We Review DxO PhotoLab and Why You Should Consider Swapping to It

We Review DxO PhotoLab and Why You Should Consider Swapping to It

DxO PhotoLab 6.3 has just been released, and it's persuaded me to change my workflow. Here's why you should consider giving it a try.

Many different cameras and a wide range of software pass through my hands. Nevertheless, I am rarely persuaded to change my workflow. However, recently, I compared the raw results from different cameras through various software packages, and PhotoLab 6 blew my socks off.

DxO PhotoLab is primarily a raw developer, with browser and catalog functions. It's the image quality of the program's raw engine that is where its big advantage stands.

The PhotoLibrary

It took me a little while to get used to the PhotoLibrary. When I did, I could see that it was a powerful tool. In Lightroom, I have always used Collections, and PhotoLab 6 has a similar function called “Projects.” It is a quick and easy way of sorting and finding photos. For those who prefer to browse, there is a Folders browser too.

Bringing Your Photos into PhotoLab 6

The PhotoLibrary has no import function. Instead, one uses the browser screen to drag and drop the files from your memory card into the Folders browser. This moment is a good one to add photos to a Project. Then, one can rate the images, add keywords, set color labels, and so on. As with any catalog, this is worth doing as soon as possible, making it much easier to sort and find the photos later.

Handy hint: I found it helpful to create a Project called All Photos and add every imported photo to it. Thus, it was easy to scroll through all my images, synchronize metadata, and search for keywords in all my pictures.

Using the PhotoLibrary

The PhotoLibrary is quick; I found it jumped between images with no lag. Selecting multiple photos at once allows you to add star ratings, color tags, and keywords to them all at once. There are new keyboard shortcuts to be learned for these, and there are more color tags than you find in other apps, including orange and pink.

As a devoted Lightroom catalog user, you can export photos to PhotoLab as DNG raw files with the PhotoLab adjustments applied to that program. The export function also allows you to send the files to a different application, write them to your hard drive, or upload them to Flickr.

If you have the DxO NIK collection, the PhotoLibrary is, of course, integrated with that. The Nik software is worth the investment, as it can take your processing to the next level.

What Are DxO Optics Modules?

DxO Laboratories are known for measuring the performance of lenses and cameras. It started when Jérôme Ménière founded Vision IQ back in 1994. He and other researchers produced a computer-aided surveillance system to detect drowning victims in swimming pools. It took seven years to develop and correct the lens flaws commonly found in camera equipment. It was from these beginnings that DxO Photolab evolved.

The DxO database has thousands of combinations of lenses, focal lengths, and cameras. PhotoLab automatically detects the equipment you are using. It then imports Optics Modules that allow the software to correct your image by negating flaws such as sharpness, anamorphic distortion, vignetting, chromatic aberrations, and perspective errors. The latest release of Photolab 6 has streamlined this process with a Select/Unselect All button.

I was dubious about that at first regarding whether those changes would be significant enough to make a noticeable difference. However, when I came to compare the straight-out-of-camera (SOOC) results using PhotoLab with other software, there was an appreciable improvement. Even carrying out manual corrections in other apps, I could not achieve what PhotoLab 6 could.

Such corrections are great news for photographers, but leave me in a predicament. When I review lenses, I probably won’t use PhotoLab 6 because it will minimize the optical errors I want to include in a review, thus giving you a false impression of how good the lens is.

Developing an Image: Using the Customize Tab in PhotoLab 6

You'll find that when developing a raw image, the layout of PhotoLab 6’s image development tools makes sense. In the first tab are the tonal adjustments, and they are separate from the color adjustments, which are in the second tab. In most other apps, they are mixed, and similar tools are scattered between different sections of a panel.

PhotoLab 6 is a refreshing change from that. Detail, Geometry (cropping, horizon leveling, perspective corrections, etc.), Local Adjustments, and Effects (Watermark and Miniature Effect) are in their tabs.

Using the Color and Tone Controls

At developing images, Photolab 6 excels. I found the controls subtle and easy to use, and the results were way better than the other apps I’ve used, and I have many loaded onto my computer. The tonal controls can be pushed without creating unwanted artifacts. Furthermore, used in conjunction with the color controls, images really pop in a way that they don't in some other programs.

Likewise, individual color hue, saturation, and luminance adjustments can be made accurately and with great results. They can be blended with their contiguous colors, so they do not produce unsightly banding or boundaries along edges. It was easy to change the coat color of the person in the following image.

