Image editing software packages are usually compared to Adobe Photoshop and Adobe Photoshop Lightroom, and while DxO PhotoLab only does some of what Photoshop and Lightroom can do, it has DxO’s excellent optical corrections plus the DeepPRIME noise reduction technology that draws on AI and deep learning to produce more detailed and lower noise high sensitivity (ISO) images than is possible with other software. DxO PhotoLab Essential has the optical corrections, but you need the Elite version to get the full range of tools including the DeepPRIME noise reduction and haze-busting ClearView technology.
Excellent optical corrections
Excellent noise reduction
Useful watermarking feature
PhotoLibrary functionality quite limited
Having Essential and Elite versions causes confusion
DxO ViewPoint needed for perspective corrections
What is DxO PhotoLab 5?
PhotoLab 5 is the latest version of DxO’s excellent image-editing and optical correction software. It uses DxO’s in-depth understanding of optical flaws and how to correct them to enable automatic corrections, but it’s also possible to make global and local adjustments manually.
The automatic corrections are available for different camera and lens combinations. Consequently, when you use PhotoLab for the first time, you’re prompted to download the necessary correction modules. In an exciting new development for PhotoLab, the latest version is compatible with some Fujifilm X-Trans CMOS sensors.
The Elite version of DxO PhotoLab 5 also features an upgraded (faster) version of DxO DeepPRIME that benefits from artificial intelligence and deep learning for incredible noise reduction.
Like the previous versions of DxO PhotoLab, PhotoLab 5 enables localised adjustment using U-Point technology, however, thanks to new tools, the area targeted for adjustment can sometimes be refined more easily than in previous editions.
DxO PhotoLab 5 is available in two versions, Essential and Elite. The Essential version has the optical corrections and a few additional controls but DxO PhotLab 5 Elite, reviewed here, has the full range of tools including the DeepPRIME and ClearView.
One of the nice features of PhotoLab 5 is that it works around your filing structure. Unlike Adobe Lightroom, there’s no need to import images. What’s more, when you preview a folder of images, the software automatically checks the EXIF data to find out what cameras and lenses were used. If the necessary correction modules aren’t already installed, it prompts you to download them.
The PhotoLibrary section is where you browse images. You can filter the images in a folder using aspects such as star ratings, file types and tags. Helpfully, hovering the cursor over an image reveals its key data.
Double-clicking on an image opens it in the Customize section. This is where you can make any edits and it’s where the real strength behind PhotoLab and DxO optical assessments comes into play.
Unlike previous versions, DxO PhotoLab 5 supports EXIF and IPTC metadata and it’s possible to apply keywords and then search for images using keywords. Crucially, the keywords are IPTC-compliant which means they are visible and searchable in other programs such as Adobe Lightroom Classic.
Batch Renaming was added with PhotoLab 4 and is very easy to use in the PhotoLibrary. You just select the images that you want to rename and then select Image > Rename Selected Images in the menu.
Then you have the option to chose between ‘Replace text’, ‘Add text’ and ‘Rename & Add Counter’ in the box that appears. With that decision made, type in the name that you want to use and if given the option, select where you’d like it to appear (before or after the current name) in the file name.
DxO PhotoLab 5 Customise
As I said, you can double-click on an image to open it in DxO PhotoLab’s Customize section. Alternatively, with the image selected in the PhotoLibrary, just click on the Customize tab.
All the adjustment controls are arranged in a column on the right of the Customize screen while the key settings and editing history are shown in the column on the left. The image preview is at the centre of the screen.
DxO has divided the adjustment parameters into sections, each with its own icon. Clicking on the icon takes you through the sections which are named Lights, Color, Detail, Geometry, Local Adjustments and Creatives.
There are arrows next to the key adjustment parameters in each section in the column. You can click on these arrows to expand and contract the controls so you see more or less as you need.
Expanding a control reveals its sliders. These operate between -100 and +100, with zero being the default setting. The value can be adjusted by moving the slider, tapping on the up or down arrow or entering a numerical figure. It’s very intuitive.
A blue marker shows which adjustments are applied. You can turn off an adjustment by clicking on the blue marker.
PhotoLab 5 has a star next to each adjustment parameter in the control panel on the right of the screen. Clicking on a star turns it blue and marks it as a favourite. Then, when you open a new image for editing, you can click on the star icon above the control section icons to reveal your favourite adjustment parameters.
Next to the star at the top of the control panel, there’s a small switch icon. Click on this to turn it blue and all the applied adjustments are shown.
On the basis of the installed camera and lens module, the software automatically applies a few adjustments including DxO Smart Lighting, Vignetting, White Balance and Color Rendering, but you can adjust the intensity of their impact or, as previously mentioned, turn then off with a click on the blue marker. When the marker is grey, the adjustment isn’t applied.
Noise Reduction – DxO DeepPRIME
DeepPRIME is DxO’s latest noise reduction algorithm and it works incredibly well, transforming images shot at high sensitivity (ISO) settings. It’s also very easy to use, but the preview isn’t applied to the full-screen image, you can only see it in a small window in the control panel – as shown below.
DxO DeepPRIME is located within the Details tab in the controls. It’s alongside the alternative noise reduction methods, High Quality and PRIME. It’s simply a case of clicking on DeepPrime to select it.
Just to the right of the DeepPrime button, there’s a small circle with a cross on it. If you click on this, you can then click on the main image preview to select the are that you want to preview with the noise reduction applied.
