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sunset image processed with DxO 9.1DxO Optics Pro V9.1 - Review

DxO expands features and technology

DxO Optics Pro has been updated to version 9.1

Keith has used editions of this software for several years and looks at the latest version.

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

Using DxO Optics Pro V9.1

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

As before, this is not a comprehensive look at every bit of the functionality in the program.

There are aspects, such as printing I'm just not going to use. Not because they don't work, but because I'm using DxO Optics Pro to give me excellent source images that I'll then go on to edit in Photoshop. This may seem excessive for small prints, but when you are making 36"x24" inch prints, there is often a lot of work to get the file to a point where it's ready for printing.

There are many tutorials and detailed information available on the DxO Optics Pro web site that cover all the functionality in a detailed manner.

  • Note too that this isn't a detailed comparison between different converters. I'm minded to suggest that most people who look at 'alternative' RAW conversion software in any detail will find it difficult to really agree on what's important, and any such comparisons are (IMHO) of dubious utility to most people. If you already have five different RAW converters on your computer, add this one as a demo and try it for yourself...

Each copy of the software can be activated on two machines (incl. a Mac and a PC)

Do also look at my earlier reviews, since they contain many more examples of the types of images I've chosen to process with DxO Optics Pro.

latest version of DxO Optics Pro softwareThe 'Elite' version of the software is required for files from my Canon 1Ds Mk3, whilst our Canon 100D (SL1) only needs the 'Standard' version of the software. Check with the DxO site to see which version your camera needs, and what lenses are supported.

Whilst you can work with any lens on your camera, only some are specifically covered for advanced (automatic) correction. During testing I was sent a sample Nikon RAW file to have a look at - it worked just as well as my Canon files, although I'd note that adding a teleconverter to a lens can sometimes mean that it is no longer supported for automatic conversion (check the list on the DxO site).

What's new

Each new version of DxO Optics pro brings changes to processing capabilities and workflow, and supports more camera/lens combinations.

On the processing side, the big feature being pushed is the new PRIME noise reduction processing, along with continued advances in highlight recovery and shadow detail.

There are more ways that images can be exported to other locations and applications.

An expanded range of Presets make it easier to get to know what the software can do

The program layout is refined and seems more intuitive than some previous versions

There is a page on the DxO site covering the changes. Even if you have used previous versions of the software, I really do suggest reading through the manual - this software can do an awful lot of things.

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. Files can be selected via a file browser, or you can form your own groupings, known as projects.

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

Installation is easy from the downloaded file, although you do need to activate your license on-line.

Selecting files

I've gathered together a selection of RAW files to look at. These cover supported and unsupported lenses.

You can see a file browser at the left.

Selecting images for processing

The selected files can be sorted as required.

file sorting options

The image strip shows additional information about the files.

The green dot means that a lens module is downloaded and installed. The red dot means that a module has been found on-line and the grey one means no support (you can still process the image of course).

lens module availbitiy

Here's the suggested module for my EF 50/1.4 lens on my 1Ds 3

download lens module for camera

Here are suggestions for my Canon TS-E 24/3.5 L tilt shift lens ... all wrong, since I know that tilt/shift lenses don't have modules.

range of incorrect modules

Nice try, but I don't have any of those lenses :-)

Image options

The adjustment options for your image are shown in the right hand column, and there are a lot of them.

I've covered several in this review, but do have a look through the user guide and experiment.

The screen/workspace layout is quite flexible, and as can be seen in the screen shot below, palettes can be undocked and moved.

Fortunately, if you are just starting out, there are preset adjustment sets, and you can always save ones you like for further use.

Various palettes can be collapsed and expanded fitting whatever you're working on, and personal preferences.

It is possible to 'lose' screen items when experimenting with this.

Fortunately there is always a default workspace, and you can save your own preferred versions.

Image processing options

The two screen shots below show the palettes on my second smaller screen and a full screen image.

palettes moved to second monitor

full screen image view

Image adjustments

There are a number of different ways of going through the various adjustments (which can interact), but in general, start at the top of the list and work downwards.

This image (my nephew) was shot under mixed tungsten lighting and the camera's own white balance setting is considerably out, but I can set a white balance on one of my B&W prints in the background.

setting basic white balance

I'd note that the most accurate white balance is not automatically the most pleasing version of an image, so you can fine tune settings to your taste.

fine adjustment of white balance

Lighting and exposure

One area that still earns DxO Optics Pro a place in my editing workflow, for some work, is its wide range of exposure and lighting adjustments.

I'll illustrate this with some examples, but realise that these only scratch the surface of what you can do.

