DxO Labs has once again upgraded its flagship image editor, DxO Optics Pro. Version 9 has a re-designed interface, a unique noise reduction feature, better DxO Smart Lighting capabilities, new visual presets and new and improved export tools. From my own testing, this version could well be the one that makes all others bite the dust.
The three or so latest versions of DxO Optics Pro have been given an interface re-design. Every time I read that little sentence in the press release, I braced myself for yet another attempt at making something that would stand up the test of time and enable as much screen real estate as is possible. Every time I was somewhat disappointed. But this time, I think DxO Labs has hit the nail on the head. The new interface does not get in your way, looks gorgeous and is finally efficient to use. It has a few glitches, but nothing a good old-fashioned update can’t fix. Most important of all, none of the little bugs are show-stoppers.
Noise reduction you won’t believe
Immediately after downloading the DxO Optics Pro 9 disk image, I decided to concentrate on the number one new feature: the PRIME noise reduction algorithm. PRIME is the acronym for “Probabilistic Image Enhancement”. It analyzes the structure of RAW images in order to differentiate between noise and fine details. DxO claims a gain in image quality of up to one full stop over the best noise reduction algorithms currently on the market.
As the proof of the pudding is in the eating, I decided to shoot a ‘still life’ in a dimly lit room at ISO 6400 — that’s as far as my Sony A700 will go. With the camera’s built-in noise reduction turned off (I never use it) and without any noise reduction applied to the image, the scene is full of ugly colour and luminance noise.
I first processed the image through Capture One Pro 7, my reference editor for reviews such as this one. Capture One Pro 7 did a good job of getting rid of the colour noise, but as you can see yourself, the luminance noise is still present. It’s not disturbing and it’s a lot less than the raw image, but it’s noticeable.
When I processed the image with DxO Optics Pro 9, the preview image looked pretty much the same as the Capture One Pro result — it looked definitely a lot better, but noise was still there. The user guide says you shouldn’t rely on the preview with PRIME, because it’s too processor intensive. A crossed eye-icon in the noise reduction panel shows you the preview isn’t reliable.
Much to my surprise — I was genuinely stunned — the exported JPEG showed me a perfect photo with no noise whatsoever, but also no artefacts like what you’ve come to expect from even the best noise reduction algorithms out there. PRIME did a wonderful job of turning an ugly ‘throw-away’ photo into a perfect image.
The only downside to it is that you can’t judge the results by looking at the preview image. You’re limited to a quite small “loupe” image (you can select what you want to magnify) right below the noise selector in the Inspector panel.
Even then, refreshing the PRIME thumbnail takes considerable time, a clear indication of the amount of processing power PRIME demands.
DxO Smart Lighting and presets
DxO Optics Pro 9’s Smart Lighting optimises the overall contrast of your images by intelligently adapting their contents. I’m not a big fan of automatic pilot light rendering methods, but after seeing the results of version 9 I must admit I can’t improve on the app’s settings.
In addition, DxO Optics Pro 9 has a new rendering preset called “DxO Portrait”, which preserves skin tones and naturally-saturated colours. I tried those and while they work well, I was a bit disappointed to find a “High Key” variation but no “Low Key” one.
Still, in terms of presets, DxO Optics Pro 9 has something for everyone. It adds a whole new category of “Atmosphere” presets. Together with the other presets, including the ‘faux-HDR’ one, DxO Optics Pro 9’s ready-to-use renderings are on par with what Red Giant Software offers in Magic Bullet PhotoLooks — and impressive array of creative “corrections”.
Finally, version 9 has new export tools to round up the most appealing upgrade of this venerable image editor in years. No longer is the export tool a bewilderingly empty window with some strange workflow, but it’s now a clean and simple to use feature. You can export to JPEG, TIFF and DNG with a few clicks.
You can also share photos to Flickr. Most importantly: you can now export to an application for further editing.
Without a doubt, DxO Optics Pro 9 is the best upgrade of the editor in years. It’s also the best editor when it comes to noise reduction and best-of-breed image corrections. Let it run its automatic algorithms based on actual camera body and lens data. I promise you it won’t disappoint.