DxO Photo Lab 4 – The Return of the King?
What is DxO Photo Lab?
DxO Photo Lab is primarily a RAW converter with many image editing capabilities that far exceed RAW conversion. It works on almost every RAW format (apart from Fuji X-Trans) and ‘ordinary’ image formats such as JPEG and TIF. Its post processing abilities are superb. You can make local edits using U-Point tools to make selections with ease and surprising precision. DxO also produce the NIK Collection and DxO Viewpoint and these all integrate superbly. The NIK collection is one of the best set of post processing tools available, and DxO Viewpoint is the best image distortion correction tool. (DXO also provides DXO Viewpoint technology in the NIK Collection, so I would suggest just getting DxO Photo Lab + NIK if you need it).
DxO Photo Lab 4 – new features
DxO kindly provided me with a pre-release of Photo Lab V4 and this time I am much more impressed. Here’s an overview of the new release:
- DxO DeepPrime: a revolutionary demosaicing and denoising technology based on artificial intelligence and trained with deep learning.
- DxO Smart Workspace: a new dynamic interface with a simpler workflow with batch renaming.
- DxO Advanced History: a new and exclusive editing history tool to scroll back to different moments in the editing process.
- Selective Copy Paste: to synchronise the settings of several similar images by applying individual edits from one photo to another.
- Instant watermarking: to add watermarks directly to your photos.
Not all of these extra features are show-stoppers or even unique, but some really caught my eye:
When I first used DxO, many years ago, its noise reduction and core RAW development engine were class leading. It produced better, sharper and cleaner images than anything else. But the others caught up and then, amazingly, Topaz Labs AI Clear and DeNoise AI bettered it. Noise reduction is best done early on – during the RAW development stage, where the RAW converter has the enormous advantage of dealing with the RAW image data, unaffected by editing. I used Topaz tools as part of my post processing workflow, so its ability to outperform DxO in this area was amazing.
But DxO are right back in the game with their new DeepPrime Noise Reduction, as my tests below show.
This new panel accomplishes two things. First, it lets you see at a glance which adjustments you’ve applied to an image. Second, you can intelligently undo the adjustments. Using this history panel is far better than using CTRL + Z and hoping to step back to the ‘right’ place. The history panel doesn’t let you reorder the adjustments, so if you want to undo a change other than the last one, go back to the adjustment panels. But it’s a useful tool.
Selective Copy and Paste
This isn’t unique to DxO (Photo Ninja has it too) but it is a highly desirable feature. Most RAW converters, including DxO, can create presets from the current development settings. They’re great, but are ‘all or nothing’. Selective copy and paste is different. You copy the settings from one image and then paste some of them to other images. Powerful.
DxO have tweaked the UI to make it easier to use. It comes with three built in ‘Workspaces’ (layouts) – Standard, Advanced and What’s New? The What’s New? Workspace is great for experienced users wanting to get to grips with the additional features. I use Advanced, adjust it to suit my needs, and then save it as my workspace.
You can also watermark your images in DxO. It’s a nice to have feature but I usually do this when exporting images for Web use from Exposure X6.
DxO Photo Lab 4 in use
DxO Photo Lab is a mature product, and it shows. The UI is fast, slick and stable. I wish I could say the same for one of its major rivals, Luminar 4. Luminar is great at what it does, but DxO is so much faster and stable in use. It rarely crashes. I can’t remember the last time I had to shut it down and restart it.
Photo Lab 4 features a decent image browser. You can use it for basic image management, but it is not a full-blown Digital Asset Management tool (what is?) and it’s not my tool of choice for this. (Exposure X6 is far superior). Switching to Customise mode, to edit an image, is fast. Actually, it’s instant. Luminar 4 takes, on my gaming PC, 6 seconds or more to switch from browse mode to edit mode.
DxO has a far more industrial feel to it than Luminar – look at their respective interfaces below.
DxO responds quickly when you change a setting, and many of its presets are right for most images.
One of DxO’s unique features is its Camera PLUS Lens profiles. Most (all?) RAW converters have camera profiles that account for differences between cameras. They may have profiles for lenses that help correct distortions.
DxO goes on further. It has profiles for almost all combinations of cameras AND lenses. It corrects distortion, vignetting AND softness. It ‘knows’ how your lens performs on your camera and makes tailored adjustments. If your lens is soft in the corners DxO sharpens the corners more to compensate. And this is all automatic. You can turn it off, but why would you? There is no question in my mind that DxO produces the purest and sharpest images of all the RAW converters I have tested. Importantly, the degree of sharpening it applies during RAW conversion is just right. RAW images should get a little sharpening at the start of processing, some more sharpening during post processing and some final sharpening after resizing. I always use Topaz Sharpen AI for the post processing and post resizing steps. But DxO Photo Lab gives your image the best start.
Technically, this is not a fair test. DxO is a RAW converter but Topaz is a post processing tool. As noise removal is best done during RAW conversion, it should be advantage DxO. But the last time I tested it, Topaz was better…
I am using two test images – one shot in friendly light but at ISO 25600 using an APS-C camera. The noise is terrible. The second is a nighttime scene shot at ISO 6400, again using an APS-C camera. The noise isn’t so bad, but nighttime scenes are tricky to correct. Topaz has a specialist setting for this.
