Pro Review: DxO Optics Pro v6.5 is an Auto Adjustment Hit

By Stan Sholik

There is no “magic bullet” software for post production of raw and JPEG image files. Each program comes with an upside and a downside. The upside with DxO Optics Pro is its automatic adjustment presets; the downside has always been its speed of operation, especially on a Mac. Version 6 showed some speed improvements and now version 6.5 (actually 6.5.5 as of a few days ago) shows greater improvement still, making it worth looking at in detail.

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With many advanced and professional photographers comfortably settled into either a Lightroom, Aperture, or Bridge/Photoshop workflow, it may be a tough sell for DxO to convince them to investigate another application. But Optics Pro has much to offer, chiefly its processing automation and camera/lens-specific DxO Optics Modules, although neither of these are new to version 6.5.

Image correction with little or no human intervention lies at the core of Optics Pro’s processing automation. In addition, there is a series of tools that allow you to fine-tune the automatic corrections. 

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DxO revised the Optics Pro interface in version 6.0 and has kept the same clean, contemporary look in version 6.5. Four tabs at the top, Select, Customize, Process and View take you to different windows as you move through the workflow. In the Select tab, the browser pane is to the left, a Preview pane where the images in the selected folder appear is to the right, and a Project pane at the bottom hold selected images for processing. In the “First Steps” mode, information to guide you through the process appears onscreen.

The automation is built around workspaces and presets. Three workspaces are found in Optics Pro: First Steps, Essentials and Advanced User. The First Steps workspace includes the basic corrections and a wizard to walk you through the workflow if you are new to the program. Additional tools are added in the Essentials workspace and even more in the Advanced User. Tools with corrections that DxO has made automatically are indicated with an “Auto” in the tools header. These automatic corrections could be based on image content or camera, camera/lens calibration for the parameters that Optics Pro finds in the image EXIF information and the corresponding DxO Optic Module that you have downloaded. 

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The Customize tab is the most complex, even in the First Steps workspace shown. Visualization tools are on the left, a preview of the adjusted image is in the center, adjustment palettes are on the right, and the Project pane from the Select tab, is below. The First Steps workspace has minimal adjustments available. 

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The Essentials workspace adds a histogram to the Visualization tools and more adjustments are available in the adjustment palette.  

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The Advanced User workspace adds a small amount of EXIF information to the Visualization tools and all of the available adjustments are listed in the adjustment palette. 

From my experience while testing, this part of the automation works extremely well, particularly so if you have the appropriate Optics Module loaded. While there are more than 3,000 Optics Modules available, I seemed to have the wrong combination of Nikon camera and Nikkor or Sigma lens to make use of them most of the time, but when I did, there was an noticeable, though slight, improvement in image quality. Where I did notice an amazing improvement in image quality was in images from my Nikon P7000, which was recently added to the Optics Modules. For a compact camera, the P7000 is excellent, but with Optics Pro the images are superb. I saw the same high degree of improvement in images from a Canon G12.

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If Optics Pro detects EXIF metadata that indicates you are adding images to a project for which an Optics Module is available, it will prompt you to download the module. 

Besides workspaces, there are 29 presets, including No Correction. Whenever you move images from the preview window in the Select tab to the Project pane below the preview window for processing, you must use one of the presets. I found that the DxO Defaults v2 works well, even better for many JPEG images than the General tone preset in an Adobe Photoshop Lightroom import. 

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Presets play an essential role in the automation process in Optics Pro. Every image brought into a Project must have a preset applied. You can apply Presets at any time using the Image menu shown here, but in the Select tab you would normally add one from the button to the far right of the interface above the Preview pane. DxO Default v2 is a good choice for general automated processing.

Once you have added images to a new project in the Select tab, you move to the Customize tab if you want to make your own personal adjustments, the Process tab to output the images, and the View tab to view the processed images.

Version 6.5 adds and updates features, one of which I find of questionable value, one that I find very valuable and one that I couldn’t get to work at all.