As a UK based architectural photographer, I don't always get to visit a site under optimal lighting conditions, and in the past, this software has helped make the difference between getting acceptable shots or not.

shadow recovery

I've used split screen mode here to show changes from a 'plain' conversion.

In normal use I'd be much more likely to use a single shot view when editing.

split view for editing images

Try the different settings to get a feel for how your images will look, and remember that the exposure compensation and Smart lighting controls will interact to some extent.

lighting adjustment options

There are samples and tutorials on the DxO site, but remember to experiment and make your own choices.

With a the two examples below, I've exposed so as to keep detail and colour in the skies.

The first is genuinely underexposed (I'm shooting manually at 100 ISO) and I took a subsequent shot at a longer exposure. I've included it here to see what the software could do with such an image.

bringing out detail from underexposed file

The second shot just has a lot of dynamic range. If I was on a paying job, then I'd not be shooting hand held and probably would have taken a couple of shots, at different exposures and blended them.

shadow detail and colour enhancement

The colour vibrancy touches on lurid (HDR) levels here, but it makes for a great B&W shot when subsequently converted. Indeed, I've long used DxO Optics Pro for creating the colour sources for some of my large B&W prints.

I know that some people would take 5 bracketed shots in a situation like this, and fire up the HDR software, but the results in most cases really are not worth the effort (IMHO).

This shot, taken with the EF14mm lens, is a snapshot at a market in a funfair ('Fantasy Island') at a place called Ingoldmells on the Lincolnshire coast. A quite strange place at the end of the season, but stalls selling perfume at '3 for £12' give you a feel for their audience.

Roll over the image to see the effect of applying the 'smart lighting' controls.

bringing out detail from darker areas of a photo

This view from my loft was exposed to try and retain the strong colours near the sun.

You may need to adjust several settings to get the feel you want. In this example I could have used the smart lighting to show faint details in the houses, but I went for the silhouette.

sunset photo with skyline silhouette

Tone and Contrast

In addition to the lighting adjustments, there are tone and contrast adjustments.

Be careful with adding microcontrast to images with out of focus areas, since it can adversely affect 'bokeh' (the 'feel' of out of focus detail).

Move your mouse over the image below to see the effect. This is an image where I'd look to apply any such changes after processing, in a localised adjustment in Photoshop. This localised adjustment is not possible in DxO Optics Pro.

Sharpening like this is something to be used with care [see Why I sharpen images for more]

altering microcontrast for image

Just because you -can- make an adjustment at a particular stage of your workflow doesn't always mean that it's the best place.

Selective tone is a good way to make some global adjustments, that are sometimes more natural looking than the lighting adjustments on their own.

Move your mouse over the image to see

simple boost for shadow areas of image

Lens distortions

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

This example shows an image from the Canon EF14 f/2.8L II lens. It's a 100% crop of the corner.

Move your mouse over the image to see the application of corrections for chromatic aberration, distortion and vignetting.

lens distortion corrections

This is an excellent lens to start with, and in practice I'm liable to just correct the colour fringing for landscape shots, and the full set for architectural/interior.

Use the software with a cheap lens, such as older 'kit' lenses and you will get a feel for just how bad some of them are.

  • Just don't get too carried away with a search for lens perfection, it is frequently futile, always expensive, and (IMHO) the time is better spent on actually taking photos...

You can always make manual corrections if a lens isn't supported, but for a lens such as the Samyang 14mm I recently reviewed, distortions can be complex enough to need a specific profile (not available when I was testing).

The example below (move mouse over to see processed version) was also shot at Ingoldmells with the EF 14mm lens. This shows both lighting/exposure changes and sharpening/colour fringe correction.

The second image does look a little flat on it's own, but it should be seen in the context of the whole image below.

market fair - ingoldmells

Yes, you really can use these aftershaves to strip paint... ;-)

Image geometry

There are several alterations you can make to images that alter the projection geometry. One example would be stretching out an image from a fisheye lens (unfortunately, my Canon EF8-15 f4 L zoom fisheye is not yet supported).

A more subtle anamorphic adjustment of the shot above makes it possible to use wide lenses, such as the 14mm above for groups of people.

Note how the people at the edges look a more normal shape, and people in the centre don't look so small.

changing lens geometry to remove distortions of groups of people

It's also possible to correct for arbitrary vertical and horizontal lines.

The quadrilateral drawn on the first image is forced to a rectangle in the second.

correcting verticals and horizontals

Turning off auto cropping shows the change.

automatic cropping of image after adjustment

I've seen it suggested that this is a replacement for using a shift lens in architectural shots - it isn't. [See 'Why I use shift lenses' for more]

I do use these corrections sometimes when using a shift lens hand-held, since even with practice you can get the settings slightly out.