In both tests, DxO’s new DeepPRIME setting proved superior to Topaz DeNoise AI. The teddy bear picture is hard and Topaz AI Clear does a good job, at the expense of color saturation. DxO’s DeepPRIME did an incredible job, as seen in the following comparisons.
In the nighttime scene, the results are much closer, with DxO just edging it. It produces a little more detail and has removed color (chroma) noise better.
However, DxO’s DeepPrime noise reduction only works on RAW files. DxO has to use its regular HQ noise reduction on JPEGs and TIFs and Topaz is better than DxO HQ. I don’t think DxO DeepPRIME noise reduction makes Topaz DeNoise AI redundant. We sometimes introduce noise during post processing, and Topaz is the best tool for removing that. If you don’t shoot RAW, then Topaz is still the better noise reduction program.
The photo gallery below shows the comparison images as well as the original, noisy RAW file.
In the nighttime shots, I processed the image in Topaz DeNoise twice, once with and once without Chroma noise reduction. It works well in the noise but has also removed the colour from the car’s rear lights.
DxO has excelled itself in the teddy bear shots. They feature dreadful noise and DxO’s result is astonishingly good. The advantage of eliminating the noise during RAW conversion is self-evident. Topaz DeNoise does better than anything I have tested at removing noise from JPEGs and TIFs, so it is an essential part of my toolkit, especially for noise introduced during post processing…
DxO Photo Lab 4 vs Topaz DeNoise AI
This is a BIG subject, and I will not cover this fully today. Luminar AI is due out by the end of 2020 and it features extra AI settings, so I will perform another test.
DxO and Luminar have different approaches to RAW image development. DxO Photo Lab 4 is more technical, has all the standard RAW development tools, and uses all the usual names for these tools.
Luminar 4’s approach feels less technical and more user friendly. The names of its tools are less geeky and more descriptive.
In use, both produce superb results. Here are a few areas where they differ:
- Unique camera + lens profiles with sharpening to handle lens softness
- ClearView Plus smart image enhancement – removes haze and makes images look better
- Very sophisticated Hue, saturation and Lightness adjustments
- Best in class chromatic aberration removal
- DeepPRIME noise reduction
- Brilliant image distortion correction including Perspective Correction and Volume Deformation correction
- Integration with NIK Collection and other DxO tools
- Local adjustments using U-Point selection technology
- AI Enhance – one tool to rule them all. Instant image improvements
- AI Sky Enhancer – the simplest way to improve skies
- Landscape Enhancer – the Golden Hour tool is superb
- AI Sky Replacement and AI Sky Augmented Sky – unique tools for better skies and can rescue a dreary picture.
- Sunrays – add realistic looking sunshine to a picture
- AI Skin and AI Portrait Enhancer – excellent tools to improve portraits, without making them look unnatural.
- Advanced Contrast – fine control over Highlights, Midtones and Shadows
- Support for layers and masks
I would describe DxO Photo Lab 4 as the most sophisticated technical RAW converter and Luminar 4 as the best artistic RAW converter. I own and use both, depending on the image.
Here is the same image, developed in DxO and in Luminar. DxO has better detail when examined close up. The Luminar version is lighter, but I could have adjusted DxO to achieve that had I wanted to.
Developed in DxO:
Developed In Luminar
You can see how I produced them in this video:
The release of DxO Photo Lab 4 brings DxO back into contention. If you have a noisy RAW image, DxO Photo Lab is the only choice. Want to get the best details and sharpest image? Again, DxO Photo Lab is the tool of choice. And DxO is unrivalled for correcting perspective distortion and volume deformation.
For ‘artistic’ RAW conversion, where vivid and quick results are your goal, DxO Photo Lab 4 has stern competition from Luminar 4. There are things Luminar does that DxO cannot and are hard (and time-consuming) to achieve in other packages.
Pixel peeping tells me that DxO produces cleaner results than Luminar. Experience tells me that sometimes this matters and sometimes it does not. Images produced for the web or social media throw away so many pixels that DxO’s technical advantage may not be noticeable. But you may spot the difference in large prints or heavily cropped images.
I’m not a believer in ‘one size fits all’ – I own DxO, Luminar and the Topaz tools because they all do a fantastic job. Depending on the image and the desired result, I use the tool I think is most appropriate.
Do I recommend DxO Photo Lab 4? Absolutely. It’s also on special offer until 19th November 2020, so now is a great time to get it.
Recommended Toolset October 2020
- DxO Photo Lab 4
- Luminar 4 (and the forthcoming Luminar AI)
- Photo Ninja (with the help of Adobe’s DNG converter for unsupported RAW formats)
These are all great tools, each with their own strengths.
- Exposure X6
- I’m testing a brand new Digital Asset Manager (DAM) for Photographers tool, which has the right focus on DAM rather than being a ‘do it all’ that excels at nothing. I can’t say more at the moment except that it’s good. It’s very, very good. It’s featured in some screenshots…
Image Editor (General)
Image Editor (Specialist)
Post Processing (Specialist)
- Topaz Sharpen AI (no other contenders for image sharpening during post RAW processing)
- Topaz Gigapixel AI (no other contender for image enlargement)
- Topaz DeNoise AI (best post RAW processing noise removal)
- JPEG Mini Pro (best tool for reducing JPEG file size with no loss of quality)
I receive commission on purchases you make of some products mentioned here. I do not recommend a product unless I use it, and I recommend products that I receive no commission on, such as Affinity Photo, Photo Ninja and JPEG Mini Pro.