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DxO Optics Pro 8: What's New

Amadou Diallo | Software/App Reviews | Published Nov 23, 2012

Optics Pro 8 features a more streamlined user interface for PC users (shown here) and a more efficient tool palette arrangement on both Windows and Mac platforms.

DxO Optics Pro 8 is the newest version of DxO Labs' raw editing software. Optics Pro combines image organization and management with a wealth of editing and optical correction tools and the ability to batch process your camera's native raw files into TIFF, JPEG and DNG file formats. While Optics Pro 8 isn't a dramatic upgrade from version 7, it does introduce a new automated tonal recovery tool and print capability along with a revised user interface and image editing enhancements. In this very brief overview I'll highlight the most significant changes for current users. In an upcoming article we'll be taking a much more detailed look at image quality, workflow and output options as we compare Optics Pro 8 against Adobe Photoshop Lightroom 4 and Phase One's Capture One Pro 7.

Among the changes users will find in version 8 are a reorganized palette layout that puts the most commonly used editing tools in close proximity, a new highlight and shadow recovery tool, sliders for localized tonal adjustments and a 'smart' saturation option, which treats colors differently depending on their vibrancy. Version 8 also introduces a basic print module with support for single and multi-image layouts along with automated output sharpening tuned for the specified print size.

The modular approach

Although this overview is aimed primarily at current Optics Pro users, it's worth taking a moment to highlight DxO's modular approach to automated optical corrections. DxO Optics Pro's central appeal to raw shooting enthusiasts revolves around the use of lens-specific modules (see below) that provide detailed information about the optical performance of any supported camera/lens combination. This means the software can perform automated corrections for lens distortion, vignetting, chromatic aberration and corner softness based on data that DxO has obtained from testing their sample of the given body/lens combination.

Achieving the benefits of Optics Pro's automated lens corrections requires the installation of 'optics modules' which contain data about specific camera/lens combinations.

Optics modules are available for download within the application (see above). And once installed, any images from a camera/lens combination for which an optics module exists will have corrections applied automatically. The downside to such a lens-specific approach is that if you have a lens which is not supported in combination with your camera body, you'll have to apply these optical corrections manually, offering little practical benefit over using competing raw converters. For a complete list of currently supported camera/lens combinations, please visit the supported equipment page of DxO's site.

New Features

In Optics Pro 8, DxO has sought to address issues related both to productivity and of course image quality. In this overview we'll take a brief look at the following features and enhancements:

Click here to continue reading our DxO Optics Pro 8 article...

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.

Click here to continue reading our Optics Pro 8 article...

Print module

Optics Pro 8 offers the ability to print images without leaving the application or having to render separate print versions of your raw files. You can print single or multiple images on a page using row and column sliders to define the layout. You also have the option of printing captions containing file name, exposure settings and capture date below each image.

In the Windows version of Optics Pro 8 going to File>Print brings up a separate full-size window with a large page  preview and all of the image sizing and layout options in a single column on the right.
On a Mac, an OS X-style 'print sheet' appears with a small page preview thumbnail. Image and page layout controls are contained within two pulldown menus: 'DxO Layout' (shown above) and DxO Image settings.

As you can see in the screenshots above, the print interface is markedly different between Windows and Mac versions, though the functionality is the same. Optics Pro 8 offers no color management settings so you'll have to rely on the printer driver to apply associated ICC paper profiles. Output sharpening is applied to images automatically, and it is tuned internally to the specific print size, but without any user selectable options to fine-tune it.

Enhancements

In addition to the new features mentioned above, a few of the software's existing tools have been updated. The DxO Lens Softness and Chromatic aberration tools now incorporate new image content analysis alongside their use of lens data from the optics modules. This leads to reduced sharpening artifacts and more effective removal of color fringing respectively, compared to previous versions. Long exposure noise reduction has also been tweaked to minimize hot and dead pixels.

The Color rendering tool now sees an Auto option for the Protect saturated colors option. This option applies a 'smart' adjustment to color saturation that is based on image analysis, distinguishing between highly saturated and less saturated colors when minimizing individual color channel clipping.

Instead of defaulting to a fixed value of 25... ...the Protect saturated color adjustment now defaults to an adaptive Auto setting that is image-dependent.

System requirements

Optics Pro 8 has essentially the same minimum requirements as version 7. It is compatible with Windows XP SP3, and both 32 and 64-bit versions of Vista and Windows 7. Note that Nikon D800/D800E raw file support requires a 64-bit Windows OS. Mac users with Intel processors must now be running OS X 10.6 or higher. For a complete list of processor, memory and graphics card requirements visit DxO's system configuration page.

Versions and Pricing

As with previous releases, Optics Pro 8 is available in two editions: Standard and Elite. Features are identical but the Elite version supports a greater number of camera models which include high-end DSLRs. To determine which version supports your camera, please visit DxO's supported equipment page.

Official pricing is US $169 / €149  / £135 for the Standard edition and US $299 / 299€ / £269 for the Elite edition. Current users can upgrade for US $79 / €69 / £59 for the Standard edition and US $99 / €99 / £89 for the Elite edition. In addition, users who purchased an Optics Pro 7 license on or after September 1, 2012 are eligible for a free upgrade to version 8. There is also a 30 day free trail available for download on the DxO site.

Final word

On its face, Optics Pro 8 does not offer many radically new features, but a more refined and intuitive approach to previously existing functionality. Print capability is of course the big exception, and is a welcome move that finally provides users with a start to finish workflow. We'd like to see a more robust set of printing options that includes multiple image size layouts and built-in color management support for ICC profiles.

The decision to group image editing tools into a more logical palette arrangement should help both new and experienced users achieve their desired results in a more efficient manner. Of course we'll have a more definitive take as we put these tools to the test in an upcoming raw converter shoot-out against rivals Lightroom and Capture One Pro. Stay tuned.