Tuesday, November 12, 2013

DxO Optics Revisited (Ver. 9)

EOS Rebel-XT, EF 40mm, De-Noised and Lens Corrected with DxO Optics Pro 9, Added DxO Film Pack Plug-in for Agfa Vista 200

I've installed DxO Optics Pro 9 for it's 30 Day Trial, after which it can be purchased at a special offer price of $199 for full frame cameras, or $99 if you have an APS-C camera. I did the same thing last year for version 8, and at the time, determined it wasn't worth the price for me, but if you're reluctant to use open Source software, as i do, this may be a very good deal.

Version 9 adds a couple of great features - 1) an amazing new noise reduction algorithm which they call "Prime", and because it takes a long time to run, they've retained standard noise reduction called "High". Also 2) you get DxO Film Pack ver. 4 built right into the software as a Plug-In.

But you have to keep in mind that DxO Lab's main feature for Optics pro is that it does RAW Conversion with your specified Lens -Camera combination built-in; it does this seamlessly, and it does it well. Software lens correction is the company's main line of research, and this product, although it is a full-blown RAW converter with all the usual parameters available for adjustment, and it is also a RAW file previewer / organizer complete with Picture Rating, is probably your best bet if you're looking for the ultimate out-of-camera lens corrector too. Now, if you happen to own a camera with built-in lens correction, I would suppose you would not need what DxO Optics Pro has to offer. Also, if you don't even know what I'm talking about here, or you don't own a DSLR or Interchangeable Lens Camera, you most certainly don't need DxO Pro. If that's the case, then maybe the question should be - if you don't own such a camera, would the availability of DxO Pro for as little as $99 entice you to go out and buy one?

You need to understand that the effect of Lens Correction Software (for your PC) and Firmware (built into your DSLR) is desirable, but very subtle - exactly the same conclusion I arrived at last year. It is right now, the last frontier for "picture perfection" so to speak. The thing about it is, you don't know that your pictures might not be "perfect" until you try Lens Correction Software, and observe the difference. Then you need to decide if the difference is enough to make you really want it. The software is available for a 31 day free trial, to let you determine if it's worth buying. So here's a good case in point - consider the above "corrected" picture against this one-

Same As Above, but Converted with Photivo, and no Film-Pack Enhancement
You can see the lens correction in terms of enhanced clarity, and slightly different cropping taking place at the edges. This is a very early camera (the Rebel XT) with a much newer lens (Canon's EF 40mm f2.8), which might be the kind of combinations for which DxO works best. The "Prime" Noise Reduction is also noticeable, but barely - I also used Photivo's NR which works very well. Finally, it's neat to be able to make use of DxO's other claim to fame, Film Emulation, right in the same software window - so for a real dramatic rendering, I chose the Agfa Vista 200 Film in the top picture.

So, how do I think DxO stacks up against my reference standard, Photivo?

DxO Optics Pro 9 "Pros":

  • Probably the best researched lens correction ever done - this is their specialty
  • Intuitive, easy to learn interface
  • The Lens Correction takes place in the background, automatically, based on EXIF data in your RAW file
  • "Prime" Noise Reduction offers a full stop more signal to noise ratio
  • Built-in DxO Film Pack 4 is very cool
  • Exports "DNG" file format, as well as JPG and TIF

DxO Optics Pro 9 "Cons":

  • I still don't see a whole lot of value in Lens Correction, in spite of being able to see it clearly in my above sample, it doesn't exactly "wow" me. Other SW products also offer Lens Correction
  • Even Photivo and GIMP have a form of Lens Correction, called "Lens Fun". It's not intended to make your lens/camera combo "perfect"; rather, it's meant to allow you to customize your own "look"
  • It's not free of charge; also it costs more if you have a full frame camera
  • Not available for Linux

Photivo "Pros":

  • Extremely thorough user interface that allows for RAW conversion / editing at the deepest level possible - this is a true "do-it-all" product, except it doesn't do organizing / rating; it is a stand-alone RAW converter
  • Processing "moves" are very obvious in the Preview, although you can also be subtle with the "sliders"
  • Exceptionally good control of Texture (Micro-Contrast)
  • Exceptionally good control of Dynamic Range
  • Very good at everything, really, EXCEPT Lens Correction - "Lens Fun" is more of a "play around" feature
  • Once you learn how to use it, Photivo ought to be able to match any other RAW Processor that you pay money for, except Lens Correction.
  • Exceptional B&W conversion options
  • It's free of charge for Windows, Mac and Linux

Photivo "Cons":

  • Really steep learning curve - terminology is generic, cryptic, almost scientific
  • Actions are cumulative - this means that a "move" you made earlier will have an effect on what you do later. This isn't so bad once you get used to it.
  • Stand-alone nature means you have to be really good at organizing your photos on your own (you ought to be anyway)
  • In some cases, it's difficult to be subtle, especially when it comes to colour enhancement.

So, because I'm very much at ease with Photivo, once again I probably won't pay the price for DxO optics pro. It is a product for a "perfectionist" niche, I suppose - people who need the ultimate assurance that their camera / lens combinations are performing to the highest standard possible. I personally don't see the value in that, even after trying it out.

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