Digital Darkroom Software Review: DxO Optics Pro

Program: DxO Optics Pro
Platforms Available Tested: Mac, Windows
Prices: Essential: $129; Elite $199; add $79 for the View Point plugin to add the geometric corrections that DxO is known for; add an additional $129 for the DxO film pack… A suite of all three is available for $289 for the Elite or $189 for the Essential. Whew. (See here for differences between additions.)
Installation: usual dmg & drag to applications folder.

Much thanks to Franz Metcalf for his comment on the Capture One review and encouragement to test out DxO. Much like C1P, I had no intention to test DxO, and much like C1P, I’m glad I did.

I’ll give you my first thoughts right up front: 1) DxO is capable of rendering fine details in ways that other programs simply can’t* and 2) the omission of a flip option renders it useless to me, given that I scan film from the emulsion side and therefore require a flip to get things back right again.

If you’d like to see a bit more, including a 2 hour shoot-out between DxO and C1P, read on…

With apologies to the developers and to Dr. Metcalf, once I found that there was no way to flip an image in DxO,** I knew it wasn’t going to be useful for me long term, and so I decided to just have some fun.

So this will be a bit different than the other reviews, a bit more perfunctory, in many respects. So let’s skip right to the Negative Conversion…

Test 1: Negative Conversion

Something’s off…

Oh, right. DxO doesn’t do flip. Thankfully, Preview, the free image viewer that comes built-in to the Mac OS—does do flip, so here’s Ripped, Drop the way it’s meant to be seen:

Not bad. DxO pulled out some detail in the highlights, things I didn’t really know were there… especially when I pumped the Micro Contrast to obscene levels.

micro contrast at 100

I could see making some comic books out of pictures with jacked up micro contrast from DxO… Something gritty, a Punisher reboot, maybe.

Naw.

One big problem I had, and one that I was able to work around, sorta, was the apparent lack of Temperature and Tint sliders. See if you can spot them…

No? I couldn’t either…

After getting the white balance close with Red Green and Blue tone curves (it wasn’t easy—I spotted a tiny little ‘+’ in the lower right hand corner of the White Balance panel.

spot the button 2

Can you see it?

Well, when you click it, *poof* sliders at last.

sliders at last

Anyway, the negative conversion went more or less without a hitch, except for the lack of flip.

Test 2: ORF Conversion

Just forget about it. DxO supports “more than 250” cameras. That’s somewhat fewer cameras than C1P,  which supports “more than 300” according to its rather outdated camera support page, but neither of them touch the C-5050Z.

C1P will happily play around with the dng files that Lightroom (or Adobe’s DNG creator) creates from the ancient ORFs, and I assumed that DxO would too. But then I saw the note that DxO will work “with RAW files that have already been converted into DNG format, so long as the original RAW file is also supported by DxO OpticsPro.”

That sounds ominous, but I decided to try anyway and loaded a couple of C-5050 dngs into DxO.

This seems very strange to me. After all, the Finder in OS X Yosemite has no trouble with them.

Kind of a nice picture, I think. It’s a shame DxO can’t do anything with it.

So DxO failed, partly, with the Negative converting thing due to the lack of flip, and now it can’t read standard dng files that even the bloody Finder can display with no problem at all.

I guess I shouldn’t be too surprised: DxO’s strength is its Lens Correction, and if the camera can’t mount one of the lenses it has calibrated it probably shouldn’t bother too much with creating camera profiles for that camera. I doubt they’re losing too much business by not supporting ancient ORFs, and probably not much more by not supporting the dng standard, but it’s still a bother.

Test 3: NEF Conversion

Thankfully, the D7000 was popular enough to make the supported list of both.

And like most other raw converters, DxO does a fine job with files from the D7000.

One thing it doesn’t do, or that I can’t find anyway, is custom crop ratios. You can drag the crop angles wherever you like, but you can’t set a specific, non-standard ratio (like 7:6, for example). It has 5:2, 2:1, 16:9, 5:4, 3:2, 4:3, and 1:1, plus Original and Unconstrained.

I like the 1970s disco shot in a 7:6 ratio, and I don’t think I quite got it there.

Oh well.

Test 4: Impromptu Shootout

To wrap this up, I took 3 images that were a part of these reviews and processed them in tandem in DxO and C1P.

