Pro Review: DxO Optics Pro v4.1

By Thomas White

DxO Optics Pro v4.1 starts with a great concept: analyze the images from professional digital cameras and lenses in combination to determine corrections needed for the RAW capture files. Hasselblad and Leica have both incorporated lens-specific corrections into their digital cameras' raw processing. Most raw converters include camera-specific adjustments to the images they process without taking into account the way that different lenses may affect the captured image. Changing automatic raw processing to correct for known lens aberrations like vignetting, chromatic aberration, or distortion should give a better developed file.

The DxO installer warns that a fast internet connection is required to install the program. To complete the install process you must choose your camera and matching lenses from a list that includes most of Canon and Nikon’s professional and prosumer cameras. The installer then downloads modules for the specific camera body and lens combinations you have chosen and installs only those components. With a 1.5Mbps internet connection at my office installation took 50 minutes for a selection of five camera bodies and eight lenses; using a faster DSL 5.6Mbps connection at my home the same installation required about 15 minutes.

The DxO raw processing engine can be accessed either from a stand-alone program or as a plug-in to Adobe Photoshop (not yet supporting Adobe Photoshop CS3). The stand-alone version can be used in three different processing modes: automatic, guided or expert. Users locate images using the application’s file browser window. The files that you select for processing are bundled into projects. Depending on which run mode you have selected, you choose the appropriate processing settings for your image. Then the program batch processes the images into the final output types of your choice.

Caption: Though the batch processing performance of DxO Optics Pro v4.1 works exceptionally well, a non-intuitive interface and cryptic documentation make the Expert processing mode difficult to learn. [Click image for larger view.] ©Thomas White

In the Auto processing mode there are few options to select. You can choose from a list of presets that affects the overall appearance of the processed file: B&W, vignetting, sepia toned, highlight recovery. These automatic presets seem to benefit from DxO’s in-depth analysis of supported cameras and lenses. The results are good for a development with scant user input.

The Guided mode organizes the image adjustments into several categories, allowing for corrections in optics, lighting, color and sharpness. The corrections are again chosen from a pop-up menu in each of these categories. In the Expert processing mode, the user sets the individual controls for each of the image adjustments: sharpness, noise, white-balance, color, lighting, geometry, and cropping. All DxO adjustments are non-destructive edits, and the information is stored into an internal database.

A problem with DxO’s Expert processing mode is that the 64-page User Guide, which can be accessed through the program’s help menu, is not very user friendly. The application’s user interface is also not very intuitive either. DxO seems to have a very powerful and well thought out raw development engine, but the power is difficult to control or master with an unfriendly interface and cryptic documentation.

While DxO’s ‘Expert’ adjustment mode is not easy to learn, the program shines as a batch processing utility. Grouping images for processing and output is quick and convenient. It is possible to have the program simultaneously output in multiple formats or to have more than one version of any format. A processed file can yield a hi-res TIFF, a JPEG, a smaller thumbnail JPEG and a DNG file for archiving all in a single pass. Configuring the output is as simple as the program’s ‘Expert’ processing controls are awkward.

Caption: Here is the image after processing. You can see the degree of change reflected in the black edges around the bottom and lower sides.

The Final output from any RAW processing program is what really counts. In this case the effort that DxO puts into analysis of the camera-lens interactions doesn’t seem to produce finished files that are noticeably superior to the results from Apple Aperture, Adobe Lightroom or Camera RAW plug-ins. These programs all offer a much better documented and easier to understand interface to their development controls. DxO’s automatic settings give good results, but not as good as individually adjusted images from Aperture or Lightroom.

DxO might be the perfect tool for an event photographer who has a static setup and shoots hundreds or thousands of images that are very similar. The chore of working with DxO’s development tools could well be balanced by its strengths in batch processing for a photographer who shoots this way.

DxO Optics Pro Elite version $299. Mac Universal and Windows XP and Windows Vista.

[Editor's note: DxO Optics Pro v4.2 was released on March 8. It is a free upgrade and includes several interface improvements, Smart Vibrancy, and Windows Vista compatibility.]

Thomas White is a photographer based in Denver, Colorado. He is currently working on a book about the National Western Stock Show & Rodeo.


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