Sharpening, Removing Noise, and Local Adjustments

DxO comes with a highly respected AI Noise reduction called DeepPRIME. I fed some images shot at high ISO with an old camera, and it produced clean, sharp results.

Local adjustments are easily controlled using DxO’s unique “U Point” technology. That overcomes the tiresome addition of masked selections by applying a Control Point or a Control Line to the image. The software identifies the colors as a reference, and you can adjust them within the bounds of a radius around the point or line. You can add as many Control Points as you wish to the image.

This method of developing an image is effective and far less time-consuming than using masking brushes.

The Wide Gamut Color Space in PhotoLab 6 Elite

The latest release, DxO PhotoLab 6.3, brings many new features. The ELITE version has improved soft proofing, adding paper and ink simulation profiles to make prints as accurate as possible. A Preserve Color Details slider protects color detail in highly saturated areas when moving to a smaller color space.

The DxO Wide Gamut feature gives photographers much more scope by increasing the available color space. That has been extended to include TIFF and JPEG images and not just raw, as before.

Typically, in other apps, cropping happens when distortion corrections are applied. PhotoLab 6.3 allows the retention of the area, so cloning or content-aware adjustments in other apps can fill the blank edges and corners.

There are two versions of DxO PhotoLab 6.3: Essential and Elite. The latter gives access to more tools:

DxO PhotoLab 6.3 ESSENTIAL Edition €139 / 14,900 円 / £129 / $139

DxO PhotoLab 6.3 ELITE Edition €219 / 23,900 円 / £199 / $219

What I Like About DxO PhotoLab 6.3 and What Can Be Improved

As I said earlier, in my work, I handle a wide range of cameras and lenses, and I test an array of different software packages. Rarely, something comes along that makes me want to change from what I currently use. DxO PhotoLab has done that. Why? The resulting image quality is better than the other software I have used. That difference is big enough for me to make the sacrifices necessary when changing from one application to another.

There are some sacrifices to be made here. It’s a pity that, like ON1 and Capture One, I cannot import my Lightroom catalog into PhotoLab. Consequently, I have various options available to me: I can use PhotoLab as a plugin for Lightroom, as jumping back and forth between the two apps is easy. I can go through the arduous process of creating new Projects and adding the 80,000 or so images to them, but that’s not going to happen. Or, I can start using PhotoLab from now on and leave my old pictures in Lightroom. I would probably choose that last option. I could cancel my Adobe Photographer Plan and still have access to the Lightroom library. However, I won’t do that because I train others on how to use Adobe products.

One other thing I wish PhotoLab 6 did was conform to the same keyboard shortcuts as other apps: Ctrl + 5 is needed to add five stars instead of just keying 5, Ctrl + alt + 5 adds a blue label, and rejecting an image is Ctrl + 9 instead of X used by other programs. Standardization would make migration far easier. Also, a lot of the functions are solely mouse-based, and I am used to and like keyboard shortcuts for commonly used functions.

There are things about the functionality of PhotoLab that I particularly like, though. Being able to zoom while cropping and leveling a photo is something I've longed for in other apps; it's especially useful for getting a seascape's horizon parallel with the top of the frame. Additionally, the denoising is superb. A few people have mentioned to me that they are very pleased that DxO still sells perpetual licenses for their software; subscriptions have an alienating effect on many.

But, most important of all is the quality of the images produced by PhotoLab and the ease with which adjustments can be applied.

Are the best possible results your priority? If so, then PhotoLab 6 should be something to consider swapping to. Are you going to give it a try to see how it compares to what you use now? Are you already a PhotoLab user? If so, let's hear your experiences.

Ivor Rackham's picture

Earning a living as a photographer, website developer, and writer and Based in the North East of England, much of Ivor's work is training others; helping people become better photographers. He has a special interest in supporting people with their mental well-being through photography. In 2023 he became a brand ambassador for the OM System

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Has anyone compared DXO to C1 as I am looking around for another raw developer since C1 are changing their pricing model?

This same author has been doing comparisons between different RAW processors including Lr, C1, and DxO PL. He compared C1 to PL and concluded that PL was superior but, IIRC, thought the interface was slightly less refined than C1. That is my conclusion as well. The previous post is also here on F Stoppers.

I really depends on which camera system you are using. I use C1 and switched from PS/LR. C1 is vastly better for most things - but it won't do some of the tricks PS/LR will do. So if you rely more on manipulating/compositing images rather than editing them, you won't like C1.

