It’s becoming a tradition. Photo software companies offer upgrades around this time of year. DXO are no exception and I’ve been playing with their new release of DXO Photo Lab 3.
DXO did not pay me to write this review, neither did they supply me with the software.
NOTE for Windows 7 users
DXO Photo Lab needs Windows 8.1 or 10 64 bit. It won’t install on Windows 7…
Introduction to DXO Photo Lab 3
I’ve been using DXO Photo Lab since its release and I’ve used DXO in its previous incarnations for well over a decade. I remain of the opinion that it is the best, or very close to the best, RAW photo converter that money can buy. I knew that I would not change my opinion on reviewing the new release. Why? For two reasons:
- The competition hasn’t caught up with DXO, no matter how hard they try
- So little has changed with this new release.
Photo Ninja, by Picturecode is, in my opinion, DXO’s most serious rival. But it is hasn’t had a major update in, like, forever. The developers tell me they are working on it and I believe them. It’s incredible that it still competes (and outperforms) most of the alternatives. Only DXO matches it in terms of RAW conversion. Skylum’s Luminar is another excellent alternative and V4’s release isn’t far away. It’ll be interesting to see where it sits when it comes out.
The DXO Advantage
DXO has a unique selling point. It ‘knows’ your cameras and lenses. And it knows how they work with each other. It also knows their weaknesses. And, most importantly, it knows how to fix them. Automatically. I’m not just talking about distortion, vignetting or chromatic aberrations. If needs be, you can fix those manually in an image editor. No, I mean lens sharpness. DXO have analysed your lens (assuming they support your camera and lens. Most are. Check here to see if yours is). DXO knows exactly how much softer your images are in the corners and on the edges and it selectively sharpens each image to correct this. Maybe Canon’s DPP software can do this using its Smart Lens analysis. But DXO can do it for virtually every camera and every lens.
DXO is more than a RAW converter. It now features DAM (Digital Asset Management). This means it maintains a catalogue of your images and lets you search for them, rate them and (now) tag them with keywords.
DXO Photo Lab 3 Interface
The interface has two main sections: Photo Library and Customize.
The Photo Library is where you perform DAM operations and view your images. It’s a refreshingly simple layout:
Things I like about the interface include:
- Thumbnail size – you just drag the slider.
- It displays the thumbnails quickly, no fussing about with imports
- Image selection uses standard Windows operations: click, ctrl-click, shift-click. Easy.
- You can optionally index your image folder(s) or let DXO do it as you visit them.
- The software remains usable during indexing
- Search for images based on the usual EXIF data. You just type in, say, 200mm and DXO understands you want to find all images taken at 200mm focal length
It is refreshing that DXO maintains the database without you having to do a thing. No long waits for imports, building previews, etc. No, you just use the software and it learns.
What this release adds to the Photo library
You can now add keywords to your images. This is a very welcome feature. Searching for an image by the camera, lens, aperture etc, is not that useful. Keywords, however, identify an image. Use them wisely and consistently and you’ll never lose an image again.
Note: The Windows version doesn’t get this update yet. It’s coming, but Windows users will have to wait for it.
DXO Photo Lab 3 RAW Editor
To edit your image, select it and click Customize. The RAW editor appears. It also works on non-RAW images, but with RAW specific features disabled.
The layout is straightforward and a nice touch is that you can select a different image to edit from the filmstrip at the bottom of the screen. You can hide the filmstrip or even display it on a second monitor. It displays information about the image in the left panel. Various viewing options are on offer at the top of the screen. You can zoom into the image, display it sized to fit the screen and view before and after comparisons.
The right-hand panel contains all the image adjustments on offer:
I have already described much of what DXO can do in my previous review. This time around, I will focus on new features and things I didn’t cover last time.
At the top of the list of RAW edits is the section ‘What’s New in PL3?’ There are just three items:
- Local Edits
In reality, none of these are new. They are just enhancements.
Hue, Saturation and Luminance.
This is not a new feature, but a new implementation of an existing feature. But it is easier to use than previously. You can easily visualise the changes you are about to make. Affinity Photo offers a very similar colour wheel tool, but DXO’s is better implemented and therefore easier to use.
It’s quite a nice feature. However, it is global therefore it affects the whole image if you change a colour. You can also alter HSL using local edits, but you have to use standard sliders. It’s not as sophisticated. Which is a pity.
DXO Photo Lab 3 Local Adjustments
Local Adjustments work as before. DXO has a a refined mechanism for making local selections. It’s the most sophisticated and easiest to use of any tool around. The change they have made is to provide a panel, much like a layers panel, to let you select each set of adjustments more easily.
Using the new panel, you can select a local adjustment, delete it or apply its effect to the unselected part of the image. It took me just two minutes to adjust the sky and buff up the building a little. However, this new ‘feature’ doesn’t add much new functionality. It just makes local adjustments a little easier to use.
DXO Photo Lab 3 Repair
Whether dust or an unwanted element in the scene, sometimes you need to repair an image. DXO say Photo Lab 3 has enhanced capabilities here. Let’s see. Suppose I want to remove the mast (flagpole) on the building to the right. With DXO I can paint over with the healing brush and it should vanish…
Hmm. Not bad, but there’s a few unwanted and hard to account for highlights around the roof.
In contrast Affinity Photo’s Inpainting Brush had no problems:
DXO Photo Lab is one of the two RAW editors I use regularly. Photo Ninja is the other. Both offer class leading quality. DXO does more but Photo Ninja has the edge with image quality and detail. Most of the time… Sometimes DXO does better, particularly in challenging light.
If you own DXO Photo Lab what does this upgrade get you? Not much. The colour wheel is nice, but I don’t see myself using it often. The local edit enhancements are nice to have but not game changing. They improved the repair tool but Affinity Photo’s Inpainting brush is better.
Adding Keywords to the Digital Asset Management is welcome, or will be when the Windows version gets it. Soon, they tell me. Other tools, such as Exposure X5 and Lightroom are more mature in this area.
DXO Photo Lab belongs in everyone’s toolkit, but is this upgrade worth parting with over £50 for? I don’t think so. More on that topic later.
Know that if you are using Windows 7, then you must go to Windows 10 to use DXO Photo Lab 3.