User Interface

Windows users will notice minor changes to the UI in version 8 that make it more closely resemble the Mac version and that DxO hopes will contribute to a more logical and discoverable interface. Worthy of note, if you're a Mac user, is that Optics Pro 8 supports the Retina display resolution found on the latest Apple MacBooks.

Windows users will notice a slightly different color scheme and UI design between Optics Pro 7 (above)... ...and Optics Pro 8 (above). Palettes have been reorganized and some tool locations have changed as well in both Mac and Windows versions.

With the aim of leading users of both Mac and Windows platforms to a more efficient workflow, color and tonal adjustment tools are more logically grouped into two 'Light and Color' palettes: one basic and one advanced. The most common adjustments are now not only in close proximity, but helpfully arranged by order in which they are meant to be used.

The color scheme, palette arragement and individual tool locations of version 7 (above)... ...have been changed in version 8. The histogram now sits above the editing tools by default. The controls under the Light and Color palettes are placed in the order in which they're meant to be used for the most efficient results.

As you can see above, the default palette arrangement helpfully places the histogram along the right side of the Customize window atop the editing tools. You also have the ability to display individual RGB and luminance channel histograms in addition to the default composite view.

The obtrusive text overlays in previous versions indicating appropriate screen views for evaluating lens corrections have been more sensibly recast as alert icons within their specific tool palettes. You can also choose to preview noise correction results at magnifications below 75%. And you can now reset sliders to their default state by double-clicking the slider handle.

Optics Pro 8 now displays program mode, exposure bias and metering mode in its EXIF data palette in both Mac and Windows versions.

Optics Pro caches the image previews that it generates once you click on an image. This means that you can cycle among images for which the correction preview has been updated without waiting for a new (and duplicate) preview to be rebuilt. Note, however, that in addition to being stored on a per-session basis (which means it's lost when you quit the app), the cache is built only for pixels currently visible onscreen. Should you view an image at a new magnification level or scroll to another portion of it, a new preview must still be generated.

New camera calibration algorithms are used for newly supported cameras and the following older, but still popular bodies as well: Canon's EOS-5D, EOS-5D MkII and EOS-7D, along with the Nikon D90, D5000, D7000, D3 and D700. DxO claims these improvements to color modeling can lead to better accuracy in skin tones and DxO FilmPack renderings. DxO has told us that they may, pending the response to these new calibrations, apply them to other previously supported cameras as well.

DxO Smart Lighting

DxO Smart Lighting is billed as a shadow/highlight recovery tool which relies on an adaptive algorithm to automatically lighten shadow areas while simultaneously restoring details to overexposed highlights throughout the scene. It is intended as a simplified, single-slider 'replacement' for the 8-slider DxO Lighting HDR tool in version 7 (which is still available for use via the Smart Lighting sub-menu).

The DxO Smart Lighting tool is active by default and includes four presets in addition to the option to emulate version 7 behavior. You can also drag the Intensity slider to make manual adjustments.

It's important to note that recovering detail in blown out highlights requires that one or more RGB channels actually contain image data. If all three channels are clipped, there's nothing any raw converter can do to render color-accurate highlights that the sensor failed to capture in the first place.

In practice, I've found the DxO Smart Lighting tool works best in two types of situations. The first are backlit scenes (like the one below) in which the image has been exposed to preserve highlights at the expense of shadow detail. And second, shots that have simply been underexposed either because of very high contrast lighting or poor exposure choice.

A high contrast backlit scene can produce a dark overall exposure that protects highlights at the expense of shadow detail. The default setting for the DxO Smart Lighting tool lifts the shadows in the barn and field without losing additional highlight detail in the sky.

The DxO Smart Lighting tool is enabled by default, in Auto mode. The adaptive nature of this tools means that it performs an image analysis when determining the type and amount of contrast and brightness adjustments to apply. Users who demand more control, however, have access to an 'intensity' slider which can modulate the tool's effect.

After processing dozens of images at the Auto setting, I can say that it appears DxO have chosen a sensibly conservative default that works well on a wide range of images. Several of my images did benefit from a more aggressive manual adjustment, but I found none that were made worse by the default setting. Of course, as with any adjustment that lifts shadows, the penalty is the potential for more visible noise, which may require additional adjustments to Optics Pro's noise reduction settings.

In addition, it's worth pointing out that disabling DxO Smart Lighting is simply not a viable option. In the dozens of backlit and underexposed shots we ran through Optics Pro, the result was a much darker and less usable image than even the in-camera JPEG renderings.

DxO Smart Lighting's Auto setting (shown above) has been designed as a conservative starting point. An intensity slider allows you to easily make manual adjustments when a more aggressive adjustment (shown here) is desired.

Selective tone

If you want to take even more control over an image's tonal distribution, Optics Pro 8 introduces a new Selective tone adjustment located in the Light and Color - Advanced palette. This new tool contains sliders which provide individual luminance control over four distinct tonal regions in the image.

With the Selective tone tool enabled you can individually adjust luminance of highlight, midtone, shadow and black tonal regions.

The Highlights and Blacks sliders are meant for fine-tuning adjustments that complement, rather than replace the use of the exposure compensation slider, and thus have a much more limited adjustment range.

Even though the overall exposure is pleasing in this default Optics Pro 8 rendering, the image is a bit flat, lacking some contrast.
Adjustments via the four sliders in the Selective tone tool provide a way to make luminance adjustments to specific tonal ranges of the image. Here, you see the results of a Highlights: +20, Midtones: +43, Shadows: -34, Blacks: -4 adjustment.

The Selective tool provides a useful and intuitive distinction of tonal regions for fine-tuning localized image luminance. Small adjustments go a long way here though, as you'll want to avoid blocking important highlight or shadow detail. Overall, it provides advanced users with more flexibility and nuance than the more basic contrast tool, which now includes a 'microcontrast' option akin to Lightroom's Clarity slider.

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