  • Note that shift lenses are not directly supported by DxO Optics Pro. Maybe when someone produces a shift lens that includes focus setting and tilt/shift settings in EXIF....
    There are ways of applying corrections manually - see my review of the Samyang 24mm T/S lens for more.

Sometimes partial correction of verticals makes for a better looking shot, but watch out for what's lost in the crop.

partial correction of image distortion

More often I'll use the adjustment for wide hand-held shots where errors show up a lot more, such as this shot from a visit to the seaside a few months ago.

  • Whilst I'll try and get things like this 'correct' at the time of shooting, I'm happy with knowing that I can tidy things up a bit afterwards. I find that this lets me concentrate more on the shot. Shots like this are taken whilst walking around and not formal portraits. I rarely take a tripod with me when not on a 'paying job' ;-)

levelling up image content

Sometimes with wide shots, adding a bit of extra geometry correction improves the look of the shot. 'Perfect' lenses are not always what you want at shorter focal lengths.

Roll your mouse over the image to see a slight adjustment to compensate for the stretching of the people.

slight image distortion can lead to a more natural look

Noise reduction

The RAW processing in recent versions of DxO Optics Pro has always handled noise reduction very effectively, with minimal 'mushing' of real image detail.

In V9 a second new noise reduction technology called PRIME is introduced. You can either use the standard noise reduction or (at the cost of significantly longer processing times) switch on PRIME.

This first image is at the highest 3200 ISO setting for my Canon 1Ds mark 3. If you look carefully, you can see the little square on the main image, showing where the zoomed example is. You can see the amount of noise in the 'un-fixed' image.

noisy image taken at 3200 ISO

Here are two examples showing the impact of both noise reduction types (mouse over images to see)

High quality noise reduction PRIME noise reduction

Shortly after starting to look at the software, we acquired a Canon EOS 100D camera. With an 18MP APS-C (crop) sensor and maximum ISO setting of 25600, there would be plenty more noise to look at.

This test scene really does show up noise, and with the strong colours is going to challenge any processing

test image taken at 3200 ISO

As before, these two rollover images show the different processing.

normal noise reduction setting PRIME selected

You can fine tune adjustment settings as required.

fine tuning PRIME noise adjustment

I might not use 25600 for images of any great size (on the 100D), but for web size images, it's better than I thought it would be...

test image at 25600 ISO processed with PRIME

A cropped, but not resized or sharpened version of this image is available via my my Google+ pages.

At very high ISO, the preview of this small image sample takes a while to appear. This is a sign of the amount of processing time that using the PRIME setting will add to processing your images.

Processing files (exporting)

Here are two 25600 ISO images processed on a dual quad core Xeon Mac Pro with PRIME enabled. Ordinary images take a small fraction of this time, with 8 'normal' 1Ds3 RAW files processing in just under 4 minutes.

processing speed

The program makes very effective use of all the processing cores (Dual quad core Xeon and 24MB RAM), running pretty much flat out.

image export optionsThere are a number image exporting options.

Normally I'll simply export the image to disk, usually as a TIFF file (16 bit).

In producing the images I've used here, I've also included JPEGs for convenience.

When working on single images I may export directly to Photoshop, but normally I want to keep the TIFF file produced.

By some people's standards I produce a lot of files, but disks are cheap and good archives always useful when people may come along years later and want to license an image.

I don't use Flickr and have no use for a facebook account, so these options remain untested ;-)

There is a wide range of settings you can apply when exporting.

disk image export options

There are several options if you send your file to an application (Photoshop CS5 in this instance).

file saving options

Choices for ICC profile are sRGB and Adobe98, although you can select other profiles.

Select image output profile

There is unfortunately, no information available about how the software internally handles images and their colour space (both in respect to the camera colour space and any used internally), so it's unclear whether selecting another profile would confer any advantages.

The software used to offer facilities for creating and using your own camera ICC profiles. Whilst not something I'd often use, it is (like DNG camera profiles in ACR) of genuine use for certain lighting and colour reproduction issues.

Presets

One simple way of processing is to use preset conversion options (listed at left because the first menu was at the RH side of the screen).

There are three of my own ones (from V8 of the software) at the bottom of the list.

image pprocessing preset options

Note the 'stitching-hdr' one. If you are intending to stitch the files produced, it's important to switch of 'content based' or smart' adjustment settings, since two overlapping shots might be processed in different ways, causing difficulties when stitching.