I tried this with a few different systems raw files and, overall, I really liked the results from PL6. That doesn't mean any of the others are bad. Each has its own advantages and disadvantages. For those wanting to drop the Adobe plan, this combined with Affinity Photo as an editor is a great alternative.

Image quality wise, I didn't see anything unfavorable in my brief tests.

The things I didn't like about DxO PL:

1. There's no layers.

2. There's no custom keyboard shortcuts.

3. Their idiotic super tiny Equalizer (for mask adjustments). These people think photographers edit on a 720p screen. Makes it difficult to make precise adjustments. Below is a screen shot (2560x1440) with the Equalizer. You are suppose adjust those stupid-ass tiny little dots. Haha, every time I test this app and I see that equalizer, I get so annoyed. :)

Rumor is that the Equalizer will be replaced with a side panel as in Lightroom

Hope so as that's a deal breaker for me!

This looks like another one worth trying out Ivor. Thanks for the review.

Cheers Gary. Definitely worth a look.

PL is indeed excellent in terms of IQ. That said, anyone who has gotten used to Lr's amazing masking features will miss them. Fortunately, it is possible to have the best of both worlds by doing initial process in PL and doing the final processing in Lr when necessary.

That is true. Although a lot of people have budget restrictions that precludes them from having both. LR's masking greatly improved recently, but I still find it a bit hit and miss at finding edges on some images. I think ON1's auto masking does a better job. Lightroom's catalog is the best though. It's a pity they can't all get together and make one brilliant app!

Thanks for the review Ivor. Certainly worth a trial. I switched from an older version DXO to Capture one a few years ago , but it is quite pricey (although I can get a copy for free now, but wouldn’t get any updates). Worth noting that the tabs you like for exposure and colour are also possible in Capture one , you can customise it any way you like.

Yes. Capture One is a great program too. Thanks for the comment.

Funny...every rew months or so, there is an article on trying to replace Lightroom. And no, I'm not a LR user - I use Capture One, but still think it's funny to see these articles every few months.

I've been carrying out a series of reviews comparing different cameras raw file previews in those programs with the Lightroom previews. LR is pretty much the most popular of these apps. I had explained that in each of the previous articles. They had not been full reviews. Also, they were not necessarily recommending changing, the other articles were just pointing out the differences of the unadjusted raw files. This was a full review because there had been an update, and I thought it worthy of recommending swapping to it because of its superior raw development outcomes.

Painfully slow in my experience. I recently took portraits of the players and parents of one of our highschool sports teams. There were probably 50 pictures that needed to be hit with a preset (including denoise with deep prime), cropped, and output to jpg. It took FOREVER on my relatively new i7 16gb laptop. Even on my 32gb desktop, which I just built, DXO version 4.whatever is latest is just too slow. Unless version 6 is light years faster, I just don't see myself continuing to use it anymore.

DxO PL6 is not faster. On your computer , the new Deep prime XD ( better than Deep Prime) will process 30-50% slower.

On my computer a FF RAW file process time is about 5 sec. I don't have a super fast PC. What I have is a very good GPU. RTX 3060ti

Thank you for signing up to place that comment, Max. Slowness wasn't an issue I had at all, and I have a relatively old computer. As Jon says, upgrading the GPU might help you. I had similar issues with Lightroom and a couple of other programs, and the newer GPU made a huge difference to performance.

I have been using DxO for almost two years. I found the product unusable on my 7 year old i-7 desktop until I upgraded from 16-32 GBs of memory. My GPU was listed as not supported by DxO. My R5 image developing using DeepPrime was slow, around 2.5 minutes per image. I upgraded to a new computer in August with a good GPU (not topline gaming) and my processing speed is not 7-8 seconds with DeepPrime and about 12 seconds using DeepPrime XD.

I used LR almost from the day it was first released in 2017. I have developed thousands of images in LR. After years of using LR, I was not happy with the results with my R5. I tested several different RAW convertors and finally decided to move to DxO. I am very happy with DxO. I have redeveloped many of my old images with DxO and very happy with the results.

Did you check the Photolab setup, so that it uses the resource of your graphic board? This makes a huge difference.

Another very important point: it does not make sense to use "Deep Prime" (or "Deep Prime XD") by default on all images, as this is extremelly CPU demanding (and especially if your graphic board is not activated in Photolab).

"Deep Prime" should be used only for high ISO and image from old cameras; you should use the standard "Prime" for the other images at lower ISO, as you will hardly see the difference (but the difference of processing time is about 2 to 5 times faster depending on your hardware!).

