DxO PhotoLab is a unique application that automatically increases the quality of images taken with supported Digital SLRs and Bridge Cameras, whether in JPEG or RAW format. Get the best from your photos thanks to the program, the image-processing software of reference! The most important corrections are immediately accessible, and you can activate or deactivate them with a single click to see their impact. For slider virtuosos, DxO PhotoLab provides advanced control over every image processing parameter imaginable. With the precise knowledge of each and every camera and lens make and model, DxO PhotoLab automatically corrects all optical defects with an unrivaled level of quality.
PhotoLab has made some progress in the organization department, though it still falls far short of Lightroom Classic in this aspect. What was formerly called Organize mode is now called PhotoLibrary. The program indexes folders containing photos to let you search by shot settings. That means you can enter a date, focal length, f-stop, and even ISO setting. It’s even possible to combine any of these in a search. Unfortunately, there’s no searching by camera or lens, though a DxO rep told me that the company was working on this capability for an upcoming update. Lightroom lets you search by camera but not settings, while Lightroom Classic offers all the above, and adds the very useful ability to search based on the lens used.
PhotoLab still doesn’t have a full workflow function—as mentioned, there’s no importing from media. This obviously means you can’t view all photos from a specific import session, a feature I find quite useful, and one that is offered by Apple Photos, both Lightroom products, and Cyberlink PhotoDirector.
You simply open images from a card shown in PhotoLibrary’s folder tree. You do get star ratings, and even pick and Reject tools for organizing your photos. You now can also use keyword tags, and apply them to multiple selected images in the Customize view’s left-side Metadata panel. These keywords show up in the popups that appear when you hover the cursor over a thumbnail. When you go to add a keyword to another photo, recently used ones are available, but there are no preset keyword sets, and you can’t create your own sets, as you can in Lightroom Classic.
It would make more sense to me to have keywords and metadata as a panel in PhotoLibrary view, rather than in Customize, which is mostly about image correction. And forget about using geotagged maps, and face recognition—DxO doesn’t offer them. If those things are important to you, you’re better off using DxO PhotoLab as a plug-in for Lightroom Classic, a perfectly viable setup. The program does let you organize photos into Projects, in which you bring together pictures you want to work with as a group from various sources.
DxO is different from most photo software in that it starts you with its best-guess correction for your photo, based on the lens, camera, and exposure settings used. DxO Labs actually shoots thousands of shots on test patterns at different lighting conditions to create lens and camera profiles for each camera and lens supported to tune these corrections. The auto-correction is far better than what you see in most photo software, and it’s often all you need. I did find that Phase One’s Capture One software does a slightly better job of rendering raw camera files than PhotoLab, but DxO’s presets bar offers, in addition to the standard DxO auto correction, choices for neutral colors, black and white, portraits, and landscapes. You can also dig down into other presets like HDR (high dynamic range) and Atmospheres, which produces some effective colorizations.
PhotoLab supports DCP color profiles, which are newer than the previously supported ICC profiles, and they’re used by Adobe. So, if your workflow involves using Lightroom or Photoshop, this option produces the same color rendering. Third-party utilities like those from X-Rite let you create your own profiles with a color target board. Below, you can see how to apply a DCP color profile to your image.
If the auto correction doesn’t quite hit the mark, the program’s Customize mode lets you change exposure compensation, contrast, colors, detail, and more. In addition to the standard exposure slider, you can use DxO’s Smart Lighting slider, which can brighten shadowy areas without punching out whites. Cranking this all the way up creates a decent single-shot HDR effect, but for more drastic HDR effects, check out CyberLink PhotoDirector. Preset choices include Slight, Medium, and Strong; choose Custom to adjust the slider to taste. I appreciate that double-clicking on a slider resets it.
Under the standard Contrast slider, the Microcontrast tool can add serious sharpness to images without adding the typical distorted edges sharpening can cause. A magic wand button automatically sets the microcontrast for the current image. In my tests, its results were impressive in sharpening photos, though it’s not something you’d want to use for face shots or noisy images. Speaking of sharpness, DxO’s Lens Sharpness tool impresses. Based on particular lens profiles for the equipment used, the tool can noticeably improve the detail in your shots. Finally, the Unsharp Mask tool offers a more traditional type of sharpening.
Smart Lighting uses face detection and spot-weighted correction. Note that the face detection isn’t for organizing and retrieving images with faces, but just for lighting correction. The tool can bring a face out of obscurity in cases where there’s a bright background. It does an even better job at this than the Shadows tool, which can tend to wash out images. Lightroom lets you get about the same result with some tweaking, and DxO’s tool doesn’t find faces in profile. No worries: You can select the face or any other object to meter on manually. It works the way spot metering in a camera works, but lets you apply it after the shot. DxO PhotoLab’s red-eye tool works completely automatically, and nearly perfectly if the red areas are clearly delineated and the faces not obscured.
Though it’s not a complete photo workflow solution, DxO PhotoLab gives you a real edge when it comes to refining images. DxO’s lens and camera-calibrated corrections achieve results that can be hard to accomplish in other software, and it often does so automatically. Its unique Prime noise-reduction feature, U Point local adjustments, Lens Sharpness, and ClearView Plus tools bring us close to photography nirvana. The spot-metering and auto-microcontrast tools benefit both portrait and landscape photographers.