FilmPack

Since I had DxO FilmPack 4 installed, all the film conversion options (see below for B&W film types) were available from within DxO Optics Pro. I'll be publishing a review of FilmPack 4 in due course (DxO FilmPack V3.2 - review).

If you've not got it in place, then the software still offers a range of different processing options, including making images look like those from another camera.

I know of a wedding photographer who used this to allow for the fact that an assistant used a different make of camera.

Filmpack options

Conclusions

I'm almost tempted to say 'More of the same, but better' about version 9 of this software. However that would play down the many improvements that just make the software easier to use, and offer further improvements to the results.

The noise processing with PRIME selected are impressive, but slow at very high ISO settings. To quote DxO:

  • "Its denoising algorithms analyse the structure of RAW images in depth: more than a thousand neighbouring pixels are surveyed for each pixel. This extensive exploration identifies similar data to use to reconstruct image information."

Results will obviously vary with image type, but it means that The 1600 and 3200 ISO settings of my Canon 1Ds mark 3 are much more usable, or more importantly, 200 and 400 ISO should give results even more like 100. Similarly, it increases the image quality and hence flexibility of our Canon 100D, not to mention improving the quality of images in our archive from my old Canon 1Ds (1250 ISO max.).

The software feels somewhat more responsive to adjustments, and gives quicker feedback on changes to settings.

Most of my use for DxO Optics Pro will be for images like the one below, from a local theatre where I'm pushing the limits of shadow detail and highlight detail.

The job wouldn't budget for sophisticated lighting or coming back on another day - after all, it was photographing a new disabled changing room and toilet (just off to the right in this shot).

...such is the work of an architectural photographer, not all skyscrapers and stunning B&W images for magazines ;-)

view inside Curve theatre, with lighting corrections

  • I should note that I don't use Lightroom at all - it adds nothing of much use to my exisiting Photoshop based workflow, and loses plenty. Given the similarity of RAW processing (ACR) in LR and PS, I'd likely use DxO Optics Pro with LR for just the same reasons as I do now.

There are a few features that may be missed if you move to this software from something else.

Most apparent to me, is the absence of any localised adjustment to images, even if it's a simple graduated filter option, such as you find in Adobe Camera RAW. I don't use it much, but when it's needed, it can make a huge difference.

There is no way of customising the response of your camera to particular lighting, with any kind of profiling, or indeed any information about the inner workings, such as the colour space in use.

My Canon files are tagged with a nominal 240ppi, why not use this? I've asked this question for 10 years, since DxO Optics Pro V2 (the first with RAW processing) and still the TIFF resolution defaults to 72 ppi. Maybe next time...

The software features extensive built in tips and help. This for 'Smart lighting'.

built in software help

Just enough to answer many brief queries, although the manual will give much more detail.

There are also user forums for discussing the software and you can download the manual for the software

I'm very much aware that as a professional photographer, my usage of software like this is not typical and that it's aimed at a more general market, although I know of at least one wedding photographer who uses it for most of their available light shots.

Please do read my comments in the context of my own use of the software.

When I first tried processing RAW files with it, the differences between different software was quite striking, but as in many products I've reviewed over the last few years, the performance jumps from version to version tend to get less and less. This should not be a surprise, since if shadow detail was vastly better in this version (V9.1), it would imply that it was poor in V8 (which it most definitely wasn't).

I went back and looked at some of those Canon 1Ds RAW files I processed for the (V2) review back in 2004, and they all show a distinct improvement, especially those shot at 1250 ISO (one more reason to keep RAW files in your archive).

Using DxO Optics Pro V9 is still an important part of my workflow - it has made a genuine contribution to the technical quality of my commercial work on many occasions.

What about if you are not into image editing?

If you just want a simple solution, there are presets to use, but I feel you are missing so much more.

The key to using this program most effectively is to take lots of photos and experiment. If you are looking for simple push button adjustments or an instruction list to follow, then it will work well, but you are never going to get the most from your images, whatever camera or software you use. I'm afraid it takes some effort! ;-)

Why not gather together a couple of dozen of your most interesting and awkward RAW files and try out the trial version of the software?

Article first published January 2014.

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

Summary

Version 9 of this software improves image processing and workflow options. New noise processing options can work wonders on high ISO images.

The range of camera and lens combinations supported continues to rise.

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

Can be purchased in download form.

  • 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.

System Requirements

More Info

Full list of V9 options (from DxO documentation)

The following list of software options were listed for my Canon 1Ds Mk3

camera options

I like to know who I'm talking to (just like in real life) so anonymous comments are much more likely to be ignored or sumarily deleted.

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