Let’s A/B these right quick. DxO version is on the left; C1P is on the right:

In all cases, DxO pulled out a bit more detail than C1P, but I sorta prefer the C1P version, especially in the last set.

It’s probably down to processing, for the most part: the color and contrast and brightness and white balance are different all the way down the line, and I made no attempt to make identical pictures.

Given that they have different sets of tools, it makes sense that I’d get different results from them.

So this little test that I was so excited about didn’t really amount to much. I tried to process pictures with exactly the same settings in both applications, but quickly found something interesting.

Here’s the tiff I started from… well, it was a tiff, but the tiff was 80mb or something silly, so this is a jpeg from Apple’s Preview application:

I imported the tiff into DxO and C1P, then immediately exported jpegs. Again, DxO is on the left and C1P is on the right.

I see differences already… Why?

Here they are with +.75 exposure.

And here with +10 to Contrast.

They’re clearly doing different things with their Exposure and Contrast settings. But what? Why?

C1P is lighter, more saturated, and slightly less detailed than DxO, with the same adjustments from the same tools to the same tiff. So there’s some sort of background manipulation/improvement that I can’t find to turn off, and I think it’s in C1P.

So let’s try again with the Preview-created jpeg… except, I can’t. For some reason, DxO doesn’t see the jpeg at all.

It’s not even listed there… the ones with he ? are the ORFs and a tiff that I think Preview created, but the Preview-created jpeg doesn’t show up at all. This bothers me a bit… I suspect that Preview strips out metadata, and I suspect that DxO is objecting to the lack of metadata, but why would an image manipulation program not see a jpeg, with or without metadata? It’s very strange.

So here’s a jpeg that both can see, from the first roll I shot through the LC-A.

First the jpeg.

Now, the jpeg exported from DxO and C1P:

So those look completely different… and then I remembered the defaults that both programs apply, so here they are with the defaults off.

That’s better… but if you look closely, they’re still a bit different… At first, I thought it was C1P doing some noise reduction, but after doing a bunch of pixel peeping at 200% or more, I found that it’s really DxO doing some sharpening.

Setting the Sharpening to 50 in C1P gets a jpeg that looks much closer.

Maybe that was the issue with the Crazy Daisies… and maybe it’s the issue with the A/B shots above. I wonder if the images look a bit more detailed because DxO is adding a bit more sharpness to its custom profiles than C1P and others.

I went back and played around a bit, and the +50 sharpening in C1P pulled out the same details as in the DxO base image. A bit of playing around with the exposure (+.5 instead of +.75), contrast (+5 instead of +10) and saturation (-7) got me pretty close, but it’s still not quite the same.

 

The colors are still ever so slightly brighter in C1P, and the shadows are a bit muddier or softer or something too… I’d try to do a bit more, but it’s late and there’s no need to try to get exactly the same image out of two different raw processors. And, anyway, I’m not so sure what any of this proves: DxO is sharper than C1P out of the box, but only by a tiny amount and probably because its camera profiles have some sharpening baked in; Capture One and DxO exposure and contrast sliders work differently, as do other things like the Micro Contrast/Clarity sliders; but that’s about it. They’re both competent raw developers, to be sure, but this isn’t a DxO vs C1P article, it’s (nominally) a review of DxO.

Final Thoughts

DxO OpticsPro is undoubtably one of the better raw convertors out there. The Smart Lighting, ClearView, and Noise Reduction are pretty good, though you wouldn’t know it from this review… Others mention it ad nauseam, so I don’t think I really need to.

The toolset is good, the output is good, it’s easy to manipulate images and get prettier pictures, but it can’t see dng files from the C5050, it won’t flip my negatives right way around, the pricing structure is overly-complicated and has too many options, and it doesn’t have a library.

That said, if you have a good library system already and need just a good raw processor and you only shoot popular modern cameras, then DxO might be a good raw processor for you.

But it’s not for me.

*And that “ability to pull out detail” may just be some sharpening in the camera profiles, as seen above. I’m not positive on that, and the developers and users may very well correct me, but C1P with +50 sharpening (on a scale of 1000) pulls out virtually the same detail, so…

**Of course, if there is a way to flip in DxO, I trust someone will let me know.

Oh, and wish me good times: at publish time, the first Softball game (that I’m able to make) for the season should be just about to start. I can’t throw very well, but maybe a few games and some practice will help me get better.

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