Tuesday, January 29, 2013

More From DxO



EOS 7D with EF28-105 USM Before Optics Pro 8

After Optics Pro 8

As I'm in the mood for testing software, I noticed that DxO Labs has another intriguing product in addition to their very useful FilmPack, called Optics Pro. As with all their software, they offer a 30 day trial period, so I decided to give it a try.

The DxO products seemingly are created to fulfill a purpose aside from generic post-processing software, such as PhotoShop or Lightroom. In the case of FilmPack, their purpose is to make digital camera files look like specific film photographs, and in the case of Optics Pro, the idea is to do a maximum fine-tune of your camera / lens combination. With optics Pro, DxO are doing ongoing research of how specific DSLR camera bodies interact with specific lenses, to determine the optimal picture quality available, and then present that optimum quality to you during the RAW to JPEG conversion process. At first, it sounds kind of strange - one would think that the manufacturers would do their best to create that optimal relationship physically, and no amount of post-processing could possibly improve upon it. i found this to be true in some cases, but not in others. When using my newest Canon lens, the EF 40mm 2.8 STM, the software made absolutely no discernible difference, so I didn't bother posting that sample here. Next, I tried a RAW file taken with my very old EF 28-105, which was one of the original Canon EF mount lenses from the 1980's. Here, I could see a difference, but not much (see examples above). I can spot minor improvements in just about every aspect  - recovered shadow detail, brighter highlights, more natural color  and even a very slight perspective correction. But it is all extremely subtle - I regard this as a good thing. It was the same with FilmPack - most of the changes are quite subtle, and I like that.

Next, I tried a picture from a different lens manufacturer - Sigma lens on Canon body.

EOS 7D with Sigma 17-70 2.8 - 4 Macro OS Before Optics Pro

After Optics Pro

You have to click to enlarge these samples to see the difference, but I think it is a substantial improvement in this case. The Optics Pro RAW conversion brought out much more detail, texture, contrast and overall richness of color in this picture. The kitty simply looks more life-like.

This is a novel approach to RAW conversion. It provides default processing based on your camera equipment with a simple two mouse clicks - one to provide a preview, and the second to run the actual conversion from your camera's RAW to JPEG, TIFF or DNG format choices. But - in between these two steps, you also have the option to "customize", and here again, the software becomes another Lightroom type of converter, where you abandon the defaults and take control of the appearance of the final product yourself. There are also some novelty Presets in the Customize mode - such as a Pseudo HDR, or other novelty's like "Old Postcard", which basically makes yet another vintage-like color washout.

This is a good product for the purists, who wants the ultimate results from their equipment through the RAW conversion process. It certainly accomplishes this, but seemingly only if it needs to. If you have a newer camera equipped with newer lenses that are of your camera's brand, I don't believe it does much of anything.  If you have older lenses, it is somewhat useful, and if you have other lens brands (Tamron, Sigma, etc), it is probably more useful still. However, keep in mind there is nothing this software does that cannot be done with any other RAW conversion application. It makes the job easier, but only if the result you want is absolutely true to the gear you're using.

So, here are a summary of my likes and dislikes:

Likes:

  • Immediate recognition of your equipment based on EXIF data from a particular photo - this recognition prompts you to download the specific profile data file
  • Very easy user interface, and quick default operation
  • Choice of JPEG, TIFF, web-sized or print-sized output
  • DNG output also available, but I don't see the point of this
  • Independent noise reduction available in the Customize mode, which is said to be better than in-camera NR. I didn't have a file to try this with, but it's there if you need it,


Dislikes:

  • Does not work on Canon's Medium and Small RAW files (which I shot a lot of last summer)
  • No support for old manual lenses that are used with adapters on your camera (but then, why would they bother with this?)
  • Expensive
  • No Linux version

To me, this is a niche product. Personally, I don't have any regard for what brand of equipment I'm using, as long as I can arrive at a good looking photo, and I've got plenty of no cost opensource options which do this.

Sorry DxO, not interested.

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