manner.

micro contrast settings

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.

Saving highlights

The recovery of highlights is very good with this software, although you need to allow for interaction between these settings and the smart lighting options.

setting highlight recovery

In the advanced mode, there are the very useful selective tone adjustments, for highlights, midtones, shadows and black point.

They give much more finesse to some of the other automated adjustments, particularly if these were pushed to more extreme values.

selective tone adjustments for image processing

Lens distortions

Fixing lens distortions has always been a key feature of the software (I've lots more examples in earlier reviews)

The image below shows two distortions being alternately fixed for the 40mm pancake lens on the 7D.

The screen shot shows just geometric distortion fixed for the lens. Move your mouse over the image to see just vignetting fixed.

vignetting and lens distortions

With refinements to handling sharpening for out of focus areas, this aspect of DxO Optics Pro is very effective for supported lenses.

The 'fixing' of chromatic aberation and other lens corrections is fine tuned by the software by analysing image content, making for very clean output and few artefacts.

The lens softness settings can be varied, depending on what you are doing with the imge afterwards. The default is very good at bringing out fine details.

The image below has been lightened quite a bit (see the other thumbnails in the strip) It's actually from when I first got my 1Ds mk3 and EF14mm 2.8L II lens in 2007, and was experimenting to see how it handled highlights at different exposures.

Move your mouse over the image to see the default sharpening, and also at 100% in the second image below.

dxo lens softness settings

full detail

detail of lens softness at 100%

This sort of detail may not always be of help, particularly if you are resampling your images for a large print.

The combination of detail, sharpening artefacts (not many, but they are there) and eventual selective print sharpening may or may not make for a better looking print.

Over the years, I've tended to turn down this sharpening, since whilst it was great for parts of images, it was too much for other areas. The newest version of DxO Optics Pro seems to be much more subtle in its handling of sharpening, but I've not made any really large prints using it yet.

It so happens that I use tilt/shift lenses a lot, so these can't easily be corrected in this way, but they generally have negligible distortions to start with (and an associated price point).

Noise reduction

The RAW processing handles noise reduction very effectively, with minimal 'mushing' of real image detail.

Mouse over this image to see the reduction of noise in this 100% crop from a Canon 7D at ISO 6400.

noise reduction 7D at 6400 ISO

It's also possible to deal with image moire effects although this is not really an issue with any camera I'm likely to be using.

Presets

If you use the software very often, it worth taking time to create your own settings presets.

I don't use this software to process high volumes of images, but I do know wedding photographers who have a range of presets they can quickly apply to groups of images.

This one for buildings in the shade (although after applying it I had to change the highlight preservation a bit more)

using a preset that I've saved

One nice touch is that you get small thumbnail previews of what your image will look like.

The picture postcard look.

postcard look prest

or black and white

black and white preset

or 'HDR' styles

HDR - realistic setting

It's possible to change the 'look' of your images from one camera body to another. I tend to shoot with just Canon 1 series bodies, so even though there are differences, I rarely ever need to match them with any accuracy.

setting camera body 'look'

FilmPack

Since I had DxO FilmPack 3 installed, all the options were available from within Optics Pro. [Full FilmPack 3 review]

From overexposed colour slide...

filmpack film options

To the nice chunky grain of Tri-X

simulating Tri-X film

Processing files

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

The options are all still there. I generally pick 16 bit TIFF files (although Photoshop PSD files would be ideal for me)

Processing is fast, making good use of multiple core processors and lots of RAM if you have it.

You can go back and work elsewhere in the program during processing.

Conclusions

I really like the improved lighting adjustments in V8 of the software - this for me is what it's about.

The image below is from a very quick adjustment of an image that was exposed to hold the sky detail. In an image like this with two very different parts I may well produce two conversions, one optimised for the sky and one for the rest of the image. Blending these together as layers in Photoshop is a pretty basic process and offers far more flexibility than any localised adjustments at this stage.

dxo 8 lighting effects

If I'm using a lens that is supported, then I get additional sharpening and geometry adjustment/correction, but even with my TS-E24mm shift lens, which was used for the shot below, I'm getting all the noise reduction and detail from my RAW files that DxO gives me.

The image cropping and straightening options all feel a bit clunky to me, but do remember that I use Photoshop almost every day (and have used it regularly for over 15 years now).

One area I can't make quite such good use of this software is my large GigaPan based prints. When stitching, you need to process each image identically, and several of the content based 'smart' adjustments would vary from image to image. I do still use the software though to reduce noise and correct for image distortions (which makes for better stitching).

Workflow improvements are perhaps wasted on me, given my style of use of the software. I don't use Flickr and wouldn't dream of going for a 36" x 24" print on my large format iPF8300 straight from a RAW converter. Even if I was going for smaller prints, the lack of any real colour management options and automatic print sharpening are not an approach I'd want.

  • Update note - V8.1 of the software adds colour management options and adjustable print sharpening.

I can see that all the additional features are designed for a far bigger market than the likes of me, but I can still see attention to what are the important image quality aspects of the software.

Lit up building at dusk

In the end, more than with many bits of software I use, I have to say 'try it and see'. See how it fits with where you want to go with your photography.

Article first published December 2012.

Discuss this review with Keith in the comments section below, or at Google+ or via our Blog

Summary

Updated software improves image processing and workflow options. New smart lighting settings make recovery of highlights and shadow detail much more effective.

If you're looking for a different look for your images, I'd suggest downloading the free demo to see if it works for you?

Can be purchased in download form.

System Requirements

More Info

Full list of V8 options (from DxO documentation)

The following list of software options were listed for my Canon 1Ds mk3

A full listing by camera make and model is available at DxO

DxO Optics pro image processiing options

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The views in this article represent those of Keith Cooper.
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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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