With the squishing of images that’s required to make a fast-loading webpage, it’s hard to show the impact of DeepPRIME here, but the images below give a taste – click on them for a larger view.
One of the most important edits that needs to be made to an image is to clone out any dust marks. Version 3.0 of DXO PhotoLab introduced an improved repair tool that can be switched between a clone and a repair tool.
It’s also possible to adjust the size, feathering and opacity of the tool. These changes can be made before or after the repair is made, and if you need to you can move the sample area that is used to make the repair.
You can also make further repairs within the cloned area. That’s tricky with some other editing packages.
As with the previous versions of PhotoLab, at the top of the screen, above the preview, towards the right of the row of tools, there’s a ‘Local adjustments’ option. Once this is selected, you can access a range of tools by right-clicking (control-clicking) on the image.
Along with a brush, Graduated filter, Control Point and Auto Mask options, PhotoLab 5 offers a Control Line option. A Control Line is like a Gradient filter, but it enables a new level of control over the area adjusted. Instead of just applying the effect with just a gradual transition, the adjustment can be targeted to areas of specific colour and brightness using the Chroma and Luma sliders in the Local Adjustments panel in the column to the right of the screen.
As you tweak the Chroma and Luma controls you’ll see the effect of the adjustment applied to a wider or more limited area of the image. It’s just a case of tweaking it by eye until you’re happy.
The Chroma and Luma targeting controls are only available with the Control Line and Control Point local adjustments.
The Local Adjustment tools also include an Eraser to paint out the mask that you apply while the New Mask option allows you to apply another adjustment using the same tool.
When the brush is selected, you just need to paint over the image where you want to apply an adjustment.
A box on the screen gives you control over the selection tool. You can adjust the size of the brush, the degree of feathering, its flow and opacity. PhotoLab shows the mask (in blue below) so you can see which areas are being adjusted. Holding down the Alt/Option turns the brush into an eraser to remove the mask.
Whichever adjustment tool you use, the collection of sliding controls becomes visible once the mask is applied. These have three levels. The top level has 8 sliding controls over brightness and contrast. Beneath that, lie the colour controls which allow you to adjust vibrancy, saturation, temperature, tint and hue.
The detail controls are at the bottom of the pack. These allow you to tailor the level of sharpening and blur.
It’s easy to paint in the mask and make adjustments.
Helpfully, you can duplicate a mask in the control panel and then invert it, which means you can treat two parts of an image differently but you only need to paint in one mask.
PhotoLab 3 introduced a new colour wheel control in the HSL (hue, saturation and luminance) panel. The coloured disks above the wheel set the starting point for your adjustment.
You can then move the points around the outside of the ring to specify the colours that you want to adjust, while the inner ring sets the range of the feathering. This is designed to avoid harsh transitions.
Once the selection is made, you can adjust the saturation, luminance and uniformity. It’s a really quick and easy way to adjust specific colours in an image.
DxO PhotoLab 4 debuted a quick and easy-to-use watermarking feature located in the Creative section. It allows you to add text and/or an image to your images.
The text Watermark controls let you write the words that you want to use, set the font and size, adjust the scale and location (1 of 9 points across the image). You can also change the blending mode and opacity of the text. There are similar controls for the image, which can be uploaded from within PhotoLab as a Jpeg or a PNG file.
Usefully, once you’ve finished creating your watermark you can save it as a preset that you can apply to other images. You can even create a selection of preset watermarks for use in different situations.
If you shoot a collection of images in the same conditions, the chances are that you’ll want to apply the same edits to them. Happily, batch editing was added with PhotoLab 4.
This is another simple process, just select the image that you want to use as the edit donor, then select Image > Copy Correction Settings in the menu bar. Next, select the images that you want to apply the edits to and select one of the paste options from Image in the menu.
If you opt for ‘Paste Selected Correction Settings’ you are able to pick the edits that you want to apply from the panel that appears.
Export to Disk
Once you’ve finished making all the edits to your images, the final stage is to output them in the format that you want by clicking on ‘Export to Disk’ in the bottom right corner of the Customize screen.
DxO PhotoLab allows you to specify several file formats (Jpeg, Tiff and DNG), sizes, resolutions and resizing modes at the export stage. Conveniently, you can select several output types at a time, which means if you want to create a high-quality file for printing, a smaller image to put on your website and something smaller still for social media, you can do it all in one swoop.
It’s also at this stage that you decide which of your watermarks that you want to apply to your images.
PhotoLab 5 is a high-end image-editing and optical correction software package. DxO’s expertise really comes to the fore with noise reduction, haze removal and sharpness enhancement. There’s lots of control and edits are applied quickly.
DxO DeepPRIME is especially good and for anyone who shoots in low light on a regular basis, it’s a convincing argument for using PhotoLab 5, or partnering your preferred software with DxO PureRAW 2.
The local adjustment capability is also very handy and like the easy-to-use HSL colour wheel, it can produce excellent results. The new Control Line and Luma and Chroma sliding controls add an extra layer of finesse. However, it would be nice to also be able to use them with control points for each of the adjustment tools in the tool box.
PhotoLab is fairly intuitive to use. It also has just about all of the controls that you need to adjust images. The Watermark creation tool is very straightforward and applying the results to your images couldn’t be easier.
Adding DxO FilmPack or ViewPoint gives you even more tools and they are all based on optical assessments. It’s a great tool for photographers who want to optimise the results from their camera and lenses. DxO PhotoLab also dovetails well with Nik Collection by DxO which offers an extensive range of creative tools.
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