DxO OpticsPro 10 Elite review
There aren’t many photo editors that can match Adobe Camera Raw (which powers Adobe Photoshop CC, Elements and Lightroom) for raw-processing quality, but DxO OpticsPro is one. Its automatic colour- and lens-correction technologies make it quick and easy to process large quantities of raw files, and there’s plenty of scope for manual adjustment, too. It lacks Lightroom’s ability to apply colour correction to limited areas of an image, though, and also its extensive cataloguing, map-plotting and slideshow-creation tools; this is an application that aims to do one job, and do it well.
DxO Optics Pro 10 review: what’s new?
Version 9 was available in Standard and Elite versions, priced at £99 and £199 exc VAT respectively; the Elite version was required in order to process raw files from full-frame cameras. Version 10 is cheaper at £99 and £159 inc VAT, but there are now different restrictions in the cheaper version, known as OpticsPro Essential.
It omits the Prime noise-reduction algorithm and the new ClearView contrast-manipulation tool – more on both of these below. Anti-moiré, ICC profile management and a handful of other features are missing, too. This means Optics Pro 9 Standard users must upgrade to OpticsPro 10 Elite to avoid losing features.
We appreciate timely support for new cameras’ raw files, and Optics Pro generally scores well here. It already supports the Nikon D750 and D810, Sony A77 II and A5100, all of which were announced within the last six months. Support for the Canon 7D Mark II is scheduled for December 2014. It isn’t so up-to-date for other camera brands, though, with no mention of the Samsung NX1, NX3000 or NX mini, and no new Fujifilm cameras added since 2011.
The Prime noise-reduction algorithm was a major new feature in version 9. Its results were excellent but it was painfully slow to process photos. Performance is much improved this time around – between two and five times faster in our tests. Even so, exports still came in at between one and five minutes per image. In practice, it makes sense to stick with the older, less processor-intensive algorithm for all but the noisiest images; here, exports took less than 30 seconds per image. It’s still around twice as slow as Lightroom’s exports, though. Comparing Lightroom and DxO Prime for noise-reduction quality, Prime sometimes had a tiny advantage.
One of OpticPro’s key strengths is its database of lens profiles, which allows it to correct for geometry, chromatic aberrations and vignetting. These profiles also include focus, so that sharpening can be applied dynamically to photos. This sharpening algorithm is apparently improved in this update, although the difference to version 9 was too subtle for us to spot. However, it performed better than Lightroom’s sharpening filter when tackling soft focus towards the edges of frames.
Smart Lighting is another one of OpticPro’s more interesting features. It manipulates the dynamic range of images, primarily to lift shadows and darken highlights to reveal obscured details. The algorithm has been updated in version 10, with the ability to apply stronger correction while still maintaining photorealistic results. Details were revealed in darker areas without them becoming washed out.
The Smart Lighting algorithm is applied by default, but we’re relieved that photos that had already been processed using version 9 still had the older algorithm applied to them. It’s great to see this technology improving, but it’s vital that photos in the library aren’t altered without the user’s consent.
DxO Optics Pro 10 review: ClearView
The new ClearView filter plays a similar role to Smart Lighting, but it’s ostensibly designed to remove the effects of atmospheric haze or fog. In practice, it boosts low-contrast areas of the frame, bringing out textures in clouds and distant landscapes. Applying it to landscape photos often brought a tangible improvement with very little effort, and it also improves saturation and darkened midtones a little.
You’ll need to be careful with the Intensity slider, though: too much, and photos take on a surreal appearance, especially when combined with Smart Lighting. The effect doesn’t flatter skin tones, either, even at modest settings, turning them dark and mottled. Fortunately, this isn’t enabled by default.
Smart Lighting and ClearView provide a superb starting point from which to fine-tune raw files, and they go a long way towards making up for the lack of localised editing tools. However, as regular Lightroom users, we missed being able to apply independent colour-correction settings to different parts of the frame.
One solution is to run both applications side by side. This is easier in version 10, thanks to a Lightroom plugin that simplifies transferring files between the two applications. However, this is only possible by writing all edits to a new file before transfer. We found that the drawbacks of interrupting the non-destructive workflow outweighed the benefits of accessing both applications’ best features. It’s more conceivable to use Lightroom for library management and OpticsPro for image processing, but it still complicates the workflow.
DxO Optics Pro 10 review: verdict
Even so, OpticsPro can’t be dismissed. It might be a one-trick pony, but when its trick is making raw files look stunning with a minimum of effort, other concerns fall by the wayside. It’s a worthy alternative to Adobe Photoshop Lightroom.