Software Review: DxO Optics Pro 9.1

by Stan Sholik

February 18, 2014

For the most part, professional imaging software presents a set of editing tools, and then expects you to do the work to adjust your images. DxO Optics Pro from DxO Labs takes a different approach. The software analyzes each image as you open it, applies a set of automated corrections, and produces an adjusted image for you to fine-tune to your liking. While there are limitations to this process as you will see below, when it works, it is highly effective at streamlining workflow.

What’s New
Optics Pro 9.1, the latest version of the software at the time of this writing, enhances previous iterations of the program with a revised interface and the addition of a highly effective noise-reduction feature. The new noise reduction algorithm makes this version of particular interest to photographers shooting at high ISOs in low light situations—particularly wedding, concert and action sports photographers who shoot primarily in available light. It is available in two editions: Standard and Elite (professionals should go for the Elite edition.)

Pairs-based DxO Labs, a well-regarded imaging company specializing in camera and lens testing and image-processing technologies. Optics Pro software combines these specialties so that the adjustment it applies to images is based not only on the image information, but also on the specific camera/lens combination you use to create the image. When you open an image from a supported camera/lens combination, you are prompted to download the camera/lens correction from the DxO website if you haven’t previously. The download and installation take just a few seconds.

When you select an image to view in Optics Pro, the program prompts you to download a camera/lens optics module if it is not currently available on your computer. Optics modules automate optical corrections and allow for noise and other image corrections based on a tested camera/lens combination. All photos © Stan Sholik

If you are using a camera that has not been analyzed by DxO Labs (such as a Fuji X-E1 or a Phase One back) you can open and process a TIFF or JPEG image, but without optical corrections; you can do nothing with a RAW file. If you are using a camera that has been analyzed, but with a lens that has not (such as my Nikon D3s and old 16mm Nikkor fisheye), you can process RAW, TIFF and JPEG images, but without optical corrections.

There are thousands of camera/lens combinations available, and new ones are constantly being added, but check the DxO Labs website to ensure that your camera/lens combination is available if you are shooting in RAW format. The website also shows which edition of Optics Pro is appropriate for your camera.

Compatibility Issues
I found that I can only consistently open images in DxO Optics Pro 9.1 that are original captures. Once they have been processed by another imaging software program and saved as a JPEG, TIFF or RAW file, they may or may not open in Optics Pro. Even images exported in Optics Pro in the DNG format would not reopen. DNG files from cameras that save their RAW images natively in DNG, however, such as a Leica M9, open as expected.

As mentioned, along with the optical correction, Optics Pro adds an image correction based on image information and one of the 29 built-in presets. These presets include eight Portrait and Landscape, eight Black & White, eight Atmospheres, four Single Shot HDR, and four General presets: DxO Standard, Neutral colors, Black & White and No Correction. You can also create and save your own preset.

In this version, the presets are now visual: When accessed by the Presets button in the upper right of both workspaces, a window opens with a thumbnail of your selected image displayed with the preset applied. The default DxO Standard does a consistently good job, but I ended up setting No Correction in the Preferences as the default to be applied when I open an image, as the presets are available at any time while you are working on an image.

New in this version are “visual” presets that you access from the Presets button in the upper right of each workspace. The presets viewer shows your selected image with each preset applied.

Along with the RAW file conversion and image-editing capabilities of the Optics Pro Customize workspace, the software also functions as an image browser in its Organize workspace, but without the ability to preview more than one image in the large preview window. The interface in Optics Pro 9 is revised again to a fairly recognizable “industry standard” look in comparison to the unique looks of previous versions.

I did find it strange that the EXIF palette is part of the Corrections workspace rather than the Organize workspace, and that you could not add IPTC information, only Author and Copyright information to the EXIF data. The Corrections workspace is highly customizable with the ability to move palettes and the thumbnail browser to different positions in the workspace or to hide them altogether.

Impressive New Denoising Engine
But the big news in Optics Pro 9 is the new DxO PRIME (Probabilistic Raw IMage Enhancement) denoising engine. The denoising engine introduced in version 8 is still available. The version 8 denoising engine is optimized for the removal of low frequency noise, with some sacrifice of quality in order to speed processing. The new PRIME engine is optimized for the greatest possible noise removal without sacrificing image quality, and with no regard for how much time the processing takes. DxO Labs claims a noise reduction equivalent to three stops—think shooting at ISO 6400 with noise equivalent to an image shot at ISO 800—with excellent rendition of hair, texture and fine detail.

