DxO Photolab review
DxO acquired Nik Software’s assets, including U Point technology, integrated it with DxO Optics Pro, added a new repair tool for good measure, and renamed its flagship RAW editor to DxO Photolab. The result is an editor that’s closer to Adobe Lightroom or Phase One’s Capture One Pro in terms of features than its predecessor.
Through the acquisition of the Nik Collection assets from Google, DxO has integrated U Point technology. This is a local adjustment technology that allows you to make complex and natural-looking selections with an overlay HUD that will beat a brush tool in terms of boundary accuracy and speed any time. U Point is unique to Photolab and the reason why it is even more appealing than its predecessor, Optics Pro. U Point is about the holy grail when it comes to local adjustments. It lets you literally pinpoint a problem, then adjust that point and some of the surroundings — the size and form of which you define — without sacrificing the ability to further fine-tune this “zone” if needed (and it seldom is) with a brush later on. It’s even possible to protect an area by creating new U Points with the Option key held down.
I can’t remember if U Points allowed me to select adjustment tools, but in DxO Photolab, they do. By right-clicking the U Point, you get access to a submenu, which contains some of these as well.
For example, the ones you create with the graduated filter tool won’t be limited to the zone right under the U Point. The effect of the graduated filter tool is especially desirable when you’re working with wide angle photos — think landscapes — and its effect will act on the entire image, but you’ll still be controlling the filter’s configuration using the U Point HUD (in DxO Photolab, it’s called the “Equalizer”). All of this is explained in detail in the user guide and when you haven’t worked with Nik’s software for a while — as I haven’t — it’s best you read through the chapter on these local adjustments if you want to do more than just scratch the surface.
In the same league, you’ll find an auto mask retouching brush that enables you to make precise selections without trying — much like the equivalent brush in Photoshop. That one is especially useful for portraits.
All of these controls are fully integrated in DxO PhotoLab’s RAW conversion feature and are non-destructive. What that means is, for example, that you can restore highlights locally without changing the rest of the image, not just by painting and then hoping it turns out alright, but by using the extra data contained in the RAW file. If you use JPEG files these local adjustment tools will work too, although I didn’t try that for myself. I think that, if you have RAW files, you should work on them as editing JPEG files may quickly introduce JPEG artefacts.
DxO PhotoLab includes a repair tool that has been rebuilt from the ground up. The interface still a simple brush, but the underlying algorithm provides much better and faster results, even if you apply this brush to large areas, as I did when I tried it out.
Finally, Lens Sharpness has been an exclusive feature of the former DxO Optics Pro for as long as I can remember. It’s available for nearly 40,000 camera-lens combinations DxO has analysed, DxO claims, and it applies the most appropriate sharpness correction to each point in the image’s field of view, while also accounting for the type of equipment and shooting settings used. The Lens Sharpness optimisation feature also adapts to the image’s ISO level and that is a part of the tool that was a particular point of focus in the new DxO PhotoLab release.
Unfortunately, I never shoot my images at medium sensitivity, so I couldn’t really see for myself if the claim holds up, but DxO says that RAW images should now be much sharper when shot at medium-sensitivity settings, while noise levels should remain well-controlled.
Even without this improvement, DxO Photolab is one seriously professional and yet fun app to edit your images with. The one and only thing that is still lacking is full-scale IPTC support. DxO Photolab stops at EXIF support, just like its predecessors did. It’s the only thing that stands between near-perfect and perfect, as far as I’m concerned.
You can have DxO PhotoLab ESSENTIAL Edition for €129 and DxO PhotoLab ELITE Edition for €199.