Photography & Filming

We Review DxO PhotoLab and Why You Should Consider Swapping to It

DxO PhotoLab 6.3 has just been released, and it’s persuaded me to change my workflow. Here’s why you should consider giving it a try.

Many different cameras and a wide range of software pass through my hands. Nevertheless, I am rarely persuaded to change my workflow. However, recently, I compared the raw results from different cameras through various software packages, and PhotoLab 6 blew my socks off.

DxO PhotoLab is primarily a raw developer, with browser and catalog functions. It’s the image quality of the program’s raw engine that is where its big advantage stands.

The PhotoLibrary

It took me a little while to get used to the PhotoLibrary. When I did, I could see that it was a powerful tool. In Lightroom, I have always used Collections, and PhotoLab 6 has a similar function called “Projects.” It is a quick and easy way of sorting and finding photos. For those who prefer to browse, there is a Folders browser too.

Bringing Your Photos into PhotoLab 6

The PhotoLibrary has no import function. Instead, one uses the browser screen to drag and drop the files from your memory card into the Folders browser. This moment is a good one to add photos to a Project. Then, one can rate the images, add keywords, set color labels, and so on. As with any catalog, this is worth doing as soon as possible, making it much easier to sort and find the photos later.

Handy hint: I found it helpful to create a Project called All Photos and add every imported photo to it. Thus, it was easy to scroll through all my images, synchronize metadata, and search for keywords in all my pictures.

Using the PhotoLibrary

The PhotoLibrary is quick; I found it jumped between images with no lag. Selecting multiple photos at once allows you to add star ratings, color tags, and keywords to them all at once. There are new keyboard shortcuts to be learned for these, and there are more color tags than you find in other apps, including orange and pink.

As a devoted Lightroom catalog user, you can export photos to PhotoLab as DNG raw files with the PhotoLab adjustments applied to that program. The export function also allows you to send the files to a different application, write them to your hard drive, or upload them to Flickr.

If you have the DxO NIK collection, the PhotoLibrary is, of course, integrated with that. The Nik software is worth the investment, as it can take your processing to the next level.

What Are DxO Optics Modules?

DxO Laboratories are known for measuring the performance of lenses and cameras. It started when Jérôme Ménière founded Vision IQ back in 1994. He and other researchers produced a computer-aided surveillance system to detect drowning victims in swimming pools. It took seven years to develop and correct the lens flaws commonly found in camera equipment. It was from these beginnings that DxO Photolab evolved.

The DxO database has thousands of combinations of lenses, focal lengths, and cameras. PhotoLab automatically detects the equipment you are using. It then imports Optics Modules that allow the software to correct your image by negating flaws such as sharpness, anamorphic distortion, vignetting, chromatic aberrations, and perspective errors. The latest release of Photolab 6 has streamlined this process with a Select/Unselect All button.

I was dubious about that at first regarding whether those changes would be significant enough to make a noticeable difference. However, when I came to compare the straight-out-of-camera (SOOC) results using PhotoLab with other software, there was an appreciable improvement. Even carrying out manual corrections in other apps, I could not achieve what PhotoLab 6 could.

Such corrections are great news for photographers, but leave me in a predicament. When I review lenses, I probably won’t use PhotoLab 6 because it will minimize the optical errors I want to include in a review, thus giving you a false impression of how good the lens is.

Developing an Image: Using the Customize Tab in PhotoLab 6

You’ll find that when developing a raw image, the layout of PhotoLab 6’s image development tools makes sense. In the first tab are the tonal adjustments, and they are separate from the color adjustments, which are in the second tab. In most other apps, they are mixed, and similar tools are scattered between different sections of a panel.

PhotoLab 6 is a refreshing change from that. Detail, Geometry (cropping, horizon leveling, perspective corrections, etc.), Local Adjustments, and Effects (Watermark and Miniature Effect) are in their tabs.

