Superb Photo Editing At A Sub-Lightroom Price

INSTALLATION AND OPERATION

Optics Pro 9 is available as a fully functional 31-day trial, with both Mac and PC versions. (After the trial period, a DxO watermark appears on photos processed with the software.) There are two editions: Standard, for most consumer point-and-shoots and D-SLRs, and Elite, for pro-level full-frame cameras.

There are only two modes in Optics Pro: Organize and Customize. Organize mode doesn’t have a full workflow function-there’s no importing from media, though you could simply open images from a card shown in the Organize folder tree. You do get star ratings, but no “picks” or color codes for organizing your photos, and forget about geo-tag maps and face detection. If those things are important to you, you’re better off using DxO Optics Pro as a plug-in for Lightroom or Aperture. The program does let you organize by Projects, in which you bring together photos you want to work with as a group from various sources.

Customize mode is where you do all of your editing and tuning. You have access to tools such as cropping, forcing parallel lines, and a neutral color picker, as well as methods for reducing moirĂ©, vignetting, and chromatic aberration, though there are no simple image rotation buttons (you can rotate via a right-click menu or keyboard shortcut). There’s also no history panel, for undoing back to a particular edit, or reverting back to the image’s original state. The program does make good use of keyboard shortcuts, however, and I like how the mouse wheel zooms you in and out.

Adobe’s Lightroom 5 offers more flexibility with multiple modes for things such as sharing, printing, and books. But one major DxO feature is that each time you open a folder containing images, the program detects the camera and lens used for those photos and prompts you to download a module for that combination so Optics Pro can optimize the image. As a result, autocorrection is far better than you see in most photo software, and is often all you need to significantly improve a picture, though there are plenty of available presets for tweaking still further and adjusting contrast, color, lighting, exposure compensation, and more.

The interface is somewhat customizable: You can adjust the interface border color from the default dark gray to anywhere from full white to full black. The full-screen view is less satisfying than Lightroom’s, as DxO always keeps the control bar on screen, though you can detach the image browser for full viewing on a second screen.

DXO PRIME

Version 9 of DxO adds a hallmark feature called Probabilistic Raw Image Enhancement, or Prime, a noise-reduction tool that the company claims will add an extra stop of exposure to digital photos shot in Raw. This means you can shoot in low light or at faster speeds and still retain sharpness and detail.

Prime lets the program take as long as it needs to analyze and correct digital noise. Most noise correction just compares nearby pixels to determine which are noise, but DxO examines a much larger area to make this determination, which should remove more noise while leaving more detail. When you choose Prime noise reduction, you won’t be able to see its effect on the full image view, just on a small 150-by-150-pixel area. Even viewing that preview takes a few seconds, and the only way to apply Prime to the whole image is to export it, which can take several minutes.

Though Prime removed more noise (particularly in eye whites shot in low light at high ISO) and preserved more detail than Lightroom, I noticed too much smoothing on the Auto setting. Fortunately, you can tune the amount of correction with the Luminance slider, and even dig into Chrominance, Low Frequency, and Dead Pixel corrections.

One important point to make about DxO Optics Pro is that it offers nothing in the way of local corrections-no dodge and burn, no selective blur, no retouching, not even red-eye correction. For those things, a more complete tool such as Lightroom is warranted. But for sports, nature, or night-event photographers who need to shoot at a high ISO, Prime could be a godsend in getting less noisy images to their clients.

OUTPUT AND SHARING

Once you’ve perfected your image, Optics Pro lets you output it to another photo editor or to sites such as Facebook and Flickr, save it to your hard drive, or print it out. The Facebook exporter lets you choose a target album, but not privacy level or tagging. The Flickr export has nice control, letting you choose an album, add keyword tags, or set privacy, and it pulls in your previously used tags and albums to pick from. One online sharing capability that’s lacking is via email: Lightroom lets you quickly send out any image onscreen via a right-click. Optics Pro includes utilitarian printing capabilities, in which you can choose a grid size for multiple images, apply sharpening, and add a caption in the font style of your choice. But for more layout options (including savable custom layouts) and soft proofing (which lets you see colors in the photo not supported by the printer), look to Lightroom.

IF YOU WANT TO BE AN OPTICS PRO, DXO

DxO Optics Pro 9 is hardly the last word in workflow, but it can give you an edge for better images not available in other full-capability photo applications.

Even without its new and unique Prime noise reduction feature, DxO’s lens and camera calibrated corrections automatically achieve results that can be hard to accomplish in other software. Professional photographers will want Optics Pro at least as a tool in their photo software toolbox for the edge it can provide.

Although it won’t turn a bad photo into a good one, Optics Pro can make a good photo great. That’s enough to earn it our Editors’ Choice award.