DxO Optics Pro 11 for Mac review
Most people are likely to recognise DxO for its DxOMark website, which reviews camera and lenses, including phone cameras such as the iPhone 8 Plus. However, the company also makes its own phone camera add-on module, the DxO One, and amongst professional and semi-pro photographers its triumvirate of image editing apps are even better known.
DxO FilmPack aims to reintroduce the "magic of analog film", while DxO ViewPoint specialises in fixing lens distortions. But it's DxO Optics Pro that offers the most creative freedom when working with images, and offers an extensive image processing toolkit.
With a tagline of "Reveal the RAW emotion", there can be little doubt where the 'focus' of DxO Optics Pro lies (excuse the pun). While RAW image data can vary between models, DxO Optics Pro supports more than 300 cameras (plus more than 950 lenses), and the DxO Optics Module Library ensures that new models are easily supported and downloaded automatically upon demand.
For RAW file formats that don't allow the saving of image tweaking metadata, DxO Optics Pro uses its own 'sidecar' file format. This means you'll end up with two files post-editing. However, DxO Optics Pro is also compatible with the popular Adobe DNG raw format for compatibility with other apps (with a handful of minor provisos), and this does allow the combination of RAW and image metadata.
Notably, DxO Optics Pro isn't just about RAW images, and can handle JPEG too, although this will mean some features aren't available.
The DxO Optics Pro interface is the fashionable black colour that evidently all image-editing apps must use nowadays. The image you're working on sits in the middle of the window, while to the left and the right are docked palettes offering image tweaking controls. Each palette can be expanded or contracted by double-clicking, although you need to be quick because in our tests often the app interpreted the initial click as a desire to move the palette.
These palettes contain a range of controls that can be mixed and matched via clicking and dragging from one palette to another, and new controls can be added by clicking the menu icon at the right of the palette. Palettes can also be dragged away from the left or right of the screen to become floating windows. There's certainly a lot of flexibility in how you organise the screen, and you can save any arrangement via the Workspaces menu.
The bottom of the screen shows the contents of the project folder you have opened for editing, but this can be shrunk by dragging the divider, or even eliminated entirely if you don't want it.
Upon opening any image for the first time, DxO Optics Pro will automatically correct any lens distortion based on the aforementioned camera and lens profiles. This can be overridden using the Distortion tool within the Geometry palette, although we didn't find it necessary to do so in our tests. Other tools let you correct chromatic aberration and fix any lens softness.
Although there are a great many tools on offer to correct all kinds of lighting and colour issues, DxO Optics Pro's biggest shout-outs revolve around its noise reduction (DxO Prime), clever one-click light adjustment (DxO Smart Lighting), and its ability to remove haze (DxO Clear View). All are intended to be easy to use, with very few settings to adjust.
DxO Prime is the rather confusing name given to the noise reduction feature ("prime" usually indicates a type of lens, of course), although there's also a HQ (Fast) version of noise reduction too - and this is present for those who might get frustrated waiting a number of seconds for Prime to do its magic each time you drag the image to focus on a different area. This was evident even on the relatively powerful 2.8GHz quad-core i7-powered Mac used during testing.
However, DxO Prime has a huge appreciation within the photography world, where its ability to rescue high-ISO grainy images is almost legendary. In our tests it worked very well, retaining image data without too much blurring, and it's certainly going to be better than the version of noise reduction built into any camera.
DxO Smart Lighting had a similarly magical effect, somehow giving the image the appearance of having been shot in entirely different lighting conditions. This primarily works on the basis of detecting faces in the images and optimising the image for them. Glancing at the histogram before and after applying the effect shows not too much data is lost, which is admirable.
DxO Clear View did indeed cut through haze in photographs, although perhaps needs to be used judiciously because it can also increase the contrast.
There's a lot to like in DxO Optics Pro. Our complaints are slight and revolve around the time taken to process the image when dragging it around while zoomed, as one example. Typically this was a couple of seconds, and on slower computers might be even longer. Additionally, there doesn't appear to be a zoom tool for quick zooming in and out, with the maximum zoom level capped at 200% too.
Other than Photoshop, DxO Optics Pro's nearest competition is Capture One Pro, but DxO Optics Pro is much cheaper and a lot easier to use too, relying largely on one or two sliders within each tool for the sake of simplicity. True, you don't get the incredible control over fine details that you do with Capture One Pro, but do you really need it? For simply pushing your RAW images so that you (relatively) quickly get the best out of them, DxO Optics Pro is a winner.