I personally am a big fan of HDR imaging for recovering the full dynamic range of a scene the way the eye sees it. I’m not a big fan of single image pseudo-HDR images, where you create an HDR effect just because HDR imaging is popular these days. Version 6.5 adds a pseudo-HDR preset and adjustment controls to Optics Pro. If single-shot HDR appeals to you, you may like it. 

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The ability to create pseudo-HDR images from single raw files is new to Optics Pro in version 6.5. A good range of controls are available, but while you can simulate the HDR-look, it’s not like creating a real HDR image from multiple exposures.

The updated feature that I did find outstanding is the new raw file converter. While I use Lightroom/Camera Raw for raw file conversion with large batches of images that I shoot on location, I use Capture One to bring out the utmost quality for studio images shot for clients. While I probably won’t change from Capture One in the studio since I shoot at low ISOs with digital SLRs and Optics Pro doesn’t support medium-format backs, I may change from Lightroom for my location shooting. The new raw file converter in Optics Pro v6.5 has better noise reduction and seems to have better overall image quality than Lightroom 3.3. (01nonoise.jpg, 02autononoise.jpg, 03manualnonoise.jpg)

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Noise reduction in the updated raw file converter is excellent with high ISO files. These images are 100% crops of Nikon D2x images shot at ISO 800 (click image for large view). The left image is the original file with no noise reduction. Optics Pro’s automatic noise correction, center image, did an excellent job of analyzing the image an applying noise reduction without destroying sharpness. I added even more noise reduction to the right image and the image quality is still very good.

However, I have yet to master the DxO Multi-Point Color Balance tool. It is supposed to function something like a Nik Control Point or Capture One’s Color Editor, giving you control over a specific color without affecting any other color. The Multi-Point Color Balance tool wouldn’t do this for me. Every time I tried it, even with the help of tech support, a whole range of colors, even the direct complement of the chosen color, were affected. 

One other new feature of Optics Pro I should mention is that it now integrates smoothly with Lightroom if Lightroom is your present post production raw or JPEG workflow application. You simply set up Optics Pro as an additional external editor and raw files (without any Lightroom adjustments) can round-trip from Lightroom to Optics Pro for adjustments and back to a Lightroom stack. More information on how to set this up as well as other options for integrating Lightroom and Optics Pro workflows are found on the DxO site. There is also a wealth of other information on the site and the opportunity to download a fully functioning trial version to test for one month. 

DxO Optics Pro is available in two versions, Standard or Elite. They both use the same set of features, but the Elite edition covers high-end cameras in addition to the cameras supported by the Standard edition. DxO provides a handy tool to decide which edition you need on its website. MSRP of the Standard edition is $169 and the Elite edition is $299.

Stan Sholik is a commercial/advertising photographer in Santa Ana, Calif., specializing in still life and macro photography. He is also currently writing his fourth book, Nik HDR Efex Pro, for Wiley Publishing.

SYSTEM REQUIREMENTS:

Windows
Microsoft® Windows OS: XP SP2 32 or 64-bit, Microsoft Windows VISTA 32 or 64-bit, Microsoft Windows 7 32 or 64-bit - The use of a 64 bit system is recommended for processing images which were taken with a sensor of 20 Megapixels or higher.
Processor: Intel: Pentium®: 4, Dual-Core, M or 64bits AMD®: Dual-Core processor, 64 bits
RAM: Minimum 2 GB (4 GB RAM are recommended for processing images which were taken with a sensor of 20 Megapixels or higher.)
Hard drive space: Minimum 400 MB free
Supported file formats Input files: RAW, JPEG Output files: JPEG, TIFF (8-bit / 16-bit), Adobe DNG
Plug-in included: Adobe Lightroom 1, 2, 3

Macintosh
Mac Intel processor Mac OS X 10.5, 10.6
RAM: Minimum 2 GB (3 GB RAM are recommended for processing images which were taken with a sensor of 20 Megapixels or higher.)
Hard drive space: Minimum 400 MB free
Supported file formats Input files: RAW, JPEG Output files: JPEG, TIFF (8-bit / 16-bit), Adobe DNG
Plug-in included: Adobe Lightroom 1, 2, 3

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This page contains a single entry from the blog posted on April 6, 2011 2:19 PM.

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