The amount of memory is also important: it is fine with 16 Gb (8 Gb is a bit low for large raw images).

Finally, if you are using a laptop, make sure you are running being connected on the mains and not on the battery, especially if you have a high CPU graphic board. This can also make a difference.

I'm fast approaching the end of the trial for DxO Photolab and I've been using that time to compare it to Capture One, my usual raw converter.
While I can agree DxO does a better job re. noise reduction; it's main claim to fame, than C1, I'm not convinced it's better than Topaz's DeNoise AI and more recently, Photo AI and I'm certainly not convinced that its final output is superior to Capture One.
I don't care for the interface, although that may well be because I'm not used to it and unless I'm missing something, it can't be customised greatly.
I reckon DxO's a worthwhile competitor in the raw converter market but I can't say that after my admittedly fairly short trial, that it's the best overall.
Will I be buying it? I'm not sure.
It's a lot of money for something that's not really an improvement over the software that I'm already using.

The great thing these days is there is so much choice. Besides noise reduction, there are lens corrections, which are more precise than any other software out there, and the U-Point local adjustments are a different way of working from other programs that rely on layers and masks.

The final output of the images is subjective and, personally, I really like them. That's not to say that I dislike every other raw converter; they all do a good job and the level is set very high.

Thanks for the comment.

If you can hold off DxO almost always runs 50% off sales on Black Friday and other discounts lined up with holidays throughout the rest of the year.

I purchased PL6 on Black Friday, even though I am a C1 user, it has some benefits, but IMHO C1 is a better buy. Also DXO still doesn't support Z9 HE* files

As of this week, DxO supports Z9 HE files. That aside, I'm curious as to how you could argue that C1 is a better buy verses *any* other option. Not only is it more expensive, but with their latest policy change C1 would not have given you the added support for Z9 HE files until you paid for another version.

HE* files have been supported since 15.4.1 so unless you have a very old version you should be able to use them, it's been 6 plus months since support was added. However I do agree that C1 pricing since to change more often than I've had hot meals.

Several years ago, I ditched the Lightroom suite and the annual Adobe Crative Cloud subscription. Although I really liked Lightroom, especially for its Photo Library features, multiple Adobe Creative Cloud connection issues and annual subscription costs prompted me to look at alternatives. After a few tries with other applications, I finally opted for DXO products, first DXO Optics Pro, then Photolab from version 4. Since then, I have remained faithful to Photolab and I always use the Elite version. I am totally satisfied. Version 6 now offers a photo library comparable to that of Lightroom and the editing functions are quite complete. With the addition of the DXO Nik Collection, a host of image processing is available. I just hope that DXO will not adopt the annual subscription formula in the future. I prefer to buy a license and update the applications when required.

Thanks for this review.

I have been using DxO Photolab and before DxO Optics Pro, since version 4 (2007). The main reason I choose that software at that time was the image quality you could get for printing.

- The optical module (lens profile) made a huge difference, especially to improve the IQ on the side/edge of the image and the overall image "crispness". I am making mostly A3+ and A2 prints and this is clearly visible.
- Very quickly I moved to raw files, as this is the second cutting-edge feature of the DxO products. Their noize reduction features have constantly been improving over time: this is clearly market-leading today.
- Finally DxO Photolab brought the local corrections with u-point and this was a game changer to fine tune image quality. At this point, I stopped using Photoshop.

Of course I was missing various practical features available in e.g. Lightroom; you have to be patient as DxO is a small company and cannot have the power/resources of the Adobe "monster" (!)

Another feature that makes a difference is that DxO has long time ago been using the resource of your graphic board to speed up the processing. This is something to care about, as if you miss this setup or if you have a really low end graphic computer, the image processing time will suffer a lot.

But all in all, the dedication of DxO on image quality is really awesome: to me photography is all about looking at large prints and DxO Photolab is the ultimate tool for this.

Edit: and of course I don't want to hear about the Adobe yearly subscription model ;-).

DxO noise reduction is great, but two things about it are wearying:

one, the little preview window is just that, little. to the point of useless.

two, there is no option to see NR applied to a whole image within DxO. You have to export your image as a .dng file and then view it. on fast systems this is a real pain in the ... and a waste of time.

these are recurrent complaints and Dxo doesn't seem responsive to them.

It is a hassle—but so is waiting minutes for an image preview to render. DxO is well aware that the preview window isn't ideal. It's just a question of processing power. Even if you're using top-of-the-line Apple Silicon, you're waiting 10-15 seconds the render and output an image.