DxO Optics Pro 8 Standard review
This software isn’t as multitalented as Lightroom, but it’s more streamlined and just as polished
DxO’s raw-processing software has been around for almost a decade, so it must have been irritating to see Lightroom take the market by storm in recent years. Optics Pro is leaner, with no cataloguing, mapping, slideshow or book-design modules. However, its raw-processing engine more than holds its own against Lightroom.
There are two versions: Standard and Elite, with the latter carrying a £134 premium. They’re identical except that Elite is required to process more upmarket cameras’ raw files. That generally means full-frame, but check the website for the full breakdown. This divides users broadly into enthusiasts and professionals, but doesn’t mean enthusiasts have to put up with inferior tools – a smart move.
DxO clearly knows a thing or two about lenses. The software has profiles for more than 10,000 lens and body combinations, and the intention is to double this number by the end of 2013. These allow Optics Pro to correct distortion, chromatic aberrations (CA), vignetting and even variations in sharpness, and they’re available for both JPEG and raw files. Lightroom includes lens profiles, too, but only for distortion (its CA removal is performed by analysing the image rather than from a profile) and it has far fewer profiles for JPEGs.
The significance of this shouldn’t be underestimated. There’s a growing trend for cameras to correct distortion, CA and vignetting, but only for their JPEG output. It’s annoying to lose out on this when shooting raw, and Optics Pro seamlessly adds it back into the workflow.
Lens corrections are applied to images by default, and there’s even subtle colour correction via the Smart Lighting tool. This is a new feature in version 8, and it did a superb job of tweaking the luminance curve to reveal details in shadows and highlights without excessively altering the rest of the image. Increasing Smart Lighting’s intensity slider produced more radical changes that were still expertly judged.
Another new feature avoids clipping in highly saturated colours, again with great success. Default processing settings can be customised separately for JPEG and raw images, but we found its out-of-the-box processing was spot on. The ability to fix distortion and vignetting issues in JPEGs dating back years was a revelation.
Also new are the Selective Tone controls, with sliders for highlights, midtones, shadows and blacks. Optics Pro proved as precise and versatile as Lightroom for corrective colour treatments. It was on a par with Lightroom for noise reduction, too: each has its own way of doing things and we couldn’t pick an overall winner.
However, Optics Pro’s default settings are much closer to what we’d choose than Lightroom’s weak default noise reduction. The two editors were also close for extracting details from raw files, but Lightroom clinched it with crisper rendering of subtle textures.
Other highlights include inspired processing presets, including subtle HDR effects from a single raw file, and another to restore body proportions in group portraits. The Force Parallel and Rectangle tools make it delightfully easy to correct unflattering distortions and square off the geometry of subjects.
Local editing is notably absent, except for dust removal. Lightroom can manipulate limited areas of an image, based on either colour or through the use of brushstrokes and gradient filters, but processing in Optics Pro is always image-wide.
Images can be sent directly to Lightroom for further processing, and choosing the 16-bit TIFF format maintained a decent amount of highlight and shadow information, but it isn’t the same as a fully integrated, non-destructive workflow.
DxO’s Organise module gives direct access to your PC’s folders, so there’s no need to go through a convoluted import process. Sorting and filtering options are limited, and it’s possible to create virtual folders inside Optics Pro to bring photos together from disparate sources.
A star rating system is used, but the ratings we’d added in Lightroom and embedded in the files weren’t recognised. The lack of a visible undo history is also disappointing. All edits are non-destructive so it isn’t difficult to readjust any parameter, but we found we missed Lightroom’s elegant History panel.
DxO and Lightroom both have strengths and weaknesses. Lightroom wins for features, with its excellent search, filter and tagging facilities, attractive maps and powerful local editing tools. However, Optics Pro’s more streamlined approach is a virtue, and its superior lens profile database often yields superior results.
We also appreciate how much closer its default settings got us to the finished result. While Lightroom remains our top recommendation for most, Optics Pro is perfect for those who take a purist approach to raw processing.
|Software subcategory||Photo editing software|