PRIME noise reduction is found in the Noise Reduction palette of the Customize workspace. The main preview window shows the effect of applying standard (High) noise reduction (see next page). You can only preview the effect of PRIME noise reduction in the small window of the Noise Reduction palette.

For the technical-minded, DxO PRIME first runs a standard noise reduction, and then runs a more sophisticated set of algorithms that sample more pixels, searching for pixels with similar signal information but lower noise. While the non-PRIME noise reduction takes about 5 to 10 seconds when you export a Nikon D3s 12-megapixel file, PRIME noise reduction takes one to two minutes on export with a fast Windows 7 computer. And, while you can preview the result of standard noise reduction at 1:1 on your full preview image, you can only preview PRIME noise reduction in a small 1:1 window in the noise reduction palette.

Optics Pro 9 did an admirable job of processing the D3s RAW file (from previous page) that is underexposed by 2.5 stops at ISO 6400 with noise reduction turned off.

Exporting the image with PRIME noise reduction results in a dramatic reduction of noise with little loss of detail.

PRIME noise reduction is applied to the full image on export, and you can keep working on other images while you are exporting an image with PRIME noise reduction, so the time required becomes less of an issue. I found that PRIME does a far better job of reducing noise than the standard DxO noise reduction, with little loss of fine detail or posterization. Compared to Photoshop CC Camera Raw noise reduction, PRIME produced a noticeably sharper image with finer detail, but more noise, which I didn’t find objectionable, as it looked more like film grain than digital noise PRIME did a better job on some images than on others, but if you have a priceless image that is excessively noisy for any number of reasons, it is likely that PRIME noise reduction will reduce the noise significantly while retaining image detail. That said, I don’t see myself reprocessing all of my Nikon D70 and D2x high ISO images any time soon.

Other New Features
There are other new features in Optics Pro 9, including improved highlight and shadow recovery, improved color rendering, a new export system, and, in version 9.1, the ability to export directly to Facebook and Flickr. Previous Optics Pro users will also notice an increase in speed over their current version.

For new users, the MSRP of the DxO Optics Pro 9 Standard edition is $169; Elite edition, $299. The edition you require is based on the camera you own. A chart to determine the edition you need is available at DxO's website.

System Requirements

Operating system: Microsoft® Windows® Vista (32- or 64-bit), Microsoft® Windows® 7 (32- or 64-bit), Microsoft® Windows® 8 (32- or 64-bit), Microsoft® Windows® 8.1 (32- or 64-bit)
Processor: Minimum of Intel Core® 2 Duo, AMD Athlon™ 64 X2 or higher
Recommended: Intel Core® i5, AMD Phenom™ II X4 or higher
Disk space: 2GB minimum (6GB recommended)
RAM: 2GB minimum (8GB recommended)
Graphics card: For GPU acceleration support, a memory card supporting DirectX 9.0c is required. 512MB of video memory (VRAM) is recommended.
For OpenCL acceleration support, use NVIDIA GeForce 460 or higher, or ATI Radeon HD 58xx or higher.
To process RAW images larger than 20 megapixels, a 64-bit operating system with 8GB of RAM is strongly recommended.
To process Nikon D800/D800E RAW images, a 64-bit machine is required. A machine equipped with a 4-core processor is strongly recommended.
Installation: If not already present, the .NET 4.0 Framework will be installed on the machine (this may take several minutes and a reboot is required).
Installing the latest Microsoft updates for Windows is recommended before installing the application.

Operating system: Mac OS X 10.6 (Snow Leopard), 10.7 (Lion), 10.8 (Mountain Lion), Mac 10.9 (Mavericks).
Processor: Mac Intel only, 64-bit compatible (recommended: Intel Core™ i5 or higher).
Disk space: 2GB minimum (6GB recommended).
RAM: 2GB minimum (8GB recommended).
Graphics card: 512MB of video memory is recommended to support GPU acceleration.
To process RAW images larger than 20 megapixels, a 64-bit operating system with 4GB of RAM is strongly recommended.
To process Nikon D800/D800E RAW images, a 64-bit machine is required. A machine equipped with a 4-core processor is strongly recommended.

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