Using the Color and Tone Controls

At developing images, Photolab 6 excels. I found the controls subtle and easy to use, and the results were way better than the other apps I’ve used, and I have many loaded onto my computer. The tonal controls can be pushed without creating unwanted artifacts. Furthermore, used in conjunction with the color controls, images really pop in a way that they don’t in some other programs.

Likewise, individual color hue, saturation, and luminance adjustments can be made accurately and with great results. They can be blended with their contiguous colors, so they do not produce unsightly banding or boundaries along edges. It was easy to change the coat color of the person in the following image.

Sharpening, Removing Noise, and Local Adjustments

DxO comes with a highly respected AI Noise reduction called DeepPRIME. I fed some images shot at high ISO with an old camera, and it produced clean, sharp results.

Local adjustments are easily controlled using DxO’s unique “U Point” technology. That overcomes the tiresome addition of masked selections by applying a Control Point or a Control Line to the image. The software identifies the colors as a reference, and you can adjust them within the bounds of a radius around the point or line. You can add as many Control Points as you wish to the image.

This method of developing an image is effective and far less time-consuming than using masking brushes.

The Wide Gamut Color Space in PhotoLab 6 Elite

The latest release, DxO PhotoLab 6.3, brings many new features. The ELITE version has improved soft proofing, adding paper and ink simulation profiles to make prints as accurate as possible. A Preserve Color Details slider protects color detail in highly saturated areas when moving to a smaller color space.

The DxO Wide Gamut feature gives photographers much more scope by increasing the available color space. That has been extended to include TIFF and JPEG images and not just raw, as before.

Typically, in other apps, cropping happens when distortion corrections are applied. PhotoLab 6.3 allows the retention of the area, so cloning or content-aware adjustments in other apps can fill the blank edges and corners.

There are two versions of DxO PhotoLab 6.3: Essential and Elite. The latter gives access to more tools:

DxO PhotoLab 6.3 ESSENTIAL Edition €139 / 14,900 円 / £129 / $139

DxO PhotoLab 6.3 ELITE Edition €219 / 23,900 円 / £199 / $219

What I Like About DxO PhotoLab 6.3 and What Can Be Improved

As I said earlier, in my work, I handle a wide range of cameras and lenses, and I test an array of different software packages. Rarely, something comes along that makes me want to change from what I currently use. DxO PhotoLab has done that. Why? The resulting image quality is better than the other software I have used. That difference is big enough for me to make the sacrifices necessary when changing from one application to another.

There are some sacrifices to be made here. It’s a pity that, like ON1 and Capture One, I cannot import my Lightroom catalog into PhotoLab. Consequently, I have various options available to me: I can use PhotoLab as a plugin for Lightroom, as jumping back and forth between the two apps is easy. I can go through the arduous process of creating new Projects and adding the 80,000 or so images to them, but that’s not going to happen. Or, I can start using PhotoLab from now on and leave my old pictures in Lightroom. I would probably choose that last option. I could cancel my Adobe Photographer Plan and still have access to the Lightroom library. However, I won’t do that because I train others on how to use Adobe products.

One other thing I wish PhotoLab 6 did was conform to the same keyboard shortcuts as other apps: Ctrl + 5 is needed to add five stars instead of just keying 5, Ctrl + alt + 5 adds a blue label, and rejecting an image is Ctrl + 9 instead of X used by other programs. Standardization would make migration far easier. Also, a lot of the functions are solely mouse-based, and I am used to and like keyboard shortcuts for commonly used functions.

There are things about the functionality of PhotoLab that I particularly like, though. Being able to zoom while cropping and leveling a photo is something I’ve longed for in other apps; it’s especially useful for getting a seascape’s horizon parallel with the top of the frame. Additionally, the denoising is superb. A few people have mentioned to me that they are very pleased that DxO still sells perpetual licenses for their software; subscriptions have an alienating effect on many.

But, most important of all is the quality of the images produced by PhotoLab and the ease with which adjustments can be applied.

Are the best possible results your priority? If so, then PhotoLab 6 should be something to consider swapping to. Are you going to give it a try to see how it compares to what you use now? Are you already a PhotoLab user? If so, let’s hear your experiences.

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