It has been five years since DxO introduced DxO PhotoLab, a brand-new version of its venerable Optics Pro Raw editor. Due to its automated lens/exposure corrections and its potent – arguably class-leading – DeepPRIME denoising engine, PhotoLab, one of the strongest competitors to Adobe Lightroom, has long been a favorite of ours. It is available for both Windows and macOS.
Additionally, it has been a while since we last looked at PhotoLab 4, so perhaps a quick catch-up is in order before we introduce the new PhotoLab 6. After much pleading from the Fujifilm faithful, PhotoLab’s support for Fujifilm X-Trans cameras was finally added in the interim version 5. Additionally, it adopted the clever U-Point local editing technology that DxO originally acquired when it acquired Google’s Nik Collection suite, and it additionally provided better image management tools.
- extensive features for managing and editing images
- accepts raw files from more than 500 different camera brands.
- Corrects lens flaws automatically for thousands of lens/body combinations
- both global and local editing is possible
- very user-friendly interface considering the variety of tools available
- high-quality visuals and effective performance
- No membership is required.
There are two versions of DxO PhotoLab 6 that are immediately available for both Windows and macOS systems. If upgrading from PhotoLab 4 or 5, the base price of PhotoLab 6 Essential is $75 instead of $139 for new users. It costs $219 for new users or $99 if upgrading to the top-tier PhotoLab 6 Elite, which you’ll need to have access to the new DeepPRIME, retouching, and keystoning tools.
Learning about DxO 6 PhotoLab
In the interest of readability and given the size of PhotoLab 6, I won’t try to cover every feature in the program. We’ll start with a brief overview of PhotoLab’s features for those of you who are unfamiliar with it, as well as some of its drawbacks in comparison to the competition. We’ll also talk about the distinctions between the two versions of PhotoLab that come in different price ranges.
Even though PhotoLab began as primarily a Raw editor, it has expanded to include photo library management features. You can use it to view the metadata of your images, rate, color-code, and keyword them, as well as print them. While you cannot import large quantities of photos at once, PhotoLab can browse your current directory structure and group collections of images into projects or project groups, even if they are spread across different storage locations.
The extensive editing tools provided by PhotoLab include both global and localized adjustment tools. They are organized into six logical categories, and you can look up specific tools by name or functionality as well as by favorites or whether they are currently in use.
The most crucial of these tools, like lens, exposure, and color corrections, can be used completely automatically, providing good results with essentially no effort. For artistic effect, a sizable number of presets are also offered, and you are shown thumbnail previews for each so you know exactly what to expect.
DeepPRIME XD’s enhanced noise reduction is more effective but still imperfect
With the addition of DeepPRIME XD for PhotoLab 6 Elite, DxO’s DeepPRIME noise reduction, which was already among the best in the industry, has been improved once more. The earlier denoising algorithms, as well as the earlier HQ and PRIME denoising algorithms, are still available if you prefer them for a particular shot (these last two are the only options for Essential edition owners).
To be clear, there isn’t much of a difference between the already-capable DeepPRIME and DeepPRIME XD. However, if you’re looking closely at your photos, the improvement can still be seen. The XD version offers sharper detail and less noise. The distinction stands out more in bokeh or darker shadows.
The improvements in DeepPRIME XD are made possible by AI algorithms, just like in DeepPRIME before it. While they typically perform admirably even with their default settings, they occasionally add unwanted artifacts. And since the results from DeepPRIME XD are sharper than those from the non-XD algorithms, those artifacts may be even more obvious when closely scrutinizing results.
You’re more likely to find these flaws in repeating patterns. The algorithm couldn’t replicate the repeating pattern in the brickwork in the crops above, so it’s easy for the human eye to see the entire rows of bricks that appear to have combined into one. Additionally, the exquisite latticework below is degraded by fake, invented “detail” in the holes.
If not, it’s pretty amazing what these algorithms can do, even with very noisy shots. Hopefully, future iterations of DeepPRIME will fix these sporadic flaws. Even in its current state, DeepPRIME XD will enable you to capture images with usable quality at much higher sensitivity levels than you would typically consider.
For Elite users, there is built-in keystoning, and ViewPoint integrates well as well
Keystoning correction tools are now built into PhotoLab 6, but they are only available in the Elite edition. The tool may seem familiar because it has been around for a while in the form of the standalone DxO ViewPoint app, which, if installed, integrates with PhotoLab. Elite users can now correct keystoning without having to pay extra for ViewPoint, though.
Naturally, if you already own ViewPoint, it will continue to work with PhotoLab 6 Essential. You will then have access to ViewPoint’s other tools, such as the anamorphosis correction and tilt/shift-like miniature effects, in addition to the keystoning corrections.
A new tool called ReShape has been added to ViewPoint’s toolbox, as well as PhotoLab’s if the two programs are installed side-by-side. ReShape divides your image into a user-controlled grid and allows you to locally distort the image by moving points on the grid.
Although the grid size you select at the beginning of the operation cannot be changed, you can select and move points in bulk, which makes working with a finer-grained grid easier. In the aforementioned example, I’ve adjusted the grid to straighten the bollard, the ship’s bridge, and its smokestacks.
Minor changes include soft proofing, a new internal color space, and others
Other changes to PhotoLab 6 exist as well, though they are less obvious than those to DeepPRIME XD, ReTouch, and ReShape. First off, DxO Wide Gamut is a brand-new color space that the program employs internally. (The legacy color space from earlier versions is still usable, mainly for images you’ve already edited.) In combination with a wide-gamut monitor, the new color space’s wider gamut than Adobe RGB can help prevent clipping of intensely saturated areas. The haze-busting ClearView Plus tool, which can use the extra color data to produce better results, can also benefit from its effects.
A soft proofing mode that helps you match the appearance of images on-screen to that of your final prints is also new. Additionally, DxO now offers the option to color-code your images for organization.
In order to make it simpler to find the photos you want based on their capture information and tags, the program now surfaces more EXIF and IPTC metadata fields. Additionally, the crop tool has been enhanced to enable rotation during the cropping process without the need to first switch to another tool.
DxO One of Adobe Lightroom’s main rivals, PhotoLab has existed for a very long time. It continues to provide consistently superior image quality along with a wide range of automatic and manual controls to achieve the desired look. And now that it has been updated, it is even more powerful than before.
The lack of any support for multi-shot techniques like panoramas, HDR, and focus stacking remains its main disadvantage versus Lightroom. It would be much simpler to recommend it over Lightroom if those features were included, so we’d really like to see them in the next major release.
But in reality, only a small percentage of our shots will be taken using multi-shot techniques. Even then, you could use a third-party app, either free or paid for, to bridge the gap.
The majority of your shots will yield results from PhotoLab that are comparable to, if not noticeably superior to, those from Lightroom. Additionally, it makes getting good results incredibly simple because the automatic algorithms are trustworthy enough to handle the majority of the labor-intensive tasks.